Generating ~500 words of new content every single day isn’t exactly difficult. But after three months of doing it, I can definitively say that, for me at least, writing nonfiction is a trillion times easier than writing my fiction story. When I write nonfiction, I can just plumb the depths of my brain and pluck any topic under the sun to write about which interests me. I can write about entities, events, or people. Or emotions, memories, or experiences. All of it is fair game. So easy!
But when I work on my fiction story, whatever entry I write next needs to connect to whatever I’d written for the story’s previous entry. And while this constraint may sound trivial, I’ve genuinely found it to be a real challenge. It’s tougher than one might think!
Take my entry yesterday, for example: Interstice 2.2— I’m unhappy with it. It captures the general feeling of what I wish to convey (world leaders have gathered in Davos and are struggling to make Big Decisions) but the passage’s placement is jarring and doesn’t connect smoothly from Interstice 2.1. I went from writing general exposition in Int-2.1 (always among the easiest material to write– exposition! General worldbuilding!) to jumping directly into a specific scene featuring two new characters, Johann and Beck, never before introduced. Again, I’m unpleased with it but the daily story train rolls inexorably on! There’s no stopping it! Also, starting with Interstice 2, I’ve upped my daily entry word count minimum to 500– this way, if I continue wanting 4,000-word chapters, it’ll cut down the writing time from ten days to eight days per chapter, a pace I’m happier with.
With this first draft, which I’m hoping to finish by April 2021, my aim is to simply get some semblance of the characters, setting, and general plot down on paper. Then I imagine in the rewrite (which there will be several, I’m sure), I’ll slowly go through and iron out all of the kinks, inconsistencies, and rough transitions. Since I’m organizing everything in WordPress, once I begin revising, I plan to create entirely new posts for every passage I rewrite– this way I’ll have a neat “timeline” of all of the revisions and ways that my fiction story evolved over time. This is an idea borrowed directly from the software dev world where we using Version Control Systems (like GitHub) to audit every single code change we make to a project over time. I’ve always wondered why established authors don’t use VCS for their written works. (Or if they do, why they don’t release them to the public.) I would love to see first drafts of Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code to see how Rowling or Brown slowly put those books together. In fact, I bet people would even pay money to see that! That would be such a treat!
Anyway, like Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’m going to do it! Someone’s gotta start the open-source writing movement. Might as well be me! ✊😄❤️🔥
Salutations! This is my humble little corner of the web. This blog, more than anything else, reflects my personal growth and interests over the years gone by. It’s been a long and winding road! Over the past decade, I’ve dabbled in data science and day-trading, but starting August 2020, this blog has most recently morphed into a container for The Alphabet Game (TAG) and a fiction story. TAG, in its present form, is a daily writing exercise where I’ve been putting ~400 words to paper each day, every single day. I’m happy to report that for three months running now, I’ve kept up the streak! 😁
At the beginning of October though, my interests slightly shifted and I embarked on writing a novel! I’ve tried in the past and have never made it very far but this time, things are different; I’d posted about TAG on Reddit and found a new writing friend so together we’ve been writing and posting ~400 words every single day. (And it was following her lead that I decided to switch over from writing daily non-fiction entries to fiction passages. Inspired! ✊🔥🚀)
This is the first time I’ve ever tried publicly writing a story like this though. Writing and posting serial installments every single day honestly makes me feel a bit old-school, like Charles Dickens. But a month in, I’ve gotta say: I like it! Having a writing friend to share daily progress with and get comments/feedback from certainly makes a difference. But also– I’m honestly really liking WordPress and its entire system of tagging and organization. (Tools I never had when I wrote longhand in spiral notebooks before.)
