Blogging Advice for Beginners

Somehow, the 10th anniversary of my blog passed without notice. I wrote my very first blog post back on October 25, 2005. Back then I was on LiveJournal, but all of those posts found their way here when I converted to WordPress a few years later. Ten years, and 6,032 public posts later, I’m still having fun writing here. Now and then I hear that blogging is dead. Maybe that is true, but it is not dead here. And I’m not sure I believe it is dead in other quarters. My Feedly and Medium are always full of interesting reads.

A few days ago, a coworker of mine asked if she could get some advice on blogging and social media. I don’t know that I would call myself an expert on either subject. But I offered some lessons I’ve learned over the last ten years. Here is some of the advice I offered on blogging.

1. Post your best work

I’ve tried to get better at this over the years. For a long time I did my blog writing without a net. That is, I typed what I wanted to write directly into WordPress and then pressed Publish. These days, I write these posts in Scrivener, and I schedule them, often days in advance. I don’t rush to get them out. I re-read them and tweak them. I spend time trying to get them as clear as possible before I publish them. It my way of posting my best work.

For someone just starting out, I can’t emphasize how important posting your best work is. It is like submitting a story for publication. You always submit your best work. With the blog, there is not editor or gate-keeper to provide a quality check. Instead, there is an audience, and you want to make a good impression with that audience. The best way to do this is by posting your best work.

It is okay to write stuff and not post it. Looking through the things I have in my Scrivener blog project, I see five pieces I’ve written in the last month that I decided either not to post, or decided that they needed more work before I post them. For me, this is a sea-change from the days when I felt compelled to post something the second I’d finished typing the last word.

When I get asked about blogging, I am often asked about how to get people to read my blog. My response is always post your best work. If it is good, people will read it.

2. Consistency is more important than frequency

My friend wanted to know how frequently to post on her newly created blog. I told her that my experience is that consistency is more important than frequency. If you decide to post once a week, be sure to hit that mark every week—at the same time, if possible. If readers enjoy what you write, they’ll look for it regularly, and there is a schedule they can count on, regardless of the frequency, they’ll know when to look for it.

Consistency is more than when or how often you post. It is also means maintaining a consistent quality to the posts. Not every post will be a winner, but don’t forget the first piece of advice: post your best work.

Knowing how long it takes to produce your best work will help you figure out how frequently you can maintain consistency. If it takes you a month to produce a good post, then don’t try posting more than once a month until you are comfortable with the schedule. If it gets easier, you can increase the frequency of your posts, but only if you can avoid sacrificing quality. Quality is the most import part of writing.

3. Be patient

This blog was, by no means, an overnight success. In fact, I never really cared much about the site statistics until I’d been blogging for 5 years. In 2010, I started following the stats for the blog. I was getting something like 30 visitors each day. In 2011 (I think) I set a goal: could I improve the quality of what I was writing enough to triple that number and get 100 visitors each day? I had a year to do it, and I succeeded. From 2011 – 2014 things kept increasing, and I peaked at around a daily average of 4,000 visitors/day. In 2015, the numbers started falling. You know why? Because I was focused on other things, and I was no longer being consistent in when I posted.

These days, I’m back to posting regularly with a consistent schedule (the main post at 9 am each morning, with an occasional announcement or supplemental post in the afternoon), and guess what? The numbers are back up. Since December 1, I’ve been seeing 4,000-5,000 visitors each day on average. Here is what patience looks like on a timeline:

Blog stats timeline
Click to enlarge

My point here is not to brag. On the contrary, it took me 5 years of posting on consistent schedule, the best possible work I could write, day-in and day-out to get from 30 visitors a day, to 4,000 visitors a day. There was no magic bullet. There was no trick that I tried to get a bigger audience beyond trying to write interesting posts.

Computers Have Terrible Names

Computers have terrible names. Back in the early days, some thought was put to giving a computer a decent name. In 1944 there was Colossus, two versions of which helped break German codes at the end of the Second World War. Colossus packs a punch. There was a wooden roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain named Colossus. If the name is good enough for a thrill ride, it should be good enough for a collection of vacuum tubes. ENIAC was not an inspired name. But Whirlwind, and Pegasus showed imagination.

