Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year In Review / Best Of

As is customary at this time of year a blog post cop out is in order. Rather than come up with something engaging, intelligent, or funny to ramble on about I'm going to do a "Best of" and a personal year in review. I'll do the "Best Of" portion first because most people will probably enjoy that more, although the year in review piece may be interesting to a few people as well. I'll let you decide.

Best Of Potato Chip Math 2013!


Most viewed posts:
  1. "Size Matters", August 25
    • This surprise hit of the year was successful for a few reasons. First, it had a very searchable title [smile, wink], secondly it was on a topic that every writer/blogger struggles with at some point ("How many words do I need?"). Lastly, someone else posted this on Reddit in the /r/books subreddit and people clicked the living hell out of it. It's now my most viewed post of all time.
  2. "Raiders of the Lost Art", September 29
    • This post on the decline of handwriting and how I could care less seemed to resonate with a lot of people. For some reason there are those who still think it should be taught in schools - in English class (I say leave it for art class and teach more useful skills in English).
  3. "Your Comment is Awaiting Moderation", September 1
    • Another successful post mostly because it's a topic that just about every blogger has had to make a decision on at some point ("Do I moderate the comments on my blog?"). If you've read my blog before then you know that I do not, however, please be respectful.

Most commented on post:
  • "One of These Facts is Actually a Lie", March 17
    • The easiest way to get people to comment on your blog is to hold a contest in which the winner must comment on the post to win. The actual contest was secondary to the fun guessing game I put together in order to share a bit more information with my readers.
  • Honourable Mention to "Your Comment is Awaiting Moderation", September 1
    • Worth noting as it was a non-contest post AND it was about blog comments!

Longest posts:

Shortest posts:
I can only find one trend between the length of my posts and the number of views each receives. My average post was 741 words (including this one) with the median value being 728 (same number of posts with fewer words as there are more words). If I look at the view rank of the posts for above and below the average and median it's about the same BUT if I look at raw number of views for each half then what I find is the posts below the average and median receive about 35% fewer views. Moral of the story: I will keep my posts around 750 words for better viewing (not sure how a 2,000 word post will do and I'm not sure I want to try).

Least viewed posts:
Reading these back at least two of those thee posts suck outright, with the remaining one in the "not very good" category. That's okay though, they can't all be gold. Every artist needs a Gigli on their resume ;)

      My favourite post:
      • "Equality Means Equal", June 29, 10th most viewed post in 2013
        • I like this post because it speaks directly to how I feel about the issue of equal rights for all humans. Equality is an absolute. There is no room for interpretation. Get on board with it.

        WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE POST?
        • Post a link to the title and date of publication in the comments, along with why it was your favourite!

        Now for the Year in Review portion of the show. Back in January I set some pretty ambitious targets. Not necessarily resolutions, but sort of. Here they are along with how I think I did:

        • When one of my kids is nearby I will put my laptop or phone aside, and even if they are not desiring my attention, I will give it to them
          • I did not too badly with this one. The biggest problem is that my kids are growing up and don't need or want as much attention from me or my wife any more!


        • When asked to do something by my wife, I will do it right then or I will set a reminder in my phone if it needs to be done later
          • Phone reminders help. I think I passed this one more often than I failed, but I'll leave it to her to decide :)


        • I will get out and see my friends. This means one event every now and then as well as coffee or tea with individuals at lunch or whenever our schedules align. This also includes golf :)
          • I had tea/coffee/lunch with several friends on several occasions and golfed with several people I hadn't golfed with previously. Big win on this front, even though it could still be more. I did start volunteering with Ignite Waterloo and that has opened up a whole new list of possibilities.


        • I will buy some local art
          • I totally did. A Jennifer Gough painting now hangs in my living room!

        • I will read more books written by people I know and I will give them honest and constructive feedback. I would be forever grateful if they would do the same for me
          • I did this but could also do more. I read every story in the anthology I was published in plus read books by Tess Thompson, Gordon Bonnet, Robert Chazz Chute. I need to do reviews for a couple of these still, but I will!

        I also had a few very specific writing goals to accomplish. They were stretch goals at the absolute best but I managed to knock off a few. My successes: 

        • Finished the first draft of novel #1 
        • Won NaNoWriMo (for the second year in a row)
        • Started a screenplay
        • Wrote 1 blog post every week for the entire year (plus a bonus post in memory of Ryan)

        That last one was absolutely instrumental in the success of my blog. For most of the year my traffic practically doubled, with an almost 400% increase for a few months near the end of the year as some writing-specific and NaNoWriMo posts got some good Reddit traction. 

        So what's in store for next year? Well for starters there will be a cop out start of year post but there will also be a few tips in there about a few things I've learned. Plus, I think I'm going to do a new weekly feature in addition to a weekly post. I'm still sorting out the details and I might do it in conjunction with another writer/blogger but stay tuned!

        That's it for me in 2013. Thanks to each and every one of you for reading and I wish you all a healthy and successful 2014.

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 22, 2013

        Danny F*$&@! Kaye

        Well, it's almost the end of the year, and there will be many people taking some time off work over the next couple weeks. I'm no exception. I am on vacation this week and it couldn't have come at a better time. I just wrapped up a major project at work and I still have a few things to do before Christmas; not the least of which is watch some excellent holiday movies.

