On Patterns

Sometimes, we’re not able to see the patterns right in front of our faces, because we’re too close to them. One has to back up to see that there is, in fact, a pattern.

Lately, I’ve been trying to type up what amounts to a synopsis of my novel. It’s not written completely, yet, but . . . it’s for Reasons. That will become clear in the fullness of time. I was specifically trying to come up with what themes are included in my novel. I’m terrible at themes. A theme has to beat me about the head and shoulders with a dead fish before I notice it.

While I was working on that, I noticed something, and started looking at my other writing.

I have a distinct pattern. And it’s pervasive.

I shall give you a couple of examples.

A few years ago, I signed up for an eight-week writing . . . “course,” I guess? Kinda? . . . by local(-to-Atlanta) author David Fullmer. It was eight consecutive Wednesdays or whatever, and consisted of him giving us lectures, answering questions, and assigning homework, and us reading the homework aloud the next meeting. The first week, our assignment was to write a setting. To pick an interior or exterior scene and describe it so that others could see it. No dialogue. If characters are present, they’re ‘furniture.’

This is what I wrote.

I woke flat on my back and opened my eyes to complete blackness. Panicked, I struggled to sit up. Strange noises came at me from all sides, and I realized quickly that they were echoes of my own movements. I made a conscious effort to sit still and breathe normally. I listened, trying to gauge the size of the room. In the distance to my right I could hear the slow, steady drip of water into water. Plink! Plink! Plink! Plink!

“Hello?” I called, and it was redoubled and sent back at me in shards by walls an unknown distance away. I shivered in the still, icy air as the echoes faded away slowly. I was sitting on hard stone so cold it seemed to leech the warmth from my body. I felt around me with my hands, following the coutours of the rock as best I could, its surface rough and clammy against my skin.

Not my best effort by any measure, but it shows the pattern: David asked for me to make readers see the scene, and the only thing I wanted to write after that was a setting in complete, total darkness where seeing is impossible.

Another example. I have a time-travel novel that is currently trunked, waiting for me to come up with a better ending. The entire thing came from my saying, “Why is it in time travel novels that it always hinges on some cataclysmic event? Why can’t the event be something ordinary, but could only be done by a certain person?” (It is still trunked because I didn’t handle that premise as well as I wanted to.)

The very first self-contained short story I wrote was from the POV of a woman who was on the losing side in a battle against her second personality. Another was about an old woman who hires a vampire to cure her dying son. Another was the typical rookie-writer ‘Adam and Eve’ story where they were AI programs created sort of by accident on a limited budget by harried programmers. In my dragon and princess story, the dragon is the hero, not the knights. In my novel series, I wanted an Urban Fantasy specifically unlike most of the others that are popular: male cast, third-person POV, characters inside the establishment/law, magic is ‘out,’ no sexy vampires or werewolves, nothing sparkles, etc. Another story evolved from me saying, “If a psychic wants me to believe in them, they need to call me at home and say, ‘Gary, you’re in terrible danger!’ and then prove it.” And then writing that very scenario.

I think my pattern is that I look at the ‘rules’ and try to find a way to turn them on their heads, at least to some extent.

And, you know, I think all writers do this to some extent. But the fact that it took me this long to see it is kind of funny, I guess. How boring would it be to read the same characters in the same stories handling the same situations in the same way, every time? (It would be like re-reading the same book over and over again.)

Now, how does that answer the question about themes? It doesn’t. At all. I suck at themes. I may have mentioned that.


Silence, Be Broken!

So . . . it’s been a while. :) Unintentionally, mind you.

Last November, I was doing what I called NaNotWriMo, meaning that I ignored NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008, and instead, I decluttered my office. I made it a lot better. It’s still not perfect, but it is orders of magnitude better than it was.

And then toward the end of November some stuff happened. Real-life stuff. Stuff I won’t go into. But it was enough that I didn’t want to blog or write or do much of anything else creative. So I left the office declutterization unfinished, abandoned all my writing projects, and every time I thought I had something to say, here, I’d talk myself out of it with a very old argument. “Dude, this is a writing blog. You should write about, you know . . . writing. And since you aren’t doing that, what’s the point?”

And that is how we end up at May 7th with the first post since November 18th.

But enough about that. I have ranting to get to!

What I was wondering is: am I the only one who, while reading, lets a name that appears to have several, conflicting, legitimate pronunciations throw me out of the story?

