A Reminder on the Site Advertising Policy

I have recently received a minor flood of requests to advertise on this site. At this time, I do not accept advertising of any kind. I have no plans to accept advertising in the foreseeable future.

Believe it or not, a few people argue with me when I tell them that I don’t accept advertising. After all, it’s a win for everyone, right? Products get advertised and I get paid. Well, that’s not quite how I see it. I have nothing against sites that include ads. More power to them. But it seems to me that there are three problems with advertising onthis site that make it something I want to avoid:

1. The level of quality of the ads I see out there fall below what I would want to appear on my site.

2. You get ads on TV, radio, and other places on the web. I think my audience appreciates the fact that they can come here and have an ad-free experience. Occasionally, I do talk about products I use, but only when I have actually used them, and I am not compensated for talking about them. I talk about them because I like them.

3. I have a feeling that managing ads would be an administrative headache, and I just don’t have the time for it.

So, advertising might seem like a quick way to make a buck, and that’s all well and good, but it’s not something I want to get into here.

Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Notebook Organization in Evernote (Part 1)

Over a year and a half ago, I wrote about how I organize my notes in Evernote. To this day, it is one of the most frequently-asked questions that I get about using Evernote and going paperless. It is also a very personal decision. The way we organize is often tailored to the way we work. In this respect, one size does not fit all.

That said, how I work evolves over time, and eventually, the way I organize my notes in Evernote needs to evolve to keep in sync with my working style. Recently, I’ve gone through the process of changing how I organize my notes in Evernote. I thought I’d share the process with you, covering why I reorganized my notes, and how I did it. Rather than try to pack this all into a single post, I’ve broken down into a couple of posts. This week’s post will discuss how I’ve simplified my notebook organization in Evernote. Next week’s post will discuss my evolving use of tags in Evernote.

Why simplify?

I have nearly 8,500 notes in Evernote. These notes were spread over 45 notebooks. Two things made me want to simplify things.

First, I found over time that I used only a handful of the notebooks regularly. More than 80% of my notes were contained in just 8 notebooks.

Notebook Chart

That meant that less than 20% of my notes were spread over nearly 40 other notebooks. If I was spending most of my time in 8 notebooks, maybe I could simplify things and get rid of some of those other notebooks.

Second, my use of tagging had gradually increased, but it did so in the traditional manner, without any kind of clear structure or taxonomy forming a logical basis. I found that it was taking too much time to tag things and that there were an increasing number of duplicate tags which made searching more difficult. So I decided to tackle the tagging as well by putting in place a formal, but simple, taxonomy. I’ll discuss the tagging next week.

Now that I’ve explained why I decided to simplify my notebook structure, let me remind you of what my old structure looked like. I had 8 notebook stacks centered around areas of my life. Most of the notebooks were contained in those stacks. Here is what the old structure looked like:

Old Notebooks

Step 1: Create a new framework

I like the notion of organizing notebooks around the areas of my life and I wanted to retain that. But I also wanted to simplify the notebooks. The easiest way I could think of for doing this was to create a better abstraction of those areas.  That took a little bit of thinking on my part, but I tend to be pretty good at organizing information. In the old system, here are the areas of my life under which notebooks were organized:

  • Home: anything related to my home life.
  • Work: anything related to my day job
  • Freelance writing: anything related to freelance writing

In addition to those areas, I had a few “utility” categories that evolved into notebook stacks:

  • Diary: mostly, but not entirely, automatically generated notes, also known as “life logging.” Includes my “timeline” notebook.
  • Reference: clippings, skitch drawings, how-tos, etc.
  • Scrapbooks: kids’ artwork, my bibliography, more clippings
  • Shared: shared notebooks
  • Special Projects: miscellaneous projects, often self-improvement related.

There was definitely some overlapping here, but it also seemed to be a little less abstract than what I needed at the notebook stack level.  The first thing I did was come up with a new, slightly more abstract framework. I redefined the areas of my life as:

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Blood-Sucking Ticks and Clocks

We seem to have a tradition for the Fourth of July that goes beyond spending the holiday in the small town of Castine, Maine. Last year (2013), the Little Man, slipped coming out of the bathroom, and cracked his head on the floor. He didn’t require any stitches, but there was a good deal of blood and crying. Fortunately, my cousin is a doctor and he took a look at the wound and said it would be okay. This year, I jokingly told him I’d make sure the Little Man avoids any slips or spills. And to his credit, the Little Man did not fall on the Fourth of July.

