Buried by details, plus a software rant against Windows 7

It’s been a revelation this week, with my wife being gone. This is her second away trip for the year, and even though it’s not two weeks like the one she took this summer, somehow this time it’s having a bigger impact on me personally, because I’ve been trying to build and maintain a professional writing output level since getting back from Writers of the Future in August. One thing I will say, about these trips — and the additional workload being shifted to my shoulders — they always makes me wonder how single Moms do it for years on end. I have just the one daughter, and she’s an easy, smart little cookie. I can’t imagine multiple kids, much less multiple kids with issues or behavior problems. I think I’d go crazy. So, to all single Moms, my hat is off. You are all working miracles.

Anyway, the week has been a total disaster, and a total blessing, at the same time. A disaster because I’ve not been able to get done even half the stuff I wanted to get done — writing or otherwise — but also a blessing because it’s made me realize acutely how and where I need to reorganize my life and effect some serious changes in how I track, sort, and prioritize all the small and big things I’ve got going on — stuff that needs attending, lest I fall short or wind up causing problems not just for myself, but the family as a whole.

Yesterday I officially began work on a writing-related project that should start bringing in regular money come December of this year. Not much. About what I get from the Army Reserve every month. But it’s writing-related so I get to include it as writing income, and that’s a very big step for me, to have a regular lump of writing money showing up in the mail. But it also means a further commitment that requires proper and diligent attention. Just like my 7 year old needs proper and diligent attention, and my day job, and my army job, and the writing of new fiction. Which is just a very wordy way of saying I’m Bilbo: spread thin, like butter scraped across too much bread.

To that end I’ve been re-reading David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done.” It was a complimentary gift as part of a day job sponsored time management class I did in late January, and I am returning to it again because I am really, really needing some fresh, practical ideas and motivation to focus hard and restructure my daily flow.

One of the huge things David hits on is having a reliable “catchment” system that can keep things from falling through the cracks. All the bazillion little and big items, actions, requirements, reminders, etc, all go into the system. If the system is trustworthy, it will not let you forget or overlook things, so that they get done on time and without much mental grief.

And mental grief is something I’ve had too much of in the last six months. Mostly because I have become so overwhelmed by everything I have to do, between all my commitments, that I often wake up in the morning and immediately experience a crushing sense of groaning, dull obligation. Ugh. And I know it’s because I don’t have a properly organized and prioritized system. I carry all of it around in my head, and trying to carry it all around in my head drives me nuts because I wind up worrying about all of it all the time, and I am forever stuck in Covey’s “important urgent” box, or in the “not important, not urgent” escapist time wasting box.

Theoretically, it should be possible to get to the “important, not urgent” box — where everything is handled before it’s a crisis, and there is little or no time-wasting on bullshit because there’s no emotional or mental desire to flee the entire mess because it’s just too overwhelming and difficult to try and grapple with at any one moment. Yes, occasional fires are inevitable, and they have to be put out when they have to be put out. But life shouldn’t feel like a fire, all the time, every day, and that’s what my life has felt like lately: one fire after another, and I’m rather tired of it.

So, much as I’d have loved to drop everything and write a ton as I’d planned, I’ve actually been forced to spend my time — what time I can find in between everything, including being a Dad — trying to figure out and develop my system. And the first step in that process, is identifying any and all possible action items, items requiring attention, reminder items, etc, in my life right now. And this list has grown depressingly long — almost to the point that I want to put my head back under the pillow and hide from it all. Only, I can’t. It’ll only get worse if I do that, and I am all out of energy and patience for ‘worse’ in all its forms.

So, that’s my update on this end.

Oh, and I am abandoning Microsoft Windows 7. Have had it on the new writing computer in the basement since August, and am fed up with it. Done. D-O-N-E. Windows XP did everything I needed my operating system to do, and it did it in a familiar, efficient manner. Windows 7 seems like an artfully decorated box of crap. Nothing works the way it used to. I have to keep scrounging in all kinds of annoying ways just to figure out how to do simple shit I used to be able to do without thinking. The interface doesn’t work for me at all. I used to think it would just take a little time to get used to, like when I went from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. But unlike when I went to Windows 95, which rapidly proved itself superior to 3.1 within a couple of days, Windows 7 has been nothing but frustration.