I can’t help it. Every time I see the name, I find myself pausing and thinking “Is it Lord High Emperor of Space and Time Potayto Salaad, Potahto Salaad, or Pah-tah-toe Salaad? And is it Salahd, Sah-lah-ahd, or Sah-lah-ahd?”

Yes, this kind of thing really does bother me, and it is literally every time I run across the name while reading. It slows me down and throws me out of the book. If it’s a name like Mary or Frank or Kira or even Binbiniqegabinik, there are very limited ways it could be pronounced. And in the case of that last one, it was made clear in the book what the proper pronunciation is, if I recall correctly.

A friend posted a question on Facebook, asking if she should use ‘Kira,’ ‘Brianna,’ or ‘Brienne’ as a character name. I voted firmly for Kira, because for me, those other two would cause me to read at half speed unless a pronunciation guide were given. Is the ‘i’ in ‘Brianna’ long or short? Is the first ‘a’ like the one in ‘bat’ or the one in ‘father’? We won’t even go into ‘Brienne’ and all the different ways I could find to pronounce it. I would probably have to just mentally call ‘Brienne’ something like ‘Bree’ or reading a sentence would go like this:

Brienne [Bree-en? Bree-en? Bry-en? Bry-en? Is the final ‘e’ pronounced? Gaaah!] and Gemina [Is the ‘g’ hard or soft? Is it ‘{G|J}em-i-na’, or ‘{G|J}e-mee-na’? Gaaah!] leapt into the saddle of Brienne’s [Bree-en’s? Bree-en‘s?] steed Fnaben [Dammit.] . . .

I’m guilty of it, myself, of course. On Second Life, I’m known by the name Sathor Chatnoir. Although ‘Chatnoir’ is fairly simple if you know French pronounciation, apparently ‘Sathor’ gives people fits. To me, it’s obviously Say-thor (where ‘Thor’ is pronounced like the Norse god), but when I heard people pronouncing it (we sometimes abandon typing and actually talk), people were saying it to rhyme with Dan Rather’s last name, or pronouncing the ‘Sa’ as “sah” instead of “say.” I was totally flabberghasted because to me, it’s so obvious. :)

And yeah, I know that it doesn’t matter how a name is pronounced unless there’s some poetry involved (A Elbereth Gilthoniel / silivren penna míriel . . .). I guess all I’m saying is that I like to know. Maybe it has something to do with being raised fairly early in my reading-for-pleasure life on books like The Lord of the Rings where there is an actual pronunciation guide right there in the book to tell you that the “C” in “Celeborn” is hard, or that the second syllable of “Lothlorien” is stressed.

Anyway, it’s probably just me, and this is just a rant, but at least it’s off my chest, now, and I can get back to plotting my novels and novellas. :)

You may notice over on the right of this page three circular graphs showing progress. Those are novels I’m working on co-plotting. They are the first three novels of my MCU Case Files series, and there are a lot of interwoven plots that need to all resolve by the end of Book 3, so that’s mostly what I’m working on. The current figures are only guesses, but I had to point out the cool graphs because cool.



When I first created this site, I liked this theme I’m still using. It’s called “Structure,” and the logo they had by default was a block-capital S and T connected by the T’s crossbar. I thought how neat it would be to have my own logo in a similar style. I got an icon designer application and spent far too long (probably close to three hours) drawing a 32 x 32 pixel icon, literally pixel by pixel. If you look at the tab on your browser where you’re reading this, you should be able to see that icon. It’s a light gray capital “W” superimposed on a black capital “W”, slightly offset to the lower right.

But I’ve wanted something better since then. Because ugly. Because lack of graphic design talent. Ideally, it would replace or augment the image at the top of the page where it says “WriteWright The blog of Gary D. Henderson.” Ideally.

The other night, I had a new contact through the “Contact Me” widget and went to that site to deal with it. They were encouraging me to upload my business’s logo. The desire to have my stylized W/W icon/logo hit again, so I spent a couple of hours trying to find sites that would allow me to design logos.

Did I mention that I suck at graphic design? I mean, like really. I have a certain amount of artistic ability (I took art classes for years, and didn’t suck too badly), but I stopped trying to develop it when I discovered computers when I was a junior in high school. (Making a computer jump through logic hoops I designed seemed more fun (and easier, and faster, and more rewarding) than drawing, painting, etc.)

I found quite a few sites out there that allow one to design a logo for free. They usually have a selection of “clip art” one can choose from, and then text can be added. I went through quite a few of them, poking at them to see if they had anything I didn’t hate. (Started off on the right foot, at least. “Didn’t hate” instead of “liked.”)

