December 21, 2014

Work, Work, Work

I just did a podcast with a friend where he argued that the whole Christmas thing was a bunch of hooey. In the end, I think I managed to convince him that December was a season where people of all faiths get a chance to practice being better people and focus on the things that help us do that: charity, generosity, happiness, ... That if you can see past the commercialism, really, it's just a time to enjoy each others company and brighten up a world that can be all too grim.

Many people I know are taking the next two weeks off work to spend time with their families or concentrate on recharging the batteries. I am not one of them. While I enjoy the time off, I only have a finite number of vacation days for the year and I'd prefer to use them when the weather is warm and the golf courses are open.

He marks his scorecard and checks it twice.

A lot of creative folks I know (writers, photographers, painters, and poets) use this time to feed of the joy around them and get shit done. Many of the writers I know use the momentum from November and carry right through to the New Year, letting the ideas flow to the page as swiftly as the breeze that blows off Frosty's hat. I am not one of those either. I'll be working the day job Monday and Tuesday of this week and next. Chained to the desk, as it were, like some modern day project manager version of the ghost of Christmas past.

Jacob Marley has deadlines too.

I can't complain though. I like my job and my boss and I can take time off when I need it, I just choose to take it off at times when we get more than a handful of hours of sunlight in a day, that's all. The real heroes of the season are all the countless individuals who keep the lights on while everyone else takes time off to celebrate.

Every year there are thousands upon thousands of people working their butts off over the holidays to make sure that everyone else can stay safe, stay warm, stay healthy, stay fed. They're the ones who probably need the time off more than anyone else, yet they're the ones that are out there picking up our slack while we sit on the couch, put our feet up, and complain about how hectic the season has become.

So here's a toast to everyone from the minimum wager pouring your latte to the fire chief worrying about whether or not everyone's Christmas lights are up to code. If you've got time off take a minute to thank these folks, and if you are one of these folks let me take a minute to thank you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

~ Andrew.

December 14, 2014

The Best Kind of Gifts

There are a lot of posts and articles out there about getting the perfect gift, for a writer, for your significant other, for the person who has everything... Well it is the season for giving, and there's no shortage of options.

(Click here if you want to skip all the reading and go straight to the point of this post. Hint: it's something that will make you feel good inside)

I personally love this time of year because it's just so darned festive. I'd prefer if the festivities didn't start until December 1 and promptly ended on January 1 because I just find it to be a little too much. I'm only good for one month of overjoyedness, music, and excess by just about every conceivable measure. That being said, you can play me this clip of Clark Griswold every day of the year and I will love it just the same:

Oh, and for that matter, this one too:

It's all fine and dandy to give gifts to those you love, because why not? You love them and you enjoy seeing them happy and possibly receive something they really needed or would have not otherwise bought themselves. WestJet took this concept to great heights last year when they asked a bunch of people getting on a couple of their planes and asked them what they wanted for Christmas. By the time they landed all the stuff they asked for came out of the baggage claim. Here's the video in all it's awesomeness:

This year WestJet took this to a whole other level, and this gets straight to the point of my post this week. This year, WestJet went to a village in the Dominican Republic and asked them what they wanted for Christmas - and then gave everyone what they asked for, even the guy who asked for a horse - AND they build the kids a proper playground too:

And here we arrive at the point of this post. While this is the season for giving, and a lot of giving happens, there are people in need throughout the whole year, many involving people with special needs, as well as a good number of children. Too many children. So, I've decided to encourage people to help out in a couple of ways. It doesn't have to be a lot. Five bucks here or there can make a big difference, it really can.

The first is called "Blessings in a Backpack". This is an organization that sends kids home for the weekend with a backpack of food. These are kids who take advantage of the meal programs in schools during the week but go home with a cloud of uncertainty about how they will get their meals on the weekend. This campaign is being run by an old high school acquaintence of mine, Harv Glazer, and his family. Their goal is to feed 100 kids on the weekend for an entire school year.

You can read about the campaign and donate here.

The second involves a friend of a friend in Rhode Island. An autistic man, who is the son of my friend's friend, was struck by a car while at a crosswalk recently. He will survive but his recovery will be a long, arduous one. Due to the nature of his autism it is difficult to say how "old" he is, but understanding that we are all kids at heart it's not surprising to hear that he's a huge fan of Marvel Comics. I'm heading down to the comic book store and mailing him some ASAP so he can have a nice big stack of reading material to take his mind off the pain and the struggles he is going to face in the upcoming months. If you want to send some Marvel-ous (sorry, had to be done) comics or swag down his way you can get in touch with my friend Alex Kimmell on Twitter and he'll get you the info.

Finally, whatever you're celebrating and however you're celebrating it, I wish you all the best.


December 07, 2014

'Tis The Season

If there's one thing I love about this time of year it's the sweaters. Yup, sweaters. My personal favourite is argyle, so much so that it was even incorporated into name of the coffee shop trio I was a part of a couple years ago: Argyle Speedo

Now that I think about it, I think it might be a bit of an obsession. I mean, I've got several pairs of argyle socks and at least five or six argyle sweaters. Hell, at work all the aisles of cubicles are named and I recently moved into aisle 'A' a.k.a. "Argh! Aisle".

I almost bought another argyle sweater today at Old Navy (30% off!) but heard my wife's voice echoing in my head from yesterday. Something about possibly wearing sweaters that aren't argyle pattern. I can't be certain because all I heard was "argyle" and I drifted off into a colourful diamond dreamland.

Even better than argyle though, is the quintessential holiday garment: the ugly sweater. These have become such a hit that people are throwing ugly sweater parties where each attendee has to wear the ugliest sweater they can find. In the little village where we live (Hespeler, within the city of Cambridge, Ontario) there was an ugly sweater float. Even the NHL has a line of ugly sweaters you can purchase directly from their web site (I have an Ottawa Senators one that's positively horrible looking). 

I did a bit of research on the topic (one Google search) and naturally ended up at where they claim that none other than Bill Cosby is considered to be the "father" of the ugly sweater. While hard to argue with such a spectacular array of terrifically gauche knit attire, I'd like to think that good ole Sparky Griswold, a character made famous by Chevy Chase in the holiday classic movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation", played a larger role from a pop culture perspective.

Whatever your fashion style choices are for the season, try to have fun with it. Me? I'll be stocking up on argyle and ugly sweaters and getting out my stretchy pants for the big Christmas dinner at my sister's place and the in-laws on the 27th. I'll be wearing this:

Tweet me a picture of your best ugly sweater: "Hey @andrewbutters here is my best #uglysweater"

~ Andrew

November 30, 2014


First of all, I'd like to thank all my friends, family, and readers of Potato Chip Math for putting up with me this last month. If you're not into writing it can be a bit much and I acknowledge that four or five straight blog posts and countless Facebook status updates may put a few of you off. Thanks for sticking around though and I promise things will get back to normal... starting tomorrow.

In case you didn't know, I managed to "win" NaNoWriMo again this year, my third victory in a row!