Around the time the personal computer made its debut, the names became dull. This becomes evident when compared to the names of another popular machine, the automobile. A Ford Mustang has gravitas. A Timex Sinclair 1000, not so much. A TRS-80 (we called them “Trash-80s”) sounded more like a science-fictional robot, than a computer. A Commodore 64 always made me think of a Naval officer in a Metropolis-like bureaucracy. Time did nothing to improve upon these names. An IBM ThinkPad never send chills down my spine the way a Corvette Stingray does. The Dell Latitude makes me think of cold weather.

Why is it that marketing departments have done such a poor job naming computers? Car names never sound like cars, but it is as if adding a lot of digits to the name makes the computer sound more computery. Dell Latitude D6000. IBM ThinkPad x60. Apple has a good brand, but the names don’t inspire confidence. iMac, PowerBook, and MacBook don’t do much for me. Of the three, PowerBook comes closest to stirring something in me.

Good names engulf the thing that they represent. “What do you drive?” someone asks. “A Mustang,” comes the reply. No need to include the manufacturer. Just Mustang. Like Madonna. Or Prince. Sure, you could say you have an Apple. But it isn’t the same. I love my Apple computers, but naming machinery after fruit seems strange to me. After all, when a car doesn’t work we call it a lemon.

The marketing departments of computer companies could have done much better. Ford already had the Mustang, but IBM could have called their PC the Lightning. The IBM Lightning. That has a ring to it. Instead of, “You know what I’ve got in the garage? A ’66 Tempest,” you might have heard someone saying, “You know what I’ve got in the den? A ’84 Lightning. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

As someone who has worked in IT for 22 years, there isn’t a computer name I’ve come across that has caught my attention the way the name of other types of machines do. Even typewriters had better names than computers. My portable Royal QuietComfort DeLuxe rolls off the tongue. Of course, if someone asked me what kind of typewriter I used, I’d say, “A Royal.” And if I was looking to impress that someone, I’d add, “A manual.”

Instead, I’m stuck with my Dell Precision laptop, which I refer to, vaguely, as “my laptop.” At home, I’ve got my iMac, and MacBook. I like to think of these two computers as Fat Man and Little Boy. Both are somewhat dated. I can’t even use AirDrop on my iMac.

Computer manufacturers could have followed the lead of car makers. New models would be recognized by the year in which they were produced. Thus, I might have an ’16 Lightning. And since I tend to be fond of old things, I’d look wistful upon my friend who still manages to operate a classic ’84 Lightning. You know, the one with two front-facing 5-1/4-inch floppy drives and 4 megabytes of RAM.

Yeah, those were the days.

2 Annotated Pages in My Field Notes Notebook

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve been using notebooks more and more. I especially like using my Field Notes notebook. I carry one around with me everywhere. I use the notebook for jotting down things I need to remember, but ultimate can discard. This differs from how I use my Evernote Moleskine notebook. The notes there are things I will refer to again and again.

The best way to explain how I use my Field Notes notebooks is to show you. So below is a snapshot of two very typical pages in my current Field Notes notebook. Each entry has a number, and the number corresponds to the numbers below.

Annotated Field Notes
Click to enlarge

1. A blog posts ideas. If I decide to write the post, I’ll cross it out after it is written (see #8 below).

2. A story idea. In this case, the idea is really something that would fit within another story idea.

3. Things I want to do. Here, the note refers to a spreadsheet I want to create that tracks the number of requests I get to write something vs. the number that actually pay for writing. I thought it would be an interesting metric to track in 2016.

4. When listening to audiobooks, I’ll jot down notes that strike me as interesting. In this case, I was listening to Carl Reiner’s I Remember Me, and was struck by his mention of Allaben Acres, because I knew that to be the place that Isaac Asimov and his first wife, Gertrude, spent their honeymoon—at around the same time that Reiner was there.

5. Another blog post idea.

6. An observation I made while eating lunch at an IHOP near Starke, Florida. All of the waitresses in the restaurant would, when asking the cook a question, refer to him as “Sir.” I thought it was unusual, and might be something I could use in a story.

