The last two buckets that I mentioned on an earlier post were “Social” and “Family.” I’ve rambled on about ways to gamify the others, because I tend to do better when there are goals with deadlines and rewards (SMART goals, maybe?), but not necessarily punishments. Writing, Health, and Work were fairly conducive to doing that.
But Social? Family?
Not so much. How do you gamify that kind of thing?
What it boils down to is that I don’t really need to. If anything, I actually need to reduce my participation in some social things and transfer that to spending time with my family. We all have busy lives, and as we get older, with more responsibilities and more activities that claim our interests, we — or at least I — tend to have a busy schedule for eight or ten weekends out, and finding times to do stuff gets harder and harder. My D&D gaming group went for nearly ten months without meeting because there was just no weekend where all of us could meet.
I don’t consider myself a social butterfly, but I have several circles of friends, and if possible, I want to spend time with each of them.
Back when I first moved to Atlanta from Alabama, I had been visiting my mother every other weekend or so. At the time, that was approximately ten hours of driving round trip. I don’t mind driving, because that’s time I can listen to podcasts or catch up on audiobooks. That kept up for a while, but these days, I’m “so busy,” I don’t get down to visit her but every six weeks or so. So instead of turning anything into a game, what it comes down to is scheduling mom-time first, even if it conflicts with other things, and my friends will understand. :) I don’t have to be at every critique session or whatever. My mother is reading this, and I’m sure she’s in total agreement.
As far as the social bucket goes, most of that is just a matter of learning when to say “no” to things. I almost always say ‘yes’ to events on the weekends, because I like doing stuff with people. But when it gets to be every single weekend, it makes it hard to find time to do things like visit my mother. Or just to have a breather.
Just in March, 2014, the first weekend was free, but only because something else fell through. The second weekend had an all-day gaming session on Saturday and a critique session on Sunday. The third weekend has three social events, two of which conflict, so I had to choose between them. The fourth weekend is free, and finally, the last weekend of the month has a critique session for which I’m potentially submitting something (Deadline!). So that third weekend will be when I go down to visit my mother.
My “Social” bucket contains such things as spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, and such. The TV watching happens mostly on week nights after dinner. We’ll watch an episode each of Buffy and Angel, or two Jonathan Creeks or a Doctor Who or two (we’re deep into David Tennant’s second season, at the moment, with Martha as the companion, in case you care). That can easily be put off until after I’ve written for the day.
Facebook doesn’t really take that much time. I spend more time on it than I should between stuff at work, but it falls away during the evening. Twitter I mostly use for those times when I’m waiting somewhere and I need something to entertain me for twenty minutes on my phone. Podcasts I do while I’m doing other things.
YouTube, though. That’s the biggest time-suck. I’m subscribed to 332 channels on YouTube. Now, in my defense, not all of them are active channels. And I only get notifications in email if new content is posted on 124 of those. And of those 124, most of them are short subjects, like science updates or song covers.1
But it does underscore a problem. I spend far too much time watching other people living their lives and less time living my own. So my first order of business is culling the 332 down to maybe just the active ones that I care enough about to be alerted when they update. And then we’ll work on figuring out which of those 124 can go.2
I mean, they could all go. It’s not like I absolutely must watch the videos. But I do enjoy them, and it is my main form of entertainment, so cold turkey doesn’t make sense. Maybe I could use the Social bucket as rewards for success of the other buckets?
Now that’s an idea. I’ll give that a try. :)
This concludes my ‘gamification’ series of posts. I know they weren’t much about writing, but I’m sure I’ll get back to that topic post haste. :)
The title of today’s post is a quote by John C. Maxwell (an American clergyman born in 1947).
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. All work and . . . wait. This isn’t The Shining and I’m certainly not Jack Nicholson.
So, in my last post, I asked a question: how can one gamify work?
I consider my writing part of my work. But it is not (yet) what I am paid to do. One day I’d like that to be the case, but realistically, I’ll be doing this job or one just like it for many years to come. Because, frankly, I like to eat, have clothing to wear, shelter over my head, and affordable health insurance. Just little stuff like that. Anything after that is gravy. Mmm, gravy.
Where was I? Oh, right.