So, yay me! Though that's about all the celebrating I'll allow mostly due to the fact that I'm freaking exhausted. I tackled the project in a slightly different way this year, in that I planned on writing a complete story - one with "THE END" written proudly at the bottom of the last page - rather than just writing 50,000 words towards a novel and having half of the story to be written, someday.

I thought I had it all figured out, I even had FIFTEEN bullet points written down with some key plot moments, names and short bios for my main characters, and all my locations mapped out right down to the "L" shape of the MC's penthouse apartment (fancy schmancy!), the style and layout of the bank where he has a safety deposit box (ooooh intriguing!), and the location of the fax machine in the office where he shags his secretary (scandalous!). Even with all this prepared and ready to go by the time I went to bed on October 31 it was still a long, difficult journey to victory and I learned a few things along the way.

Days Off are Important (and Dangerous)

The plan was easy: write for twelve days and then take a day off. I had a workshop for a speakers event called Ignite! for which I am the speaker coordinator. I could not afford to take the day off prior to the event so that left me with no choice but to get ahead on my word count over the first dozen days and take a day off. 

It worked out wonderfully until I sat down to write on the 14th. By then it had been 44 hours since I had written anything and getting back on the horse was a challenge. I took two more days off in the month for various reasons (hockey game with my daughter on the 21st and the actual Ignite! event on the 26th and it was the same deal for the day after. I struggled to get words on the page. In every case I managed to at least keep pace with 1,667 words but I have a sneaky suspicion that those will be some of the first ones to hit the cutting room floor. It does bring me to my second lesson:

Just Keep Writing

I've said this before I'm sure, and countless others have said this before me, but the only way to get through the tough times is to just keep writing. Yes, you'll have to lean on friends for support and you'll be filled with self-doubt and worry, but that's the deal. That's what you signed up for, so suck it up buttercup and just keep writing. When in doubt, throw a curve ball at your MC. Think to yourself, "What would really fuck up his world right now?" or "Oh my god, wouldn't it be terrible if...?" and then run with it. 

If You're Going to Plan, then Plan Already

I thought I had prepared adequately. In past NaNos I never planned. I just started writing and kept doing the previous lesson until there were 50,000 words on the page. This time I had a plan, or at least I thought I did. It turns out I did not. My plan sucked. My plan was good for 15,000 or 20,000 words, tops. Next year I am either going  back to being a pantser or I am planning the living shit out of it. 

This year I ended up bloating my manuscript with who-knows-what to fill in the gaps that my sorry-ass planning left. Now, it's not all bad. I did manage to dream up some pretty nifty character interactions that would not have come to light otherwise, but it was a real struggle. There's a certain comfort in not knowing anything and having to make it all up as you go. There's also comfort in knowing so many god damned things that the only thing left to do is write it down. Word of caution: the worst place to be is one where you think you know everything but actually don't know squat.

A few other things I learned/noticed about this year's event:
  • I felt better about my writing on days were I could get in 500 words after dinner and before the kids went to bed. I usually did this when they were eating their desserts or playing Minecraft. I planned these in based on the schedules for events (volleyball, play dates, my events, wife's travel schedule, etc...). 
  • I made it rain on weekends, and starting NaNo on a weekend put me in a great position. I wrote almost double my target on every weekend (except this one, because I finished).
  • I kept a routine. I wan't scrambling to squeeze words in before work, or at lunch at work (I keep my day job and my writing quite separate), or anything like that. I designated times when I could write, and then that's when I wrote. 
  • I stopped writing most nights with enough time to watch an episode of Louie or Downton Abbey. Having 45-60 minutes before bed to wind down and enjoy some time watching TV with my wife really helped keep me sane. 
So there you have it. Another November come and gone and a brand new novel sitting in my "Writing" folder on my computer. Thanks again to everyone who helped me along especially my family (who is probably quite glad to have "normal" Andrew back) and those in my Writers Without Borders group on Facebook. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday blog posts about mostly writing but also about a tonne of other things. I'm thinking I'll keep it light and silly next week. Maybe crowd source a topic. What do you think? 

What would YOU like me to write about next week? Submit a comment and I'll see what I can do. 

~ Andrew.

November 23, 2014

Eyes On The Prize

So here we are. We're coming out of the third corner and into the home stretch. It's been a tough race so far, sloppy to be sure, but not to worry because you were born to slop. You're a mudder. Your father was a mudder. Your mother was a mudder.

So there it is, the finish line. The wire. The tape. THE END.

For some of you it's in your past. You found that extra gear. You turned it up a notch. You dug deep. [Insert another metaphor for overachieving here]. My message to you is simple: CONGRATULATIONS!* You've done what not many people can do and written a novel in less than a month. You should be quite proud. Your job now is to take a moment to feel as awesome as you can about and then turn and look those still in the race and cheer them on.

For some of you the finish line is so far away you're wondering if someone hasn't gone and made the track longer while you were running. That would be a thoroughly jerk move for someone to pull but I can assure you that's not what's happened here. Something did happen though, and that's okay. Life has a gnarly way of getting in the way of things you set out to do. Do not fret because you have a couple options at your disposal:

First, you can just pack it in. Put the pen down, close the laptop lid, open up your Candy Crush app. You gave it a good run and there's absolutely no shame in calling it a day. You started this thing for a reason and by golly you'll finish it at some point, or you won't because it was not meant to be. Hold your head high because you entered the race in the first place.

Next, you can forge ahead. Full steam. Get those legs pumping and crack that whip. Put your head down and go. Find the extra gear. Turn it up a notch. Dig deep. [Insert another metaphor for overachieving here]. If that's what you're going to do, I admire your efforts. You got moxie, kid. Now finish reading this post and get back to work.

Finally, you can find a way to make something else your goal. Remember what I said a few weeks ago about defining success. You're in charge of that, and no one else. Not some website, not your friends or neighbours, not even your mudder mother. Recreate your goal and work toward that.

For some of you the finish line is in sight and every stride down the home stretch brings it closer. Now, if looking at my NaNoWriMo buddy list and checking out the website is any indication, a great many of you are in this position. The finish line is unbearably close. Closer than two protons at the heart of a plutonium atom. Closer than that guy on the subway that has lots of room to his left but decides to stand to the right face to face with you trying to get your noses to touch. [Insert another reference for closeness here]. It is right there.

For all of you, there's only one thing to do. Sit down and write. Set your goal some time sooner than it actually is. Me? I want to be done on Friday so I can have the weekend to rejoice (also, on the 30th I'm taking the kids to see Mythbusters Behind the Myths so that day will pretty much be a wash). So take your remaining words and divide by the number of days and write that amount every day. Just write. It will be hard, oh yes it will be hard. You're tired, you've been running for more than three weeks, and your brain is starting to fail. You're seeing things that aren't there. Don't worry about it, that gnome hitting on your muse has always been there. She'll take care of you, don't you worry. You've been a good scribe for the greater part of a month. Just. Keep.Going.

Even if it's not a photo finish, I'll have my camera ready. See you at the wire.

