Tag: writing

How to Start an Enjoyable Blogging Experience in 3 Easy Steps

I originally gave this post the clickbait-y title of “How to Start a Successful Blog in 3 Easy Steps.” I recently made the mistake of subscribing to a blog1 about how to build a successful blog. I went there to see if there might be anything I was doing that I shouldn’t be doing, or not doing that I should be doing. I came away from the experience unsubscribed, and feeling a little bit dirty. Some of it must have rubbed off, and thus that original title. Fortunately, I was able to change it in the nick of time.

The gist of this particular site is a familiar pattern that I’ve seen as the foundation for a lot of pieces on this topic. There are three steps:

  1. Produce good content.
  2. Build an audience through a multichannel marketing scheme.
  3. Measure, fine-tune, and repeat.

These steps are short and vague enough to make them seem like good advice, and perhaps, depending on one’s goals, these are the right steps to take. The devil, however, is in the details, and much of the thinking behind this sort of advice is anathema to my way of thinking.

Producing content makes me think of a production line, with an endless line of the same thing rolling along conveyor belts side-by-side, one after the other, in an endless parade of mediocrity. I’m a writer and so I write. I don’t think of what I write as “content.” Instead, I write essays. I’m okay with the term “posts” as a synonym for essays in this age of blogging. I try my best each time I set out to write something. Not all of it is good. But it is from those essays that aren’t good that I can learn how to do better.

The rationale behind blogging advice like the three steps above is to bring eyeballs to content in order to increase revenue. The implication, with some truth behind it, is that most blogs out there are attempting to earn money. More eyes means more clicks, more clicks means more ad revenue.

What’s missing is a model for blogs, like mine, which is a hobby, free of ads (because I find them annoying when I see them on other blogs), of sponsored content, done as an avocation, out of the joy I get from writing and discussing what I write with others. For someone who wants to build an audience without a business plan in mind, just a hobby, just to have fun, the model seems to fall apart.

One way to increase clicks, for instance, is to display only a lede paragraph to a post, and then require a reader to “Click to read more.” From a stats standpoint, a specific post will get more views in this model than one in which the entire post is available without clicking into it directly. I prefer the full post be available, and that’s how I have it setup here. You don’t have to “click to read more.” The entire post is there for you to read. The downside of this is that my stats undercount how many people see a given post. If the post is one of the 12 that are on the “front page” of the blog at any one time, a reader can read through the entire thing without ever clicking into it. This counts a “view” toward my “Home Page/Archives” but not to the specific post. It is a tradeoff I am willing to make to avoid inconveniencing readers.

There are other tricks that these advice sites give. Clickbait-y titles are another draw, and indeed, many of the advice blogs I’ve looked at focus on the importance of a post’s title, almost to the exclusion of everything else. They argue that if the title doesn’t draw in a reader, then no matter what you’ve written, it won’t get read. There is some validity to this. But titles should be accurate descriptions of what a piece is about, not bait-and-switch. Drawing in readers with one title only to show them something else is just annoying2.

As a writer, I want more readers because I write for readers. But I don’t want to get readers at the cost of annoying them. For a blog like this one, growth of readership has to be more organic. Success that I’ve had in the past has been largely based on 3 different factors than the three steps listed above:

  1. I write fairly well.
  2. I write consistently–meaning every day.
  3. I got lucky with what I was writing.

The first point is obviously debatable. But having sold fiction to the major science fiction magazines and some anthologies, I think my judgement in this is justified. I was paid for writing that was accept over other writing that could have been published in its place. This is also true for the dozens of pieces of nonfiction I’ve sold over the years.

Consistency is my superpower. Back in the heyday of this blog (say, 2012-2015), I was writing at least every day, and often multiple times a day. Readers could rely on me to have new stuff for them to read on a regular basis, and because of that, they kept coming back (assuming they liked what I was writing about).

Luck is the big unknown. If it goes your way, it can make a big difference. I was lucky to have an audience of readers who read what I wrote because of the fiction or nonfiction I was publishing. I got really lucky with my writing about Evernote. They reached out to me, because of my writing, and asked me to be an ambassador. That led to my Going Paperless series, and with Evernote’s signal boosts, dramatically increased the readership of my blog. It was more than I could have ever imagined. In 2013-2014, I was exceeding a million views each year. But it was mostly due to luck. The fact that I could write helped. And the fact that I was consistent helped make that luck, but there was still luck involved.

I don’t know what the average blog readership is and I doubt it is possible to get accurate stats on this. There is not a category for “blogging” stats in my 2021 edition of The World Almanac. They do list top newspaper websites and information website, but not “top blogs.” A Google search produces mixed results that tells me that smaller blogs should aim for at least 45,000 views/year with month-to-month growth of 6%. I found one site that suggested that if you are trying to make a full-time living from blogging, you should be aiming for at least 100,000 monthly page views. In that peak of 2013-2014, I was seeing number of about 120,000 monthly page views.

I’m not seeing those numbers today. There are several reasons for this. I burned out on the Evernote stuff, and a lot of people were coming to the blog to read those posts. There were years where I wasn’t writing as much or as consistently. Readership steadily dwindled to a low point last year (when I wrote only about 50 posts the entire year). This year, after more than 8 months of consistently writing at least one post a day, I am beginning to see the numbers come back up–slowly, but definitely up. Once again, two things have working in my favor:

  1. I still write fairly well. I like to think any writing today is better than what it was in 2013-2014, but that is an entirely subjective observation.
  2. My superpower is still consistency. With this piece, for instance, I have now posted for 255 consecutive days. In that time, I’ve written and posted 300 pieces. That’s write, you are reading my 300th essay of 2021.
Heat map of my posts for the last year. Since January 1, I haven’t missed a day.

What’s missing–and what is making the difference in terms of numbers from 2013-2014–is that element of luck. I don’t have an Evernote retweeting my posts to its 400,000+ followers.

Which begs the question: do the numbers really matter? They matter for blogs that are businesses, and for people who are trying to make a living from their blogs. But for hobbyists like myself, does it really matter how many people read what I write? From a practical standpoint, it probably does not. But from a human one, of course it does. I write so that people will read what I write and engage with it, and hopefully find value in it, whether it is simply something fun to read, or something that illuminates a part of life for them. The more people I can do this for, the happier it makes me. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t care about how many people read what I wrote.