7. Something I read in Carl Reiner’s I Just Remembered. It was a translation of a German quote, and I wanted to look it up. I did look it up, but didn’t have much success finding the original quote.

8. Another blog post idea. I crossed it out after I wrote it.

9. I always write down the name of our server at restaurants. Otherwise, I won’t remember it.

10. After all of the Carl Reiner reading, I found out that he and Mel Brooks had done an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The note reminded me to watch it.

11. I was going over to Cafe Rio to get dinner for the family, so I jotted down everyone’s order.

12. I had quite a few things I wanted to get done on Sunday, so I made a list. I managed to get all of them done, including changing the tire myself.

13. The Little Miss fell asleep watching a movie. I knew she’d want to start the movie from where she left off, so I jotted down the time of the movie when I noticed her asleep, so I’d know where to restart it when she woke up.

14. I saw an ad for something called “Wipe New” that reminded me I wanted to clean the headlights on the car. I ended up getting Turtle Wax instead.

15. I was running to the store, and Kelly asked me to pick up a few other things.

These two pages are typical of what fills my Field Notes notebooks. As I said, it is all ephemeral, a kind of temporary cache for my aging memory. But it works surprisingly well.

A Fondness for Old Things

In my day job, I work with technology. My desk has two large flat screen monitors, plus my laptop screen. I have a fancy Cisco IP phone that can do all sorts of neat tricks. While writing code, I sometimes listen to music streamed from satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Instead of phone calls, I have video chats. I carry a mobile phone that is often smarter than I am. I am inundated by cables and wires of all shapes and lengths. I am constantly checking to see if this device or that requires charging. All of this technology has creeped up on my in steady increments over the years. Perhaps because I have been part of this explosion of information technology for the better part of 22 years, I have developed a fondness for older, simpler things.

Office Desk

I envy those writers who worked on typewriters. It makes no difference to me whether the typewriter was electric or manual, there is a minimalist quality to the idea of writing on a typewriter. I have written on typewriters, but not since I began to write with the intention of selling what I wrote. I own my grandfather’s Royal QuietComfort Deluxe manual typewriter, and instead of hiding it away as an antique, it sits in our living room, and the kids are free to tap on the keys, and watch the typebars strike the ribbon. Writing used to be noisy.

When I was a kid, we had a telephone mounted to the wall in the kitchen. It’s ring was mechanical. A signal would activate a bell within the phone and produce an unmistakable RING! This sound cannot be reproduced by ring tones on an iPhone today because those rings tones are all digital. The mechanical sound of the bell is unique. My grandparent’s had a rotary phone which took forever to place a call. It seemed like every number I dialed had lots of 8s, 9s, and 0s, and few 1s and 2s. When talking on the phone, you were leashed to the radius of the cord. As I tend to multitask when I am on the phone, only half paying attention to what the person is saying, I think a corded phone that leashed me in place would be a useful feature today to help me focus on the call at hand.

My dad had a pocket calculator that I used to play with as a kid. In high school I had a scientific calculator, but even then I preferred the pocket variety. Our local Target still sells pocket calculators, but I don’t know if anyone actually buys them. My iPhone has a calculator built into it. What’s more, I can simply say, “Hey Siri, what’s 40 times 52?” and she will respond, “It’s 2,080.”

Music is digitally remastered today, but I sometimes miss the sound of records playing on a turntable, with all of the hisses and pops that went along with it. I listened to the Grease soundtrack over and over again on a turntable. I also listened to Spider-Man adventures on 45s. I miss the sounds of records. I noticed recently that Barnes & Noble carries records. These aren’t old used albums, but newly made “retro” albums. I wonder how they sound.

And what I wouldn’t give for the elegance and comfort of a DC-3 over a 737-900. It might have taken longer to get somewhere, but you went in style. First class today could not approach tourist class on a DC-3.

I feel like an old man, complaining how “back in my day…” But many of the old things I am fond of are things from long before my day. They are things I read about in memoirs and history books, or experienced second-hand, through the stories my grandfather told me. The past always seems simpler. Perhaps my fondness isn’t for old things after all, but for simpler times.

