My five year plan is the same as it was five years ago, but I'm only slightly miffed by it. My timeliness expectations have been lowered to the point that "this day" becomes "one day". But that’s how life is. What I want is irrelevant, if I don't work toward it. But progress is marching on, each in their own small ways, and it's led me to a place which I can confidently say is the "good old days". I'm just lucky enough to realize it before they fade. I’ve been there before, sometimes with self-awareness, so perhaps it’s more apt to say: I’m happy, and that’s just fine.

So, where do I want to be in five years? Powells. Staring at my name on a little note card extolling the virtues of my debut novel. But I'll settle for any bookstore, any shelf, so long as I have something physical in my hands. I want to smell the pages. What steps are on this path? A finished, marketable manuscript and more luck than I think I have. I'm tackling the first part of that first part, but the demands of life will push that "The End" to 2021 or later. For 2019 my goal was to write 100,000 words. I did not meet that. I did not come close. For 2020 I won't set anything in stone, other than to bring something new each week to my writing group. Optimistically, that could mean as much as 75,000 words this year. I would like that very much.

If you go by my most recent blog post I should have finished something two years ago. The fact that I haven’t isn’t a demerit. I could explain away the delay, but suffice to say it’s set up me up for success one day. But that's okay. The projects I work on may never bring me wealth or fame, but it's really only my ego (and my pragmatism) that are driving my desire to publish.

Two of those projects are obsessing over numbers. I made a tool that I use to track my writing progress on large projects. It allows me to time each writing session (down to the millisecond, though I only care about resolution of a second), with a simple tag engine to keep track of which session is for which project. The fun stuff comes from the analytics I can pull out of it. I can set a target for how many words I want the current project to have, and it will project out an estimated completion date based on how fast and how frequent I am writing. I also get insight into my writing speed limit, so to speak, and (with a little outside thinking) what steps I can take to improve it.

I would have liked this post to go live a month ago, but while writing this part I found that the data had been corrupted. All of my backups were corrupted too, which meant the most recent session logs I had were from 2016 (in an inadvertent dump I managed to dig up). The lesson here is that, as nice as Dropbox and Backblaze are, they only have 30 days of version history until you pay them more money. Which I am now doing. This is the biggest data loss I’ve personally encountered since high school, before Dropbox was really a thing. Luckily, I was able to get 99% of the data restored (I’m only missing inconsequential data for 10 sessions). I’m grateful I’ve been lucky and careful enough that something so admittedly minor is what sets the bar for me. I was devastated, and still am, since it’s unlikely that I’ll ever get the data back. If anyone has the knowledge and skills to extract something useable from corrupted MySQL ibdata files, I’d be more than happy to send you a puzzle.

I have the data now, though, so I can share with you the numbers. Starting with my bookshelf, of course. These numbers are using the Microsoft Word wordcount, and only looking at the latest version. Since 2012 I have:

  • 11 completed flash fiction totaling 8,217 words.
  • 15 completed short stories totaling 35,908 words.
  • 1 novelette with 11,644 words.
  • 1 novel with 53,929 words.
  • 14 unfinished projects totaling 77,826 words. One of those has no prose, only prewriting.
  • 1 work in progress, with the goal of being finished novel #2.

That’s 187,624 words in a little under eight years. If you consider my writing pace to be1,000 WPH on the low end, it makes the math easier to do (but harder to stomach): I averaged only 3 minutes and 51 seconds of writing per day. At that pace you’d be right to think I’ll only have the first draft of my next novel finished by 2026.

I said 1,000 WPH on the low end, and this is where I get to brag a little. I’m a fairly fast typist due to my unrepentant love of computers and those skills have translated over well to writing. The recipe to ultimate speed success (for me) is: recent exercise, soundness of body (read: not hungry, cold, or tired), and a crystal clear image of what will be written. I consider a slow day to be under 1,500 WPH, and a bad day to be under 1,000 WPH. Once I start pushing 2,000 that’s when I feel like I’m flying. I consider my upper limit to be around 2,800, anything more than that and I’m not sustainable. I hit 3,300 WPH after dumping 500 words in nine minutes while prewriting my novel. That’s considered a long session, at those speeds. My personal record, which is for actual creative writing, was when I wrote 414 words in 4 minutes and 38 seconds. That’s 5,361 WPH, or a sustained 89 WPM. But once I’m writing for fifteen minutes or longer, I drop below the 2,800 WPH threshold.

Those of you doing the math at home will come to know these numbers fall flat, with almost nothing supporting them. Writers write, but I don’t write as often as I should. I don’t take advantage of the time I have. I get distracted by new shiny projects that don’t really matter in the long run. It took me 52 hours over 38 days between August and December 2015 to write my novel. That’s including 8 hours of prewriting over the first week. I’m not sharing these numbers to prove how awesome I am, quite the opposite. I have the time and skills necessary to write fairly quickly. I have the desire and creativity to generate dozens of stories, many of which could easily be expanded into full length novels. What I’m lacking is discipline. It’s something I’m striving to correct.