So I am simply not going to put up with it anymore. Before I left the house this morning I put my Windows XP disc — been with me almost 10 years now — into the DVD-R/W drive, booted from the disc, told it to reformat the entire partition and re-load the OS, and walked out the door. I’ll have to dicker with XP to get it to load the correct drivers for the new hardware, but at this point it’s a small price to pay to get my computing sanity back at home.

Oh, and I am ditching Office 2007 on that machine as well. I still have my Office XP disc. It too did everything I needed, and it did it well. Office 2007 with its chaotic ribbon system is just not worth my time anymore. Both Windows 7 and Office 2007 seems like idiotic steps in the wrong direction. For me anyway. If Microsoft doesn’t pull its collective head out of its ass on the next versions of these, I am liable to go away from Microsoft products altogether for the first time since I adopted the PC in 1992.

Somehow, I suspect, I am not alone.

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35,000 words in 7 days

I dropped my wife off at the airport today. She’s headed to Denver to see her brother for the first time in ages, spend the week in a nice hotel sharing a room with a very old and very close woman friend from when we lived in Washington State, and then she’s attending the NWSA conference at the end of the week. So it ought to be an engaging and relaxing time for her, and I do think she’s earned it. Yes I do.

Of course, not having the spouse at home for a week means lots of hours open up for other projects. So I’m going to get a little crazy and challenge myself to write 35,000 words in the next 7 days. Sunday through Sunday. That’s 5,000 words a day, roughly. I think it’s do-able, provided I chop my internet surfing to less than 30 minutes daily and write both in the morning before work and at night after I tuck my daughter into bed. Ostensibly I’d polish off another two chapters of Emancipated Worlds, get at least one more new short piece of fiction out to market, and devote the rest of the wordage to my novel draft that’s going to Baen at the end of the year.

To SFWA or not to SFWA?

Having cleared my throat on polit(ick!)s, I wanted to get back to a skiffy subject: now that I’ve got three professional short fiction sales under my belt, do I join the Science Fiction Writers of America?

There was a time when I dreamt of being in SFWA. This was many, many years ago, when I considered SFWA to be something of an elite club for established professional science fiction and fantasy authors — people I pretended never got rejected, and whos membership in mighty SFWA guaranteed sales.

I’ve since learned better. SFWA membership doesn’t make you bulletproof. It’s also not even a merit badge of literary eliteness, since over a thousand people are in SFWA, and probably only a few hundred of them are anywhere close to being ‘common’ names among well-read SF&F fans, much less house-hold names among average U.S. readers who aren’t explicit skiffy fans.

Plus, it’s expensive. $80 a year doesn’t sound like much, but at this particular point in time, my wife and I are actually trying to cut how much we’re spending on writing-related activities, because it would be nice to be able to claim an actual profit from my writing, on our taxes — either this year or next. And I’m already looking at shelling out $20 a month for Publisher’s Marketplace, possibly another $500 for the Superstars seminar in Salt Lake City in January, and the Renovation World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, Nevada, for 2011.

Assuming my check for my latest sale shows up before the end of 2010, this year I’ll have made the better part of two grand. Historic, for me as a writer, but still just a drop in the bucket, given expenses and household budget. For this writing schtick to be truly worth my time, it has to prove to be a net plus for the family coffers, not a net minus like it’s been since 1992. I’ve got a real shot at flipping over to for-profit production, and I’m considering very carefully how and when I decide to load the scales against the profit margin.

Maybe I’ll hold off and join SFWA when I get my check for my fifth pro sale? Or perhaps I will really hold out and join SFWA when I get my first advance on my first novel? As neat-o as it would be to claim SFWA membership right here, right now, it would feel like a frill. It’s not a pressing necessity. I don’t have money to burn, as they say. I’m already burning too much as it is.

OMG, the year is half over? WTH?

2010 has officially tipped over into its second half. Howindahell did time fly so quickly? Since my mid-twenties I have become alarmed at how fast each successive year seems to pass. It must be a function of developing cognition that when you are young, time seems to stretch endlessly to the horizon — but as you age, the minutes and the hours and the days and the weeks and the months… it all becomes foreshortened, such that now I fret that there is never enough time. Too much to do. I could use 30-hour days and 10-day weeks, and it probably still wouldn’t be enough to get everything done. So I am forced to pick and choose how and why I spend my time, and I often feel remorse over the things that get left untouched or undeveloped — consoling myself that the things I do focus on, are priority things which have the most value and the most importance.

