January by the numbers: A winter slowdown?

January seemed like a pretty slow month when it come to writing, reading, and walking. In fact, it may have been my slowest month on record when it comes to my FitBit data. I walked a total of about 198,000 steps in the month of January. This may sound like a lot. It comes to roughly 90 miles worth of walking. But it is dramatically lower than nearly any other month on record since I started using a FitBit–which is nearly 3 years now.

January 2015 FitBit

I am to walk 15,000 steps per day. But as you can see, there was only one day in the entire month that I hit my goal. For the other 30 days, I didn’t even come close. How much of a difference was this from a typical month? Well, December was pretty typical and here is what December looked like:

December 2014 FitBit

A big part of the drop in steps was due to how busy I was, and a little of it was the result of uncooperative weather. I am perfectly willing to walk in the rain, or the cold, when it is hot, or when it is snowing. But when you combine two tough conditions, it gets too hard for me. We had a lot of cold and wind. And some snow and wind. And some bitter cold and snow. And because of that, I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. Last January I walked 340,000 steps, and the weather was probably more cooperative.

Writing in January

I was extremely busy in the day job in January working hard to get ready for a big software rollout. That meant longer than usual hours, and it also meant that I was tired and had less energy by the time I got home from work. All of this contributes to how much I can write. Still, all things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I wrote nearly 18,000 words in January, almost all of them on the novel draft, although there was a little nonfiction here and there.

January 2015 writing

This is down significantly from December where I wrote about 30,000 words. On the other hand, despite how busy things were, my consecutive day writing streak remained in tact all through the month. As of today, my streak stands at 559 consecutive days.

I had two items published in January, an editorial in the March 2015 issue of Analog, and a new story, “Meet and Greet” in the January 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. That helped make up for the lower word counts.

Reading

I didn’t finish a single book in the month of January. Usually I average between 50-60 hours of audiobook listening per month. In December, while on vacation, I got more than 70 hours of audiobook listening in. But in January I managed only a meager 18 hours of audiobook listening.

Audiobook Listening

How much audiobook listening I do is highly correlated to how much walking I do, because I typically do both at the same time. Since my walking was down, it makes sense that my audiobook listening was down.

And now, February is here. If the weather cooperates, I am sure to do better in all three categories this month.

The Evolution of a Storyteller, Episode 1: “The Stone”

Okay, I have a treat for all of you who have been so patient with my absences here lately. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now seems as good a time as any. I’m going to occasionally post a very old story that I wrote. When I say “old” I mean old. Like from when I was just starting out to write stories and submit them in my junior year in college.

It is difficult for me to look at these stories, let alone read them, but I think that posting them here serves a couple of good purposes:

  1. Geniuses excepted, almost no one starts out writing brilliant, publishable prose. If you feel like your writing is crap, wait until you get a load of mine, circa 1993.
  2. Practice (lots and lots of practice, in my case) really does help. I’m not one of the great writers of the science fiction/fantasy genre, but I do write publishable fiction, and I feel like I’m getting better at it.
  3. Whenever I don’t feel like I’m getting better at it, just look at one of these stories.

And so, without further delay, here is the very first story I wrote for submission after deciding I wanted to be a writer. The story was written sometime in December 1992. It is called “The Stone”

Continue reading The Evolution of a Storyteller, Episode 1: “The Stone”

More Going Paperless Posts Coming (and Other Updates)

I am in the midst of a major software rollout this weekend, and the last few weeks leading here have been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve been working on this project for a year, and am glad it is finally coming to a conclusion, but it is wiping me out. This is my excuse for why things have been relatively quiet here on the blog lately. That said, here are some things folks might be interested in:

1. More Going Paperless posts are coming soon

While I am no longer writing regular weekly posts, I am writing posts when I have worthwhile ideas. As turns out, I have 3 ideas, and you can expect 3 new Going Paperless posts over the next few weeks,

2. I am hard at work on the second draft of my novel

No one ever sees the first drafts. But earlier this week, my writers group got to see the first chapter of the second draft and comment on it. That was eighteen months of effort (if you include the time spent on the first draft) coming to fruition. The feedback was generally positive, although there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. So I remain hard at work on that, and it takes priority over all other writing, including here on the blog.

3. More to come here on the blog

I have a growing list of things I want to write about (technology, productivity, some humorous stuff about the kids) here on the blog. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.  This software rollout is sapping nearly all of my time and most of my energy. But by this time tomorrow, it should be all done, and hopefully things will ease up a bit.

