My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.03 – What Writers Get Wrong

More new hosts!

This week’s episode introduced a new type of episode for the podcast and I’m anxiously awaiting its return next month. The What Writers Get Wrong series is exactly the kind of leveling up material that I’ve been needing and didn’t ever know it.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

The concept for the series is to use these episodes as individual looks at the ways that writers fail – perhaps with writing the other or common traps that people fall into.

The approach is to use the podcast as a way of SHOWING rather than telling about craft and if it goes anything like this first venture, it will be great.

I’m loving the new host, Aliette de Bodard. I really enjoyed how quickly she seemed to fall into place with the existing crew. I think this series will be one of the most useful to me going forward.

While the exact topic of motherhood and pregnancy is not one that is currently needed for the stuff I’m writing, it did get me thinking about where I could make some changes to my research process.

Factual vs Subjective Subjects

One of the big changes I will need to make in my approach to research and beta readers is coming to a better grasp of subjective topics.

Some things that bug my in my reading are when writers get things that are factually provable wrong.

Giving external safeties to guns that don’t have them. Using the wrong type of engine on a get-away car. Having a setting of tall, rickety structures in an area of the US with 70mph straightline winds (regularly) and tornados. One or two target readers who are even reasonably familiar with the weapon/car/area would have fixed these problems. in stories that I’ve read.

But with something like the topic of the podcast, there are a multitude of ways to screw that up.

One of the items I remember from Brandon’s YouTube series on worldbuilding was the concept of the iceberg – that you have to do enough worldbuilding to show the top of the iceberg that you can convince your readers that there’s so much more under the surface – even if you haven’t actually thought of those things that are beneath the surface. Because as writers we can’t always spend the time (years – decades) creating things that intense.

With these kinds of subjective experiences, I think you’d have to do the same. You need to show enough clear, concrete details that your readers believe you’ve looked at all of it.

And as a writer I need to be cogniscent of where my personal experience with a topic won’t suffice. I have at least some experience pregnancy and motherhood as I’m married and we’ve had kids. But there is NO WAY I would try to write pregnancy and motherhood based on my VERY LIMITED experience as an outside observer. It’s just not something I would be competent to write at this time, and I know it.

And there are myriad topics that are the same way. Being willing to acknowledge that I don’t know is where that first step starts. Feedback from readers can clue you in if you’re getting enough of it.

So what things have you seen as readers that you had to just sit back and laugh because the writer got them so wrong?

Share below.

Some Ergodox Questions Answered

Thanks to some great questions by reader Chloros, I thought I’d compile a post on some of the things that might not be readily apparent about the Ergodox EZ (at least as far as I’m able) and to point out a couple of cons I’ve noticed. I think my posts so far may have been too glowing in their praise. So I’ll try to be a bit clearer here. Sorry this took so long to get ready.

Does the programming stay with the board? If it gets unplugged or power goes out or I switch computers does anything happen? Can I use it with someone else’s computer?

The programming is part of the keyboard, not a application running on the computer.

It’s fully within the firmware – flashing a new layout means reflashing directly to the board. Power goes out or board gets unplugged? No issue, everything is there still there, nothing erased. All the layers and key assignments stay put and I can switch from my work computer to my home unit with no down time at all. Plug and play. New computer I’ve never used the keyboard with? So long as the standard USB keyboard drivers are up-to-date, I don’t think there’s anything that would affect it.Β  Swapping units has no effect at all on the Dox – unless I specifically flash using the tool, nothing affects the layouts I have and nothing from the keyboard changes the computer I’m using.

Gaming with a programmable keyboard, will layers or stuff screw up my game?

I don’t think so, and to be honest, I’m not the best source to ask. The only PC game I play with any regularity is Stardew Valley using WASD/mouse.

But, from what I’ve read, gaming might be one of the big reasons people go with a programmable kb. Since all the key assignments sit in the firmware, you can just program a layer to have all your shortcuts and key assignments right at your fingertips. So long as you don’t accidentally switch to another layer in the midst of play (and that requires you to hit a key that you have specifically set to be a layer changing key), there’s nothing the board would do to mess your game up.