Towards that end, I’ve got some additionally ambitious goals for my writing for the last half of 2010. The first half was pretty good — I am 50% to meeting my annual goals that I set at the end of 2009. Which is a first, because usually at this point I’d be moaning and groaning about how I am way behind, how I’ve wasted all kinds of time, etc, etc. Not this year. This year I’ve managed to be on-target, and I am glad for that.

But I’ve also learned that I could be doing even more. So while I am still sticking to my plan to get another novel completed and out the door, along with an additional 6 new short pieces, I am also contemplating a serial project — on top of the rest — as well as some significant re-writes for older work. Which increases the weekly burden. But I think I am ready for that. Later this summer I am attending the Writers of the Future workshop — ballyhooed for turning amateurs into professionals — and I want to walk into that workshop in ‘run’ mode, not ‘walk’ mode. Last year, I was still mostly in ‘crawl,’ so I need to step up my game just that much more. Especially since the rejections never stopped — oh no, I am getting them just as much as I always did before breaking in — and the only way around it seems to be increasing my output by an additional factor.

Which will involve still more cutting back on some of the ‘time junk food’ that I enjoy, just as I’ve had to cut back on edible junk food as part of the P90X fitness program. I need to get even more ruthless about how I focus my energy. There are still too many minutes being wasted. I am still too disorganized. I still have a long ways to go towards arranging my daily and weekly schedule so that I am getting everything I can out of my waking hours. I am tired of looking back over each week and realizing — 20/20 — how much of that week was wasted. Yes, this is contra to my natural inclinations to take things easy. But I’ve more or less surrendered in my heart to the fact that things will get easy when I’m dead. While I am alive, I need to get after it and stay after it if I want to accomplish anything worthwhile.

InterToob Fast 2010

It’s that time again. How many of you look up from the screen at some point late in the afternoon and think, holy shit, I could have gotten so much done, but instead I surfed my day into the ground.

So sad, yet so true!

Yah. Happens to me all the time too. I really need to reclaim my minutes. I love the internet because it’s endless and there is everything to see and read and listen to and do… But then I get this feeling like it’s all just a colossal distraction from what’s really going on. I mean, I’ve got so much I could be doing and accomplishing, and I’m just pinging around from one blog to the next, one message board to the next, and it’s getting kind of scary how compulsive the whole enterprise is.

Stop it! (slaps self)

Stop it!! (cold water in face)

Back away from the keyboard… Slowly… Slowly….

Saying no to the #1 killer!

This article breaks my ‘rule’ for this blog, in that it has absolutely nothing to do with anything related to writing or science fiction. But, this being my most visible web space where I get to “declare” things, I want the following on the record.

DISCLAIMER: I want to state emphatically that this article is not a bash on fat or overweight people per se. I am intimately familiar with the many ways in which overweight and fat people — and the truly, morbidly obese — are too often ‘invisible’ in our society, worthy only of derision and scorn. You can’t openly be racist or sexist anymore without being roundly clubbed for your churlishness, but you can make fat jokes all day long, and people still laugh at the office water cooler. It’s an ugly aspect of our society and I do wish it would change, because people are still people and millions of Americans struggle with the discomfort, anxiety, depression and despair of being fat and/or obese every day.

Now, having said that….

I’ve ranted before about America’s too-large behind. Then, as now, I believe the U.S. is in a colossal state of crisis, regarding its flab. We are a fat, soft society filled with fat, soft people. Myself being no exception. I love crap food and I hate exercise. Had I not joined the Army in 2002 it’s probable I’d have tipped right over the rails and into the sea of soft, pudgy, middle aged, white men that dominate the office work force in the U.S.

And I absolutely loathe the “person of size” movement which pretends to assign to fat the same neutral status as eye color or shoe size; as if being fat is a fashion statement? Let me be very clear. I consider the “person of size” movement to be a destructive and dangerous lie that seeks to delude Americans and people around the world into embracing their disease as if it’s something to be proud of.

The reality is that fat not only looks bad — sorry, size lobbyists, you can’t win on this one, obesity is not nice to see — it is detrimental to a person’s health in all kinds of ways. From organs to joints to arteries, fatness and obesity are killers. Every year in America, being fat kills more people than any other kind of disease or ailment. Hundreds of thousands of Americans! Gone! And not from anything other than that they didn’t exercise enough and they didn’t eat properly.

