How Writing Has Affected My Blogging

I‘ve noticed that I haven’t been blogging quite as consistently as I used to. I used to get in at least one point every day. Now, I sometimes go 2 days without a post (although that is still pretty rare). This has been more obvious these last few months as my fiction and nonfiction writing has picked up, so I decided to take a look at the data. Here is what my total monthly writing word counts look like, broken down between writing (fiction and nonfiction) and blogging from March 2013 through last week.

Total Monthly Writing

For a while, it seemed that my writing and blogging were somewhat even, especially early on. There were months when one would take over the other, but the totals were fairly consistent. Until May 2014. Beginning May of this year, my writing shot up, and my blogging went way down. If you look at my blogging as a percentage of my total writing over time, here is what it looks like:

Blogging Percentage

That is a pretty major drop off over the last two months. I haven’t done correlations on the two datasets yet, but intuitively, it looks to me as thought I tend to blog a lot less on days where I write 1,000 words or more. In the last few months, 1,000+ word days have become the rule, rather than the exception, which would help to bolster this theory.

I’ll be on vacation for the next week, and may have the time to strike a better balance between these two writing activities. We’ll see what happens.

A Selfie In Miletus, July 2007 #TBT

I thought I’d go international for Throwback Thursday today, and take you to the ruins of the ancient theater in Miletus, Turkey, where I took a selfie in the 105 ºF heat, in the days before selfies were called selfies.

Miletus Selfie

If you want the full story of that day, you can check out the post I wrote while I was there. (I have been blogging for a long time, folks.)

Q: Do Second Drafts Count As New Writing? A: For Me, They Do

One of the questions that came out of my article in The Daily Beast yesterday was whether or not I counted re-writing in my word counts. It is a good question, to say nothing of a natural one, when you see numbers like 400,000 words in a year.

The short answer is, yes, I do count rewriting in my word counts. I have scripts (above and beyond those I’ve made available on GitHub) that compare what I write each day to the previous day, and mark the differences in Evernote. Here’s a portion of what one such day’s effort might look like:

Big Al Excerpt

The stuff in red are words I’ve removed from the previous day. The stuff in green are words I’ve added. There is occasionally yellow text which is a change.

The important thing to know about my process is that my first and second drafts are complete rewrites. In the first draft, I tell myself the story. In the second draft, now that I know the story, I tell it to an audience. First and second drafts often look completely different, and in most cases, this is new writing to me.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I sometimes write something that I don’t keep in the story. I may try writing a scene in two or three different ways, and keep only one of them. But all three attempts are counted in my daily word counts because they represent writing I do. Not counting them would be like not counting pitches that weren’t in the strike zone, even though the pitcher is still throwing them.

For those interested in my process in detail, check out this post I wrote back in February called “Evolution of a Story from Idea to Publication: A Behind the Scenes Look.” In it, I use an example of a story I wrote late last year and sold early this year. I show the numbers for each draft, and I think by reading it, you’ll get a better idea of my process and why I count all of the words, even the “rewriting.”


The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual

Student Pilot's Flight Manual

In the category of Books That Have Made an Impact on Me, there is one that I always seem to forget, although it’s impact has been profound: The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual by William Kershner.

I first encountered this book (with the cover seen above) in 1980 or 1981 when I was 8 or 9 years old. My dad was taking ground school at T. F. Green airport in Warwick, Rhode Island. The book was sitting around, I guess, or maybe he gave it to me to look at. The result was astounding. The minute I began flipping through its pages, I knew I wanted to fly.

I believe it is the first book I ever memorized from cover-to-cover. Much of it I didn’t understand, despite having memorized it, but a lot of I did. For one thing, the book taught me that flying a plane was not as simple as driving a car. For another, it taught that in many ways it was far simpler. I could draw the control panel of a Cessna 152 from memory, thanks to that book. I would draw them and pretend I was flying. A few years later, when the first version of Microsoft Flight Simulator went on the market, I began pretending on those as well.

When I was 15 years old, my cousin, a pilot, took me up in his Cessna 182. We flew over parts of New Hampshire, and he let me at the controls. That just confirmed what the book told me when I picked it up. I was supposed to fly.

In 1999, I began taking flying lessons out of Van Nuys airport in Van Nuys, California. On April 3, 2000, I passed my practical examination (on the first try!) and was a licensed private pilot. I don’t think we used Kershner’s book in the ground instruction I took for my license. There was some other book. But I still had Kershner’s book, tattered though it was, and I read and re-read it. I had about a year and a half of flying before 9/11 made it difficult and expensive for fair weather pilots like me.

I haven’t thought of The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual in years, and I’m not sure why I thought of it recently, but I’m glad that I did. I think it is the perfect demonstration of the power of books. Give a kid the right book when he’s 8 years old, and 19 years later, he’s achieved one of his dreams.

Going Paperless: 10 Ways My Use of Evernote Has Evolved Over Time

I was looking through the list of my Going Paperless posts the other day and realized that I’ve now been writing this column for over two years. In that time the way I use Evernote to go paperless has evolved, and while some of the earlier posts I wrote are still useful, they don’t always reflect how I do things today. So I thought I’d use today’s column to describe some of the ways my use of Evernote to go paperless has evolved over the years.

In most of the cases below, I’ve either learned better ways to do things, or found more comfortable ways to do things. Comfort is important because I find that if I am not comfortable with a tool or a service, I tend to shy away from it. These are listed in no particular order, mostly just as they occurred to me as I reviewed the old posts.

1. I’ve switched from Evernote Premium to Evernote Business

I switched from Evernote Premium to Evernote Business a few months ago. I had 3 main reasons for doing this:

  1. All of the Evernote Ambassadors were switching, in order to be able to take advantage of the collaborative features in Evernote Business.
  2. On a couple of occasions, I found myself getting close to the monthly upload limits in Evernote, even as a premium user. Evernote Business doubled those limits from 1 GB/month to 2 GB/month.
  3. I find it to be more and more helpful in my freelance work.

2. My Process for going paperless in 5 minutes per day

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this column was on my process for going paperless in 10 minutes/day. More than two years later, that has dropped to about 5 minutes/day. Actually, even 5 minutes is a bit of an illusion. On any given day, I rarely have to scan anything in, which is what took most of the time two years ago. That said, I have added new steps, like my Daily Review, in which I look at all of the notes created that day, and make sure they are properly filed and addressed. That adds a little time.

These day, however, the vast majority of notes that get into my Evernote account get there automatically. Let me illustrate with two days worth of notes. A recent weekday, and a recent weekend.

A typical weekday in Evernote

Evernote Weekday

I have annotated the above screen capture of my notes from yesterday. I created 11 notes in Evernote yesterday. Of those 11 notes 8 went into Evernote automatically, without any action on my part. The notes with pink labels beside them are automated. The notes with blue labels beside them are manually entered by me.

The three notes that I manually entered included the recent issue of Scientific American (I have a digital subscription and keep all of the PDFs in Evernote), a screen capture that I annotated in Skitch, and a note for an idea for a going paperless column.

The rest of the notes were automatic, and came into Evernote via other services. Those notes categorized as “Blog”, “Travel”, “Exercise”, and “Receipt” all came into Evernote through some IFTTT recipe or other. The note marked as writing was sent to Evernote by a custom script I’ve written that sends me a summary each day of my writing.

A typical weekend in Evernote

Evernote Weekend

On the weekend day, of the 13 notes that got into Evernote, all but one was created automatically. The only manual note I created on Saturday was the book recommendation.

This illustrates just how much information I get into Evernote without requiring any action on my part. And it should help to explain why my process for going paperless is down to 5 minutes per day, despite adding in a daily review.


3. Lately, I’ve been using the Evernote Smart Moleskine Notebook

This is one of the “comfort” changes. I know a lot of people who use the Evernote Smart Moleskine notebook and I just got curious about it, so I picked one up without any real thought of how I–the paperless guy–might use it. Turns out, I kind of like it. More and more I’ve been feeling the need to disconnect a bit each day. I do this in part through daily walks, but sometimes, I need to be away from my computer and phone. I still need to write and I still get ideas, so I’ve started using the Smart Notebook as a way to disconnect and still write or jot down ideas. It’s nice because I can use the document camera to snap a picture of my pages and get them into Evernote once I am ready to reconnect. For instance, last night, as I was thinking about this post, I jotted down the list of topics I wanted to cover and then snapped a photo of the page in Evernote:

Evernote Smart Note

Also, while I prefer writing at the keyboard, there is something to be said for scratching out the words in a notebook. Especially when I know that it will be easy to capture those words in Evernote.

4. More frequent use of the Drafts app in iOS for getting notes into Evernote quickly

That said, I still find myself using the Drafts app for iOS to quickly get notes into Evernote throughout the day. These are typically not the kind of notes I’d whip out the Moleskine for. I have several automations set up in Drafts so that I can easily capture story ideas, article ideas, and append to notes for my work-in-progress. The Drafts app allows me to just jot the note and click a button. It does the filing, tagging, and date stamping for me. I can do it easily when I’m on my daily walks, and that tends to be when I use the app most frequently.

5. More use of the Document Camera feature for capturing documents away from the office

These days, if I am out and someone hands me a piece of paper, I use Evernote’s document camera to capture it, and then hand the paper back so that it can be reused, or recycled. I don’t need to carry it around only to toss it or recycle it myself. So, for example, on Sunday, when I took my son to his newest swim lesson class, a staff person gave me a handout while I sat in the bleachers watching the action. I pulled out my phone, opened up Evernote, snapped images of the handout with the Document Camera, and then returned the handout so that someone else could have it.

Document Camera

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My New Column on Quantified Self at The Daily Beast

Yesterday, on Twitter, I promised some exciting writing news:

This morning, I am delighted to tell you that I have a new column at The Daily Beast which debuted early this morning. My column, currently biweekly centers around “quantified self.” For those not familiar with the term, think: FitBits, JawBones, food trackers, calorie counters, and all of the other ways that we track things about ourselves to learn and improve.

My first column, “How I Wrote 400K Words in a Year” focuses on how I’ve used data to improve as a writer, and offers tips for others who might want to do the same.

It was pretty cool waking up this morning to find my article featured on the Daily Beast‘s home page:

Daily Beast Home

This column marks another step in my writing career, an outlet for writing a column on how we can use data to improve, in front of what has to be the largest audience I’ve had thus far. I am grateful to Tessa Miller, my editor at The Daily Beast (and who I’d previously worked with over at LifeHacker) for giving me this opportunity, and providing helpful tips on my first article.

So, if you have some time today, head on over to The Daily Beast and check out my column. And by all means, let me know what you think.


An Excerpt From “Conversations at Our Dinner Table,” Ep. 1

Toward the end of our pasta dinner this evening, the Little Man looked at the kitchen table before and pointed to something.

“What’s this, Daddy?” he said.

I looked at it. “Looks like a stain in the wood.”

“No, because feel it.”

I felt it. “Maybe it’s a stain from food. Probably maple syrup from one of your waffles, don’t you think?”

“No!” the Little Man said, “It can’t be from one of my waffles, Daddy. I never eat my waffles at the kitchen table.”

I thought about how he sat in the rocker in our bedroom in the mornings, eating waffles while he watched Disney Junior and could offer no response because his statement was unanswerable. He was absolutely right.

The Panda in the Trees

Summer might have started off gloomily here, but it made for great panda viewing weather early this morning at the National Zoo. I snapped this photo of one of those cute looking creatures, and I really like how it came out.


General Updates and Notes on the 1st Day of Summer

Summer has arrived, and it did so in mist and gloom, at least here in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. We took the kids to the National Zoo early today, and got to hang out with fellow Analog writer, and friend, Juliette Wade and her family. This evening, we are celebrating a friend’s birthday party by going to see an 80s cover band.

I’ve been pretty swamped lately, and so rather than making lots of little posts, here is a summary of various things that have been going on in my world this last week or so.

1. I have new freelance writing gig, which I believe will start up middle of next week. I’m excited about this one. It marks a significant step forward in my writing career. But I’m holding all of the details back until I can point you to the initial results, so stay-tuned.

2. I am participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon this year. Since I’m already writing every day, I might as well try to raise some money for a good cause by doing it. You can find the full details here, but the Write-A-Thon begins tomorrow, and continues for 6 weeks. Expect weekly updates of my progress.

3. In other writing news, I’ve passed 33,000 words in the first 20 days of the month, and about 150,000 words year-to-day. I’ve written now for 335 consecutive days, and for 477 out of the last 479 days.

4. I finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving earlier in the week. First Irving I’ve ever read, and contains what has to be the single funniest scene I’ve ever read. I really liked the book. Since then, I’ve been enjoying Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon.

5. The Little Man graduated from pre-school on Thursday with a nice little graduation ceremony in which the graduates sang songs, and wore the cap and gown, and moved their tassels from left to right when they graduated. He will continue at the school through the summer, and then move to his new school to start kindergarten. I’m so proud of him.

6. We’ve taken the training wheels off the Little Man’s bike. Since then, we’ve gone to the park twice to practice. Very rocky the first time, much better the second. I think one or two more sessions and he’ll be riding on his own.

7. Our kitchen remodel wrapped up last week, but I haven’t had time to post the final pictures. I will do that soon. But spoiler alert: WE LOVE IT!

8. Our summer vacation is almost upon us and not a moment too soon. With the house-sitter arranged (so that the cats don’t go hungry), we will be off to our annual summer trek up to Maine in week. We’ll be stopping near Albany, NY to see some good friends, and to spend a day with them in Saratoga Springs. Then it’s on to Maine, and small town relaxation.

9. In a most unlikely turn of events, Kelly, who would barely consider herself a fan of science fiction, has become addicted to Doctor Who. That means that I have been watching the show, although mostly through osmosis.

Clearly, I’m keeping busy, and that has taken some time away from my posting here, but I’ve been trying not to allow more than a day go by without posting something. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish up some writing, and then get ready for the date night tonight.

Consider Sponsoring Me in the Clarion Write-A-Thon

I am participating in this year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon. For those who aren’t familiar, here is a brief description of what the Write-A-Thon is, and what is supports:

The Write-A-Thon has been hosted annually for the past few years by the Clarion Foundation, a wonderful organization that provides funding for the highly respected Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Workshop at UC San Diego. Clarion is the oldest writing program of its kind. Many of the greatest figures in science fiction and fantasy have honed their skills and launched careers there. Check it out on the web at Writing programs across the nation are under tremendous financial pressure and Clarion is no exception. Last year’s Write-A-Thon raised over $17,000 in support of the workshop.

A Write-A-Thon is like a walk-a-thon, but instead of walking, I’ll be writing, and instead of lining up pledges for miles, I’m asking for pledges based on “hours in the chair”–time spent writing. I’m attempting to write 60,000 words (about two-thirds) of the second draft of my first novel during these six weeks. That number is based on how much I have written over the previous 6 weeks, and it amounts to about 42 hours1 of work on my part. Hours makes it easier than words for folks who want to pledge based on units (e.g. $1 for every hour, instead of $0.000005 per every word, or whatever it turns out to be).

I would be grateful to anyone who would consider sponsoring me during this Write-A-Thon. Every little bit helps, and all of the money goes to Clarion. It is even tax-deductible.

Click here to visit my profile page and sponsor me for the Clarion Write-A-Thon.

I will post updates here and on social media, and you can also follow my progress on my profile page. Every contribution that comes in will show up on my profile page. The Write-A-Thon begins on Sunday, June 22, and continues through August 2.

Thanks in advance for your support. And don’t forget to check back, beginning on Sunday, to see how things are progressing.


  1. This also happens to be the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Also, I am 42 years old.

College Graduation, 20 Years Later

I graduated from the University of California, Riverside on June 22, 1994, twenty years ago today. It is supposed to be closer to 100 ºF in the metro Washington D.C. area today, and it was probably at least 100 ºF in Riverside on the day I graduated. Not the kind of weather you want to be decked out in black and sitting for hours on end. I mocked this bit of meteorological irony in my first published story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer”:

However, it was also my graduation day and the high-noon sun would allow none of us graduates to forget that summer was upon us. The graduation ceremony was like a final exam: one in which we demonstrated that we were smart enough to follow one another in an endless procession, under a blazing sun, draped in black. We sat there baking while the speaker cast his arms about the similarly-dressed audience, praising our individuality. Finally the dean of the school conferred upon us our respective degrees, and we tossed our sweat-drenched caps into the air and plotted our escape.

I did indeed plot my escape. My memory of the exact course of events has become fuzzy, but I seem to recall that after I received my diploma, I was supposed to process back to my seat in the audience. Instead, I walked passed my seat, past all of the seats, and back to my apartment, which was heavily air conditioned, and awaited the arrival of the rest of my family. This may or may not have actually happened. I tend to think it did, but memory is a funny thing, and twenty intervening years serve to disrupt it.

There is a lot of debate these days about whether or not college is worth the cost. Twenty years ago, it was worth it to me, although I did come out of school $11,000 in debt. My degree, a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Journalism, did not help me get a job in my field, however. I worked in the dorm cafeteria all through school, mostly in the dishroom and doing custodial shifts. In my last year, I started doing computer work for the managers of the cafeteria. I continued this work throughout the summer of 1994. I’d drive out to Riverside from Los Angeles listening to the O.J. Simpson trial on the radio. In October of 1994 I did get full time job doing IT work and software development for a think tank. I have been at that job ever since.

Could I have gotten the job I have today without the degree? Well, technically, no, because an undergraduate degree was required at the time. But no specific degree. It didn’t matter if it was in computer science, political science, or dance. That said, I don’t think I would have been as successful in my job had I not had a degree because, looking at the big picture, my education at UC Riverside provided me with two things that have made me successful both in my career as an application developer, and my avocation as a writer.

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Going Paperless Quick Tip: Clipping Email with the Evernote Web Clipper

I was recently asked if there was a way to automatically eliminate the header information you get in a note when you forward an email message to your Evernote account. The short answer is to use the Evernote Web Clipper. This solution really only works if you are using Gmail, which I do. That said, if you have Evernote installed on a Windows machine and use Outlook, you can use the Outlook plug-in for Evernote to get some of this functionality.

I imagine that many Evernote users are familiar with the Web Clipper for clipping pages from the web, marking them up, and saving them to Evernote. But if you use Gmail, and have a message window open, when you click on the Web Clipper you will have an option to clip the email message you are looking at. Here is what it looks like:

Email Clipping
Click to enlarge

Here is how it works: Select the message you want to clip in Gmail and then click the Evernote Web Clipper icon in the toolbar in your browser (I use Google Chrome). What you will see is something like the image above.

1. Choose the Email clipping option. When you clip a Gmail message with the Web Clipper, you will see 2 options: Email or Screenshot. Select the Email option. (This is usually the default option for email.)

2. Select the messages you want to clip. In Gmail, messages are threaded. The web clipper gives you the option to select which message(s) in the thread you want to clip. It also makes it easy to clip all of the messages at once.

3. Mark up the message. Use the standard markup tools to mark up the message: highlight, draw arrows, annotate with text, etc.

4. Tag and file the message. Choose the notebook in which to save the message, and add tags, if desired.

5. Save or share the message. Click the Save button to save the email message to Evernote. You can also click the Share button to share the message with others.

Clipping email messages using the Web Clipper doesn’t add any of the forwarding headers that forwarding a message often adds, which is nice. It also makes it easy to tag and file email messages. And being able to mark up the messages is a nice bonus.

Some email messages I receive get automatically sent to Evernote without me having to do anything. But I tend to use the Web Clipper to clip one-off email messages. For example:

  • Confirmations of charitable donations.
  • Travel confirmations or itineraries.
  • Email messages that I want to convert to reminders.

I find the Web Clipper incredible useful, fast, and easy in situations like these.

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

Last week’s post: 3 Ways I Capture Where I’ve Been with Evernote.

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