Similar example – in writing, basic formatting and copy/paste functions get used all the time, so I set the interior column of both halves to have those shortcuts. To invokeΒ bold I don’t have to hold the Ctrl key and hit “b”, I just tap the left-half inner column bottom key and the board sends “Ctrl-b” for me. I use one key stroke to send two.

That said, using the web-based configuration tool, things like macros aren’t possible.

The subreddits for the Ergodox and the Ergordox EZΒ are a good community resource. They’ve been very helpful to me.

Online EZ Configuration Tool – what happens if it goes away or the company closes shop? Are there other ways to program the board and change key assignments?

The online configuration tool is just a web-based compile tool for QMK, the firmware used on the original Ergodox, Ergodox Infinity, and a ton of other boards. It’s just far easier to use a web-based tool than setting up the compiler on your own computer.

For a new user and for someone not a developer (for example, me) its great. But it’s not as powerful and there are some quirks. So if the EZ company decides to pull the plug, there is always the QMK firmware, which is open source and has a decidedly enthusiastic community supporting it.

One quirk which I was not aware of (and this goes to one of the cons) – when you make a new layer using the configurator, the new layer is essentially transparent back down to the base layer.

For example, if I make a new layer, say layer 4, and don’t assign anything to it, when I switch to layer 4, it behaves just as though I’m on layer 0, the base layer.

If you want a new layer to be truly blank, turns out in keyboard-speak, you have to assign the keys the “blank” character. In the configurator that’s the “None” assignment. I think the reason this happens is because when you press a key on the keyboard, that completes a circuit and sends a signal. The computer HAS to know what the signal is, or you risk crashing something. So, the default approach is to just send what is already in that position on the base layer.

I think I understand the reasons for this and I’ve started to use this to my benefit, but the visual presentation of the configurator makes you think these blank keys send “nothing” or the blank character. I was annoyed by that and would like some better documentation to that effect on the configurator page.

 

If there more questions, feel free to post them below, and I’ll update here as time permits.

Current State Report and Writing Excuses 13.02

Things are going to be a little different this week. Between the holiday, some bad sleep, more stress at work, and bad timing, I haven’t gotten all the writing work done I wanted to. I have gotten the book work done I needed to, but not the blogging. So, you get one this week. Maybe two if I’m able to finish up some stuff.

Current State

I’m 25% complete with the current revision of my novel Betrayed. That is the part of writing that has been going well. I also got back a response from a beta reader which pumped up my enthusiasm a lot. So, I’m quite hopeful that the book will be in the right shape for querying agents when I’m all through with it this round.

Once I get to 50%, I’ll start really working on the pre-writing for my next novel. Which means between now and then, I need to do some research on pets and AIs. Fun stuff.

In physical tool updates, I ADORE my new keyboard. I’ll be trying to get some questions addressed that folks have asked, so please be patient. But my hand pain is completely gone, and I’ve been pushing pretty hard the last few days. So, it was expensive, but so far, worth it.

Last, today marks the start of a new habit forming session which I’m doing with my youth at church and with my writing group. My young men wanted to learn about how habits work and so last night was a chance to explore habits, and the result was me realizing that my recent writing approach has been killing my sleep pattern. I needed to make a change.

So the new goal is sleep early, up early, with my writing spread throughout the day, rather than all writing done in a rush at night. Day 1 feels pretty good so far.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.02 – Writing Active Characters

This week, the hosts looked at writing active characters and first reaction out of the box for me: “Holy cow! New Chicago team!”

Yes, it looks like the crew changed up this season. I’m sure if I followed the podcasters on anything more than just the podcast I would have seen this coming, but it was surprising to me. It makes a lot of sense. What a great way to keep things fresh. It’s too bad in one regard, because I really liked the old Chicago crew. Looking forward to getting to know the new folks!

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟

Usefulness to me right now: 🌟 🌟 🌟

So, perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of revisions rather than drafting, but this doesn’t feel quite as useful to me at the moment. For a passive character, Brandon gave the example of having someone who always stands around and watches important events rather than being in them.

Current project – not an issue.

Book I just finished in November ? Might be an issue. So, not as useful at the moment, but it may be something I’ll need to address in future stories. I might have that tendency.