~ Andrew

* Side note about that word "congratulations": I used to work at this place as a bus boy / dish pig / cleaner / etc... and part of the job was setting up the big sign out front with the message of the day. Every Saturday we'd have one or more weddings and someone would have to go out and put the message "Congratulations so and so" or "Congratulations to all the newlyweds". Well, on the inside of the lid for the container that held all the large plastic letters someone wrote the word "CONGRATULATIONS". You see, the job didn't exactly attract the kids competing in the local spelling bee. Anyway, I always thought it was strange they didn't have the big letter box sectioned off with some of the words that were just always used. It was mostly alphabetical but having a few of those words set aside would have been really useful. Plus, it would have made it easier to slip a "D" in there before the guy who always gave you a hard time and made you clean toilets went out to do the sign.

November 16, 2014

Mid Life Crisis: NaNoWriMo Style

If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, and close to keeping pace (or right on pace, or even slightly ahead of schedule) then you know exactly what I'm talking about.


Welcome to the saggy middle.

If you're like me this represents two moments of opposing emotions:
  • First, you've already written more words that you have yet to write. It's all downhill from here, baby! These are good times and certainly cause for celebration. Take a moment to soak it all in and realize that even if your laptop were to melt in some freak background microwave radiation solar flare electromagnetic accident that you would have around 25,000 words backed up somewhere and ready to use (thank you Dropbox!)
  • Second, you still have more than 20,000 words to write. This damn journey is uphill BOTH WAYS! Don't let that moment soak in though. For one, it'll mess up your mojo you just gained from the awesome milestone of passing the halfway mark. Also, it's too darn depressing and wallowing in it will sink your back end. 
Saggy middle. Sinking back end. What is this, a book about turning 40? This looks like a job for MOTIVATION!

Some people use the resources right from the NaNoWriMo website (profile inbox, discussion boards, etc...) Another good resource is another writer. There are tons of videos, articles, blog posts out there where famous faces like Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Chuck Wendig. 

Another good one is go to the mall. I'm serious, especially at this time of year when people are either gearing up for Thanksgiving in the U.S. or Christmas everywhere else. Sit on a bench or chair with your laptop open and just wait for all the wonderful character traits and ideas to walk past. Imagine the conversations of the people across the aisle. Find ways to shut up that snot nosed brat screaming for the latest whatever-it-is at a mother who looks like she just dropped her last nerve in the garbage with the empty cup from her Chai Latte. Plus, the sooner you get motivated and writing the sooner you can get out of the hell pit of doom, destruction, and despair that is The Mall in the weeks leading up to December 25.

Me? Keeping in line with my last post on community I have a standard go-to for motivation in my writers' group on Facebook. Others, they head straight to Twitter for words of encouragement and inspiration. Either way, what could be better that reaching out and commiserating with a group of people all facing the same sort of challenges. Reach out to them (remember, "Ask and you shall receive?" Well I'm not making this up, folks. That shit works!) 

Ask them for a boost, a shoulder to cry on, an empty face to yell at, an idea. They'll help you out and whip your saggy sinking ass into shape. Even if they're jerks about it, they won't be, but even if they are, don't worry about it. You've just been given a great opportunity to kill them off in your book!

~ Andrew.

November 09, 2014


Welcome to NaNoWriMo Week #2!

At this point you're either way ahead of the game and feeling good, on pace and still clinging to a sliver of hope that you can keep it up for 20 more days, or you're behind schedule and looking at the chart on the NaNo website that reads: At this rate you will finish on March 13, 2016.

Regardless of which category you find yourself in I have something that can help.


No, not the show with Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. Actual communities. It turns out these things are everywhere, and they're all kinds of awesome. Communities, and more specifically the people that are a part of them, are worth their weight in gold, or diamonds, or even in some cases platinum-190.

These are the people, when you say, "I'm depressed" they mean it when whey ask, "Why are you depressed?" and when you respond, "I don't know" they're completely okay with that answer. They give you a hug and then ask you if you want to go get a slice of pizza. They're not trying to fix you. They're not trying to solve All The Problems. They are people who, when they see that you have the courage to ask for help, they help. They show up on your doorstep, or wherever else you need them to, simply because you asked.

Writing, which is largely a solitary exercise, can wreak havoc on a person mentally. No one else is going to get those words out of your head and onto the page. You're on your own for that, I'm afraid. But that doesn't mean you are alone.
Twitter has dozens and dozens of hashtags you can search to find thousands of people, just like you, churning out words or looking for nuggets of encouragement, support, or distraction. During the month of November the number of hashtags and the number of people using them in tweets increases dramatically. Here's a sampling of some I keep in mind whenever I need to feel less alone:
There are also a whack of Facebook groups out there for you to join. Just search NaNoWriMo or just about any search term related to writing. You'll find groups aplenty, and then some. Join 'em all or just join one, but join something - and then participate. The number of people you will find for support and encouragement will blow your mind. 

I took it a step further and once I found a bunch of wonderfully diverse and supportive people on Twitter and Facebook and I invited them to a Facebook group of my own creation. We're almost at 50 members now and it's one of the best places there is to be when I'm working on my writing. 

You won't find any of it unless you look up from your keyboard every now and then and ask. As with most things in life, if you don't ask you won't get. So buck up, swallow your pride, find your ouside voice, put up your hand... do whatever it takes to ask. Just ask. Ask. State it categorically: I need a friend. I need some help. I need some encouragement. I need some pizza!

Ask and ye shall receive.
(pizza delivery times may vary)

~ Andrew

November 02, 2014

The Secret of My Success

It's November 2, 2014 and that means thousands of writers all over the world are hunkering down and trying to write a novel-length something before the end of the month. A "novel" is most loosely defined as: 50,000 words blarged onto a page of some kind. Our friends over at have this to say about it:

"A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes."

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an organization that exists to ensure more books get out into the world. They tend to lean more toward my loose definition of the word "novel" and simply ask for writers to jot down 50,000 words (roughly 250 double spaced pages using Times New Roman 12 point font) in one month. Do this and you will, by their definition, be successful. You will "win", and you will get a fancy certificate to prove it. Here are mine from the last two years:

The one from 2012 ended up being an entirely different book altogether when it was "done done". That is to say after the 50,000 words ended up on the page I needed to write another 30,000 words to finish the story. Then I changed the name of the book and took out a big chunk of it and wrote another 20,000 words before finishing the first draft for good. 80,000 words total and it still needs a lot of work. 

The one from 2013 saw the 50,000th word hit the page on November 26 and I used the last 4 days to finish off the last 5,000 words from the previous project. So where is it now? Collecting dust. I hate the story. It's taking forever to just get to the bloody point (pun intended: it's a serial killer novel). That's a bit of a lie. I actually like the story but I'm having a hard time actually telling it. So it will sit in a virtual drawer for a while and I'll revisit it. Some day.

So, the big question is: have I been successful?

Arguments for:
I have two certificates from the Office of Letters and Light that say I was. I have a full on completed first draft of a novel, that's actually being edited (or was until November rolled around again. I really want another certificate). 

