Now Reading – April

A quick post to update what I’m reading/listening to this month. I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, as they’re a great way for a dyslexic like me to enjoy more books than I’d ever be able to read. I’m also a fan of ebooks, as being able to control the font size and choice helps as well.

At the moment, I’m working my way through Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet. It’s different from most of the other space opera mil-sf I’ve read in years past, I think owing to the focus on light-speed lag and restraint in military actions. Geary is a character who has to fight against the evils he sees in his own fleet and military organization as well as a heartless foe chasing them from system to system.

I’m also reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Even though I’m already deep into minimalism and taking a break from technology, it’s been a great read for seeing other people’s examples of removing technological dependence.

Starting Small (But Still Starting)

Due to illness sweeping through all three generations at Casa ErrantWriter, I got off to a slow and very small start for my new habits. Some would say snail-paced and minuscule. But the important bit, the real key item, is that I started.

  • Three day blogging cycle: Check. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (I might even post something tomorrow!), and a short Quote post on Tuesday.
  • Early Rising: Not so much a check. When you have twin toddlers fighting colds, it’s less that you’re waking up early and more that you never went to sleep. Still, I managed to get up before my usual alarm of 6:15 on 2 days, and did some reading/self-care before anyone else was up.
  • 10K steps: No check. Average for the week is 7.6K a day, and only one day broke 10K. Some of this might be from not always having my phone with me (I don’t use a wearable, just the Health app on my iPhone), but I need to own the fact that I’m not walking enough.
  • 500 words a day of fiction: Haha, no. I wrote on Monday that I was already averaging 500 words a day. Then disaster in the form of rampant illness hit the house. Counting the 250 words I wrote today at lunch, I’ve written a total of…250 words this week. Climbing slowly back up on that horse.

1.25 out of 4 isn’t a passing grade, or a very good film, but it is better than 0 out of 4. And this is a work in progress: I’ll keep making progress as long as I do the work.

Writing Begets Writing

In sitting down this week to write a Space Opera-y short story, I started generating a lot more non-fiction than fiction. As the story focused on the fusion rockets of two freighters (note that this is important for the reader to understand, so they can have an Ah Ha! moment when The Problem presents), I wrote a page for my own benefit on the equations behind the drives, their strength in real-world rocket terms, etc. Not technobable; I didn’t care to write how the mechanical underpinnings worked. I needed to know what the capabilities were, and I didn’t want to have it be an ass-pull I’d always need to refer back to. This way, I have an equation, and my numbers, and we’re good to go.

Then reading a few book reviews, and a short piece on genre tropes, got my mind thinking on what I want to communicate in my writing. Both what’s important to me to express, and what’s important to me as a reader, in what I enjoy. There’s the idea that I will be picking on themes that either intrigue me, or that bother me on a fundamental level. In other words, I write space battles because I’m entertained by space battles, and because I hate the idea of pointless violence and need to explore what drives us to the point of dropping rocks accelerated to 300km/sec on a planet.

So I wrote down the themes I like, what I want to explore, and what I want to bring out in my writing.

Looking over that and the previous notes from before, I had written 3 times more words about my writing than I had in the story. And that’s not counting this post! But this wasn’t to dodge witting a story; each time I could re-approach where I left off with a fresh sense of purpose and energy, and exceeded my word counts for those sprints.

There’s times when I just need to get another idea down and out on paper to sharpen what I’m already working on.

Yeah, I suck. But if I keep going, learning something new every day, eventually I’ll suck less.  And if I keep going, eventually I’ll suck so little I’ll be good.

Steve Barnes

Five Month Fresh Start

It’s 150 days, 5 30 day months, or 21.4 7 day weeks from today until the end of August. As I treat September as the beginning of my year, not January, this is my countdown clock, the number of days I have to test some new habits and life-optimizations before deciding what to keep and what to trash for the new year.

