Friday, September 28, 2018

Tactics for Victory

Your book is roughly planned out. You've started getting a exercise and sunshine. You've worked with friends and family so they will support you. Or at least leave you alone. You are ready!

Well, one more thing. Planning and preparation are great; execution is king. You have to execute the plan and that takes energy. Remember all that exercise you've been doing? There's a famous quote often attributed to Vince Lombardi: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all". A lot of people want to write in NaNoWriMo until they realize they have to put 1,667 words on a page every day, for 30 days. Straight. Typing or long hand isn't the issue; mental exhaustion hits hard and can pound your thinker into submission.

You can win this fight! Lots of people have and December First you will be in that pretty exclusive group. Here are my top three Tactics for Victory.

Manage Emotional Energy

To write 50,000 words in 30 days you must average 1,667 words per day, rounded up. Don't be average! In my first NaNoWriMo i tried to be average and it nearly beat me to death. My story energy failed at the half way point, I was even grumpier than usual, and days would drag on and on and on and...

Tactic One Don't be average! Crunch out 2,000 words a day for 5 days straight and then take a day off. Totally take a day off. No writing. No second-guessing yourself and worrying about word count. Keep the computer turned off; it probably needs a break too! That's 5 days you get to rest and still write your novel! Taking a break sounds counter-intuitive to our culture, sadly. We're expected to produce day in and day out, from birth to death. Some people think humans are robots. Well, we're not. We need regeneration. We need a "Sabbath"; a day of rest. The first NaNoWriMo I did this convinced me; I was able to write a better story and keep strong through the end. I've done it ever since and will continue until I find a better plan.

By the way, people who work on machines will tell you even heavy duty equipment needs time for maintenance and cleaning. Parts wear out and need replacement. Take the hint.

Manage Creative Energy

There's a section in "Lord of the Rings", and a similar section in the latter "Harry Potter" books, where things just seem to drag. Partly because that's the mood the authors were trying to set but sometimes I wonder if they were just tired of writing that story. Sticking with the same thing for months, or years, can put your brain in a rut. Pounding out 2,000 words a day can do the same thing. We risk creative death if we do nothing but generate tons of creative output. Creating is work but it should also be fun!

Tactic Two Feed your Creative Self! In "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" Stephen R. Covey wrote about building "Production" and "Production Capability". If you draw from the creative well for too long it will run dry. Since you're already taking days off simply schedule something that rejuvenates you. Watch a movie, go to the park. Play with the grand kids or bake cookies. Whatever sparks your creative self, do that. Build your "Production Capability"; your capacity to produce. Produce for 5 days straight and then renew your ability to produce. You will see the difference in your work.

Manage Relational Energy

Your family and friends lose you for a month. You've dropped all those social obligations you didn't really want go to anyway. Maybe you don't have many friends left since you cut out the harmful ones. That's a win! We are people and there are other people in the world who support us. Some of them may even still like us. Weird. Still, they are cheering for you and adjusting their lives to help you. They are your Team.

Tactic Three You are not alone! As you prepare for NaNoWriMo, spend time with those who are good for you. Your novel is a Team effort, support your Team! Spend part of those break days with those who rejuvenate you. They need you in their lives and they are supporting your work.

Don't be average! Feed your Creative Self! You are not alone! Execute well and you will reach December with a better creative effort, a stronger mind, and a team that still wants to admit they know you.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Social Ownership

In "Extreme Ownership" former US Navy SEAL John "Jocko" Willink gives solid tools for success. His position is simple; you are more successful when you take ownership of things that affect your success. Commanders take ownership for their teams: they prepare the troops, get what they need from command, and engage the battlespace in ways that make their teams successful. You need to do the same, to give your creative work the best chance of success you must take "Extreme Ownership".

There are three challenging groups of people involved with your creative effort; taking ownership of relationships with each group will raise your chances of the success you deserve.

People who want to help

Friends, family, co-workers. People you meet on the internet or at social gatherings. There are a lot of people who want you to succeed and can contribute. The issue is that until you own the relationship and communicate what you are doing and what you need, their "want to" remains unused. Take Ownership! Be specific! Help them help you!

