There are certain moments from childhood that I look back on fondly, and somewhat wistfully. Rarely have I experienced the feeling from those moments as I felt them as a child. There are some things that seem lost in time in that way. But last night, something I thought was lost in time was found again.
I lived in L.A. growing up. Going to Disneyland wasn’t a frequent thing, but we probably went once a year or so, probably a little more as we grew older. One thing that stands out in my mind was one of the first times we went to Disneyland after moving out to L.A. Somehow, my brother and I had acquired a wall map of Disneyland. We would pour over that map, admittedly, me more than my brother. And then, at night, after we went to bed, we would plan out our visit in our imaginations, talking back and forth about which rides we wanted to ride, and in what order we should ride them. In hindsight, those late night conversations with my brother were often more fun than the actual trip to the park.
Last night, the Little Miss wasn’t tired when it was time for her to go to bed. So she came into our bed. The lights went out to 9 pm, and Kelly was asleep almost at once, but the Little Miss still had energy. So we started talking in whispers. She asked me how long before we went to Disney World.
“Three and a half weeks,” I whispered.
I then started reminding her of the some of the rides that they had. She’d been there once before, when she was about 17 months old. I told her about the carrossel and she got very excited.
“What other rides can we go on Daddy?” she asked.
I told her about Dumbo, and then Tea Cups, and Peter Pan’s Flight, and the Arial ride, and It’s a Small World After All. This went on for more than 40 minutes, back and forth, back and forth, all in hushed whispers. She seemed delighted by it all. And as she finally grew sleepy, and only muttered, “What other rides can we go on, Daddy?” as her eyelids flickered, I realized that I had just had as much fun with my daughter as I had with my brother when we much younger.
Because I’ve been asked nearly a dozen times what I’ve thought about Interstellar, let me remind folks that while I am a science fiction writer, and I love reading science fiction, I am not a fan of science fiction movies. Sure, when I was a kid, I loved Star Wars. But as I got older, the science fiction movie gene within me atrophied. Indeed, the movie gene seems to have withered within me, and so it should come as no surprise that I have not seen Interstellar.
Nor do I have any interest in seeing it. I never saw Gravity either, and I feel no worse or better because of it. I’m not saying that science fiction movies are a poor substitute for books. I am no position to be a judge of that. For me, however, I’d much rather spend my time reading or writing science fiction than seeing it on the big screen.
For those who are curious, the last science fiction movie that I saw in theaters and truly enjoyed was Contact. But that was a long time ago, and my movie gene has withered tremendously since that time.
Once again, no judgement for those who enjoy such movies. I enjoy watching my friends talk about science fiction movies they loved or hated. I just have no desire to see them myself. Personal preference. And now I have another post to which I can point people when asked what I thought of Interstellar.
Since early in the year, I have been using Rescue Time on all of my computers to track how much time I spend in various applications, websites, and documents. Rescue Time is great because you install it, and it runs in the background, without ever needing me to take any action. Like a FitBit device, it just collects data as I go about my day. Rescue Time has a nice reporting interface, but it also has a very useful API that allows me to pull specific data and look at it interesting ways.
Tracking the time I spend writing
For instance, I’ve always wanted to get a good measurement of the time I spend writing each day. That said, I didn’t want to have to remember to “clock-in” or “clock-out.” It seemed to me that Rescue Time could help with this because it is constantly tracking my activity, and Rescue Time should therefore be able to tell me how much time I spend writing. After some exploration of the API, I found out how to pull the information I needed from Rescue Time, and now, I have scripts that can automatically produce a chart of the time I spend writing each day. Here’s an example of the last 60 days of my writing:
The top 10 tools I’ve used in 2014
As part of my effort to simplify the tools and technology I use, and to automate as much as I can, a baseline of what exactly I use would be a helpful starting point. Fortunately, RescueTime captures all of this data and has some canned reports that show just where I’ve spent my time in front of they keyboard. I started using RescueTime in January, so this data covers a period of January to the present, nearly a full year. Here, then, are the top 10 tools I’ve used on all computers during that time.
