Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday Six – Halloween Edition

This is my friend, Patrick’s little meme, Saturday Six.

1. You have the chance to learn either the date, the location or the method of your death: would you accept an envelope that would contain ONE of the answers to one of those questions if you couldn’t choose which question would be answered?

I don’t think I would. I believe people should live each day making of the most of the time given. Every hour, and every day is precious. Once it’s gone you will never get it back. Knowing how, or when, or where you are going to die is less important than making the decision every day to truly live. Don’t wait until it’s time to die, to try to live. Live now, today.

2. If you could choose to learn the answer to one of those, which would you choose?

Location and method give you clues as to the other. You find out that method is a drunk driver, you’ve got a pretty good idea the location will be in a car. I wouldn’t want to find out I’ve got a particular gruesome or painful death awaiting me. If I found out the location, I would try to cheat it. Say the location was ‘airplane’, I would try to avoid getting near an airplane. Out of all of them, I wouldn’t want to learn the date.

3. Which illness do you fear most?

Alzheimer's. It’s a truly horrible disease. You die before you die. You lose everything that makes you, you. You become a prisoner in your own mind.

4. Which method of death other than illness do you fear most?

Burning. It’s slow and painful, two things I’d really like to avoid.

5. If you could control how you would die, what method would you choose?

Dying peacefully in my sleep with my wife by my side.

6. If you could specify the age at which you die, with reasonable good health assumed, how long would you like to live?

That’s tough. I’d like to live a good long time to be involved in the life of my kids and grandkids and make an impact on the generations to come. Mainly I worry about having enough money to cover my expenses as I get older, and starting to lose people. You get to that point where you know more people in heaven than you do on earth. Rather than specify an age, I’d rather specify that I make each year count in the lives of my wife, my children, my friends, and my community.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Writers ROI and KPI

In my ‘day’ job there are two TLAs (three letter acronyms, which itself is a three letter acronym) that dominate the landscape: ROI and KPI. I’m now starting to apply them to my ‘night’ job, writing.
ROI stands for Return on Investment. Basically it’s asking yourself what you will get for what you spend. For example, you spend $1000 on home improvements to lower your electric bill by $100, it will take you 10 months to save enough money on your bill to make back the grand you spent.
I have to think about what I will gain for spending the money on How to Think Sideways or the How to Structure Fiction classes I've taken. In each case, I decided that the knowledge I would gain was worth the money I would spend. The ROI made sense, even though it will likely be years before that ROI is realized.
But ROI in my writers life is more often about time than money. I have to decide between spending my time writing, and reading. Writing time is split between my WiP and blogs. The reading time is further broken down between reading books, and blogs on craft, and reading fiction both in and out of my genre. Then there is the me time that I need to put in: the family time, the goof off time, the 'day job' time. Those are important as well. Without the family time, my relationships with my wife and kids will deteriorate, and no matter how good a writer I become, that's not good ROI. Without some goof off time, I won't be mentally fresh to write. I have to watch this because its rather easy to spend too much time here and ruin the ROI. The day job time gets back to my unfortunate habit of eating and my high maintenance preference for sleeping in climate controlled spaces.
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator. KPIs are commonly used to evaluate your success or the success of a particular activity. Sometimes success is defined in terms of making progress toward goals, but often, success is simply the repeated achievement.
Accordingly, choosing the right KPIs is reliant upon having a good understanding of what is important. As a writer, what are my KPIs?
Word count is making progress toward a specific goal (finishing the novel or short story), so word count is a KPI. If I had anything published, my star rating would be a KPI. Number of blog spots, new twitter followers, blog page hits are all different metrics I could use as KPIs of my platform.
What are your personal KPIs?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Growing Twitter

I know that as an aspiring author part of my job is to build a platform, and I know why it’s important, and why I have to do it. I have this blog, and on I’m Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus. But I don’t have a very large following. If you’re wondering why I’m building a platform before my book is done, the simple answer is that building a platform takes time, so if I want the thing built by the time my book is ready, I need to start now. Actually, l needed to start yesterday, and technically I did, I’m just now telling you about it.
I’m also not very good at the whole networking thing. I’m the guy at parties who is most comfortable finding a quiet corner and watching with envy the people who move through the room fluidly, seemingly knowing and being liked by everyone. This is not me.  I want people to read my books, maybe even, I don’t know, one day, when my writing is good enough, maybe even  give me money for them. For that to happen I need to connect with people. People who might one day become my fans, or might know someone who might become a fan.
One of the guys I follow on Twitter is Chris (@foldberg1). I first found him back in my days playing World of Warcraft. Chris had a blog on how to make gold in game, and I wanted to make more gold. After Warcraft, Chris moved on to giving tips on how to use social networking and blogging in general. On Monday, he put a link on Twitter to an article he had written about increasing the number of followers you have on twitter. I thought to myself, “Ted” (don’t you address yourself by name when you think to yourself?) “You want more followers on twitter right? “Yes, yes I do” “So let’s give these techniques a shot”
So I did. As of this writing I’ve been using his techniques for 4 days and I’ve gained 9 new followers. That’s about two a day and much better than I was doing on my own.
This post is to say thank you to Chris for his help. 
*Disclaimer: Chris did not ask me to write this blog and I’m receiving no compensation for it. In fact, until he saw it in his twitter feed, he didn’t know it was going up.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No NaNoWriMo