I repeat, Americans are committing a form of protracted suicide because they eat badly and they don’t give their body the regular, strenuous workouts that the human body requires every week of every year throughout a lifetime, in order to remain trim, strong, healthy, and able.

I turned 36 this year. If the average American male lives to be 72, I am exactly middle aged. I can feel it when I wake up in the morning. I can tell when I go up stairs or do other activities that tax my damaged knees and remind me that I’m not 15 anymore. I can also tell because when I put on pants and shirts, there is just too much “there” there. I look in the mirror and I know it should be a better picture. That fat thing under my chin? It ought to be gone. That little extra around the belly? It too should be gone. I’ve been in good shape before. Last time was in 2003 when I got back from IADT with the Army. Best shape was ever in, save for perhaps my teen days when I did Karate-do.

Exercise equipment has cycled through my house at an embarrassing clip. Thousands of dollars in gear that sat largely unused. Hell, I live right on the other side of the freeway from a huge Air Force base where I can go use state-of-the-art free weights and machines practically any time I want!

So how come I let myself get back to the brink of being fat like the rest of America? I was here once, in 2002, before the Army whipped me into shape with 18 hour days and PT that makes the average man puke. When I got done in 2003 I was reminded how much I hated that kind of physical work, but I was also happy to see that my body had responded accordingly.

Well, now that I’ve eaten and sat my way back to the edge of being just another soft, pudgy, white office worker, I’m throwing down the gauntlet.

I’m saying no to fat. I am saying no to heart disease, and double chins, and beer bellies, and bypass surgery, and all the other “benefits” of being a Person of Size. I won’t be part of the lie. I won’t be one of those too-typical white husbands who gets pudgy or grows a gut and then wonders why his wife isn’t attracted anymore. I won’t make excuses. I know what the problem is and I know how I got myself here, and it’s time to get my ass off the couch and look myself in the mirror and declare, emphatically, that from this point forward, gottdamn, things are going to be different!

So, I plunked down a chunk of change for the P90X system. With my schedule, I need something I can do in my basement in the early morning that will melt the pounds and build muscle across my body. Having seen and done some of the discs already, I know that P90X is not just another fad program or Jane Fonda leg warmers routine. This is serious PT for people who are serious about their bodies. And it also comes with a dietary guide — something most people forget about, and without which virtually any fitness program is almost useless.

Dietary control scares me, I won’t lie. I like most food that is bad for me, especially the cheap, fast kind. I like sugar too. I’ve got the fillings in my mouth to prove it. Going largely without cheap crap, corn products, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup sounds a little bit like going without air.

But I know it has to happen now. Not ten years from now. Now. When the damage I’ve already done, hasn’t permanently hurt me. When I can still enjoy my fit self as a relatively young middle-ager, and my wife can enjoy me being fit too. Hell, I won’t lie. I think it’s craptastically selfish when any spouse lets themselves go. Fat and obesity are gross. Say it with me, America, fat and obesity are gross. They are not sexy. Cottage cheese down your ass is gross! Beer guts and double chins and neck fat and flabby arms… This is not sexy! And it’s not fair for any of us to get flabby and grow cheese on our asses and expect our spouses to go, oh yes honey, you are the bomb.

Men are extra notorious for this. How many skinny women have you seen walking around with a fat man for a husband? Yup. Me too. They are everywhere. Being a fat guy is far more socially acceptable than being a fat girl. But it shouldn’t be that way, because let’s not kid ourselves: fat looks bad on you no matter your gender, and while I do not in any way blame people for being fat, I do blame them if they realize, oh God, I am too fat, and then shrug and go right back to sitting on the couch and shoveling ice cream into their mugs.

Well, I’m not going to do it. I’m just not. Not anymore. I deserve better. My wife deserves better. My daughter and my mother and my father deserve better. My country deserves better. I need to be lean and strong and cut and healthy, so that I can meet all my responsibilities as husband, father, provider, soldier, and son. I know too from experience that with physical strength and health comes mental strength and health. Orson Scott Card said it in his writing book. When you body is soft and flabby, how sharp will your mind be? Answer: it won’t.

