Not doing NaNoWriMo, but Scrivener is a yes

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. Again.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have time and I’m really getting in the way of myself. Perhaps it’s because I just want to move on my own schedule. Perhaps it’s because I always feel NaNoWriMo is extremely gimmicky and gimmicky doesn’t work for me. Perhaps it’s because, at the moment, I want to get out a short story, not a novel.

For whatever reason, I won’t do NaNoWriMo again for the umpteenth year in a row. That’s okay; I don’t have anything against people who do do it. It’s just not for me, and I suspect it’s not for a lot of people.

I have been writing, however, and more than just code. I have been trying out the program Scrivener, and while I’m a bit apprehensive of paying $40 for a piece of software that isn’t a resource-intensive first person shooter, I think I’m going to end up buying it. It’s actually a great word processor combined with a fantastic project management suite. I still want to try it, though, for the next 24 days I have it free. I think I can get at least 3,000 more words out of it on that.

Now, if only Aeon Timeline can be brought over to Windows, that would be excellent.

Finished #GameOfThrones — Now What?

Yesterday I finished reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, the fifth and latest book in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series. I don’t really need to tell you what happens in the book, as it was published in 2011 and I’m sure everyone who actually gives a damn has already read it and then some. My blog material is spoiler free (largely.)

For me, what is truly unique about the ASOIAF series is how long it took me to read them. I started reading A Game of Thrones in about March, I believe (maybe April.) Perhaps it was because this was the first time I was reading an entire book series on my phone (using the Android Kindle app), and thus it was more strain on my eyes than a paperback book. Or maybe it was because the books were simply so dense. I don’t know. But usually, for me, I rip through a novel in about 1-2 days, maybe 4-5 at the most if I’m not reading constantly. But usually I am reading constantly. Just a few weeks ago I picked up a Kindle copy of Firebird, the latest novel in the Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, who I think is a superb writer and I absolutely love his Benedict series. I read that in less than a day. I went through that thing like a Death Star beam through a moderately sized terrestrial planet. And I loved it, but still.

Dance With Dragons? That was like a month. It’s dense. And to be fair, after the third book, I stopped reading for a month or so in order to recuperate before I dived in again. And I was really reading most of this while huddling in the bathroom, not out in the open, so I would be focusing on my work. But still, this stuff is long. And, as I said, dense. There’s a lot there. I’m certain I’ve missed a ton. (Including the TV series. Bah.) There is just so much stuff you can’t possibly read it in a day, or even a week (or maybe even three.) I think if I sat here and tried to read even one book straight through, it would take me more than 36 hours, maybe even 48.

The other thing about this series–and this interests me as a writer, not as a reader–is how Martin so strongly colors his viewpoint characters’ perceptions. When you’re with a character, you really feel as if this lens has clicked into place in front of your eyes. When you’re with Cersei, you can see everyone distort into these traitorous fiends, their conspiraces billowing up out of the floorboards to choke you. When you’re Jon, you can see the doddering old fools for what they are and the bonds of honor and justice that bind you. And when you’re Tyrion–well, you see everyone for the gigantic joke that they are.

It is truly marvelous. It’s a trick I think every aspiring writer–myself included!–should developed, as it really adds a layer of depth and versimilitude to the world.

The real question for me, though, is what next. Well, in terms of writing, I need to do more of it. Particularly more fiction. Writing about politics is great and all, but it’s not the same. I need to apply the lesson I mentioned above, as well. And I need to tell my internal editor to shut up. (Though, to be fair–to me, not my internal editor–I have been writing lately. Just…not enough, I suppose.)

As for reading, I’ve always wanted to tackle Ayn Rand’s nonfiction–Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It, The Virtue of Selfishness, The Return of the Primitive–but also to read J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. I think those would be good breaks from deep fiction, especially since they wouldn’t distract me nearly as much. And might also help with sleeping.

I am now (Cato) Unbound!

I’m extremely pleased to announce that I am participating in the May 2013 edition of Cato Unbound (@CatoUnbound), the most intelligent online journal of intellectualism.

The topic of this month is fusionism, specifically between libertarians and conservatives. My good friend and America’s Iron Lady, Jacque Otto (@jacque_otto) is kicking off with a lead essay, followed by yours truly on Wednesday, to then be followed by Students for Liberty Vice President Clark Ruper (@clark_ruper) on Friday and Acton Institute Research Fellow Jordan Ballor (@JordanBallor) on Monday.

This is the big leagues, folks, and I am very proud to be here. While six years ago I wanted to just do sci-fi writing, this is still extremely exciting. And I’m sure I can work it into my science fiction–after all, a great many science fiction writers were and are passionate libertarians. For that reason, HUGE thanks are in order to Cato Unbound editor @JasonKuznicki, to whom I now owe a keg of scotch. Or something.

Please read the lead essay up here, and feel free to join in the discussion!