The second project I’ll mention is similar in vein. For the latter part of the decade I have been keeping track of everything I read. If you're ambitious you could sell it as market research, a self-guided education, or a wellspring of ideas I can rip off for my own self-serving goals. I challenge myself to read 20,000 pages (50 books, 6 million words) every year. I've come close several times. More recently I've tried to focus on branching out, on finding new authors to break me out of my comfort zone. Re-reads are also discouraged, yet not unavoidable.

Since October 10, 2014 I’ve read 152 books, 106 of which are unique, totaling 90,308 pages. This is roughly 226 books 400 pages long. Those are spread across 34 different authors, which shows my trend for reading deep into a series. On average I’m reading 41 pages a day, but in truth I’m more of a binger. I may only read a book over one or two days, with a break between books. I have two outliers. In 2014 I only started tracking near the end of the year, but I read a respectable 5,933 pages. Extrapolate it out and I’d likely hit my goal that year. I have one bad year, 2017, where I only read 10 books totaling 4,787 pages. If you drop both outliers it puts me within a rounding error of hitting my goal each year: 132 books and 79,588 pages.

The data is skewed slightly because I don’t track when I started reading a book, so a book finished in the first week of January probably should have most of its pages applied to the previous year. In the long term this doesn’t matter as much.

Lists tend to quantify the unremarkable, so here's the highlights of my late-teens / early-twenties:

  • Leaving high school to graduate college seven years later - for a two year degree.
  • Uprooting my life. Partly to disrupt the status quo, partly to prove my commitment to my dream.
  • Establishing a group of solid friends that humor me enough to listen to my unremarkable improv.
  • Writing more than I have before (and better too, so I tell myself).
  • Working on minor, random projects that have stolen far too many good night's sleep from me (I have to include this here, otherwise what was the point?) .
  • Joining a writing group which has given me the external push I need to get through no word weeks.
  • Figuring out who I really am (for the most part).

Looking back I believe there are only a few things I would change if I could, but I'd most definitely end up in a radically different place. I'm not sure I buy into the idea that that grass is greener. Regardless, the wisdom I would share with my younger self is simple. What you fear will save you. Or, less dramatically, don't buy into the lie everyone is selling you.

Tags: Writing

Around four months ago I jumped over the edge of a cliff and moved across state lines with no job, no degree, and a hazy dream of what might be. I've been at my current job for a little over a month, so I think I can say I've "made it", insofar as I have a steady paycheck and no major obligations. I didn't leave everyone and everything I knew for yet another desk job. I moved so I could kick start my career as an author. I made the mistake of quitting my day job far too early, but now I finally have the free time to do what I want to.

I'm also a college dropout. Seven years with nothing to show for it but tens of thousands of dollars of debt and a lingering feeling of what might have been. But I have to do what's right for me — nobody else will. Whatever the reasons may be, I've decided I want to be an author. My education hardly prepared me for that line of work, but it did shape me into who I am today. What's more important than that piece of paper is how I choose to conduct my life. I'll never be able to check more than "some college" on surveys, and I'll forever have to accept being labeled as a "quitter". Well, okay then.

My priority now is my writing. I have one novel under my belt, and a dozen or so shorter stories, but that's not enough. It can never be enough. My mind is always racing with new ideas that absolutely, positively must be transformed. To that end my new project will become my second finished novel. I'm 1 for 4 on novels so far, on completion — I promise the other three were cut for spectacularly good reasons. Now, though, I have ample freedom thanks to my poor decision making skills and limited discretionary income. My goal is to finish this novel by the end of the year. Oh what a journey it will be!

Tags: Writing

Today SpaceX successfully completed their sixth attempt at landing a rocket on a small boat in the ocean. This is a major step towards rocket reusability. Soon it'll only cost $40 million dollars to blast off, instead of the astronomical $60+ they were charging before. That's a bargain basement get-it-while-its-hot price.

Throwing away a highly engineered and delicately manufactured machine after only one use is unsustainable. If they can squeeze out the 100+ flights per rocket they're targeting, that would open up the great beyond to anyone making mid-six figures a year or lower. Forget about a parabolic flight path — you could pay a couple hundred thousand dollars and watch the sun spread life giving warmth around this tender earth from 250 miles up.

I don't think we'll see any functioning extra-planetary facilities (beyond a refurbishment of the ISS) in the next 30-50 years. Until it becomes commercially viable, more than simple tourism, there won't be a good enough reason for the expense. Sticking a massive telescope on the far side of the moon — or some other automated science gatherer — would be the first thing I would expect, if a national space agency could find it in the budget. You still would have to deal with the pesky sun getting in the way half the time.

Despite that, this is fantastic news. The engineers at SpaceX have done a tremendous job sticking the landing. I'm eager to see what they do next, and how the future of space travel develops. I'll be happy to be proven wrong.

Well, it's official. I've traveled to a magical place that sells podia for $9.99 a month. If this is the future, welcome! I hope you find this origin story pleasant and nonconfrontational. For everyone else tuning in as this goes live — shout out to you Google — pay no attention to the man behind the HTML.