PS. Full disclosure, by the way: When it comes to my non-fiction entries, in order to (try) to keep my identity a secret, I’ve changed the names of people and other minor details (like location names, geography, or dates and times) in an attempt to preserve the anonymity of all parties involved. I write under pseudonym because sometimes I write about sensitive subjects and if I’m ever job hunting, I don’t want a potential recruiter to Google my name, find this blog, and then immediately jump to any conclusions about me based solely on my writings. That’d be muy no bueno! ☹️😦😓
Sometimes, you don’t always get things right on the first try. Looking at everything I’ve written so far (this story officially began on Friday – Oct 2; I’m three weeks in! I’ve written every single day consecutively for 21 days! Wohoo!) I realized this morning that Chapter 3 isn’t going to work. Beginning Ch. 3, I was already at a chapter word count of 3,776. And since I try to contain each chapter to ~4,000 words, I knew that I’d need to wrap up Chapter 3 with today’s entry.
But looking at what I’d written, I see that it’s not possible– I didn’t leave myself enough runway to gracefully and believably wrap up the scene I’m currently in the middle of. Oops.
Thus: Today, I’ve decided to move 10/17 and 10/18’s story entries to their own miniature “Interstice One” section. This frees up 528+452=980 words which I think then ought be enough to wrap up this current scene and Ch. 3. Even when I was writing them, I always felt that those two entries were kinda different “on background” pieces anyway. So this actually works out.
Three weeks into writing this story using the TAG and “4,000-words-per-chapter” format has made me realize that imposing these arbitrary constraints on my writing has actually helped me become a more productive and creative writer. Like, it’s weird. Intuitively, you might think (or at least, I would’ve initially thought) that imposing constraints would “cramp my style” or somehow “hinder the writing process” but it’s been the exact opposite. Previously, whenever I began writing a fiction work, I never finished because halfway through, I’d lose interest, get frustrated, and then abandon the project. It’d always get to a point where I’d feel: “What am I doing? Where am I going? Where am I? What am I doing with my life? Omg.” And then I’d quit.
But this time around, with TAG and my meticulous spreadsheet-wordcount-tracker, it feels different. Weirdly, it feels more like a coding project now. I have wordcount milestones. I have a sense of pacing. I have a feeling of knowing where I need to go. A roadmap, albeit, still nascent, is beginning to form and crystalize. Characters are simply falling out of my brain and literally putting themselves on the page. It’s like watching a plant or rain forest grow.
By the way, in programming, this practice of “restructuring” is common– so common, we even have a word for it: “Refactoring.” The simple truth is that even the all-time greats– the JKRs, Lev Grossmans, and Max Barrys of the world, aren’t able to write everything perfectly on their first try. In fact, the only author I know who’s able to one-and-done entire novels in a single shot is John Scalzi when he wrote The Consuming Fire in two weeks.1
Anyway, my point today: Most authors are unable to “get it right” on their very first try. And thus, rewriting/restructuring/refactoring is important! The story I’m working on now, is the first piece of long-form fiction that I’m just writing every day, entirely without an outline and without a plan. Previously, I’d pour hours into brainstorming characters, worldbuilding, and coming up with all kinds of clever acronyms for shadowy, mysterious organizations that sounded cool. There was even a period (years ago) that I bought an actual, real-life baby book and had fun just flipping through the thing, jotting down names that sounded alluring and nifty to me.
All those projects ultimately went nowhere and ended in complete failure.
So this time, I’m completely winging it. No outline and no plan. Just putting out 400 words a day and seeing where it all goes. I am going to try to refrain from editing anything my first run though. But I’m gonna consider today’s restructuring “a mulligan.” Technically, I’m not writing anything new– but rather, I’m just relabeling some parts.
The adventure continues! Here we go! 😀
And you know what? That book is awful. I’m generally a Scalzi fan. Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, and Redshirts (a Hugo winner!) are all wonderfully amusing and entertaining books. OMW I actually even consider “sci-fi cannon,” right up there, maybe a notch or two, below Ender’s Game. But TCF was honestly just so bad. I know it sold well and made all kinds of bestseller lists but Scalzi, IMHO, really phoned that one in and coasted on his reputation and good name. TCF’s quality is genuinely lacking. Scalzi wrote TCF in two weeks and it shows. Very blatantly and extremely clearly. I actually own TCF on my Kindle which I genuinely regret buying; it is one of the very few books that I’ve ever bought and not finished. After that experience, I began just borrowing all subsequent Scalzi releases instead from my local library; I’d really felt burned. ☹️
Organization is paramount as the content on this blog begins to grow. I’m now on average adding about 800-1,000 words a day. Assuming I can sustain this pace for a year, I’m looking at annually adding 292,000 – 365,000 words. Put in perspective, Tolstoy’s War and Peace was “only” ~587,000 words. At this rate, I could write that in less than two years!