I started this piece with a clickbait-y title suggesting advice on how to start a successful blog in three easy steps. Let me conclude it with some real advice, for those who may be seeking it, for how to start an enjoyable blogging experience in three easy steps.

  1. Be able to do something fairly well. Writing is a good start since most blogs are centered around the written word. But there are photography blogs, music blogs, art blogs, AI blogs, you name it. Find something you are pretty good at and start there.
  2. Be consistent. Both in terms of quality (I always try my best) and frequency (I write every day, but consistency could mean weekly, monthly, etc.)
  3. Be patient. Don’t give in too soon. It takes time. Sometimes, a lot of time. I began this blog in 2005 and it took 8 years of writing, and consistency before luck stepped in and played its role. Remember that each time you want to give up could be the time that luck steps in for you.

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  1. I’m not going to link to it here. It is not my intention to be cruel.
  2. I almost did it here, but it was in the spirit of satire.

Two-Time Nebula Award-Winner Jamie Todd Rubin?

When I was twelve years old, I remember wanting a computer so badly, I sometimes dreamed that I got one. It was one of those rare, completely realistic, and completely delightful dreams. It was frustrating, too, because while I got a computer in my dream, there was always something that prevented me from using it, always some task I had to take care of first, so that I could never really use it in my dream. What I remember most, however, was waking up and feeling for a few fleeting seconds, that I had actually gotten the computer. That was followed by the sudden disappointment at the realization that I had been dreaming. I’d have to wait a little longer before I got my computer. (Eventually, I did get one.)

I haven’t had a dream like that in years. Indeed, for the last several months, it seems that my dreams are a jumble of exhausting images that mostly make no sense and even when I sleep well, cause me to wake feeling exhausted. I have grown desperate enough to begin reading about the science of dreaming and sleeping to see if there is anything I can to so lower the volume of my dreams–or mute them completely for a while.

Well, last night, seeing that they were being threatened, my dreams fought back. It was a bad night in terms of sleep. I went to bed at ten thirty and didn’t actually fall asleep until sometime after 3 am. I know slept between 3 am and 4 am because that is when this dream took place. In the dream, I was at a science fiction convention. I was at a table surrounded by people I knew, but no one I could identify. Everyone was laughing and cheering. I had just learned that I had won not one, but two Nebula awards: one for best short story, and the other for best novelette.

I have no idea what the stories were for which I won these awards. What I remember most was the I couldn’t believe that I had won them. Me, just the kid who liked reading science fiction when he was growing up and wanted to try his hand writing it, the kid who tried for 14 years to sell a story before making his first sale, and who went on to sell about a dozen stories to many of the major s.f. magazines before running dry. I had won two Nebula awards in the same night. How was that even possible? I was elated. I remember tears welling in my eyes each time I thought about it, or each time someone at the table congratulated me. From here on forward, I could always think of myself as two-time Nebula award winner Jamie Todd Rubin.

Sometime around 4 am I woke up and it took a little while for me to realize that it had been a dream, that I had not, in fact, won two Nebula awards. And I have to admit, I felt the same sense of disappointment I felt when I awoke from that dream about getting a Commodore Vic-20 when I was twelve. I wished it were true, but knew that it wasn’t.

As I said, I eventually got my Vic-20, but I suspect a Nebula award (or two) is not in the cards for me. Even when I was selling stories to the magazines, I was never an awards candidate, and I knew it. Indeed, I’ve won very few awards in my life. I do good, consistent work, but I’m not sure anything I do is award-worthy. This is not self-deprecation, or false modesty, but what I think is a fair assessment of my abilities. I’m a hard worker, and do my work–whatever it is–well. That is enough for me.

Still, it felt so good in my dream to think, at least for a little while, that I had won those Nebulas.

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The Measure of the Blog’s Success

When I began writing here everyday again back on January 1, 2021, the blog was at a low point. Readership had dwindled down from highs of more than 120,000 views per month to a small fraction of that. Posts dwindled as well. Last year saw about 51 posts. By comparison, the first eight months of this year have seen 283 posts, including this one. Stats have started to come back up, slowly.

I have a confession: I’ve become obsessed with the stats here, as I once was in the heyday a few years back. I hate that I’ve been obsessed with them. I suppose part of me believes those stats are a measure of the blog’s success. Another part of me believes that maybe success can’t really be quantified. Still, in any endeavor we look for ways to measure our success. So How should I do it here?

Stats: page views, visitors, etc. are valuable when they can be tied to other measures. If I ran ads for instance, these stats would be tied to revenue from the ads. But I don’t have ads. I don’t have sponsors. I don’t have other revenue streams that the blog supports. Heck, I don’t even have Amazon affiliate links. So what is the point of being obsessed with stats like page views and visitors? It’s a bit of an endorphin hit on days the numbers are up, but disappointing on days when they are down. Then, too, stats never give you the full picture. There are the stats that WordPress provides, the stats showing visitors that come directly to the blog. But that doesn’t tell me how many subscribers read the blog through email, or RSS feeds. If the number isn’t all that accurate, what’s the point? Are there other measures of success?

Blog stats for the last 10 years
WordPress (JetPack) blog stats over the last 10 years. Note in 2014, I disconnected from JetPack so some stats weren’t recorded there. (I was using Google Analytics instead that year.)

One possibility is the number of followers and subscribers to the blog. These are people who have read something they’ve enjoyed enough to want to read more. When I find a blog I like, I subscribe to it so that I don’t miss anything. The number of subscribers here has slowly been creeping up so maybe that is a measure of success.

Another possibility is the number of “likes” and comments I get. I tend to prefer those over the stats because they show real engagement. Someone took the time to like a post or leave a comment. A page view is just that: an instance of a post loading in a browser. It does not mean someone read what I wrote. Likes and comments are tangible feedback from readers. These have been up significantly over previous years so perhaps they represent some measure of success. A subset of my audience is reading what I write and actively engaging with me. I like that.

Maybe the difficulty in measuring success is one of definition: what does success mean? When I started writing here again regularly in January I had one goal: to write everyday. Part of the reason was to get past the five years of writer’s block I’d experienced for my fiction writing. Part of the reason was to write because I enjoy writing. Part of the reason was to create a blog that I would want to read. None of these reasons were about making money. That is not something I wanted this blog to be about. Blog stats: views, clicks, interactions, bounce rates–they all seem to be geared toward generating revenue and that is something that is something I’ve never really intended for my blog.

Perhaps for a blog like this one, the traditional measures of success just don’t fit. I set out to write every day, and I’ve managed to do that so far. I write about whatever is on my mind and I have fun doing that. I’ve seen more direct engagement than in previous years and I take that as a positive sign. Will I stop obsessing over the traditional stats? Probably not. Instead, I’ll just keep reminding myself that they are not why I do this. I do it because it is fun for me, no matter how many people read what I write.

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My Process for Writing Every Day for the Blog

I set a goal for myself in 2021 to try to post something every day. I wasn’t sure how that would go when I started out, but 217 days into 2021 (as I write this), I’ve been successful. I’ve made at least one post every day. On 28 of those days, I’ve made more than one post. Since I sometimes get questions about writing a blog, starting a blog, and the ever-popular how to build an audience, I thought I’d spend a little time writing about my process for posting every day on the blog.

The key word being posting, not necessarily writing every day. As I have said elsewhere, streaks can be a helpful form of encouragement, but they can also weigh you down. I don’t want that kind of pressure. So while I try to write every day, there are times when I don’t. Instead, I try to get a post out every day often by writing several posts ahead to give me a buffer.

With that in mind, let me tackle this a bit more systematically. I’ll start with the ideas and go from there.

Weeding: Separating good from bad ideas

For me, getting ideas is not a problem. It never has been. The challenge is weeding out the bad ideas and keeping just the good ones. On a typical day, I might jot down four to six ideas for posts. On a recent 2-page spread of my Field Notes notebook, I saw 7 ideas noted. I make ideas easy to identify by prefixing them with a P in a circle.

For those who may have difficulty deciphering my handwriting, here is a translation of the 7 ideas that appear on these pages:

Regular readers will see that some, but not all of these ideas were eventually turned into posts. Two of the 7 ideas never made it, yet, anyway. “Sounds of Santa Monica” was an idea I had for an internal blog I do at work, about the music I remember listening to when I worked in our Santa Monica office from 1994-2002. The “What to Say to WETA” post evolved into a recent post on Unposted Writings.

The trick to this is figuring out: what is a bad idea and what is a good one? If I had the answer to that, I’d have a development deal with a major studio and at least a dozen number one box office blockbusters under my belt. Here is what I can say about this: I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 16 years. I am coming up on 7,000 posts totaling 2.7 million words. I am just beginning to get an inkling of what separates a good idea from a bad one. And I’m still not entirely sure. Sometimes, I am just so excited about the idea that it practically writes itself. Other times, I ask myself questions:

  • Would this make a good essay? I tend to think of these posts as essays.
  • Have I written about this before? With nearly 7,000 posts it is likely.
  • If I have written about this before, do I have something new to add? Have I changed my mind about something?

Interestingly, what I don’t tend to ask myself is: is this something my audience would like?

Idea Drafts: Where I store the good ideas

Once I’ve decided I have a good idea, I immediately created a draft in WordPress with a title and possibly a few notes that happen to be in my head for the idea. The notes are usually just bullet points to remind myself of things I want to include in the piece. Here is what the idea draft for this post looked like after I got the idea back on July 26:

  • using drafts
  • post length, ~600 words
  • writing off the top of my head, rough outlines at best
  • what to write about? where do i get my ideas?
  • pure enjoyment
  • writing ahead when I know I’ll be unavailable
  • trying to stay ahead to reduce pressure

I don’t always write the post as soon as I know I have a good idea. The Idea Draft serves as a reminder of things that I want to write about when the mood strikes me. Sometime, I do write the posts immediately. The draft then moves into a “scheduled” or “published” state. But often times Idea Drafts sit in the WordPress Drafts folder for while. In this case of this post, a while was ten days. Having a bunch of Idea Drafts sets me up for my daily writing.

Daily Writing: Where the ideas become posts

As part of my morning routine, I set aside an hour to write. During that time, I can write, or I can stare at a blank screen. But I can’t do anything else. I generally aim for about 600 words on the average post and over the years, I’ve gotten a good feel for when I hit that mark. If things are going well, I can write a typical post in 20-30 minutes. That means, on a good morning, I can sometimes write two or three posts. On other mornings, I manage to write only one. Sometimes, that is because it is a longer post, or takes a while to put together. Other times it is because I am struggling with the idea and can’t quite get it to work the way I want.

This is where good ideas can die, and become unposted writing.

Generally, I look forward to writing every morning. For me it is pure enjoyment, even when I struggle. Struggling means I am learning the hard way, but learning nevertheless. The writing comes after my morning walk, and after my meditation, and with those two things done, I am usually keen to work on one or more of the Idea Drafts. Once I get started, I write off the top of my head, using or discarding any notes I’ve made as I see fit.

The hour each day is what I set aside for myself to write. It is not a limit, however. If I have more to write, I’ll look to carve out more time later in the day (usually in the evenings) to write more.

Planning ahead, or posting while ghosting

To help keep the pressure off the daily writing, I plan ahead. I try to have at least 2-3 days of posts scheduled in advance so that you are typically reading them 2-3 days after they were written. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes, I have a plan ahead a little more. For instance, I wanted to make sure I had no pressure to write every day on our recent road trip vacation. So in the week leading up to our vacation, I made sure I had posts scheduled throughout the vacation. I was largely successful–except for today. I left the Friday slot open (even though I’d scheduled Saturday and Sunday) because this is the slot that I’ve used recently for my Weekly Playbook posts. I was on the fence about whether I’d do one of these for vacation, and decided to wait and see. In the end, I wrote this post instead, because it had been waiting its turn a long time (ten days!)

This does help keep the pressure off. Knowing that I have a two or three day buffer means I don’t feel like I have to write something every day. My streak isn’t about writing every day as much as it is writing what I enjoy as much as I can. Indeed, I don’t even keep track of how much I write or how often I write day-to-day. The only thing I keep my eye on is if I am posting every day. That can make it seem like I am writing every day, but rest assured, there are days when I am posting while ghosting. I had a few of these days on our recent vacation.

