Walden

Why should we live with such a hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.

I have been reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. It was first published in 1854, but there are parts of it which are staggeringly relevant to the modern world. It is interesting that 165 years ago there were already people asking questions about the effects on news and information overload. It makes me wonder what Thoreau would have made of the world we live in today.

Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels.

After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.

What would Thoreau have thought about the habit many people have of reaching for their phone the moment they wake up? Or in the middle of the night? Is there really anything so important that we have to know about it the moment we open our eyes? Now we don’t even wait until breakfast to find out. We sit in our beds and scroll through news websites and social media feeds, allowing the news and other people to set the foundation of our day.

Petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality.

The nature of news now is darker than ever. We hear about all of the terrible things that are happening in the world and that is all we hear about. There is more to the world than that, but if we don’t know about it, if we just keep pumping ourselves full of negativity, then it must have some effect on how we perceive reality. How much worse must that be now when we have access to constantly updating news websites, Facebook and Twitter, than 165 years ago when all they had was a daily paper?

Fortunately, Thoreau has some advice that could be understood as what we now think of as a Digital Sabbatical:

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

How we used to use computers

The first computer our family had was a dirty grey Atari ST which we had to get out and connect whenever we wanted to use it. The only thing I can remember using it for was playing Chuck Rock with my sister. I was jealous of my friends who had a Nintendo NES or a Sega Master System. Sometime later I was given a Mega Drive for Christmas and after that the only place I used a computer was at school. A BBC Micro which we played a game called PODD.

At some point my parents bought a Windows computer, set it up in the middle room and connected it to the phone line so we could go on the internet.

Sometime before that I had developed an interest in the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. My dad – who had access to the internet at work – used to print pages of information about it. I would get excited every time he came home and handed me a pile of A4 paper with printouts from whatever website he’d found.

That’s how I continued to use the internet when we got it at home. With dial-up you couldn’t really spend long reading while connected (and on low-res screens you wouldn’t really want to) because there was a time limit. The connection would reset after an hour, or someone would pick up the phone and start shouting about the funny noises they could hear. It was inconvenient.

Now we have computers that are many times more powerful than that old Pentium III in our pockets at all times. We have constant high speed access to a vastly richer internet wherever we happen to be.

It is tempting to call this progress and be done with it, but lately I wonder if that is true. A part of me yearns for the simplicity of a single point of access. A methodology that requires a quick dip into the information stream to retrieve the things we want for later perusal away from the screen.

I don’t think this is a genie we can put back in the bottle on a large scale, but for the individual it may be possible. Once I have an office I intend to sell my iPad (my only “computer”) and buy a desktop machine. Using software such as Freedom I will put restrictions on when and for how long I am able to access the internet.

Perhaps this is all nostalgia but, as the rise of internet addiction becomes a bigger problem, I ask myself how many people were spending 36 hours a week online when all that had were slow dial-up connections and clunky desktop PCs?

The Scary Future of Technology

As a millenial, I am one of the last generation able to look at how the internet and smartphones have changed the world.

There are many benefits to both, but I am coming to the conclusion that the negatives may outweigh the positives. It is almost certainly mobile technology that has created the biggest negative. When the only way to get online was at a desktop computer the impact was minimal. This may just be nostalgia, however, it is possible that we will look on this era of smartphones with similar fondness in years to come.

Capitalism demands constant growth and, as the sales of smartphones plateau, the AR/MR/VR revolution seems inevitable. I see this as an apocalyptic scenario compared to what we have today.

People will no longer even have to take their phones out of their pockets to access the internet, it will be beamed straight into their eyeballs.

We are already being prepared for this world with smart watches, smart earphones and AR phone tools. It is only a matter of time before technology and business aligns. First there will be mainstream adoption of AR glasses, then contact lenses and one day we will no longer be able to tell what is real and what isn’t.

Part of me is excited about this because I’m an addict as well and the technology is undeniably cool. But I am struggling to retain enough perspective to be horrified by what the world will look like when all of this comes to pass.

Starting

After my post yesterday about resistance, I did start work on the first draft of my new book. As of now I am 1,326 words into the first chapter. My plan is to write the first act (which I already have a pretty concrete plan for) and then return to planning for the rest of the book.

I’m relieved to been working on it. A lot of the resistance I was feeling has been lifted and it seems like the right decision for this project.

That wasn’t what I wanted to write about today though.

Starting something new can be daunting. Quite often that manifests in the form of resistance, but there are more concrete challenges. With writing fiction, one thing that I come up against most often is awkwardness.

Writing fiction isn’t the same as planning fiction and it also isn’t the same as writing blog posts. It is unique. And when you haven’t done it for a little while, it can feel strange.

That’s how yesterday went. I found myself struggling to fit back into the tone of voice of fiction and the result is words that will almost certainly be completely rewritten. This happens a lot.

It’s one of the reasons why I try not to go too long between working on first drafts and, in the past when I had more time, I planned and edited separatly to writing so that I always had a first draft on the go. There are a lot of benefits to that approach and if I ever have more time again in the future then I will definitely go back to it.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to avoid this awkwardness. It’s not only due to leaving a gap between first drafts, it’s also because I’m writing about a new world with new characters and we aren’t familiar with one another yet. Over the next few days as I settle into the tone and get to know the characters, the awkwardness will fade away.

That’s not to say there won’t be other problems. As well as Resistance and Awkwardness, I have the Slump to look forward to. Usually that comes somewhere after the halfway point of the first draft when I will begin to doubt everything about the project.

For now though, I’m dealing with the awkwardness of starting something new. That’s what I have to focus getting past.