I’ve been working in1 this company for going on nine years. In fact, depending on how you calculate the number of days I’ve worked in various places, on April 21, 2014, I will have been working for my current employer longer than any other.
When I interviewed for the job back in 2005, I made it clear that I’m not a ladder-climber. I didn’t want my boss’s job. I don’t have a big desire to be The Guy Everyone Comes To For Answers™. I mean, we already have several of those, so why encroach on their territory?2 And I certainly don’t want to be someone who has the power to hire and fire. I’m not cut out for that; it’s not in my personality.
That can, however, lead to a certain degree of stagnation. I’ve basically been doing the same type of things in my job for my entire tenure. Maintaining existing code. Writing new code, sure, but usually nothing exciting and different. Doing documentation. And putting in my eight hours per day (and no more, because although I get paid for overtime, if I work overtime, I have to justify why I needed it3).
I’ve definitely been going through the motions, walking through the part. Sitting at my desk, doing what I’m asked, but little more. Being useful and productive enough that they have no desire to get rid of me, but not so useful or productive that anyone feels the need to promote me or pay me a higher salary. I admit it. I’ve become complacent.
And it’s not about the money. I’m overpaid as it is, for what I do. I know this and go through bouts of being uncomfortable with it. But to live in certain areas, one has to either believe the hype and one’s own inflated self-worth, or one has to be OK with looking at one’s paycheck stub and thinking, “I can’t believe they pay me this,” while simultaneously being OK with the fact that the person in the next cube might be getting half or twice that number. And also being OK with the fact that much younger people who’ve been with the company for less time have been promoted while you’re still in the same position. Or they may have moved on to greener pastures, if this place doesn’t value their contributions adequately.
All this is getting around to saying that it’s time I make a change on this front as well. Those 8 hours per day that they pay me to sit here and do my job can also be spent learning new things. We have all kinds of training courses available for employees of my company. I could even get involved in Six Sigma, if I wanted to, and help identify and eliminate wasteful spending. They always need new green belts.
And that doesn’t even count me just buying a book and studying it at my desk, on my own copious free time.4 As long as I’m doing something that the company sees as valuable, they’ll be OK with it.
And it’s not all work-related training, either. There’s a Weight Watchers group here at work, and they meet onsite during work hours every Thursday. There’s a group who does fitness training on-site during and after work hours out in the parking lot or in one of the conference rooms if weather is bad. They have a trainer and everything.
There’s even a ToastMasters group that threatened to form, but no one wanted to take the reins. Maybe that person is me. The company is providing all of this for massive discounts or for free. And that doesn’t count stuff I don’t know about because I haven’t really looked into what’s available. (See ‘going through the motions’ above.)
And I’m not a moron, I know that there’s something in it for them, as well, or they wouldn’t offer it. Lower healthcare costs for healthier, happier employees. Better employees with greater knowledge and training. Go-getters instead of loiterers. Higher profits, happier customers.
So I’ll be looking into training courses, first. The other stuff will have to wait until I can take care of a slight medical issue. I’m being vague on purpose, yes. Suffice it to say, strenuous exercise is right out for the moment, but perhaps the Weight Watchers is a place to start.
It’s funny how all this circled around back to health, isn’t it? Maybe not. Having an active, engaging work life is a good part of mental health. Most of my active, engaging mental life comes from hanging out with friends, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos. I love learning. I’ve just been looking at work-related learning in the wrong way.
So. Gamifying work could (heh) work as long as I keep track of it. I’ll work (more heh) on that and let you know what I work up (heh . . . yeah, three was one too many).
And to bring this whole post back around to writing, which is what this blog is specifically about: The happier I am, the more likely I’ll be to enjoy writing more, and do more of it. I’m continuing to use 750words.com daily. This post was written after 5 pm while waiting on a unit test to complete. As of the end of this sentence, it was 862 words (on the first pass).
Which is quite adequate, I think. So I’ll stop here, and save the topic of my family and social buckets for another post.
- The choice of prepositions was quite deliberate. I worked for my current employer for about eight and a half months as a contractor before they hired me permanently. So ‘in’ but not ‘for.’ It’s a tiny distinction, but it’s there.
