In a Glass, Darkly

I’m learning to do a number of things. I am learning to plan the plot of a novel. I am learning that if you don’t stick to the plan you can find yourself at the end of the story before you have told the beginning and middle, or even the bulk of the end, in sufficient detail.

I am learning that setting, and keeping daily goals are the key to achieving long term goals. I have also figured out that a time based goal may serve my purpose better than a word count based goal. For example, I can decide to write for an hour each morning instead of writing a minimum of a thousand words a day. I will keep up the word count based goal until the end of the month in order to meet the fifty thousand words in thirty days challenge of NaNoWriMo however.

I have learned that in order to accomplish things you have to do something first. It sounds trivial but it’s true. I’ve also learned that just because you do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you will accomplish anything. It’s one of those “necessary but not sufficient” type of constraints.

In the final analysis, it turns out that writing a good, entertaining, exciting, grammatically correct, coherent, story is inherently difficult. You have to combine a lot of skills. You have to give it lots of thought. You have to show up and write every day. You have to finish a draft, and then another, and yet another, until eventually you get it right.

If you give up before you finish, you will fail. If your idea is not as good as you initially thought it was, you may fail. But if you don’t sit down and write every day until you’ve written it, you will certainly fail. As unfair as it seems, sometimes just showing up every day is the bulk of the effort.

It’s not down to talent, luck, or connections. It is persistence, pure and simple. Talent, luck, and connection can help, but again, they are not sufficient alone.

These realizations ought to depress me but they are having the opposite effect. I am actually more encouraged after writing this blog post than I was when I sat down. I have written a coherent essay, off the top of my head, without having composed it before hand. I have proof read it and discovered only minor usage edits. And now I post it.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.


Whenever I want to add something to my daily routine I try to find something else that I am already in the habit of doing, like brushing my teeth or walking the dog, and tying the new activity to the one that I’m already doing every day. This has worked fairly well until just recently. I’ve found that I’ve run out of time in which to add new activities.

This puts me in the awkward position of choosing. Which of the old habits is no longer achieving its purpose? Which has become complicated beyond its utility and can be trimmed some? It is surprising what a creature of habit and ritual I am. It is hard to question your routine and throw out those habits that you have outgrown.

I think it is a process of growing, shedding your cocoon so that the lighter, more essential you can emerge and glisten in the sunlight. That’s what I keep telling myself as I fumble through my routine looking for the inessential. I’ll regain my balance. It just takes thought and honesty and a touch of courage.

Learning to Think …

I read an interview with Charles Duhigg that helped me understand why I do some of the things that I do. To summarize what I gleaned from it, in order to be successful, we must challenge ourselves to think more about the things that we want to accomplish. We need to put ourselves in a position where we are outside of our comfort zone so that we will think about our goals in deeper and different ways.

When I started writing my seven hundred and fifty words every morning I wanted to learn how to transfer what I was thinking to the page effortlessly. I had discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Her first suggestion is to sit down every morning and write three pages. I thought about this and decided that I wanted to write on a computer.

I poked around the internet and discovered Buster Benson‘s Buster had done the math and figured out that three hand written pages were approximately seven hundred and fifty words. I signed up and started writing. Buster had made things interesting by collecting statistics on your writing, like how many days in a row you had written your words, and how many times you were distracted for more than three minutes while writing your seven hundred and fifty words. Your words are kept private and you can choose to share as many or as few of your statistics as you like. He also came up with badges for achievements like 30 consecutive days writing, not being distracted for a certain number of days in a row, etc.

As weeks and months went by, I discovered that I was learning to write more fluently and with much less attention to the mechanical aspects of getting the words on the page. At first I had spent much of the posts talking about how many words I had written so far and how many words I had left to write. I soon graduated to describing what was going on in the room around me. The sounds that I heard out the window. The demands of the cat and dog. My wife’s phone conversations.

I kept at it and discovered that if I could listen to music that was instrumental or so familiar that I could ignore the lyrics, I could block out distractions. Of course when I was struggling with myself about what to write, I would often start talking about the music.

Then at the beginning of June I read a blog post by C.J Shivers that advocated blogging every day. I have had a much neglected blog for years. I had even made several attempts to blog daily. This lasted for several days or several weeks. I always got distracted and quit blogging. This time when I decided to commit to blogging daily I new I need to have a plan.

I had managed to make writing daily a habit with so, I decided to use my morning words as a way to generate drafts for blog posts. That would allow me to use one good habit to help bootstrap another. I wrote a blog post committing to blog daily and I was off.

I haven’t been able to think of something blog worthy while writing my words every day so far. Some days, I have other things on my mind. Things that are either too private or too boring to make into a blog post. When that happens, I have to make more time to write my blog later in the day. But when I do manage to write a good blog post while I’m writing my morning words, it is particularly satisfying.

The thing that originally caught my attention to read the Duhigg interview was the pull quote that said that you were using your todo list all wrong. I have been a long time believer in the power of making lists. I’m not as much in the habit of making them as I’d like but when I do, I seem to accomplish the things on them.

Duhigg advocates that you use your todo list to prioritize and motivate. In particular, he says to write your stretch goal at the top of the list and periodically ask yourself if what you are doing right now is contributing to that stretch goal. This is yet another way to force yourself to think more and differently about your goals. I’m going to give it a try.

Turning Over Another New Leaf

I should be working on the book tonight but I’m procrastinating. I will put some time in on it after I write this post. I was inspired today to commit to blogging daily. I’ve even figured out a way that I can make it happen. I will spend some of the time in the morning when I’m writing my 1000 words to write a blog post. That will leave me some of my words for journal type stuff and the rest for a blog post. That means the blog posts will be around 500-750 words. That’s not a bad length for a blog post. See you tomorrow and good night.

Teaching an Old Dog a New Trick

And so my Christmas break begins. The large aerospace company for which I work is primarily a manufacturing company. As such it can’t afford to keep the lines running when over half of the employees are taking vacation so, to keep everyone happy, we get one less week of vacation than other companies and instead, the company starts the Christmas holidays on Christmas eve and carry it on through New years day. This year that means that by taking four days of vacation I can be off for seventeen days. That is a good deal.

In past years I have started the break with the best of intentions but usually by the time January rolls around, I haven’t achieved any of the plans that I made at the beginning of the break. This year I’m starting the break. With the help of a nifty little application called Airtable I have come up with a super todo list to support a new strategy I have come up with. I have created a list of tasks. Each task has a group of tags associated with it, like “domestic” or “chore” or “ham radio” or “artistic” or “musical”. It also has a status, and a completion date. Every task starts with a status of “TODO” and a completion date that is blank. When I complete a task, I change it’s status to “Done” and fill in the completion date.

I can create multiple views of the list and each list can apply a filter that determines which items are shown. For instance, I have one view with a filter that only shows tasks with a status of “TODO”. Another view only shows tasks with a status of “Done”. I can create a view with a filter that shows tasks with a completed date after a start date and before an end date. This allows me to keep track of what I do and when. The plan is to try to balance the things that I do that are chores with the things that I do that are recreational. That way, I can feel like I accomplished something in both domains at the end of the Christmas break. I’ll update you next year and let you know how it worked.