P90X arrives in the mail this week. I can’t wait to get started. I am scared to death because I know it’s going to take more self control than I’ve currently got. I am going to have to break out of my envelope and develop new, expanded discipline to ensure that the program is effective. I am motivated though, mostly because I am tired of the me I have now: soft, relaxed, eating crap and looking like crap and feeling like crap. It’s gross. I am done.

InterToob: Fighting The Chronic!

Doubtless, by now you’ve seen the latest South Park episode. The one where Stan Marsh literally gets sucked into Facebook? (click here to see the episode!)

You Have 0 Friends - 1

Aside from this episode’s extreme Cool Factor — due to the superb incorporation-slash-homage of TRON — it’s also excellent social satire. I recently saw a statistic that said if Facebook was a country, it would be the fifth most populace country in the entire world. There are almost more people on Facebook than there are in the entire United States of America. That’s a colossal number of people spending a colossal amount of time in front of their computers doing… What, precisely?

I’m old enough to remember the Old Days when we dialed up to local or regional Bulletin Board Systems — then known as BBSs. Back then, e-socializing was something of an underground, cutting edge kind of thing that only the dorkiest and the nerdiest among us did. Most people could not have logged on — to anything — if their lives depended on it. And the closest anyone came to “poking” or “friending” or “checking status” was in the form of a phone call or, more likely, sticking an elbow in their ribs in the halls at school, or the break room at work.

Not anymore. The electronicized lifestyle has arrived full-force, and with platforms like Facebook servicing an exponentially-expanding number of users every day, it seems like the majority of the people on planet Earth will be connected over the internet by the time this decade is out.

But is that a good thing? As South Park points out — in that wonderfully not-so-subtle South Park style — what can be said about a form of human communication that does much to de-humanize the process.

More importantly, what are we doing with our time? Where are the hours going? What kinds of things are we killing in our lives when we elect to spend our waking moments checking web pages?

You Have 0 Friends - 2

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite. I don’t hate the internet and I don’t want to preach the Luddite gospel of throwing all our technology into the landfill and going back to the 19th century. That’s not only impossible, it’s impractical. But in my own life, I do have to wonder whether or not I’ve got a real problem. Because the truth is, I do spend a lot of time on-line. And I mean a lot of time on-line. Have been spending a lot of time on-line for years, in fact.

In one of my first posts on this blog, I broke down — roughly — the hours I guesstimated I’d spent on-line:

Assume that I’ve spent a minimum of two hours on the internet, per day, over the last ten years. I realize that on some days it was far, far more than that, and on some days far less, but in the aggregate, I believe two hours per day is about right. So that’s 2 hours per day x 365 days per year x 10 years = 7,300 hours. Wow. Look at that. 7,300 hours divided by 24 = 304.16 days, or the better part of one whole year kicking around the InterToob.

That was one year ago. Since then, I’ve added an additional (guesstimated) 730 hours to the total. Though I suspect it’s much more than that, because I know fully well there have been some days where my on-line activity hasn’t been limited to a mere two hours.

Most of that activity has been reading. Blogs, chat boards, articles and threads. Some of it has been writing, albeit not of the productive sort — meaning, not fiction, but instead indulgent blathering like what I am doing now. The rest of that time has been spent watching YouTube or surfing for graphics or images or audio and video content of one sort or another. My, isn’t Amazon’s MP3 downloader a terribly amazing thing? So much music, right at the click of a mouse. And priced back to the days when you could get an album on cassette tape for $7!

But I digress.

Again, I am not a Net Hater. Those 8,000+ hours I’ve spent on-line the last 11 years weren’t all a waste. No.

But they weren’t of huge benefit, either.

Yes, I have communicated with many fascinating people and I value very much the connections I have made — because without the internet most of those connections might not have been possible. I also do not deny that many of those hours were of a pure, recreational sort: unwinding after — or during — a tough day at work, or when I needed to let my brain thaw out after solving a tough technical issue, spending too much time on dry schoolwork for college classes, and so on and so forth.

But what do I have to show for the time spent? Really? And how much has the internet become my master, and I its servant?

You Have 0 Friends - 3

More and more, studies show that compulsory and addictive internet behavior is a bona fide problem. At work, at home, at school, for adults and teens and even children. People spending so much time checking mail and blogs, and playing games like fantasy sports and e-poker, surfing YouTube and MySpace, that their real lives — the tangible aspects of being human — go by the wayside. They literally live their lives electronically, devoting more waking hours to electronic socialization and virtual tasks than they do to actual socialization and actual work that needs to be done.