I suppose many people yearn for simpler times. Even the people who lived in simpler times probably sighed, and dreamed of the simpler times of their parents or grandparents.

Going Paperless 2.0: Tracking Accomplishments in Evernote

At the beginning of each year, one of the things that I find useful is to create a new “accomplishments” file. This a place that I can track my achievements and successes for the forthcoming year. A few years back I wrote about how I tracked my achievements in Evernote, but things evolve, and how I track my accomplishments today is a little simpler, and a little more useful to me. Here is how I track my accomplishments today.

1. Create an “accomplishments” note in Evernote.

At the beginning of the year, I create a new “Accomplishments” note. This note goes into my Timeline notebook. Longtime readers know that I think of notes in Evernote as being on a timeline. Each note has a date and time. I used to track each achievement as a separate note, but over the years, I’ve found simpler to track them in a single note.

2. Use a numbered list with one item per achievement.

I use a numbered list within the note to document each achievement. I capture all types of accomplishments, some big, some small. What makes up an “accomplishment” varies from person-to-person. I’ve gotten a feel for it over time. I use the numbered list instead of bullets because I like seeing the numbers go up as I accomplish more stuff. When I hit 9, I always think, “Can I make it to 10?”

3. Date each item, and link it to a related note or website

I will append each accomplishment with a date, and sometimes, I’ll link the accomplishment to another note, or related web site. If I receive some kind of certification, I’ll scan the certificate into Evernote, and then link the accomplishment back to the note containing the certificate, thus connecting the accomplishment to the thing I accomplished in a direct way. Here is what my Accomplishments in 2016 note looks like right now. Keep in mind, it is still early in the year.

Accomplishments in 2016

The note text links to a blog post I wrote yesterday on my experience changing the flat tire.

4. Create a shortcut for the note

To make sure that I don’t have to go hunting for the note listing my accomplishments, I create a shortcut to the note so that it is easily accessible to me wherever I might be using Evernote. Here is what the shortcut looks like on my Mac client:

Accomplishments Shortcut

Here is what the shortcut looks like on my iPhone version of Evernote:

iPhone shortcuts for Evernote

5. Set a reminder to review my accomplishments at the end of the year

Toward the end of the year, I like taking some time to review what I accomplished. This helps me plan for what I’d like to do in the following year. To that end, I set a reminder on the Accomplishments note in Evernote in order to remind myself to review my accomplishments at the end of the year. I usually pick a date around mid-December—which happens to coincide with the start of our long annual vacation. In this way, I head on vacation with an idea of what I managed to accomplish that year, and I can spend some of my vacation thinking about what I’d like to accomplish in the year to come.

Accomplishments reminder

Reviewing the previous year’s accomplishments, and create a new note to track my accomplishments for the coming year always feels good. It also helps to remind me that accomplishment can be big things (like selling a story, or winning an award), and small things, like successfully changing a tire. Having the note in my shortcut list helps keep it in front of me, and reminds to jot down those things worthy of capturing.

I could see taking this a step further. You could create a note listing your goals for the year, and then tracking your accomplishments toward reaching those goals, and linking the two, either within the same note, or using note links in Evernote. I prefer to keep things simple. Some of things I accomplish in a year (like changing a tire) are completely unexpected and not tied to a particular goal.

 


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: 4 Tips for Getting Started in 2016

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My Standard Cover Letter for Fiction

Occasionally, I come across a discussion of what one should put into one’s cover letter when submitting a story to a magazine. I don’t ever recall sweating over my cover letters after an early rejection I received from A. J. Budrys, then editing Tomorrow Science Fiction. He told me that, for him, cover letters were unnecessary, but that if I did include a cover letter, I should keep it brief and to the point. Below are four cover letters for four stories that I sold. The first three letters are the cover letter I used for my first two story sales. The last letter is the letter I used for my most recent story sale. In each case, I tried to keep them brief, and to the point.

