we found love cover postmodern jukebox

NaNoWriMo, Scrivener, and Postmodern Jukebox

CampNaNoWri update: Right now I’m sitting at 5,366 words. That gives me nearly 25,000 to go. Easy as pie. Right?

A few observations:

-I’ve never really pushed myself to write fiction. I’m finding it quite hard, but that’s mostly because I jumped in with no plot, no characters, nothing really … just a concept. If I can get past the inner critic and just write to enjoy myself, it’s actually quite fun!

-Scrivener is awesome! If you’re looking for a writing tool beyond just straight Word-type software, give it a try. It’s great for big projects, especially how I can just rearrange scenes like notecards. It’s great for brainstorming, and I suspect it could come in very handy for some longer non-fiction projects as well.

-I’d be doing much better if it wasn’t for PostModern Jukebox. They’re so damn good. I watch one video and it turns into a hour-long binge.

-In the spirit of not giving up, I fully intend on conquering my failed juice fast soon. People seem to enjoy my horrible juicing adventures, and they’re should be more hilarity to come.

I’d keep on blabbering, but I got 25,000 words to get done!

2014-Participant-Facebook-Cover

Camp NaNoWriMo Here I Come!

I’ve never done a NaNoWriMo, but out of the blue a coworker brought up April’s challenge.

I was tempted to say, sounds fun but I don’t really have the time. After all, I’m busy enough working my full-time writing and editing job, and the project I want to tackle requires a good bit of research, research that should be done if I want this thing to be even just slightly readable.

Then I realized I was just being a chickenshit, and this year is all about saying, “Fuck it,” and diving into the things I want to do, no reservations. For a decade I’ve thought, that would be fun to do. Research is just a road block, just another reason to put off doing until another day.

Plus, slightly readable is setting my expectations high. The goal is just to get the crap from my brain to the page. Readability comes later. The first draft of anything is shit, right? Or so Hemingway once said.

At the end of this month I’ll have a 30,000 word masterpiece of literature collection of vaguely tied together scenes with no coherent plot or structure. Woot!

This ties in nicely to my year 3 plan, but let’s not get too far ahead of myself.  I’ve got enough to get done this year.

Camp NaNoWriMo is a bit strange in that you’re given “roommates” in your “cabin,” basically just a little group to chat with and motivate each other. This being my first time, I’m not sure if that’s how this normally goes, but I can roll with it. It’s nice to imagine I’m off writing in the woods. Actually, that’s not far from the truth.

2014-Participant-Twitter-Header-2

Day one I came in slightly under my goal of 1000 words a day. This was a little depressing as I’ve had the opening scene written in my head for months. Day two I managed almost 1500 words, by writing on my lunch as well. It was a challenge, but I feel pretty damn chipper.

It’s a good system, these monthly writing challenges. It forces people like me to just write, no looking back, no self doubt because the expectation is it’s going to be shit (at least that’s my expectation). Just get it done.

My stats so far:

Camp NaNoWriMo Stats Day 2

It’s not too late to get started if you want to dive in and join the fun: http://campnanowrimo.org/

 

I’d stay and chat, but I’ve got some writing to do!

1024px-Sunrise_at_Carolina_Beach,_North_Carolina

If You Could Live Anywhere, Where’d You Go?

A proper midlife crisis requires drastic change. That’s what I intend to do this year.

Life has a way of just — happening.  It moves on, carrying you along. After awhile, a rut begins to form. Too long in one place, doing one thing, living one way, and the rut cuts deeper, gets more comfortable, makes it harder to change course.

When I use to play Texas Holdem, we had a saying. I’d eye my opponent, set my cards down and say, “Sometimes you just gotta say fuck it,” before pushing all my chips in the pile.

That’s this year. Fuck it. Permission granted to shake things up.

It’s terrifying. Deep inside we all have these dreams, this vision of how we see ourselves. Not as we are — no, not that — but as the way we want to be, the way we’ve always seen ourselves, the versions that will sneak up as the world melts away and all the troubles and worries of the day fade into darkness. The quiet comes, and if you listen closely the truth emerges, same as it’s always been, and all that’s left as the old day fades is tomorrow and, damnit, it’s gonna be different. This time your going to make that change.

