Tag Archive for general writing

Writing In The New For 2015

A new year is always a good time to set new priorities after reviewing last year. I’ve decided to focus on what I’ve become since I made a decision in late 2006 take writing serious: writer, blogger and publisher.

WRITER

Fiction was easier to write. I wrote 30+ short stories published in over a dozen anthologies and three unpublished novels—a sprawling 700-page first novel, one-third of a second novel, and the outline for a third novel—that went nowhere. Despite my initial publishing success, I spent more time on publishing ebooks in the last few years. I have dozens of short stories in various drafts that I’m waiting to finish (someday).

Non-fiction was never easier to write. (As Stephen King once said, “The problem with non-fiction is that you just can’t make [crap] up.”) The few essays I did write and published as ebooks were long, hard slog that emphasized the creative pain rather than the creative pleasure of writing.

Since ebook publishing is my biggest source of writing income, I can’t deny the sales numbers. Non-fiction ebooks sells better than fiction ebooks. While I may clear out the back log of short stories, the priority is on non-fiction. Blogging in general, essays in particular.

BLOGGER

Being a successful blogger has always been an elusive goal for me. If traffic and advertising numbers are any indication, I’m a dismal failure. I could blame the underlying technical issues that made routine blogging and updating the author website a major chore. (Those issues will get fix in the next three months.) It’s really about buckling down to get the job done.

A Silicon Valley Writer (ASVW) – This writing blog that you’re reading went on a bi-weekly publication schedule several years ago. Some months I was consistent, other months I was more—or sometimes less—consistent. This past summer I stopped posting at all and the rest of 2014 only had four more posts. I’m going back to a weekly schedule by posting on Sunday evenings.

Kicking The Bit Bucket (KTBB) – Since I started this new personal blog about Silicon Valley, California and whatever else in 2013, I’ve been more consistent to the weekly schedule. That fell apart in 2014. I skipped weeks at a time and wrote the missing posts later. Not the best way to build a steady audience. That will change with postings on Monday evenings.

Once Upon An Albatross… (OUAA) – My old personal blog about Silicon Valley, California and whatever else from 1997 to 2012 has become a favorite haven for North Korean hackers, spammers and other undesirables. I need to finish cleaning up the content for ebook publication. As for the website itself, I may convert it into a static website to discourage the riffraff.

PUBLISHER

I’m entering my fifth year as an ebook publisher with nearly 60 SHORT ebook titles (i.e., short stories, essays and poetry). I need to look backwards before I can move forward. I’m updating the cover art, revising the content, and writing new descriptions to boost sales of existing ebooks. Meanwhile, I’m prepping the source materials for ebook publication this summer.

Writing Out The Old In 2014

With 2014 coming to a close in a few days, I’m looking forward to putting this year behind me. Not that 2014 was a difficult year. That honor goes to both 2008 (being eaten alive by bedbugs) and 2012 (my father dying from cancer). With being unemployed for the first half of the year, and starting a new non-writing tech job that demanded much of my time for the second half, 2014 was an unproductive year for writing short stories and publishing ebooks.

Writing daily haiku on Tumblr started off great as a New Year’s goal for the first six months. Plenty of time to write multiple three-line poems while unemployed. That became touch-and-go when I started the new job in Palo Alto, as my initial daily commute required four buses and two hours each way. That changed to three buses and one hour each way when I started taking the express bus. I did get 16 haiku published in various publications. Like everything else this year, daily haiku fell off to the wayside.

My vintage Black MacBook (2006) dying after eight years of faithful service took the wind out of my sails. I wasn’t in a position to get a new Mac anytime soon. Repairing the MacBook was out of the question, as it had an obsolete 32-bit CPU and software updates required a 64-bit CPU. Although I continued my job search on the Windows PC, ebook publishing came to a halt without Adobe Photoshop for creating ebook covers and the Bento database for managing ebook details on the PC. While Windows alternatives do exist, I prefer a Mac to get work done. I’ll get a replacement Mac in 2015.

Writing in general was a mixed bag. After publishing 30+ short stories in 16 anthologies in the last five years, this year was a total bust with ~6,000 words for new short stories and no first serial anthology sales. (Several reprint short stories saw publication in an omnibus collection and an audio podcast.) Between this writing blog and my personal blog, Kicking The Bit Bucket, I wrote ~30,000 words. As I’m frequently reminded by my ebook sales, my non-fiction sells better than my fiction. I’m thinking long and hard about my future direction as a writer.