Arguments against:
I don't, however, have a book for sale on Amazon, no one has read more than two short chapters, and I have not received a penny for either of them (reader tip: that's how most authors get paid. In pennies. Literally PENNIES a book. Remember that next time you think every writer eventually makes Anne Rice or Stephen King money).

Well here's the thing: you don't get to decide, at least not on my behalf.

You don't. It's as simple as that. When it comes to my success, you don't have a say. I frequent Facebook quite a lot, and sometimes dip my head in the Twitter stream and I see lots of stuff that tells me, "Successful people do this!", "How to succeed at this!", "This many steps to succeeding at whatever it is!", and do you know what? It's mostly just shiny people with good teeth telling you that to meet their definition of success you need to be more like them. 


Now let's be clear, if you are getting paid by someone to do a particular something then they get to decide. If you have a contract and the terms are laid out plain and simple (or as plain an simple as those things get) then that's what decides. If you have defined success as some number of sales or some number in your bank account, then other people may be involved (by buying your book and/or giving you money), but it's still your definition of success.

This year for NaNoWriMo I have defined success differently than in the past. Why? Because I can, that's why. I am going to try to write a complete novel from a story perspective in at least 50,000 words. That means by the end of the month I will have something that can be edited. No loose ends. No missing chapters. "THE END" boldly written at the bottom. Oh, and I will do one blog post on each of the Sundays in the month of November as well (five in total).

I will get a certificate for the novel and I will proudly display it. It will represent my success this year and no one will be able to take that away.

So go out and define your success and then do whatever you have to do (legally, please) to achieve it. If you're a writer then use NaNoWriMo however you want to help you down the road to success. Need to edit a few hundred pages? Good! Set daily goals and a monthly total and get to it. Need to finish off that novel you've been working on for the past 23 months? Good! Use NaNoWriMo to do it. Want to crank out 30 blog posts in 30 days? Good! You see where this is going?

You're in the driver's seat.

You get to decide.

If you will allow me a Yoda moment... In control of your destiny, you are.

Use The Force, Luke. Use The Force.

~ Andrew

October 26, 2014

It's In You To Give

I had a post all queued up about "success" for this week but something happened last Monday and Tuesday that has led me to move that post to next week - the first Sunday of NaNoWriMo. It's a better post for the start of the 30 day novel writing campaign anyway. This week I want to talk about what happened last week and the profound impact it's had on me, and how I feel about charity and giving.

A few months ago a Facebook friend of ours had to have surgery. Brain surgery. Real dangerous shit. He's the real estate agent who drove us around for two days back in 2009 and showed us almost 30 homes and ultimately helped us buy the house we have lived in for the past 5 years. He even did the final walk through so my wife and I wouldn't have to fly in from Ottawa to do it. We've stayed in touch on Facebook since then and followed the changes in his life, as he and his wife had their first child and then proudly announced earlier this year that another one was on the way.

During his surgery he almost died. He started to bleed and wouldn't stop. There was something like a 1% chance of this happening and it did. It took blood donations from 60 people to save his life. They pumped 12 litres of blood into him to keep him alive. 12 litres. His body only holds 4. He came out of surgery without a single drop of the blood he went in with - 3 times over.

Healing and grateful to be alive he decided to give a little back and hold a blood drive down at the local Canadian Blood Services location in Waterloo and he asked all his friends on Facebook if they would consider donating.

I had low blood iron for the longest time and then was on some pretty fun medications after that and had never donated before. Being med free and with a healthy hemoglobin level right now the only thing stopping me was a healthy fear of needles and queasiness at the sight of blood, which seemed like really lame-ass excuses. So I booked my first ever appointment to donate blood for Tuesday of last week.

Then, in what can only be described as a karmic twist of the Universe, the Monday before my blood donation appointment my wife and I found out that our daughter does not weigh enough to bank her own blood before her surgery. You see, she has severe scoliosis and needs to have spinal surgery in the new year to have metal rods cemented and screwed into her spine to keep it straight. It's a 10 hour surgery and if not everything goes as planned she'll need blood. Better it's her own than someone else's too. Only now that was not possible.

My wife cannot donate because of some funky rule that prohibits donations from people who lived in France for more than 3 months during certain years. Seeing as she lived there for a year during one of those years she's ineligible (something about mad cow disease and not being able to test for it until after you're dead). I will be tested for compatibility (blood type, antibodies, etc...) and if I'm a match I will provide a directed donation to have on hand for my daughter's surgery. I'll only be able to donate a couple litres though. A worst case scenario would see her needing more than what I can offer.

That means there'll be blood on hand from the blood bank. I really hope none of it will be needed, but it's awfully reassuring that it's there if it is in fact needed.

So on Tuesday I went in and donated blood for the first time. It was almost completely painless, everyone was very supportive, and I got to have juice and cookies afterwards. My friend was even there talking with all the people donating and thanking them. If I'm being completely honest, I felt really good about it. The best way I can describe it was that I felt like I was making an immediate and profound impact on somebody's life. I went home afterwards proudly sporting my "First Time Donor" pin and feeling great (though getting out of bed the next morning was a challenge. I was really tired!)

I've been telling people this story ever since and am encouraging everyone to go find out if they are able to give blood, and if they are to please donate. It makes a difference. It saved my friend's life and could very well save my daughter's.

~ Andrew

P.S. I'm cross posting this on our family scoliosis journey blog. Read up on what we're going through, and what it's like to go down this path as part of the Canadian medical system.

October 19, 2014

Pop, Bang, Pow!

Canadian Man Involved in Detroit Shooting

I fired my first gun today. Discharged my first weapon? However you're supposed to say it I can tell you that it was awesome, and not at all what I expected.

I briefly considered making the subheading the title of the post but then thought I'd catch heat for posting click-bait stuff so I went with something a little more onomatopoeic. Given this is a post on the topic of guns I think it's a safe play, but on with the story.

First off, let's get this out of the way. This is not a post on what I, or anyone else, thinks about handguns and the laws and/or rights involved. This is a post about my first experience firing one, and why I decided to go to the range and do it.

It all started with this scene I wrote for what will end up being either Book #2 or Part II of Book #1. It was my first murder. Ex military vet takes his sidearm and blows a hole through someone's head at point blank range. After writing the scene I never really gave it much thought. That was, until I read a recent blog post by Chuck Wending of the topic of writing scenes involving firearms, and how it's important to get the details right.

Step 1 according to Chuck: "If you want to write about guns, go fire one"

Whoops. I had already failed. In my defence I am Canadian and this isn't exactly a haven for handgun owners. Lots of hunting rifles kicking around (though I've never even fired a .22), but pistols? Not so much.

Well, as luck would have it I was in a wedding yesterday in Plymouth, Michigan. It was just a 3.5 hour drive (plus border wait time) and as I was driving to the church I saw various signs for gun shows and gun ranges and what-have-you. It dawned on me that I could probably get someone from the wedding to take me to a range!