It’s terrifying, because what if you never get there, that spot where you tuck away all your hopes and dreams, that future you dream of? What if that version, that calling you’ve had for so long, remains buried, always a few steps beyond your grasp?

1024px-Sunrise_at_Carolina_Beach,_North_Carolina
Photo by Bigroger27509, creative commons

Or worse, what if you get there? What if you become your dream and all your left with is yourself, nowhere else to turn?

I always imagined living by the ocean. I feel the wind blowing gently off the warm water, carrying with it the taste of salt, and blowing sand getting caught between my flip flops as I nurse a drink, sitting at a table in the corner and quietly pounding  away at the keys, writing an essay or a story or a novel. Or I imagine living downtown, the city moving beneath me as I work, the window on my cramped studio apartment a window into my mad little world during the day, and at night, as the sun sets,  I’d descend into the world below, visiting the corner bar as the live band plays on the stage and the after work crowd shuffles in and loosens their ties, and for a few hours every night, we all enjoy the same things: good music, good drink, good company. I imagine hopping on my bike, no longer tied down by a 9-5 job, a houseful of possessions, waking up each morning and pouring over a map in the morning, asking myself, “Where should I spend the next week, next month, next year of my life?” and then leaving the map behind and just driving, going where the world takes me, guided only by a desire to see new things and new people and live.

It’s rare one gets the opportunity to live anywhere they want. I had a dream this year of living out of the three bags on my motorcycle, traveling to a new state each week, working from the road and living in 48 different states this year.

I didn’t. But it’s getting time to move. Working from home, suddenly the world is open. I can go anywhere I want.

The only question now — where do I go?

expensive walking treadmill

How to Build a Walking Desk for $118

My weight loss adventure has largely been a failure, but it wasn’t always that way. Last year, I went vegan and dropped 40 pounds. I had a job that had me running errands all over town, a gym membership, and motivation to kick some ass size-thirteen-boot style.

Then I landed my dream job when I got the opportunity to write full time, and my focus changed from kicking ass at losing weight to kicking ass at my becoming a full-time writer.

Here’s the problem: what do you do when you’re working 50+ hours a week sitting in front of a computer. And then after work you still have to blog? And read? And play video games with the nephew? (yes, yes, priorities … but these were my priorities)

Well, I put all 40 pounds back on and became a staring-at-a-screen blob.

Screw getting in shape, I just need to MOVE!

I saw plenty of options for cool walking desks: buy a $1000 treadmill, shell out another couple hundred bucks for an elaborate contraption and — viola! — you can now leisurely stroll as you type away at your desk, have meetings and answer email.

$5000 walking and sitting desk
Top of the line $5000 walking/sitting desk

Seems like a good idea.

It was an idea I always wanted to try. But would it work? Would I like it, or would I waste $1500 on some behemoth of a contraption that I’d never use.

Welcome to my version for under $125

homemade walking treadmill

Materials:

  • $75 – used treadmill
  • $26 – 48 inch finished shelving (2)
  • $9 – 36 inch finished shelving
  • $8 – L-brackets (2)

Total price: $118

And it works perfectly.

Originally, I wanted to put the computer higher and have a lower keyboard area. I had a spare desktop computer I was going to “lock” onto the top with some extra brackets.

My original (and highly artistic) plan would have placed the computer above the highest point of the treadmill and the keyboard where the laptop is sitting:

walking desk design

However, you can’t buy 60 inch shelves anywhere, and both Menards and Home Depot refused to cut the 72 inch ones, so I settled on 48 inches high.

This doesn’t work with my desktop, but as I can “lean back” my laptop so I’m looking down at it, it actually works pretty well. Plus, I still have the handles to grab on to while walking if needed.

walking desk with laptop
View while using the walking desk

All in all, not a bad setup. Typing will take some work, and generally I just find strolling at like 1.0 – 1.5 mph works best.