        My all-time favourite by a landslide is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation starting Chevy Chase. I don't know how many times I've seen it, but it's more than a few, and I can't get enough of it. With my kids getting a bit older now (11 and 7) I felt it was time they were introduced to this holiday classic. I had them close their eyes for the diving board scene and I "out of the blue" coughed loudly when Clark Griswold dropped the F-bomb. Other than that, it was perfectly only slightly inappropriate. It got laughs out of them and they weren't playing Minecraft so I'm happy.


        A couple weeks ago we took the kids to see what you'd think would be a more suitable movie, Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn. This is a 1942 classic starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's a good movie with some great old-time music. It was perfectly enjoyable but did get a bit awkward afterwards trying to explain to the kids why there was that one scene where a man and woman sang a number in blackface with an orchestra of actual black folks. I guess those wholesome good ole fashioned values didn't always hit the mark.


        Another Irving Berlin classic, White Christmas, will be watched as a family this year with Fred Astaire being replaced by Danny Kaye. My wife and I have seen the stage production and it's quite enjoyable. I know my daughter will like the music and my son the dancing so it should be a good time. No f-bombs and no blackface that I know of.


        Other flicks that might make an appearance at some point over the next few days include: Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Home Alone, A Christmas Carol (1951), Scrooged, Elf, Sound of Music, It's A Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and of course Charlie Brown Christmas.

        No matter how you choose to spend these last days of 2013 I hope you get to spend it with people you love and care about, and for those who celebrate on the 25th I hope you have the hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny fucking Kaye.



        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 15, 2013

        You Are Getting Sleeeeeepy...

        I have suffered from insomnia for about four years now. If anyone out there has even gone a few nights without a good night's sleep you know how debilitating it can be. I spent the greater part of 18 months without more than a couple hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and I was basically a high functioning zombie.

        There was no shortage of people willing to impart their advice on the situation either:
        Have you tried this?
        Yes, it did not work.

        Have you tried that?
        Yes, it did not work.

        Have you been to a sleep study?
        Yes, twice. They prescribed me medication. It sort of worked but I had to take two pills every day.

        Hmm...
        Yes, hmm indeed.

        I sleep really well. Always have. I can sleep anytime anywhere. It's awesome.
        I'm sure it is. I've even gone to a six week information/instructional on how to sleep!

        Really? They have classes for that?
        Yes, and I fell asleep in the last lecture.

        Now that's irony at its finest.
        Indeed.

        Have you tried...
        Well, you get the idea by now I'm sure. At any rate, what does this have to do with anything? I'll meander y'all to the point in just a second, I promise.

        The key to sleep in humans is melatonin. The only word to describe this stuff is "magical", so naturally one of the things I tried was some melatonin supplements. I tried 0.5mg and later 0.25mg and I might have well been taking sugar pills. My non-expert opinion was that this was because it wasn't naturally occurring. You see, tryptophan metabolizes into seratonin; and if it's dark out it's further metabolized into melatonin, and that's the stuff that promotes sleep. Just plunking the melatonin in directly didn't seem to be working.

        So, enter in this stuff called ZenBev®. Sounds like new age hippy juice, right? Well it sort of is. I call it my magic pumpkin powder. It's basically powdered tryptophan made from pumpkin seed flour. The myth of the tryptophan loaded turkey dinner is partially true, only turkey has about as much of it as any other meat and three times less than dried egg white and about half as much as dried pumpkin seeds (if you care, the winner by a mile is Alaskan sea lion).

        Sea Lions Up Close courtesy Liz Noffsinger at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net 

        Again, you may be asking, what does this have to do with anything? Fine, I'll get right to it then. Thanks for sticking with me so far (hopefully still awake, though after first re-read of this post I wouldn't be surprised if you've nodded off).

        I tried ZenBev® and I immediately started sleeping better. Not more, but better. Same number of hours of sleep at night but I wasn't falling asleep at my desk at 3:00 every afternoon. The really awesome part though was that I started dreaming again. I've probably had less than a handful of dreams in the last four years and after two weeks on this magic pumpkin powder I'm dreaming five or six nights a week, and let me tell you, after going so long without recognizing that I'd had a dream this current influx has me discombobulated to say the least. It's not quite Jacob's Ladder crazy, but I have got to say it's really something.

        After a couple weeks of getting some better sleep I've felt the urge to be creative again. November was a bit crazy with NaNoWriMo and a work project is bringing some high stress moments at my day job so the first week of December wasn't much from a creativity standpoint. A couple weeks of dreaming though and my brain itching for creation again, and that's a good thing. I'm also starting to figure out what The Beatles were talking about in their song I Am The Walrus.

        I am the egg man.



        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 8, 2013

        Switching Gears

        Not quite two weeks ago I found myself approaching the 50,000 word mark for my NaNoWriMo project a good four or five days ahead of schedule. From the beginning, well before November 1st, I decided that I would "win" NaNo and then clean up the last 5,000 words (or so) of my first novel. Let me just tell you that as someone who was struggling to put the final touches on a first draft of a manuscript this seemed like a great way to finally just get 'er done AND be a good 50-60% of the way through my second book.