Overall, though, a good episode, though because of the new team who haven’t answered this question previously, the answers seemed at surface level. I hope they find their legs as the season goes and give good, meaty advice. Good enough for the very early writer, but I think they can all dig a bit deeper.

Something that didn’t get covered during the episode: my personal belief is that inactive characters are a warning sign/diagnosis criteria of plot problems. If your character isn’t interacting well with the events of the story, you might be telling the wrong story.

And I don’t necessarily mean redoing the story so your main character is at the center of events.

Maybe you have a seemingly passive character observing an action/adventure story, but rather than re-plot the action story, you need to be telling the coming of age story inside that adventure, of someone wistfully longing to be bigger or better than they are.

Or you have a relationship story where the a seemingly passive character can’t talk to the object of their affections. So maybe try telling the growth story inside of that problem.

In reality, this is just another variation on Mary’s favorite tool, the MICE quotient, with a story nested inside another story. It’s great because it allows you to have layers that might not come up in a straightforward tale. And it can let you keep what you’ve already worked and tweak it rather than starting over from scratch.

So, if you do find your characters being too passive, take a look at how to fix. It may be just a change of paradigm.

K, I think I’m going to call it there for the week.

I really enjoy the comments that I’ve been getting. Many thanks to those who have been reaching out. And with how busy the week has been, I’ll be responding to a couple of previous questions later this week, so hang in there.

Drop a line below and join in.

Ergodox EZ – One Week In

Update: I wanted to add my week long impressions before the daily recap, so edited to add that in at the beginning of the post; GMG

Week 1 Impressions

I am shocked at how quickly I have acclimated to the Ergodox EZ in my daily work. Granted, I’m using it nearly 6 hours a day between work and novel writing, but I really am surprised at how much I enjoy using it. I don’t think that much computer work is common for people. I also think I have a distinct difference over a lot of Ergodox adopters: I am NOT a developer or programmer. For me, that means I have fewer keys that I have to relearn.

For me, I neededΒ to adapt to:

  • having the board split and hands farther apart
  • arrow keys on a layer
  • few shortcuts (bold, italics, cut, copy, paste, etc) at special positions on layer 0
  • thumb clusters

I think developers and programmers have more that they would have to adapt to – symbols, IDE shortcuts, window movement keys, maybe integrating vim/Emacs.

The other big impression: people will absolutely judge you for buying one, but on the inside, probably find it pretty cool. My boss calls my cube the “cockpit” now and asks if I like piloting the shuttle. But he was also very eager to give the Ergodox a shot and was amazed at how hard it was to master, giving me props for getting good at it as fast as I have. My co-workers all tried it as well and everyone came away saying it was cool,Β  impressed I would be willing to make this drastic change to my work place. One of them is even starting to learn about mechanical keyboards, perhaps moving towards one for himself one day.

Below, I’ve listed out my thoughts day by day, if that interests you. If you’ve got questions, feel free to drop them below and drift around to any of my other posts.

Day 0 – End of the day

I give in, my brain hurts. I went all day with Ergodox and could feel things kicking in slowly – left thumb is actually a useful digit now, arrows keys are right under my fingers, layers are starting to make sense.

But holy crap, I’m worn out. Very reminiscent of learning Colemak, where it isn’t a headache, but actually feeling like I can’t think anymore. I know gray matter in the brain has no nerve endings to feel, but this feels like a brainache.

Also, it’s weird to have my hands on separate boards. Wonder if that’s going to every feel normal.

But for the rest of the day, I’m switching back to my regular board just so that I can get this last email out.

I did however make all of my colleagues try it out on my QWERTY layer. I was hilarious to watch them try to process the changes introduced. None of them realized that the keys aren’t staggered until I pointed it out. They kept getting annoyed that they’d hit M and , at the same time.

Day 1 – Saturday half day

I did use it for doing revisions to my novel and I really like using is sorta one handed. Left hand on board with backspace and delete available and right hand on mouse. I could easily see doing gaming this way.

Still really struggling with bottom row not being staggered. This might be the thing which breaks me. If I can’t get this down, I can’t type and there’s not point continuing.