4. I’m a little behind on email

I’ve been trying to get through my email, but I’m still a little behind, so if you’ve emailed me and haven’t heard from me, chances are good that I got and read your message, Boomeranged it until after this software rollout.

5. Upcoming speaking engagement/guest posts

I’ve got at least one speaking engagement on the horizon, and a handful of guest posts that I’ve been asked to write. I’ll be tackling the latter shortly after the rollout, and I’ll let you know when they are available.

That’s it for the updates. Thanks for sticking around, and there is definitely more to come soon.

A New Audiobook Version of James Clavell’s Shogun

Back in the summer of 2005, I read James Clavell’s Shogun. I absolutely loved it. When I started listening to audiobooks 2 years ago, I sought out Shogun. The version Audible had at the time was narrated by David Case, and the reviews of the narration were pretty awful. Nevertheless, I bought it, and tried to listen to it, but gave up after a while. The narration just wasn’t very good.

A few months ago, I noticed that the book was no longer available on Audible1. I thought perhaps that this meant a new version was being produced.

Today being a Tuesday (when new books are released), I searched Audible for a few books I was looking for. Shogun was one of them, and to my surprise and delight, a new version had indeed been produced.

Shogun

This version is read by Ralph Lister, and just listening to the preview, I could tell it was a much better narration. I’m really looking forward to listening to this, having enjoyed reading it a decade ago. There are a few books in line in front of it, but I’m glad to see that a new version was produced.

Notes

  1. Before anyone panics, the version that I bought was still available to me in my Audible library. It didn’t go away. You just couldn’t buy it any longer.

NEW STORY: “Meat and Greet” is now available in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Issue 43

I have a new story in the latest issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. “Meat and Greet” is short metafictional piece, and my only attempt at ever writing a zombie story. Those interested can head on over to IGMS to read the story. The stories in this issue will be freely available when the next issue comes out.

There are a couple of unique things about this particular story:

1. It marks my 10th professional piece of fiction, which is something of a milestone. Three of my stories have appeared in IGMS, including my very first one.

2. The story sale has a unique provenance: I gave a reading at the World Fantasy Convention here in the Washington, D.C. area back in November. I read two short stories. “Meat and Greet” was one of them. After the reading, Edmund Schubert, who edits IGMS, came up to me and grabbed the manuscript. 2 days later, he emailed me letting me know he was buying the story. So: first story sale from a reading.

3. Check out the amazing art work by Scott Altmann. Scott did great art for my story, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” and he did another fantastic job on the art for this story.

Major Code Update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker

I made a major update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker today. Although the update does not introduce any new features, it does bring the code up to the current standards for Google App Scripts. Back in December, Google deprecated a big portion of its Google DocsList code in favor of the DriveApp code.

DocsList Service

The Google Docs Writing Tracker referenced the old code in dozens of places. Today, I replaced those old references with references to the newer DriveApp object model. This means that if you are using the new code, you should no longer see any messages about deprecated code in the execution logs.

The only significant change, from a user-perspective, is how folders are handled in the Config tab of the spreadsheet. For now, I did the simplest possible implementation. The values for the Sandbox and Snapshot folders should refer directly to the folder name and not include the path. So if you used to do something like this:

Old Folder Model

You should change it to do this instead:

New Folder

This looks for the idea of the folders named above, and uses their ID instead of their name throughout the scripts. It does mean it will cause problems if you have more than one folder with the same name, but it is good enough for now.

One small bug fix

Included in this refactor is a minor bug fix. Some people have reported no data all of a sudden, after the code has been working for a long time. The problem, it turned out, was happening with people using the RescueTime integration. If, for some reason, RescueTime could not by reached by the API call, the JSON file returned was empty. This wasn’t handled properly by the scripts.

Now, it is.

So if you use RescueTime integration and the API call fails for some reason, it won’t break the rest of the script from running. You just won’t have RescueTime data for that day.

Getting the new version

To avoid confusion in the short term. I have checked the new code into a separate branch in the GitHub project. If you want the new code, pull the google-drive-refactor branch. If you want to see how much of the code actually changed, check out the differences.

I’ve done some testing on my own machine and it seems to work okay. When I feel that enough general testing has been done, I’ll merge this code into the master. If you find any problems, open up an issue.

