The Closest Thing to Writer’s Block that I Get Anymore

For a month I have written about two thousand words a day. Three quarters of those words comprised the draft of my novel. The rest were blog posts. After thirty days of writing, I find myself struggling to think of topics for my blog.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had writer’s block. That may be because I haven’t let the fact that I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about stop me from writing about stuff that would bore a statue to tears. I’ve been focused on producing a quantity of words without considering the quality of words.

The rationale behind that strategy is that if you write enough you will eventually get better at it. While this is true it still doesn’t change the fact that at some point you have to start writing about things that you care about, things that mean something to you.

So, let’s make a short list. At the top of the list is my family, my pets, and my friends. I feel like that writing about my family or friends, at least without disguising them in the cloak of fiction, is too intimate. My pets are cute and often funny. But they don’t have much of a dynamic range of emotional complexity.

Next on my list are my geeky hobbies, writing, programming, building electronic gadgets, and ham radio. These actually are a pretty good source of ideas to blog about. They don’t offer much in the way of dramatic content or plot though. Maybe a blog doesn’t need those attributes. I do believe that all writing is story telling at its  heart though. That poses the challenge of writing about these seemingly factual topics in an entertaining way by telling a story or even adding an element of humor.

I have blogged about the experience of participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I seem to learn something new every time I participate. I expect that will continue with every writing project that I undertake, whether it is under the auspices of NaNoWriMo or not. It certainly makes sense for me to share some of those insights as they occur to me. It also serves to help me remember them when I have recorded them as blog posts.

I have blogged about computers and programming and the history of computers and software development as it unfolded during my career. I think this kind of blog post is an important way to contribute to the historical record. That is assuming it doesn’t just evaporate as soon as I die.

I guess my final thought on the matter is that I shouldn’t wait until I sit down to write a blog post to start trying to come up with an idea. Instead, I should make a list of ideas for blog posts and add to it as I think of more ideas.

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

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.

Friday Night in the Big City

Friday night is always so full of potential. It’s a demarcation between the nose to the grindstone attitude of the work week and the anything is possible promise of the weekend. Far too soon it is Sunday night and you haven’t accomplished half of what you planned and it’s time to flop back into the attitude of the workweek.

It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s just always the way I’ve thought about it. I think it is a hold over from when I was in school. There were a lot of things you weren’t allowed to do on a school night that were perfectly allowable on the weekend. Somehow, I missed the memo that informed me that I was adult and wasn’t subject to the constraints of adolescence any more.

So here I am, about to enter into my so called Golden Years, whatever that means, and I’m just realizing that I’m a grown man. If I want to do things during the week, I can do them. Of course I have to take responsibility for any consequences, like being tired the next day from staying up too late.

I guess I’ve known that for a long time, but there is a difference between knowing something and incorporating it into your operational world view. I have been discovering a lot of things that I hadn’t incorporated into my world view lately. Like, if you try you might fail but if you don’t try you’re sure to fail, and the phrase that became the famous Nike logo, “Just do it!”

So tonight I’m going to go home and make some dinner, spend some time talking to Pam and maybe watch a little bit of TV. Then, about 8:30 I’m going to go see a friend’s band play at a local watering hole. I’ll be drinking tonic water, but I hope to hear some good music and maybe meet a few new people while I’m at it. I’ve been severely neglecting my social life lately.

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

A Couple of Insights

I sat down with Pam to watch “Chance” on Hulu tonight. It is a series starring Hugh Laurie as a Neuropsychiatrist. I loved him as House. Before that I loved him as Bertie Wooster in “Jeeves and Wooster”. I even loved him as the bad guy in “The Night Manager”.

As dark as “The Night Manager” was, it wasn’t quite as depressing as the first half an our of “Chance” was. It has all the signs of a great show. I just don’t need a show this dark right now. I intend to give it a shot later when I’m in a better mood myself.

I started therapy, “seeing a psychologist” as I sometimes call it, years ago. When I started, my major goal was to get rid of my anxiety. I recently figured out that I didn’t want to get rid of my anxiety, I just wanted to manage it. Anxiety is what motivates me to do good work. Anxiety is what helps me overcome my natural laziness.

I had a similar breakthrough today. Early in my therapy, I complained of mood swings. I admitted that I liked the elation of the manic swings of the cycle but was willing to give that up to keep from having the brutal lows of the depressive swings. My mother always told me to be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Today it occurred to me that the problem that I was dealing with now was the fact that my life had become a monotonous emotional gray.