But after the morning parade, I got a text from Kelly. I’d walked back to the house with the Little Miss, while Kelly took the Little Man on a firetruck ride. She texted with the gleeful news that the Little Man had managed to acquire a passenger: a small tick, which found a comfortable spot on his head. Not wanting to freak out the Little Man, Kelly said nothing to him, but when they returned to the house, my cousin, the good doctor, took a look, and, as Dr. Seuss once said, with great skillful skill, and with great speedy speed, successfully removed the tiny hitchhiker.

Jump-cut ahead to a few days ago. The Little Man was taking inventory  of his many wounds, tiny scratches that he has on his legs, for instance, the kind of scratches and scrapes that all five year old boys and girls collect. He called the more prominent of these scrapes “blood holes” which sounds gruesome until you actually see what he is talking about–and then it takes all of your will not to smile or laugh. He was explaining why he needed one snack or another.

“It will make new blood,” he said, “to replace the blood that came out from the blood holes.” We’re talking volumes of blood measured in microliters, picoliters, even.

“You really didn’t lose that much blood, buddy,” I said. “Those are very small scrapes.”

“But Daddy,” said he, “I also had the clock.”

I stared at him, utterly baffled. “The clock?”

“Yeah, the clock. Remember, in Maine. It got on my head and drank my blood.”

I stared at him some more, thinking I’d stepped into some alternate reality populated by blood sucking clocks, à la Salvador Dali. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just stared, mouth agape.

“Remember, Daddy? At the parade?”

And then it dawned on me and I couldn’t help myself. I burst into laughter. “A tick!” I said. You mean a tick?”

“Yeah!”

This, of course, was yet another insight into the mind of a five year old. After the tick was removed, we showed it to him and told him what it was. A tick. Five year olds know nothing of ticks, except that they are half the sound made by–you guessed it–a clock. In this case, a blood-sucking clock.

I have a feeling I am finally beginning to understand from where Dr. Seuss derived much of his inspiration.

Novel Draft Status Update and Lessons Learned So Far

The backstory

In 2013, I wrote the first draft of my first novel. The story began as all of my stories do: a story with no clear idea of how long it would be. Between March and September it grew to a 95,000 word story, and so I had myself the first draft of a novel. I finished the draft on September 14, 2013 and then set it aside. I spent the rest of the year writing short stories, and gathering some distance from the long story I’d just finished. Between December 2013 and January 2014, I re-read the draft of the novel and took lots of notes, more than 13,000 words worth of them.

Beginning in April, I began work on the second draft of the novel. I’ve restarted the second draft 18 times, writing roughly 80,000 words. Ultimately these words didn’t really go anywhere. Recently, as part of the Clarion Write-a-Thon charity fundraiser, I’ve been hard at work trying to beat the novel draft into shape. But my approach has changed based on what I’ve learned over the last several months.

My usual process

I don’t have a usual process for writing a novel because until last summer, I’d never written one. What I have been doing is writing the novel using the same process I use for writing stories. That process looks something like this:

Writing Process

First draft

I write a first draft that is only intended for me. I don’t plot out the story. I think of an ending and then work toward it and see what happens. In this respect, the first draft is me telling myself the story. No one but me ever sees the first draft.

My first drafts have lots of placeholders. Sometimes they are placeholders for names that I haven’t thought of yet and look something like this:

Placeholder excerpt

I use these placeholders for research as well. I avoid research at all costs in the first draft because it becomes an excuse to avoid writing. So I’ll just make stuff up in the story and then add a note that I need to do some additional research later.

Second draft

My second drafts are complete rewrites. Between the first and second draft, I read what I wrote, note the parts that don’t work in the story so that I can cut them or rework them, and also list out the placeholders that need to be filled in. I try to fill in all these placeholders, including the ones related to research before starting the second draft. This is so that I don’t have to pause in the middle of the story to do research.

For me, second drafts are where I tell the story to an audience. Having written the first draft, I know the story, and now I try to make it something that a reader would want to read.

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3 of the Most Helpful Writers You’ll Ever Meet

Yesterday, I came across an article on the 13 most annoying writers you’ll ever meet. It was an amusing article and for the most part, I recognized most of the stereotypes listed therein. I even recognized a few of them1 in myself. Posts like these are funny because we probably all know a writer (or wannabe writer) who fits into one or more of these categories. But the same article could be written for just about any profession out there, using the template,

The [n] most annoying [profession] you’ll ever meet.

where n is a number and profession is any profession you can imagine, lawyers, doctors, baseball players, teachers, taxi drivers, retailers, salespeople, welders, fishers, ranchers, plumbers, IT workers. You get the idea.

