Monday, July 29, 2013

Time Management

Books have been written on the subject of time management. So, what more is there to say? Perhaps just some personal wisdom gleaned from two Masters programs and two-plus years of gainful self-employment as sole proprietor of The Writing Source. In the interest of saving everyone time, I've boiled my most practical ideas into a few key points:

1a. You can't manage your time unless you manage your work. But what does that mean--to "manage?" Basically, I mean understand its scope in detail. Then you can break down each project into discrete parts, thereby attacking the parts rather than the whole project.

1b. Set small, intra-day deadlines based on the above. For example, complete step 3 of Project A before 11 am. Don't envision your day as an 8 or 9 hour, interminable block of time. Just like running a marathon, it's best to break a race into small parts.

2. Take breaks. I have my own twist on the Pomodoro method, which in the standard version consists of 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5-minute break. After completing 4 of these "sets," it's time for a longer break. It's important to take a bona fide break and not spending it doing administrative tasks, which are still work.

3. Start the day with the hardest work, and finish the day with the easiest work. It's surprising how many people do the opposite of this, and then wonder why they have no juice left at 3 pm.

4. Make some rules: I have a rule that I don't check social media or the news during work hours. Similarly, I'll check email on my phone whenever possible to avoid going down a Gmail rabbit hole.

5. Set regular hours. If you truly need to spend the first 2 hours of the day goofing off, then do that. Get it out of your system.

6. Finally, don't beat yourself up if you discover that you've been playing Candy Crush Saga for 90 minutes rather than your scheduled 10 minutes. It happens to the best of us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday Field Trip: Space Science Center

On my 9+ mile bike trip today, I made a quick stop by MSU's Space Science Center. I had never been inside, so I got out my camera and took a look around.

In the foyer

The main entryway is bright and spacious, with a dome ceiling:

On the second level, there are some cases of historical gadgetry for satellites, probes and rockets, all very steampunk:

I tried to think up fancy names and alternative functions for all of the odd-looking devices.

The view from the second level is nice:

Outside is a metal sculpture. In a thousand years, when this is uncovered during an archaeological dig, what will the future people think this was supposed to do/be?

Shiny Science Art

Who Dat?

Since my first experiences working in a factory, I've always been fascinated by the design of warning signs. I like how this one goes for a mix of cartoonish and realistic:

There was no one working in the office at the SSC, otherwise I would have asked where I could find the "plane_arium."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Golf and Writing

The Mental Game. The Game Played between the Ears. Zen Golf. All of these descriptions are a surprisingly accurate way to think about what, on the surface, seems like the most ordinary (some might say stupidly ordinary) of games. However, in my experience, nothing quite matches the game of golf for its demands on concentration, positivity, calm and internal quietude. In fact, I've come to realize some interesting parallels between what I do for fun--hit a white ball at a hole in the ground--and what I do for a living--create engaging copy that arrests readers' attention.

Both golf and writing require a positive mental framework before the work even begins. Being faced with a 30-day deadline on 30k words looks and feels a bit like this:

What's Around the Corner?
You're hitting blind into an area fraught with dangers. What if your research goes in the wrong direction? What if the words don't flow? What if other complications arise? These are all thoughts that have to be wiped from the mind. Instead, it's essential that you visualize the end goal--whether it's landing on the one safe spot on the fairway, or finishing the stellar introductory section that will set the right tone for the remainder of the work.

The swing itself, like the physical act of writing, can go one of two ways. You may have a mentally quiet space from which great swings are born, or you could have the nagging, intrusive voice telling you everything that's wrong with your technique. Bad thoughts are murder to a golf swing. In writing, I think of these thoughts as the internal editor working overtime. That's why it's so important to compartmentalize the tasks of writing and editing. First, just write; edit later. And above all, make a quiet place in your mind where the writing comes easier. I know--easier said than done.

The last comparison I want to make concerns how a golfer deals with adversity. Everyone hits bad shots now and then, just as not every sentence or paragraph written in the course of an 8-hour day is dripping with  power and significance. In the worst case scenario, a client returns a draft with a message along the lines of "No, this is not right, at all." The trick is to put every failure where it belongs, in the past. Keeping it in the front of the mind, visualizing its contours and such, is the surest way to arrange a repeat performance in the near future.

It's probably safe to say that as a writer (or anyone whose work calls for imagination), everything in life tends to orbit the creative act itself. We look for inspiration everywhere, just as we look for recreation that recharges our limited energies. For me, that recreation is golf, among other things. Absurd? Yes. Infuriating? Sometimes. Pointless? Certainly not--at least no more than life itself. But that's another subject.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Few Civil War Notes

I recently finished (ghostwriting) an ebook on espionage during the Civil War. Here's just a few highlights:

The telegraph and gas-filled balloon were first deployed in the Civil War. Neither was effective. Balloons were expensive, and enemy troops learned how to disguise their numbers and armaments from aerial reconnaissance. Wiretapping was invented in the same breath that the wire was invented, so most commanders preferred good old-fashioned hand delivery.

Escaped slaves were probably the difference in the war, as far as intelligence is concerned.

The South had a more extensive intelligence network than the North, because a) they had to - they were outnumbered, and b) they didn't have to worry about Northern sympathizers in their midst to the same degree that Northerners had to worry about Southern sympathizers.

The Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas was the only "major" battle where Confederate forces outnumbered Union forces.

Outside Atlanta, Union General Grenville M. Dodge survived being shot in the head by a Confederate sharpshooter. That's one to tell the grandkids about.

One of the most important sources of information for Confederate spies were newspapers. Many publishers were Southern sympathizers. Others simply had no reservations about printing what might be sensitive information about troop movements. Embedded agents could send messages to each other through encoded personal ads.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


It's the silly season at The Writing Source. Bright, sunny days make us want to go outside - Inferno temperatures wilt our ambitions, our hopes and our dreams. Why not go north for a week?

Here's what's keeping me busy:

* editing press releases for a major East Coast client;
* writing a study guide for Great Expectations;
* writing two ebooks on the history of espionage;
* contributing to a therapy website, and;
* brushing up on my web design skills.

Yes, I have a lot on my plate. When I have a free minute, I'm reading Silas Marner and bending my thoughts toward the great unwritten novel that lies in my sub-subconscious.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Wizard of Earthsea

So...What did everyone think?

I finished the novel a couple of days ago. I have to say I was really impressed. It read very fast and easy, but was still dark and sophisticated enough to have me really engaged all the way through. Le Guin really seems to have a knack for fiction that appeals to many age groups. I know our library had this in the "young adult" section, but I still thought it was quite adult, even dark.

Here are some prompts that Laura and I thought of (actually, mostly Laura):

-What is the significance of the Shadow? What do you think it is?

-What does Ged learn? How does he change?

-Is Ged good, bad or somewhere in between?

-What did you want to learn more about? Do you want to read more in this series?

-Is there anything you didn't like about the book?

-What do you think of Le Guin's writing style? Did anything stand out to you, style-wise?

Feel free to raise any questions of your own, or simply comment on your experience of the novel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Preparing for a Trip

Laura and I are getting ready for a long weekend in Michigan. According to the weather service, there's a winter storm poised to arrive in the region just as we roll into town. Perhaps we'll be racing against it. That's always an exciting prospect.

We'll only be staying three days. It's our grandfather's 80th birthday coming up shortly. Today is the day for:

a) packing a few clothes and other items
b) finishing up some business
c) pick up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea

In the meantime, you should definitely check out Laura's latest blog post, which is an interview with microscopy artist Daniel Mullendore.