Haha, just kidding.
Obviously, not all words are created equal. And my writing, like anyone else’s, will be more “quality” on some days versus others. And that’s okay! I listen to several “writerly” author podcasts and a quote that always stuck with me (but I can’t remember who said it ☹️) that I heard years ago was, “Writing is like carving an ice sculpture. But first you need the block of ice.”
I generally think of fiction writing using the “Joe-Abercrombie-Layering-Paradigm.” Abercrombie describes his writing as a series of methodical steps, similar to painting a Photoshop composition. First, you draw a basic pencil outline. And then you ink it. Then comes the base colors. Then shadows. And finally, the highlights. Now, to be sure, not all initial pencil outlines are necessarily good. Some are most definitely superior to others and you can’t just dump garbage on the page and expect it to somehow miraculously evolve into a Rembrandt. But, another writerly piece of advice that numerous authors have repeatedly raised which I think is useful: “Don’t expect too much from your first draft.” You’d never look at pencil sketch and be upset that it’s not the Mona Lisa. Thus, in that same way, for me at least, the first phase of fiction writing is just getting the basic plot and characters down. Abercrombie himself has remarked that it’s often not until he’s finished his first draft of a novel that he actually realizes what it’s about! Imagine that! Writing tens of thousands of words without initially knowing where you’re going! It’s a thing! And it works! You just need to persevere and have a little faith.
Anyway, with WordPress, I have something this time around that I previously never had in my spiralbound notebooks when I wrote longhand: Extensive organizational tools! By far, the most useful which I’ve poured hours into, is WP’s tagging system. As I’d mentioned earlier, the surface area of this blog is growing at a rapid clip. Thus, as I pour out the words, I’ve attempted to organize all of it with some high-level schemas:
Imagination can at times be like a firehose. Once the spigot is turned, all of the ideas just come gushing out in a single, messy torrent. It’s literally a flood of disparate thought fragments that resembles The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
There are thousands of different ways that people ideate and organize their mind maps. And I’ve tried many over the years. But the approach that I use now (which I think is working?) is every time an idea strikes me, I immediately write it up in its own individual document. Then I also index the idea in a single Master Document. Over time, I can then see the Master Document begin to populate as the beast slowly crystalizes and comes into focus.
One trick I learned from watching the Michael Bay director’s commentary on the Criterion Collection edition of Armageddon is that it’s critical for the creator of a work to have some sort of mental model in his head of the story at all times. It obviously doesn’t need to be an exact blueprint, but the scaffolding needs to at least exist. My Master Document of Ideas serves as that scaffolding.
Another metaphor I use internally is likening the process to that of building a town in Sim City or Skylines. In the beginning, you’ve got nothing– just a big plot of land. But then you build your first residential house, or library, or park. And slowly, over time, you build City Hall, the museum, some restaurants, a Monument to Heroes, etc. Sometimes you might begin work on the town civics center but then lose interest halfway through, scroll to the other side of town, and begin construction on the town sports arena instead. That’s totally okay! In Phase I of writing (the “Production Phase”), I’m simply trying to properly get all of my ideas down on paper so there’s a physical record of it somewhere. During Phase I, I may not yet know how all of the ideas, characters, and settings connect, but eventually, I simply trust that there will be a road that goes from the town square to the town library which is way, way off on the west end, across the train tracks. I’ve said this elsewhere but I genuinely believe that writing long-form fiction is akin to keeping a faith. It’s simply doing the work every day and then believing/praying that everything will eventually come together in the end.
Writing rituals are critical in helping me produce consistent and quality output. It’s crazy to me that I’m rapidly approaching the 30-day mark of my daily writing exercise. A month of consecutive writing! I’ve been generally satisfied too with what I’ve produced. Obviously, it’s not Shakespeare; but I’ve been pleased and even at times surprised with the material I’ve conjured from the depths of my brain. It was rattling around in there all along! All this time, who knew?