This process may not work for everyone, but it works for me. I wake up each morning knowing that I have a post coming out, whether I can finish a new post that morning or not. I feel particularly good on the days when I can get two or three posts written and scheduled, knowing that expands my buffer a bit. A bigger buffer allows me to write the occasional longer post (like this one). Your mileage may vary. The important thing I’ve learned over the years is to try different methods until you find one that works for you. Posts like this provide one possibly method. There are many others.

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Unposted Writings

For every 25 posts I publish here on the blog there is probably one that I write and never post. Looking at my Drafts folder (where all of these posts begin their lives, and wait their turn until they are scheduled) I see two of these unposted writings sitting there, waiting to be posted, and knowing they likely never make it to the front page.

The current contents of my drafts folder.

The first of these is a post called “What to Say to WETA?” The second is the post titled “Show Off How Smart You Are.” I had actually gotten so far as to schedule these posts for this week, when I decided to pull them and replace them with other posts (this very piece you are reading is one of the replacements).

Why not publish the posts?

There are generally two reasons that I write a post and then decide not to publish it:

  1. The piece just isn’t very good.
  2. Something about the tone of the piece bothers me.

Before a post goes into the world, there is really only one person who can judge whether it is good enough to be posted and that is me. This blog is a one-man operation. I play the role of writer, editor, and marketing department all by myself. And sometimes I write something and think, nope, that just isn’t very good. It used to be that I’d post the bad stuff anyway, but over time I realized that I wanted to show the very best of what I write. So I’ve gotten better at weeding out the bad stuff.

The bad stuff, incidentally, doesn’t always even make it into the draft folder. Sometime I’ll have an idea, write a paragraph or two, and realize it is no good then and there. I’ll just delete it instead of completing it. Why waste the time? Other times, I’ll complete a draft, but upon re-reading it, I’ll decide that it is a second-rate effort, or that someone else has said the same thing much better than I have. In these instances, I’ll take a deep breath, and let the piece die in the drafts folder.

Less frequently, I’ll write something that I like, and that I think is pretty good, but that I don’t think has the right tone, or that I think comes off sounding to haughty, too whiny, too petty, or too sarcastic for no good reason. These posts often make it to the scheduled stage, and after a night or two of consideration, I’ll pull them. The posts on “What to Say to WETA?” and “Show Off How Smart You Are” are examples of this variety.

In the first example, I am complaining about receiving too many requests for money from a charitable organization that actually does a lot of good for people. I knew as I was writing it that it fell into the category of too whiny and too petty, but I wrote it anyway, and I even scheduled it. Indeed, it was set to be published today. At night, as I drifted toward sleep, I began to worry that that post would do more harm than good. I mean, so what if the charity seems to constantly ask me for money? Does that really hurt anyone? The post was more sarcastic than my usual, and upon reflection, it seemed completely unwarranted. So I pulled it. That was fine. It wasn’t a wasted effort. Indeed, writing the post was very much like writing an angry letter, one in which I stuff into an envelope, stick on a stamp–and then toss into a desk drawer, knowing I’ll never mail it. Just writing the letter burned through whatever emotional frustration it held on me. Having written it, I felt much better.

In the second example, “Show Off How Smart You Are,” I went off on a pet peeve of mine, equating trivia with being smart. I’d seen an ad for a trivia contest, part of which read “Show off how smart you are…” and that pressed some buttons of mine. I wrote a post filleting the ad in rather caustic terms. But once again, my cooler head prevailed. People enjoy these contests, and who am I to say what is “smart” and what isn’t. This was an example of people having fun, and I was raining on their parade. So I pulled that post as well.

In the early years of the blog, I was not so selective about the quality or tone of my posts. But over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve fallen more and more into this process where I write posts as drafts, schedule them, and then consider them before they are actually published. More often than not, I don’t give a post a second thought once it is written. But when I do, that’s when my radar goes up, and I start to ask myself why I wrote the post and what I hope to gain by publishing it. If I feel that the primary reason for the post is not particularly good, I’ll pull it.

This is why you are reading about unposted writings today, instead of me ranting about a harmless charity that maybe puts the touch on me a little too much.

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My Favorite Story I’ve Written (So Far)

Occasionally I am asked what my favorite story that I’ve written is. I assume this means my favorite story that I’ve sold and has been published. This is not an easy question for a writer. It is like asking a parent, which of your children is your favorite. A common response, and one that I’ve used often, is: “The one that I’m working on now.”

Since it has been several years since I sold my last piece of fiction, and since I think of that initial period of about a dozen stories as Phase 1 of my writing career, I think can now admit to a definite favorite.

My favorite story from Phase 1 of my writing career (2007-2015) is “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” It is currently freely available at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show and I urge you all to go read it, if you haven’t already done so. The story received my all-time favorite review in Tangent Online. There, reviewer Ryan Holmes wrote:

All the little strings by which Rubin weaves the characters to each other and to the game itself create a tapestry even a non-baseball fan would enjoy, but this story isn’t about baseball. It’s about loving something more than ourselves and sacrificing everything for that love. It’s about family, the distance that can separate us from our loved ones, and yes, it’s about how baseball can bring us together

This is one of those stories that wrote itself. All I had to do was sit down at the keyboard and take dictation. The science fiction is secondary–a vehicle to sell it to a science fiction magazine. It is a story that could be told without the science fictional element, something that was more and more common with my later stories.

It is the first time I ever received the cover of a magazine, and Eric Wilkerson’s artwork for the story just blew me away. It was better than I could have possibly imagined. He captured Gemma from my words and turned her into a living, breathing person that really brings her to life.

There is a reason this story is on my mind today. Back in 2005 (pre-blog days) I went on a road trip with my brother to Cooperstown. We spent a few days there, touring the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My brother played baseball in college, and then played semi-pro ball after graduating. It was such a fun trip. It was also the last time I was in Cooperstown. (I’d been there at least twice before that as a kid.) Today, I am returning to Cooperstown, this time with my family. It is the second stop on our summer road trip, and I’m probably the only one looking forward to this particular stop. Mainly, I’m looking forward to standing in the Hall, among all of the plaques of the greatest players of the last 150 years or so, and imagining Gemma’s plaque in that space.

I’ll have more to say about my visit to the Hall of Fame in the days to come, but at least now you know why “Gemma Barrows” is on my mind. If you read it, I think it’s pretty easy to see why it is my favorite story of those that I have written so far.