Day 3

I CAN FINALLY TYPE “C” WITHOUT ERRORS!! Still struggling with X, V, and B though, but I think my brain is finally accepting the new positions.

And I made a lot of iterations to my layout today.

Capture

Also, I realized that I had put too much under my right thumb cluster. The pain moved from ring/pinky of my right hand to my right thumb, so the last item on that list, v0.6, was to move my layer 1 key elsewhere and change it’s type. Things feel better already.

Day 4

I actually feel like I got work done today. I wasn’t thinking so intently onΒ  how to use the keyboard, I just used it and got stuff done. Suddenly bottom row stuff wo

DCA profile keycaps now feel mostly normal. I like that I don’t have to raise up much to move from row to row. I still wonder how DCS profile might feel for more sculpting.

Tenting also feels like it has lessened hand pain and I’m really liking having my hands apart.

Day 5

Hmm, I’m using the built-in keyboard on my laptop during a meeting and I can’t type. My hands consistently are too far apart so I’m off the keys, I’m actually using my left thumb, though I keep hitting spacebar instead of backspacing. Ugh! Why don’t my fingers work?

Wait, there it is. After 20 seconds, my brain kicked in and I could suddenly type again just fine.

Who would have though thatΒ  5 days would be all that was needed to get that comfortable with a new system that my old one would feel foreign?

I think I need to make certain to use regular layout keyboards at least daily for a few minutes so that I don’t lose the ability to type on them at all.

Day 6

Only struggles now are using number row and remembering to use layer 1 for navigation (arrows, end, home) instead of reaching for the mouse. I’m surprised at how fast I can navigate if I just can remember where to hit.

Error rate is down significantly and hesitation when doing regular typing is nearly none. Password entry is slow since much of that is muscle memory that hasn’t yet adapted to the new layout. Using my text expansion software (TyperTask) is also slow for similar reasons.

I LOVE that I can independently move each half. Little bit of rotation in or out, move in or out. Just tweak things a little for that hand to reduce stress and discomfort just a little bit more. Every little bit is helping. Shoulders are more relaxed and hand pain is down. Now both hands feel like they are getting used, but not in pain. And the adjustments in tenting are helping. I’m actually finding that too much tenting can contribute to stress as well.

 

Notes with Checkboxes – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

Ah, the humble checkbox. How ticking you fills me with joy, a sense of completion, a small bit of the chaos locked away.

Or at least, that’s how I’ve heard some people describe them.

No, I’m not really going to wax poetic on the nature of notetaking apps, but I am going to talk about one of the easiest tools to use to get started on improving personal productivity if you’ve never used anything in the past: the checkbox or list.

How to Use

To me, list making seems a nearly universal approach to remembering to do something, a way to have a plan (albiet a very simple one) to deal with something we must do. We use lists for grocery trips, chores, errannds, packing, and just about anything we want to quickly jot down to do later. But lists on paper and checkboxes within digital notetaking apps (like Evernot, Google Keep, and OneNote) can be extremely powerful. I find I use them all the time, even within other productivity systems because of how useful they can be. 

At the simplest, grab a sheet of paper and list out all the things you want to do. You don’t even have to separate them into categories. Put your oil change right after your character motivation you just realized you needed to add to your current scene. 

Using them within a dedicated environment can be even more powereful. Some entire systems are built around them – Bullet Journals,  HipsterPDA, Todoist, TickTick, Wunderlist, AnyDo. Even the prioritized daily task list that was part of the Franklin Day Planner system I mentioned in the first article of this series is just a list of things to be checked off during the day.

Of course, things might start to get a little jumbled after a while so a strategy is useful in applying this to your fiction writing. And that’s the big problem with them – lists can spiral out of control. Often, when you start listing out everything you need to do, you get overwhelmed by actually seeing HOW MUCH you have to do. And then you can’t find the item you need or it doesn’t remind you to do it at the appropriate time.

So, how do I use them?

My Usage in Writing Fiction

Lists and checkboxes are a tool within the much larger system I have developed for myself (and that is the topic I’ll be talking through next time). I use them sparingly.

Inside my project management system, I will create lists of thing associated with that project and only that project. And I try to limit that to only specific tasks.