I was surprised when I found something on every site I tried. I stopped after five. Below are my results. Some sites allowed me to download the design; for others, I had to take a screenshot and clip the image. Which is why, for instance, one of them has visible grid lines and a couple more look a bit rough.

That won’t be the case in the finished logo.

While most of them allow you to design the logo for free, if you want to actually use it, of course, you have to pony up. What I don’t know is what “should be” a reasonable price would be for something like that.

So I thought I’d put the potentials up here to see what people think. Because with the whole ‘suck at graphic design’ thing I have going.

I’m not attached to any of these to the point that I couldn’t just delete them and move on. But these do represent what I thought looked best from the alternatives each site offered me.

Let’s begin!

WriteWright Logo from LogoTypeMaker

WriteWright Logo from LogoTypeMaker

This was the first site I tried. As I flipped desultorily through many uninspired suggestions of clip-art, this one popped up randomly, and looked enough like my original vision that I took notice. It was originally in shades of sickly green, but one of the options they allow is to change those colors, so I did just that. I like the monochrome look I’ve selected for this site, so I stayed with blacks and grays. I would probably play around with colors a bit more and dump the text entirely.

WriteWright Logo from OnlineLogoMaker

WriteWright Logo from OnlineLogoMaker

This one is arguably the closest to my original concept, although I’m not overly fond of the font. (I think it’s the curviness.) But it is the only font they supplied where the W allowed an exact overlap, with all the widths and the angles lining up. I know because I tried every single font I didn’t hate.

WriteWright Logo from LogoMaker

WriteWright Logo from LogoMaker

On this one, I don’t think I got the colors exactly matching, but the concept I was going for is obvious. Again, it kind of goes with the “W” theme, closer to the first design than my original idea, but it’s kind of appealing, to me. I like the ‘rite’ and ‘right’ added on this one, and would probably keep the text.

WriteWright Logo from LogoGarden

WriteWright Logo from LogoGarden

Total departure. This site didn’t have any “W” designs that weren’t hideous, but instead of ditching it altogether, I decided to flip through the hundreds of clip-art images they had to see if any of them called to me. They had a whole section for “writing and writers” and the quill pen is a natural enough association that I went with it. Others that drew me were a stylized pen nib, and a pencil reminiscent of the LiveJournal logo. (Neither of which is shown, because ultimately, I got tired of designing logos. Also because the pen nib design could be taken as a stylized depiction of cleavage, which is probably the point.)

Is the quill maybe a little too cliché?

WriteWright Logo from GraphicsSprings

WriteWright Logo from GraphicsSprings

Finally, this one is back with the overlapping / nested “W.” The original colors were somewhere in the puce range, but I switched to graytones. Again, I would probably dump the text. This one has a certain . . . “Art Deco”? . . . look that I like. But is it too much like the Volkswagon logo? :)

I did a Google image search for “W” logos. There are a lot of them. Some of them are close to some of the designs above, but then there’s only so many ways you can twist a “W” and have it still recognizable as a “W.”

Anyway, you tell me. I lack the graphic design skill, and frankly, they’re all kind of blurring together at this point. Does anything stand out?


I Just Don’t Understand

There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand. Most of them involve other people. I’m not really all that misanthropic, but the degree to which I am is entirely attributable to people acting . . . weird. Insane. Bizarre. Evilly. Take your pick of modifier.

One thing I really don’t get is spam comments on blogs. Especially small blogs, like mine. I don’t have thousands of subscribers. I have in the range of less than a dozen hits per day except when I make a new post, and then that number triples. So, really, what are they attempting to gain?

This was posted today. On my NaNoWriMo 2012, day 18 post. Which, if you don’t know how NaNoWriMo works, was posted on 11/18/2012. Nearly two years ago.

I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and reporting! Keep up the terrific works guys I’ve you guys to my personal blogroll.

The “person” who made the comment doesn’t link to a working website. It literally uses “example.com.” Clicking on the username would take another reader . . . precisely nowhere. So what, exactly, is the point of making the spam comment? No commerce can happen. No malware can infect. No personal information can be gleaned. I block all suspicious comments and moderate all comments from new commenters. I don’t make this a secret at all. So no one would ever have seen it had it not been for this post.

Five other spam comments made since I last cleaned out my spam folder all have spam/malware sites as the poster’s URL, so I can kind of see the point in those, even if I think the person doing it is a waste of DNA and air. But that one up there . . . just wow.