It’s October and astute calendar watchers will no doubt notice that subsequent to October is November. November means many things. Thanksgiving. Thursday Night Football. Black Friday.

It also means it’s time once again for National Write a Novel Month, known by the quirky acronym NaNoWriMo.

NaNo 2010 was a very good experience for me. I got a good start on Dream Chaser and I learned about my writing process. But the best thing that came out of NaNo was Saucy Ink. This is the online writers group I’ve been privileged to be a part of over the last year. These fellow writers have grown to be ifriends and I’m grateful for all the lessons they’ve helped me learn over the past year. We write, and we critique each other, helping each of us grow as writers.

I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year. Instead, I’ll be focusing on writing a second draft of Dream Chaser. My goal is becoming an author. The difference between an author and a writer is the author has had a book published. Doing NaNo on a brand new story doesn’t help me reach my goal. Finishing and revising Dream Chaser does.

So I'll be on the sidelines cheering those people who do NaNoWriMo on. If you are thinking about trying NaNo this year, Chuck Wendig has a great article on the 25 things you should know about NaNoWriMo. I encourage you to check it out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blizzard Short Story

One of the catalysts for getting back into writing was the 2010 Blizzard Short Story contest. I figured it would be a good test of my talented. I mean if I was really a talented writer, I could bang out a short story, win the contest and be on my way.

I just have to shake my head and chuckle at the way I was thinking last summer. Oh you silly, silly, little man.

That short story was pretty rough. The funny thing is you really can’t tell much of a difference between an untrained, but talented writer and an untrained, but not so talented writer. They both look pretty bad.  I’ll always be eternally grateful to Rhoelyn and Steve Hall for critiquing that story for me. As you have probably surmised that story didn’t win the Blizzard contest last year. It didn’t even come close. Of course, all that Blizzard will tell you is who the finalist were and who the winner was. They received something on the order of 15,000 stories. All they say is if you made the top 20. I could have been #21 and eliminated on the last cut down or #10,021 and eliminated on the first pass, but I’ll never know.

In addition to the lessons I learned from Rhoe and Steve’s critique, the biggest take away from last year was finishing. I’m notoriously bad for getting all excited about a project, starting with vigor and then petering out when the emotion wanes and never finishing. The great success of the 2010 Blizzard contest was that I finished.

Now I know I’ve grown and improved as a writer and it’s encouraging that Rhoelyn and Steve have seen that as well during their critique of my unicorn short story.  I still feel like I’ve got some writing talent (apparently my hubris knows no end) but honestly I’m not sure anymore if that is even a helpful question to ask anymore. It’s more important that I’m willing to work, to keep writing and keep getting better.

To that end, I’m once again entering the Blizzard Short Story contest. I’ve got the first draft written and some of the Saucy Ink members are giving me a critique. I don’t expect it’ll win or even be a finalist. I’ve still got a long way to go before my writing is at that level. But it’s one more chance to write, edit and learn.

And now I've found out that the story I chose to do was done by Blizzard. My story is about how the Val'kyr came to join the Forsaken. That was covered in Edge of Night short story which I obviously haven't had a chance to read yet. Of course in Edge of Night, events happened much differently than I imagined in my story. The story came out on September 27th. The short story contest started back on September 4th. Edge of Night was not even published when I began working on my Val'kyr story. I didn’t even know Edge of Night was on the Blizzard site until I read about it on a blog late last week.