        (Yes, I just used bold, underline, all caps, and italics in the same sentence. Don't judge.)

        So, I crossed the 50,000 word plateau and found myself staring a NaNo victory in the face and I took an hour off to savour it. I even poured myself a (not so) small glass of 40 Creek Barrel Select Canadian whiskey. I went on Facebook and Twitter and I told the world that I had just achieved National Novel Writing Month success for the second year in a row. After 60 minutes of bragging and patting myself on the back it was time to ride the momentum of the writing train and switch gears.


        Here's the thing though, the book that I had just spent writing 2,000 words a day every day for 26 days is about a serial killer who preys on unsuspecting people (mostly women) who have broken some sort of ethical (and quite arbitrary) code. The book that I was putting the finishing touches on is about a paranoid computer genius with a medical secret who erases his digital history in an effort to hide from a surreptitious government agency who wants to use him as a pawn in a morally corrupt game of bio-warfare

        When I sat down at the end of my hour long reward/break I jumped right to a bookmark that I had put in my manuscript somewhere within the last five chapters of the book. For the next half hour I spent most of my time typing the wrong names and using language not normally associated with clandestine government operations and computer geeks. It was frustrating, and reading it back now it's quite clear it was pretty terrible writing. 



        So what did I do? I could have gone to the internet in search of answers but to be quite honest I didn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time surfing around for answers. I had a deadline, albeit a self imposed one, and I knew getting lost in the web would kill any momentum that I had going. Instead, I decided to look within.

        Here are the four steps I took to get me back on track:

        1. I spent ten minutes reading the scenes before and after where I had identified more work was needed
        2. I then picked a section that was heavier in narrative or action than dialogue and wrote until I got to a heavy dialogue section. I meandered through it and took my time, just getting a feel for the setting and the environment. Painting a picture, if you will - Bob Ross style. 
        3. Then, I reviewed my character notes and spent a few minutes letting each one's voice into my head; getting a feel for "hearing" them talk. What do their accents sound like? Do they have particular phrases they like to use?  Etc...
        4. Finally, I wrote a very dialogue heavy scene. Lots of characters saying lots of things to each other with very little punctuation and minimal dialogue tagging. I let their voices out and brought the characters to life.

        Within an hour I had written a few very good pages and I never looked back. The rest of the words just seemed to flow freely from then on.

        Would I recommend such a switch to others? Hard to say - I haven't been doing this long enough to know if it's a good practice or not - I just know that the one time I did it was a bit of a shock but it ended up working out just fine. Plus, I write a blog post every week no matter what I'm writing and those seem to be going well. So maybe variety is in fact the spice of life... and writing.

        I'd love to hear about your experiences with literary task switching; both successful and challenging experiences alike. Leave a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, December 1, 2013

        Now What?

        The anatomy of a NaNoWriMo journey and what lies beyond


        It's somewhat convenient that December 1st falls on a Sunday this year as it allows me the opportunity to provide a post-NaNoWriMo analysis while it's still fresh in my mind.

        For starters, I won!



        Not everyone did, however, but that's okay. Unlike those techie jerks on Linux forums who berate and belittle those who don't "get it" I am equally as proud of everyone who tried and didn't make it to the 50,000 word mark as I am those who did. There were some truly inspirational stories this year to be sure, not the least of which is Cate, a high school girl in Ottawa who wrote 16,000 words on the last day to claim victory. Now that's impressive on so many levels.

        Cate's Graph. Check out days 10, 12, 19 and 30!

        What it takes for one person to meet the target is different for everyone. Notice I used the phrase "meet the target" instead of the word "success"? That's because success is different for everyone as well. Success for me was getting 50,000 words written on a new novel while tying up a few loose ends on the novel I started last year. Yes, it was considered "done" but there were a couple gaps that needed filling and I wasn't happy with it as it was. Not happy enough to say that I had finally written my first book, at least.

        Regardless of what the measure of success is, if you were simply trying to hit a target (50,000 words or some other number) or if you were trying to polish off that long forgotten manuscript, or if you were simply trying to see what you were realistically capable of stringing together in the time you weren't being a mom/dad/student/employee/vampire/zombie/werewolf/wizard/husband/wife/friend/hobbit/daughter/son; there are a few things that you'll need if you're going to pull it off:

        1. Desire
        2. Commitment
        3. Support

        Much like any other journey, it starts with desire. Desire to see something, see someone, accomplish something, make a difference... In a nutshell, you have to want to get off your ass in the first place (or in the case of writing, sit your ass down).

        Just starting isn't enough, though. You have to continue. You must persist. You have to be more than dedicated. You have to be committed. You have to be a pig. Say what?! This is a common analogy in the Agile software development world. Think of your journey as breakfast. Who would you rather be, the chicken or the pig? The chicken is dedicated. The chicken will wake up every morning with the sun and give you an egg. The pig, however, the pig is committed. The pig quite literally has skin in the game. The pig is committed, and you need to be as well (if not as you go then quite possibly - though in a different sense - after).