Sure enough, I met some fantastically wonderful people at the wedding (none of them Chuck Norris, though this ex-Viet Nam vet at my table looked a lot like Robert Duval) and a good number of them gave me a lot of information on guns and gun ownership in the state of Michigan. One of them was even kind enough to offer to take me to the range after breakfast the next day (Robert Duval's lookalike's son).

After signing a few sheets of paper and handing over my passport it was decided that due to the nature of the scene I was writing, the character doing the shooting would be using a military issue 1911 pistol. Loreya, a former marine who really knows her firearms gave me a brief history lesson on the weapon, a pair of goggles and ear protection, and sent me on my way with my range escort and his wife (who recorded parts of the session for me). I really wish I had asked who made the specific model I was given (because every gun manufacturer makes a 1911) but it was a .45 calibre and looked a heck of a lot like this (my range buddy thinks it was a Colt too):

The first thing I learned: it was heavy. Much heavier than I expected. I am told that there are many pistol out there that are lighter but my guy would be using this so this is what I fired. It was heavy. The wrist and fingers on my non-dominant hand are also very weak and having broken a slight sweat I found it difficult to pull the slide back when I needed to. This is not a weapon for not-so-strong or untrained or inexperienced person to be packin'.

The second thing I learned: guns are loud. Having never been to a gun range before the only reference I had was a few YouTube videos and television or movies. Even with the earmuffs on you got a real appreciation for how loud these things are. Apparently the specific bullet manufacturing, in addition to its calibre, and the type of weapon being fired all factor in to the sound you hear. I was expecting "pop" but my gun went "bang" or possibly even "pow". Either way, it was loud. Before I started shooting I heard my first live gunshot from two lanes over. I'm not sure what he was firing but from the sound of it I can only assume it was a small hand held cannon. Forget "pop", "bang", or "pow". This damn thing went "BOOM!"

Here's my first ever shot. There's lots of other weapons being fired but you can probably pick out the sound of my shot. You tell me what sound it makes:

Before you ask, yes, I hit the target. It wasn't quite centered from left to right and was a bit high. I started at 25 feet, which the range master informed me was a bit far away for what I was trying to accomplish. At that distance I didn't get into the center and everything was going left (just like my golf shots).

The third thing I learned was if one is right handed, one should close their left eye and not their right. This small change improved things greatly, but I was still shooting a bit to the left and a little low, at one point nailing my target pretty close to his nuts. 

The fourth thing I learned is that the casings fly out of the gun really fast and then bounce off the walls or ceiling or whatever else they hit, like my face. I was lucky enough that on my first shot the casing bounced off the wall and hit the person shooting my video. She picked it up and gave it to me after.

Range master brought the target in to 12 feet, explaining that that was more of the distance I would be working with. We made sure the chamber was empty and the clip was out and then we did a little test. He brought the target to me from 12 feet. The instant I saw it move I was to reach down, pick up the gun,get two hands on it, and pretend to squeeze off a round. 

The fifth thing I learned was if I'm ever being rushed by an assailant from 12 feet or less and I have access to a loaded, unholstered weapon I may as well have access to cooked spaghetti for all the good it will do me. 

At 12 feet I was much better, emptying two clips into the center rectangle and even putting one right on the "X", with only one missing a bit low. Then things got interesting. Range master (I really wish I had gotten his name! Bad researcher I am) suggested I aim for the little guy up in the top left corner. he put a little sticker in the middle of him so I'd know if I hit the sweet spot. 

I squeezed off something like 9 shots at the little guy and 6 of them connected, with 1 even grazing the sticker. Two of the three I missed, missed way high but stayed on the paper. Neither range master nor myself had much explanation for it. I just forgot to aim, twice, in almost the exact same way. It was strange. 

This is where I learned my last lesson of the day: the world is a much safer place if I am not in possession of a firearm. 

~ Andrew

Special thanks go out to:

  • Chuck Wendig - for his timely blog post
  • Alexander and Stephanie - for having me at their wedding and seating me at a great table
  • Robert and his wife Victoria - for keeping me company, taking me to the range, teaching me stuff, and recording/photographing
  • Loreya - for her service in the marines, the history lesson, and for being just so darned cheerful and helpful getting me set up for my first shoot
  • Range Master whose name I did not get (and for that I feel genuine shame) - for his THIRTY YEARS of service on the Detroit Police Force, and for all his tips and tutelage on the range
  • Action Impact Firearms & Training Center - for running a top notch establishment with excellent staff and for letting this wide eyed Canadian get his bad ass groove on for half an hour

October 12, 2014

Whisky Is My Muse

With only 19 days left until November 1st it is time to make an important decision: to NaNo or not to NaNo? I have attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, failing in my first attempt but succeeding in the last two. This year, however, I'm torn. You see, I have a fully written novel and it requires a good amount of editing. I'm about one third through my first pass of identifying plot gaps (in come cases chasms) and other major blunders. I should be able to get through the remaining two thirds in a few weeks, and then take a week or so to go back and make some of the additions that I have identified.

That would put me in a pretty good spot to start shopping this baby around sometime early in the new year. On the other hand, I have a half written novel I've been sitting on since last NaNo that I really should finish off. It would be nice to have two completed novels under my belt. On the other, other hand, I have this entirely different idea that should squeeze into roughly 60,000 words and make for a nice short little novel that I think would make a great introductory piece for my future readers.

Decisions, decisions.

By Serge Bertasius Photography at 

I really want to move along my finished novel, but the unfinished piece has been sitting for far too long as well. Plus, I really don't want to anger my muse by ignoring a right proper good idea for too long. Argh!

How to tell if you are a writer:
  1. Do you write?
  2. Do you have more projects started than you have completed?
  3. Do you think procrastination should be an Olympic event?
If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above then congratulations! You are a writer. 

Here's the thing: I enjoy writing, but I'm a bit lazy turd, but I must also exercise my creativity or I start to get twitchy and depressed. This is why I blog, take a photo a day (as well as many others), write novels, short stories, am about to start a podcast, and write lyrics. Of all these things it's the writing that I find most rewarding. As mentioned last week, I'm giving it more attention in the next few weeks and through November in hopes I can keep the groove going into the new year, but with what?

Methinks the editing and unfinished novel can wait, if only so I can get this idea that's been rattling around out of my head and keep my muse from forgetting about me.

What do you think?

Since we're on the topic, here's the latest song creation by Jim Tigwell and I, inspired by all our friends over at Writers Without Borders. We don't have it recorded yet, but we're working on it.

~ Andrew

By Naypong at

Whiskey is My Muse

Lyrics by Andrew F. Butters
Music by Jim Tigwell

Capo 2 (seriously)

Am             C         G     G
Nothing but potential On the horizon

Am           C          G    G
Close my eyes and feel her warmth

F                                     Am
Standing next to me, Standing next to me

Am        C       G   G
Careful 'cause she is Watching

Am        C       G   G
Open my eyes and look inside

F                               Am
Trying to be free, Trying to be free

Thinking of the options running through my mind
Need something to get started
To get me on my way, To get me on my way
Praying for the answerto my problems
Fighting urges to be weak
And risk staying the same, And risk staying the same

Am      C       E7
Staring at the page

Am          C    G       E7
Listen (to) what she has to say

Am                 C             G
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey

In my veins....

