Saturday, April 11, 2015

And The First Law Shall Be RTFM


I got a new phone last week. Apple this time, not Android. I hear Scrivener is coming for iPhone this year, which was a factor. So were the better games. So were the numerous glitches my Droid RAZR developed over the last year after one too many OS updates.

Changing your phone's operating system is a chore. Not a huge one, since Google is ubiquitous and the cloud has its pseudopods into everything. But getting used to a new interface, and a new level of responsiveness, can be a pain. So can dealing with the tiny little wrinkles you didn't expect. Like Bluetooth not working.

My old phone paired to my car and just worked. My new phone paired to my car, then unpaired. Then refused to pair again. In Maryland it's illegal to be caught diddling your phone on the highway, so I kinda needed the Bluetooth to work.

I turn the phone off and on again, same thing happens. Google tells me this is a known bug in iOS 8, but a patch is due out this very day. I apply the patch and nothing changes. I try out about ten home remedies from various Mac forums and nothing changes.

I end up sitting in my car at 10 p.m. with a flashlight and a Subaru owner's manual before I realize that I've been pairing my phone as an audio device, and not a phone. "But a phone is an audio device," you say. "Yes," I say, "but Subaru made some less than intuitive design choices in their dashboard computers."

I pair the phone as a phone. It works. Sweet Home Alabama returns to plague me for the millionth time. I realize that every complaint I had about Apple's Bluetooth was Subaru's fault. But really, my fault.

I forgot to RTFM.

Or, "Read The Fucking Manual", for the uninitiated. It's a sysadmin solution for a user problem that wouldn't be a problem if the user had deigned to read the documentation on his shiny new toy, covered in blinkenlichten.

It's generally not polite to actually say this, of course. Nor is it wise to list PEBKAC* in a trouble ticket. But RTFM is the Truth and the Way, and you shall be rewarded if you abide by its tenets in all walks of life. The most successful criminals know the law inside and out. So do the most successful businesses. This is not a coincidence. They have RTFM and it has given them power.

If you drive a car, you want to know what all the levers, knobs and buttons on your dash do. You want to know how to open the gas tank, adjust the steering wheel, and put the rear seats down so you can fit that Vegas billboard in your cargo area. So you read your owner's manual. If you're on the road you want to know what the speed limit is, what the rules are to pass a bicyclist, and what side of the road you should be driving on in the first place. So you take a class and learn the traffic laws.

If you make money, you'll want to read up on the basics of paying taxes. That goes double if you're self-employed because you won't have a company figuring any of the numbers out for you. If you're planning for retirement, you want to know how IRAs and mutual funds work. If you're planning your estate, you want to know how wills and powers of attorney work. Because you can pay an accountant or an attorney to know all this stuff for you, but they'll do a much better job if you know the right questions to ask.

(I took an estate planning course recently and it's like I read five fucking manuals. Protip: if you own a spouse with your house... Jesus, did I really just type that? I can't believe it. I'm leaving it in as evidence.

If you own a house with your spouse, and she slips into a coma and you need to sell it to pay for her care, you can't do that unless you have a valid Power of Attorney. Same for your spouse's car. And in Maryland, the statutory, standard, fill-in-the-blank Power of Attorney form will only cover the house, not the car. Your lawyer will not explain this to you for free, so if you live in Maryland I've just done you a favor. A non-binding favor that should not be considered expert legal advice. Feel free to send money.)

And if you are a writer, you've heard that you must know the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling before you can break them. The same holds true for character, story structure, pacing, you name it. Hell, maybe you want to publish your book in literal blood. Isn't it best if you know the right blood-to-ink ratio to prevent flaking? Or what type of blood to use to prevent the CDC from stomping your ass?