What 2014 taught me was that I need to set interlocking priorities in my personal, professional and writing lives. After being unemployed for three of the last six years, filing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011, and 20 years away from retirement with nothing in the bank, I need to get serious about my non-writing tech career. Unless I get extraordinary luck (so far I haven’t), being a full-time writer won’t happen until after I retire. Maybe then I’ll have more time for writing, blogging and publishing.

Becoming A Weekend Writer

When I became serious about writing in 2006, my goal was to become a full-time writer in five years. I would write a novel each year to give me a one-in-five chance of finding an agent and getting a publisher. Meanwhile, my non-writing tech jobs continued to pay the bills. That was the plan for the first few years until the Great Recession came along in 2009. After being out of work for three of the last six years, filing for bankruptcy and having just enough money to survive, I’m giving up on becoming a full-time writer to become a weekend writer.

After 60+ job interviews over the last eight months of being unemployed, I landed a new non-writing tech job. This particular job has great future potential and may last longer than the last three jobs that ended after nine months. Since this job requires that I get up at 4:30AM to take a two-hour bus trip to get to work on time, I have very little time before, during and after work to write. Buses, unlike the light rail and commuter trains, tend to jerk and bump around in traffic. Since I ride one of the busiest bus routes in Silicon Valley, it’s impossible to write on a clipboard without scrawling the pen across the page and stabbing someone in the leg.

I’m using my commute time to study for the CompTIA Security+ certification, which is highly relevant to my current job as a desktop security remediation specialist. This certification and the other certifications I plan to take in the next year will position me for my next job. As I parlay ten years of desktop and help desk experience into a new career in information security, my income and employment prospects should grow steadily in the coming years.

With my 45th birthday just around the corner, various retirement calculators inform me that I need to save at least $10,000 USD per year for the next 20 years before I can retire. This is somewhat doable with my current income since I live a modest lifestyle. Unless I put money into a 401(k) at work, I will only be able to save $5,000 USD per year in a Roth IRA. The nice thing about being a weekend writer is that I don’t need the income from writing to support myself. I can open a Solo 401(k) and put 100% of my writing income (maximum contribution for 2014 is $52,000 USD) towards my retirement.

I’m going to banish that conflicting feeling of not being a full-time writer while working a full-time non-writing tech job. I’ll squeeze in whatever administrative task needs to get done between coming home from work and going to bed early during the week to free up my weekends for actual writing. When I retire from my non-writing tech career in 2034, I’ll become a full-time writer.

Planning Blog Posts For New Year

Put plan into actionDespite blogging for a number of years, I’ve never planned ahead with the topics for my blog posts. If a topic presents itself at the last minute, I’ll write about that. If I didn’t have anything to write about, I’ll just muddle my way through. That worked. Unfortunately, the rest of my writing life was the same way. Like writing a daily haiku, one of my initiatives for 2014 is to stay ahead of the curve rather than fall behind the eight ball.

I created a spreadsheet with three tabs: writing blog, personal blog and ebook publication schedule. Each tab has all the dates for the blog posts and ebooks that I plan to publish this year. Looking at the official holidays for 2014, I added the dates that fall before, on or after a particular publication date.

The writing blog has a bi-weekly publication schedule with a single post on Sundays. The first post is 1/5/2014 and the last post is 12/28/2014. The relevant holiday is Ground Hog Day (2/2). I also added the general dates for Read An eBook Week (March), Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale (July), and National Write A Novel Month (November).

The personal blog has a weekly publication schedule with one to three posts on Fridays. The first post is 1/3/2014 and the last post is 12/26/2014. The relevant holidays are the Chinese New Year’s (1/31), Valentine’s Day (2/14), Independence Day (7/4), Halloween (10/31), and Black Friday (11/28). I also added a few personal dates that may or may not result in a blog post, say, the tenth anniversary of my mother committing suicide by breast cancer.

I’m publishing 25 SHORT ebooks (i.e., short stories and essays) on a bi-weekly schedule from January through November and one ebook in December. Since the publication dates fall on a Saturday, I’ll have an opportunity to promote my ebook with a blog post or two.