- More importantly, why be the person they wake up at 2 AM when something goes wrong? That used to be me at my first long-term job. I’m pretty much done with that.
- A few years ago, thanks to a lawsuit in California, tech workers below a certain level were redesignated as hourly workers and were therefore eligible for overtime pay. Rather than wait for this to percolate through all the other states, my company (which I believe is based in San Francisco) preemptively did this a few years ago. And paid us back pay for any overtime we had reported for the prior two years. Because I’m very diligent at recording butt-chair hours, I got a rather sizable sum of money, while all the people who just reported straight eights per day got bupkis. But now, they view working overtime as evidence of bad time management skills or an inability to do the work. So if you do have to work overtime, you keep it to yourself. Which is exactly the same thing we had when we were salaried, but without the implied threat.
- I’m only being partially facetious. There are weeks that go by with very little in the way of billable hours (as it were) for me to do. Earlier this week, I asked my team lead, “What should I be working on next?” and her answer was, “Nothing’s been approved yet, but I’m sure something will next week.” It goes like that: some weeks, there are tumbleweeds blowing through my schedule; other weeks, I’d have to be three people to get everything done on time.
Ten points if you caught the subtle Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Ten more if you have the music in your head right now.
By the end of my last post, I figured out a way to make the writing more fun using gaming. But what about some of the other buckets?
How can I gamify health, for example? On the surface of it, that shouldn’t be all that difficult. After all, what did we do in recess and P. E. all those year ago in school? We ran around and played games. The problem is . . . I don’t really enjoy doing that. I enjoy playing tennis, or used to, before I gained a bunch of weight. But tennis isn’t something you just go out and do. You have to have a partner, and you have to have one that’s approximately your own level of skill or it blows.
One of my friends has a little device called a fitbit that seems to be something I should look into. She runs, and it reports how far she ran and how long it took to do so, and it maintains a graph so that these daily “scores” are visible on her Facebook page.
I’ve been thinking about doing something like that. Not running. I don’t run unless chased. And frankly, the guy better have a chainsaw. No, I’m talking about with other activities, like walking.
The previous times when I’ve tried something like that, it’s failed ultimately because it’s during the dead of winter (which in spite of reports, can actually get pretty cold here in Hotlanta) or the blazing heat of summer (105 in the shade with a 95% humidity), and/or because it’s hard to teach the devices I tried what a “step” is for me.
I’m a heavy guy. When I wear a regular step-meter on my belt, it turns at an angle and isn’t always accurate. I wore it a few times at work, and it reported that I had walked 10,000+ steps when I knew for a fact I had not. It was recording each time I shifted in my chair or . . . who knows what it was counting. The point is: it was wrong. The fitbit is a wristband, and that attracts me.
The company sent me a new device after it turned out there were design issues, but I never took it out of the box. Maybe I can figure out a way to make it accurate, and then have it report to the world to keep me honest. The only way this is going to work is if I’m required to be honest. :)
Until I can get a fitbit.
“They” say that it takes twenty-one days to form a new habit, but only a few to break. Would me forcing myself to walk three days per week for seven weeks do it? Could I also include some time on the several machines we have here at the house in that total to add up to something approaching respectable? We have an elliptical, a treadmill, and a kind of a cross-country skiing kind of a thing. Ish. <makes vague gestures in the air>
Only time will tell, ultimately, but I hope to try.
The other aspect of health that I mentioned a couple of posts ago was sleep. I get far too little sleep. Well, that’s something I can and actually have been doing something about. When I realized I was staying up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM almost every night . . . just because, I then realized I could also put a stop to it . . . equally because. With only a few exceptions (due to medication or a late night at work), I have been to bed by midnight every night for the last ten or eleven days.
And without exception, I have awakened naturally between six and seven hours later, with no help from the now-shut-off alarm. This gives me plenty of time to get to work by a reasonable hour, and feeling rested and mostly ready to face the day.
Next, I’ll try to cut back on caffeine. For me, this means Coke Zero, Dr Pepper Ten, and iced tea. I don’t do coffee.
I know I should start immediately doing the walking after work thing, but I want to start it when I can realistically track my progress. That’s not procrastination.
