It’s A New Year

As I look back over the last year or so, there are a lot of things that stand out to me.

My oldest daughter turned 4 in December; my youngest turned 1 in September. This is unbelievable to me because I don’t know where all the time went and I don’t want them to grow up so fast. Every moment (aside from the tantrums/screaming (okay, even those moments, as painful as they are)) is a precious moment to me. I don’t want to miss anything with my girls and I feel like I’ve already missed a collective 5 years.

I’ve traveled close to or sightly more than 50,000 miles in the last year, which, when compared to how much of a homebody I was before joining Automattic, is a major achievement unto itself. Even with this many miles under my belt, every time I think about and start planning a trip away from home I get butterflies in my stomach. I don’t like leaving the girls behind; I’d like nothing more than to bring them with me, though I know I wouldn’t see them because I’d be working with my team.

I also realize this marks three years or so of being disconnected from my family. Through the therapy I’ve been in and the disconnection, I’ve solved a lot of emotional blocks I’ve had for years and grown a lot as a person. There was a lot of fear and personal stigma that was holding me back before that, now, with a lot of help from a lot of people around me, I’m finally overcoming. It feels great to be coming into my own, so to speak, and finding my footing in the world.

There’s a lot going on at work that has me excited for the future, and I’m getting started on my writing again, which makes me very happy!

Random Tidbit: New music: Mumford and Sons, Flogging Molly

A Writing Tip

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is write more every day. I’ve tried blogging, but that can be cumbersomely public. I’ve tried journaling by hand, but medical issues prevent that day-to-day. But, I did find something that, for the last couple of days, seems to have helped increase my writing productivity.

Months ago, one of my coworkers mentioned 750words.com to me. I didn’t give it a try then, because I still had it in mind that I wanted to keep everything on my blog, if I was going to do something online. Fast forward to now, and I’ve come to realize that I need to do something and I don’t like to have to remember to mark entries as private, nor do I want to take the chance that something will slip through the cracks. Better to have everything separate.

So the idea behind 750words is simple: it is just simple, private, unfiltered journaling on a private site, every day. You can see who else is writing, but not WHAT they are writing. There are monthly challenges, badges, daily points, and other encouragements to keep you posting every day.

I’m only two days in, but I’m already liking the concept and can see myself sticking with it for awhile. You should give it a shot, too.

Tim, On Writing

One of the most common questions out there for writers (and I’m as guilty of anyone of asking it) is, “How do you get published?” It comes in many forms: how to break-in to the business, what is the best genre to write in or the best story to tell, etc.

None of that really matters, though.

Why?

Because you aren’t writing, that’s why.

This is a hard and painful truth, especially for me. I call myself a writer and a storyteller. I consider myself one and have since I was a kid. But the hard and fast truth is that I don’t put ass in chair and write often enough to “break into the business” or “get published.”

I daydream a lot, write myself notes, scribble story ideas here and there, and generally have some fun with the idea of being a “real storyteller” someday. I read a lot of books, enjoy the stories, and find things in them that I would like to be able to replicate, or do better, or just know that I’ll never be able to do.

If I want to get published, I know that I need to put time into the words. Like I’m doing now. Any type of writing, even random posts like this, is good. Getting words from brain, to hands, to keyboard or paper, is good. It is a creative act. The more I do it, the better I will get, and the closer I will get to the dream I’ve had since I first picked up a book: becoming a published storyteller.

So, if you are like me and want to get published, stop reading this, and go write something of your own.

The Art of Overbuilding

Have you ever noticed how we humans have a tendency to overbuild and focus in the wrong areas? Go look at the speedometer in your car. If you have an average car, it’ll probably have a maximum number of 120 or 140 mph. Now think about how fast the typical speed limit is in your average daily commute. I bet you rarely, legally, get above 75mph. Do you feel safe driving much faster than that? I used to think I could drive safely at high speed, but I don’t anymore. And I’ve only once ever gotten a car up to its speedometer’s maximum speed…

This is the Art of Overbuilding. Rather than focusing on better fuel efficiency or more environmentally conscious engines, our focus has been on Making It Go Faster. Fast is good, I suppose; it makes the adrenaline pump, which makes us feel good for a bit. But there is no “need for speed.” We make speed limit laws and spend countless police force hours and tax dollars enforcing those laws. Lives are horribly altered or lost because of this Making It Go Faster principle.

Everything should be held in balance. We’ve gone over the deep end with the speed of our vehicles. I believe that some speed was and is need; it is reasonable to have vehicles going 60 to 80 mph in ideal circumstances. I don’t think it is ever going to be reasonable to allow a human to drive faster than that because, just like with alcohol consumption, human reflexes aren’t capable of managing.

The current focus in the automotive industry is fuel efficiency, which is nice. But again, I hope it doesn’t turn into another Art of Overbuilding exercise.