“Revise draft” is not an appropriate checklist item – too broad and too encompassing. “Revise scene for redundant emotional beats as part of 10% cut” is a lot more useful. It reminds me what specific task I should be doing in enough detail and focus to make sure I get that ONE thing done.

I use them for research to create a list of exact sources I want to review. My next book about rogue AIs and teenage girls getting caught up in a crime syndicate’s plans has a lot to do with pets, so I have a list of movies and books that feature the important relationship between owner and pet, alongside requirements to research neural networks and machine learning.

I have a list of exact topics for this blog post series. 

I have a list of buisness and personal branding changes I need to make with my website. 

For me, the biggest asset in list making is knowing the context of where that list would be useful and making sure that the list surfaces when I need to work on that topic. I make sure I am checking my system for these things on a weekly basis to ensure I’m getting things back into my head that need my focus now.

Applications and Apps

I already listed out several applications and apps above, but without giving any opinion on them. Mostly that’s because each of the apps has a devout following and I have found they all have things that make them good fits and bad fits for me. Most of them become their own systems if you use them long enough. Also, fair warning, I don’t use a MacOS or iOS device, so there’s likely a whole bunch of appse out there that I’m not aware of, so take the below with that in mind.

If you prefer living in a paper and pen world, give Bullet Journaling a look. It doesn’t work for me, but the flexibility is very good. 

Digitally, I think Evernote is the most useful notetaking tool and it has some decent list making and reminder resources, though it can be overkill. 

For a simpler digital note system, Google Keep is very clean and ties in nicely with the Google environment if you are already a Gmail lover. 

And if you just want a digital checklist, I recommend TickTick as a starting point as it has all the features that you’d likely want in the free version.

Finale

How do you use lists in your current work? Do they help you or do you find them superfluous? 

Comment and engage below.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.01 – Hero, Protagonist, Main Character

A new year, a new season of Writing Excuses. AndΒ this week’s episodeΒ got my soap box nerves tingling. Hero, protagonist, and main character – which is which and how to know which to use.

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

What a great episode! And it hit on one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to craft books for fiction writing – a determination to fit all main characters into a particular label.

One of my preferred craft books on structure is John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, which I love for its many insights and approaches to developing the bones of a story. But I HATE his use of the label “hero” when talking about the the character of the story. Perhaps I should explain.

I don’t write stories about heroes, at least, that’s not how I think of them. I’m much more interested in the stories of everyday people thrust into extraordinary situations. Sometimes that lets a person’s heroic side show. And often, it doesn’t. So as Truby used the word “hero” to describe how the story theme gets built and all of the way that the structure ties back to desire and need and ghosts and all these things that tie into the character driving the story, I felt put off, like his words weren’t for my story.

Until I changed my brain to substitute protagonist every time he used hero. Then it all started to gel for me.

For the pod-casters, there is a difference between a hero, a protagonist, and a main character, and Mary described them as being in sets that overlap. Hearing it that way made me change my thinking on this a little bit. For them, the main character was the person through whose eyes we see the story unfold, the protagonist is the one making choices and actions that drive the story forward and changes through story, and the hero is the one that makes the heroic action or who we admire.Β  Sometimes those are all one character and sometimes they are three different characters and sometimes any mix in between.

And that’s where things really made sense for me. I’m currently working through a cut revision of my first novel and my main character is my protagonist, but he isn’t the hero. That role goes to another, and in my story, that ends up being a trope subversion, which I really like.Β  But being able to better separate the roles lets me see just how I can mix and match them to make very different kinds of stories.

 

Ergodox EZ – Day 0

So my board arrived last night, a day earlier than expected, which is always a nice bonus. Less nice was USPS caused a bit of a kerfuffle with how they do parcel delivery if someone isn’t home to receive the package. However, even with the issues, I am much happier with my USPS experience than recent FedEx deliveries with regards to parcels that require signature for delivery.

Still, all that mixed together meant that today was day 0 with the Ergodox EZ.

I’m not going to go into too much detail and for my regulars who aren’t keyboard aficionados, there might be a lot of jargon that will be unfamiliar. Since this is closer to steam of consciousness, I’ll direct you to the comments area if you’ve got something bugging you that you want to ask about.