On the last Knowledge Project episode, Shane Parrish interviewed Apolo Ohno, the most decorated winter Olympian in American history, and what has stuck with me is Ohno’s commentary about ritual. Before every big race, he had a standard routine; in fact, many athletes have some version of this– they’ll listen to a specific song or repeat a personal mantra right before a big race to “get in the zone.” There’s an idea that the next several minutes of my life are going to be tremendously high-stakes. Another example: Recall your student days when you took standardized tests for college admissions. There was a gravity then that those next 180 minutes were going to determine your very destiny. And thus, it was time to step up: Everything boils down to this. Everything is on the line.
For writing, I’ve come to realize through tons of trial and error, that it’s similar. Once upon a time, I believed it was a matter of discipline. Just sit down every day, put in the time and work, and grind your way to victory. This is totally wrong though.
Preparing to write is more similar to preparing your mind and body for the act of sport. Similar to how a runner prepares his/her body and mind before the starting gun, the first writing phase –just general production getting the initial story and ideas out of your brain and onto the physical page (rewriting is a whole different phase and process altogether)– is like taking your position at the starting blocks.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I’ve been happiest when my output when the writing has been effortless– when it’s just flowed. (Real talk: I’ve had stretches of inspiration where I banged out 500 words in 20 minutes right before dinner that I’ve been more pleased with than spending an entire day, nose-to-the-grindstone.) But the trick now, is getting to that flow state. How to get into that zone.
In this vein, I’ve been trying to study myself and learn how I –as a system– operate. It’s strange just how little I knew myself. Here’s one epiphany, for example, I’ve recently discovered: When I get stuck, I take a shower. It’s weird, but there’s something about taking a shower that ignites ideation for me. Same with brushing my teeth. It’s strange, I know. But some of my best ideas have come when I’ve been brushing away at those back molars while absently staring off into space. Noticing these patterns have allowed me to exploit and weaponize these life hacks to better be productive.
Publicly posting artifacts on a constant, consistent schedule keeps me motivated. These days, it’s enormously easy to relapse and go off the deep end of unproductivity. Here’s a trick that I’ve found which works for me: Write an email to your future-self describing whatever bug fix or feature you’ve implemented. Write the way you’d normal write an email to a BA or business liaison. Then go and actually implement the feature. Record everything in GitHub. I can’t lie, I enjoy looking at the Progress Map and seeing one big block of progress.
Because there’s a public artifact of my work, I can then easily review my WordPress or GitHub and simply, at a glance, see how I’ve been spending my time and everything I’ve been doing. If you’ve having trouble staying motivated, maybe give this a whirl. It may do wonders!
If you’ve ever worked at a company, especially a large one, then you’re familiar with the concept of institutional knowledge. I know ever since Citizens United, it’s really unfashionable to view companies as human entities. But in many ways, if you really think about it, companies are human-like in many ways. Any individual cell is extraneous to a human, but in aggregate, they constitute the human body. Likewise, any individual human is insignificant to a company, but together, they are the company. Institutional knowledge is the idea of documenting one’s work and knowledge in such a way that after the employee leaves the firm, the company will still have semblance of whatever the employee knew/did while s/he was here. In addition to oral transmission (the employee teaching other employees via “knowledge transfer”), we were also expected to document as thoroughly as we could our work so we’d be, in a sense, fungible. Should the company ever need to replace us (for the “greater good,” of course), it was important such replacement happened as seamlessly as possible.
Now, of course, as these things always are, in practice, institutional knowledge –at least where I’d worked– was near complete shit. Some employees were understandably reluctant to part with their knowledge because –surprise, surprise– they didn’t want to be fungible, interchangeable assets. Gee, who could’ve guessed?