I could talk about James Joyce,  or E. E. Cummings (sorry, e. e. cummings), but my personal favorite example is: you're not supposed to write books in second person. First person or third person, fine; second person, you're on drugs, or drafting a sourcebook for a role playing game. Nevertheless, Charles Stross did it twice, in Halting State and its sequel Rule 34, and because he knew what he was doing (aping the style of a game) and why he was doing it (because he was writing about a heist set in a game world), they were awesome books.

RTFM. Know the rules. Know how things work. Then go forth and conquer, in the full knowledge of how far you should go and how far you can go.

*Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Help, Dictation Is Hard

As part of an ongoing effort to free up more writing time and Get Things Done, I tried using Android's speech-to-text function today to get some writing done during my commute home. When you have a two hour commute, it seems a shame to waste it on podcasts when you could be writing.

This... is the result.


Ask return enter new line backslash
Physical storey apparel son of a woodcutter 02 is gable master Matix terrible monster and a boy Harold story begins in a log cabin in the woods forest cold there in the dead stop the woods for Harolds home is off penal colony for the dead a place where they are taken by the burning Kate to serve out ternity service 
Harold live with his father big car and his brother Magnus Magnus was well liked by the village it was considered a good man I really on them but he was unhappy because he wanted most in life was to go out it was forbidden by were burning king and his father big nor would not permit him to run off on though I'm staring and take over as wood cutter for the village Herald News can sometimes but most times and no it was not an outcast roster size it has little in the way of friends and there's an old woman standing there holding a little girl in her arms quickly the girls name was Carol the color rose then when I ask what you're talking about it
So, yeah! If anyone out there can recommend a good text-to-speech solution (Android, iOS or otherwise), please let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Time To Write

If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. - Stephen King

State of the Author, 2015:

I barely have time to read. I very barely have time to write.

I am starting to suspect that only barely having time to write, is worse than having no time to write.

("Oh God", says the reader, "he's going to whine that he doesn't have enough writing time." Bear with me, there are some good links coming up.)

I went into this year with no real resolutions, authorly or otherwise. But after doing my taxes I developed one, which is that this year I would finally make some money with my writing. Because I could really use some extra money.

(Technically I've already achieved my resolution: Black Library sent me my latest royalty statement for The Assassin's Dilemma, and with two sales this quarter I made a handy twenty-two cents. It doesn't matter that the company doesn't pay royalties until you hit twenty-five dollars or more, I celebrated.)

I've read some great motivational books on self-publishing, like Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should and Write Short Kindle Books: A Self-Publishing Manifesto for Non-Fiction Authors; and I've read some not-so-motivational articles on self-publishing, like Confessions of a Failed Romance Novelist (which you can find through the somewhat better Confessions of an Irritable Romance Novelist). I've been seduced by royalty numbers and sales figures and the apparent success of even dinosaur erotica on Amazon.

And I like writing short fiction, damn it. I enjoy writing good twists and fast pacing. So, I figured, I would write some short works, put them up for sale, and see what happened. I certainly wasn't short on ideas. Even total failure would be a good learning experience, and maybe I could beat Beverly Bush at her own game.

And...

Nothing. Total mode lock. Not writer's block - this is coming out just fine - but I can't seem to even start anything.

When I get stuck I tend to read books on writing to un-stick myself. This time I sprung for 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron, which is only a freaking dollar and you have no excuse not to pick it up. No matter what your writing habits are, there are some solid tips there and I'm looking forward to trying them out.

I enjoyed the book, but I'm still not writing, still freezing up at the blank page, which pisses me off to no end because I know I'm better than this and I don't understand what the problem is. But I think I might be getting a handle on it.

I came across a post by Kameron Hurley, Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How I’m Hacking My Writing Process, which after "2k to 10k" seemed like a natural read. (And it's name-checked in the blog post!) And it was thought-provoking and interesting, but there was one passage that stuck out to me:
I heard author Catherynne Valente once compare falling into this immersive state while writing with falling asleep, and the metaphor was so apt that a little bell went off in my head, and I realized that I’d been trying to fit the act of writing into a work week designed to produce widgets, not prose. When you only have 90 minutes to lie down and take a nap, and the dog is barking, and people are opening and closing the doors, and the TV is on, and cars are driving by… you’re constantly popping in and out of that glorious place where you’re drifting off to sleep, and you really never reach the deep sleep you need to feel rested. Sure, you might get some “rest” but you haven’t really slept the way you would if you have five hours, eight hours, ten hours to nod off.