I write fiction and computer code. My best work requires extended blocks of focused time. My wife loves to support me but she thinks and works differently. When I explained what I needed and we worked out ways to help her help me focus I became even more productive. For example, if I close the door to my office it means I'm working. If she needs to come in she can but she weighs the time criticality of the question before breaking my focus. When I don't need to focus as much the door is opened again and I'll let her know. Another small thing that has helped me succeed is measuring time with her. She knows to say "supper will be ready in an hour" instead of "I'm making supper". That way I know I have an hour to focus on something and I need to wrap it up at the sixty minute mark. The specific time allocation doesn't matter, and I don't hold her to it. If supper takes an hour and a half then I have time to decompress, set the table, pet the dogs, and relax from my work. We both win because I have helped her understand how to help me.

People who want you to fail

Not everyone is your cheerleader. Some want you to write their story or to take their pictures. Often they want the story or the images free, too! This seems funny until you start dealing with it over and over, then it becomes exhausting. Dawn is a photographer; producing a fantastic image takes craft, time, and expertise. She produces art and people pay for art. People pay for skilled craftmanship. Yet some people think taking a picture it all it is. It isn't, trust me.

There's an insiduous sub-group. They try to hide but you feel their negative effects. They want to be successful but don't want to put in the effort or go through the pain you do. They smile for you but try to bring your down, to sabotage your success. You being successful makes them look bad since they aren't successful. The more they slow you down the less insecure they feel.

Time to be real: Some people need to be out of your life. E-mail lists and social groups where people talk about doing stuff but don't? Log off and walk away. Sitcoms and fake news taking your creative time? Turn off the television. Even family members may need some extra distance if they are trying to sabotage your craft. Just because the phone rings or the little dots turns red on your social media stream doesn't mean it is important enough to stop your success. Own your success by removing those who try to encourage your failure.

People who want your art

There may be folks who can burp and produce a perfect song. Someone might be able to flip up the phone and take a million dollar image. For the rest of us, though, producing art takes time and money. It takes even more time and money to get good at our craft and to get the tools for our craft; that time and money has to come from somewhere. Time spent on our art means time we cannot work a second or third job. Money spent on tools is money that has to come from the limited family budget. Sometimes weeks of rice and beans is what it takes.

People want art, and some of them are willing to pay for it. Take ownership of this and you'll see life change. When my craft became computer programming I found out those books aren't cheap and you don't see them in libraries. Amazon's "Used Book Price" was a decade in the future. Family money went to my craft. Lots of it. People wanted my craft and were willing to pay for it. Taking Ownership of this meant I could work in what I loved to do and put money back into the family budget.

As you grow your craft you need to start marketing yourself as a craftsman. Photograpic art. Fiction author. Computer programmer. Song writer. Bass guitar player. Whatever your art is, whatever craft you bring to the world, the world has to know about it. You need to own the "M" word: "Marketing". Communication. Sharing the word. Being in active groups or going to conferences. Letting your friends and family memebers who still talk to you know that you're producing art and you appreciate them sharing the word. Somewhere out there someone is willing to pay you to work your craft. Own the process of letting them know to build your success.

Bottom Line

Ownership takes energy, dedication, and courage; own your success.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Life needs energy

Life needs energy. Death is the result of no energy. Physical death when our body ceases to function; creative death when we try to draw from an energy reserve long since drained. Implementing this post will have a significant impact on your life and your creative efforts.

Ever been told "You are what you eat"? That would make me half pizza, half hamburger. It did make me fat and lethargic. For years I wanted to do more. To be more. To live more. Yet I ate junky food. My actions prevented achieving my goals and I was frustrated. I carry years of poor choices on my waist but have shed a few of them by eating better. Not some fad, or some chemical concoction, but healthy food eaten in reasonable quantities. Here's a number for you: 10. Our household was disrupted for a couple weeks and we went back to eating poorly. Soda, fast fried food, large portions. Habitual bad choices. Within a week of returning to real food I lost the eight pounds I had gained and a lost a couple extra for good measure. I'm eating real food and still eating more than I should but losing weight. No marathon exercise sessions (they don't make you lose weight, anyway), no starvation. Just healthy food. Check out some great eating if you want to give your creativity real life.