Twitter is number one on the list, and while that surprised me at first, I quickly realized that I am constantly jumping in and out of Twitter, in an effort to keep up with those friends and colleagues that I follow. (I rarely post from Twitter. I use Buffer for that.) Still, 221 hours for the better of the year is quite a bit of time spent in Twitter. Red items are those that Rescue Time considers “unproductive.” Twitter can certainly be a distraction, but I wouldn’t consider all of it unproductive.
Next on the list at 219 hours, much to my dismay, is Microsoft Outlook. This is what I use at the day job, and it is among the worst email programs I’ve encountered. The thing is, I’ve also been using it since it first existed, and there’s no way of getting away from it. What it tells me is that a great deal of my job–too much, I think–is spent dealing with email messages, and calendar appointments.
Google Docs is next on the list at 205 hours. The vast majority of this time–probably 90% or more–is spent writing. Ideally, I’d like to see this move up to number one over the next year.
Gmail follows at 169 hours. It’s still a lot of time to be spending reading and writing email messages, but that number is almost certainly down from what it would have been the previous year, thanks to a great deal of automation I’m able to do with Gmail using tools like Boomerang, for instance.
From there, things begin to drop off pretty rapidly. Facebook shows up in 7th place, but even that seems like too much to me.
Using the RescueTime baseline to find more time to write
With actual numbers in hand based on my behavior, I can begin to change my behavior and measure that change over time. First and foremost on the list is a tradeoff: more writing time for less social media time.
My Twitter and Facebook time totaled 310 hours in 2014 to-date. My writing time totaled under 200 hours. I could easily get more time for writing by cutting back on social media. Cutting back doesn’t necessarily mean no participating. Tools like Buffer have allowed me to schedule tweets and Facebook posts head of time. Whenever I post to my blog, it gets automatically posted to various social media outlets. What I think I need to do is make better use of the time I spend reading my social media feeds.
Right now, I read stuff throughout the day in a very fragmented fashion. I only follow people on Twitter that I am interested in keeping up with. I know that conventional wisdom is that if you want more followers, you follow everyone. But I honestly don’t know how people with 17,000 followers and who follow 19,000 people can keep up with it all. Probably they don’t even try to. Yes, there are lists that I could build, but that takes time to create and manage, and I’m looking to spend less time here, not more.
It seems to me that a fair number would be to spend half of the time in social media that I spend on writing. This year, the hours for both categories gives me a total of about 500 hours. So if I have 500 hours to spend between social media and writing, and I want to spend double the time writing than on social media, then let’s assume w represents the time I want to spend writing:
Well, this is a little awkward, but I can assure you that is just as awkward for me as it is for you. Us. You We know what we mean. I spent the past weekend attending the 40th annual World Fantasy Convention, which took place in Arlington, Virginia, practically down the street from where I work. Laws of causality prevent me from going into too much detail about the event, but there are a few things worth noting, and I wanted to make sure you knew about them.
First, the event was a lot of fun. I know it might seem odd to you, to hear that in 22 years, you’ll be attending the World Fantasy Convention, what with your great desire to write science fiction, but there is a good reason for attending. Many of your friends are attending, too.
I can’t go into a lot of detail, and so name-dropping is, for the most part out of the question. In some instances, you wouldn’t recognize the names yet. In others, well, the surprise will be more pleasant without the spoilers. But there are a few names I wanted to mention, which I think, given your age and yearning to become a writer, I thought you would find them motivating.
You probably remember recently reading Jumper by Steven Gould. Well, I got to spend some time this weekend hanging out with Steve, and chatting with him, and telling him how much I remember enjoying that novel.
You may have noticed a slick new science fiction magazine on the newsstands, called Science Fiction Age. One of the best magazines ever produced. Keep your eye on it. The editor is Scott Edelman, and he’s a regular at the conventions that I attend. I sat with Scott at the award banquet dinner on Sunday. It’s always a joy talking with Scott about the history of the genre, or exotic food.