More Op-Eds

I’m back in the op-ed writing business.

One piece, on how CPAC (which just concluded) screwed everything up, is now available at And yes, it is called “CPAC Is Doing It Wrong.”

The other piece, about an event at the Cato Institute on social media and drug violence in Mexico, is available on theblaze. Yes, Glenn Beck’s website.

Hopefully I will have more material up on both of these sites again soon. I like both of them a lot.

Switching to the Cloud

Drive faster, dammit! We have deadlines to catch!

I was really looking forward to getting some more progress on my novel done, which meant defragmenting it again after writing some stuff on another program. I happen to love the thing known as WriteMonkey, which is a full screen, distraction free writing program. Unfortunately, I tend to just starting writing things, leave them on it, and forget to put them into my full novel file. So when after I recently moved and put my desktop into a box, I once again had the aggravation of knowing that part of my novel was stuck on another computer, which I had to drag out of said box to get to. Thus, for some time, there was a gap in my novel, a block.

A most annoying one indeed.

Well, I think I have finally decided to go fully over to the cloud. This will undoubtedly be a genuine pain the arse when I go visit my parents or head into the outback where the Internet is a rare as a competent replacement NFL ref, or when Internet connectivity is down, but this is 2012 and I live in a big metro area. Documents should be on the cloud, not on hard drives (at least not just hard drives.)

Plus, Google Docs/Drive has come a long way. I remember when I first started using it way back around 2005 or 2006, and it was essentially an online Wordpad. It was not a replacement for Office. There were problems everywhere with formatting and saving files, and I couldn’t do a lot with the text. Fast forward six years, and I argue it’s better than Microsoft Word–better than OpenOffice LibreOffice even–and can be accessed anywhere that has Internet. Even without Internet, you can install Google Drive on your computer and have a folder that automatically syncs with it. (And it’s way better than SyncDocs too, which was always annoying with it’s pop-up notifications.)

I’m going to keep a lightweight Abiword behind on my computer (far smaller footprint than LibreOffice) just in case, but I feel I have made a big jump into the 21st century. Now I won’t have to worry where my documents are, as they will all be there, in the cloud, waiting.

Which sounds really freaking creepy.

Defragging the Novel

I have finally pulled together about four different word files, two different physical notebooks, and the proverbial partridge in a pear tree on my novel. I had it sitting alone for a little while, but now I have returned and got it up to…51 pages.

Huh, didn’t realize it was so long. But darn, at least it’s there. Nearly 18,000 words, which is a lot, though not nearly enough. That’s about one-sixth of where I want this finished thing to be.

But at least now, with all of it in one place and “defragged,” I can at least see that happening.

This Month in Success & Failure

The good news is, I submitted my entry for the DC shorts screenwriting competition yesterday. It was probably not the best I could do, though I had been fiddling with it off and on for the past month, and I decided that it was time to submit. Supposedly, Leonardo da Vinci once said “Art is never finished, merely abandoned,” and I feel that is quite accurate. However, part of the competition is getting feedback, and since that’s all I really want to obtain, I already consider myself a winner.

The bad news is that I failed to finish the ScriptFrenzy script I was working on. I had to have 100 pages by today, but I think I have somewhere between 20-25 pages. Why? Why did I fail? I think the sole reason was because I did not work on it constantly. I got myself into a position where if I wrote six pages one day, I felt I could take off the next day and not feel bad, but that was a mistake. Seemingly every day I got home from work I would feel wiped and unable to write. On the weekends when I would shoot for big gains, whatever I produced was marginal due to multiple reasons (which I won’t really dig into here.)

Ultimately, the lesson I learned is that you must write every single day. Any pause and there will be major issues.

I will continue writing it, however, because the idea that I’ve had for this has been in my head for years, ever since middle school. And I think that, as long as I put my butt in the chair and write–even if its only 3-5 pages a day, or less than that–it will work. It’s all about routine. It’s Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break The Chain” concept. And while to me it seems like a cheap cop-out, I think, after looking back on this, that its the truth.

So I will continue to write and finish this thing, hopefully over the next couple of months. There are already big changes in my life that should help me with that–I’m changing day jobs soon (my current gig is having me bring work home with me and keep it stuffed into my head, which is not fun), and since I recently reinstalled Windows on my home computer (bringing it from the ancient age of XP to the relative modernity of 7) all of my games are gone.

Except for Avernum. Just let me solve that one and I’ll be good, I promise…

On The Need To Stop Choking

I was doing some job searching, and one area I was looking into was English teaching in Japan. I spent a year in Japan while in college, and I must tell you, it was one of the best times of my life. I spent Halloween night alone on a mountain covered in torii, as part of the mammoth Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shinto shrine. (And since I don’t have enough images on this blog, check out this one below:)


A big red tunnel, basically
Yes, it’s THAT place.