        Finally, you need support. I wrote back in January that while writing seems like a solitary practice it's actually not. It requires interaction and support from a variety of people. Surrounding yourself with people that understand and appreciate what you're trying to accomplish is absolutely necessary. A support network of people who have a genuine interest in what you're doing is absolutely invaluable. This year I leaned heavily on my wife, kids, and a couple Facebook groups of like-minded crazy people and it was absolutely instrumental to my success.

        So now what?

        If your novel is done, take some time off and distance yourself from it. Stat revisions and edits in the new year sometime. If it's not done then set a schedule and finish it. Me? Well, I'm shelving the novel that's complete, hitting pause on the 60% of one I just wrote, and trying my hand at writing a screenplay. After the screenplay is done then this year's novel will be finished and then I'll start revising novel #1.

        Whatever's next up on your agenda, I wish you all the best with it. I can't help you with the first two items on the list but I can definitely help you with the third one. Find me here, or on Facebook or Twitter anytime, and I wish you all good writing.

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, November 24, 2013

        The End is Nigh

        Do you hear that?

        What do you mean, "no"?

        You sure you can't hear that?

        Listen carefully. Listen very carefully.

        There! Do you hear that?

        Of course you do. It's unmistakable. 

        That, my friends, is the sound of The End, and it's coming for you.

        Well, not for you specifically, but rather for your NaNoWriMo story. 

        Depending on what part of the world you're in there is anywhere between 5 and 6 days left to pound the keyboard and get the remainder of your 50,000 words down on the page. Some of you will be checking your graph on the NaNoWriMo site and doing some quick math:

        Arithmetic at its finest
        As we discussed last week, quitting is not an option. Quitting is for uh... quitters. More importantly, you don't gain a damn thing from throwing in the towel. You don't gain experience, your story certainly gain anything, and you sure has hell don't gain any knowledge. You do learn a little something about yourself in that process though, and you might be okay with what you uncover. If that's the case then you probably won't want to keep reading this post because I'm about to try to get all inspirational and stuff.

        Take this from a guy that has about a dozen other half finished pieces of writing sitting in a folder. Quitting is a habit. A bad one; and to kick the habit you first have to want to kick the habit. If you're still reading this after I suggested you stop a paragraph ago I'm going to assume that you at least have a modicum of desire to press on. An excellent first step.

        Ready?

        Now, the next step is an equally important one: GO!

        "Huh... wha...?" you just muttered, possibly with an expletive.

        You heard me, the next step is the one you've been doing on-and-off for the past 24 days. My guess is that if you're surprised by this step that your writing has been more off than it has been on. I'm here to tell you that that's okay. The reality is that you might not get your 50,000 words in by the end of the week, but, and this is a big but (I cannot lie), every word you write now will get you one word closer to finishing your story. It's going to take as many as it takes to finish it and if any are missing a week from now, a month from now, or even a year from now it's going to be a lot harder to fill them in later than it will be to fill them in now.

        I know of what I speak. My 50,000 from last year's NaNo got hacked up into 20,000 words for a "Book 2" and 30,000 words for the book I started. At the time, it was March and I had only 60% of what I had the previous December. So I started writing. Then I stopped writing. Then I started again. Then I took a break. Well, you get the idea. Now I'm about 5,000 words from cracking a bottle to celebrate. The only problem is November rolled around again.

        *sigh*

        That's why I'm so intent on staying three or four days ahead of this thing because my goal for NaNo this year is the 50,000 words I set out to write PLUS the 5,000 I'm still missing from last year. The point being, had I just written those words last year, or the year before - when I quit - I wouldn't have this guy hassling me all the time:

        R.B. Wood's Kickstarter has just 6 days left too. #justsayin
        In summary: 
        Just keep writing. Not just for the next 6 days, but for the 1,667 after that.
        Your characters will thank you. Your future fans will thank you.
        You'll thank you (and I won't have to give R.B. your phone number).

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, November 17, 2013

        Eddie... I Want Half

        Back in 1989 I was all of fifteen years old. My family had a VCR but mom and dad got to pick the movies so there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell that either one of them would let me rent the critically acclaimed box office hit Raw starring none other than Eddie Murphy. Fortunately for me I worked at a video store and had a friend nearby who shared my particular interest in seeing this movie.

        One afternoon with his parents out and my shift complete at the video store I walked over to my friend's house and we sat there and watched Eddie Murphy sling cuss words for into a microphone for 90 minutes in front of a packed house in New York City. It was awesome! One particular bit that he did caught my attention, and that was the piece he referred to as half.

          Me imitating Eddie Murphy  imitating Johnny Carson after he gave up half.  

        This is a topical bit for the time in which it was written (1987). Johnny Carson had just gone through a divorce in which his now ex-wife had received a ton of money in the settlement (FYI, it wasn't half)[1]. Murphy does a good five minute bit on half. I won't get into the details here but if you want to check out the bit on YouTube you can go right ahead. It's not nearly as funny as a 39 year old as it was almost a quarter century ago, but the basic gist of the story is simple: half is a lot.

        Skipping ahead five half decades we've just past the mid-way point of this NaNoWriMo adventure and what you should have figured out by now is... half is a lot.

        Last week I wrote about the importance of getting ahead early and maintaining the momentum. At this stage, if you've fallen behind it's going to be an uphill climb for sure but the good news is there's still a lot of time left. I have had a couple off days but have managed to build on my two day buffer from a week ago and am now sitting on a three day buffer. My philosophy has been simple: if I can write 1,667 words then I can write 2,000.