Unboxing and Initial Thoughts

I got to have some help in opening my package, which is always a treat. And since I received a used unit, mine didn’t come with the same experience as someone getting it new. That said, major props to the seller who packed it very nicely with plenty of space and foam. All the bits, bobs, cables, and pieces were present and accounted for.

The Ergodox EZ is a little smaller than I thought it would be, which is good. Clean, white, and tight, I’m very impressed with the build quality. Solid as a kettlebell, though calling it equivalent to Superman’s abs might be a stretch. πŸ™‚

This particular unit has Gateron Brown switches. This is my second experience with Gateron Browns and this experience is much better. The batch of Gaterons used on my Obin Anne Pro keyboard seem much mushier in comparison. These are crisp, very much akin to the Cherry MX Browns that I have on other boards. Typing feel is very nice. I will say that the Ergodox EZ doesn’t have the “hefty” feel in typing that my WASD CODE board does, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I am very pleased so far.

IMG_20180105_103959.jpg
Nice nub!

Key caps are nice – the DCA profile is going to be a change that only time will reveal if I like. The nubs that comes on the F and J keys are so prominent and I love them; almost sharp to the touch. So easy to tell without looking if I’m on the home row or not. I would be very interested to try the DCS profile that the blank Ergodox EZ comes with.

Ortholinear Keys and Customizing the Layout

One of the obvious differences from other keyboard are the non-staggered rows,  and boy are they taking some time to get used to.

Reaching up from home row hasn’t been an issue, but the reaching down to the bottom row is so different, especially for my left hand. The X, C, V, and B keys just don’t sit where I’m used to and I’m way overreaching past where the keys are relative to where my brain thinks they should be. That’s going to be the hardest thing to master, I think. And since I will often be using other boards (laptop, personal Surface 4 Pro, conference room computers, etc.) I’m going to get plenty of chance to practice going from one to the other.

Getting used to the thumb cluster is going much smoother. By mid day, I had almost gotten used to the backspace key and the enter key being at thumb positions. And and I’m really getting used to having mouse control available to me through keys instead of having to reach for a mouse.

I had been using the online configuration tool in the days leading up to receipt in order to play with my initial thoughts of a layout.

Colemak layout on Layer 0 with dedicated cut/copy/paste and underline/italics/bold on the inner most column of each half and spacing/editing keys on the thumb clusters. As I haven been thinking about how I use computers each day, between work and prose drafting, I have tried to put the things I use the very most in that top layer. I think there will be plenty of tweaking to be done.

I also had a moment of consternation deciding how I wanted to deal with Ctrl-Alt-Delete (for logging into my work computer), Ctrl-Shift-Esc (used to pull up the Task Manager), and the combination of Win-Arrow keys (for moving and docking windows) as these are all things I will want to access quickly numerous times a day in my engineering work.

In playing with the configurator, I noticed what seemed like a few bugs and sent off an email to the Ergodox folks. The customer service response from them has been amazing. I kinda feel bad buying my unit used instead of buying a new one. I hope that providing some additional exposure will make up the difference.

IMG_20180105_102235.jpg

 

So what questions or comments do you have?  Leave them below.

 

 

Don’t Break the Chain – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

I did say that I got a lot of my productivity tips while reading Lifehacker, right?

This technique goes back to 2007 I read the article there writing by developer Brad Isaac, where he related some some productivity advice he received from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a good read, andΒ  I recommend it if you want to see another application of this technique.

But I’m going to talk about it a little differently. It’s called Don’t Break the Chain and I’ve seen it make several reappearances as people re-popularize it.

How to Use

Don’t Break the Chain is about setting up a routine that you repeat everyday, and the focus really is on EVERY DAY.

Here’s how it works. You take a year calendar, one with a whole year on a single page, and place it on the wall with a big red marker next to it. For each day that you complete your task (whatever that might be, though for Jerry, Brad, and myself, that’s writing), you put a big red X through that day. And once you’ve done this for a few days, you have a chain of day. And the goal is don’t break the chain. Don’t miss.