Really. It isn’t.
Up next: Work. How can I gamify that?
The title of this post is a quote by Benjamin Franklin. Yes, that one.
In my last post, I ended on kind of a cliff-hanger. I apportioned out all my required time and my copious spare time, and discovered that I actually have quite a bit of it, but I don’t spend most of it writing, because . . . well, I don’t know why, really. I do enjoy it, when I actually do it. It’s just a matter of getting over that initial hurdle.
So, when do I write consistently?
Codex Weekend Warrior. For the last two years, I have managed to churn out ten flash pieces in under 54-ish hours. This year, most of that was actually in five hours, because my inspiration didn’t come until way late.
What’s the common thread of those two things? Gamification.
In other words, I write consistently when it’s treated like a game. For each day during NaNoWriMo, I have to write at least 1667 words, and I can compare my progress with other peoples’ progress, and have little word wars and such.
During Weekend Warrior, there is a deadline, and then at the end there’s the rating of everyone else’s stories. The game is obvious there.
I tried one gamification system that didn’t work as well. It’s called The Magic Spreadsheet. It was created by a classmate of Mur Lafferty‘s at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. She talked it up quite a bit on her podcast I Should Be Writing and so, after some hemming and hawing, I tried it out. It’s a system of rewards and “punishments.” For each day you write 250 or more words, you get a point. The longer your unbroken chain is, the more points you get. As you consistently write, you “level up” and then more words are required for each day, etc. But miss a day and . . . you go back to the start (in some ways; it’s complicated).
But, alas, the spreadsheet is unwieldy to manage, and I just couldn’t get into it. What consistuted “writing” for them wasn’t what necessarily constituted “writing” for me. I mean, a blog post is writing. So is writing a document at work. Sure, it’s not going toward a story, but it is BICHOK.
I lasted for about 10 days, and then I was out of town for the weekend and broke my chain. And that break cost me points, and I never went back to the Magic Spreadsheet.
Then, a few days ago, Sherry D. Ramsey, a friend of mine from The Quillians, my Second Life writers group, posted a blog post about a site called 750 Words. Which is almost exactly the same thing as The Magic Spreadsheet, except it doesn’t matter what you write (not that it did on TMS, but it felt like it did.
750 Words “requires” that you write 750 words every day, to gain more points, and to get silly little badges. 750 words is roughly three pages of a mass-market paperback. That’s doable in a day, without trying too horribly much for me.
So I signed up and am trying out their free, 30-day trial. After that, you have to pay them $5/month. Unfortunately, it’s through PayPal only which is distressing, because I loathe PayPal, so I won’t be able to continue after my 30 days are up, and no one from the site seems to be monitoring their Twitter or email or forums to answer questions.
But for now, this is working for me, and it’s forcing me to write blog posts (three of them, so far, including this one!) and one letter that will not be sent, but which allowed me to lay out my arguments in a coherent manner so that when I do contact the people in question, I can sound prepared instead of not. And several thousand words of outline for my novel.
Now, the question is whether I can continue this even after the free trial runs out, on my own, or whether it’ll fizzle like some of the other ones.
I do have a novel I’m supposed to be working on. And I have a novel group and either me or one other person are “up next” for having a novel to critique, but alas, neither of us has anything actually ready for critique yet. At least in the other person’s case, they have begun the novel. What I have are a few thousand words from NaNoWriMo and a bunch of notes that may make up a novel plot. It’s the one I’ve been talking about on here, forever, with the magical FBI in Atlanta. Much revised and hopefully improved over the next-most-recent attempt.
So I’m proceeding apace on the gamification of writing. But what about the other stuff? Stay tuned!
The title of this post is a quote from Roald Dahl from his book My Uncle Oswald.
In my last post, I talked about a lot of things, but one thing I said was that it was time for me to decide what’s important to me.
Last Friday at work, I was almost by myself for most of the day, and I had very little to do. So I made myself a time matrix so I could map out how long I spend doing various things that are required so I could see what was left for me to apportion to the things I want to do with my copious free time.
It turns out that my free time is actually kind of copious, when looked at from a certain perspective.