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

Fleeting glimpses of the future
Flash before my eyes
I know there is an answer
All I need is to entice
Too much confusion, too much chaos
Hiding deep inside
There she is providing guidance
But not without a price
Not without a price

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins...
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away

Everything I do

Everything I say

Every word's for you

In every single way

Everything that's yours

And everything that's mine

Even though I'm torn

D                    Am
I think that I'll be fine

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins...
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
All away
All away
All away
All away

October 05, 2014

Why You Should Avoid Pissing Off Writers

So I am planning to do NaNoWriMo again this year and instead of just trying to get 50,000 words down in 30 days I hope to get a completed story out of it as well. I will have to plot this out (blech!) and see where the target word count lands (initial projections have it at 60k or 2,000 words per day). I seriously have to get limbered up. Seeing as I haven't blogged since the summer I plan on getting back to my once a week post schedule. Also, I'm going to polish two chapters of my 2012 NaNo book (which is in editing mode still) and get them off to an editor in the next couple weeks, as well as get through the rest of that book looking for plot holes (chasms in some cases) and major crapola.

For this year's NaNo story I'm going a different direction and it's going to be quite a challenge. My biggest concern is how I am going to generate enough conflict to make it interesting. The good news is, my MC is a total dick so putting him through the wringer and seeing if he comes out the other end better off for it should be quite doable.

My MC doesn't exist. He is no one person. He's the embodiment of several people that I've interacted with over the past twenty years who have left a sour impression for one reason or another, and the MC is going to get his comeuppance for each and every one of those transgressions to which I've born witness.

This is why you should avoid pissing off writers.

We will come up with some of the wildest and most insane punishments you can imagine. Oh sure, we'll put that fancy disclaimer at the beginning of the book: "This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person alive or dead is purely coincidental" but once you start reading the book you'll recognize the crap you pulled and know instantly that when the character was getting his face eaten from the inside out by a colony of fire ants that the author was thinking of you.

So, if you're a gigantic asshole, writers everywhere thank you. Conflict is what makes a novel go 'round and without your "contributions" to society the well we dip into for this stuff would be a lot shallower.

You might be saying, "This may be all well and good for fiction, but what about the real world? You can't just go all Spy vs. Spy on every single person that grates your cheese", and you'd be right. The concept of us versus them is not a new one. Since the dawn of time conflict has been a part of the human race. Let's define things as follows: "us" and "we" can be just one person, a group, collection of like-minded folks, organization, community, tribe, race, or nation. If you fit this definition I want you to listen and listen carefully:

There will always those with whom we don't get along. If they offend our sensibilities, wrong us in some way, marginalize us, oppress us, or harm us, I humbly request that we don't ever sink to their level. Even if we have all the education, skills, money, power, and support in the world behind us, especially if we have all those things, don't do it. Don't sink. If we can't find another way, a better way than them, then it's up to us to seek out help in finding one. If we won't find another way, a better way; if we outright refuse to do this one thing that makes us different than them, then we have become them and we should be ashamed. Find better ways.

~ Andrew

July 27, 2014

5 Tips For a Killer Ignite Talk

5 minutes.

20 slides.

That’s one slide every 15 seconds, and oh  yes, they auto-advance whether you like it or not.

Ignite Waterloo: Enlighten us. Just make it quick.

I volunteer for a speaker series called Ignite. I've given a talk and been a speaker coordinator ever since. The format of the talks is what you see above the logo. It's remarkably difficult and through the speakers' workshops we hold you see all kinds of stuff. We do our best to educate the prospective speakers so they know what they're getting into, but it doesn't always work. We have a workshop coming up and I thought this would be a good time to impart a little wisdom. Hopefully this list will prepare applicants a little bit and improve their chances of being selected. Last event we turned away almost as many people as we accepted so why not take advantage of some free advice?

I played around with a few concepts for this post but given the Ignite format I settled on a list approach. More specifically a list of five. One tip for each minute a speaker is up on stage.  In an effort to avoid the dreaded tl;dr I’ll try to keep things short and sweet.

5 Tips For a Killer Ignite Talk:

  1.  Simplify
    We do this exercise in the workshops called “Log Lines”. It’s designed to help distill your message down into its most basic form and it works wonders. Too many words, too many concepts, too much of anything actually and you risk losing your audience before you even get warmed up. If you can’t summarize what you want to say in one or two sentences then try again, and keep trying until you can strip it down to the bare essentials. Simplify.

  2. Be Passionate
    I’m not saying you have to go all Tony Robbins or anything like that, but a genuine enthusiasm for your topic goes a long way. If you don’t look interested in your topic there is a very slim chance anyone else will be. Speak from the heart.

  3. Tell a Story
    The hardest part of preparing any Ignite talk is teasing out the narrative. This is something that my speaker coordinator colleagues and spend the most time on during the workshops. There are lots of great ideas that get discussed, but the ones that end up with a person on stage are the ones that can tell a story. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end and your Ignite talk is no different. Think of your talk as a three-act play: hook them early, have some ups and downs along the way, then drive the point home with something memorable. The good thing about this concept is that even if can always take something interesting and make it entertaining. Beginning. Middle. End.

  4. People Remember Funny
    Understandably, not everyone can be a comedian and not every talk can be all laughs, but even a serious talk with a well-placed moment of levity will stick in people’s minds. John Cleese, a veritable king of comedians, says to be aware that there’s a difference between serious and solemn and that some of the funniest moments he’s experienced have come during a well delivered eulogy. Quite simply, people love to laugh, and if you can share a nugget of information with them while doing it then you’ve done your job. Laugh it up, fuzz ball.

  5. AVOID: selling, preaching, or pandering
    While people love to laugh, they hate to be targeted, made to feel guilty, or be underestimated. Ignite is about sharing a little bit of Waterloo Region culture that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. It’s not a sales conference or a venture capital rodeo. You’ve got an attentive audience for 5 minutes or less and you’re just one of 16 to 20 they will see that night. They should want to seek you out and have a conversation with you about your topic after the event, not wonder what your angle is or how much money you need to crowd source The Next Big Thing. Less is more.
So there you have it. Five easy tips to improve your chances of being selected as an Ignite speaker. Of course, you will never get selected if you don’t apply. Attending a workshop is another sure fire way to get a leg up. Just about every speaker we've had in recent events has attended one. 

Our first workshop leading up to our next event will take place on August 6th at 6:30pm (location to be determined – check out the Ignite Website or sign up for the mailing list). See you there!

~ Andrew

June 22, 2014

Avast Ye Scurvy Dog!

So you want to be a pirate, eh? Interesting. Personally, I'd rather be part of the Justice League of America.
The origins of this discussion come from a widely distributed quote from the very famous Steve Jobs:

"Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?"

People like to march out that quote at every opportunity; mass mailing it to every friend, follower, and potential investor within reach. As it turns out, I am not a pirate. Not even close. The first indication came after I read that quote for the first time and thought to myself, Do pirates get health benefits? What about retirement contribution matching, paid vacation, and training subsidies?