        If you haven't reached the 28,333 words required to date to maintain the pace through the first seventeen days then do not fret. You still have just about half the time left to reach your goal. Through thirteen days I had written 25,868 words and that included a slow start on day one and close to a goose=egg on day seven.

        "But I've only written 15,00 words so far. There's no way I can finish in time!"

        I call B.S. on that right here and now. A friend of mine got behind and said that he was going to have to start setting his sights lower. My first comment to him was that he should be taking the exact opposite approach. He should aim higher.

        Let's use my hypothetical from above. Let's say you're only 15k into this thing and you're sitting on your couch reading this blog post sometime during the day of November 17. You've got thirteen writing days left to finish 35,000 words. Round that sucker up to 39,000 words (to make the math jive with my OCD) and divide by thirteen. That's 3,000 words a day.

        Will that be difficult? Yes.

        Is it impossible? Absolutely not.

        Find yourself some writing buddies online and run some sprints. Sprints are a great way to force a good half hour block of words. If you normally like to sit and read the news in the morning use that time to write instead. Fifteen minutes here and fifteen minutes there and the words start adding up. Record those shows and watch them in December. Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert will still be funny in a couple weeks, I promise.

        The important thing to take away from this is don't give up. Two years ago I fell into a funk around day ten and it looked irrecoverable. By day twelve I crawled back up to the break even point, but it took a 4,000 word day to get there and I was spent. I didn't think I had enough gas in the tank to sustain any sort of pace and I knew some slow days were ahead. They'd put me in the hole again and I'd have to pull out another 4k miracle to get back up. So I just gave up.

        Here's what that graph looks like:


        It looks really crappy, doesn't it? That's because it is. It's a crappy, depressing, shameful graph. Even if the brown bars didn't end up reaching the grey line on day 30 it still would have looked like a better graph than this flat line piece of garbage.

        The takeaway here? Don't give up. You don't want to have to stare at a graph like this every time you log into the NaNoWriMo site in October to register that year's book. Instead, why don't you take a good hard look at my graph, acknowledge it's crappiness, agree that you don't need one that looks similar, stop reading this blog post (tell your friends to read first), and go write something!

        May the words be with you.

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, November 10, 2013

        One Third

        Thirty days has September; April, June, and November...

        That would mean that on the tenth day (or rather at the end of it), if one were participating in say... a novel writing competition or a moustache growing charity event, that one would be one third of the way through. As it turns out I am doing both of those things, and a good many of you out there are doing so as well.

        Based on my last post on NaNoWriMovember many of the dudes out there have opted not to grow the 'stache for various reasons; choosing to donate cash money to the cause instead. Hey, whatever tickles your fancy, it's your chiselled visage not mine.

        Before we get to the writers portion of this post, feel free to click the badass snake moustache if you want to donate something in support of the wonderful Movember funding programs:


        Now, on to the writing! You are all writing, right? I mean, you can't crank out 1,667 words a day every day for thirty days and not do a little writing. In actual fact it's more than a little writing, as many of you with additional jobs beyond penmonkey can attest. This is my third year attempting NaNoWriMo and for the second time in a row I've passed what I consider to be the hardest part of the journey: the 10,000 to 15,000 word slog-fest.

        This is the fabulous time where you've been going at it for several days straight and even though you're well into the foothills you take a look up, and you keep looking, up, up, up and you realize that at 10,000 words you're only one fifth of the way there - and you're already exhausted. Cue the self-doubt, anxiety, and depression.



        But don't fire the Sherpa just yet. You can do this. How do I know? I just know. Now stop asking questions, you should be writing. And therein lies the key: stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop researching, stop wondering about this, and thinking about that. Just stop.

        If you're one of those fancy plotters who has an outline then just follow the outline and write. If you're a pantser and letting your characters lead the way, then let them lead. It's not your job to question what they're doing, or if that phrase in Latin actually means what you want it to mean. Your characters are like that hard assed teacher you had in middle school. The one who was adamant, and wrong, about just about everything. Your job now, just as it was then, is to smile and politely write down 1 + 1 = 3.

        Image courtesy Ohmmy3d at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

        Finally, find yourself a friend or two. If you're on a roll then they'll help you roll faster. If you're stuck and ready to pack it in they'll pull you out of the mud. Whether it's on Twitter using the #NaNoWriMo hashtag or on Facebook with one of the many NaNo groups out there, find a support group and use it (join my NaNoWriMo 2013 group if you want).

        There is nothing quite like screaming into the wind when there are a bunch of random people there with some fabulous WIND BUFFING MECHANISMS that will allow your screams to be heard (see what I did there?)



        ~ Andrew


        Sunday, November 3, 2013

        NaNoWriMovember 2013

        If you read my last post you know that I'm taking on NaNoWriMo again this year. It's been a little more than two full days at this point and I'm already ahead of the curve; building up at least a day's worth of buffer.

        There are various strategies for tackling NaNo but the one that appears to work the best is: hit it early and put up some big numbers, then maintain a steady stream throughout. Use the words you've built up to have an off day and recharge the batteries every so often - and then finish strong.