Anyway, I’ll save the diatribe for another time. The point I wanted to make today, in this entry, is that as I’ve grown older, it’s become useful for me to apply the concept of “institutional knowledge” to myself, as a person. In other words: Treat myself, a human, more like a company. Through the course of any given day, week, or month, I’m entertaining hundreds of various, disparate thoughts, on a variety of subjects. On any given topic, I may have spent tens or hundreds of hours contemplating. Gay marriage/abortion/gun rights? Toast or croissants? Is this Basketball Dome undertaking really a good idea? And I’m certain I’m not alone. Every day, people are probably thinking hundreds of random thoughts about a dozen or so different topics. The real tragedy here is for the vast majority of us, these are all ephemeral. Sure, our stronger convictions we’ve probably thought to ourselves thousands of times so they’ve turned into core beliefs. But everything else is just sadly lost in the ether.
Thus, what I’ve enjoyed doing is maintaining a personal blog to keep track of everything. Even if another human soul never sees it, I sincerely believe the record-keeping is valuable. You can chart your growth over time and see how your positions have changed as you gain life experience. You can literally write about anything; it’s your blog. Movie and book reviews, thoughts about current affairs, etc. As you begin to amass a corpus, what’s also fun is periodically reviewing the material and extracting the trends in how your musical tastes and concerns of the day have shifted over the years. Like, “Oh– this was the period I was super into punk rock.” Or, “Oh– I really got sucked into election politics and American Civil War history for six months here.” Juicy self-insights everywhere!
Writing and reading are truly the gifts that keep on giving. Record those artifacts and build a time capsule for your future self! Sure beats watching random YouTube clips all day.
Feeling good is important. That sentiment may seem banal and trite but for me, it was a lesson hard learned. When I was a younger man, all gasoline and no brakes as they say, emotions felt of little import. Sure, feeling happy or excited was useful. And feeling manic was definitely helpful towards being productive. But more than anything else, when I was younger, I was very much drawn towards action. No matter the circumstance, just knock off the next task on the list. Move, move, move.
As a young person, as long as you’re still on the rails of high school, then college, then work– this system works decently well. As long as you stay on those well-worn rails, you can generally cruise control through life with minimal thought. Study, graduate, make money, pay bills, repeat. Emotions never really entered the equation much anywhere.
But after getting derailed, I’ve come to realize that emotions actually do matter. They matter when you can’t just put everything on autopilot. When there’s no academic calendar or Dilbert-style office overlord driving your schedule, you’re suddenly on the hook for what to do next. And this individual freedom to decide “what’s next”— that really depends on feeling good, if you wish to be productive.
What I’ve come to learn after writing and publicly posting ~300 words every day is that writing is a kind of barometer for me about my mental and emotional state. It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine. If the words come easily and flow– I’m in a good state. If I’m blocked, I’m apparently in a bad state or tired, even if I don’t feel bad or tired.
Related to this, by the way– the 85 percent rule! Tim Ferriss interviewed Hugh Jackman! (I absolutely love that episode and recommend it with every fiber of my being.) But basically: I’m at my best when I’m loose, operating at 85% capacity, and feeling good. That is my optimal state.
I’ve also come to learn that if you’re having trouble sleeping, writing the 300 words right before bed actually works quite well. It’s a good exercise that tires out those neurons.
As part of my mission this month to write every day, part of this project has also entailed finding and discovering new writers whom I really like as well as further reading up on other writers that I’ve admired over the years. One writer in particular, whom I’ve followed and greatly respected from afar, is Wesley Morris– formerly of The Boston Globe and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize recipient in Criticism. Man, this guy can really write.
…the most progressive force in Hollywood today is the “Fast and Furious” movies. They’re loud, ludicrous, and visually incoherent. They’re also the last bunch of movies you’d expect to see in the same sentence as “incredibly important.” But they are—if only because they feature race as a fact of life as opposed to a social problem or an occasion for self-congratulation.
Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe (April 24, 2011)
In the piece, Morris cites F&F as “the most progressive force in American cinema.” Finally. I’d been saying that for years (well, maybe something more like “F&F is the (second) greatest cinematic achievement in the history of American filmmaking,” but close enough) so it was enormously satisfying to see an actual professional critic, someone who gets paid to have opinions and write, opine similar sentiments.