The spreadsheet will allow me to look ahead across the various dates to see if can write some posts in advance, stay on schedule, and keep track of what gets published.

Have You Written Your Best Work Years Ago?

The Present Sign PostWhile watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.

Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.

So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.

If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.

Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.

On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.

Have Typewriter, Will Travel

Portable TypewriterAfter I finished packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, I noticed that I had enough room left over for my portable typewriter and a ream of paper. My roommate gave me a funny look when I mentioned that. If the TSA didn’t flag me as a terrorist, having a typewriter in checked luggage would. I ended up taking a notebook, my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my carry-on bag.

The funny thing is that I stopped using a typewriter for writing several years ago. With the mobile office back in action this year, I’m using a clipboard to write rough drafts on notepads in black ink at lunch, enter those pages into the computer at night, and edit the printouts in red ink the next day. The idea of pecking away a typewriter and using whiteout ink seems antiquated.

The moment I walked into the hotel room and saw the desk sitting sideways to the floor-to-ceiling window, I wished I have brought my portable typewriter with me. Sitting at the desk, I would have blank pages to my left, the typewriter in the middle, and finished pages to my right. The next morning I woke up before dawn to see the sun rising over Sunrise Mountain as a beautiful yellow orb through the silt of the curtains before a beam of sunlight stabbed my eyeballs with a fiery pitchfork. I had a gorgeous view of the eastern mountains outside of Las Vegas in the afternoon. That was so perfect for writing.

My roommate took out his iPad on the first night, connected to cellular to found the speed rate lousy and the wifi connection was no better. He had a bazillion Facebook friends who were attending the Star Trek convention that he needed to stay in touch with and keep up with all the updates. (He met only two of his Facebook friends in person.) Since he registered his iPad to the hotel room, and I didn’t want to pay $13 USD per day to register my wifi-only iPad as a second device, I went without Internet access and left my iPad in the carry-on bag.

For the first time in my life, I was on a real vacation.

The desk was also perfect for writing in the notebook. I wrote about getting through airport security without incident, flying on an airplane for the first time, attending four days of Star Trek panels, signings and parties, the various restaurants and hotels we visited, going out to Hoover dam and seeing a David Copperfield show. I even started a new short story about my albino demoness who protects the prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip, using the Voodoo Rooftop night club as a backdrop. A very busy week filled one-third of the notebook.

Someday I’ll get on an airplane with my manual typewriter, lock myself in a hotel room for a month and write the rough draft of the Great American novel. I would have breakfast, read the newspaper and gamble in the mornings (the best time to avoid the crowds, semi-naked cocktail waitresses and second-hand cigarette smoke). Have lunch in my hotel room, re-read the previous day’s work, and bang away at the typewriter for the rest of the day. After having dinner I would attend an evening show or conk out early.

Taking A Summer Break 2013

Las Vegas City SignLast year I took a three-month summer break to restructure the writing business where I didn’t publish any ebooks while writing a business plan (didn’t happen), re-branding existing ebooks (done), and filling up the ebook buffer (didn’t happen). I’m surprised that I got one out of three done, as re-branding the ebooks with updated cover art, internal navigation structure, and front/end matter got very expensive and time-consuming.

This year I’m taking another summer break by suspending the publication of new ebooks for three months. Here are my three new goals.

1. Fixing the Content Pipeline

I’ve spent so much time learning the ropes of ebook publication over the last few years, the content pipeline ran dry and nothing is available for first serial submission or ebook publication. What I had on the bottom of the barrel wasn’t worth my time and effort to scrape up for publication.

Being an ebook publisher is fun, but I’m a writer first.

I’m clearing off the back burner of manuscripts that I’ve abandoned after I started writing or stopped editing. The last time I did this was five years ago when I kicked everything out to face a cruel world of rejections in the snail mail slush piles. This week I wrote a new short story from beginning to end in a mad rush that I haven’t experienced in years. Between the old and the new, I’m hoping to find the right balance to fill the pipeline.

2. Building a New Business System

Like many small business owners, I have way too much stuff going on to think about the big picture and plan for the future. This was why the content pipeline broke down. After seven years of shoving everything into envelopes and hoping for the best, I need a new business system.