When left to my own devices — in other words, no alarms and without being sick — I will sleep right at seven hours per night. It seems to be what my body requires in order to be fully rested. I can function at a decent level on five. Below that, and I’m firing on too few cylinders to be useful for much of anything that requires concentration. Even reading or listening to podcasts. If I get more than seven — unless I’m sick — I feel tired and logy and worn out.
So I started by marking off seven full hours per day for sleep. And I arbitrarily set those hours between midnight and 07:00. Why? Because if I go to bed before midnight, I somehow feel like I’m missing something. Don’t ask me why, I just do. (The brain weirds psychology.)
And because I don’t spring from bed perfectly clean, coiffed (I shave my head), and ready to go, I will add another hour five days per week of ‘getting ready,’ which includes all of the above plus having breakfast, checking my email, etc.
Then for another forty hours, I must work, at least if I want to eat, have a house and a car, and be (relatively) sane. And because I live and work in the Greater Atlanta Metropolitan Area, that means another two hours of commuting, to work and back. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; it averages out to about one and a half hours.
By the way, don’t take this as me grousing. :) I enjoy my job. It doesn’t just “pay the bills”; it is fulfilling on most days. But it is, for the most part, doing things that other people value, and which I would not do if they didn’t pay me. Ideally, I’d be rich and able to do whatever I wanted.1
Now, there are a few other “required” items I have marked off. They’re all writing-related, so that’s good. Two weekly critique groups and one biweekly critique group. I also marked off time to read for the biweekly group, because the submissions can add up to 40,000 words, and that takes a while.
What that leaves me is a surprising fifty hours per week (fifty-nine on alternate weeks) that are basically free and clear.
Now, what do I currently do with all that free time?
My housemate and I are currently working our way through Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Doctor Who, and Jonathan Creek. This is what little TV we actually watch: catching up on shows via NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, and whatever other sources we can find.
I subscribe to . . . an embarrassing number of channels on YouTube. Musicians, vloggers, comedians, scientists, and others. I spend an embarrassing amount of time watching these videos. I mean, it probably takes up almost the entirety of the remaining hours.
Then there’s Facebook. Ah, Facebook. I spend too much time on it, as well. I’ve been easing off on that, reading it for a few minutes here and there during the day, and for the most part not obsessing over it. I don’t, as it turns out, have to know every aspect of every one of my friends’ lives for every minute of their day. Nor do they need or want to know mine.
I also subscribe to quite a few podcasts2, resulting in many hours of content per week, but I find that I can do this while working or driving, so there is generally ample time that isn’t devoted solely to podcasts.
Here are the categories of things I would like to spend time on, with the most important ones underscored for emphasis.
Writing: writing, reading, blogging, critiquing, Codex, submitting
Work: advancement/learning, projects to which I’ve been assigned, proactive projects
Social: spending time with friends, watching TV, YouTube, podcasts, Facebook (yeah, it gets in there), Twitter, whatever (Yes, I’m aware that a lot of what I’m putting under “social” are, on the face of it, solitary pursuits. But there’s a reason it’s called ‘social’ media.)
Family: mom-visits, other family
So there are my five big buckets of time to apportion. As I said above, I put almost all of my uncommitted time, at the moment, into the Social bucket, neglecting everything else. That needs to change.
I get zero exercise. So I figure one of the big things that has to change is setting aside some time each week dedicated to exercise. Just walking, at first. For various reasons I won’t go into, lifting weights or doing any serious training is right out for the foreseeable future, so if I can just walk a few times per week, that might go a long way toward increasing my stamina, health, and fitness. I might even lose weight, if I can also curtail some calories while I’m at it. (My housemate is a personal chef who specializes in people with special dietary needs. She can definitely help on that front, and has been.)
So, let’s say 3 hours per week of walking, briskly. I could do it at work on breaks (one does need breaks away from the computer). I could take the stairs during the day when I’m not having to drag my rolling computer bag with me. The while-at-work stuff is free, because it still counts as work time. So that doesn’t require me to “give up” any of my uncommitted time. I figure I can stop at a nearby mall for an hour-long walk around the inside three days per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, perhaps).