To Morris’s point, I honestly feel that there should be a sort of “Bechdel Test” for race in books or movies. (Edit: Oh wait. There is!) The Blind Side and 12 Years a Slave are great but to get past racism, we need to ultimately stop making such a big deal of racial differences. We need to all be more like Dom and the family in the F&F franchise. Others, like Joss Whedon and Morgan Freeman, have made similar points and I think they’re valid. The Utopian dream is in the future we no longer need to have “International Women’s Day” or “Black History Month.” When that glorious day at last arrives, then we’ll finally have achieved equality and moved into a post-race, post-sex society!
Morris has a number of other terrific pieces and I always enjoy his takes because they combine a sharp insight, rich vocabulary (I never fail to learn a new word when I read him), and penetrating horizontal intellect with mass commercial fare. Wesley Morris, my goal is to one day write like you!
Apologies in advance if this isn’t exactly the right place to post. I’ve searched on Reddit everywhere though and thought I’d start here. My writing is fiction (in that I’ve imagined all of the dialogue) but it’s also based on real people and genuine current events/historical facts. Quarantined in my apartment for four weeks now, I was going crazy. So I decided to start writing something last week in the spirit of Buckley, Borowitz, and Sorkin– all writers who I admire a lot! I hope you enjoy and that it brings a moment of levity to your day!
The story will largely be about how I imagine the Trump administration responded to the Coronavirus global pandemic as it unfolded earlier this year.
Writing-wise, I really aspired to join the all-time greats with a real home run of a first sentence (as we all know, the most important sentence). IMHO, the pantheon being:
“Call Me Ishmael.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
And here’s me, swinging for the fences:
Donald J. Trump –45th President of the United States and the greatest, smartest man who ever lived– was confused.
If you like it, please read! And if you don’t… all feedback welcome! I’m not a writer; and this is my first crack at something like this. Would love any feedback at all to try to improve. Have a great day!
PS. Btw, if there’s a better place on Reddit to post this, please lmk. I’m all ears. Thank you!
Like everyone else this past four weeks, I’ve been quarantined in my apartment and have been slowly going crazy. As one’s wont to do, I often rewatch TWW clips on YouTube to help me get through the day.
I’m positive this has been posted many times already, but can you ever get enough Josh press briefings? Of course not:
My question though: Partially inspired by TWW, and partially just to cope with all the insanity that’s been unfolding this year so far, I’ve decided to start writing political satire/humor in the spirit of Borowitz, Buckley, and Sorkin. I was just watching one of the recent Trump pressers and, man, it just felt divined a Sorkin scene waiting to happen. It’s very heavily inspired by the TWW– but just imagine Trump instead of Bartlet. I know… it’s tough. But try:
It was as undeniable as it was indisputable: Man doesn’t choose his destiny. Destiny chooses the man. Donald J. Trump, Mensa-level septuagenarian, was destined for this singular moment in American history.
Only he, and he alone, could deliver the nation to salvation in its darkest hour.
Trump threw open the French doors of the Roosevelt Room like Columbus stepping off the Santa Maria.
“Alright, people. Answers. What do you got for me?”
I’ve written most of the first chapter but have no idea if it’s good; it’s still rough, but does have its moments? I think? Anyway, apologies if this is the wrong place to post (if so, please lmk), but I didn’t know exactly where this belonged. If anyone has any suggestions for where to post, I’d be infinitely grateful. Thank you so much!
PS. Btw– yes, I have already posted this on the r/FanFiction reddit. But next to all of the Harry Potter and Dragon Ball submissions… it just felt not exactly the right place? Also, I’ve looked into r/Satire and r/PoliticalHumor but the first one doesn’t seem very oriented towards long-form; and the latter requires images, so a no-go there.
Chapter One SocraticWonder, Surrounded, The GOAT, Of Destiny and Men, Houses & Titles, Mr. Market, Objective Reality, Showtime
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room White House, Washington DC March 23, 2020
Donald J. Trump –45th President of the United States and the greatest, smartest man who ever lived– was confused. He had called on the young brunette reporter (whom he’d always assigned to sit up front) in the press room because she had high cheekbones, flawless skin, and appeared Eastern European. But now she was asking him a question, one he was having trouble wrapping his tremendous and immense intellect around.