The habits I’ll be trying for the next 30 days (then I’ll re-evaluate, discard the ones that don’t work and do a new 30 day batch) are the following:

  • 3 day blogging cycle on this site. Roughly planning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • Early rising. With twin toddlers I’m already up early, but I’ll need to stretch that to waking up at 5 if I want to take advantage of morning hours.
  • 10K steps a day. At the moment I’m averaging 8000 steps a day during my work week, and 11K on the weekends. I’ll need to start taking longer lumch walks to move those numbers up.
  • 500 words a day of fiction. Yes, this is very small. But it’s doable, I’m already averaging that amount, just in major pushes over the weekends. I’d like to see if I can do this as a daily habit.

There you go; 4 habits to work on for the next 30 days.

Do The Work

This has nearly nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with gaming, math, and goofing off. But it’s still work!

The advice given in the booklets for the ultra-realistic space combat game Attack Vector: Tactical and its slightly less realistic but faster cousin Squadron Strike! is to not just read the rules but sit down and play the tutorial. Looking at the rules, the number of steps required, thinking of 3D positioning on the tabletop; those all stop the brain cold when it wants to pew-pew some alien spaceships. But once you sit down with the hexmap provided, the ship box-mini and control page, and the 3 pieces of chocolate (!) you’ll soon be shooting at and devouring, it all makes sense.

It’s good advice. Sit down. Do the work. Then you have a leg to stand on if it all still seems too complicated for a given value of “fun”. It’s not like the author is asking you to play a 52 week campaign of 4 hours per week before you can critique the game, set it aside, or embrace it fully. Unfortunately, that’s an attitude most RPG designers take; it works in the campaign, so play a campaign before you criticize.

So: don’t be an RPG designer.

Applying this to something closer to my writing, I sat down and did the work for some math equations on the ever-popular Atomic Rockets site. I wasn’t seeing the relationship between exhaust velocity, thrust, specific impulse, mass flow – all the parts that make up the ultra cool Engine List. At least, I wasn’t seeing it until I sat down with a scratchpad, ran through the equations and could come up with the same values on the chart. It clicked, then. Just being able to work through the problem, turn the crank, and get a meanful output locked the concepts in my head in a way just reading them never could.

Maybe this only helps people who are hands-on types. I can usually understand a new concept but need to get my hands dirty before I feel comfortable with it. But I think all of us could benefit from taking the time to sit down, get some paper and do the work.

The End Is The Beginning

Is there an upper limit to how many times you can start? Is reinventing yourself limited like lives in a video game, where unless you get a high enough score before you inevitably fail, it’s Game Over? God, I hope not.

This marks the third, maybe fourth time I’ve started a blog specifically about my writing in the last year. The others have fallen to the wayside for 3 different yet linked reasons:

  • I got caught up in the minutia of designing the blog look, messing with plugins, changing hosts, etc;
  • I had a series of life events that kept me from writing (or more accurately, I used life as an excuse to not write for a while;
  • I spent more time promoting (ie, wasting time) my blog, with no content, on social media. This just means I got swept up in Twitter madness and lost sight of my goal.

All of those could be restated as “I was afraid to fail”. That might be the biggest fear I have. Paralyzing fear courses through my veins whenever I begin a new project – what if I fail? What if this is the worst thing I’ve even done, and my name is linked to this stinker forever?

Well, so far I’ve managed to fail at starting, so in trying to avoid a fear I’ve given into it. Which is a bullshit spiral, really.

So, let’s wipe the slate clean and begin again. I’m thinking of just having a few posts in the rest of March, shooting for at least 2 posts a week in April, and scaling that up in May through August, or until I hit a limit to my output on a weekly basis. It would put this site at 6 posts a week, with a possible seven posts in September, which is important.

September is my New Year, since I’ve moved the idea of the first of the year to be in my birth month (-ish. It’s nearby). So taking the rest of the year here and seeing what I can get to before I start my next New Year cycle is a decent plan.