I’ve been getting way less sleep. That’s how much time the ‘social’ category takes up. I just have to watch one more YouTube video or see one more page of statuses on Facebook . . . I think my average sleep time has been closer to five hours than seven for . . . years? And that’s just sad, really. These raccoon eyes aren’t because I’m a goth. :)
When I was going to physical therapy for a shoulder injury late last year, I was able to get up at 5, be at work by 6:30 or 7:00, and then leave at 14:00 or 15:00, giving me ample time to get to my physical therapy between 16:00 and 16:45, depending on the day. That proved to me, briefly, that I can rearrange my work day if need be, and no one raises too much of a fuss. Most meetings take place between 10 and 3 precisely because people have varied schedules.
If I can get a replacement power cord for my work laptop, I could even work from home on Tuesdays, which would obviate the need for me to wrestle traffic for that one day per week, and the only thing for which I’d have to leave the house would be the critique group. I could get back two whole hours of “uncommitted time” for doing things like laundry.
So, what’s my point in all this? My point is that I have a crap-ton of time that I could spend writing, reading, critiquing, and generally improving myself as a writer. But instead, I squander almost all of it doing things that have no relevance to me, or any of my long-term goals.
It’s time to man up, in other words, and take the reins. Do what needs to be done. Quit wasting my time and start spending it.
Unfortunately, my inner child (who, by the way, is a four-year-old brat named Bradford; it’s a very long story) is right now stamping his feet and shouting “NO! NO NO NO NO NO!” and refusing to do anything he sees as not fun. He has even been known to hold his breath until he turns blue, and no one wants that, believe me.
So, how can I make exercise fun? How can I make improving my skills at work fun? How can I make giving up — or at least severely curtailing — YouTube fun?
How can I make writing fun?
Step one: Gamify it. More on that in the next post. :) (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)
- Well, if I’m being 100% truthful, ideally, I’d have a skull-shaped, volcanic island lair with fast internet and a helipad. And to which all of my friends could freely come as a writing retreat or whatever. But that’s never going to happen. Probably.
- This is what we like to call ‘understatement.’ At last count, it would take me 109.8 continuous days — meaning no sleeping — to listen to everything I have downloaded.
I haven’t written much — here, but also in general — since the end of NaNoWriMo in November of last year. A couple of book reviews and the stories of how all three of my blogs got their names, but that’s about it.
I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been busy as a beaver writing and haven’t had time to compose a blog post.
I’d dearly love to say that. Unfortunately, if I do, I’ll be lying.
I could blame it on a lot of things. Blame is fun, as long as it’s not aimed at myself. Let’s try it, shall we?
I broke my good glasses1 last November, just six days into NaNoWriMo, and had to send them in for warranty replacement. So I’ve been struggling to see because my backup glasses aren’t adjusted for the distance between my eyes and where the laptop sits. However . . . I managed somehow to finish out NaNoWriMo with 50,000+ words using those glasses. And now, in late February, I finally have my glasses back, good as new. Actually, they are new. Warranty replacements.
Or I could claim that my right shoulder that I hurt in a fall last summer has been giving me fits, and that the long, drawn-out process of waiting on workers comp to do what’s right has increased my frustration level to the boiling point. And it would be true, but that wouldn’t take into account the fact that it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything else fun that I wanted to do.
So the Finger of Blame™ turns once more to point firmly back at me. Stupid Finger. :)
I did participate in Weekend Warrior over on CodexWriters, and this means I have five brand-new flash pieces to do something with (such as edit and submit). But I also did Weekend Warrior last year, and had five pieces of flash to do something with . . . and I did nothing with them. I have recently started editing those stories2 and sending them through my own little critique process, trying to get feedback on how I can improve them enough to send them out on submission. Because that’s the goal, here: submission. With the ultimate goal of publication.
I’m certainly not doing it for whatever money I might get; writing is not a profession to take up if you plan on making a ton of money, unless you’re Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, Jim Butcher, or someone like that. No, this is about proving to myself that I can write well enough to make people want to read it. I have stories to tell, dammit, and I want to tell them in a way that people find compelling.
The problem is, what I’ve proven to myself is that even I don’t want to read my writing, sometimes. Allow me to explain.