Again, I am no saint in this regard. As my wife can tell anyone, I am an e-social dork of the first order. Almost everybody I call a friend is someone I either met originally on-line, or someone I met in-person but now interact with largely through the internet. I burn a lot of minutes every day engaged in e-banter that, while fun in the moment, doesn’t result in any lasting progress on any projects in my life that truly matter.

A couple of months ago I took a neat little one-day time management seminar at work which spoke to the issue of internet surf issues — as they applied to getting things done — and I could tell from that class that much of the electronic foolerization I engage in is of the “avoidance” variety. Ergo, I am doing something on-line that feels “busy” in order to avoid something I should be doing in the real world, but don’t want to be doing. Sometimes it’s something as simple as cleaning the cat box. Other times, it’s more important stuff — the kinds of things that come back and bite me later because I put them off too much, for too long.

Usually, I tell myself I’ll get a handle on it and make a change. But too often I let these promises to myself evaporate the moment I get up in the morning, because my habits are so deeply ingrained it feels positively alient trying to break them. Checking mail, checking blogs and boards, etc, etc, is so much a part of my routine that when I actually force myself to stop — my brain kind of goes, “Whaaa?” and then I am stuck figuring out what the hell else am I going to do, if I can’t spend hours on the web?

You Have 0 Friends - 4

Once upon a time, I knew how to work and play without being on the computer. Many years ago. I’m long overdue for recapturing some of that. Specifically not clicking the next link and not surfing to the next blog and not allowing myself to “avoid” via a virtual world where a person could spend an entire lifetime — busily engaged — and accomplish almost nothing of import.

Again, I am not a web hater. But I do sometimes hate it a lot when I let the web take over my time use — to the detriment of valuable projects which need doing.

EDIT TO ADD: Georg Pedersen did this hilarious web comic (click here to see it) wherein he perfectly illustrated my typical “cycle,” with good intentions too often being badly derailed by interweb busy-tude. I can burn hours on the web without giving it a second thought, but too much of this over days and weeks and months… I start to get flat-out tired of myself and tired of my habits! It’s not fun anymore. It’s a problem. One I’d very much like to solve.

Like I said at the top of the article, South Park tackles the issue with sardonic style and brilliance (click here to see the episode!) and I applaud Matt and Trey and Co. for their effort. It sometimes takes making us laugh hardest at ourselves, to make us realize that we’ve gotten off the right track.

EDIT TO EDIT TO ADD: I had almost forgotten about the South Park Grapes of Wrath parody episode! Laughed my butt off the first time I saw it last year, and it still makes me laugh my butt off now. Social satire at its finest. “All right Internet, what do you want from us??”

My first professional contract

Got my contract from Dell Magazines yesterday, the parent group of Analog Science Fiction & Fact.

Not that I ever doubted the letter Stan Schmidt sent me, but it’s nice to now see the actual legal document and hold it in my hands.

As firsts go, it feels like a mighty big first. And it also makes me remember.

This single contract alone — for a single story — is worth the better part of double what I was getting paid, twice a week, from my first steady job I held back in 1995. I was doing graves and swings back then, punching a clock for a motel. During the slow season I stole what time I could, to write on the job. Back then I still harbored delusions that it would be an easy step to publishing in the digests, with my ultimate goal being novels. At that time I figured I’d be working full-time as a novelist before I reached the age of 30.

How life and reality find a way to slap us down, when we’re young and dreaming!

But I can’t complain. I did a lot with myself in the last 15 years, and I think my writing has been helped a heap because of it. It sucked having to wait so long for these entry-level successes, but then nothing worth doing is ever easy. Or so my Dad always said, and as I’ve learned since turning 30, Dad has been right about virtually everything. And continues to be more right about more stuff, every day.

In fact, I’d dare say the long wait has made the break-in just that much more sweet. I savor it now in a way I know I’d not have savored it back then, and I just hope I’ve learned enough practical and creative lessons build on this initial success.

Thankful for 2009

2009 was not the year that I’d hoped it would be.

Then again, 2009 was far more than I ever could have hoped for.

Does that make sense?

This time last year I’d set for myself the goal of writing two 100,000 word books and 25 short stories, and getting them all out to market.

My actual production for 2009 was only 6 new short stories, zero books, and about 61,000 total new words, including some work on a pet project and some padded production on a novel that will technically count toward’s 2010’s goals.