I had dinner with the editor of Analog one evening. It’s not the first meal we’ve had together, and it’s always fun hanging out with him, and chatting about writing, magazines, and other stuff. I had breakfast with the editor of the first magazine to which I ever sold a story. I won’t say which magazine that is. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I think saying that “I sold a story” is enough.
I spent a lot of time in the bar with people, talking shop, which is a big part of the World Fantasy Convention. A lot of business happens in the bar. I had dinner one evening with friends I made at the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop a few summers back. And I can’t even begin to count how many people I had drinks with while at the convention.
On Sunday morning, I gave reading. That’s right, I read stories in front of an audience. It was a small audience, only 6 people, but having even one person willing to listen to your stories is humbling. I read two very short stories, neither of which I have sold. When I finished my reading, one of the audience members–a science fiction magazine editor–rushed up to the podium and grabbed the manuscript of the second story. I found out this morning that he is buying the story. That’s a first for me: submitting a story via a reading.
The World Fantasy Convention served as an excellent reminder of one of the things I love about the science fiction/fantasy genre: the people. As you well know, I wanted to be a writer because I like to write, and to tell stories. It’s nice to be recognized for those stories. But the real reward are the friendships I’ve made since starting out.
So for the sake of those future friendships: keep writing.
In the end, I probably made it a little more complicated than it needed to be, but the site has been moved to a better server environment with improved performance and room to grow. I’m hopeful this means an end to the downtime issues I’ve had over the last few months. They haven’t added up to much overall downtime, but each one of them is a minor headache for me, and I’d just as soon do without them.
Comments have been enabled again, and the site is back to normal. Thanks for your patience.
In order to avoid changes to the site during the migration to the new server, I am temporarily disable comments. This is just temporary. Once the site is up and running on the new server, I will re-enable comments.
Over the last several months, I’ve noticed some downgraded performance on the site, including some unexpected outages. Today I decided to take action. After discussing it with my service providers, I am moving the site from a set of older servers to some newer ones with much more potential for growth, as well as higher reliability.
Doing this is a little complicated (although being a VaultPress user has made the WordPress part of it much easer) because it involves updating DNS records, and those changes can lag. So sometime in the next few hours, I will be redirecting the domain to the new servers. This will likely cause some intermittent outage on the site, but I’m hoping that it won’t last too long.
And when the site is back up, it should be on the new, and better performing servers, and performance and reliability should be improved.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series has long been one of my favorite pieces of science fiction. I know that there is a lot to criticize about the series. It has an unadorned writing style. It has continuity problems. These are elements that I’ve learned not only to embrace, but to love, the way one comes to love a scar from childhood. The Foundation series were among the first science fiction novels to really capture my imagination. That I read them early on was a coincidence, but a happy one in my mind.
During the mid-1990s, when the Second Foundation Trilogy was authorized by the Asimov estate, I really hesitated to read the three books by Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin. But how could I not? Each one, I thought, was better than the last, and David Brin’s ending of the trilogy was a stroke of simple genius. So I’m glad that I read them.
On television or movies, however, I’ve long been torn. Being such a fan of the Foundation series, I’ve often rooted for its success in Hollywood. On the other hand, I’m not really a movie or TV person, and I am not a fan of science fiction films on the whole. So when I heard yesterday that HBO was planning to adapt Asimov’s Foundation series for television, I had mixed reactions. But after some consideration, I’ve decided that I’m happy for fans that they are adapting it.
It took time, but over the years I’ve learned that adaptations are an art form themselves. They are an interpretation of a work, altered for the medium in which they are produced. Rarely are adaptations completely true to the original story, but that’s okay, because adaptations are not the original story. Regardless of how well or poorly an adaptation of the Foundation series is done, I can always pull the books from my shelves and read them in their original form.