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204 Consecutive Days of Posts

I missed this milestone a few days ago, so I’ll mention it now. Today is my 204th consecutive day of posting here on the blog. My goal at the beginning of the year was to get back to writing and posting every day here, and so far, more than halfway through the year, I seem to be meeting that goal. In 204 days I’ve written 225 posts totaling 137,000 words, and averaging about 600 words each. It amounts to four times what I wrote for all of 2020.

Consecutive days of posting in 2021

It is not always easy. Sometimes I am at a loss of what to write about, but I sit down anyway and write. Some posts are better than others, and some posts that I think would get more attention go almost unnoticed. But I keep it up, and it is one of the highlights of my day when I sit down to write here.

I just bought myself a celebratory beer and am enjoying the milestone. And I’m looking forward to the 161 days remaining in the year, wondering what the heck I’m going to write about to make my quota for each day. Of course, thinking about what to write is one of the best parts.

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How I Form New Habits

I am in the middle of a fairly significant lifestyle change. As part of my plan to retire in ten years, one of the things I wanted to do was get myself back into shape. When I retire, I want to be healthy and active. Being in good mental and physical shape are big part of this. It means changing habits that I’ve had for many years, and in some cases, for decades and changing habits, for me at least, is always difficult. There are two aspects to this. A new habit can be doing something new. It can also be to stop doing something that I had been doing. So I thought it might be useful to talk about how I form new habits.

Writing about habits abstractly is never helpful to me, so I want to start with specifics. What habits was I looking to form? Brace yourself. The list is a bit daunting, at least to me.

  • Give up sugared soft drinks
  • Give up caffeine
  • Start a daily meditation practice
  • Start a healthy diet that will help me stay lean and full of energy
  • Start exercising daily
  • Write every day

Mapping habits to goals

I usually begin with goals. Before I am ready to begin forming new habits, I need a reason to change. What are those reasons? In my case, my mission statement was along the lines of “Retire in ten years and be able to write full time.” That’s what I began with. From there I asked myself a lot of questions about what it meant to retire, to write full time. For me, writing requires stamina. It is not like my day job where I stop thinking about it (usually) at the end of the day. I am constantly writing in my head, constantly wondering about things, and constantly reading to pique my interest in things that I want to write about. All that work can be exhausting. Then, too, I didn’t want to be someone who retired and settled into a sedentary routine. My routine is more sedentary today than I am comfortable with. So I took that mission statement and came up with some fairly abstract goals:

  • Be in the best physical shape that I can manage so that I have the energy to do what I want to do.
  • Find a good mental balance: especially, reducing my anxiety, being more empathetic, and open to new ideas.
  • Be the best writer I can possibly be.

Now, these aren’t necessarily SMART goals, but they are good enough for my purposes for getting started. The next thing to do was figure out what I needed to do (or stop doing) to start down a road toward these goals. This is where the habits come in. Mapping them to the goals would look something like this:

Be in the best physical shape I can manageGive up sugared soft drinks
Give up caffeine
Start a healthy diet
Exercise daily
Find a good mental balanceStart a daily meditation practice
Be the best writer I can beWrite every day

Where to start: order of operations

I know from past experience that no matter how much I want to jump in and change everything at once, that is a recipe for failure. So I needed to pick a place to start. Having a long lead time helped me in this regard. After all, I’ve got ten years to retirement (3,755 days, if anyone besides me is counting). There is no need to rush things. Rather, I’d prefer to get this right and allow time for the inevitable adjustments. I ranked the habits I wanted to change from what I considered to be hardest to easiest. Here is the order I came up with:

  1. Giving up sugared soft drinks.
  2. Giving up caffeine.
  3. Starting a daily meditation practice
  4. Starting a healthy diet
  5. Exercising daily
  6. Writing every day

Let me talk about my rationale for this order. I’ve given up caffeine before. At one point, between 2003 and 2010 or so, I’d given up caffeine for 7 years. It was only when we had kids that I began using it again to give me that boost I needed after some sleepless nights with the babies. So I knew I could do it. Knowing that is half the battle, so I didn’t think it would be the most difficult change.

On the other hand, I’d been drinking Coca Cola all my life. I loved it, and still do. I’d hated the diet versions of soft drinks, and wondered why anyone drank them if they tasted so badly. Even when I gave up caffeine, I still drank Caffeine-Free Coke, or Sprite, or other non-diet soft drinks. I figured giving up the sugared soft drinks would be the most difficult for me.

Meditation was another tough sell for me. I couldn’t imagine taking time out of my day, every day, to sit and do nothing. Where was the value in that? I figured getting into that habit would be difficult.

The other three were all familiar to me. I’d worked with a trainer fifteen years ago, and gotten into good shape. I learned to eat better than I had been (although not great). And of course, I had at one point an 825-day consecutive writing streak, so I knew I could write every day.

The next step was to pick a habit and get started. But my mind doesn’t quite work like that.

Warming up to a habit

Whenever I am thinking about starting a new habit, I never just start it cold. It takes warming up. It is often this way for a story, too. I’ll think about it and think about it, but not feel ready. With writing stories, the key I’ve learned over the years is not to get started until I feel ready, until there is a click in my head that says, yeah, now it’s time. The same it true with starting a habit. I could go months thinking about the change I want to make (and often feeling guilty about not making it) but if I start and I haven’t warmed up to it, then I know it won’t last. I have dozens of examples of this in my own experience.

One day last spring, however, at the outside of the Pandemic, when things were looking particularly bleak, something in my head clicked and I was ready to start a daily meditation practice.

A few months later, feeling desperate to lose some weight, I finally felt ready to give up diet soft drinks. These are actually two useful examples because they illustrate the paths that different habits can take. After some experimentation, for instance, I found that I could tolerate Cherry Coke Zero, and once I realized I could do that, I simply gave up sugared soft drinks and started drinking Cherry Coke Zero instead. Within two months I lost something like 18 pounds without changing anything else. It was eye-opening.

It wasn’t quite as dramatic with the meditation, however. I managed to build a daily practice, but after a few months, I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress on my part, and I gave it up for a time. Eventually, I came back to it, and it was then that I began to notice some of the changes it brought about in me. I was calmer during the day, less anxious, more open. It was slow and subtle, but I could feel the changes. Feedback like losing weight or feeling the anxiety start to slip away after meditating is self-reinforcing. What I to learn was that not every habit works at the same speed. Sometimes I really have to keep at it before you start to notice a change, and during that time, I just have to believe that it is going to help, even if I don’t see changes right away.