Seriously, if I were a pirate there would be none of that (not initially at least), and I like all of that. I really, really do. Pirating looks like a lot of fun but I'm not so sure the behind-the-scenes view is nearly as glamorous. 

To paraphrase Steve Furtik, "Don't compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel", or to quote another good one from W.H. Auden, “There's always another story. There's more than meets the eye.”

For every success there is a string of failures, sleepless nights, lost weekends, damaged relationships, and self sacrifices that are significantly less publicized. Are the rewards greater? Sure, but so are the risks, and some people (such as myself) just aren't cut out for it. 

I'm clearly taking the Jobs quote in the context of entrepreneurship, in the way it references joining the navy. I'm viewing this as analogous to working for a large, stuck up, follow-the-herd type company with lots of rules, regulations, and processes guiding their rules and regulations.

I prefer to let my real life be more like the navy and my imaginary life, the one filled with words, be more like a pirate. Certainly there is a literary parallel in here somewhere as well as you can tap any academic on the shoulder and ask for, and receive, a long list of books that follow the rules. 

Does this fact make these books boring or undesirable? To some, for sure, but not for everyone. What about all the books that are out there that don't follow the rules; the ones that break them at the turn of every page? Some may find them more interesting. Some may not be able to find the order among the chaos. 

Just as we can't have an economy with nothing but pirates we can't have libraries filled with books that break all the rules. At the same time, if every novel followed the same set of writing rules, and every character within them exhibited the same set of behaviours we'd have a lot less interesting libraries, don't you think? 

What's the first thing any successful writer will tell you about writing? Ignore all the rules. The really good writers will tell you to ignore them intelligently. What's important to realize is that whether you break them or not it's okay either way.

The world needs rules just as much as it needs rule breakers (intelligent or otherwise). It's what keeps us moving forward and yet somewhat organized at the same time. 

"In the world there must surely be of all sorts" - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Sheldon translation, 1620)

~ Andrew

June 15, 2014

Spam, Spam, Spam, Eggs, Bacon, and Spam

I don't get a lot of traffic on this blog, but I get enough that I'm not embarrassed by the numbers on a month-to-month basis. Regardless of my readership numbers I've always struggled with the best mechanism for managing comments. I have tried a few things ranging from "wide open free for all" to "must sign in with an account" before finally settling on Blogger's built-in "word verification". It held up fairly well until one fateful day in May when I published a post about my encounter with Chuck Wendig.

Since the Wendig post my blog comments have been inundated with spam from all directions. Maybe inundated is too strong a word, but it's definitely a noticeable increase. The good news is the comments don't make it through to the website, so at least Blogger's algorithm recognizes that they don't belong, but the thing is I don't get a lot of comments (see previous mention of traffic) so I have email notifications set up to send them to me when they come in, which unfortunately includes the spam comments as well.

Don't get the idea that I think this is really that big of a deal, it's not, but I do find it interesting for a couple of reasons and it poses a couple of questions, the first of which is "What was it about the Chuck Wendig post that brought on the spam bots?" I've posted many things that were more widely read and/or controversial and it hasn't received this much attention. Maybe it was just a timing issue and would have happened regardless of what I posted? Who knows.

All I can say is that it's all a little disappointing. Not that my spam to actual comments ratio is terrible but rather that the spam itself is terrible. Quite frankly, if I'm going to get spam I'd at least prefer if it was interesting. Here's a sampling:
  • For the reason that the admin of this web site is working, no hesitation very shortly it will be famous, due to its feature contents.

  • Hello, Neat post. There is a problem together with your website in internet explorer, may test this? IE nonetheless is the marketplace chief and a large element of folks will miss your great writing because of this problem

  • Your mode of describing the whole thing in this piece of writing is genuinely good, all be capable of without difficulty be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

  • Hello Dear, are you actually visiting this web page on a regular basis, if so then you will definitely take fastidious experience.

  • Fine way of explaining, and nice post to obtain facts about my presentation subject matter, which i am going to deliver in institution of higher education.
Of course, each one comes with its own "click this" or "check out my website" link. 

On top of it all there isn't even a single mention of how I can increase the size of my penis. Seriously, it's like they're not even trying anymore.

Check out my website!

~ Andrew

June 13, 2014

My Daughter Stanley

If you're thinking, "Hey, it seems like Andrew hasn't posted in a while", you wouldn't be wrong. I haven't. There are reasons for this (some of them good) and I'll be addressing that in my regular post on Sunday (is it still a regular post if I haven't done one in over a month?)

Tonight though, something special could happen. So, please allow me a few minutes of your time to get all nostalgic and sappy.

Since 2003 a day like today has only come around once. If you count 2002 this day has only happened three times in the last 12 years. That may seem common, a leap year happens that often after all, but in my world it's actually quite special.

You see, on this day in 2002 my wife was 37 weeks pregnant and we were lying in bed watching the Stanley Cup finals. Well, I was watching. I'm pretty sure Jodi was reading a book. At any rate, I don't have an adult memory of me missing the Stanley Cup presentation at the end of the final game. I watch the winning team's captain accept The Cup from that weasel shit-for-brains Gary Bettman and then raise it over his head and then plant a big ole kiss on the greatest trophy in all of sports.

On this particular night the Detroit Red Wings won The Cup and captain Steve Yzerman got to drink from Lord Stanley's mug once again. As soon as he lifted the silver chalice above his head I turned to my wife, patted her on the belly (pausing briefly to see if my soon-to-be daughter would finally give me a kick - she didn't) and said, "Okay, you can give birth now."

It would have been funny had she just gone into labour right then, but alas she did not and we went to sleep. She did wake me up at 05:00 though with a gentle, "Andrew, we're going to have a baby." To which my reply was, "I know." (Hey, it was 5am, cut me some slack). She clarified that her water just broke and, while she was not in labour,  that she would be giving birth today one way or another.

Later that day our first child was born. Happy and healthy, with only a couple bruises and a slightly cone shaped head and since June 14, 2002 I have had my very own Stanley Cup. Only once since then has there been a Cup deciding game on June 13th. Back in 2011 it could have happened but they polished it for nothing on that particular evening. Last year there was a game seven scheduled for June 13th - which would have guaranteed the celebrations on the right day but the darn thing was handed out after game six.

Tonight, however, the heavily favoured LA Kings face a disorganized New York Rangers and hold a three games to one lead in the series. The Stanley Cup will be in the building and even though I don't have television I'll be huddled around my wife's cell phone watching on her TV app. If I feel up to it I'll just pay the three bucks and Air Play it to my TV from my iPhone through the CBC Hockey app. Either way, I'll be watching.

Regardless of the outcome, one thing is certain: I'll be waking up tomorrow and giving my little Stanley Cup a great big birthday kiss.

The First Stanley Cup - 1893
My First Stanley Cup - 2002
It took until after midnight (which is way past my bedtime by the way) and one and a half overtimes but the Kings pulled it off and gave me a cool daddy memory in the process. I'm the only one in the world for which this odd little piece of trivia matters and I'm glad I got to relive experience. So thanks to all those players who were able to make that happen for me.