Where adaptations have a bigger impact on me is the characters. I have an image in my mind of Hari Seldon. How would an adaption alter that image by substituting an actor’s face for the one I picture in my mind? Well, there’s a chance that it might alter it, but is that really any different than reading the original Foundation stories in the Astounding and then, decades later, seeing Hari Seldon rendered by Michael Whelan on the cover of one of the books?
I’d guess that an adaptation of the stories would do better as a television series than as a movie for the simple reason that the original trilogy was a “fix up” of a dozen or so stories that first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction between 1942 and 1950. The stories themselves were episodic, often ending in cliff-hangers, and that seems a natural fit for television dramas today.
I’d have to imagine some alterations to the plot of the stories. More than likely there would be some mysterious secret running through the entire series, as this seems to be what television dramas like to do these days. It’s just one of the reasons I can no longer bear to watch dramas, but understandable give the short attention span of audiences and all they have to distract them.
I haven’t decided if I will watch an adaptation of the Foundation series, but gut says no. Not because I think it will be done poorly, but because I’ve lost interest in the medium of television (and to a large extent, movies as well). Also, I’ve read the Foundation books a dozen or more times and know them very well. I think there would be deviations in even the most true-to-form adaptation that would irk me, and why put myself through that?
So, while I am glad to see that these novels are finally getting attention from Hollywood that might help bring them to a larger audience, I am, nevertheless, unlikely to see the adaptations myself, not because I don’t like the idea or think they won’t be true to the story, but because television and movies just aren’t my thing. For the countless fans who love television and movies, I’m delighted that they will get a chance to see Foundation brought to life on the screen.
I noticed that I hadn’t posted since last Thursday. Most of my time the last four days has been spent at the World Fantasy Convention, which took place just down the street from my office in Arlington, Virginia. It was a great convention, and I’ll try to do a write-up of my time there in the next few days. But it also was exhausting. I arrived home each night, and crashed, only to get up the following morning and head back to the convention.
I’m nearly finished reading American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. It has been a fascinating read, but also incredibly frustrating, especially the parts about the AEC “trial” in 1954. I should finish that up today and tomorrow, move onto the new Stephen King novel, Revival.
I wrote everyday while at the convention, and I think I’m picking up steam on the 2nd draft of the novel. I’m still not far enough into it to know for certain that I’ve got the beginning right, but I’m optimistic.
All of this is to provide excuses for why I haven’t posted in a few days. I hope you can cut me a little slack.
I mentioned earlier in the week that I was not formally participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but that I was using the spirit of the event to jump start the second draft of my novel, and try to break out of a writing slump that I’d been in for the last month or so. While it has only been five days, I think I am finally emerging from that slump.
The chart above shows the last 30 days of my writing. The last five are in the red box. It’s clearly the most productive 5 days I have had all month. Moreover, the 1,200 words I wrote yesterday were more than I’d written in day since September 20. Most pleasing to me of all is that my 7-day moving average is on the rise again, after a long and steady decline.
While it is nice to see that I am recovering from this writing slump, I was particularly stressed out by it. One thing I’ve learned over the course of my (now) 472 consecutive days of writing is to accept the slumps… but to keep writing every day.
What is a writing slump?
In baseball, hitters get into slumps when they remain hitless at the plate for many consecutive at-bats. For me, a writing slump is similar, but different. I’m still writing every day, just not producing as much as I’d like, or to the quality that I’d like to be producing. Since July 22, 2013, I’ve averaged 900 words/day. Ideally, I’d like to write at least 500 words every day. I don’t sweat the days where I don’t make 500 words, but when multiple days of less than 500 words pile up, I begin to start thinking in terms of a slump.
For the purposes of a clear personal definition, let me define a writing slump as any 30 day period where my moving average falls below 500 words/day for that period. Let’s define being “hot” as any 30 day period where my moving average is above 1,000 words/day. Based on that definition, here is a chart that identifies my slumps and hot spots:
You can see from this data, which contains 30-day moving averages, that I’ve only recently hit what I define as a slump. Otherwise, I’ve mostly been within my “average” range (a 30-day moving average of 500-1,000 words). I’ve also had two significant periods where I’ve been “hot,” with a 30-day moving average exceeding 1,000 words day.