I recently became a fan of growth hacking, where you make a change, measure the result, and make more changes with the business processes to go from okay growth to exponential growth. This appeals to me because I have a testing and programming background. Being able to slice, dice and document a big problem into smaller, workable problem was second nature. I can’t fix everything at once, but I can fix one problem and move on to the next problem.

3. Going On A Real Vacation

After I got a new non-writing tech job this year, many of my coworkers started talking about their summer vacations even though spring hasn’t arrived yet. All this talk came about because HR changed the accrued vacation time policy to force everyone to take time off, as some techies never go home much less take a vacation. As a contractor, this didn’t apply to me. But, not to appear as another antisocial techie, I said I was going to Las Vegas for my birthday in August.

Why Las Vegas?

Besides the obvious fact that I have never taken a real vacation, I have never taken an airplane trip to somewhere far, far away from Silicon Valley that I couldn’t reach by car. That the world’s largest Star Trek convention will be in full swing while my roommate and I are in town is purely coincidental. This is also a research trip for future essays, short stories and maybe an urban-fantasy series about the erotic underworld of Las Vegas.

Which of these goals will get completed this summer? I think all of them are quite likely to happen. The first two are separate sides of the same coin and the Las Vegas trip ties everything together if I hit the jackpot. This summer break will be better than last year’s.

Three Great Typewriter Movies

The “10 Memorable Spy Novel Film Adaptations” appeared on the Huffington Post. Glancing through the article and the related video, I noticed one glaring exception on this list. “Hopscotch” by Brian Garfield, which he adapted for a 1980 comedy movie with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, was missing. I posted a comment protesting this oversight with a link to the trailer. The comment never got past the moderator. The few comments that did appear weren’t very enlightening. On that note, I decided to put together my list of three great typewriter movies.

Yes, Virginia, typewriters.

Those ancient devices that writers slaved over in isolation before the invention of word processors and laptops made writing in coffee houses fashionable again. A great typewriter movie appeared every four years from the mid-1970 to the mid-1980. As the typewriter became less ubiquitous in society, its starring role in the movies declined over the years. If a typewriter does make an appearance, it’s always tucked away in a corner to gather dust.

1. All The President’s Men (1976)

Set in the newsroom of the Washington Post during the Watergate scandal, typewriters were everywhere as Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) unraveled the criminal conspiracy that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office in disgrace.

When I wrote my still unpublished first novel from 2007 to 2008, I had “All The President’s Men” playing in the background as I sat at the typewriter. The constant rhythm of the click-clack kept me focus, especially when my typewriter fell silent from figuring out what to do next with the novel.

2. Hopscotch (1980)

After an old CIA agent, Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau), gets punished with a desk job for letting his Russian counterpart go free in West Germany, he plots revenge by writing his memoirs to expose the CIA’s “dirty tricks” division and mailing each chapter to all the intelligence agencies. With the assistance of his Austrian girlfriend, Isobel von Schoenenberg (Glenda Jackson), and her manual typewriter, he stays one step ahead in a Cold War game of hopscotch.

I recently read the novel for the first time. The major change between the book and the movie is keeping Isobel as a central character in movie and eliminating the one night stands as Kendig slept his way through the novel. Having seen the movie years before I read the novel, I enjoyed the movie better than the novel even though they are both similar.

3. Romancing The Stone (1984)

A lonely romance writer, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner), receives a treasure map in the mail and a phone call from her kidnapped sister to come to South America, beginning a romantic adventure where she meets jungle explorer Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) and together they search for the stone.

I was always fascinated by the opening scene with the sexy hero freeing the sultry heroine in an Old West bodice ripper that transitions to the writer weeping over her typewriter as she types THE END on the last page. I too have wept over my typewriter, usually on a blank page. This movie always gave me hope that being a writer can lead to having larger-than-life adventures.

When Your Debit Card Travels To London Without You

Internet CheatIf you want to stay on top of your finances, you need to spend ten minutes every day looking at your account balances. This little habit can help you spot problems before they get out of hand. I got a nasty surprise last week when I found two unauthorized transactions pending on my personal checking account. The timing was terrible. The rent check was coming in and I didn’t have enough in savings to cover it.