I thought it might be interesting to flip the notion of the article on its head and write a post about 3 of the most helpful writers you’ll ever meet. In doing so, however, I am using my own experience, and that means committing the sin of writer No. 32. I hope you will forgive me.

1. The mentor

This writer takes you under his or her wing out of the kindness of their heart and their desire to pay-it-forward. They offer career advice, offer up their experience and wisdom, and introduce you to other people, writers, editors, agents, publishers, and fans. I have been very lucky in this respect, with not one, but three writers who have mentored me to various degrees through my writing career.

The first was Michael A. Burstein, who is my longest-standing friend in the science fiction world. Michael was offering advice and introducing me to people even before I made my first sale. His writing and process served as a model for How to Do It, and his easy camaraderie  and they way he introduced me (and others) to people, provided an example for how I try to do that today. The first phone call I made after finding out I’d sold a story to Analog was to Michael.

Allen Steele has also acted as a mentor to me. (And I met Allen Steele only thanks to the introduction I got from, you guessed it, Michael Burstein.) We are both collectors of old science fiction magazines, we are both non-scientists who occasionally write hard science fiction, and I think we have similar styles of writing. Allen has offered me incredibly valuable career advice. And aside from being a great, long-standing writer in the field, he is also one of the nicest people you’ll meet, in or out of the science fiction world.

A constant mentor behind the scenes has been Barry N. Malzberg. I first read a Malzberg book in my senior year in college. It was Herovit’s World and I was hooked. What I learned from his books is that the writing can be just as important as the story. I got to know Barry (once again through Michael Burstein) and he has been a kind of guiding light behind the scenes. He reads my stories and offers some of the most brutally honest critiquing I’ve ever gotten. I love it because I learn more from those critiques than from an entire semester of creative writing.

2. The open book

These are the writers who attempt some level of transparency in their work with the thought that maybe others can learn being seeing how it is done. Isaac Asimov stands at the top of the list for me in this regard. I’ve read all 3 volumes of his autobiography[3. In Memory Yet Green (1979); In Joy Still Felt (1980); I, Asimov (1994).] 16 or 18 times. In the introduction to the first book, Asimov writes that part of his intention is to show “how he did it” because other would-be writers might find it useful. I certainly did. It is from Asimov that I learned, right or wrong, that the editor is the boss. Not everyone agrees with this, but I think it has given me a good working relationship with the editors that I’ve worked with, in fiction and nonfiction. I also learned the value of diversifying my writing–that is, not being a one-market writer, or even a one-genre writers. I’ve sold stories to Analog, but I’m not a typical Analog writer. I’ve also sold stories to many of the major science fiction magazines. I’ve sold nonfiction to the science fiction magazines, and have recently branched out into nonfiction outside the genre entirely. All of this comes from Asimov’s influence, his “open book” that allowed me to learn how to be a writer of anything.

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Notes

  1. Nos. 3 and 12, if I am being completely honest with myself.
  2. Name-dropping.

The Junior/Senior High School Years Playlist

I said this on Twitter earlier today:

and then I ran off to the dentist leaving people guessing what that playlist might look like. I’m too lazy to type it all in, so here is a screen capture of the list, which centers around the years 1989 and 1990. This is part of my Autobiography playlist, which I put together mostly from memory of what songs I associated from what periods of time. It does not necessarily mean the songs are from that period of time; that just when I was listening to the song. It also doesn’t necessarily mean I like the song, just that it reminds me of the time–although in the case of this period of time, I like most of the songs on the list.

Here it is:

High school song list

ETA: At my friend Lisa’s suggestion, I made this list available on Spotify.

Blog Stats, First Half of 2014

I hadn’t looked at the overall stats for 2014 in a while, but I peeked at them this morning, and was pleased to see that I am outperforming last year by more than a quarter of a million page views. Here is what the first half of 2014 looks like compared to the same period last year:

Page Views 2013-14

I was pretty surprised when I saw I’d had nearly 700,000 page views in the first 6 months of the year. At that pace, I’ll come close to 1.4 million by the end of the year, far surpassing any previous year. It also puts me on track for hitting 1 million pages views for the year sometime in September.

The unique visitors to the site appears to be outperforming last year nearly 2-to-1.

Unique Visitors

I am grateful to everyone who comes to visit and maybe finds something useful here. Seeing the numbers continue to improve is extremely gratifying. It is also amazing to thing that just a few years ago, I was averaging about 30 pages views per day. To go from 30 to over 3,000 per day–2 orders of magnitude–in just a few years seems incredible to me.