1. When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer (InterGalactic Medicine Show, July 2007)

This was the first story I ever sold, meaning that at the time I submitted it, I had no credits to my name. Here is the letter I sent to Edmund Schubert, Editor of InterGalactic Medicine Show in 2006.

Dear Mr. Schubert,

Please consider the attached story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” for publication in the Intergalactic Medicine Show.  My name, address, phone number and email address are included on the attached manuscript, and also listed below.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

2. Hindsight In Neon (Apex Magazine, April 2009)

This is the letter for the second story I sold. I had one credit to my name. Also, the title was changed from “The Last S.F. Writer” to “Hindsight, In Neon” after it was published. Michael Burstein was guest editing this particular issue of the magazine. I knew Michael, and that is why the salutation reads, “Dear Michael,” instead of “Dear Mr. Burstein.” Here is my cover letter:

Dear Michael,

Please consider the attached 2,400 word short story, “The Last S.F. Writer” for publication in APEX Magazine’s special issue on “the slipperiness of history and the dangers of forgetting the past.”

My fiction has previously appeared in Orson Scott Card’s INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

3. Take One for the Road (Analog, June 2011)

I included this letter because it marks my first sale to Analog. I also included it as an example of what I did when an editor (Stan Schmidt, in this case) had rejected stories of mine in the past, but asked me to submit more stories. I was never quite certain how to remind an editor about this. Here’s what I did in the case of Analog, and in this case, it worked for me.

Dear Dr. Schmidt,

Please consider the enclosed 4,900 word short story, “Take One for the Road” for publication in ANALOG.  On a couple of occasions in the past, you’ve asked to see more stories from me.  It’s been a while since I sent the last one (the birth of our first child intervened) but I hope the enclosed story meets your standards.  I’ve also enclosed a copy of the last letter you sent me as a reminder of your request.

My fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and the DESCENDED FROM DARKNESS anthology.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

4. Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown (InterGalactic Medicine Show, May 2015)

Here is my most recent cover letter. Still as brief as ever. Note that in this case, I don’t list credits. Edmund had already published 3 of my stories, and an entire column of book reviews. Edmund, by this time, was also a friend, so this is an example of a cover letter for a market to which I have sold many times:

Edmund,

Attached is a 6,600 word s.f. story for you to consider for IGMS, titled, “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” In another life, I think I would be a baseball sportswriter. This story is from that other life.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Best,

J

P.S.: I can’t remember if you told me if you’d be attending RavenCon in April. If so, I look forward to seeing you there.

In each of these cases, I sold the story in question. I’ve sold 11 stories all together, and at least as many nonfiction pieces. In each of these cases, the cover letters use the same general template as the ones above. I will be forever grateful to A. J. Budry’s for taking the time to give me advice on cover letters. It has saves me a lot of time, and I have never sweated over a letter since.

The Flat Tire

We have been lucky when it comes to flat tires. We’ve driven round-trip from Virginia to Florida four times without a flat. We’ve driven from Virginia to Maine without a flat. We’ve driven dozens of times between Virginia and New York and have never pulled over because of a flat tire. We’ve had tire problems. Nails and screws and things like that. I fill up the tire and then drive to the mechanic to have it patched.

Yesterday, we arrived home from Florida, after 1,100 miles of driving in just 2 days. When I got out of the car, I looked to where our second car had been sitting unused for two weeks and noticed a completely flat right rear tire.

Flat tire

Ah, well, I thought. It was bound to happen at some point. We’d just arrived home and hadn’t even unpacked the car. We were in no rush, so I figured I’d deal with the flat the next day. My initial thought was just to call AAA and have them come by and swap out the flat for the spare.

When I woke up this morning, I had a different thought. The one disadvantage to not having the occasional flat tire is not getting the experience of changing a flat. My grandfather—who had been an auto mechanic most of his life—had taught me how to change a flat. But since I never had a flat tire, I never had the need to use that experience. Laying in bed this morning I thought: forget the Automobile club, I’ll do it myself.

I did it myself, the way my grandfather taught me. I jacked up the car just enough so that the tire was about to leave the ground. I loosened the nuts. Then I jacked up the car enough to remove the old tire, and replace it with the new one. It was easy, save one little mistake.