“Mr. President,” Ellen Pool of MSNBC repeated, “has your administration been only dispensing the national stockpile of ventilators to governors of Republican states? How do you respond to these allegations?”
Trump stared, his incredibly intelligent face befuddled. “Is that a problem?” he asked, incredulous he was being asked such a moronic question.
A flurry of photographer bulbs flashed. The White House correspondents exchanged glances, weary.
“Well,” Pool continued, resigned, “some would say such discriminatory distribution is unamerican and maybe even… illegal? Amidst a national crisis with thousands of Americans dying every day…”
Trump waved his hands dismissively. “Look, Ellen. There’s only so many to go around. And some of those states have been honestly very mean to me. Like, very mean. I mean, they never even voted for me, see? Of course, I love all my citizens– they’re all my children. And like any parent will tell you with children– some are first among equals, right? Those who like me, who vote for me– they get help first. Those that don’t, well, they get help… eventually. Next question. Bill from Fake News CNN? What you got?”
Bill Wall of CNN grimaced. Are we living in a tragedy?No.Surely, this must be a comedy.
“Uh, Mr. President, Sir,” said Wall, “there are reports that you’ll block the next stimulus bill that Congress is currently working to pass, if there’s a provision to allow Americans to vote by mail. Is this true?”
Trump stared at Bill Wall of Fake News CNN like the idiot Bill was. God, it was exhausting having to explain to these morons all the time.
“Bill, you’re a smart guy, right? Or at least of average smartness? So, here, I’ll draw it in crayon, just for you– if it’s too easy to vote, then all the poor people –most of whom, democrats (not on my team in case you somehow missed that)– well, they would vote! It would be the end of Republican rule in this country! Jesus, why are you so thick?” Trump shook his head. “Imbeciles, the whole lot of you.”
After the presser, Trump was relieved to finally extricate himself from the briefing mess. The reporters were all savages. Out to discredit him at every turn! Couldn’t those simpletons see that he was trying to calm the country? So what if facts were a tad varnished? Facts, smacts. You think 70-year-old Aunt Dolores holed up in her attic in Palm Springs with the front door barricaded is looking for facts? Good lord. People want to be comforted in times of crisis! People were already dropping dead all over with hospitals filling past capacity. There was no point in further sowing fear among the masses. Trump grimaced to himself; Lord knew they needed the sheeple now more than ever– who else would be working the gas pumps and drive-through windows?
From the Press Briefing room, he made his way to the Roosevelt Room where Steve, JP, Tony, and Larry would already be waiting for him. As he walked the hallowed halls of the White House, Trump couldn’t help but feel his own chest swell with pride. From his expert knowledge of history, he knew that exactly 220 years ago, Thomas Jefferson walked through this very same hall*–* Thomas Jefferson! Even now, three years in, there was a part of him that still couldn’t believe he’d pulled it off. Vanquished senators, governors, and, hell, even a Secretary of State. Though he certainly took a certain smug satisfaction at having defeated Hilary, she was most definitely, unequivocally, the most arrogant and transparently condescending sob (dob?) he’d ever met. Well, he’d certainly showed all the nonbelievers and naysayers! Ha! Because his mind was a steel trap with photographic memory, the words of Gandhi (a genuine GOAT if there ever were one, Trump had to admit) floated through his brain:
It was as undeniable as it was indisputable: Man doesn’t choose his destiny.Destiny chooses the man. Donald J. Trump, Mensa-level septuagenarian, was destined for this singular moment in American history.
Only he, and he alone, could deliver the nation to salvation in its darkest hour.
Trump threw open the French doors of the Roosevelt Room like Columbus stepping off the Santa Maria.
“Alright, people. Answers. What do you got for me?”
In his 79th year, and being the only person in the room older than the President, Anthony Fauci turned his chair. He’d meticulously prepared a series of color-coded binders and a comprehensive 17-point plan for America’s recovery from COVID-19. Having served for over 50 years in public health, and every president since Ronald Reagan, Fauci was largely considered to be the foremost authority in the world on infectious diseases.
