Reflections On 10,000 Words

As I said before, for me to write a 50,000 word novel in November, particularly this November, would be impossible. And it was. Nonetheless, I managed to get 10,000 words down on paper last month. 10,000 words which survived a new client project, a sick child, software Side projects, and the release of X-com enemy unknown for iOS. Not bad, considering I decided to take up this mad quest on October 27th.

It was challenging, rewarding, and way less itchy than growing a movember moustache. It also got me thinking about why I stopped writing. Okay, I never really stopped writing, but I never really took it seriously as a career path. The dream of being a published author always took a back seat to my more immediate dream of not living in my parent’s basement. That’s the idea right? Write for pleasure, but don’t quit your day job. What if that day job takes 10 years to materialize?

It surprised me how easy it was to pick up writing everyday when I was writing for speed instead of brilliance. I was able to crank out 500 words easy on a recumbent bike at the gym. I found that the more time I gave myself, the less I wrote. If I had 2 hours to fill, I’d get distracted pretty easily. I think my biggest push was 2800 words on the last day of the challenge.

Just how is this novel? Terrible. Horrible. Full of convenient plot holes, characters drawn from real life friends, story elements that my totally embarrassing 14-year-old self would just find extra kewl. There are giant robots, aliens, and the immaculate scenery of the Pacific Northwest. However, as I looked back at what I wrote every day, I realized that now that this story was out there, in the universe, the notion that it’s just adolescent drivel could very well be just in my own head. Maybe after a second look my critical mind could fill in the blanks that my story needs. Maybe I could show it to someone and it will speak to them in a way that I cannot hear. Maybe none of that will happen, but the only way that I could assure hat my word amounted to little than sound and fury was if I did. Not. Write. Them. Down.

if I had to describe my NanoWrimo experience in one word, that word would be forward. I have moved forward towards a published book, to reintegrating writing into my life, and making my life experience all the more complete. I will finish this novel. I will be sending to friends agents and publishers to that it will be read. And next year, I hope to start this process all over agin.

Found: Time To Write

As I write this, I’m on a sit down exercise bike at my local rec centre. I’m making a prose gym selfie! But I’m not just here to make a humblebrag. Since my son was born, and I got my new job I’ve found that the key to reaching all of your goals in life is routine and discipline. Yeah, I know it’s a cliché, but the even bigger cliché is to believe in dreaming big, visualizing your goals, and all sorts of other magical thinking. The day to day drudge of writing, practising, or failing your way to success just doesn’t make for good storytelling or filmmaking. At least, those aren’t the scenes that people remember. You remember the awards ceremonies and the adulation. You remember the medal scene from the end of Star Wars a new hope. The smoking corpses of uncle Owen and aunt Beru, not so much. Oh well. It keeps you in an exclusive club when you do actually tick that item off your bucket list.

But where was I? Oh yes. In recent months I’ve been able to fit in gym time, anime time, time with my son, time for reading, time for friends and time for extracurricular programming, but now that just leaves me to find time for writing, which I haven’t been able to focus on. I’m not even quite sure that my wordpress install is working properly. The last entry was when I presented my son’s video training montage, and that was months ago.

Even so, I put this on my profile: writer, coder, and new dad. Pretty soon I’ll have to drop the “new” of my dad title, so the other two have to step up. Nanowrimo is coming up, and every year I’ve managed to find an excuse to stay on the sidelines, even when I was trying to do 750 words a day for a year on 750words.com.

This next November, I’m going to do it. I’m going to submit my writing to NanoWrimo. I don’t think I’ll actually make it to the 50,000 words I need to qualify, but if I rearrange a few things, I can make something happen. I can give up my daily anime for a month and turn my gym time into writing time. My coding time has been time boxed to 1 hour on Thursdays for the ruby brigade and and 2–4 hours on the weekend. If I give up trying to code on all other weeknights and focus on getting ready for the next day, I can show up to work early for some uninterrupted typing time.

It’s easy for me to sound chirpy about this right now. I’ve got at least three family birthdays this month, including mine and my son’s, a late family thanksgiving to contend with, and I will need to cover for my wife when report cards roll around. Yet here I am making another honey do list for my future self to carry out. And as I learned when I became a dad, future James is a chump that can’t be trusted. Still, if I lay things out in plain, easy to follow instructions, Future James is capable of a great many things.

In Praise of the Humblebrag

How about that? I actually managed to put more work into that contact app in the last week than I have in the past six months. Here I thought I was just posting the programming equivalent of a gym selfie. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Despite what some lazy buzzfeed article told you about facebook etiquette, there are a lot of studies backing the benefits of publicly proclaiming your commitment to your goals. It adds that little bit of accountability that’ll get you through the nights when you don’t want to go on that run or write that novel chapter. But enough platitudes, what did I accomplish last week? Well, here’s a screenshot.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.22.44 PM

I’ve got an interface for entering a list of names behind a facebook-driven log-in system. I’m using a from-scratch permission system to hide the contacts from public users. The interface uses the AngularJS package, so the names are saved to the database as soon as you click the add button, no page refresh required.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the interface is going to work. I want users to be entering in their interactions about once a day. It’s going to be a very quick habit, and will let the system get a sense of how the user is doing socially. I’ll start with a list of the most recent contacts like so:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.46.06 PM

Clicking one of them will bring up a modal dialog like this.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.51.30 PM

The user will select the method of contact and move on to the next person.

Occasionally, (or regularly, depending on the settings) the system will ask for more information about the user’s interactions with pointed questions like these.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 9.57.03 PM

I haven’t decided if I’m going to analyze the answers yet, but it should get users thinking about their emotions when it comes to dealing with strangers.

It’s kind of a tall order here. I don’t think I’ll get all these features done this week. The real struggle will be to focus on the features that will turn this into a minimum viable product. That way I’ll be able to use this app in the real world and figure out if I should have attempted this at all in the first place.

Care and feeding of the Right Side of the Brain

It’s been odd to be on this plateau in life. I’m so used to worrying about my career that it really feels like something’s missing now that I don’t have to. The work I’m doing is challenging, fulfilling, and I like the people I work with. I’m even back at the gym, if you can believe that. Sure, this job is only as secure as any other programming job, and I’m really tempting fate by putting this to paper, but I’ve gotten to a point where if I lose my job tomorrow, I know exactly what to do to get to the next one. The plan would be executed with maximum efficiency and a minimum of drinking and swearing. For me, that leaves a lot spare mental energy kicking around. That means I’ve got to keep striving.

I’ve been making some headway on that contact manager I announced I was going to make at New Year’s. I was hoping to use the Facebook Graph API to track my interactions with my friends, and use that data to see where I could be more sociable online. Unfortunately, I learned that Facebook has locked down anything to do with data about your friends, so my program’s not going to be as automatic as I want it to be. Good on Facebook for growing a conscience, but did they have to step on my programming dreams in the process?

No matter. They still let you download all your data, which is all I need in the first place. I’ve got to pivot this thing so it functions without any outside data sources in the first place. I want people to be able to gamify their social interactions so that they have more friends, build better support networks and live longer, healthier lives.

I think I’ve got about 7-8 hours to focus on this one project. One hour Monday, one hour tuesday, two hours Wednesday, 3-4 hours on the weekends. By the end of that time I should have an app that allows me to enter contacts and write “notes” whenever I make contact with them. I’ll write my results hear next week, and if not I’ll just complain about what’s keeping me from programming this week. Good Luck, and Godspeed!