It wasn’t just the Shinto shrines that got me, either–the food was amazing (??? for the win), the people were engaging (though maybe that was just because I was a white guy), the weather was unbelievably fantastic, and there vending machines every five steps that would sell you soda, grape juice (that had grapes in it), soup, beer, and hard liquor. (Well, chuhais, so semi-hard liquor.) You could go outside after dark and not worry about getting knifed or robbed. I even loved Japanese furniture; say what you will, but I found that the Japanese futon to be way more comfortable than American beds, and if I could, I would have one. (I think this is because I’m very tall, and frequently my feet hang over the end.) Not to mention, it has wonderful mass transit. Note I said mass transit, and not public transit, for aside from subways, all of the mass transit–trains, buses, and so on–are owned by private companies. Even Japan Rail, which used to be called Japan National Rail, was broken up and privatized in the 80’s. (So yes, the free market does work.) Yes, the language is difficult (I never understood as many kanji as I was expected to, and I could never keep the honorific form of the language straight in my head) but I felt that was a small price to pay for everything else that was so wonderful.

Anyways, I just felt sharing that little bit of my history because the sheer awesomeness of the place drew me back to it during my job hunt. Working in Japan for foreigners is not easy, aside from one area: English teaching. Demand for English teachers is up, or so I’m told, as more Japanese believe English will be a necessary skill for their future job prospects. (Though they should probably be learning Chinese or Hindi as well, just to be on the safe side.)

So I went looking for English teaching jobs. I came across one website, ELT News, and starting reading the blogs. And what do you know, I find something that directly touches upon my experience writing. I’ll excerpt only the relevant part of the post, but if you’re interesting in teaching English in Japan, I encourage you to read the rest of it; the author, Mike Guest, is a pretty darn good writer (bolded emphasis is mine, by the way):

This was a chapter (The Art of Failure, p. 324-344) outlining the difference between choking and panicking using examples from professional tennis, golf, and an airplane crash. Choking, Gladwell argues (with his usual research-based support) is a case in which the agent, under pressure, reverts to a mechanical mode of action or behaviour where he/she becomes overly conscious of every move and thus can’t function with the fluidity of someone who normally has intuitions, skills or an ingrained sense about what to do. Panicking, on the other hand, refers to cases where people stop thinking due to what is called perception narrowing under pressure. Experienced people may choke under pressure, the inexperienced are more likely to panic.

Most readers will be aware of the tendency for many Japanese learners of English to either choke or panic when having to produce or perform under pressure in English. “I went to Canada but I couldn’t say more than a few words. I just forgot what to say,” might be a typical refrain– from somebody who has studied English for eight years and is even proficient on standardized tests. But understanding the difference between the two is crucial.

Some of my students are chokers. They have a reasonably good command of the flow of English, the holistic side. It has worn itself into their cerebral fabric. They ‘know’ the language but, when under pressure, tend to revert to an earlier mechanical stage which causes them to re-think every lexical, grammatical and social nuance of the language, effectively paralyzing them in speech. Choking, Gladwell say [sic], is about thinking too much.

Others, with far fewer ingrained English skills simply lose all perception and panic, grasping wildly at any English expression which might race through their minds. Panicking is about thinking too little. Panicking is often a product of too little experience, such that when any plus-alpha factors appear, the fragile control system easily breaks down.

Addressing panic involves little more than gaining experience, buckling down, applying diligence. It is what Gladwell calls ‘a conventional failure’. But choking is ‘a paradoxical failure’. Gladwell uses a research-based example (one from Claude Steele at Stanford Univ. and one from Julian Garcia at Tufts Univ.) utilizing stereotypes and expected performance to illustrate the difference.

The bolded part is what hit me in the head like a sledgehammer. This is what I’ve been doing for so long with my writing. I’ll write, think, “Oh, this is crap,” then go back and re-edit endlessly, or just walk away. This didn’t happen to me in high school, when I wrote my first novel. (400 pages, too, at the tender age of 15. I think that was a decent start that I failed to capitalize on.) This doesn’t happen to me when I blog. I don’t know why, but somehow, in those two instances–my high school writing and my blogging today–I just don’t think about it that much, I just let it come to me and let it be. But when I write my fiction today, I lock down and struggle to get through.

My problem is I just think too goddamn much.

I blame some of my writing books, for starters. Some of them are very good. Some are okay. Some are terrible. But in any case, I relied too much on them, and so when I started writing, I would think about what I read in them and go, “But my work isn’t matching up to that at all.”

What I have to do now is just say “Screw it” and write it. Forget about what everyone else says; hell, forget what I say, and just do it. I did that with my last story, which I just finished the first draft of a few days ago, and to which I’m rewriting (though substantially; I think if I use different characters, it will be better. We’ll see.) I did that with a story earlier in the year, which didn’t get published, but it was just something I wanted to write, so I did it. I need to keep in that habit and just keep going. I’m bound to hit paydirt some time or another.

Or a wall. One or the other.