That’s it. The idea is that as the chain grows, the pressure of having all those days chained together pushes you through the days when you don’t want to do the task, even if the only reason for that day is just to prevent yourself from breaking the chain.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

Here’s where I get to reveal my deep, dark secret. I HATE this technique. I’ve tried several times to implement it over the 10 years since I first read about it and each time it was an abject, miserable failure that left me feeling worthless and useless with each attempt. So why share it with you?

Because it maybe the technique that works best for you.

The thing that I have loved most about learning about personal productivity is that it is, indeed, personal. Something that doesn’t work for me may be the best thing ever for you. And with time management, the changing times might make a once-failed technique into you most prized bit of knowledge.

Even though I don’t like this approach, I think you should know about it and try it for yourself.

So, I don’t use this technique at all in writing fiction. Or in any other facet of life.

Why Didn’t I Like It

For me, it became a metaphorical chain weighing me down – the constant nagging feeling that I was eventually going to screw up and break it became self-fulfilling prophecy. Children would get sick, work would go long, church obligations would rear up, friends would need help – inevitably something more important than my writing that one day would come up and I would end up breaking the chain.

I played with all sorts of “rules” that would still allow me to meet my goal while not actually getting anything done and that was where it really got to me.

If the chain became more important than the actual content of what I was producing, what good was the chain? Why bother keeping up a fake goal if I wasn’t actually making any progress on what I had set out to do.

In the time since trying it, I’ve learned that my particular style of work doesn’t benefit from having an outward scoring system. There are lots of new tools and apps out there which “gamify” life – giving points for making habits, dropping “life” if you screw up, leveling up with awards, etc. Turns out, those don’t make me want to do better in my actual daily life because they become too much to keep up with.

But maybe your life might benefit.

Applications and Apps

Because I haven’t been actively using it, I can’t say what phone or computer apps a would be useful for tracking a “Don’t Break the Chain” calendar if you wanted digital over paper. I know there is a website of that name that appears to let you track things over time, but I haven’t used it.

As for applications, I can think of tons. NaNoWriMo is a similar implementation of the same idea – though only over the course of 30 days. Write every day. That’s the basic idea.

Most habits are formed the same way – work on the item in question 30-60 days and eventually, a new habit will start to be formed.

Drafting, revision, character sketches, sending queries, pitching, personal branding and marketing, blogging – any of these could benefit from Don’t Break the Chain as a tool for encouraging work, to keep going through moments of lower motivation.

The other big way that something like Don’t Break the Chain can help is that by forcing yourself to work on something everyday, you clear away the low hanging fruit fast. It’s easy to keep reworking the same scene over and over if you only touch it once every two weeks because you’ve had all that time to think it over. But when you have to draft a new scene each day? You have to work smarter and develop better focus during the rest of the day so that your well is full when you sit down to create. That intentional focus, day after day, can be even more useful than the resultant product that you make.

Finale

So, am I wrong to hate Don’t Break the Chain? Have you used it or something similar? Do I need to take another look?

Also, I moving up my posting day for this series from Friday to Thursday. Let me know if you like the change.

I’d love to hear your comments.

Ergodox EZ – Day -2

Some of my real-space friends and acquaintances will know that I have a problem.

I have started buying keyboards. Expensive keyboards.

No necessarily break-the-bank types of purchases, but if your experience with expensive keyboards is a Logitech combo keyboard and mouse set, I’m not talking about those. I’ve started into the world of mechanical keyboards (which thankfully are coming down in price the more mainstream they become). My least expensive keyboard was the same price as that combo and it comes with only 61 keys – 40% fewer than a normal sized keyboard. Same price for something in a much smaller package.

Why pay so much for a keyboard? Well, I’ll actually be doing an entire series on that and reviewing the boards I have at some point later this year. Suffice it to say I find the quality, the feel, and the ergonomics of these boards much better than the wired USB keyboard that comes with your Dell or HP workstations. And ergonomics reason is the big one.