This is what trying to write in 90 minute chunks of time feels like for me. I know I have 90 minutes. I know it’s not going to be enough time to really get into what I’m doing. I know there will be distractions, and my brain won’t have the time it needs to slip into the sleepy-dream-hallucinating-I’m-in-another-world state that I need to crack out some effortless writing.
My writing time has been limited for awhile, but lately it's gotten significantly worse. I'm at work for nearly eleven hours a day, and when I get home my son demands most of my time until he goes to bed. (And he does whatever Daddy does, so if I open a notebook? He's scribbling in it five seconds later. Pull up a keyboard? dkla;ahgdls;a.) After that there's dishes, walking the dog, actually spending time alone with my wife... basically if I want a block of writing time during the week, it's going to start at 11 p.m. And my weekends and days off have been taken up by personal and family crises that obliterate any notion of writing.

I know about that dream-state Kameron and Catherynne are talking about. I've been there, I love it. And I know I'm not going to get there with the time I have available. And knowing that - knowing that any time I start to write, I could be forcibly and irrecoverably interrupted at any time - is turning into a crippling block for me.

For example: I tried to draft this post at 6:00 p.m., and my son scribbled all over himself with my pen, sat on my lap ripping Boogie Wipes out of their bag, demanded I read him the book with the shark puppet, and picked a fight with the dog, all within ten minutes. And then it was his bath time. I am writing this at 11:29 p.m. I am sitting in my office, scared that the clatter of my keyboard is going to wake my son up. He sleeps right above my office, and I've got superstitions about him. He'll wake up if I type too fast. He'll wake up if the dog barks. He'll wake up if I'm up after midnight. And he's stuffy and coughy tonight, which has me even more worried, because if he does wake up that's two hours of rocking and shushing him back to sleep.

Did I mention I have a second child arriving soon?

I'm going to keep writing, that's not in question. But doing it well, and doing it in a way that makes me happy... that's trickier. And I'm not sure how I'm going to work it anytime soon.

So. How are you all doing with time/space management? Any good reads on the subject you'd recommend? Here's one I enjoyed, to send you off with: A Shed Of One's Own, by Chuck Wendig. Who has a writing shed that isn't filled with lawn mower.

I'm not jealous.

Not one bit.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Links of Interest, Kameron Hurley Edition

Shameless plugging follows. Kameron Hurley is the Hugo-winning author of Mirror Empire, which I read last month and quite enjoyed, once I got my head screwed around one of the most alien fantasy settings I've ever come across. (Alien as in non-Tolkien, non-Moorcock, not alien as in actual aliens running about. But then again who knows.) She's also been turning up in my newsfeed a lot so the next two links are to her blog.

First up we have So You Think You Finished A Novel..., where Ms. Hurley shows us first draft of Empire Ascendant complete with revision tags and makes me feel like maybe my editing process isn't as crappy as I thought. (Still not as good as hers, but better than I feared.)

Next is What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job, where Ms. Hurley posts honest-to-God figures of what she's been paid for her books. If you want to know more about what a novelist makes this is the link to follow. (And I'll be trawling her blog to see if she writes more about writing with a day job, particularly how she handles the quarterly bookkeeping alongside her employer's W-2s. The only advice I've ever seen on this comes from Chuck Wendig, and that was "Get an accountant. No, seriously.")

I found that link through io9, and in the comments section user DocSupreme talks about self-publishing erotica on Amazon. It sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme, except Doc's sincere, up-front and helpful about it. Plus with daycare bills to pay I might not be above catering to the post-Singularity smut market.