Incremental changes

By mid spring of this year I’d been off sugared sodas for half a year, and I had a regular meditation practice. The next thing I began to think about was giving up caffeine.I knew this would be tough but I also knew I could do it. I just needed to warm up to it. And so over a period of weeks, I did that, telling myself it was time, but also telling myself that “this was my last caffeinated drink” quite a few times. (Looking back I see several journal entries from the day following such proclamations with things like, “Well, that didn’t work out too well.”) Finally, on April 16, I began to feel ready. I wrote this in my journal for that day:

On my walk today I began thinking that maybe I needed to give up caffeine again. I don’t know why I feel the need to give something up. Today I was thinking about it in terms of sleeping better. Maybe I’d sleep much better without the caffeine… if I do give it up it will have to be on Sunday because I feel like I am going to need caffeine to get through tomorrow.

This is typical for me in two ways. First, I’m usually ready when I write it down and give myself a deadline. I’d been thinking about giving up caffeine for some time, but it wasn’t until I wrote it down that I knew I was ready. Second, I always give myself a last hurrah, often hidden as an excuse to start the new habit at the beginning of the week. But on that Sunday, April 18, I started the day with orange juice instead of a caffeinated drink, and I haven’t had caffeine since.

So I’d tackled meditation, sugared soft drinks, and caffeine. I let those settle in for a while before I decided to tackle the next two items: a healthy diet and daily exercise. Typically, I need to make sure that a habit is set before moving onto the next. And I avoid trying to being more than one new habit at a time, but in this case, diet and exercise go hand in hand. I’d been warming up to both for some time and around the time I was writing my post on Project Sunrise, I knew I was ready. I’d done a bunch of research and decided to tackle the slow-carb diet. I started this a week ahead of exercise just to avoid too much at once.

There are two things I like about the slow-carb diet: first, I can be a few meals that I eat regularly and so in addition to losing weight and fat, and slimming down, I also have less decision fatigue. Second, cheat day! The first week went well, so on this past Sunday, I began to develop my exercise habit.

Habits themselves can be incremental. When I last worked out regularly, with a trainer, I was 15 years younger than I am today. What I did not want to do was injure myself at the outset. So I decided to be incremental about exercise. I would exercise 6 days a week (my cheat day would also be my day off). Rather than start with a mix of cardio and weights, I decided to begin exclusively with stretching. I researched videos I could watch and then on Sunday, I did my first 30 minute stretching workout. And wow, I felt as flexible as a steel bar when compared to the person leading the workout. But I kept reminding myself that it takes time, and for some habits, more time than others to see results. Every day makes a difference. And so I repeated my stretching exercise last night, and will do it again tonight.

My plan going forward is to continue the stretching routine 6 days away for the next two to three weeks. After that, I’ll layer in cardio 3 days a week, and after a few weeks of that, I’ll add in light strength training on the 3 days I’m not doing cardio.

What about writing? That’s a tricky one because it is so difficult to judge if I am improving. There are two things that I can do and that I have been doing pretty well at so far this year. First, I can write every day. I am writing this post on the 194th consecutive day that I have written this year, for instance. The second things I can do is get my writing in front of an audience and take what feedback I can manage to find. So far, in the first 194 days of 2021, I’ve published 213 posts totaling 128,000 words. I’d say that’s pretty good practice on both counts. I’m not sure there is more that I could do, except to keep it up.

Habit tracking

One thing that helps me maintain my habits is tracking them. There is a benefit to this, as well as a cost for me. The benefit is in seeing the day-to-day progress, and patting myself on the back for a particular streak. An added benefit is looking closely at the data to see if there are things I can do to improve.

These days, I have a notebook that I use to log all of this. A typical page looks like this:

A page from my habit journal
A page from my habit journal

Along the way, I’ve been making little notes to myself about what works and what doesn’t. I’ve noted when I felt hungry or a craving, which workouts were tough and which too easy. I’m hoping that these notes will help me make informed adjustments along the way.

I used to track habits like this in a spreadsheet, so that I could see the unbroken streak (the Seinfeld method). But one thing I learned from my 825-day writing streak is that the streak itself becomes an end, and it weighs upon me. I’d rather focus on getting things right each day, and not worry so much about the streak or consecutive days. If I miss a day, it is a lot easier for me to recover when the streak doesn’t mean much, but the habit does.

Planning for the unexpected

I’ve found that habits work really well in regular, repeatable environments, but things can go sideways if something changes. What if I am traveling? What if we have plans one evening when I am supposed to do my workout? What if we go to a restaurant during the week? Or what if we go to a friend’s house for dinner and it isn’t my cheat day? In addition to settling into these new habits incrementally, I’ve also tried to think about these alternatives so that I don’t go into these situations cold. I have a plan, simple as it may be. One example of this is illustrated on my morning routine.

Then, too, as new situations arise, I made adjustments, note what works and what doesn’t and revise these plans. Just knowing that I have some idea of what to do in these common edge cases helps to take the edge off of them.

It has taken me nearly fifty years to get to the point where I understand how habits work for me. Maybe I am slow learner in this regard, and I certainly haven’t perfected this particular adventure. But I am trying to be honest about it this time. In my notebook I note my successes, but I also highlight my failures. For the latter, I try to learn from them and adjust.

The other thing I am constantly trying to keep in mind is that these habits build slowly. Some are faster than others (it took me about three weeks before I felt I no longer craved caffeine), but generally, the end goal comes slowly. Fortunately I’ve got time to improve and I’m hoping to use that time as best as I can.

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Original Fiction?

One thing that I have never posted on the blog over the last 16 years is original fiction: that is, fiction I’ve written that has not appeared anywhere else. The main reason I’ve never done this is because publishing a story on the Internet is considered a first publication. Since the “first serial rights” are not available once a story appears on the Internet, it can make it harder to sell the story to professional markets.

This was more an issue when I was still finding my footing as a professional writer especially when I was submitting and selling stories to the science fiction magazines and anthologies. Over the years, however, my stories have changed and it is really hard to classify them. I have two, for instance, that don’t fall into any category that I can name.