On Weekend Warrior, the goal is to write a 750-word flash story between Friday at 9 pm and Sunday at midnight, using one or more of five prompts given on Friday night. Once all the stories are submitted, each participant reads all the submitted stories and rates them on a 1–10 scale. Various people use the scale differently, but since each individual uses their scale consistently, it works out even if everyone’s use is slightly different.
Across all nine of my submitted stories (I missed the deadline on week four, this year, but still wrote the story), my average scores have been in the mid-5 range. What a 5 means is that the story has potential, but doesn’t have enough of something to really get the readers involved. (This is based on several writers’ comments on the very topic of how they score others’ stories.)
In other words, my stories didn’t grab the majority. They didn’t keep their interest. They failed to make readers care or want to know the ending. Or the ending failed to satisfy. In essence, it means that my writing is OK, but not exceptional.
Granted, I do get some scores in the 7–9 range (I’ve never received a 10). But I also get scores in the 1–4 range. But in general, it’s firmly wavering between a five and a six.
I should also note that the winners of each round are generally in the high-6 to mid-7 range. I have never seen a story score an average of above a 7, although granted my experience is limited to the two years I have participated. But that extra point or two makes a big difference. The difference between “OK” and “exceptional.”
These are 750 word stories, maximum. And it’s difficult to introduce characters, setting, plot, conflict, an arc of character growth, world-building, and a satisfying resolution in only 750 words. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Others can obviously do it, so it shouldn’t be beyond me.
These readers aren’t just average, run-of-the-mill readers, either: these are my writing peers. These are the same types of people (and frequently the same exact people) who will be making the ‘buy/not buy’ decision at a market where I have submitted.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t take every negative comment to heart and immediately think, “I suck.” What I think is, “I can do better than this.” Followed immediately by, “But how?” And that’s been my stumbling block. Going from “This doesn’t work,” to “Why doesn’t it work?” to “How can I make it work?”
And how can I see this before I submit rather than after the critiques?
And it finally dawned on me that I also read all the same stories they did, these people who are my peers. Many of them are published authors3. A few are award-winning authors in my genres. But on the whole, the stories I scored high were the same ones most of the others did. So we agreed on the stories that did best. And that’s the key.
So, what can I learn from those stories? The ones that not only I, but others whose judgment I respect, judged to be better than the rest.
That’s what finally clicked. I can examine those stories that worked for me as both a reader and a writer, take them apart, analyze them, and try to work out why they work for me.4 What part or parts did or did not draw me in. There are some patterns, and the trick will be to identify when I am following one of those patterns and nip it, as Barney Fyfe famously quipped, in the bud.
This is usually difficult for me, especially if the writing is something I enjoy. When I’m in critique mode, I do it without much effort, unless the story is very gripping, in which case I occasionally forget to critique. But that very fact often becomes part of my critique: “I got so caught up in this section that I forgot I was reading it for critique and just enjoyed it.”
I know for a fact that writers like that kind of comment. :)
I can’t think of a single time anyone has ever told me that. So it’s time to raise the stakes.
And I realize, writing this, that . . . I say this at the beginning of every year. It loses its meaning because I’m always saying, “This year, I’m going to do better! I’m going to write! I’m going to submit!”
And then, along about February, the doldrums hit and I lose impetus. Something falters. I lose confidence. Or I fail to get any good critiques. Or I find other things more important than writing. Like YouTube or podcasts or what few hours of TV I allow myself to watch.5
And I’d like to say “this year, it’s going to be different!” After all, I waited until the last part of February to break my silence. To do that ‘resolutions’ thing that people tend to put so much stock in at the start of a new year.
I’d like to say it. And I hope I will look back and say, “This year was different! I got published!”
But for now, I’m going to concentrate on what is important.
More on that next time.
I did something amusing. I wrote this over the course of several days, and the tone has changed drastically. And it’s so typical of me. I remembered my scores as being worse than they were on Weekend Warrior for both years. In researching for this entry, I went back and examined all my votes and discovered that I actually scored way higher than I remembered. Three of the stories were in the high-4 range, but all of the other seven were firmly in the 5 range. I remembered them being overwhelmingly below 5. So I edited this to have a little more positive tone and outlook. Any maudlin tone that remains is purely unintentional. I actually feel pretty good about the stories I’ve written. I just need to translate that, as stated, into forward momentum.