However, there are several things that rescued 2009, for me personally.

First, I got my break-in sale, which I have spoken about at length on this blog. I was telling my wife when we were at the gym on New Years Eve that it really does feel different, finally being a paid writer. And not just chickenfeed paid. I mean SFWA-pro-level paid.

Before, if I’d wanted to flake on the writing, it was no big deal because it wasn’t like the household income was affected. I still went to the day job and brought home the day job check and the bills got paid, whether I put in 10,000 words in a week or zero words in a week. Now, I have a copy of my $500 from Writers of the Future under glass at my desk. It’s like the GEICO commercial with the stack of cash and the googly eyes: that check is always watching me. As if it’s speaking to my brain, “You idiot, there is a lot more where I came from if you just stop making excuses and get to work!”

Second, I made Warrant Officer with the Army Reserve. This time last year I was still awaiting results from the Army’s selection board for Warrant Officers — you don’t just get to be one, they have to pick you, and then you have to go through the spin cycle of Warrant Officer Candidate School. Which I have also spoken of on this blog. Happy to say I made it, in spite of a few bumps, and am in a new arena in my Reserve military career. It’s good to be The Chief.

Third, I survived some significant turmoil at work. Given the state of the economy in 2009, I don’t need to tell you how much stress I had, going through this turmoil. I don’t want to divulge too much because I might get too personal and too off-the-chain regarding person(s) who have since ceased to matter to me. Suffice to say, the year — in this regard — reached a somewhat surprising and — for my money — decidedly pleasant conclusion. I’ve got more work than ever to do, I’ve got the support I need from the people I need it from, and a certain significant fly has been removed from my ointment, if you know what I mean.

Oh, and I managed to avoid anything unexpectedly nasty, like a terrible new injury or illness. At least two people I know fairly well and one of whom is a personal mentor, spent 2009 battling cancer. If there is anything that really smacks you back into reality and makes you thankful for the little stuff, it’s finding out someone you care about has cancer. Potentially lethal cancer. Holy cow, how that just sobers you up. Freezes you solid. Makes you stop and wonder about all the tiny crap you bitch about all day, as if any of that really matters or is important.

Wife and daughter are healthy, too. In fact, daughter has been going gangbusters at school and jumped a grade. Mostly because Mom is a tyrannically awesome home schooler and doesn’t let my daughter’s brain turn to mush. Which is not to say we’re tough parents. We’re not. My daughter has loads of fun. With limits. It’s just that my wife, being the überfeminist that she is, is determined that our daughter — who is a decidedly smart little cookie — won’t sail through school being cute and sliding under the radar. We can’t force her to become a brain surgeon or an astronaut, but it would be nice if by the time she graduates Highschool she has that option. Because the way they ram kids through public school… No, that’s a political rant, and I won’t go there.

Anyway, as things drew to a close, I had to sit back and say, Brad, this was a good year. Not a tumult-free year. Not a year without distress or hard times. No. But the outcomes were good. The prognosis for 2010 is good. We’re headed into our third year in our house — first one we’ve ever owned, and probably the last, given our want to stay put, fix it up, and be comfortable on a conservative income — and we’re close to family. Which was not the case from 1994 through 2007, as my parents were two states and a plane flight away, which meant we didn’t see them a whole lot. Now we see them all the time, and it’s great. Priceless, in fact. Especially when I see my daughter getting to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa.

I don’t blab much about my religious beliefs on this blog, because I don’t think this is necessarily for the forum for that. But I do believe that God likes it when we — as His children — take the time to be thankful. Genuinely, positively thankful. Not grudgingly thankful. Not faux thankful. But really, really thankful.

I want to close out 2009 — yeah, OK, I am a day or two late, sue me — on a thankful note. Thank you, 2009, for being so good in the end, even when there were times when you seemed to be going so bad. Thank you, Lord, for seeing myself and my family through this. Thank you, Writers of the Future, and K.D. Wentworth, and Tim Powers, and Doug Beason, and Jerry Pournelle. Thank you Chief Niesen, for being my mentor, and for guiding me down the path to being a Warrant Officer. I pray you beat the cancer. Thank you, Chiefs Hartley and Wise for being my new mentors and for helping me complete WOCS. Thank you Day Job for still being there, even when there were times it seemed like you might be yanked out from under me.