Yeah, we are told that writers live on coffee (or alcohol) and programmers drink gallons of flavored high sugar, high caffeine, liquids. The world is full of lousy stories and bad code; get the hint. You, however, need to produce your best. That means not constricting your brain's blood vessels. Caffeine makes them shrink. Know what a "caffeine headache" is? When you stop drinking caffeine the blood vessels in your brain actually expand to their proper size. Avoid caffeine, drink lots of water, push through the headache, and you'll be quickly raise your brain function. How much better will your story be when you have an extra ten to fifteen percent of your brain working on it? Think your physical stress level might go down if your blood isn't chemically restricted? You bet! If you're older, like me, consider your blood pressure.

Okay, I did say exercise won't make you lose weight. Directly, anyway. My friend Jon Haas has a great explanation of why "Mobility Practice" helps you. We're not talking about becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger! But you don't want to be the Pillsbury Doughboy, either. Mobility practice will get your blood flowing and help your body recover if you've made some of my mistakes. Look up "Baduanjin", skip the imagery in the names, and do a five minute practice three times a week. It will build your energy level and at the same time make it much easier for your body to support those bursts of creative energy you ask it for.

Want to super charge your creativity? Maybe put some energy in your life? Commit to twenty-one days of real food, water, and Mobility Practice. Your readers, end users, and body will love you for it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

NaNoWriMo - Get Your Clearest Vision

Do you want to have the draft of a great novel at the end of NaNoWriMo? Some may tell you how you should write by the seat of your pants from one word to the next. Others will say the novel cannot be written without three novels worth of outline. Choosing a method that does not fit your style burns the emotions and hurts your writing. Trust me on this; I've crashed more times than I've landed gracefully.

Yet I have also written full novels that had no story. It was fun to write but nothing anyone else would read. Other times I have begun with a great idea and then struggled for each word after a couple of weeks. In both cases the idea called me strongly but the revision process often changes the entire story. I want to win NaNoWriMo and I think you do too. Here's how I grab the vision that will carry me to a win.

Stories are about People who are Somewhere and have to Struggle.

Science Fiction and Fantasy authors can have a very wide definition of "People" while historical novelists are more limited. For this to work your People must feel; they must be imperfect, limited, and subject to emotions. Readers are People and they want to identify with your People. Dealing with People can be messy; that contributes to your story. To define your People means getting into their head and understanding things from their view. That means your People may not see exactly like you and they may not even see the same things as you. Different People in the same story can see the same thing very differently. Think about your People; what do you like about them? What could they improve? Why to others like/follow/hate them? If you get stuck, pick up a copy of "GMC" and build the charts. The more time you spend with your People now the easier they will be to write about.

Where are your People? London in 1899? Pennsylvania in 1787? On a classified mission in 2019? Aboard the "Strouden's Moons" command ship in 1416 (Star Confederation Calendar)? I have a lot of fun writing about places I have been that I loved or places I'd love to be but have never been. Your People must be Somewhere and your reader will want to be there too. Historical and Modern Day authors have the advantage here; there are lots of resources to explain living almost anywhere on the planet. The Urban Fantasy writers get the best of both worlds; a wide definition of People and a lot of descriptive resources for the Somewhere those People wind up. Your reader will want to share your joy in the Somewhere that you describe, describe it well! Physically walk there if you can; absorb the sights, sounds, and smells. If your Somewhere is distant, improvise. When I was writing about star ships I spent time on wet navy ships to get a feel for the setting. The more you can integrate Somewhere the more your reader will want to return to your creation.