Not sure if I’ll ever get used to writing articles standing up, but the first day I built it, I found myself hopping for 15-20 minutes several times a day while I’m checking email, reading, and other job-related duties. 

So now I have no excuse to sit in a chair for 12 hours a day. Get my ass up and get moving!

Once I move and get settled in, if I continue to work from home I could see investing more in a more elaborate setup. The treadmill I’m using isn’t great. I doubt I could run on it at my weight (the belt sort of “sticks” when I put all my weight on it).

But if you’re curious about trying one in your office, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a cheap treadmill from a friend or on Craigslist to get started.

dream_eyes_open

Midlife Crisis Dreams and Goals

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Photo by Martinak15

In my old sales job we used to write down our goals each week. It was a bit hokey, but it served a purpose. Everyone needs a plan.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I’ve spent a long time without a plan, with only dreams, and since this is my midlife crisis year, it’s time I turned some of those dreams into goals — write them down, put a date on them, see if I can hit them.

Goal 1: Write more

In January I wrote 17,509 words. Nearly 14,000 of them were for my job, 2800 were for this blog, and another 814 were for a post on Medium.

That’s not very good, especially for someone who gets paid to write. Granted, a large portion of my job does not revolve around writing, but I can significantly improve in my personal writing: more blogs and more focus on the writing project I’m launching next year.

Goal: Average 1000/words a day and finish 2014 with over 350,000 words written.

Goal #2: Get out of debt

Realistically, this is more than a one-year goal as I have a lot of student loans, but I plan on getting a good start.

Right now half our family is living under one roof. There’s a few downsides to having seven people in one house. The good thing — I’m saving money. I’m even working a second job occasionally for some extra cash to kick-start this goal.

And I’m thinking of selling my Prius and only having a motorcycle. That will really push it into overdrive.

Goal: By 2015 have an emergency fund and $10,000 of my debt paid off.

Goal 3: Not have my heart explode

I have an excel document that tracks my words I write each day. I track my finances. But when it comes to my health — no real plan.

Sure, I should exercise more. I should eat healthier. Take care of myself. All those vague platitudes that are the embodiment of having a dream and not a goal. I think it’s time to track the most important aspect of my life, my health.

Plus that’s the only real way to hold yourself accountable. Have a goal, track your progress, see where you can improve.

Goal: Eat 2,000 calories a day and exercise at least 4 times a week the rest of the year.

I’ll check back each month to see how I’m doing.

Rejection Letter

5 Things You’re Doing Wrong Freelance Writing

I didn’t want to write this post because, well, my own writing is far from perfect. But I’ve learned a lot by being an editor this year, a lot of things that have helped me see where my writing sucks and what my strengths are

Mostly though, I’ve seen things that make me scratch my head and say, really? You want to be a writer?

See, I told you I was hesitant to write this. I realize my writing that sentence makes me sound like a pompous ass. Behold, Jeff, the high-and-mighty, all-knowing wordsmith — and the feeble miscreants who exist around him.

See, I used to read those writing magazines and blogs, and they’d all say the same thing. Editors are dying for good content and reliable people. Who believes that line of garbage? I didn’t.

That is, until I became an editor.

5 Annoying Habits of New Freelancers

1) You’re boring

Alternatively, you don’t know what the story is or, more likely, you don’t know how to structure a good story. We cover cybercrime where I work. When working with a new author there’s a good chance the exciting part of the story doesn’t start until the third paragraph.

You can tell they’re used to writing for college.

This thing I’m going to tell you about is a big problem. It’s a problem because of X, Y, Z, and studies show it’s only getting worse.

Are you asleep yet, because I’m going to bury the lead and ramble on for at least another 4-5 sentences before I get to the good stuff.

John Smith had $20,000 stolen from his bank account.

How is that third paragraph NOT the opening? That’s what people care about.