        Having failed in 2011 and succeeded in 2012 I can speak to the fact that it's a gruelling contest and at the very least you need to be insanely prepared. Or just prepared. Or just insane.

        My stats after two days of NaNoWriMo

        If you haven't guessed already, for the next four weeks I'll be focusing on my journey through NaNo and sharing any interesting nuggets I find along the way. It also means that my posts will be a little shorter than usual simply due to the fact that I need those words in my novel. It doesn't matter they'll get edited out later; that's a problem for December.

        Writing isn't the only thing I'll be doing in November. It's also the month where I get to listen to my family complain about my facial hair as I don a moustache to help raise awareness for men's health. Movember is an annual event were men from around the world attempt to go all Tom Selleck in an effort to get people to ask, "Why the hell are you growing that sorry-ass moustache?" and then donate money. It's been working out pretty well for the last few years and I'm proud to be a supporter.

        I know, I know, the resemblance is uncanny.

        So to recap:
        • If you're participating in NaNoWriMo this year try to get ahead early; 
        • use any buffer you can build to take a few breaks; and 
        • finish strong.

        Also, if you're a dude, consider growing a moustache and raising some money for men's health. If that's not your thing, or you're a lady looking to support the cause you can find my donation page here: 


        Together, we can change the face of men's health - and write books.

        ~ Andrew



        Tom Selleck image courtesy Georges Biard (via Wikipedia Commons)

        Sunday, October 27, 2013

        I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

        About ten months ago I wrote something about planning versus pantsing. In this article I was hell-bent-and-determined that I was a pantser and would be forever that's just the way it is no question about it thank you very much and good night.

        To recap, there are two basic camps when it comes to writing: plotters, those who plot out their story ahead of time; and pantsers, those who fly by the seat of their pants and wing it.



        Well, since then I've managed to write a lot of blog posts (none of them really planned out to any degree before I sat down to write them), written a few odd things here or there that haven't amounted to anything, and I've got within five thousand words (or so) of finishing the first draft of my first novel. What was interesting about the novel is that any progress I made over the summer was entirely due to the fact that I started mapping things out.

        Was my obsession with organization and planning spilling over into my writing? It appeared so, but what did it mean? Well, for starters it meant that it's entirely possible NaNoWriMo wouldn't be a complete bust this year. Intriguing. But, it also meant that my excuse list for not finishing my first novel was down to a single item: laziness. Hmm.



        Let's focus on National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org) instead of the laziness.

        NaNoWriMo is upon us and this year I have a plan. Well, I have a plan for a plan. Two NaNos ago I did not even have that much. Life intervened and derailed my writing and I couldn't get back on track. Last year, I finished but it was an exhausting effort and took more discipline than I thought I had in me. This year, now this year is going to be different. I can feel it. At a minimum I will have all the main points I want to cover written down and in some order. This way, if life intervenes and writing gets derailed at least I'll have an idea of what's left so I can start chipping away at it.

        Naturally, I started out with the idea that I would map out this book in excruciating detail with oodles of back story and character development and all that fancy stuff, but to be honest it started to feel a lot like work and it started to resemble real life, so I scaled it back. I write because I have stories to tell, and I take a great amount of joy in crafting them on the fly. If I were to map them all out piece by piece I don't know if I'd enjoy writing them as much as I do. I haven't missed a week of blogging this entire year and the only plan I had was a few post subjects queued up. After that, each post came together in the moment, and it was a lot of fun.


        For another novel though? Well, at least at this point in time I don't think that's going to cut it. Not if I want to make thirty days of writing 1,667 words a day a little less manic than it was a year ago. Even if it's just a few bullet points that read "MC freaks out" or "Antagonist does something antagonizing" at least I'll have something to work with.

        So, whether you've mapped out everything for NaNo from start to finish, have no plan at all and are just going to wing it, or if you're somewhere in between, I wish you good writing! Look for me on Twitter and Facebook for word sprints and support:

        ~ Andrew


        Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images:
        • "Row of hanged blue jeans in a shop" courtesy of foto76
        • "Tired Man" courtesy of graur codrin

        Sunday, October 20, 2013

        Continued Tales...

        ... from the other, other Cambridge

        ... from a bar

        ... from Rhode Island

        ... (and from the road, again)


        This is the thrilling conclusion to my 2000 km solo road trip to the North East United States (and back). What began with an absolutely fabulous Pearl Jam concert in Buffalo and a visit with one of my favourite writers in a wee town so far out of the way in New York that Ithaca can be heard saying, "Where is that place anyway?" continued on without incident and spectacular weather - until the border and my last 90 minutes of driving.

        First, after visiting Gordon Bonnet I was treated to a 6 hour drive to Cambridge, Massachusetts - some of it along I-88. Where's I-88 you ask? It's a good question, and one I received a lot (apparently not many folks make the Binghamton to Schenectady run these days):

        There's our friend Ithaca way out on the left. Bahsten sitting wicked awesome on the right. Thanks to Google for the map.

        Honestly, with most of the drive along I-90 it wasn't too bad, especially when you have scenery like this to stare at the whole way:

        Yellows were prominent along I-88. I dub thee "The Golden Highway".