I was thinking of posting these stories here on the blog, but since what I write here is entirely not fiction so far, I wanted to get feedback from my readers to see if original fiction is something you’d be interested in. If there is interest, my thought would be to start with these two stories that I have sitting around and see how things go. Since I try to keep most of my posts relatively short (they’ve averaged about 600 words in 2021), I’d probably post these stories as serial, running one part per week over a period of several week.

What do people think? Would you be interested in seeing some original fiction from me here on the blog? Free, of course. At this point, I’m just looking for an outlet for these stories. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Or, if you definitely want me to post original fiction, just “like” this post and I’ll take that as a Yes vote.

(If you are uncertain and would like to see some of my published fiction first, check out my bibliography. I think all of the stories I’ve published on InterGalactic Medicine Show are now freely available. Keep in mind, though, as I said, that my writing has evolved, and I’m not sure how I’d categorize it today.)

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Finished Reading: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

cover of haruki murakami's what i talk about when i talk about running

In the long list of things that I would like to be able to do well, running–in particular, long-distance running–is high among them. I’m envious of friends and family who managed to cultivate this particular exercise throughout their life, and for whom it is a pleasure that they look forward to each day. When I consider running, my tendency is to want to skip the hard part, and just be at the level where I could match my friends.

Haruki Murakami’s wonderful memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running changed my mind. The good part of running is the hard part. Murakami is more than just a runner, he is also a novelist, and although I don’t think he explicitly stated this, it came across that running a marathon and writing a novel are really two forms of the same thing. Hard work, day in and day out, leads to results. Even the hard work that is painful. After feeling as if I suffered through five years of writer’s block myself, Murakami’s book made me realize that the suffering is optional. Early in the book, he writes,

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running. (Emphasis is mine.)

Hard work is where one finds joy in things. Running is hard work and writing is hard work. Reading this book about running made me realize that if I really did want to start running, then I have to do the hard work, just as I did when I first began to write.

Murakami comes across as an honest writer. He doesn’t try to hide any of his faults or difficulties, but puts them on display in order to see them and learn from them. He writes about the regiment of self-training he did preparing for the New York City marathon, only to perform poorly (in his mind). And yet he tried to learn lessons from that and apply them to the (less rigorous) training for the Boston marathon. He was equally displeased with his showing. The lesson he took from this: he was at the age where he simply couldn’t compete with his younger self and this was simply something he’d have to accept.

He didn’t so much describe his training or running methods as much as approach them almost as an outside observer would, commenting on a difficultly, or an adjustment he had to make. In this way, his descriptions made for a delightfully straight-forward read. He describes himself as “more of a workhorse than a racehorse” and that is often how I have thought of myself.

Perhaps the part of the book that most resonated with me was toward the end when he was summing up his reason for lifelong exercise:

For me, the main goal of exercising is to maintain, and improve, my physical condition in order to keep on writing novels, so if races and training cut into the time I need to write, this would be putting the cart before the horse. Which is why I’ve tried to maintain a decent balance.

This is exactly what I am trying to do for myself over the next ten years as I work toward becoming a full-time writer. I need to maintain and improve my own physical condition in order to be able to continue to write, and when I retire, write more than I have ever been able to write before.

What I discovered in this short memoir was not what I’d expected: a memoir of running. Instead, I found a kind of simplicity in daily habit that allows a focus and accumulation of effort to payoff in a big way. The fun is not in being a great writer, or great musician, or nurse, or project manager. The joy is in the hard work that gets you there, the living in the moment, the journey, not the destination.

Every writer has to start with the first words on a blank page and then put in the effort, day in and day out to become as good as they possibly can. Every runner has to put on a pair of running shoes and take those first strides understanding that the pain (and frustration) is inevitable, but also knowing that the suffering is optional. That, I think, is the nugget of gold buried within Murakami’s book. It will be the mantra I repeat to myself when I finally work up the courage to start running.

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Project Sunrise: Ten Years to Full-time Writing

Sunrise over a lake

Today is the first day of my creative new year. It is also the first official day of an effort that I have calling “Project Sunrise” for short. Project Sunrise is a plan to transition to a full-time writer ten years from now when I retire. It involves three key elements:

  1. Improving my writing. Seriously improving my writing.
  2. Improving my overall health and well-being. Because I want to be in good shape when I retire.
  3. Improving my overall effectiveness and how I manage my time. So that I can make good use of what I have left.

I can see a lot of hands up so let me take some questions.

What do you mean by “improve my writing”?

I hinted at this in an earlier post, but I do have a specific plan in mind. I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve had small successes writing short fiction and nonfiction. That said, I am most proud of the writing I do here on the blog than any other writing I have done. When I retire from my day job, I’ll be 59 years old. That is still relatively young. I’d like to try my hand as a full time writer, and what better way to begin than with the writing I enjoy most: the writing I do here.

Writing well takes practice. It took me fourteen years of practice before I made my first sale. I’ve been writing on this blog for 16 years already, and while that seems like a lot of practice, I’d like to take it to the next level. I’d like to see if I can not only get this blog back to where it was in its heyday, but surpass it. There was a time when I was commissioned for other writing gigs because of the work I did on this blog. I want to see if I can get there again, and where it will lead.

Initially, my plan was to try to write 10 novels in ten years because I admire novelists. But the more I considered it, the more I realized that the writing I most enjoy doing is shorter form, be it articles for magazines, short stories, and especially what I write here. Writing 10 novels might be enough practice to allow me to write full time. But I just don’t enjoy it the way I do shorter writing. And I think I’m better in shorter doses anyway. So rather than attempt 10 novels in ten years, I decided to focus on different aspects of my craft, and building on them year after year so when retirement comes, I have the chance of writing full time, and have built up the experience, credits, and stamina to do so.

This first year, which begins today, July 1, is focused on my writing here on the blog. Subsequent years will continue to build on what I’ve done here, but also look toward branching out. My long-term plan is to use the blog as my personal university for improving the writing I most enjoy so that more and more readers enjoy it as well.

One of the key elements to this is finding ways to measure my improvement. This goes beyond standard metrics. The number of views isn’t worth much because it doesn’t tell you if people actually read it. I want to learn from each post I write, figure out what worked, what didn’t and why so that I can improve next time around. The nice thing about writing here is that each post is opportunity to learn and improve. What matters most (after my own enjoyment, of course), is what my readers think, and I’m counting on you to provide honest feedback. This is part of the reason why I re-opened the comments on all 6,700+ posts here on the blog. Over this first year, I’m hoping to develop a set of metrics that I find useful in measuring quality and improvement, and of course, I’ll pass long what I find to you.