~ Andrew

I did not get up at 05:00 to commemorate the utterance "We're going to have a baby."

I did spring the $3 so I could stream the game from my phone to my Apple TV. The picture was HD quality but the connection was a bit flaky. Also, my phone kept putting itself to sleep every five minutes and the app wouldn't play when it did that so I had to tap my screen every couple minutes to keep things going.

May 11, 2014

One Night Only: Chuck Wendig's Beard

As I have mentioned in a few previous posts, particularly those that revolve around NaNoWriMo, I am a pantser. Even the idea of planning out something before I write it gives me the heebie-jeebies. The problem with this is I am slightly (i.e. very) compulsive about certain things and in order for me to make decent progress I have to plan.

The same goes for any self improvement activity, whether it's a new hobby or honing the skills of a particular craft like photography or writing. I got a new camera, a shiny new Nikon D90 a few years ago and read a couple things online and started snapping pictures. I had taken a photography course at the local community college a decade ago and figured I would just wing it. The results were better than average, but they weren't great, so I took a couple more classes specifically geared toward the camera I owned and then started taking tonnes of pictures. The result? I wouldn't classify them as "great", but they are certainly better than anything I've ever done and I'm quite pleased.

When it comes to writing I've done a lot of reading, but not as much reading about how to write as I have much as I have for research and pleasure. This is not a bad thing, but just as reading about rocket science isn't going to actually make me a rocket scientist, reading books isn't going to make me an author. I've also done some writing, though not nearly as much as I should. I haven't even amassed half a million words yet, in spite of finishing a first draft of a novel, having written 50,000 words towards a second novel, 20,000 words toward a third, and 52,000 words on my blog in the last 16 months.

So, when my friend and Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior publisher Christina Esdon sent me a message on Facebook a few months ago asking if I wanted to go to an all day writer's workshop given by none other than Chuck Wendig I didn't even have to check the calendar twice. I bought a ticket within minutes and yesterday morning she met me at my house and we carpooled into Toronto to go learn how to "art harder", as chuck is wont to say from time to time (usually with a well place expletive at the end).

I own (but have not yet read) all of Chuck's books on the writing craft and get every one of his blog posts over at Terrible Minds but didn't have any idea what to expect. If you want the executive summary now here's all you need to know: it was worth every penny ($90) and I'd do it again in the beat of a heart.

The room we set up very formally, with a podium at the front and rows of tables that each sat three people. After some background from Chuck on how he came to be a full time professional writer we got right down to business. We covered a wide range of topics and he had us do exercises for each one where we got to share with the class, get feedback from him and the others, and even participate in crowd-sourced story creation. It ended with a Q&A session on writing and storytelling and then a book signing / photo op.

Some of the stuff we covered:

  • Log lines
  • Themes
  • Characters
    • Problems
    • Solutions
    • Limitations
    • Complications
    • Strengths
    • Boons
    • Character Log lines
I'm not normally much of a note taker and even mentioned to Christina that I wasn't sure I would take any notes, but I did have this wonderful pen my brother bought me for Christmas and a notepad just in case. By the end of the all day session I had taken six pages of notes (including stuff written for the exercises). In addition to that, I came up with one new idea for a series and several improvements for the novel that I'm editing.

On top of all that, I got to eat lunch with Chuck and spend some time having normal conversations. Well as normal as they could be given the fact that he's this hugely successful writer on his first trip to Canada and I'm a newbie writer Chuck Wendig fanboy who grew up 15 minutes from where we were sitting noshing on some tasty Pickle Barrel sandwiches.

I scribbled down a little humorous line in my notebook while Chuck was talking with Christina and at a break in the conversation asked him if he'd do me the pleasure of signing it. He went one better and added a line of his own before penning his name to the bottom. Day = made. In addition to being a great writer and knowing his shit when it comes to the craft I can honestly say that he's also one of the most genuine dudes I've ever met as well as beyond patient when it comes to his fans and fellow writers (especially considering how creepy I was being).

Hopefully this won't cause Chuck any problems at the border

Finally, as if all of the above wasn't enough he's also got that awesome beard, which would come in really handy if I were in need of a good name for a punk band or thoroughbred racehorse.

Chuck Wending's Beard

~ Andrew

May 04, 2014

Fill In The Blanks

First off, an apology to all four of you that were expecting posts the last couple of weeks. I decided  I would take some mental health time away from blogging. Also, I had exactly zero ideas for posts and was becoming quite frustrated so I decided to do other things.

Anyhow, a few things happened while I was away from the blogosphere but today we're going to focus on storytelling. I was in a bit of a funk and having a hard time getting words to flow. Call it writer's block, call it whatever you want. I was stuck and having a hard time getting out. Before you knew it though the day was saved... by none other than Rob Ford.

I know it sounds a little suspect, but it's true! Before you think I'm just another person jumping on the let's make fun of Rob Ford bandwagon (I'm not) I have a question:

What do Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, former President Bill Clinton, and former football player O.J. Simpson have in common?

Answer: in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary they all chose to deny, deny, deny... and then admit.

Well, two of the three eventually copped to some reasonable facsimile of the truth. One of those two could very well be in the White House again in a couple years (albeit as the spouse of the President this time) and one could still be Mayor of Toronto in the fall (though still the butt of late night television jokes). The one who is still denying everything? Well he was sued for every penny he had an is now in jail for an "unrelated" conviction.

So what is it about denying something until you're blue in the face before coming clean at the last second that actually works?

Answer: imagination.

In storytelling you have to lead people down the path but you can't spoon feed them every detail. If you did there wouldn't be much of a story, and if there's one thing we humans love it's a good story. We also have wonderful imaginations, especially when we're given just the right amount of information to work with. If you can leave out certain bits and carefully highlight other ones you end up leaving enough room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own fabulous ideas.

Good stories live inside negative space. 

By constantly denying, what those people are doing is allowing everyone's individual storytelling machines to work overdrive. At the end of it all they can just stand back and put their arms up and say, "Well look at that, everyone's got a theory. My 'theory' is I'm innocent. [smiles and waves] No further comment."

After a while, because people have dreamed up such amazing stories to fill the space in between, when the truth does come out (and it always does eventually) it's really quite an anti-climactic event. We forget all about how incredulous we were back when it all began. The redemption story starts to take hold. Everyone deserves another chance. Blah blah blah. Humans are also suckers for the happy ending. Film has been taking advantage of this for over a century (the finest example I can think of is the film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's "The Natural". Watch Robert Redford in the movie and then read the book).

The problem is we live in the real world and not in the pages of a best selling novel or some Hollywood tale. I want real people, especially leaders and role models, to be able to produce a list of end notes and reference checks as long as their arm like you'd have at the end of a research paper. Just as it is with that list, I'm never going to follow up on everything on it, but I'll feel much but I feel much better knowing it's there. This way we can spend more of our precious creative time coming up with stories that actually matter.

~ Andrew