It's too late to write another story and get it critiqued. I either turn in the one I've written or I don't enter the contest at all. My story now has zero chance of winning. But I think I will turn it in anyway.
Even without the lore conflict issue, I don’t think my story would win anything. But really, I’ve got nothing to lose by turning it in.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Debt of Thanks

I'm going to delay what I was going to post today until Monday, because  today I want to talk about the passing of Steve Jobs.
I heard about the news Thursday morning, and my first reaction was a bit of backlash. Everyone was just gushing over the man which is understandable, but I thought it might have been a little overdone, especially when one of my twitter followers put him in the same class as DaVinci and Edison.
Now I'm pretty much a die hard Microsoft and Android guy, but even I recognize the tremendous impact Steve Jobs had on our society. So many of us learned of his death on the very devices he created. Not many people can say they changed the world. Steve Jobs did.
But let's slow down a little bit before we put him in that pantheon okay?
But what really struck me as I though about Jobs and Apple was the realization that my very first interaction with a computer came thanks to Mr. Jobs. I was in 3rd grade, and we were taken down to the library.  When we got there we saw 12 shiny Apple //e computers set up.
After getting familiar with the device, we were taught a programming language called Turtle Talk. We wrote programs that made this little turtle move around the screen and draw pictures. 
Today, as I sit here typing this blog, I am a professional computer programmer. That's my 'day job'. In large part, it's because of the passion and love for computers and technology that was born way back in 1980.
I pretty much define myself as as geek. Part of that comes from my love of Sci-Fi, but part of that comes from a love of technology in general and computers in particular. Steve Job’s invention was a big part of that.
Thanks, Steve. R.I.P.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Flaming Bears of Love

A couple of days ago, Tami talked about juggling life’s responsibilities as only she can. Usually people will use the metaphor of juggling balls. Not Tami. No her metaphor was juggling pyrotechnic ursines.
For her the list of her bears was: Work, Family, Health, Friends, and Writing. She made the great point that these feisty bears were the ones she had chosen, and that she loved these bears.
Then she asked to hear about her readers bears. I started to write a comment, but it got too long so I’m making an entry here.
My list is similar. Work, Family, Writing, Gaming are all there. I have two that Tami doesn’t.
I break my bears down into two groups. The bears that can’t be dropped and the bears that can. I have one extra bear in each group.
The first bear I have that Tami didn’t mention is the God bear. I have this in the can’t be dropped category, even though I know sometimes I do. Whereas other bears will roar and try to eat me if I drop them, the God bear sits quietly by and waits for me to pick Him up again. The most important thing to this bear is that I choose Him. His goal is intimacy and that requires a choice. If it’s forced, or cojalloed, it’s not intimacy anymore, it’s duty, and duty is not what he wants. My volitional choice is all I can offer this bear. He’s already got everything else.
Work is a bear that will roar if it drops. You see I have this bad habit. It’s called eating. The work bear lets that happen. I also happen to be very picky and prefer sleeping on a bed in a climate controlled building, let’s call that a house, over say, sleeping under a cardboard box in the middle of a park. Nothing wrong with that, if your life journey took you there. I’m just saying that’s not my preference.
Work is actually two bears right now. The big 600 pound grizzly of my day job, and this little cub of a side contract I’m doing for a former employer. It’s amazing the questions you get when people find out you are a coder (computer programmer).
The other bear that cannot be dropped is my family bear. It is like a cute and cuddly, little, brown bear. I am totally, passionately in love with my wife. We will be celebrating our 16th anniversary this month, and I believe I love her more today than the day we said our ‘I do’s.  She gives me the freedom to be myself, and her belief in me gives me confidence to believe in myself. My kids are gifts. My daughter just started middle school and is trying to navigate the beginning of her transitional years. She’s a little geeky like her Dad. My little boy is still just a baby and I love spending time with him.  This is a bear I’ve chosen, and a bear I love.
I heard someone say once that close friends are really chosen family and I totally agree with that so I lump the friend bear in with the family bear.
Then we have the group of bears that can be and far too often are dropped.
I have the same Writing and Gaming bears Tami does, but I also add a bear that is actually a Panther called the National Football League. Every Sunday you’ll find me in front of the TV cheering on the Carolina Panthers. You’ve got the 1pm game, and then the 4pm game, and then the 8pm game. Then on Monday night, you get the Monday night game and after Thanksgiving, there’s a Thursday night game too.  Fortunately, this bear hibernates from March until August.
The gaming bear is a great way to decompress after a long day fighting the work bear.
The writing bear is one that I’ve grown over the last year. It’s one that I would love to grow and take over the work bear, but I’m learning just to love the writing bear no matter what he grows into. I enjoy the time I get to spend with it and I love what its teaching me.
I love when the bears comingle. The family bear and the football bear get together when the whole family gathers around and watches football together. My daughter even has a pink Panther’s jersey she wears sometimes. I play fantasy football and the friends bear, football bear and gaming bear all get involved.
So those are my flaming bears of love. What are yours?