At the end of ten years I should have a lot more focused experience. Who knows, maybe this blog will have more visibility than it does today? And I am hopeful that it will lead to opportunities that will allow me to work as a full-time writer once I retire from my day job. That is the sunrise that I look forward to. Worst case is that when I begin my full-time job as a writer, I’ll have is ten years of experience working consciously to improve my craft.

What do you mean by “improve my overall health and well-being?”

In order to have the stamina to spend a decade writing while working a full time job and raising kids, I need to be in better shape than I am today. I need more exercise. I need to eat better. I need to find ways of clearing my mind so that I sleep better and respond better to challenges that come up. I see this as a practice as well, just like writing, a slow and stead one that will improve my overall health and well-being hand in hand with my writing over the next ten years. The result, I hope, is a more healthy decade, but also, I look to coming at full-time writing health and in good shape.

Why the name “Project Sunrise”?

When I was fleshing out this idea, I kept referring it to my “ten novels in ten years” project. That was too long-winded, and it became moot when I reconsidered and refocused my goals. So I made a list of possibilities, something short and simple that I could refer to and know what it meant. I came up with Project Sunrise, because a sunrise is a new beginning. Each creative year is a new beginning. And at the end of these next ten years, there is a new beginning for me as well, retiring from my day job to become a full time writer.

What do you mean by a “creative new year”?

One problem I have found with beginning new habits is that the traditional new year is a terrible time for me to start them. It is cold and dark in December and January and that does something to both my motivation and mood. It’s much easier for me to begin something new when the sun rises early, and sets late, when the temperature is warm, when I don’t have to deal with the activities that come with kids in school. This is true for writing as well as habits. It seemed to me, therefore, that to being my creative year on July 1 meant I was beginning when the air is warm and the nights are long, and getting up early to exercise doesn’t mean freezing in darkness.

Of course, darkness and cold will come, but by then I hope that my new habits, health and writing, will be well-established and it won’t matter.

Do you really think you’ll make it as a full time writer? What happens if you don’t?

When I started out writing, I was pretty haphazard about things and didn’t look closely at how I worked or ways I could improve. I just moved on to the next thing. It was probably part of the reason it took so long to start selling stories. Now, I have the confidence of knowing that I can write well enough to sell what I write a short length. Approaching this with a focus on practice, craft, and continuous improvement is the best shot that I have.

And if I don’t make it? Well, I can still write. There’s this blog. It’s been around for 16 years so far, and I don’t see why it would have to go anywhere. Besides, I’ll be retired. There won’t be pressure to find a means of employment. Still, my attitude going in is that I will make it. I may not be a bestselling writer, but I think I’ve a better than even shot of being able to write full time if I really try. I can visualize it, the way I did when I was young and imagined I would sell a story to Analog or get my private pilot’s license. It was never a question of if, but when.

Of course, along the way I’ll provide progress reports and lessons-learned. Part of this involves really looking at the work I do and how I do it and see how I can make incremental improvements over time.

Okay, I don’t see any more hands at this point, but if you still have questions about this, come find me. I’ll be waiting in the comments below.

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When I was six years old I imagined I wanted to be an astronomer. I was fascinated by the stars. I checked books on astronomy out of the library. But I didn’t really know what it meant to be an astronomer. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t see myself doing whatever it was astronomers do.

Much later, once I’d decided I wanted to be a writer, I can remember sending off stories to magazines like Analog and imagining what it would be like to have one of those stories accepted. It was clear in my mind how it would work. I could see receiving a letter from the editor telling me they wanted to buy my story. It was this vision that kept me writing during the first fourteen years I submitted stories. It was this vision that kept me sending out stories after collecting one rejection slip after another (many of them from Analog). Because I could see it, I knew that one day, I’d sell stories. I made my first sale in late 2006 to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show.

A few years later, I made what so far was the first of four sales to Analog, the magazine that I dreamed of appearing in from the start. Two of those sales have been fiction, and much to my surprise, two were nonfiction, guest editorials for the magazines.

I’ve recently started writing fiction again, after a five-year bout of writer’s block. I have a new plan now, one that involves writing ten novels over the next ten years, all as practice so that when I retire from my day job at the end of that ten year period, I can try my hand at writing full-time. I’m beginning to see that first novel sale in my mind the way I saw that first short story sale. It’s not a strong vision yet, it’s still fuzzy around the edges, but I think it will clear up as I improve my craft.

This idea of being able to clearly visualize a goal has helped me beyond just my writing. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by airplanes. I wanted to be a pilot. I even considered Embry-Riddle as a possible school when I was looking at colleges. I read The Student Pilot’s Flight Manual as a kid, and I used to sit around drawing Cessna control panels on days when I was bored. Later, when Microsoft Flight Simulator came out, I had a much more realistic way of feeding that particular curiosity.

Finally, in the summer of 1999, I began to take flying lessons at Van Nuys airport just north of Los Angeles. During that time I worked in Santa Monica and commuted home to Studio City each day, often stopping at the airport for a lesson. I remember clearly sitting in traffic on the 405 freeway, heading north, and imagining myself flying. I remember being particularly nervous at the thought of soloing. It’s one thing to have the vision, but something else entirely to find yourself in an airplane, a thousand feed above the ground and the only person who can get you back down is you. But I did solo, and on April 3, 2000, I passed my check ride and received my private pilot’s license.

Me standing outside the Cessna I flow for my check ride, holding my new pilot's license.

Vision helps me in small ways, too. When I am writing something, be it a story, or a blog post, if I can picture the result, and the result excites me, I know I have something good. If I can’t picture that result, I know that I need to go in a different direction. I wish I could easily give up and move in another direction in these situation, but I don’t always do it. And often, when I don’t have the vision, the story or post just doesn’t work.

When I think about the things I have achieved that seemed like day-dreams to me at the story: selling stories, flying planes, I realize that I have been pretty lucky. The ability to use visualization as a kind of barometer for success has been a useful tool for me along the way. I sometimes forget about it, but as I move forward into this new chapter, one in which I am trying to see myself as a full-time writer (albeit ten years hence), I am trying to see that future incarnation of myself more clearly every day.