I should have checked the air pressure in the spare before putting it on. It turned out that the spare tire, having never been used, and having been mounted on the car for years, needed air. After removing the spare, I tossed it into the back of the other car, drove to the local service station, and filled it with air, 44 PSI, as recommended on the tire. I got back, put the tire on car, tighten the bolts, lowered the car, and gave each bolt a final crank. And the spare has now successfully replaced the flat tire.

Fixed tire

The whole process, including driving to the local service station to put air in the spare tire, took under an hour. That might sound long, and perhaps it is, but I hadn’t changed a tire since my grandfather taught me how to do it as a teenager.

And you know what? I’m glad I didn’t call AAA. I’m glad I changed the tire myself. If nothing else, it gave me the confidence to know that, when the time comes and we do have a flat on one of our road trips, I don’t have to wait for AAA or a tow truck to help put on a spare. I know how to do it myself.

Oh, and the reason the tire had gone flat in the first place, even though the car had been sitting there for two weeks while we were on vacation? In inspecting it after I removed it, I found a tiny screw embedded in the tread.

If You Ever Take an 11-Hour Drive, Let Carl Reiner Ride Shotgun

If you ever take an 11 hour drive, let Carl Reiner ride shotgun. On Friday, we left Florida after nearly two weeks, and began the 1,100 mile drive home. We decided to try it in two days, instead of three. This made for a 575 mile drive on Friday. Google Maps told me it would take 8 hours and 15 minutes. Factoring in lunch, and a gas stop, I figured 9 to 9-1/2 hours. It ended up taking 11 hours.

On Thursday, having finished both of Dick Van Dyke’s memoirs, I found myself wanting more. Carl Reiner seemed like the natural  choice. I found two of Reiner’s memoirs on Audible: I Remember Me (2013), and I Just Remembered (2014). I began listening to I Remember Me yesterday, and continued listening to it about an hour after we started our drive this morning. When that book ended, I immediately started listening to I Just Remembered.

I Remember Me by Carl Reiner

The books are hilarious. I lost count of how many times I burst out laughing while listening to the books on the drive home. Carl Reiner narrated his own books. I listened to the book for nearly nine of the eleven hours it took us to drive from southern Florida to Santee, South Carolina, and it was as if Carl Reiner was sitting in the passenger seat, regaling me with stories of his more than seven decades in show business. The time flew by.

Part of what drew me to the books was how much I enjoyed Dick Van Dyke’s memoirs. Part of what drew me to it was Carl Reiner’s diverse career in Hollywood: actor, singer, writer, director, producer. Part of what drew me to it is that I enjoy books about hard workers, and Carl Reiner certainly seemed to fit the bill. After all, at 93, he is still working.

By the time we arrived at our hotel in Santee, I’d finished the second Carl Reiner book. We checked in to the hotel, and then headed to a nearby restaurant for a late (for us) dinner. By the time we got back to the hotel room, I was beat. But I wanted a little more Carl Reiner. So I watched the episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. After that, I couldn’t stop. I spent about 2 hours watching episodes of Seinfeld’s hilarious series.

On Saturday, we faced a 7 hour drive. Arriving home just before 5 pm, the trip took 10 hours. Still enjoying the celebrity memoirs, I listened, in its entirety, to Carol Burnett’s This Time Together. I enjoyed it almost as much as Carl Reiner’s books. It kept me laughing for much of the drive home. It even produced a few tears.

The best driving advice I have to offer is: always wear a seatbelt.

The second best driving advice I have to offer: bring a celebrity along with you to regale you with stories of Hollywood.

My Bad Habits

I have some bad habits. Some I notice myself, others people notice on my behalf. Kelly cannot stand that I bite my nails. This a habit that I’ve had most of my life. I don’t even realize I am doing it, which makes it all the more pernicious. I broke the habit for close to a decade, from 2001 – 2011. But it snuck back in, as bad habits tend to do.

I have a bad habit of always wanting to add something to a conversation. Often I feel like I am interrupting, or cutting off others. I don’t mean to do this. I just get excited about what we are discussing, and I can’t help myself.

Other bad habits I have:

When I pick a line at the grocery store checkout, I won’t budge, even if there are other lines moving faster around me. I dig in, and become more and more cemented in my utterly ridiculous position that I picked the line and by God, I’m going to stay in it. Kelly finds this one more amusing than annoying.

Add to that the bad habit that I can’t stand still. No matter how hard I try, while standing, I’ll begin gently swaying from side to side. If I realize that I’m doing it, I’ll stop myself. But standing perfectly still doesn’t not feel natural to me, and no matter my resolve, the swaying will begin all over again. When speaking, I try to avoid this by placing my hands on the podium. That works long enough to get through the talk. But I usually end up tapping my fingers to keep moving.

On elevators, I pull out my phone to avoid small talk with strangers. It might not sound like a habit, but believe me, it is. My mind can be a million miles away, and I’ll look up to find myself checking email or Twitter, and avoiding eye contact with anyone else on the elevator. When I’m conscious of it, I try to stop myself, but walking into the elevator car, my hand immediately goes to my pocket.

There are some habits that I have managed to break. I mentioned that I stopped the nail-biting for a decade. I also used to hum constantly. I’d even hum at dinner. I can remember my parents’ pleas for me to stop with the humming at the dinner table. In my early years at the day job, I’d hum as I walked the hallways. People took this as sign that I was happy. Eventually I stopped humming. I have no idea how or why I stopped, but I still feel happy.

New Year’s is a time for resolutions. It’s a fresh start. A clean slate. A tabula rasa (which means “clean slate”). New Year’s is a time for breaking bad habits and starting good ones. If you’re a regular at your gym, you dread New Year’s because the place fills up with people who have no idea what they are doing. You look forward to mid-February when things have returned to normal. Everyone is starting something new, or stopping something old.

I think breaking a bad habit is harder than starting a good one. It was far easier for me to begin writing every day than it was for me to give up the nail-biting for 10 years. That’s how my brain is wired. The wires stretch, but they eventually snap back into place. I have no plans to break my bad habits in 2016. After nearly 44 years, they are a part of me that I’ve learned to accept, along with any shame that goes with them. The best I can strive for is to bite my nails when Kelly isn’t looking, and avoid spreading my bad habits to the kids.

Everything I Read in 2015

Here is everything I read in 2015. At least, it is all of the books I read. It is excerpted from my reading list on GitHub.

  1. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (2/10/2015)
  2. Carrie by Stephen King (2/22/2015)
  3. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (3/1/2015)
  4. The Shining by Stephen King (3/4/2015)
  5. Rage by Stephen King (3/5/2015)
  6. Night Shift by Stephen King (3/7/2015)
  7. The Longest Road by Philip Caputo (3/12/2015)
  8. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (3/14/2015)
  9. Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein (3/19/2015)
  10. The Stand: 1978 edition by Stephen King (3/22/2015)
  11. Coming Home by Jack McDevitt (4/17/2015)
  12. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (5/20/2015)
  13. The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (6/1/2015)
  14. Finders Keepers by Stephen King (6/6/2015)
  15. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (6/14/2015)
  16. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris (6/25/2015)
  17. Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (7/10/2015)
  18. Common Sense by Thomas Paine (7/10/2015)
  19. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (7/30/2015)
  20. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin (8/3/2015)
  21. Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Question for Transcendent Software by Scott Rosenberg (8/27/2015)
  22. Superfudge by Judy Blume (9/9/2015)
  23. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (9/10/2015)
  24. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (9/20/2015)
  25. Killing Floor by Lee Child (9/22/2015)
  26. The World Is My Home by James A. Michener (9/26/2015)
  27. David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd (10/19/2015)
  28. A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin (10/28/2015)
  29. On Writing by Stephen King (11/5/2015)
  30. The Dark Tower, Book 1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King (11/8/2015)
  31. The Dark Tower, Book 2: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (11/13/2015)
  32. Danse Macabre by Stephen King (11/23/2015)
  33. This Old Man by Roger Angell (11/25/2015)
  34. The Dark Tower, Book 3: The Waste Lands by Stephen King (11/29/2015)
  35. Sweet and Sour by Andy Rooney (12/11/2015)
  36. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (12/24/2015)
  37. My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke (12/28/2015)
  38. Keep Moving, and Other Tips and Truths About Aging by Dick Van Dyke (12/31/2015)

I’ve already listed my favorite reads of 2015, as well as my favorite online read of 2015. I’m happy with the list, and already gearing up for 2016.

My Ideal Home Office

The other day, while walking, I daydreamed about my ideal home office. If money was no object, and the office could be designed as part of the house, I thought about what I’d want my office to look like. I like a lot of light, so there would have to be a lot of windows. In the spring and fall, when the air is cool, and refreshing breeze is blowing, I wouldn’t want to be stuck inside. I’d want a screened in porch on which to do my work. A fireplace would be nice for those cold winter days. And it would be convenient to have a bathroom close by.

When I returned from work, I sketched something out very roughly:

PaperPlan

I then used the Paper App by FiftyThree to turn the sketch into something that looks more like an office design floor plan:

Ideal office floorplan

I didn’t worry about the scale.

I decided that I would need two desks. On desk would be for the computer and the screens. I’d need at least two good-sized monitors in my office. I’d want a good chair of the computer desk. Even so, I think the desk should convert to a standing desk so that I don’t always feel lazy sitting in front of the screens. The camera for video calls would be placed such that the fireplace was in the background, giving my video chats a homey look. There would be only three books on the desk:

  1. Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  2. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary
  3. The American Heritage dictionary.

The second desk would be clear of anything. It would be a flat surface for doing stuff that I didn’t want to do at the computer desk. Writing long hand, perhaps. Reading manuscripts. Thinking deep thoughts while staring out the windows.

I’d have a couch for napping, or for talking with visitors to the office. It would be a plush, comfortable couch. Recessed ceiling lights would allow me to illuminate the parts of the office that I happen to be using. The lights would be bright enough so that I wasn’t straining. But I wouldn’t need any lights on sunny days. Somewhere in the office, I’d have a mini-fridge stocked with water, as well as my favorite soft drinks.

I’d have a scanner, to scan in any paper I might receive, and a printer for those rare occasions where circumstance requires I print something out. But I would not have a phone in the office. I prefer email, chat, or video chats.

On the walls I’d have maps of the cities that I have lived in. I think Minted’s foil-pressed maps would be ideal for this.

I wouldn’t have a TV in the office. I wouldn’t have a lot of bookshelves either. I’d want the office to feel like a working space, albeit a very comfortable working space.

Most importantly, the office would have a door, which would remain closed during the hours which I worked.

The office would look out onto a wooded landscape. It would be far away from the sounds of traffic or construction.

Since I don’t play the lottery, this office will have to wait until I become a bestseller. I can live with that. I have a much better change of becoming a bestseller than I do of winning the lottery.

Some Things I Wrote in 2015

Here are some things that I wrote in 2015. Well, that isn’t quite right. Here are some things I wrote that were published in 2015.

  1. Meat and Greet” (fiction) in InterGalactic Medicine Show (January 2015)
  2. 5 Things I Wish I Could Tell My 20-Year-Old Self (About Writing)” over on the Write Life blog (March 2015)
  3. “Guest Editorial: Sneak Invasion, Revisited” (nonfiction) in Analog Science Fiction (March 2015)
  4. Handheld Electronic Games from the Decade of Excess” over at SF Signal (April 2015)
  5. Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” (fiction) in InterGalactic Medicine Show (May 2015)

I think I had more fun writing the nonfiction pieces, which helps to explain my plans for writing in 2016.

In addition, I was invited to be a guest on a couple of podcasts in 2015.

  1. The Three Hoarsemen, Episode 18, hosted by John E. O. Stevens, Fred Kiesche, and Jeff Patterson (January 2015).
  2. The Functional Nerds, Episode 226, hosted by John Anealio and Patrick Hester (March 2015)

I enjoyed being part of both of these excellent podcasts, and am grateful to John, Fred, Jeff, John, and Patrick for inviting me.

Happy New Year, everyone!