Then there's 750words.com, which one of my college friends is using. I haven't tried it yet, but the concept of starting my day with 750 words on paper, come hell or high water, is an appealing one. And Lifehacker links to a post by the founder of 750words.com, which talks about using writing as a meditation technique. Based on the first link I posted I feel I'd need a meditation technique to cope with editing, but it's an interesting thought. (The Lifehacker thing also mentions journaling. I wouldn't recommend it. Mark Twain talked about journals in The Innocents Abroad and approved of them... but only if they're done. Because done journals are fucking rare.)

And last but not least is a guest post by Delilah S. Dawson at Terribleminds, titled 25 WRITING HACKS FROM A HACK WRITER. Much wisdom there, especially regarding getting rid of extraneous bullshit. Do it. And go read.

I'll leave off there because my son's waking up and there's some sort of sporting event this evening. Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hardcore Risette Fan

I've been playing Persona 4 Golden since late last year. Exquisite Japanese role-playing game. It combines some light dungeon crawling with social/dating sim elements and wraps them in an insanely tight but intuitive time-management system that guarantees you'll have to finish the game twice to have a hope of seeing everything. (It's also an anime available on Hulu Plus if you want to watch a good high school supernatural murder mystery.)

Part of playing a video game these days is achievements, or "Trophies" if you're on a PlayStation device. (It's going to be achievements for me - XBox 360 OG here.) Persona 4 Golden has them, and supposedly one of the hardest to get is called "Hardcore Risette Fan". I got it last night without hardly trying. Here's how I did it.

The point of the trophy is that one of your party members, Rise, will say little random quotes as you fight monsters or run through dungeons. You need to hear 250 distinct quotes to get the achievement. That doesn't start until about halfway through the game so don't worry about it at all early on.

Once Rise turns up, do the following:

-Balance your party. Divide it into two teams and swap between them to keep your levels even. This also ensures you're going to hear more character-specific lines because you'll be playing with everyone you can.

-Make friends with the Fox. You need to spend a lot of time in the dungeons to get this achievement, and ranking up the Fox's social link will let you get the cheap healing you need to do it. Also make sure you keep enough dungeon-exiting items around so that you don't have to leave early. The Traesto spell is huge if you can get it and keep it.

-Go through the Void dungeon before you rank up Rise's social link too much. Some of her lines stop happening once your social link rises above 2 or 3. You should be able to get a good chunk of them in the Void. Speaking of, let the Void boss rebuild his little pixel bot when you're fighting him to get a bonus quote.

-Fight a lot of different enemies, don't just run past them (unless you get super bored like I did in the last dungeon). You want to fight enemies with different strengths and weaknesses, especially elemental ones. Also make sure you have all your party members hitting weaknesses when they can, one monster at a time if possible. And make sure you fight the little hand monsters when you see them.

-Fight the bonus bosses and do all the quests. It helps cut down on the tedium of grinding enemies if you have a larger goal.

-Don't heal after a fight if one or more characters is low on hit points. Rise will warn you about it and that counts as a line.

-If you find an enemy with Debilitate, let everyone in your party get hit with it, then start scanning enemies and backing out until Rise has identified everything that's just gone horribly wrong for you. 3 things per party member.

-When you're fighting Ring Head (you'll know him when you see him), let him screw around with the environment for awhile halfway through the fight. When you're fighting the culprit, let him use Heat Riser early in the fight. I got the achievement fighting the culprit so you don't need to get every special boss quote.

I got the achievement on my first playthrough, so don't listen to anyone who says you need to go through the game twice or wait for the second run. And the only farming I did was hitting all the quests and the bonus bosses, and doing the Debilitate trick once. (Not even on everyone in my party!)

And this is what I've been doing instead of fucking writing. (Well, that and raising a tiny human and miscellaneous other family-related things.) How were your holidays?