Bio and Bibliography Updates

I made some minor bio tweaks this morning, and brought my bibliography up-to-date. I’d been meaning to do these things for a while, and finally, finally got around to it first thing this morning.

You can find my bios, which often are used with pieces that I write outside the blog, on my Press Kit page, along with some author photos.

You can find the updated bibliography on, wait for it, my bibliography page.

Going Paperless: 3 Ways Evernote Helps Me Remember My Vacations

I have recently returned from our annual summer vacation up in Maine. It is always fun, and always relaxing, and except for a relatively minor touch of food poisoning1, this year was no exception.

One thing I noticed was that I was less active online for the week I was on vacation–even more so than I usually am when I’m on vacation. I attribute this to trying to live more in the moment and enjoy the time with my family. I wasn’t trying to capture every moment, as I often had in the past. That said, I still have a pretty good record of our vacation, despite dialing things back a notch, and for that, I have Evernote and some automation to thank. So today, I thought I’d share 3 ways that Evernote helped me remember my vacation, without too much of an effort on my own part.

1. Checking in with Foursquare

When we would arrive somewhere that I wanted to remember, I would take one simple action when we got there: checking in on Foursquare. I use Foursquare in the social sense. Instead, I use it to capture where I’ve been. I don’t use it for every place I go. I don’t check into grocery stores, for instance. But if I am traveling somewhere, I use it as a quick way of capturing the places I visited.

I have an IFTTT recipe that sends all of my Foursquare check-ins to Evernote. These notes in Evernote become the basis for the record of my vacation.

IFTTT Recipe: Capture check-ins on foursquare in Evernote connects foursquare to evernote

My IFTTT recipe tags these notes as “foursquare”, making them easy to find. With a simple search, I can find all of the check-ins for my vacation. For the trip to Maine, for instance, that search looks like this:

created:20140627 -created:20140707 tag:foursquare

This tells Evernote to look for notes between 6/27/2014 and 7/7/2014 tagged “foursquare.” It results in 15 notes for the places I checked-in while on vacation:

4sq Checkins

2. Add notes to my check-ins as part of my Daily Review

When I am on vacation, I still do a daily review of my notes each evening. One thing I do on vacation is add any additional notes about the trip to the check-in notes. If I learned some interesting fact that I want to record, or if the kids had a certain reaction to something that they saw, I’ll record it as part of the Foursquare check-in. This allows me to have it all in context of the place we visited. Here is one example from our visit to Acadia National Park:

Jordan Pond Note

Adding the notes in my daily review allows me to review the events of the day after they’ve happened, instead of what I used to do, pausing in the middle of the action to jot something down. I like this new way much better. It’s less intrusive on the family time.

There are some things we do, or places we go where I don’t check in on Flickr–for instance, visiting a friend or relative. In this case, if there are things I want to remember, I’ll just created a note during my daily review to record to those things.

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Notes

  1. It really wasn’t too bad. Not nearly as bad as the case of food poisoning I got camping 15 years ago or so.

Sometimes I See The Moon…

Sometimes I see the moon high in the eastern sky, with plenty of daylight left in the day, and I think: 45 years ago, we were walking around up there. How bad-ass is that! Then I remember that it has been more than 40 years since we’ve been back. A kind of miniature battle takes place within me, an angel and devil duking it out to determine what matters more: that we haven’t been back, or that we got their in the first place.

For now, at least, the angel is winning.

Yes, I am Alive–and Finally Home

I know that things have been quiet here for the last few days. Part of the reason is that we’ve spent two long days driving back from Maine to Virginia. The other part of the reason is that those two long days of driving came on the heels of what looks to be a minor food poisoning incident I experienced on the Fourth of July.

Things should return to normal here beginning tomorrow, including details of the vacation and the aforementioned incident. Just wanted to check in and say that we are home, and I am, indeed, alive.

Reminder: My Google Writing Scripts are Available on GitHub

After my inaugural post for The Daily Beast appeared, I’ve been asked almost daily if the scripts I mentioned in the post are available. They are available on GitHub. I put them there last July. I hesitated to mention them in the post on TDB because I didn’t want to come across as promoting my own stuff. But since I’ve been asked almost daily since the post appeared, I’m thinking that maybe I should have. Ah, well. If folks are interested in trying out the scripts, or improving upon them, you can access the code on GitHub. Be sure to read all of the instructions there to get them working correctly.