Structure gives a story shape. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Steal from the greats. I love the examples from this textbook on news writing basics. It’s truly a fantastic place to start. To quote a small part:

I. Look: This Person Has a Problem 
II. Uh-oh. The Problem Is Everywhere
III. What the Experts Say
IV. What the Future Holds
V. What It All Means for That Person We Met at the Start of the Story
 
That structure, it turns out, is quite popular with journalists —especially feature writers at the Wall Street Journal. To save time and effort, many crafty reporters automatically pour their stories into that tried-and-true shape (just like they pour breaking news into inverted pyramids).

Put some in thought into how you’re going to tell your story and the best way to do so.

Remember the 80/20 rule: 8 out of ten people will read the headline, but only 2 out of ten will click through. Don’t lose that 20 percent by not grabbing them in the first paragraph.

2) You don’t get follow-up work

This is another pet peeve I see on so many blogs: write what you know. Okay, let’s follow that through and realistically see what happens.

You want to write a story for Dog Grooming Quarterly. You love dogs. You have good tips. You have pictures. It’s funny and interesting. Great! The editor loves it, and you’re in with your personal slice-of-life story. Awesome! Pop the champagne!

Except, now you want to do another story for them, but — wait — their readers have already heard all about you. There’s not much more to tell.

It seems that so many writers approach writing this way: me, me, me. It’s a great blogging, get-yourself-writing mentality, but, unless you’re quite lucky, people aren’t going to pay you for it.

Now let’s look at another writer submitting to the same publication, Dog Grooming Quarterly. They submit a query about a story based on an interesting person they met at a dog show who’s created a unique business that’s taking off. They also mention at the end of the query 2-3 other interesting ideas that sprung up from other conversations from people they’ve met and chatted with.

If the first story goes well, they have another already lined up, and the editor knows they can talk to people. Maybe they even ask you to cover something at some point (this is exactly how I got started writing for the local paper in college).

The difference: one person is writing about themselves while the other is writing about other people and therefore has many, many more stories to tell.

3) You’re afraid to talk to people

The first thing I ever wrote about freelance writing was How to develop sources. After six months as a full-time editor, I stand by that belief that more than ever. It’s the easiest and best way to set yourself apart.

Writers seem shocked when I say this. If you want to write fiction, fine, be a hermit. But how can you seriously write about things in the world without talking to people out in that world?

Oh, you’re going to read and learn? That’s great. What are you going to read? Something that some other writer got paid to write? A writer who interviewed people so that you could get the knowledge you’re looking for? Does that make sense?

I may sound like an asshole on this point, but it amazes me how getting some people to conduct an interview is like pulling teeth. That’s your job (for many kinds of paid writing). That’s how you learn. That’s where your ideas come from. That’s the reason editors will want to keep you around.

Suzy has some great contacts in this field. Jim, what does he bring to the table again?

Who do you think they’ll turn to for the next piece they want done?

4. Your commas are out of place

Yes, it seems petty. If you can knock people’s socks off with your words, no one will care if there’s a bit to tidy up on the grammar side.

For most of us though, it’s the difference between looking like a professional or an amateur. Really, if it looks sloppy, it looks like you don’t give a shit.

If you don’t care, I don’t care. I’m not talking perfection. Hell, I’m sure the grammar police could find a few errors in this blog, but be consistent. Don’t write “healthcare” three times and “health care” twice in the same article. Don’t drop commas seemingly at random with no rhyme or reason. Don’t have run-on sentences in one paragraph and fragments in another.

If you can’t invest $15 for a style guide (I like the AP one) and 15 minutes to figure out the best way to do things like government titles and punctuation (or at least choose a consistent method), then it looks like you’re not very serious. And why would I want to work with someone who isn’t serious about their craft?

5) You have no ideas

All those writing tips are right. If you have an interesting idea that hasn’t been covered recently with good research and it fits the style of the publication, chances are they’d love to have it.

Sure, an editor probably has dozens of potential story ideas they could pass along, but if the writer can’t come up with a handful of interesting ideas on his own, it raises flags. Do they really know this market? Will they be able to flesh out an idea? What are they bringing to the table?

Again, that’s why I’m so big on sources. Those are all questions you can ask people you interview. What do you think is under-reported? What’s difficult? What would you like to see covered?