I’m not unhappy but I’m not enthusiastic about anything either. I spend most of my time struggling to be an adult. I deal with common things, paying bills, domestic chores, caring for my family and my fur children. It’s rewarding in it’s quiet way but I think I could handle a bit of excitement every now and then. Even if I paid for it with a little depression. I don’t ever want to go back to the deep mood swings that I had in my thirties and forties, but I’d like just a little bit of spice back in my life.

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

Time Out for a Soap Box Session

Okay. I blew my blogging streak. I didn’t write a post yesterday. But I’m going to get back on the horse and ride. I’m writing this post today and I’ll write another tomorrow, and so on. Tomorrow, I’ll be back on schedule with the writing prompt that I posted yesterday. Today, I’m going to write a different post though.

Today, we took Pixie to be spayed. She came through the procedure with flying colors. But that was just the beginning of the day. When we got back from dropping her off for her procedure, Pam talked to her sleep doctor and he told her to go to the emergent care place to get her ear seen to. She had noticed blood coming from her ear yesterday morning.

It turns out, her ear drum was fine. She had an abrasion in her ear canal. The doc in the box gave her a shot of antibiotics and a prescription and sent her on her way until she can get in to see the regular doctor next week.

Then we went to Walgreens and Publix for necessities and came back home. After a quick lunch and a short break while I wrote in my journal, I got back on the road to go pick up Pixie at the vet. On the way home from the vet, I missed the turn to the interstate and took a state road half the way home, adding ten or fifteen minutes to the ride home.

I was doubting that I needed to take the whole day off when the day began. At the end of the day, I was amazed that I got everything done. I don’t know if the flavor of the day came through in this post but it feels to me like a microcosm of my life of late.

I set out to accomplish one thing and I manage to do just that. Along the way, I accomplish two or three other things that I didn’t even know that I intended to do. And somehow, I still manage to not accomplish the thing that I would have liked to accomplish if I was going to be an overachiever. Not that it matters, but in this case I would have liked to have spent some time writing on the plan for my National Novel Writing Month ( project. Or playing my guitar. Or playing my mandolin. I haven’t played my mandolin in much to long.

I’m not complaining. I’m observing what happened. I’m trying to learn from what happened. Oh, another thing that I neglected to mention. I also watched NCIS, Bull, and NCIS: New Orleans. That was three hours that I could have spent writing or playing.

It’s all about priorities and will power. I need to examine my priorities and muster some more will power. I’m going to need it to make it through NaNoWriMo in November.

Tomorrow’s writing prompt:

You discover that you can fly. No one else can fly, only you. What do you do? How do people treat you?

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


Every morning I sit and write in an electronic journal for forty minutes or so. I write at least a thousand words. That is my daily quota for my journal. I haven’t set a quota of words for my blog posts. They are as long as they need to be in order to say whatever it is I need to say.

I have been doing a lot of self indulgent navel gazing in this venue of late. Two people whose opinions I value have confirmed this. I’ve been looking at the quality of what I have been writing and it is not what I’d like for it to be.

So, I can either quit writing or I can work harder to make it better and more interesting. Only I can’t really quit so that leaves me only the one option. I will be doing less navel gazing though and I’ll be trying more varied and exploratory things. I also will redouble my effort to read what I write and make sure it says what I really mean for it to say.

Sometimes I ask myself why I waited so late to start writing. If I’d started earlier, I’d be much better at it than I am now. But then I realize, the important thing is not that you started late in life, it’s that you started at all.

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

He’s Safe!

It’s late Friday night. Soon it will be early Saturday morning. The quiet in the house is deafening. The fan rattles, the air conditioner whirs. Everyone with any sense is in bed. You sit in front of the keyboard writing one false start after another. Only you don’t rip them from the typewriter and wad them up and throw them over your shoulder. Instead, you save them in a file and mark them as a draft. You may come back to them later and make something of them.

This is what it’s like to be a new writer that is pushing themselves to grow beyond their comfort zone. You keep telling yourself to make a list of potential blog topics but you still find yourself racing the deadline of midnight. You are determined to keep your pledge to write a blog a day.