So, where did the name of my blog come from? I shall tell you, and it’s a short tale.
I needed a ‘professional’ site, unassociated with my other two blogs, where I could blog about all things writing-related. My non-writer friends didn’t want to see that for the most part, and the kinds of things I write about on the other two sites aren’t “professional.” I use language I don’t use here, etc.
I wanted my name as a domain, but some lawyer already owned garyhenderson, so with some trepidation, I looked for and did not find ‘garydhenderson.’ So I bought it. Looked for hosting, and set up WordPress. Within days I was ready to go, having picked what I had been told was the best kind of template to use for writing: black text on a white background, with a simple design and no extraneous pictures or colors or fonts.
But I didn’t want to just call the blog ‘Gary D. Henderson’s blog’ either. I wanted something with pizzaz. Panache. A certain . . . je ne sais quoi.
I love me some puns. And I also love homophones. Words that sound alike but have different meanings and etymologies. Words like pear, pare, and pair. Or pedal, peddle, and petal (if you’re from the south, they’re practically identical).
Or write, rite, wright, and right.
I tried desperately to work all four in, but in the end, none of those sounded like anything I wanted to read, much less write.
And what is a writer if not a wright, of a sort. So: write wright. Or WriteWright.
Since that domain is taken and so is the Twitter account (I tried to get the guy parked on it to let me have it, but he did not answer), I couldn’t fully embrace it other than using it as my blog title, which I’ve done, as you can see.
I also own several other domains relating to the series of novels I’m working on, but they are parked and not pointed at anything right/write/wright/rite now.
All in good time. :)
This post is in response to The Writer’s Post Blog Hop 2014 #4 prompt, Explain the Name of Your Blog. The host is Suzy Que. Other entries are linked from her blog post.
The premise: We have a serial killer who kidnaps his victims and then sends out an email spam exhorting people to email it to ten friends, and they mail it out, and they mail it out . . . and if one of those friends of friends of friends happens to be one of his friends, he won’t kill the victim. If he doesn’t get the spam back, the local police receive a package: the victim’s lower jawbone, boiled and polished.
Now, on top of this, throw in a main character whose wife is taken by this killer, but the police never receive a jawbone. Neither, however, is she released, so of course, they police suspect him. And throw in a man who confessed to the murders, but who can’t be the killer, because he’s never left his hometown. And throw in another man who confesses, and ends up serving time for the crimes. And two seemingly unrelated murders. And family secrets. And betrayals. And a twisted cast of characters, any or all of whom are probably capable of being this Vacation Killer.
The pace is good, the characters are believable, and the situations are believable.
I can’t say too much else without massive spoilers, and I don’t want to do that because I enjoyed each new revelation too much to deprive others of that same sense of discovery. :)
I will say, however, that I did not figure out who the killer was until it was revealed in the text. But I wasn’t at all surprised.
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Are you tired of sexy, hot vampires who gaze at women for, like, a milisecond before said women rip their clothes off to throw themselves at him? Are you tired of werewolves who basically do the same thing, only hairier and more bestially?
Then this book is for you. Meet Earl the vampire and Duke the werewolf. Earl and Duke are basically good-ol’ boys who, through bad luck, became undead. They’re aren’t hot. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t even particularly nice or smart. But they have a knack for solving people’s supernatural problems, and that’s what gets them into trouble when they pull into Gil’s All Night Diner for a bite to eat (for Duke).
This was a fun read. There were a few things that annoyed me about it at first, such as the main characters’ propensity for using one another’s names more often than people in real life do. Luckily, that didn’t last long.
The pace is good, with a few curve balls thrown in. Both the vampire and the werewolf lore in this book is not what you’d expect if you’re into the more traditional mythology, but it’s consistent and explained well, and makes this Martinez’ own mythos.
It was a satisfying, fun, quick read, and I look forward to reading more by Martinez.
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I’m charting my daily progress on NaNoWriMo. Since you may or may not care, I’ll kindly hide it. Thanks for taking the time. :)