Here is the text of the other five, edited to remove product or website names. Why? Because they amuse me at the same time they baffle me. Would any native speaker of English — or any other language, for that matter — really think these were legitimate comments?

I arrive from the single relatives house remedy was not achievable and i had to battle it alone. At 19 I used to be considered recovered by frequent health practitioner but 4yrs of recovery i can let you know there is no these thing. Simply because I ended binging and stopped purging didn’t mean I used to be healthy or which i experienced the right mindset. I really never feel it ever goes away and i have tried using and unsuccessful countless diet programs since the line involving an consuming condition and diet plan is around invisible. For the initially time I experience I’m able to [BOGUS SPAM PRODUCT NAME] is a good helper for t and do it the right way but that doesn’t indicate it really is not a battle. Acquiring over the scale I worry nearly every time and this previous week seeing nearly 50 % a pound just about killed me but a lot additional poor arrived from good for all those 6yrs. [6/21 on this post]

In my knowledge, the selection around the scale flat traces a little bit then [FALSO ESTAFA EL NOMBRE DEL PRODUCTO] is slower. This is attributable mostly to h2o, not fat, rather than muscle mass progress. You actually never make considerable muscle although eating in a deficit. I’ve found that my prior 1-1.5 Lbs for every 7 days decline on the scale has turned into .5 to .seventy five Lbs for each week thanks largely to drinking water expected for muscle maintenance….perhaps a teeny weenie itsy bitsy muscle mass advancement, but very little appreciable that may present up on the scale me thinks…only been undertaking this 30 days or so. [6/21 on this post]

Everyone loves what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve you guys to blogroll.| [6/20 on this page; link was to a different FALSO ESTAFA EL NOMBRE DEL PRODUCTO]

However, nothing can be compared to an Internet-based outdoor network which allows users to share all of their exciting hunting stories on the web for others to read and discuss. I hunted in Connecticut, still all the old timers swore by Arkansas hound dogs. Game sites are extensive, and it is easy to get lost. [6/19 on this post; link was to a site my company has blocked]

The Pumpkin Wizard provides template patters by theme. Make tiny spiders from black chenille stems and attach them to the cobwebs. ” Make sure it’s shouted in a French accent as well. [6/16 on this post (OH. THE. IRONY.); site is a malware ‘gaming’ site.]

If I were evil, I’d take money to spam. I mean, it must be lucrative or no one would do it, right? But my bogus comments would be written in standard English. Some of those just hurt my head to read. I guess I could never really be a spammer. I’d twitch too much at the horrible grammar. Although I did laugh out loud at the last one exhorting me to shout something that isn’t made clear in a French accent. Because that’s apparently a thing.

Well . . . all right, then.

<‘Orrible Franch akSONT> «I’m French. Why do you think I have this outrageous accent, you silly king?» </’Orrible Franch akSONT>


Missing in Action?

So. Where have I been? I made all those posts about improving stuff and then, basically, disappeared.

I have made quite a few changes. The first one was ordering the FitBit Flex. I received it in the mail before the last couple of posts went live (I pre-wrote them and had them scheduled to publish). I wore it for a couple of weeks to get a “base level” of sleep and activity, just to see what it would say. More on that below.

I also implemented the sleep schedule thing, where I quit using my alarm clock altogether. The startling innovation was to simply go to sleep early enough that I would wake up naturally in plenty of time to get to work at a decent time. That was the biggest, most wonderful change. I haven’t awakened tired a single time since I did that. The alarm always made me feel kind of logy all day, because it would wake me up in the middle of deep sleep. More on that shortly.

I’ve cut back severely (as in more than 50%) on my YouTube subscriptions. I went through and ruthlessly deleted any channels for which I didn’t automatically think, “I must watch their latest video.” I’ve also added some new ones, but for the most part, they’re shorter videos. And every time one of my remaining subscriptions puts up a new video and I think, “Meh,” I unsubscribe.

I rearranged all of my podcasts into eight categories, and prioritized those so that I have playlists for various activities. The Fiction and Serialized Fiction categories are mostly for driving, since that’s when I can pay deeper attention and I’m not distracted (mentally) by other things. The other categories (General, Writing, Education, Skeptical, Entertainment, and Video) are for when I’m doing other things, such as working or browsing Facebook or whatever. To handle all of the back-issues of podcasts I have sitting on my hard drive, I add one old, unheard episode of each podcast to the proper category so that I pretty much have to listen to all the archived stuff before I get to the new ones. So I’m making good headway on getting through all those back episodes. Plus hearing some great stories and interviews and such along the way.