More coming soon

I’m also working on a new feature that I’ve wanted for a while now: Project Tracking. This allows you to assign arbitrary project names to documents. The words counts are tracked daily by project on a separate sheet in the workbook, allowing you to track words and time by project, as well as by day. Especially useful if you work on multiple projects in a day (as I sometimes do) or have multiple documents in a project (as I do when I work on novels).

And as always, if you have suggestions, let me hear about them. Or better yet, fork the code and try to implement them yourself.

I’m Talking Golden Age Science Fiction, Evernote, and Lots More on The Three Hoarseman Podcast

Sunday evening, I had the wonderful opportunity to be the guest on the Three Hoarseman podcast. I chatted with hosts Fred Kiesche, Jeff Patterson, and John Stevens about Golden Age science fiction, Evernote, productivity, what I’m reading, and much more. If you’re interested, you can check out the podcast for yourself.

As always, I sound just like my brother whenever I hear myself speak.

Thanks, once again, to all three of the hosts for having me on the show.

Google Docs vs. Scrivener for Writing

I used to be a hardcore Scrivener user. Over the last 2 years, however, I’ve used Google Docs almost exclusively for everything but my submissions drafts. In the last 2 years, I’ve put nearly 600,000 words through Google Docs.

Because of this, I am often asked why I use Google Docs for writing instead of Scrivener. Or, put another way, I am asked “Which tool is better for writing, Scrivener or Google Docs?”

The answer, of course, is both, depending on how you work. When I write posts about the tools I use, I write them from the point of view of me as a writer using the tools. My process may be different from yours and the process one uses often dictates the best tools for the job. For some processes, Scrivener is a far better tool than Google Docs. For others, Google Docs is sufficient. For others still, another tool might be appropriate. Let me expound upon a few things that might help distinguish the pros and cons of the tools

Process

I choose a tool based on how well it fits my writing process. There are two things that are important to know about my process:

  1. I am more of a “pantser” than a “plotter”
  2. I track my writing in order to track my progress, but I’ve automated this because I don’t want to spend time doing it manually.
  3. I want to spend as much of my available writing time writing.

Everything about my process is driven by these three basic requirements.

Bud Sparhawk and I have, over the last few years, given a talk at Capclave on “Online Writing Tools.” We demonstrate our processes through the tools that we use. It’s great because, as it turns out, Bud and I are opposites when it comes to process. Bud is an extreme plotter, while I am a pantser. But I wasn’t always a pantser, and when I did plot out what I was writing, I used Scrivener almost exclusively.

Scrivener for plotters

Scrivener is, in my opinion, the single best all-encompassing software tool for writers available today. And if you are a plotter, Scrivener is probably the best place to get started. Scrivener has a set of features designed with plotters in mind. Scrivener makes it easy to lay out scenes, outline stories, shift things around visually, and have those shifts reflected in the manuscript with little or no effort.

Scrivener also does something that I believe is critical for a word-processing tool for writers: It separates the content from the presentation-layer. In other words, how the content appears on the screen when you write is completely separate from how it appears when you compile your manuscript. You can have large, easy-to-read fonts on the screen, and Scrivener will still compile the document in standard-manuscript format. This means that as a writer, you can focus on writing, and not be distracted by formatting.

Scrivener also has advantages for self-published writers. It makes it easy to produce e-books in multiple formats.

It has hundreds of features that speed up the process of managing your document so that you can concentrate on plotting and writing. I can’t think of another tool that does all this as well as Scrivener does.

Google Docs for pantsers

On the other hand, many of these features, for me, are overkill. I don’t create outlines. I don’t generally have a need to shift scenes around in my manuscript while I am working. I don’t prepare e-books. What I do is this:

Continue reading Google Docs vs. Scrivener for Writing

I opted for The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

In regard to the last post on Stephen King books that I haven’t yet read, I got quite a few recommendations, and enough to change my mind about what I was thinking about reading next. Instead of Insomnia, I’m now reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Just in case folks were wondering what I settled on.

Stephen King Books I Have Not Yet Read

Back in November, as part of his 6-city tour for Revival, Stephen King came to the Washington, D.C. area as a guest of the Politics & Prose bookstore. I wasn’t able to attend, but last night, I watched the talk on YouTube.

As often happens after I see Stephen King speak, I thought to myself, “Gee, I wish I was a writer!” It also makes me want to read more Stephen King. I have, over the last several months, been reading a good deal of nonfiction, although I did take a break in November to read Revival. But in the last two weeks or so, I’ve been so busy with other stuff that I haven’t had a chance to do much reading at all. This morning, I woke up with King’s talk still on my mind and decided that I’d start on something else of his today.