Resistance

This morning I found myself starting to doubt the story I’m working on. I began asking myself whether it was really the best thing I could be doing, whether I wanted to spend so much time writing it.

Resistance is part of any project worth taking on and I am used to coming up against it. Sometimes I win the battle and sometimes I lose. Quite often, the battles that I lose, end up being projects that I look back on and wish I had finished.

“Resistance in my experience always kicks in when you’re trying to move from a lower level to a higher level or to identify with a braver part of yourself or your higher nature. So it’s that negative repelling force. It’s kind of the dragon that we have to slay every day if we’re artists or entrepreneurs.”
– Steven Pressfield

Even now there are stories sitting half-finished that I think I might return to one day but that I wish I had never abandoned. They are stories that I think would have been really good. Perhaps they were stories which could have pushed my skill to a new level.

So the question becomes; how is it best to handle resistance?

“Don’t prepare. Begin. Our enemy is not lack of preparation. The enemy is resistance, our chattering brain producing excuses. Start before you are ready.”
– Steven Pressfield

Which is where I find myself now.

There is always the possibility that what I am working on isn’t worth persevering with, but I won’t know that until I have some perspective. The only thing I know for sure right now is that most of the projects I have abandoned would have been woth persevering with.

I don’t know if I’m ready to start yet, but maybe I should take the resistance I’m feeling as a sign that I should. There are reasons to wait, good one’s, but there might be better ones to start.

Untitled Fantasy Story Book 1

That’s how my current work in process looks.

At the moment I have a lot of stuff that I am 90% sure of, but it remains in flux. What I think is certain at the start may have to be changed by something I add at the end. Or things will need to be added here and there.

It will remain like this until I get to the final stages of editing.

This is an important part of the process for me. The longer I can keep a story fluid, the better.

However, there are exceptions to this.

I find that writing a story is a delicate balance between restrictions and freedom.

The world I am writing in has some fixed rules. For example, despite magic not featuring much in the first book, I already know how it works in the world. I also know how money works, the names of days and seasons. I have a pretty good idea about things like this.

As I work back and forth through the story I will focus more on the smaller things and those things can (and will change) but the bigger things will not.

Of course, once the first book is published, I won’t go back and change anything. At that point even the small things will be fixed. The second book in the series won’t be able to change any of those small things, but it will have its own small things which I will change repeatedly.

Everyday is a Fresh Start

We tend to only make resolutions at the end of the year. It seems strange to wait a full year in order to make a change in your life. Over the last six months I’ve made it a habit of doing it every month. But even that may be too much time.

Every time we wake up in the morning we have a clean canvas on which to paint our lives. It may not always be a smooth canvas but what we put on those bumps and rips is up to us. We who have woken up this morning are the fortunate ones. Many people didn’t wake up today and therefor no longer have the opportunity to make a difference.

Why wait until another year has passed before changing?

The same goes for failure as well. You had a bad day yesterday, it’s over. Today is a new day and you can make it whatever your want. There’s no need to dwell on the things that went wrong in the past because you aren’t in the past.

You are here and now and this is what matters. Make the best decision you can today, not in nine months time.

Reflections on a month of blogging

It has almost been a month since I took up blogging every weekday.

I will be the first to admit that not every post has been great, but some of them have been pretty good. And, more importantly, I have enjoyed the process.

So as of today the blog page public. Anyone who stumbles upon my website will now see it. I will continue to write here every weekday.

What I won’t be doing is posting to social media as I was considering. During March I deleted both my Facebook and Twitter accounts and have no intention of creating new ones. The only exception is micro.blog which I still like for all the ways that it is different to Facebook and Twitter.

Which begs the question: how are people ever going to find this place?

Hopefully many will come from the links in my books. Others will find there way here thanks to good SEO. The only links I am planning to put out are in the comments sections of other websites, if something I’ve written happens to be relevant to something that someone else has written.

Maybe it’s naive to think that I can reach anyone without using social media. Only time will tell.

Tracking

I have been keeping track of the amount of time I spend writing for more than a year now. Before that I was tracking the number of words I wrote each day. I switched because it’s relatively easy to type 2,000 words of crap (I’m a fast typist) and I was more interested in producing quality than quantity. Switching to time also means I can more easily track pre-production and editing.

I also track:

  • The number of books read: I keep a list in my logbook of which books I have finished and the date I finished them.
  • The amount of time I spend on various copywriting projects. Some of them are charged by the hour, but even when they aren’t I like to know how long I’m spending on them.
  • The amount of time I meditate is tracked in the app Oak. I don’t really use this for anything but it’s nice to have I suppose.

Over the years I have tried tracking other things as well. At one point I attempted to do full tracking. That lasted for a few weeks but I’m not sure what, if anything, I gained out of doing it. I have considered trying again, but that would mean I was tethered to my phone and I’m not happy with that.

The thing with tracking is that it can be very useful. Not necessarily for the data that you get out of it (it doesn’t mean anything to me whether I spent 20 hours writing last month or 25) but the very act of tracking itself. It elevates the importance of what you are doing and makes it easier to focus on. If I know that at the end of the day I am going to see how much time I spent writing then it gives me a little extra motivation to work harder at it.

Tracking, I think, is a valuable way to force focus. It gives us accountability to ourselves. And in this sense, perhaps it is better not to track everything. Once everything is being measured then everything is of equal importance. I want to save the power of tracking for the things that are most important to me.

Although I have only given a few examples of things I track above, I also use a form of tracking to build good habits. In my notebook I have a page for the month with the days going down the left side and a number of habits going across the top. When I complete the habit for the day I put a cross in the box. This works well for simple done/not done things.