I called the toll-free number for my credit union to report the unauthorized transactions and cancel my debit card. I asked the woman assisting me how my debit card could be used if it never left my physical possession. She told me that my debit card information could be copied by a waiter at a restaurant, from a hidden card skimmer at a gas station or a spyware-infected computer watching a legitimate Internet purchase being made.

I haven’t visited any restaurants where the waiter could disappear with my debit card. The gas pump I usually use was down for maintenance several days before the unauthorized transactions appeared. When I came back the following week to get gas, all the gas pumps had inspection stickers from the county weights and measure department. No way to know if that was the source. As for my computers, I run anti-spyware and anti-virus scanners on a regular basis and avoided questionable websites.

The affidavit form to dispute the charges never arrived at my personal email address. I went down to my credit union on Saturday morning to talk to the branch manager. He confirmed that my debit card got cancelled, flagged the unauthorized transactions as being fraudulent, and printed out the affidavit form for me to fill out. I withdrew some cash since the new debit card won’t arrive for two weeks.

An Internet search on the two companies for the unauthorized transactions revealed that they were cosmetics companies, which is a product category that I have little use for. I filled out the “contact us” form to request the identity of the person who placed the orders and threatened to file a police report against the companies if they don’t comply.

The first company based in San Francisco told me that their privacy policies prevented them from revealing the identity of their customers, and, besides, the transaction never went through on their end. The pending hold on my checking account fell off a few days later. I didn’t pursue the matter with them any further.

The second company based in Texas immediately gave up the identity of the customer and refunded the money taken from my checking account. Either I was dealing with an inexperienced business owner or the privacy laws in “no tax / low regs” Texas don’t exist.

The customer (a.k.a., the thief) had my debit card info and street address, used her presumably real name, listed a phone number for a storage rental place in San Francisco (50 miles north of Silicon Valley), and wanted the merchandise shipped to London via FedEx overnight delivery. Didn’t I read something like this in a Stephanie Plum novel?

I wanted to file a police report on the London Police Department website, but forwarded the information to my credit union to handle instead. I didn’t lose any money; my rent check went through. This has been another needless distraction in a long month of needless distractions that have taken me away from writing. Seems like it never ends.

The Return of The Mobile Office

The Mobile OfficeThe manager at my non-writing tech job in 2008 did me a favor when he told me to walk away from my desk during my lunch hour. So I ate my lunch and listened to the radio in my car. One day I brought a clipboard and some pens to edit a short story manuscript. A year later I finished writing two-thirds of my first novel behind the steering wheel of my car, a 700-page manuscript that I haven’t figure out how to edit.

Those were the glory days of the mobile office.

After I got laid off on Friday the 13th in February 2009 (a memorable date the manager let me pick), I was out of work for two years, underemployed for six months (i.e., working 20 hours a month) and filed for a Chapter Seven bankruptcy. If I wasn’t interviewing for jobs, browsing the job board websites or answering arcane copyright questions from my bankruptcy attorney, I wrote and edit manuscripts from my home office.

Since then I held tech jobs that made the mobile office impractical, either the lunch breaks were too short or the parking lot was too far. I went back to taking lunch at my desk, using my work computer to write blog posts over the Internet. With my last job at the hospital, where my office was down the hall from the morgue in the basement and the scent of vanilla in the air meant a dead stiff wheeling by, daily blogging was a welcome distraction.

The mobile office returned this New Year after I started a new job with a long lunch break and a short walk to the car. I eat my lunch and listen to the radio for 15 minutes, and turn my attention to whatever I put on my clipboard that morning for the next 45 minutes. If I finish the manuscript early, I can start something new on the writing pad. This is the highlight of my workday.

Only once did someone thought it suspicious that I was writing on a clipboard in my car during the lunch hour.

An inexperienced rent-a-cop jerked open my unlocked car door and demanded to know what I was doing. I got out to confront him and he reached for his mace spray. Flashing my employee badge and explaining that I was on my lunch break didn’t satisfy him. What I wrote on my clipboard inside my car wasn’t any of his damn business, which is why I don’t bring my manuscripts into work. The rent-a-cop backed down after I threatened to call 911 to bring in a real police officer to resolve the situation.

What I found out from writing my first novel is that doing something small every day adds up to something big over time. (Or something so big that you don’t know what to do with it, but that’s a different problem.) Forty-five minutes per day can turn into 180 hours in a year. Some of my best writing got done in the mobile office.

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