I did join 750 Words. The site’s owner was willing to work with me on the whole PayPal thing, and I was able to mail her a check for a year’s worth of membership. There’s a slight problem with that right now, and I’m unable to get to the site since May 1, but I’m hoping that will get cleared up post haste.

What I have discovered in all this is that I do not, as I previously thought, sleep seven hours. I sleep until the sun wakes me up. It didn’t seem to matter what time I went to bed, if it was after midnight. I’d wake up when the sun came into my bedroom and thwacked me right in the face. So I put a dark curtain on that window, and that has helped me sleep past sunrise. The earlier I go to bed, the more contiguous, good sleep I get. (Kind of a duh, I know.)

The FitBit has several options, such as wearing it on your dominant or non-dominant hand. Well, thanks to Things (see below), I’ve been wearing it on my non-dominant hand but claiming that it is my dominant hand. I find that it’s not very accurate, but it’s not accurate in a consistent way. So having the base level helps me more accurately define whatever step-based (or distance-based) goal I might want in the future.

But since shortly after I did all of that, everything has been on pause. Back in July of 2013, I fell at work and caught my entire body weight on my outstretched right arm. This . . . did things to my shoulder and elbow joints. Bad things. (Compression fracture in the elbow and torn rotator cuff and tendon in the shoulder.) Exacerbating the healing process is the fact that I am exceptionally right-handed. As I’ve said in other places, if my right hand is Albert Einstein, my left hand is that one weird kid who eats bugs and has conversations with hammers. It has not been a fun nine months.

Because the accident happened at work, I’ve been having to wade through the constant red-tape-laden swamp of dealing with Workers Comp. It took me until after I made my last post to get approved for surgery to fix my shoulder (the elbow healed on its own).

On April 18th, I finally had shoulder surgery. Outpatient, arthroscopic surgery.

After about 3 days — and several doses of the good pain meds — I could type for short periods of time, and over the intervening two weeks, I’ve gotten slowly more able to use my arm for longer periods of time and for things which require more flexibility and strength. It’s not by any means back to normal, yet.

But what this does mean is that my sleep schedule is screwed up majorly because I don’t sleep well on my left side or with a shoulder that hurts if I put it in the wrong position. I can’t write much because my shoulder aches if I overuse it. It’s hard to put on shoes or a belt because of the shoulder muscles I apparently use to tie shoe laces and tighten a belt. I’m getting better, and fairly quickly, all things considered. But it is a process, and so certain things have had to take a back seat.

As soon as I’m able to drive, wear shoes and belts, and work again, I should be able to put some of these other planned things into play.

But for now, I’m mostly working my way slowly through the podcast backlog and napping a lot in my armchair.

If you’re at all interested in the amazingly “fun” process I’ve gone through in dealing with Workers Comp, I’ve blogged a lot of it over on my LiveJournal blog. It’s for ranting, which is what I tend to do when I talk about this whole process for very long.

Warning: For the first few parts, I don’t think I use too much NSFW language, and I try to make each rant as amusing/entertaining as possible, because I know people don’t like to read long rants. Part 8, however, is mostly a profanity-ridden tirade. I just wanted you to be forewarned.

Workers Comp Swamp: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

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. :)

  1. When I wrote this post, that was all true. Now, I have 217 subscriptions, so as you can see, I culled a lot. Still working on whittling it down even more. If I have even a moment’s pause over clicking a link when I get an email, I unsubscribe. I should also point out that not all of these accounts that I get notifications for are daily, or even weekly. The largest percentage of them are ‘weekly’ or ‘periodically,’ meaning that the owner posts videos when s/he feels like it. Sometimes months go by with nothing.
  2. As with the subscriptions, this number changed. It went up, I think (I didn’t actually count). I operated on the assumption that if I didn’t delete the subscription, I want to be notified when new content is posted, and if I am annoyed by it or don’t like it . . . that’s the time to cull.

The title of today’s post is a quote by John C. Maxwell (an American clergyman born in 1947).

My office

My office.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Treadmill by yuan2003, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  yuan2003 

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.


Life Is More Fun if You Play Games

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?

NaNoWriMo. During November, I consistently write 50,000+ words in thirty days. One year (2011), I made it to 122,000+ words in those same thirty days. I can do it.

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.

Gamifying Writing

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.



Question Everything / Nullius in verba / by dullhunk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  dullhunk 

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.)

Time Commitments

Time Commitments

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.

Health: sleep, exercise, lose weight

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?)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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