This may seem overly analytical, but the numbers tell me not to stress about slumps. They happen, but they don’t last. The same is true for those hot streaks. The important thing is to keep writing every day, to push through the streaks, to keep hacking away when the words seem hard. Eventually, in my experience, the work pays off, and I make a breakthrough.
What causes these slumps?
I think there are two things that caused my recent slump (where my 30-day moving average fell below 500 words/day).
Thursday mornings I volunteer in the Little Man’s school library, shelving books. I do it from 6 – 7 am. It’s a nice way of getting an hour of volunteer work in each week. This morning, as I headed out the door at 5:45, it was already raining out. The school is a 6 minute drive from the house. I got there, went inside, did my work, and managed to get it all done by 6:45 am. So I headed into the office.
I am fortunate to live 5 miles from my office, against traffic both ways. When I don’t have to drop kids off or pick them up from school, my commute takes 12 minutes. That turned out to be particularly fortunate this morning.
I pulled into my parking spot at work, got out of the car, and then habitually checked my pockets for keys, as I always do when I get out of the car. To my dismay, I found two sets of keys. Which meant that Kelly was home without any keys. This is due entirely to breaking my routine last night. Normally, I hang my keys on the key rack, and grab them before heading out the door in the morning. It is automatic. Last night, I left my keys on my desk, so I grabbed them this morning and put them in my pocket before heading downstairs. When I left the house, I passed by the key rack, grabbed the keys hanging there, and headed out the door.
So I got back in the car, and headed out into the rain, arriving home about 12 minutes later. I dropped off the keys, explained my folly, and then headed back into the car, and arrived at work 15 minutes later. A double-commute!
As far as I know, it’s the first time I’ve performed that particular folly, and it just goes to show that while routines can be good, when broken, they can be annoyingly bad, too.
It occurred to me this morning that it was election day, a fact that crept up on me mostly because I managed to avoid all election campaigning this season. I was pretty busy with the day job, and the family, and writing, but there were at least three things that helped me avoid the ads and phone calls, and I thought I’d share them here.
1. I didn’t watch any live TV
I have very little time for television. I may catch a show like The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family here and there before bed to rest my brain, but it is never in real time. It is always either on-demand or through NetFlix or the iTunes store. Which means there are generally no ads, and never any political ads. Not watching TV means I have more time for other things (like the family, or writing). But as I’ve discovered, it has the added benefit of eliminating a huge proportion of political campaigns.
I do listen to the radio, now and then, when I’m in the car, but I listen almost exclusively to either Sirius XM’s 70s on 7 or 80s on 8, both of which are entirely commercial free. So I was free from torment there as well.
2. I don’t answer phone calls for which I don’t instantly recognize the number
I got tired of political calls a long time ago, and since I rarely use the phone these days, anyway, sometime in the last year, I stopped answering calls for which I don’t recognize the number. And since I no longer listen to voicemail, my outgoing message directs people to text me or email me. I imagine that most of the political calls are robocalls, and aren’t smart enough to grab my email address and send me email. Bottom line: received no political calls this season. At least, none that I answered.
3. I recycled all political mail ads without looking at them.
You can kind of tell by feel. Those ads are all printed on that same thick bond poster-like paper. I tend to sort the little snail mail I get these days into two piles as I walk back to the house. Stuff to look at, and stuff to recycle. I’m guessing that all of the political ads made it safely into the recycle bin, because I don’t recall actually looking at any.
These three things combined to help eliminate all political ads from my life this season. I might not even have noticed it, had I not realized it was election day this morning. After work today, Kelly and I picked up the Little Man from school, and took him with us to our local polling place so that he could see what it was like to vote. The polling place was pretty much empty, which kinds of makes a mockery of how much money gets spent on political campaigns, and in particular, on advertising.
But really, the important thing is, as I discovered this morning, it is still possible to vote without being carpet bombed with political ads for months at a time.