During NaNoWriMo this last November, I calculated I averaged 9 hours per day of keyboard usage (a little less on the weekends) between work and prose writing. That’s a lot. And my hands noticed. I’ve had some issues with RSI crop up in the past and the symptoms returned again in full force this year as I pushed myself to write more and faster than I have before.Β  So, I’ve been on the lookout for something that will further alleviate stress on my hands and fingers because this will likely be the state of affairs for some time – day job and night drafting. And I hope I have found it.

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The Ergodox (source ergodox.io)

It’s called the Ergodox. It’s a open source (code and design) split keyboard that has started to become popular in the keyboard enthusiast community. It uses programmable layers to allow for much greater functionality and efficiency in typing and by being split, each half can be placed and oriented to be the most comfortable. There are a lot of other differences, both visible and invisible.

The problem with it? I don’t want to mess with the software/firmware side of it. I can program, but only out of necessity, which all of this lovely flexibility would require. The other? You have to build it yourself from a kit of parts, which again, I could do, but I don’t want to spend the time and money acquiring all the tools I would need.

Thus enter my eventual choice – the Ergodox EZ. A manufactured, customizable version with a web-based configuration tool for programming all the layout changes.

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Ergodox EZ Shine (source ergodox-ez.com)

The big problem with both? Price.

Both units cost well over $200, with the EZ (with the accessories) going north of $350.

As I said, expensive. But I finally have gotten to the point where if I’m going to spend that kind of time typing, I really should make sure I have something that is going to help me, rather than hurt me. And if this can do it, it’s a bargain, even at those prices.

So, I found a used Ergodox EZ (same version shown) that a fellow enthusiast tried and didn’t end liking, selling it to me for a significant drop in price compared to new. Will it be worth it? Will I see a reduction in pain and strain in my hands? Will I be able to handle all the changes?

That’s what I’ll document over the next while – at least the next month – as I try out this new (and quite different to me) keyboard. That’s why this post it day -2; the board is due to arrive later this week and I’ve been started to wrap my brain around how I might actually make this thing work for me.

Next week I’ll post some unboxing photos and talk about my first brushes with the unit.

If you’ve got any questions, post them below and I’ll try to answer them.

My Reflections on Writing Excuses 12.53 – True Confessions

My podcast app didn’t download the episode from Christmas Eve, so I’ll have to play catch up on that one. However, while driving to attend a write-in with my writing group of amazing people, I was able to get caught up on this week’s episodeΒ and it was a humdinger. (I’ve been rewatching Psych on Amazon Prime, so my language may be stranger than normal).

Episode Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Humor: 🌟🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Usefulness to me right now:  🌟🌟 🌟 🌟

True Confessions was all about things that the hosts have attempted that they failed at, and not just old trunk novels from the starting days of writing, but more recent. For most of them, that was within the last year.

Listening to them postmortem their way through these failed project was inspiring and hilarious and made me feel in much closer company. These are all people whose works I have read and admired. And having just completed another novel where I pushed myself to do something I’ve never tried before (multiple POV), I can say that I also failed.

That story is a bit of a mess plot-wise and interest-wise (boring start and plodding), but as I have already mentioned in past posts, I learned a ton from writing it. That failure showed me what to fix the next time I work on a multiple POV story.

Learning to be okay failing at something is a challenge for me. I’ve been a perfectionist my whole life and frustration is my natural response when I don’t get something right within the first few iterations. I’m used to figuring stuff out quickly. But in the last decade or so, I’ve been getting better. Having a child who has a similar frustration response certainly helps make me more aware of it in myself as I try to remind and support him when he doesn’t get something right immediately.

Dealing with failure also has helped me work on my self-compassion. I recently read an article from Kristen Wong on the New York Times about self-compassion and how it can help with being confident.Β I am definitely one that needs to better learn good self talk; failure gives me a chance to see my weaknesses and acknowledge them within the context of my strengths. Yes, my story may have been a hodge-podge and not very good, but my story structure and plot-weave were so much better in this book than previously. And I tried something new that I also succeeded at – I balanced several story threads and gave them all appropriate weight and tied them together well. So, yes I failed to make something that I would publish (at least right now), but the bones of the story are correct.

So in the same spirit as the podcasters, please take my true confession to heart – you can and should fail frequently.

And as Howard Tayler’s Maxim #70 of 70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries states:

Β Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.