I can see other examples in software, fiction and non-fiction writing, and education. How do you see the Art of Overbuilding applying in other areas?

On Being In Pain

I don’t usually like talking about this subject, but I think it’s high time I stretch my comfort zone. Keeping it all to myself doesn’t help, so I’m going to try to get it out there.

I’ve been in some form of pain for most of my life. I started having stress headaches around the age of twelve, right around the time that my mother passed away from brain cancer. Nothing was really done about it; I took over the counter pain killers and dealt. Over the course of my teen years, the headaches got progressively worse until, at eighteen, I was diagnosed with migraines. Then the doctors started trying drug treatments that, to this day, don’t work.

Along with the migraines, I’ve also never slept very well. Most doctors I talk to attribute that to my weight. I’ve been 6’4″ tall and over 250 pounds since I was thirteen. I’ve always hovered higher in weight than I should. Looking back now, though, I can list on one hand the number of times I’ve actually, really slept a full night. Most of the time, I’m caught up  in a cycle that doesn’t allow me to drop into the restorative sleep that people need.

Recently, I’ve developed extreme pain in my muscles and joints. I’ve always had issues, here and there, with a joint or muscle, but, since I’m overweight, most doctors just ignore it. Rest it, take pain meds, get better. Seems logical, but it never really worked for me. Now, I can’t sit in a car for more than an hour before my sees catch fire, nor can I whisk something while cooking, or brush my hair without feeling like my joints are all afire and ready to run away from me.

In essence, all of this culminates into one thing: it takes a lot of mental effort for me to get myself doing anything. Exercise, sitting at the computer, watching television, writing: each and every activity I think about doing has a certain amount of pain attached to it. Some things I have to do: go to work and get things done, cook dinner, do laundry, etc. For those things, I don’t have a choice: I have to accept the pain I’ll be in because, otherwise, those things won’t get done and my wife and daughter would be negatively effected. Things like writing, exercising, reading a book: they all get dumped to the side because the pain cost is too high.

However, I’ve discovered that there is another cost: happiness. Writing makes me happy. Telling stories makes me happy. Reading a story someone else has written makes me happy. Playing with my daughter and seeing her delight in new things makes me happy. Going out to dinner and a movie with my wife makes me happy.

I’m learning slowly that being unhappy and in minimal pain costs far more than being happy and in more pain. Because if I’m unhappy, I get depressed — and the depression enhances the pain I feel. The happiness can fend off some pain, or at least make me forget it for a time. Which is good.

One positive note in all of this is that my newest doctor believes that I have fibromyalgia and is taking steps to get me treated for it. I’m glad that we are on track for a treatment, but I wish it had come along sooner.

Writing Tools: Google Docs, Scrivener, Word, Pages

For years now, I’ve been writing with a variety of tools. I’ve typically used a standard word processing application (years ago, I used a word processor itself before I got a computer). These days, there is a proliferation of different tools from different companies that inhabit different operating systems. Here’s my small spiel on what works for me.

Google Docs

I’ve used Google Docs off and on for writing- and work-related business. As a writing tool, it is pretty similar to Microsoft Word or Apple Pages. In my experience, it has been difficult to format documents in such a way that people who don’t use Google Docs can read them; if I send a gDoc to someone else, the formatting occasionally gets skewed. The bonus to using Google Docs is that my work is backed up online and I don’t need to worry about what computer I’m using.

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages

Word and Pages are pretty much the standards. For straight word processing capabilities, they work really well. The downside to them is that you have to manage chapters and related documents in another fashion. Also very few worries about what kind of computer you have available.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a good tool. It has the benefits of a solid word processing core, like Word and Pages, but lacks the sync capability of Google Docs. However, Scrivener manages everything about your current writing project. You can organize your project in a cork-board-style display with notecards representing each chapter or section. Scrivener also includes exporting formats that will automatically format your manuscript for submission. You can also include PDF documents and other media files that are important to your project’s research.

The difficulty with Scrivener is migration. Currently, it only works with Mac OS X, but has plans to support Windows in the near future. Other than a concern about need a Mac and Scrivener together, I find Scrivener to be an excellent tool. I don’t write in a linear fashion, so Scrivener allows me to write my content and then rearrange it later as needed.

Conclusion

I could go two ways: if you have money for a Mac and Scrivener — Scrivener only costs around $50 — I would go in that direction. The flexibility and capabilities that Scrivener gives a writer more flexibility for projects than not.

If you jump from multiple computers — work to home to public library — then Google Docs could be convenient. You don’t have to worry about viruses infesting your flash drive or forgetting your flash drive in one place. You do need to make sure that your password is strong for your Google Account and possibly establishing a system for changing your password regularly if you use public computers often.