But what?

I went through the list of books I’ve read since 1996, looking for all instances of Stephen King. There were 66 of them (+ = e-book, @ = audiobook, * = recommended, ^ = re-read):

  1. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (9/16/2001)
  2. Needful Things by Stephen King (9/25/2004)
  3. On Writing+ by Stephen King (9/16/2009)
  4. Carrie+ by Stephen King (9/21/2009)
  5. The Shining+ by Stephen King (9/28/2009)
  6. It+ by Stephen King (10/28/2009)
  7. Night Shift+ by Stephen King (11/3/2009)
  8. Under the Dome by Stephen King (11/30/2009)
  9. Different Seasons+ by Stephen King (12/9/2009)
  10. The Stand+ by Stephen King (6/2/2010)
  11. The Dead Zone+ by Stephen King (6/11/2010)
  12. Firestarter+ by Stephen King (6/25/2010)
  13. Pet Sematary by Stephen King (6/29/2010)
  14. Blockade Billy+ by Stephen King (6/9/2011)
  15. 11/22/63*+ by Stephen King (11/18/2011)
  16. The Green Mile+ by Stephen King (11/23/2011)
  17. Full Dark, No Stars+ by Stephen King (7/5/2012)
  18. Bag of Bones+ by Stephen King (7/10/2012)
  19. It*+^ by Stephen King (7/30/2012)
  20. 11/22/63*^+ by Stephen King (2/19/2013)
  21. Misery@ by Stephen King (2/23/2013)
  22. Gerald’s Game@ by Stephen King (3/3/2013)
  23. Hearts in Atlantis@* by Stephen King (3/8/2013)
  24. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (3/14/2013)
  25. Needful Things@^ by Stephen King (3/20/2013)
  26. ‘Salem’s Lot@^ by Stephen King (3/25/2013)
  27. From A Buick 8@ by Stephen King (3/29/2013)
  28. The Tommyknockers@ by Stephen King (4/6/2013)
  29. Dreamcatcher@ by Stephen King (4/13/2013)
  30. It@^ by Stephen King (5/2/2013)
  31. 11/22/63@^ by Stephen King (5/16/2013)
  32. The Shining@^ by Stephen King (5/21/2013)
  33. Danse Macabre@ by Stephen King (5/27/2013)
  34. Carrie@^ by Stephen King (5/29/2013)
  35. On Writing@^ by Stephen King (6/4/2013)
  36. Joyland@* by Stephen King (6/5/2013)
  37. The Dark Tower, Book 1: The Gunslinger@ by Stephen King (6/7/2013)
  38. The Dark Tower, Book 2: The Drawing of Three@ by Stephen King (6/12/2013)
  39. The Dark Tower, Book 3: The Wastelands@ by Stephen King (6/18/2013)
  40. Hard Listening+ by Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, et. al. (6/24/2013)
  41. Dolores Claiborne@ by Stephen King (6/27/2013)
  42. The Dark Tower, Book 4: Wizard and Glass@* by Stephen King (7/10/2013)
  43. The Dark Tower, Book 5: Wolves of the Calla@ by Stephen King (7/26/2013)
  44. The Dark Tower, Book 6: Song of Susannah@ by Stephen King (7/30/2013)
  45. The Dark Tower, Book 7: The Dark Tower@ by Stephen King (8/7/2013)
  46. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon@ by Stephen King (9/24/2013)
  47. Doctor Sleep@ by Stephen King (9/29/2013)
  48. On Writing@^* by Stephen King (10/31/2013)
  49. The Wind Through the Keyhole@* by Stephen King (11/5/2013)
  50. The Langoliers@ by Stephen King (11/15/2013)
  51. The Library Policeman@ by Stephen King (11/21/2013)
  52. The Sun Dog@ by Stephen King (11/27/2013)
  53. Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Volume 1@ by Stephen King (12/4/2013)
  54. Everything’s Eventual: 5 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/26/2013)
  55. The Man in the Black Suit: 4 Dark Tales@ by Stephen King (12/27/2013)
  56. Christine@ by Stephen King (1/8/2014)
  57. The Shawshank Redemption@* by Stephen King (1/17/2014)
  58. The Body@* by Stephen King (1/24/2014)
  59. It@*^ by Stephen King (4/3/2014)
  60. From A Buick 8^*@ by Stephen King (4/18/2014)
  61. 11/22/63@^* by Stephen King (6/1/2014)
  62. Mile 81@ by Stephen King (6/2/2014)
  63. Mr. Mercedes@ by Stephen King (6/6/2014)
  64. Joyland@^ by Stephen King (6/9/2014)
  65. The Shawshank Redemption@*^ by Stephen King (6/29/2014)
  66. Revival@ by Stephen King (11/20/2014)

I then compared this to the list of books in Stephen King’s Library to see what I haven’t read. The list turns out to be an interesting one:

  1. Rage (as by Richard Bachman)
  2. The Long Walk (as by Richard Bachman)
  3. Roadwork (as by Richard Bachman)
  4. Cujo
  5. The Running Man (as by Richard Bachman)
  6. Cycle of the Werewolf
  7. The Talisman (w/Peter Straub)
  8. The Eyes of the Dragon
  9. Thinner (as by Richard Bachman)
  10. The Dark Half
  11. Insomnia
  12. Rose Madder
  13. Desperation
  14. The Regulators
  15. The Plant: Zenith Rising
  16. Black House
  17. The Colorado Kid
  18. Cell
  19. Lisey’s Story
  20. Blaze (as by Richard Bachman)
  21. Duma Key

I haven’t read any of the Bachman books yet. Perhaps the biggest standout on the list is Cujo. I’ve started it a couple of times, but have always ended up distracted by other things. I take it as a sign that I just can’t get into the book. King says his favorite book is Lisey’s Story, and I’ve managed to make it halfway through that one, but have given up. I was thinking about re-reading Hearts in Atlantis, which I thought was great the first time I read it, but I do want to give something a try that I haven’t read yet. So at this moment, I’m leaning toward Insomnia. I’ve stayed away from that book mainly because King himself has said it was overly plotted. But it can’t hurt to give it a try and see for myself.

I’m still undecided, but I’ll let you know what I choose. If there are any books on this list that you feel are a MUST READ, let me know in the comments.

Imagined Conversations with my Dentist

Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Is it a logarithmic scale?”

Dentist: ???


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Well, I’m a software developer and I tend to think in either base 2 or base 12. Could I give it to you that way?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me:  “Does 1 mean no pain? Because it seems weird to me that a 1 would mean no pain. What would a 0 represent on that scale? Less than no pain?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “Do you get tired of asking the same question over and over again?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “About as painful as this conversation. Where would you say it falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”


Dentist: “Can you describe where the pain falls on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Me: “No.”

Dentist: ???

Rewatching M*A*S*H

Sometimes, my brain needs a break. Lately, to give it that break, I’ve been rewatching M*A*S*H. All things considered, it is probably my all-time favorite TV show. The show first aired the year I was born, and I remember watching it (and its reruns) as youngster. Hearing the theme song bring a kind of comforting feeling to me that no other show manages to achieve.

Watching M*A*S*H as a kid, and as an adult, are two very different experiences. I laughed at the physical comedy as a kid. I still laugh at that, but I also laugh at all of the jokes that I didn’t get when I was 8, 9, 10 years old.

I’ve been watching an episode or two each night. The last few nights I’ve watched a few more as an anodyne to the pain from my wisdom tooth extraction. It relaxes me, puts my mind at ease, and give me laughs.

This evening, I will likely watch the final episode of Season 3, “Abyssinia, Henry.” And while I’ve seen that episode countless times, I always get a little anxiety as I approach it. Of course, it’s a remarkable episode, but I don’t think I realized just why it hit me so hard until this current pass through the series. I always thought that my favorite character was Hawkeye (Alan Alda), but I’ve recently decided that the character that makes me laugh the most, is Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson). No one on the show comes close to his physical comedy. He was a genius as a physical comedian. But he also has impeccable comic timing. He delivers his Henryisms perfectly. He is, by far, the most likable character on the show, at least for me.

Then, too, the end of Season 3 marks the end of the pure genius episodes of M*A*S*H. Seasons 4 and 5 are still exceptionally good. After season 5, while I still enjoy the show, it is clear that it is not what it was in its early days.

In any case, I’m having a blast watching the show. My brain is getting needed rest. For the longest time, I never owned Season 11, but this week, I corrected that. Along with it, I finally did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I got myself a M*A*S*H t-shirt.

MASH Shirt