Then when you come back to your editor full of new ideas and new angles, you look like a true professional who is going to be a valuable addition. And, yes, that does stand out.

Want more tips on freelance writing? I’ll collect them all on my Freelance Writing Guide Page for future reference.

Yamaha FJR 1300

Don’t be Boring, He said, the World is Full of Boring Writers

One of the best lessons on writing came from my dad and Hunter S. Thompson.

“Don’t be boring,” my dad said, tossing me his latest copy of Cycle World. “The world is full of boring writers.”

I opened to the article he wanted me to read, “Song of the Sausage Creature,” probably the greatest motorcycle review of all-time.

Hunter S. Thompson is the definition of anything but boring. Think of all the ways you could start a motorcycle review, then read his intro:

There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a bright-red, hunch-back, warp-speed 900cc cafe racer is one of them — but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous.

Everybody has fast motorcycles these days. Some people go 150 miles an hour on two-lane blacktop roads, but not often. There are too many oncoming trucks and too many radar cops and too many stupid animals in the way. You have to be a little crazy to ride these super-torque high-speed crotch rockets anywhere except a racetrack — and even there, they will scare the whimpering shit out of you… There is, after all, not a pig’s eye worth of difference between going head-on into a Peterbilt or sideways into the bleachers. On some days you get what you want, and on others, you get what you need.

He went on to describe the bike that was loaned to him for the article, the Ducati 900.

My neighbors called it beautiful and admired its racing lines. The nasty little bugger looked like it was going 90 miles an hour when it was standing still in my garage.

And …

We all love Torque, and some of us have taken it straight over the high side from time to time — and there is always Pain in that…But there is also Fun, the deadly element, and Fun is what you get when you screw this monster on. BOOM! Instant take-off, no screeching or squawking around like a fool with your teeth clamping down on your tongue and your mind completely empty of everything but fear.

No. this bugger digs right in and shoots you straight down the pipe, for good or ill.

On my first take-off, I hit second gear and went through the speed limit on a two-lane blacktop highway hill of ranch traffic. By the time I went up to third, I was going 75 and the tach was barely above 4000 rpm….

And that’s when it got its second wind. From 4000 to 6000 in third will take you to 95 in two seconds — and after that, Bubba, you still have fourth, fifth an sixth. Ho, ho.

And …

This is a shameful admission for a full-bore Cafe Racer, but let me tell you something, old sport: This motorcycle is simply too goddamn fast to ride at speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you’re ready to go straight down the centerline with your nuts on fire and silent scream in your throat.

He was given full reign to write about his experiences with the bike in any fashion he wanted. The magazine just wanted his byline. He delivered some stories, including some perhaps too good to be true.

After recounting a “bold and reckless move” that made him feel like Evil Knievel and almost brought him “face to face with the Sausage Creature…”

Whoops! What am I saying? Tall stories, ho, ho… We are motorcycle people; we walk tall and we laugh at whatever’s funny. We shit on the chests of the weird….

But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. If you go slow and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.

Because that’s how you become a Sausage Creature. And what’s a Sausage Creature?

I was hunched over the tank like a person diving into a pool that got emptied yesterday. Whacko! Bashed on the concrete bottom, flesh ripped off, a Sausage Creature with no teeth, f*#cked-up for the rest of its life. …

Try 90 mph in fifth at 5500 rpm — and just then, you see a bull moose in the middle of the road. WHACKO. Meet the Sausage Creature. …

It is a little like riding the original Vincent Black Shadow, which would outrun an F-86 jet fighter on the takeoff runway, but at the end, the F-86 would go airborne and the Vincent would not, and there was no point in trying to turn it. WHAMO! The Sausage Creature strikes again.

If bad things happen, you are the Sausage Creature.

Whenever I find my writing getting too bland and boring, I pick up that article and remind myself, “If you’re going to write, at least don’t be boring. There’s plenty of that out there already.”

It’s a goal to aim for, at least.

Take a year. Change your life.

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