And a final thank you to everyone who has commented on, and participated in, this blog. I am continually surprised to discover who is reading me, and why, and I hope these posts prove to be of at least minimal value, be it informational or entertainment. I use this space mostly to “think out loud” as it were, and I am humbled when anyone else drops in and “thinks out loud” along with me. Muchas gracias. Your words are appreciated.

Dean Smith preps us for 2010

If you haven’t been reading Dean Smith’s blog lately, you should. He’s doing a crash-course whirlwind series — like he did last year — designed to get everyone on the ground running. Or, rather, writing. Quickly. Regularly. With realistic and concrete goals in mind. I’ve been glued. I think you should be too.

www.deanwesleysmith.com

Granted, Dean’s not aiming his advice at the MFA grad — though MFA grads have and do attend Dean’s workshops, usually after months or years of frustrating futility, where getting their fiction sold is concerned.

In many ways I like to think of Dean — and his wife Kris Rusch — as issuers of “blue collar” writing advice. They’re not trying to help you become the next Pulitzer winner. They’re just two people who, through trial and error, stumbled their way to financial independence through writing. One story at a time. In the process they believe they’ve uncovered a lot of industry b.s. — upon which they expound a great deal on their blogs, and especially during one of their classes aimed specifically at the aspirant: The Kris ‘n Dean Show. (NOTE: Best weekend I ever spent, as an unpublished writer, bar none. HIGHLY recommended.)

One of the reasons I am willing to spend money on Kris and Dean — as opposed to something like Clarion or even an MFA — is that their success is precisely the sort of success I want to model my career on. Others will feel differently and may have different goals, and I respect this, nor am I trying to say that my way — or Kris or Dean’s way — is The Only Way. It’s just that I’ve discovered, through my own stumbling, to trust a lot of what Kris and Dean say. Even the stuff that sounds off-the-wall or counter-intuitive. Even the stuff that flies in the face of Aspirant Gospel; such as the requirement for exhaustive re-writing to “polish” your manuscript.

My goal is to pay off my house and put the equivalent amount in the bank, so that I can finally quit The Day Job and work from home and be truly happy in my work. I may never reach the bestseller list. I may never have a movie made out of a book I write. But Dean and his wife insist that you don’t have to be Stephanie Meyer to get where I want to go. They’ve built a very, very comfortable and happy existence for themselves largely as “under the radar” writers, though in Kris’s case even she’s scored Hugos — on both sides of the writer/editor fence.

In the end, what appeals most — to me — about their combined philosophy, is that it doesn’t take itself so gottdamned seriously. These are not writers enthralled with The Art for its own sake. For them, writing seems fun, and a means to an end. I can absolutely plug in with them, on this level, because I don’t take it that seriously either. Not as a writer who is trying to say something Deep and Important about whatever. If I happen to actually say anything Deep and Important, in anything I publish, it’s liable to be on accident, rather than on purpose. And Kris and Dean insist that many of the Greats who are now considered Deep and Important, weren’t trying to be deliberately Deep and Important either.

Dean loves to tout Dickens as the most misunderstood Great, in this regard. Over and over Dean talks about how Dickens was a “blue collar” writer who wrote quickly, to deadline, to feed his (large) family. There was nothing overtly Deep or Important — from Dickens’ perspective — about what he was doing. It was a job, and he enjoyed doing it. Only after his demise and subsequent passing into the Halls of Litrachure (hat tip: Alastair!) did other writers and critics begin to put the man on a pedestal, because as far as anyone can tell, he didn’t put himself on a pedestal. Nor his craft, for that matter.

My aim is to write and sell books and stories. So that I can work and live at home and not have to answer the corporate bell if I don’t want to. I have almost no control over whether or not I go bestseller or become a “hit” like J.K. Rowling or anyone else on that scale. Even J.K. Rowling never had any control whether she’d reach her current state. It was the right series for the right audience at the right time, like Dan Brown. Sure I’d love to go that big, but because I cannot in any way determine whether or not I go that big — nobody can — I must focus on what I can determine. Which takes me back to Kris and Dean and how they focus, over and over, on “blue collar” advice for a “blue collar” writing lifestyle. They don’t promise to know how to make the bestseller list and become a millionaire in one book deal. They do promise that if you follow their advice, chances are very, very good you will make a living as a freelancer, given time and hard work.