        Anyway, on with the travels. I was visiting a lifelong friend of mine in Cambridge, MA (I can't possibly keep typing that state out in full) and every time I visit we go do a few touristy things that I haven't done before. I love museums and history and such, but being Columbus Day there wasn't a lot open. We went to Walden Pond where I could have stayed taking pictures all day and then some.

        A lone maple leaf floats at the edge of Walden Pond.

        The afternoon was filled with more fun and excitement as I got to fill my sports and history void all in one shot with a tour of Fenway Park! It wasn't a game day but Major League Baseball had control of the field so we weren't allowed in the dugout or on the field, but the view from atop the Green Monster is something to behold.


        Panoramic view of Fenway as seen from the Green Monster

        For those keeping track, I promised fun times and beverages with some pretty awesome writers on this trip. Do not despair! My first full day in Cambridge, MA ended with a trip to the Cambridge Brewing Company with none other than the author of The Prodigal's Foole, R.B. Wood. This is a guy I've only interacted with on Facebook and Twitter and meeting him in real life was a thrill. I'm not just saying that because he bought me dinner.

        Richard likes beer and was drinking a dark ale, I believe.
        I'm the pretentious ass at the beer place drinking red wine.

        Tuesday was a pretty laid back day hanging with my bud and his 14 month old son. No need to go into much detail except to say that it was great to spend some quality time with my friends in my favourite city in America. Oh, we went to the aquarium where I managed to take this picture:


        Please caption it!



        Wednesday brought a short drive into Rhode Island. I'd only ever driven through it once before and happened to blink so I didn't really see much of it. Make no mistake, even though people like to use "... the size of Rhode Island" as an expression it's actually pretty big (you're welcome, RI tourism).

        While the state is small in size and population it is home to at least one seriously good writer, and I got to meet him! Alex Kimmel is a native Californian that through a series of interesting events has ended up in a quaint little town in the middle of Rhode Island. If you're looking for a scary book to read check out The Key to Everything. Right now it's sitting at #4 in its genre on Amazon, after two Stephen King novels and ahead of another King and an Anne Rice. I told you he was good.

        A great guy, great writer, and #4 on the Amazon horror list - and me on the left.

        So there you have it. Wednesday night was spent staying at a cousin's place in Connecticut and Thursday was a looooooonng drive home. With no tolls and no stopping for food and gas and no border crossing and no traffic Google says it's 7 hours and 58 minutes. It turns out that not many people live in this Utopian Google Land of Perfection and it took me a full 10 hours. Again, with the awe inspiring beauty that are the fall colours of New England and upstate New York it felt like a lot less.


        Wishing you all happy travels and good writing!

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, October 13, 2013

        Tales...

        ... from the road!


        This week I'm at the beginning of a mini vacation and whirlwind meet 'n greet tour of a number of wonderful places in the northeastern United States... and Buffalo. With special Fan Club tickets to the Pearl Jam show in Buffalo on Saturday night, airline tickets being what they are, and me with my new fuel efficient Mazda 3 (Sport, with SkyActiv technology), I made the executive decision a few weeks ago to drive from Buffalo to Cambridge, Massachusetts while making a stop in upstate New York to visit my friend and fellow blogger/writer Gordon Bonnet (his twitter handle is @TalesOfWoah and his blog is Skeptophilia).


        But before that I had a few things to sort out. Step one is getting across the border. Last time I made the trip I was harangued at the Peace Bridge by an overzealous guard. In addition to the usual "What's the purpose of your trip? Where are you staying?" questions the following exchange occurred: 


        Guard: "How do you know your friend?
        Me: "We grew up together." 
        Guard: "So you've lived in the United States?" 
        Me: "No he used to live in Canada?" 
        Guard: "So why is he living in the United States?" 
        Me: "He went to grad school in Wisconsin and then got a job in Chicago. He switched jobs and moved to Cambridge. Met a nice girl and got married." 
        Guard: "So is that why you're visiting? To get a job?" 
        Me: "No sir. I have a job. I just want to visit my buddy." 
        [Handing me back my passport] 
        Guard: "Have a good trip."

        Seriously?

        This time the trip across was a lot smoother, even if it did take 45 minutes to complete. With it being the long weekend and with there being a Bills game on Sunday it was amazingly busy. The border guard did rummage through all my stuff and check the wheel wells of my car for contraband but other than that it was uneventful. Oh, a lady a couple rows over was detained for reasons unknown, so I guess that was exciting.

        Saturday night was spent in a packed arena in the armpit of America watching one of the most exciting bands of the last two decades. Pearl Jam has graduated from 1990's grunge to good old fashioned Rock and Roll and they put on a show that I certainly won't forget. Smart phones being what they are I managed to capture a few things. Here's a taste (oh yeah, I caught myself a Mike McCready guitar pick too):







        Sunday brought a quick 90 minute drive down to see Gordon. It was everything I hoped it would be, and then some. I'll admit it, I have a serious man crush on him and he did not disappoint. Aside from writing a thoroughly entertaining blog, he's written some thoroughly entertaining books, and he's a SCIENCE TEACHER! Anyone who knows me knows that science is my favourite -ence. 