Readers pick up an unfamiliar book because they want to see what is going on; what the Struggle is. The meat of story is simply about People, Somewhere, who Struggle for something they don't have. This is where I have had to work the hardest. I mentioned "GMC" above, if you have the internal and external conflicts thought out then you have the basis for Struggle. Struggle provides energy for your story and interest in your reader. Struggle uses the identification a reader has with your People to give the reader a wild ride through the entire book. Pages will turn with haste as the reader wants to know what happens next...who does what...do they win? When you have the People and the Struggle you can use the "Writer's Journey" to build a framework for what happens when. The structure transcends genre and forms the basis of what your reader expects. Following the structure in your story means your reader is free to enjoy just the story; they don't have to figure out an entirely new structure as well. Your reader prefers a good story told along familiar lines.

People, Somewhere, Struggle.

Pick what intrigues you most and start there. If you like a certain setting, figure out what the Struggles are in that setting. Who felt the Struggle the most? Which People do you want to write about? Or set aside preconceptions of Somewhere and focus on the Struggle. What People best identify the Struggle; where best shows it? These sorts of open questions prod your brain to come up with its best work. Start early, well before NaNoWriMo. Give your brain time to better percolate your novel.

Revel in the preparation for NaNoWriMo!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The NaNoWriMo Family Support Team Needs You!

Someone significant to you needs your help. They think they will need it just in November, but they're wrong. They need you now. Many challengers fail NaNoWriMo and carry the defeat in their hearts for months. Some never forget and never try to share their best work ever again. Readers around the world crave good stories. Here are some intervention strategies to help your loved one survive and thrive during the month of agony known as "National Novel Writing Month" (NaNoWriMo).

There are four critical components to a writer's survival. You don't have to study writing; just work these four areas to support your writer.

Time

To claim victory your writer must average 1,667 words per day, every day, for thirty days straight. Most of us take between two and four hours to produce that. A lot of things might not get done around the house. Pick up the kids, fold the laundry, put up the dishes, wash most everything. Social events can fall off the calendar if your writer is an introvert. Cuddle time with the rug rats might seem rare.

How You Help: The first big thing to do is accept that some things are less important than your writer's success. Maybe clothes don't get put up as quickly so your writer has the time to work. Maybe family meals turn into Ramen with cheese, soy sauce, and some Texas Pete tossed in. Secondly, your writer may need you to do some things they normally do. Yeah, it means more work for you. Is your writer worth it?

To Win:The key is prioritization. For a while you put your writer's work high on the list. Some things won't get done. That's okay.

Focus

Writer's wander in their heads. A lot. We walk in foreign places and absorb the sounds, smells, colors, relationships, and struggles our characters are in. If something yanks us out of that space it can take half an hour or more to get back in. Sometimes the scene is gone forever. That hurts.

How You Help: Leave your writer alone. Shield them from kids, pets, in-laws, and traveling salesmen. Realize that even if they are standing right beside you, pouring coffee, they are in a totally different reality. Let them wander there as long as it takes.

To Win: Establish a verbal signal between you and your writer. "I'm done writing for the day." is mine. My wife knows I'm mentally exhausted, still returning home, but am trying to give her my full attention. She's now free to talk about anything though it's often "the cat puked in the hallway again."

Energy

Okay, Ramen for breakfast, lunch, and supper might not be the best health choice. An active brain can consume 25% of the daily calorie intake but processed sugar (soda) and process wheat (Ramen, pizza) are bad calories. They cause the brain to crash and the mind to get mired in sludge. Further, while some of us want to retreat to the Bat Cave for the entire month, fresh outdoor air and sunshine actually help us write better and longer. We won't admit that, but you know it's true. Mix that with a walk around the mall or watching a movie together and everyone wins.

How You Help: Figure out how to have healthy meals and snacks. Check out the Primal life-style and eating ideas. It will take months to transition if you're used to Happy Meals but everyone in the family will benefit. You won't miss the weight you lose, either. A little exercise, some fresh air, and a mental diversion will round out the weekly health adventure. Don't ask permission, drag 'em out the door.

To Win: Improve diet, get your writer outside, do short mentally engaging "dates" together. Tell your writer they can use it for a scene.

Encouragement

We all want to be emotionally strong, connected. To have it all together. Some of you may be like that, show the rest of us how. Writing puts our best thoughts and deepest emotions on display. Critics hurt. Even well meaning "you should write it like this" hurts; you're saying our work isn't good enough without your changes. We really need you to keep saying how great we are and how proud you are of us.

How You Help: Early in the day remind us that the world is waiting for our novel. When we've stopped for the day let us talk about it. Show appreciation and pride in us. Smack your writer if they want to quit. Then kiss them; the shock will give them an idea for a scene.

To Win: Keep your inner critic in check for the entire month. Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, your writer's work needs a lot more work. We know that. Trying to create like mad and keep faith in ourselves is tough. We need you. We'll get to revising later, right now we need to believe in ourselves.

To Our Shared Success

You, your writer, my wife, and I, will win. On the first day of December your writer and I will be overcome with emotion: WE DID IT! There is a mind bending level up in a writer's brain when the novel is actually written from start to finish. Once the laughing, crying, and gibberish settle down we're going to find our Number One Team Mate and love you like mad. Our hearts have grown and you're the one we want to share it with.

You've got eleven months to enjoy the victory. ;)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book Review: “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction”

“Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” Debra Dixon

WIBA? Yup

Okay, yes. Writing conflict in scenes is difficult for me. You might have an easy time of it. Lucky you. I go through hours, sometimes days, of conflict trying to write conflict. I saw a great recommendation for “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction” (GMC) when I had money to send Amazon. Glad I did. Ms. Dixon does a great job of explaining how to map out internal and external conflict in your characters and how to link them together. I learned a lot and recommend the book. Buy it. Really.

Instead of another couple paragraphs gushing about Ms. Dixon’s work and repeatedly suggesting you buy the book, though, I’ll show you how it plays out. In TDW.1416.02 there’s a female character mentioned in passing. She is introduced in TDW.1429.01 and you get some of her backstory, involving her father, in TDW.1429.02. Zoliana “Zo” Chemin is not a woman to trifle with. In TDW.1429.03 Dede McKenna refers to Zo as “Blaster Lady”. But we never meet Zo’s dad. Zo herself referred to him as a regular guy who became a hero for love. For her. Who is Harold Chemin? Even I didn’t know until I put him through the GMC process.


Character: Harold Chemin

Description: Worried father

GMC Blurb: Harold's daughter needs help but he doesn't have the money, skills, or space travel experience to get to her.

External Internal
Goal Rescue daughter Overcome distance with estranged daughter
Motivation Act as should Driven by love
Conflict Lack of skills or resources Scared of everything it takes to succeed

[208.155.0917] Betzala's desk, Abunt LLC, Lunion

"No thank you." Harold repeated.

Betzala's typing was excruciatingly slow. Harold still had to find the ship and convince the engineer to take him on. She hadn't sounded like she believed he could do the work. He wasn't sure he could do the work. Betzala was dragging out the exit process and Harold would miss his appointment.

The door to Betzala's office slammed open. Harold had seen Johanic coming. Impossible to miss two meters of bullying line foreman stacked a meter wide. Even if Betzala hadn't talked the boss into glass walls for her office three years ago, Harold would have felt the floor vibrate as Johanic stomped his way forward.

"Waddyamean, you little puke?" Johanic bellowed. "Get back to scrubbing press number four. Oil it good this time!"

Harold was trapped. Betzala's typing magically improved as she gave Harold a wicked grin. Whatever she was entering into his record would end his career at Abunt and any of the other manufacturing companies around. Probably on the entire planet.

Harold's hands shook. His heart hurt. The doctor told him months ago to eat better. The doctor never explained how to afford the food Harold was supposed to eat. The company retirement accounts weren't doing well and demanding another five point three percent in contributions just to stay solvent. After seventeen years of contributions Harold had nothing to show.

He unconsciously wiped the sweat off the top of his head. His hands shook.

She had come to him earlier, it had seemed such a great idea. The sun had glistened as she skipped along the sidewalk into his view. Yellow print sundress and boundless giggles.

Harold wished the memory would return. His quest was about to end by heart attack in the HR office. He would run out of time before he ran out of time.

The memory of her arms wrapped around his chest. "Peekaboo." She whispered in his ear. She was a little older. A little taller. The sundress still fit. Hair brushed straight and smile as beautiful as ever.

His chest relaxed. Harold looked up at Johanic. "I'm resigning. Sorry."

"You're gonna get your stupid self back to scrubbing the press." Johanic towered over Harold.

More sweat covered Harold's bald head. The worn line of hair around his ears dripped. He smelled the flower she had brought. He stood.

"I'm leaving. Please move aside, I need to be elsewhere. Now." Harold stood. His hands shook and he gripped the back of the chair.

"I'm going to stand right here until you get it into your thick skull that you do what I say." Johanic said. "And I'll take this waste of my valuable time out of your pay."

Harold forced his eyes to blink away the sweat. He looked at Betzala. His hands rested on the back of the chair he had just vacated.

"Please let Missus Abunt know I expect my full pay to be in my accounts by fourteen standard." Harold forced himself to breath. "Otherwise I will retain a lawyer to discuss significant safety violations and union financial malfeasance perpetrated by her latest boyfriend. Mister Johanic is an idiot and can pay for the glass."

"What glass?" Betzala said. Her jaw dropped as Harold picked up the chair and threw it through the glass wall.

Harold looked at the shocked faces outside Betzala's office as a meter long fractured segment of glass shattered at his feet.

"Sorry for the noise." He said as he stepped into the hallway. He sat the chair upright. "And the mess."

Another crash behind him. Harold strode to the "Exit" sign and ignored Johanic's bellows and Betzala's screaming. His mind focused as the yellow sundress clad memory skipped down the corridor in front of him.

"Daddy's on his way, sweetheart."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Best Programming Language

At one job interview they gave me a full page list of computer programming languages and asked which ones I knew. There were hundreds on the list! I thought SNOBOL was a trick question, turns out there really is a language called SNOBOL. AT&T Labs, mid-60’s. Wow.

Job analysts say the ability to program, even at a basic level, is becoming a necessary general skill. Being able to break huge problems down to smaller solvable tasks, helps us overcome many challenges. And programming can be really fun!

Which one do you learn?

Each language has strengths; people who love the language say it is the best. What they really mean is “It is the best to me.” That’s nice. How do you find the best for you? Use the “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act” (OODA) loop to find the answer.

Observe – Yourself, actually. What do you like to do? What problems do you like to solve? Some people like to work statistics for sports teams. Others like to build web pages to share information. I like to play Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and a lot of my coding as centered on that. Be honest with yourself at this stage and it will pay off soon.

Orient – Each language has strengths and challenges. C is a powerful language that works for systems programming but is not as good for web pages. PHP is exactly the opposite. Note that both languages can be used where they are not best but you will have to work harder at it. Focus on the strengths a language has and find half a dozen or so that work really well with what you want to do. If you have no idea where to start, check out the TIOBE index. Do a little research on the top twenty languages and see which ones seem interesting. If you don’t find several choices then go on down the page, they list the top 100 according to their metrics.

Decide – This is both fun and risky. The way to decide is to spend a few days with each language on your list. See how much you enjoy doing the things you want to do. Do not pick a language based on TIOBE ranking or number of jobs on Dice. Pick the one that works best for you. For what you want to do. Decide based on actual experience with the language. Starting out can be frustrating; how do you compile code? Is this even a compiled language? How do I do simple stuff like “Hello World”?

Act – This is the big step; the real challenge. You have spent a few days with multiple languages, now you commit the next ninety days to just one. That’s right, about three months. Focus on one language and learn the basics. Do the things you want to do with it, research how to do those things. Do not pay attention to claims about other languages being better, faster, more modern, or whatever. You have your language, get to know it. Work side by side to get things done.

Does all that sound like a lot of work? Yes! That’s part of the learning process. A big part of coding is breaking the problem down and figuring out how to test each question. Then you put the parts back together and test the questions again.

The critical point is this: if you choose a language that you enjoy coding in, you will code more. That is the only way to get better at coding; code more. Learn new things and then code them. Go back to your old code and make it better. Look at some library code from your language and work to understand it.

Soon you will be solving the problems you like to solve with the language you want to code in. That’s the best place to be, and with the best language.