What would be the consequences if you missed a day? Disappointment in yourself for not keeping your promise? Would you give up on the project all together? No, you’re made of sterner stuff than that. You would sit back down at that keyboard and write two blogs the next day to make up for the one that you missed the day before.

Let’s hope that this writer doesn’t have to find out what he would do. Let’s hope that he keeps sliding in under the wire. Let’s hope that these posts are interesting enough that he doesn’t lose all both of his readers to boredom. Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important, be kind.

Professional Principles

I’ve been watching a lot of videos of presentations given by Brett Victor. This particular video was particularly inspiring. It helped me understand something about myself and my relationship with my work that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on before now. I realize that you may not have an hour to spend watching this video right now. If not, please consider bookmarking it and having a look at it later. I’ll try to give you a few clues as to why you might want to do that.

In this talk, Brett talks a lot about having a guiding principle that motivates  his work. Most of us just go to work and do the best we can to produce the work that is assigned to us. This is a valuable way to live your life but it leaves people like me unsatisfied. I want to create things. I want to discover new things that haven’t ever been discovered before. I want to change the way we do things for the better. This entails a lot more thinking and introspecting than just showing up and doing the work that is assigned to us the same way that it has been done by everyone else that has done it before.

Brett talks about his principle and gives examples of how he has modified the tools he uses to comply with his principle. He also gives an example of another person’s principle and how he worked to apply it and ended up changing the face of modern computing. I have a  yearning to do this kind of work. I’ve got a lot of introspection to do in order to figure out what the principle is that I want to champion.

Watch the video. Brett is much more eloquent than I am in explaining what he means and that will help you to understand my ramblings here a little bit better.

No Plan Survives…

Helmuth von Moltke, a nineteenth century German Field Marshall once said, “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” His point being that the act of executing a plan has immediate and often profound effects upon the assumptions upon which the plan was founded. Hence, to achieve the originally intended results, the plan must be continuously amended to account for the shifting state of affairs.

That about sums up the last several weeks of my life. It seems that every carefully laid plan that I have undertaken in the past several weeks has blown up in my face in fairly short order. For instance, I thought I had made a good plan for writing my book. I had a rough outline down and a plan for when and how I was going to write it.

As for when, I planned to sit down each evening at nine o’clock and spend an hour or so working on the book. I figured that I would split the time approximately equally between developing the example code and actually writing the body of the text.

Then I started my exercise program. The plan there is to average 13,000 steps per day for six weeks. The carrot at the end of that stick is a $100 Amazon gift card from my employer if I manage to do it. So far, I have managed to do it. I have come close to not meeting my daily goal several times. I found myself walking around at 11:45 finishing up my steps on more than one occasion.

Usually, I get a walk in after work and the rest of my evening is free. The problem then is, that when I do sit down to write, I am often so tired that I can barely keep my eyes open. So, I end up going to bed without getting any writing done.

What is worse, when I do manage to work on the book, I realize that I am going about it wrong. I can’t spend a little bit of each session developing example code and a little bit writing about it. I’m going to have to dig in and write the example code first so that I will know what I’m talking about when I do write about it.

Furthermore, my outline is going to have to be severely truncated and I am going to have to adjust my tone to better suit my target audience. The good news here is that the schedule to which I am working is self imposed. I have the flexibility to make these decisions. That is part of what I enjoy about working on a project without a boss.

These examples may seem trivial but they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Every aspect of my life lately, from work to hobby, from interpersonal relationships to my social life, such as it is, is experiencing the same sort of upheaval. I feel like I’m living the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

If Writing Were Easy

If writing were easy, everybody would be writers. I suppose it’s true but it is frustrating when you have things that you want to say and you have trouble finding the right words to say them. That was the situation that I found myself in this morning.

After writing for most of an hour on a topic I feel strongly about, I looked back over what I’d written and realized that it wasn’t conveying what I wanted to say. I was going to have to spend some time researching and rewriting it before it would be ready to be a blog post.

This was frustrating for two reasons. The first and obvious one was that I would have to continue working on it another time. The other was that I would have to find another topic for my blog post. Little did I suspect at the time that the very situation causing my frustration would be the remedy for that second frustration.

I don’t like to write too much about the process of writing. It takes time away from actually writing about the things that motivate me to write in the first place. But, on the other hand, everything that I write helps me learn to write a little bit better. And, more to the point, this piece helps me keep my commitment to post to my blog daily. I’ll try to keep these “meta-posts” to a minimum though.