        We chatted about writing. We talked about art and creativity. I got to see his son working on his art (glass blowing and other assorted glass creations). He made me a cheese and bacon sandwich. He even let me see his writing hole... er... workspace. He probably has the best window ever for looking out of. The picture doesn't do it justice:

         



        So it's been an eventful weekend to say the least. Tune in next week as I continue my quest to meet as many writers as possible. With any amount of luck I'll get to tell you what Richard B. Wood drinks at the pub, what kind of flooring is in Alex Kimmell's house, and where A.J. Aalto's favourite place is to dump a body.

        Stay tuned!

        ~ Andrew

        Sunday, October 6, 2013

        The Great Distraction

        I am not giving you parenting advice. I'm going to repeat that just so I don't get a mass of overly defensive wingnut parents ripping me a new one on my blog or on Reddit: I am NOT telling anyone how they should raise their child. Okay, now that we have that out of the way I'd like to share an observation about something I have noticed over the years:

        There are some people out there who are remarkably good at keeping children distracted.

        I was thinking about this at swimming lessons with the kids last week. Neither child was in an area of the pool that I could see particularly well so I'm on my iPhone just jotting down ideas for future writing and waiting for one of my kids to come into view (my kids are a little older so I'm not sitting with my face pressed to the glass and quiet clapping / waving / thumbs upping at every fart bubble they produce).



        A small child, probably 3 or 4 years old was bored out of her mind waiting for her older brother to finish his swim lesson. The viewing area was absolutely packed with parents and this child was clearly seconds away from pitching a fit of epic proportions. I mean this kid was about to seriously explode. I've seen that look before. Every parent has. My first instinct was to plug my ears and duck.

        Then, an amazing thing happened. The older woman wrangling the child, cool as a cucumber, pulled a pencil and random scrap of paper out of her purse, handed them to the child and said, "Hey sweetie, can you help Nana? I need lines drawn all over this piece of paper. It's really important. Can you draw lines all over this for me?"

        I'll be damned if the kid didn't just sit down right there in the middle of the floor and start scribbling all over the piece of paper. She did this for a solid ten minutes, every so often looking up and showing her work to Nana, who would smile and pat her on the head and say something like "Wonderful! Keep going! You're such a good helper."

        Based on my observations at swimming, and throughout the last decade of hanging out in places where there are a ton of small children (Gymboree, the library, various parks & playgrounds, the mall) I have identified the two main groups of people that are insanely good at keeping a restless child sufficiently distracted: teachers and grandmothers.


        That's not to say that there aren't a whole host of other people out there who are capable of keeping a child occupied for a few minutes when you need them to, it's just that this is a particular skill that you're either professionally trained in, or have honed over decades on your own.

        The rest of us, well let's just say that many have difficulty channelling it into anything productive. What not enough people realize that you're exercising the same muscle group in procrastinating as you are in keeping a child occupied.

        Even fewer realize that it's the same skill you need to get some ideas down on a page and start writing. If being wrong looks a lot like being right, then distraction looks a lot like discipline. This is what sets successful writers apart from all the rest of us. It isn't a particularly new concept, but it is one that you can easily grasp by comparing the kid that wants to pitch a fit with the ominous blank page staring you in the face:

        Goal:
        Stop Kid From Pitching Fit
        Goal:
        Write Something
        Problem:
        Kid is bored!
        Problem:
        I am lazy!
        Solution: 
        Distract the kid
        Solution:
        Distract your mind (huh, what?)
        Application:
        Find something, anything, to get the kid's mind off of whatever boring non-event you've dragged them to
        Application:
        Find something, anything, to get your mind focused on whatever writing you need to accomplish 
        Why It Works:
        You have given the child a purpose. Kids like accomplishing things: "Look what I did!" They also like pleasing grownups: "I helped Nana!"
        Why It Works:
        You have given your distraction a purpose. You like accomplishing things. You also like pleasing yourself... er... never mind

        It's surprising how simple this is to accomplish. Here's a quote from Henry Ford:

        "Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right."

        You see, it's all about the end goal. A while back I made my goal "idea generation". With this in mind I watched two consecutive hours of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but the whole time I had the goal of "idea generation" at the front of my mind. Watching creative people interact in a humorous way got my creative juices flowing. By the end of it I had blog topics mapped out for the rest of the year.

        Distract with the right intent and you've turned procrastination into dedication.

        Apply the same logic to whatever you need for your work in progress. If you need a crime to occur then go to the internet and read about some of the best unsolved capers. If you need a way to kill someone, go to YouTube and search "epic fail". The list goes on and on. Just make sure that you've got your WIP handy and ready to go. Soon, you'll find that you're not paying as much attention to your distractions. You probably won't even notice it's happening, but what you will notice is that you've got a nice messy page filled with words, and you'll feel good about that.

        You can even work in a little reward system. For me, once I had my ideas all jotted down I flipped to some Louis C.K. stand-up for nothing but a cheap laugh. You can make the reward whatever you want, just don't make the reward the goal. The goal is to get your work done. The goal is the main course and the reward is just the nice little treat at the end of your meal. Besides, everyone knows that if you listen to Nana she might just have a treat for you hiding in her purse.

        ~ Andrew


        Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images: