Tertiary Effects by James S. Aaron: Updates

Text Wrangling, Science Fiction, other explorations



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#20220501 Headway

For the third week in a row, I sent about 20,000 words of fiction to an email list. This new project of sending something out to a group of readers every week seems to be working pretty well. I'm finally using all the tools I've amassed over the years since I started "self-publishing" and then ended up working with publishers and never self-published anything.

So I have a DepositPhotos.com account with hundreds of credits for stock art. I have Photoshop to create covers. I have Vellum, which makes it very easy layout a book, and now I have templates that I can insert the text into for faster publication.

More importantly, in the third week I started hitting "the Dip" as Seth Godin calls it, or the point when your excitement about a new project turns into work. I pushed off the latest 25k chunk of words until the end of the week, and that made Saturday and Sunday focus days. It's harder to write new stuff when I have two hours of editing to do every morning.

As I've always known, if you're going to write consistently, you have to do it every day, not expect some kind of magical expression of words as you near the finish line. That's not how it works for me, anyway.

The really great outcome is that recently I've written some words that really made me proud in the moment. A project that hadn't felt very alive to me started to kick and the characters started to talk back. That was a really fun place to be.








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#20220421 Writing Updates

On Sunday I sent out a new novella to my reader's email list called "Don't Give Up On Junk." It came in at 17,000 words, give or take. I had been working on what started as a short story since February and then finally knuckled down and finished it. The process of getting the story finished, then laying it out for ebook, making a cover, and sending it out to the list was really gratifying and gave me a sense of accomplishment with my writing that I haven't had in a while.

The "Motivational Reader List" is currently small, and I'm fighting the urge to try and grow it any more. I do need to set up a drip campaign for my email signups, and I plan to add the list as something for new sign-ups.

I've done some backwards planning and know I need to finish 20,000 words a week if I'm going to meet my goals through this summer. That's 3400 words a day, six days a week. Not too difficult to do as long as I stay focused. I've also got 2.5 books in the bank to go out to the list. They require editing, and this will keep me focused on getting that piece done. I'm switching the series from first person to close third person, trying to keep the closeness to the main character's thoughts, while still allowing me to move around and show the story from other character's points of view. That was something I thought was really missing from the first versions of the story and it was sapping my motivation feeling like the story wasn't very interesting.

Focusing at work is getting better, and I'm able to switch between tasks with more intention and not get lost as I try to figure out how to do something with the program I administer. A request comes in, I take care of it, and then I can move back to other things I'm working on, so it's easier to take a break for a writing sprint/etc.

The best way to get writing done is still to get up early in the morning and do the work then. I've managed to get up at 4am most nights this week. Last night was a fail because I stayed up late putting a new CPU in my computer. Once I had the CPU, I couldn't stop thinking about getting it installed, and the process turned out being more involved than I had planned. These sorts of things often get in the way of my writing, and I need to be aware of when they pop up and take precedence in my mind. It's basically the lure of the shiny thing, all the time, every day. (The new CPU is pretty sweet though.)

So I'm feeling good about my progress this week and want to maintain the momentum. I'm working on updating the plot for the third book in the series because it's been difficult to get right. I think going through Book 2 again as I break it into 20k chunks is going to help, but it would be great to get ahead on the writing. We'll see how that works. I've been putting a lot more work into the backgrounds for my antagonists, adding scenes from their POV, and it's been fun to write those bits. I look forward to doing more of it.

The other item on my to-do list is fixing the belt on my walking treadmill. It's wandered to one side and I need to play with the tension... I haven't even gotten into the need to exercise more...








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#20220419 Lost Words / Version Control

I should have known better. Today I was catching a few minutes to write, using a browser-based text editor, when I got a notification that Firefox wanted to run an update. Like a dummy, I clicked yes because I wanted to complete my thought. The update ran in the back ground, and then before I realized it, Firefox closed down and I lost all my work.

It wasn't a lot of words, but I had completed a little vignette memory with my four year-old where she was asking me about death, and when I was going to die, and then when she was going to die, and it was going to be August or July. It was one of those conversations that pulls your heart but is also terrifying and you wish children wouldn't ask about this kind of stuff. She's been curious by death since her grandpa passed.

I first wrote "fascinated" rather than curious, and that wasn't the correct word. She will ask about death and the circumstances around it at the oddest times, indicating the thoughts have been percolating in the back of her brain as she tries to fit the puzzle piece into the various scenarios in her day. We usually answer her questions as best we can, without being too morbid but also being as honest as possible, and she accepts the answer and moves on... until the next time.

There was a streak of social media posts where corporate types were talking about First Principles and Five Times Why or something like that, posting pithy bits about always questioning assumptions. They never seem to say that four year-olds are always pursuing this model of corporate thought.

"Why did he die, daddy?"

Answer.

"Why?"

Less glib answer.

"Why?"

Irritated answer.

"But why?"

This isn't a new joke by any means. Parents have been dealing with it forever. I would rather play the game around eating carrots. Actually we've played that game. What's strange is how quickly she shifts between something benign like vegetables and death.

I'm sure the concepts only carry equal weight in her mind because she doesn't really know what death is, and my job is try and give her a framework for when understanding does dawn on her. Now that she's talking so much, she's definitely entered the realm of remembering what we say to her, and there's no telling when she'll remember something and hold it up as an example of a terrible explanation that scarred her for life.

I suppose it would be good if I was around to have that conversation, rather than being its subject. I certainly hope it doesn't come in August.

Anyway, that wasn't what I wrote. Maybe this retelling is actually better? I'll never know because I don't have the previous words anymore.

I remember when I first started digging through the issues of Writer's Digest that my mom had collected, I read an article by a mystery writer who insisted on retyping the last page of whatever manuscript he had been working on, as a way of getting his mind back into the story. Then when he was done with the story, he would retype the whole thing all over again to get to his clean second draft. This was in the days of typewriters, and when I tried to sit down and write something on the crappy typewriter we had in the house, I soon learned that this idea would never work for me.

Fortunately when I got serious about writing, I had access to a computer and could fix all my typos as I wrote them. This was long before the age of autosave though, and there were times when a disk or file got corrupted, or the computer crashed, or some other act of God came along to steal my words from me. When that happened, there was nothing to do but try to hang onto the beginning and last thought of what I had done, and do it over again. This wasn't editing. It was trying to recapture the butterfly of inspiration.

When you're writing something as long as a novel, the butterfly is constrained to the inner sections of the story. Dialog, blocking, action. I look at somtehing I wrote and a new way to say the thing occurs to me. I have a tendency to think the latest version is the best, and I've come to learn that isn't always the case. When you're editing, it's hard to compare previous versions though. You overwrite what you did and keep going. That's a problem with editing digitally. I don't collect boxes of paper versions of a story, but unless I save each version as I go, which I don't, they're all lost. There will be very few collected papers by me. I think this will be the case for many writers working these days and into the future. Unless Google Docs and MS Word and Apple Pages spring our versions on us as a surprise after we're dead.

+++

These are some of the best days and I'm already sad that she won't always be this way. I'm excited to see who she will be but sometimes I wish I could always have this small perfect innocent version of her.








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#20220416 Chicken Revolt

Yesterday I sat down and wrote 5500 words on the novella. I knew the parts that needed to be finished and just did the work. Fortunately I had the time. It's also been the first I've been able to focus like this in a long time. I was sitting, rather than using my standing desk, typing on a laptop with nothing fancy between me and the word document. I finished Friday with half a chapter to complete, which I did this morning.

Today I finished the novella, ran some editing, designed a cover using stock art, and got everything laid out in Vellum (which isn't hard) so that I can send the story out to my mailing list. I was even able to incorporate the feedback of a generous author friend who gave it a read.

The story is space opera/military sf about an alcoholic hitting rock bottom, so it's not exactly feel-good stuff, though it is uplifting at the end.

Because it's a prequel story, I kind of felt like I was checking the blocks in explaining things that come up later in the series, but I'm pleased with it for now and I'm glad it's done. I've needed to collect more of these shorter things to send out for a long time, and now it's finally happening.

I also put some work into a cabinet for my solar controller stuff: the mppt, power converter, cabling etc, as well as room for a computer to monitor all of it.

We had really strange weather today, and the day kept alternating between sun, hail, wind and black-gray skies. All I could do was try and get something done until it was miserable to be out in the hail, and head back into the office.

On the whole, today has been a pretty good Saturday, and we still have a whole Sunday to round out the weekend. How often does this sort of thing happen?

I also got up at 4am, and I'm going to try and do it again tomorrow. My alarm went off at 4 and I lay in bed thinking about how I felt. Recently, when the alarm went off I didn't have any sort of clarity and just kept hitting snooze until the alarm stopped and I gave into being asleep.

With these deadlines to get a story out to my mailing list, I knew that if I didn't work in the morning, it wasn't going to get done. That seemed to turn the tide for me, giving a slight edge of clarity on waking. I have to make this a habit. It's already mid-April, and it feels like the year is going to be half over before I know it, and I won't have accomplished any of the things that I wanted to.

Every day is a fight to get things done. You can have a plan but never know how the day is going to turn out. My problem is that if I don't try to do some kind of work, then it's too easy to let days/weeks slip by without even a few words a day.

One funny thing that happened as well is that one of the hens tried to fight the Corgi. She spread her wings to make herself big and came after him, and he didn't seem to know what to do about it. The whole scene was pretty funny, since the Corgi is usually tearing around the yard freaking out the chickens. Maybe they've finally had enough.


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#20220415 False Accomplishment

The early morning streak ended this morning. I stayed up too late last night thinking I was going to pound out some words on the story I'm trying to finish and it didn't work. I just can't write at night, currently. I get too tired and I can't focus. The evening wasn't particularly relaxing after work, since after getting the four year-old through bath and to bed, I had to make a grocery run that took nearly an hour and a half.

My laptop continued to bug me, so I wasted time re-installing Windows 10 in place of Windows 11. Everything appears to have gone smoothly and I'm writing on it now. The last straw was when a label appeared in the lower right portion of the screen with the OS version info saying "evaluation copy." I had a paid key for Windows 10 Pro, and I made the update to Windows 11 based on their continuous heckling/invitation, so losing a $100 key was all the motivation I needed to go back to the system that didn't get in my way (after turning off all notifications, cortana, and the weather widget.)

My wife is going through a problem at work where a person she supports can't get their headphones to work on their laptop. The laptop will recognize the headphones, but then the conferencing software keeps choosing the webcam mic and not the external microphone. The user doesn't know how to switch, or how to even recognize the circumstances requiring a switch, and simply sees that they can't accomplish their task.

I think it's easy to lose sight of that when you do enjoy futzing with computer (I'm luck to not have worked in IT, so I haven't come to completely hate them) but it can become a separate source of satisfaction for my brain to troubleshoot/futz with the computer when I should have been focused on the writing. It's a false satisfaction when it finally works. I fixed my hammer, I didn't actually build the table.

Writing these daily updates can create the same form of "false work" for me. I'm a fiction writer, and while it's technically word count to write daily words, these aren't the words I'm looking for.

My plan is to focus on finishing the story today and I should be able to get it done. I knocked out a bunch of detail tasks at work yesterday and my schedule today is clear except for some meetings and any other walk-in tasks that pop up.

I did put some work into an autoresponder sequence for my email sign-up form, which is something I've never managed to set up. The problem is that it depends on having a story to give away, which is what I should have been working on.

Every day is a new opportunity, right?

On the whole, I feel like these week has been productive, and I shouldn't only focus on what I didn't write. I wrote 6000 words, and I'm almost done with this story. I know how it ends, now it's just a matter of getting there.

After that, I'll be sending out edited pieces of the novel, which won't be so hard to create.


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#20220414 Update Limbo

Day 3 of getting up early to write (5am today) continues.

In the latest episode of gadgets vs tools, I'm typing this on my trusty Thinkpad T60 because my Windows 11 Thinkpad x270 has been running updates for the last 20 minutes. This is more than enough time to completely reinstall the operating system. Maybe that's what it's doing? Who knows. All I get is a black screen and an arbitrary percentage "complete" letting me know something is happening.

I already restarted the laptop once despite warnings not to do so, because I've never had an update take this long.

I had a finite amount of time to sit down and write out a thought I had, and I wanted to do it in Word in the current story I'm working on. I made the mistake of checking for updates because I hadn't booted into Windows 11 on that machine in a while (in fact this all goes back to the initial mistake of allowing it to upgrade to Windows 11, a decision based in curiosity that still annoys me).

Generally, I try to run updates as soon as they appear. I don't like the idea that the operating system is unsecure. It would be nice if Microsoft shared some kind of rating so I knew how to prioritize updates. No, I don't read release information, but I also just want the laptop to work and not get in my way.

In my current life, as soon as I sit down at the dining room table to try and write, I become a target for the four year-old. She wants to climb in my lap, show me the game she's playing, or put different hats on my head. These are all precious things and I'm not going to tell her no, but it makes the time my supposed "tool" just took from me even more irritating as I try to hang onto the thought I wanted to write down before it's gone.

Another case of the $10 laptop being more useful than the $1200 one.

The laptop has now been doing something for almost 30 minutes. That's a full writing sprint for me. Sure, I shouldn't have run the update, but also who knows how important it is?

In other news, I moved my email newsletter operation back to Sendy, which is software that runs on your webserver and uses Amazon SES to send email. It has a one-time fee and then uses Amazon pricing to send the emails, amounting to pennies per mailing. I had moved away from Sendy in the past when I found Mailjet, a service that was just easier to use and seemed to have better integrations. It also only cost $10 a month for my level of subscribers.

When I went to set up an autoresponder sequence recently (a series of emails sent automatically to subscribers when they sign up for the newsletter) I discovered the Mailjet requires an upsell to $25 a month for this feature. That made it worth it to upgrade Sendy and go back.

I transferred in my subscriber list, sent an email to a test list, and everything appears to be working flawlessly. Granted, I've already done this before so the difficulty of setting up Amazon SES and updating my webhost wasn't as hard this time. For most users, I think it's going to be worth it to pay Sendy the additional $79 to configure things for you. This is still a lot cheaper than paying Mailchimp, Convertkit or even Mailjet for a year.

PSA, according to this, never fly in a Robinson helicopter.


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Tax Time! 2021 Income and General Feelings

Day Two of the 4am Writing Streak Continues

I finished my submitting all the materials for my taxes yesterday. I had entered everything into Turbotax because I thought I missed my deadline with my accountant. This always seems to be a mistake. While I've used Turbotax or HR Block in the past, and the tax returns were accepted and there don't seem to have been any problems (I haven't been audited; that's probably not a great measure of "problems"), my accountant always shows me how the business aspects should have really been done. Turbotax prompts for deductions, but not by category. Or if it does, I wasn't reading things correctly. What I really should have done was review my return from last year and look at the deductions to make sure I was capturing the same items this year. My business expenses don't change much.

Because I got the info to the accountant late, we may have to file an extention this year. I've never done that before but she assures me it isn't a big deal. I wasn't expecting much of a refund anyway, so it's not like we're depending on the money. Mainly I want the taxes done right and I need to make a plan for next year. I let 2021 just go by without worrying as much about taxes after I ended up getting a job. That wasn't a mistake, per se, but if did mean I didn't feel as prepared this year as I did in 2020, when I was constantly worrying about money.

In reviewing my deductions, I spent a lot of money on book covers that I haven't used yet. They're beautiful covers and I *want* to use them; I just need to write more. That's always it, right? When it comes to buying covers, I get caught up in Fear of Missing Out. I want the cover, even if I don't have a story to go with it yet, and in a way the purchase is aspirational because I hope it will spark some new project. If I was writing more consistently that would be exciting. Instead it gets kind of demoralizing, like I'm letting down the artist because their cool artwork is sitting on my hard drive rather than enticing readers and other writers in online bookstores.

Other things I spent money on were conference fees for conferences I didn't attend last year. That was a bummer. Those fees basically became donations to the organizations running the conferences so they wouldn't get killed by Covid.

I spend money on subscriptions to Audible, Kindle Unlimited, YouTube Premium, Netflix, Disney, Apple and Amazon Prime. We're evaluating Amazon Prime since as a household we're trying to move more of our shopping to local brick and mortar stores like Fred Meyer and Target. Every time I'm ready to cancel prime, a TV show appears that we want to watch, and we keep it for another month. At least I've moved from the annual subscription to monthly so I'm ready to pull the trigger.

Other services I pay for are webhosting through Dreamhost, Mailjet newsletter services, Plottr, Google storage ($1.99/mo), Apple storage ($.99/month), Flickr photo backup and Office 365. I hang onto Flickr because I want photo backup outside the Google and Amazon eco systems. I hang onto Office 365 because Word is still the primary app used by editors, and Onedrive works better for me than Google Drive. Technically Onedrive is cheaper than Google Drive, so I could drop GD but it's been cheap and I like it to be available when I want it. If they price went up, I'd drop Google storage.

We're fortunate to have really cheap utilities, and I built a home office in the back yard that gets written off against the taxes.

Since I only made about 30k from writing last year (I only had one release, everything else was royalties off existing books), the deductions of $4k will help. If I was making more money, I would need to figure out some additional ways to reduce my liability.

Expecting to make more money, I prepaid $1200 in taxes through the year. That may help, we'll see. We also didn't buy health insurance on the marketplace now that I've got a day job again, so I can't write off anything associated with health insurance.

Adding the $1030 we pay a month in childcare helped, though.

Overall, I feel like we've got a pretty good budget and I don't expect to pay much in taxes, if anything. We'll probably get a federal refund because of our daughter.

If we needed to cut back, we could easily cut the subscriptions and I could cut out any discretionary spending on gadgets from eBay (I love vintage gadgets), and my wife spends even less than I do. We have a big yard that needs our attention and we could spend time there rather than doing other things. We do like to eat out, not extravagantly but it's nice when you're beat and the little beast is on a rampage.

We own our cars and have backups, so aside from maintenance and repairs, we don't pay anything that we can't push off or creatively budget if necessary.

Writing all this out, I realize that taxes don't stress me nearly as much as they used to for the Distillery. If we own money to the IRS, it will be because we didn't set our regular allowances properly, not because of some business blunder that could cost tens of thousands. I've already been through the payment plan process with the IRS. It wasn't terrible but I don't want to repeat the experience.

It's definitely less stressful to have writing as backup income, with our other income from jobs being simple to account for. If I did get audited, there isn't much to show other than what's on the return. Writing doesn't require much outlay to generate income, unless you're deep in advertising and I would rather stay on the publishing treadmill than try to juice sales with advertising. I full respect people who can do that (and I benefit from it) but I don't have the stomach for the huge costs associated with online advertising. For the last two years, for the first time in my life, I haven't been running credit card balances and I only have one auto loan that I took out to maintain payment history while I was self-employed. I can pay off that loan whenever I want. I wouldn't want to dig another hole with advertising. I won't say never, but it would need to be a really sure thing (which I don't believe there is).

2021 wasn't a good year, writing-wise. 2022 may end up being another single release year, but I think 2023 is going to be my best yet if everything lines up. While I'm sad to see my daughter growing up and already being self-sufficient, which gives me time to write, I also would love for her to stay small, and stretch this time out some more before it's gone.


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#20220412 Getting up

I managed to get up at 4am this morning to write in the morning. I've been struggling with this. I know that in order to get consistent writing done, I need to get up in the morning and work for two hours before everyone else gets up. I can't count on being able to write during the day, and there's no time at night after I get off work. Trying to write after we get our daughter to bed takes time away from my wife, and I can't concentrate late at night anyway. As much as I used to be able to stay up late and work, it just isn't productive anymore. If I stay up late, I end up surfing the internet or playing a game longer than I should. I get hungry again and want to eat, and it messes up my sleep cycle for the next day. There's no way I'm getting up early to write the next day if I stay up past midnight the night before.

I know these things, and yet I still stay up late watching YouTube on the couch or playing games. On the nights when I've made a real effort to go to bed on time, not drink caffeine in the afternoon or eat anything past six pm (which seems to mess with my ability to sleep), I'm still too tired when the alarm goes off and I don't get up.

We're also still in the phase where our daughter will wake up between midnight and 3am because she wants something, or a hug, and she knocks on our door until I get up to help her. This also messes with my sleep. On the early mornings when this happens, I know I should probably just stay up and deal with being tired. I can write in the morning when I'm tired. But I go back to sleep thinking I'll get up after an hour of more sleep. And I don't.

I know this isn't working and yet I keep doing it.

On one level, I need the sleep. Something about raising a four year old, or maybe being 46, or being 50 pounds overweight, just makes me feel tired all the time. I don't remember feeling this tired. It either snuck up on me, or I've managed to block out previous memories. I have this conception of myself running regularly on 5 hours of sleep and feeling just fine. In any case, I can't continue trying to get work done based on how I hope things will be. I have to deal with the present.

So last night I made an effort to start getting ready for bed at 9:30 instead of 10 like usual, and that meant I was in bed at 10:15. I looked at my phone for a bit -- my wife had already fallen asleep -- and then put the phone down and I don't remember falling asleep. But when the alarm went off I was awake enough that I didn't fight it. And I got up at 4am to write. It was great. I was able to do some Discord sprints with my friends in different time zones, and I got some 2300 words written in the story I'm working on.

It also probably helps that I set a goal for myself to finish a story by the end of the week that I promised to share with my newsletter. I don't want to let those folks down. I plan to make a habit of this by releasing parts of my current work in progress as a serial. Anything to motivate me to get out of bed and write words, because if I can get my butt in the chair, I can write the words.

There was also a point yesterday when I knew I wasn't going to get any words written, but I at least opened the document I've been working on and read over what I'd written, which helped me think about it the rest of the evening so I was ready to start writing in the morning. I knew what I was going to write and the words came. For me, writers block happens when I don't know the story I'm going to write, and it isn't easy to just come up with a (good) story on the fly. That's when I get reviews saying my plots suck and my characters make stupid decisions.

The other thing that was different this morning was that I talked to my wife about how I could get up. I recently bought a vibrating alarm to try and wake me up without bothering her in the morning, and she said the alarm wakes her up anyway, so I might as well do whatever I need to do so I can wake up, without hitting snooze or dragging things out. I think stating my intention and letting other people know what I meant to do helped cement the action in my mind. I wasn't going to let another day go by where I didn't get up and work.

Weeks feel like days right now, so if I don't have something to show for each day, it feels like time has simply disappeared. I hate that.

So I'm going to continue talking about what I plan to do the next day with my family, and my writing accountability partners, and my readers. I hate to let people down, and when I know that will happen if I don't get up, something seems to tick in my brain and I'm awake.

I'll keep you posted on how this works, and for now I'll start the habit streak at:

1 day up and writing at 4am.


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#20220411 Serializing

I’ve taken on a new project to help me get this current series done. I’m going to start sending it out to a group of readers as a serial. It’s been frustrating that I’m not getting this done faster, and I think it comes down to not having pressure to finish, when so many other things in my life seem to edge their way up the priority list.

The first first thing I’ll be pushing myself to do is finish the prequel short story for Vagabond Space. This is the story of how Zack found Sam. I’ve already written about 4000 words of it, and I expect the story to be some 10000 words long. So I’ll be pushing all this week to get that finished and formatted so I can share it on Friday morning. 4 days. 2000 words a day pretty easily, so an hour’s work as long as the words are coming easily.

Step one for success will be staying off Reddit. Have the file open and ready to work in. I’ll need to re-read everything I’ve written so far. I need to do that first thing today. It’s very doable, I just need to stay focused.

After that, I’ll be releasing chunks weekly. I need to keep working ahead on Vagabond Space since it’s about half-edited to a level I’m happy with so far.

I’ll update on how the project works. I like the idea of having an audience receiving the work directly. I haven’t asked for any feedback or edits, just to be a willing recipient.

Will this effect sales? It isn’t a large enough number of people to affect sales in any meaningful way. Even if they forwarded the download links, the real money on any series is made on page reads in Kindle Unlimited, at least with my publisher.

Like any writing project, the key will be to break it into pieces, put those pieces on a timeline and make sure I'm hitting my daily goals. Procrastination isn't going to get the work finished. Weeks seem to be going by like days currently, and I look back and don't know what I accomplished, book-wise. It's time to change that.


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#20220410 Digital Burden

I downloaded Thunderbird last night since I'd seen the email software had reached an update. I've used it before but have been doing most of my email from web-based services like Gmail, Outlook or Protonmail. I've been gradually moving my email from gmail to Outlook, since I've reached the point where I'm tired of Google retiring services that I come to depend on... like Google Newsreader, Chat/Hangouts changes, and ongoing tweaking with Google Voice that always seems to hint at it getting absorbed into something else. Gmail also continues to get more bloated and chokes older machines. Email is simplest and most direct communication method and I want it to just work. I pay for Microsoft ofice, and the company seems to have a better track record with supporting their products for a long time.

Previous times when I've connected Thunderbird to my Gmail account, the process took a while to get right. This time I simply logged into my Google account and everything worked seamlessly. Same thing with my Outlook.com account. Gmail only lets Thunderbird download email in chunks, so I worked on creating some filters to sort email into folders while Thunderbird worked on backing up my entire Gmail account.

I've had Gmail since 2004, nearly 20 years now. I vividly remember the talk about what a revelation it would be to never have to delete another email. It seemed amazing to think of having a personal database that would keep ever email, attachment, contact and later SMS message through Google Voice. Now it feels like a bit of a burden.

My Gmail account has basically become a top of mind feed, where I respond to the most recent emails in my account and let everything else disappear into the other pages of the inbox. Every six months or so I go through the inbox and archive everything, but it easily gets up to 2000 emails before I do that. In the Promotions, Updates and Forums tabs, I archive everything that doesn't get deleted. Once the emails are archived, I hardly ever look at them again unless I'm trying to search for something, and as I learned the last time I tried to look at email from ten years ago, it isn't easy to find what I want. Date range searches seem to work best, which involves a lot of scrolling through results to find what I'm looking for. You really need to know exactly what you want in order to craft the correct search terms. Maybe there's a smarter way to do it, but I don't spend a lot of time searching gmail, and don't have time to work my way back through ten years of messages, page by page.

Thunderbird amazed me by how well it immediately started sorting nearly 20 years of email. Its interface is responsive (it does take a bit to full download an email, but I think that's because it was still backing up the account).

The idea of the personal database was exciting before I had more aspects of my life that I was ready to not be reminded of all the time. One of the first things Thunderbird did was organize my email by sender, so it was easy to see everything from my ex-wife, my former business partner, and the various relationships that didn't work out. I don't have much interest in reading those things again but I'm also not ready to delete them.

I solved this by creating folders by year and filtering everything into those. That way the information is organized but I don't have to look at it, nested inside another folder.

By hiding those old emails and text messages, have I done anything that Gmail wasn't already doing for me? Not to go all Mari Kondo, but I think better knowing my house is organized, and the weight of my digital accumulations is starting to wear on me.

Thunderbird is still working on downloading everything. This project won't be finished for another week or so. There are still attachments to download, and I'm seeing hundreds of photos that have been lost in the guts of Flickr and Google Photos.

Seeing the organized data of my life serves as an extension of memory that will be useful someday. I'm still in the midst of my life, chasing a little kid, trying to parent a twenty year-old (!!), doing my best in a marriage that hopefully proved I learned from the first one, and working and creating in ways that are all influenced by what came before. I wish I had been better back then, and I don't quite like the overly confident tone of the first captain emailing friends back in 2004.

One of the story elements in Gibson's Neuromancer that has stuck with me was the idea of talking to a dead construct. I've always thought capturing the sum of a person's communication was the place to start with that kind of thing. The problem is that when I read back through email, so much of it doesn't seem to capture me. It's short, it's overly dramatic, it's trying to hard. It's annoying, basically. If an algorithm adjusts for that, the result won't be me, and any construct developed from that compost won't be me. I guess that won't be much different than the way memory already works.

One of the big lessons from the first wave of social media is that people don't want to be one face to the different aspects of their life. My email at least, has bridged that gap because I forwarded certain work and friend group emails to one account. Still, it feels like something is missing. There are still aspects of my life that never reached email or text. Maybe that will be different for the other generations coming up. Their digital burden will be even heavier.


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#20220408: Consistent Content Conquers Completely

I’m a fan of Colton Dunn. He played Garrett on Superstore. If you’ve ever worked in retail you need to watch Superstore.

I was watching a SYFY aftershow for another great show, Alan Tudyk’s Resident Alien, and one of the hosts reminded me of Colton. So I started flipping through YouTube to see what Colton was up to now that Superstore had come to an end, and couldn’t find anything recent. I realized that I wanted to see something recent from Colton(especially since his few standup bits on YouTube are great.) I didn’t really care what it was, I just wanted something from Colton Dunn.

This is a lesson that I’ve failed to learn as a writer. If you have fans, and I might have a few, they don’t want something perfect all the time. But they do want something, somewhat consistently. They like you, and they want to hear from you.

I’ve been frustrated by the series I’m working on for about two years now. I started out writing something intended to be pure entertainment and a fast read. I finished the first two books but don’t feel like they’re good enough, and I’ve been going back through, editing and editing. There hasn’t been a lot of pressure to finish the series, so other things keep getting in the way, and here I am with no finished series and readers actually messaging me to ask what I’m up to.

The other possibility is that Mr. Dunn is posting updates and whatnot on some other stream that I didn't find when I went looking for him. YouTube seems to be the place to find recent standup, and IMDB had his other film and TV credits. I didn't find any easy links to Instagram or Facebook, but I also didn't have time to really start searching. So maybe he wants to be left alone to enjoy his Superstore money? That's fine.

For creators, we live in the age of the conveyor belt. Once you publish or post or put something out in the world, you create a promise for more, and it seems the greatest sin you can create is to not deliver on the promise. If you publish book one of a series, there had better be a book two on pre-order if someone is going to take a chance on you, and then from that point forward you're building trust. If you don't fulfill your promise with the fans you've managed to attract, someone else who can create and deliver faster is going to step in and fill the void.

If you publish something and hit it out of the park, be ready with a follow up. If you publish a story in an anthology, have someplace to send readers finding you for the first time. Every interaction with you is a promise of more good stuff, and if you follow-through, readers are more than willing to pay for your work.

Sure, there are writers delivering one book a year and satisfying their fans, but they're doing that consistently, and they're probably still communicating with fans while they're working on the book.

So that reminds me, it's time to write a newsletter.


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#20220407 On Daily Words

I've been writing some form of "daily words" for two years now.

Something that's been interesting to me about this practice is that I almost never go back and read what I wrote.

I use a site called 4thewords.com as my text editor, since it easily tracks words and allows users to organize projects. You also play a game where you can kill monsters and progress through an RPG that makes the writing a bit more fun.

I've decided to start posting these daily writing sessions on this site because I would like to make them more useful to me, and maybe others. Doing this means I need to make them more general. I'm not going to write directly about my family, and I'll need to apply an extra layer of thought to what I'm writing so it's not simply me complaining about something. I need to write with an end goal in mind, which I something I want to do more in my fiction anyway.

Some practitioners of Daily Words might say that's not the point. The point of the exercise is simply to write, to get words flowing onto the screen or page, and maybe work out some thoughts I've been having about something. They do help for that. I don't go to therapy, but I do talk to myself a lot through writing.

I want a few things from the practice: I'd like to have all the writing in one place, easily accessible and readable. It's all currently locked away in 4theWords.com, and I have to dig to find something and it isn't easy to read in a chronological way. It's not easy to search for what I want. I run exports every so often, which the site makes easy, but I don't do anything with the entries after that.

I want to move from notes to complete thoughts. By aiming at a general audience rather than myself, I perform a filter that could help me get better at essay writing, something I've always wanted to do more. Knowing I'm going to make something available for others to read pushes me to edit and round out the thought I was trying to express.

The real reason I want to do this could be that I'm tired of talking to myself. I want to find something I didn't expect. My internal monologue is always present in my head. I don't gain anything from seeing it on the page, and I don't know that anyone else would either. I also don't always follow a thought all the way through. If I'm struggling with something, I should think about solutions, or follow a thought all the way to its conclusion.

I'll start by leading with the prompt or question and then responding to it. This gives me something I can search for, and will help organize thoughts from the beginning.

Maybe that's been my problem with this. I haven't been organized. When I imagine an audience for any of these snippets, it's still me, but I'd like to give myself a reason to come back and read over these, and eventually incorporate them into something else.

Here I/we go.


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#20220406 What we talk about when we're constantly distracted.

The soon-to-be four year-old does this thing currently where anytime my wife and I want to talk to each other, she starts talking. We don’t want to tell her to shut up, so we’re working on getting her to be aware of other people and their conversations, and to listen and take part. It seems that she simply wants to be part of the conversation and talk, but she isn’t actually aware of what we’re saying. This is a process with her that’s getting better, and that’s encouraging. In the day-to-day, though, it means that my wife and I rarely get to finish a spoken thought when we’re together. We do a lot of communication by chat, and that has its own challenges, and we don’t even use emojis.

This constant state of distraction is made worse by the technology in our lives. I’ve started getting a solid anger response whenever my computer or phone puts something between me and what I was trying to do, like a notification, pop-up or sound. There was a time when I was interested in all the other things my device might want to show me. Now my time and focus is so precious that I get mad when another window, like an installer, pops-up in front of my active window. I don’t have time for that shit.

What’s interesting to me is how I’ve started to feel angry about it, as if the device is actively trying to destroy my concentration. In my world of author marketing, pop-ups on your website to gather email addresses for a newsletter are seen as a necessary evil, but I find myself actively angry at the site designer for blocking me from reading the thing I came to their site to read, and anymore I just click away, or save the site using a service like Pocket and then read it later in stripped-down mode so I don’t have to see anything else on the site.

(I write this and I know it’s what attention economy app makers are doing.) Maybe I’m already out of spoons from my daughter because I know advertising and other distractions didn’t used to bother me so much. I’m even devoting focus to the problem to think and write about it now, which is frustrating.

So what am I doing about it? I’ve mentioned the move to older hardware with fewer bells and whistles to cause distraction. Using Linux and dialing back everything that can cause a pop-up or distraction. I’ve tried to do this in Windows as well, but I have to use Outlook/Teams for work and they are always getting in the way of what I’m trying to concentrate on. I should look into focus mode but I haven’t had time.

I use full screen in Firefox more than I ever did before, and I actively mute tabs like Discord that want to notify me every time someone posts. I’ve hidden all the servers I don’t want to actively manage, but even the one’s I do have a constant stream of bleats that I don’t want to hear all the time.

Once I have a thought in my brain that I want to capture somehow, I repeat it several times to myself. It might be a first line or a bit of dialog or some aspect of world-building that I’ve been trying to work out, and it feels like a real loss if I can’t remember it. I’ll often use voice-to-text on my phone to dictate a note into email.

The biggest challenge right now is having uninterrupted time outside work to turn those notes into writing. I’m still working on that problem, since I can’t make more time. My daughter is trying to clime into my lap as I write this paragraph, and it’s cute, and I want to be present for her but it’s also--

***

I keep telling myself that everything gets easier with time.


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#Why Is Your Site Like This?

Short answer: It's mostly text and mostly a single file.

Long Answer:

This site is an experiment in several ways. It's about writing more. Yes, it's meant to be a wall of text.

It's a simple, single text file, and all the navigation takes you to different sections of the same file (mostly, unless you click an external link). That means it loads quickly and doesn't have any extra trackers or scripts to slow down older computers or phones.

While I'm a science fiction writer and I think about the future, I'm also interested in how technology moves through generations like your grandma's encyclopedia set, or a tool you dig out of your backyard, clean up and use to build a desk for your Macbook. When does tech stop being a gadget and become a tool? I've been feeling like the gadgets in my life are getting in the way of my productivity, and not actually serving as tools. Wordpress was chief among these.

This is a long way of saying I've started using older hardware for most of my work. I don't need much to run a word processor or do basic image processing, and right now I'm writing this on an old Dell laptop I got for $5 at a thiftstore and put a new battery in, and it feels like the equivalent of driving an old Buick. It's solid, has a nice enough keyboard and curves that feel good on my hands.

Like the Buick, I could smash it into a telephone pole and it wouldn't matter. Since this site is so simple, I could fire up another old laptop and go to work.

All this is useful when you have small children running around the house. And I'd like those children to be able to read what I'm writing someday. To accomplish that goal, the updates page is a single index file that can always be downloaded, edited and then re-uploaded from another machine.

You, dear reader, could download this file and make it your own. You could export it to an ePub or Mobi and read it on your Kindle. It's a text file that will be readable for a hundred years or more, maybe, hopefully. You could even open a terminal in the Metaverse (hah!), or Roblox, or Fortnite, or your holodisplay, and read my loooooong single page site. The fun goes on and on. (Resilience of data is something I think about, especially now that I have backups scattered across multiple encrypted services that no one but me can recover.)

-Creation vs Consumption

The second experiment is the content. The goal is to write openly, consistently and to repair and update as time goes on. The actual content of this site is one long chronological file, and I'm curious how long I can keep that going. The images are stored in a folder. All I need is a text editor to write. That's all. Technically, between the old computer not distracting me with alerts and the software not distracting me with the internet, there shouldn't be anything between me and writing words.

Writing the site by hand in Notepad or whatever text editor is a fun exercise in getting back to basics. I've wasted plenty of time futzing with Wordpress without really feeling like I had control of my site. Now I have complete control and can adjust, edit or change whatever I want.

We'll see how long I can keep it up.

The final reason is that I enjoy creations that are personal, that show the decisions of the creator that might be weird to me but speak to the fact that only the creator could have made them. That's getting more rare in our binging, conveyor belt media-scape. I appreciate quirky things and want to make them myself.

Seriously, though, this site is for my own writing habit. I don't expect anyone else to read all this. And if you are, thank you. I appreciate you. Feel free to drop me a line at james at jsasf.com.


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#20220212

"I work for an e-commerce company that spends about 3 mil a week on advertising. It’s everywhere. Tv, radio, podcasts, print, social media, movies, magazines, etc. sometimes it’s not even a product we’re advertising, some of the ads are targeted at influencing your behavior and beliefs to make you more likely to search for and purchase products within our category which increases the likelihood that you’ll be exposed to our ads on the aforementioned media platforms.

"It’s insidious and honestly I hate it. Personally I work as a manufacturing consultant so not on the marketing side but I see what those guys do every day.

"Colors, sounds, etc all go into influencing behavior. Video games do this with green/blue colored items or loot chests. Marketing psychology is huge in the video game sector alone - it can determine things down to the entire art direction or sound design. It's insane.

"I personally think it should be illegal. A lot of these psychological applications are targeted towards children and making them more interested based on subliminal queues."

This comment appeared on a Reddit thread where a user was complaining that they felt like everything everywhere was trying to sell them something. I've felt this way for a long time, and as a writer I struggle with any form of communication that isn't the book/story, because I don't want to come across as always trying to sell my work. But I am trying to sell my work. Well, I'm not always trying to sell my work.

Beyond my personal struggle with marketing, the comment and thread as a whole has me thinking about the subtle ways that me, my family and friends might be on the receiving end of this kind of marketing.

Aside from my family, my friends probably have the greatest impact on my feelings toward products and services. I'll try something if a friend recommends it, but who's to know what kind of influence campaigns they're being softly assaulted by?

I think we're all aware of influencer based advertising at this point, and aware of the cumulative effect of messaging on social media, but just how subtle is it? I'd like to think I'm smart enough to recognize something as advertising, but I also know I'm not smarter than algorithms, and I get tired and burned out like anybody, so I've certainly clicked on links I shouldn't have. I also try and get ahead of it by using ad blockers like pi-hole on my network, uBlock Origin and AdGuard in Firefox and Chrome, so the blatant messaging is mostly blocked, but that isn't going to stop the message influencing that happens on places like Reddit most of all. There's an implied trust in a text-based comment on Reddit, that appears to come from another human just using the service like I am. Reddit is leveraging the trust that I have in forums from since the internet began, which seem to be places where people shared their knowledge and enthusiasm for things out of the joy they received from knowing other people had the same interest. Supposedly.

As places like Facebook and Reddit have killed forums (Yahoo forums and email lists used to be the best for getting esoteric questions answered about whatever you wanted to know, since cranky seniors love to answer email), those types of places have become vulnerable to influence. It might not be video-based unless you click a link to watch a video, but I wonder if my brain is unconsciously giving them more weight because I like to think I'm smarter than TikTok.

Long form podcasting is another source of subtle influencing, and I'm not talking about people that are obviously extreme in their ideas. I've followed other writers and podcasters whose marketing and subject matter made it seem like they were interested in open debate of ideas, and then it becomes obvious they're pushing a particular agenda, though they never come out and say it. They seem masters at presenting this kind of "debate" that only frames ideas in a particular way, and these conversations are a product intended to make audiences feel good in their info bubble. (And subscribers pay for this comfort.)

Worrying about this stuff makes me feel vaguely paranoid. This is the heart of paranoia, right? Worrying that influences are controlling your thoughts, that your mind is not your own, and the threat is coming from inside your own brain? It's tiring to have to guard against this stuff, and I'm already tired and distracted all the time.

It seems I'm doing everything I can at the moment, at least in the house. Shutting out advertising, using subscription services rather than finding links through social media... I enjoy Reddit for the apparent conversation and serendipity of ideas, and I've also gone through periods of detox where I uninstalled the app and blocked it in my browsers, just to get out of the feedback loop of comment threads. The infinite scroll is its own subtle influence campaign, pushing me from post to post to post so I don't even have time to think about what I'm seeing or reading, even while they're setting little hooks in my brain.

###


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#Author_Bio

Long version:

I'm James Stegall, a guy living in Oregon. I'm the author of 14 science fiction novels as James S. Aaron and eventually other names I haven't come up with yet. (That's the nature of marketing these days: if one name gets stale, move to another one. Actually, it's always been this way but nobody talks about it.) My work includes the Aeon 14 Sentience Wars with M.D. Cooper, Galactic Law with J.N. Chaney, and Vagabond Space, coming soon from Aethon Books.

I grew up in a logging town in Oregon and spent a lot of time in the woods. I was in the army, enlisted and officer, and traveled around doing soldier stuff with air defense for ten years, in the U.S., Middle East and Europe. I miss the tech and the good friends I made. My degree is in Journalism, and between soldier things, I worked as a reporter covering sports, local government, and a bunch of advertorial. (I also wrote obituaries, which makes writing these bios feel weird.)

I've always figured that if someone else could do something, so could I. This led to working with a group of friends to start a print lifestyle magazine while we were in college, and then a small publishing house with a fiction magazine while I was on active duty. We published some cool books like Neal Pollack's Beneath the Axis of Evil and Three Fallen Women by Amy Guth. Publishing was expensive, though, and also became an excuse not to persue my own writing.

Not really knowing what to do with myself after the army, I learned to brew beer while I worked as a mail clerk, a UPS package handler, and then an assistant manager for Target, where I ended up in assets protection. I don't recommend tackling shoplifters to anybody. It's safer and more effective to develop security systems, account for human nature, and fix the lighting in parking lots.

Since I didn't see much future in retail security, I combined my experience brewing beer with project management and started a micro distillery. I spent four years getting licensed, building equipment, securing funding, and not selling enough handmade whiskey. I had to leave the business in 2012, which was hard but the right thing to do, and ended up managing security for an art museum. I've been doing similar things for bigger places ever since.

When I left the distillery, I looked for an outlet for my creative energy that didn't cost anything, and turned back to writing. I attended a local SF authors group in Eugene called the Wordos, and was fortunate to also workshop monthly with Kate Wilhelm. I've been writing consistently ever since, and published science fiction professionally in 2017. I'm now working on my 17th novel.

Security is about human nature, and so is storytelling. I like putting words together. I love a good action story with a sense of wonder, and a team you can get behind working together to solve a problem that matters to them. If they care, so will the reader.

I spend most of my time with my family, our pets, and the yard we're always working to shape into a garden. I like to read, build stuff, experiment with gadgets and install things like solar panels and fences. I enjoy podcasting and creating things with digital media, and I'm always trying to figure out how to have more time. You got any to spare?

Short version:

James S. Aaron is the author of fourteen novels, including the Aeon 14: Sentience Wars series, Galactic Law series, and Vagabond Space. He lives in Oregon with his family.


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