Brilliant ide – no, backspace, delete – interesting idea

There’s this fella, right, James Somers, and he’s found a way to show you all the steps you took in writing something. Every letter you typed even if you then deleted it. Every paragraph you wrote, even if you started at the end or just changed your mind and moved stuff around.

You have to write in Google Docs – which I don’t – and you have to have his special Chrome extension installed – which I don’t. But stunningly, this thing doesn’t just work on anything you write now. It works on anything you’ve written ever – since you started using Google Docs.

Only you can do this, only you or anyone you’ve given editing rights to. Your rewrites can’t be seen by anyone else. And this is a relief because as an editor I have had people send me work without deleting their notes. I’ve also read some interesting remarks that they believed they had deleted – there was a Word bug once that showed me.

So for me, notes and workings-out equal trouble. But I am also only interested in the final piece – insofar as the toying and changing goes. It is interesting how long we spend havering over whether to use the word ‘buy’ or ‘yet’ but this trick doesn’t show that. It will show us writing one, deleting it and writing the other. It won’t show the five hours walking around a park debating it in our heads.

Which I suspect you think is obvious but the creator of this doesn’t see it. He believes we can learn writing by seeing how others write. This is how that point is made in an article about him in FiveThirtyEight:

Somers started all this because he thinks the way we teach writing is broken. “We know how to make a violinist better. We know how to make a pitcher better. We do not know how to make a writer better,” Somers told me. In other disciplines, the teaching happens as the student performs. A music instructor may adjust a student’s finger placement, or a pitching coach may tweak a lefty’s mechanics. But there’s no good way to look over a writer’s shoulder as she’s writing; if anything, that’ll prevent good writing.

Watch Me Write This Article – Chadwick Matlin, FiveThirtyEight (4 March 2015)

Read the full piece for how to do this and if you become a better writer, let me know.

We should write trailers

The film trailer is a work of art. Sometimes. Maybe often. Not really always. For every trailer that is genuinely better than the movie it’s trailing, there are clunkers. I don’t want to suggest that we should write trailer moments into our scripts but I wish we could edit the footage.

I think about this a lot because I do video editing and it feels to me like writing. It’s very much the final edit and the bits of my brain that I use at Final Cut Pro X are the same ones I use when writing.

Which is partly why I just find trailers so fascinating. And this comes up today because of Star Wars. I’m not a big fan but I remember the shivery anticipation when the trailer started for The Phantom Menace. How did that work out again? It’s also interesting because originally that trailer went out online on some crappy PC-based postage stamp thing and it was Apple’s QuickTime engineers who lobbied to do it properly. When they did and it worked out so well, that was really the start for high quality trailers.

Well. That’s high as in the video quality. Have a look at this collection of the trailers for all the Star Wars movies, including the new one. I’m surprised to say I think The Phantom Menace looks the best. I’m appalled to say how ferociously bad most of these are.

Watch the lot on The Verge

A lie can go viral before the truth can get the sniffles

Earlier today it was reported that a guy who bought the first iPhone 6 in Australia dropped and smashed it. Specifically, the story was that it dropped as he opened up the box for a reporter. Sure enough, this is the video showing it happening:

But that was the reporter recapping what happened in a previous segment. Here’s the previous segment and – spoiler – this one doesn’t cut off. And in this one the iPhone appears to be fine.

The creator and the audience: the irony of Star Wars

Okay, it is occasionally argued that the reader or viewer knows more about a piece of work than its writer. Bollocks. I’ve been told by reviewers that my Doctor Who dramas are unquestionably, undoubtedly, certainly based on things I’ve never actually heard of.


There is this thing with Star Wars. George Lucas keeps fiddling and he says that the original version was unfinished. He says that all his fiddling is making the movie into the film he always wanted it to be. I could be alright with that. There’s a song called Anchorage by Michelle Shocked that I adore and later on in her career she changed a couple of words. I found that very hard, somehow, but it’s her song and that’s it.

Except some of Lucas’s fiddling is juvenile.

He’ll take a scene and fill the background with CGI aliens that are distracting from the dramatic purpose of the moment and are sometimes just crap anyway.

Then he’ll go all Old Man’s Attitude on a scene. Originally, Han Solo is cornered by a baddie and kills him. Han is therefore a bit interesting, a bit less squeaky-clean than most of the characters, a little bit more than one-dimensional. And, most of all, his enemies are serious. Later we’re going to hear more about them and it’s more and more of a thing. But in the subsequent versions of the film, the baddie shoots first. He does so because Old Man’s Attitude says decent heroes don’t shoot until the baddie has. Lucas is fussed about the word decent whereas I am fussed about the word hero: because the baddie shoots first and we want Han to survive the film, the baddie must miss. From about a pixel away. Baddie is therefore ridiculously amateur and unthreatening.

That’s what you want: baddies who are unthreatening.

All this comes up now, though, because of a news story in The Atlantic that features someone called Harmy who has spent years recreating the original version of Star Wars from the various versions. You literally cannot buy the original film now but over the years there were Laserdisc and VHS versions and the like that are being scraped and utilised to rebuild the movie as it was. Fine.

I appreciate the craft and the determination. I wouldn’t if Lucas’s changes weren’t so often truly, deeply poor but they are so I do. What really interests me though, is that The Atlantic has also got this quote:

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society…

Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

That’s George Lucas making a speech to the US Congress in 1988. The Atlantic points out that this was to do with the then hot-topic of bastards colourising black and white classics. The Atlantic says:

Some argue that here Lucas was railing against outsiders being able to alter a directors work, not against directors being able to update their own pieces. Which raises the question of who truly owns something like Star Wars—a huge cultural phenomenon—once it is unleashed. Lucas addresses that in his speech too. “American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history,” he said.

I think the word you’re looking for is ‘busted’.

Read the full piece in The Atlantic and learn more about what drives this Harmy.