“Sir,” Fauci began, “we’ve been reviewing hospital cases from New York, Seattle, and Chicago. And we believe that the infection rate–“
“Yeah, fuck that,” interrupted Trump, waving his hand. “What I really care about is the stock market. Steve? You’re up.”
“Right,” Steve Mnuchin stood from behind the mahogany conference table to address the room. A former 17-year veteran of Goldman Sachs and its one-time CIO, Mnuchin held the sole distinction in the room to be the only man who’d been married as many times as Trump (thrice).
“So Jay and I have been pouring over the books all night,” said Mnuchin, “and we think we’ve figured it out.”
Mnuchin wiped his brow. “Right, Sir. Well, we’re pretty sure Jay and I here can essentially just print infinite money to solve the problem.”
Trump raised an eyebrow. “Unless you know something that I don’t, money cures the disease?”
“Well, no, of course not,” interjected Powell. “But you asked about the markets. And the virus isn’t what’s causing the Dow to tank. Frankly, tens of thousands of people die a day from car accidents, the flu, gun violence, and that never stirs the pot. Markets don’t care about people dying. We could be seeing Pol Pot death march numbers right now and markets wouldn’t bat an eyelash.”
Trump furrowed his brow in deep contemplation, his cognitive genius-level gears spinning away. The room waited.
“Okay, yeah,” he finally said. “That makes total sense. So what next then?” Trump held up again the USA Today— “How do we fix this?”
Jerome Powell, the man who would go down in history as the face who launched a thousand memes, pushed his black-framed glassed up from his nose. “Certainty, Sir. Certainty is what will save these markets. If you give a firm roadmap of what’ll happen in the next three quarters, it won’t matter what unemployment, death tolls, or business closures are. The Dow’s already lost nearly 40% of its value— everyone’s essentially already priced in economic Armageddon because, they rightfully so, didn’t know what was coming. So all we need to do now is meet or exceed expectations every week, and you’ll get your rocket ride.”
Mnuchin chimed in. “President, Sir, with all due respect, you’ve gotta listen to me on this. In my storied career, I’ve worked with Nobel Laureates, rocket scientists, and world-renown economists. My father worked on Wall Street and his father before that, for the House of Mnuchin hails from a long lineage of Lords of High Finance. So let me save you time and simply summarize how modern markets work:
Phase 1: A game of musical chairs where stocks go ever higher.
Phase 2: Some kinda catalyst brings everything crashing down. Sometimes, not even that serious. But something needs to conveniently appear plausible that can be retconned into the timeline. Then repeat phase 1.
Trump frowned. “So musical chairs, music stops, crash, and then musical chairs again?”
“Essentially, yes,” said Powell. “That’s what they taught us at Georgetown too.”
Mnuchin continued, “Mr. Market basically craves a narrative; it needs a story. And the story needs to be just plausible enough to make it seem like it’s based in some modicum of reality. But really, the price action’s already all written beforehand. It’s just a matter of weaving some Michael Bay-level storytelling to lacquer on veneer. If we find a way to give some Potemkin semblance of reality, we’ve got this in the bag.”
Trump nodded slowly, “Yes, yes, I see… continue…”
Fauci, who’d been listening to the entire conversation with ever-increasing disbelief, appeared completely baffled. There was now enough suspension of disbelief in his mighty medical brain to hold up the Brooklyn Bridge. The sheer utter insanity overwhelmed his poor 79-year old brain and a synaptic circuit breaker jumped somewhere. Fauci exploded to his feet, able to contain himself no longer.
“But what about data?” implored Fauci, clasping his hands, his eyes wide and pleading. “What about science? How can you make a roadmap when we don’t even know anything yet?”
Mnuchin glanced over at the 79-year old doctor with a look that almost approached the outer limits of some mix between empathy and pity. Since he’d been immersed in finance and politics his entire life, Mnuchin sometimes forgot that he –Steven Terner Mnuchin, Second of his Name, Savior of Capitalism for the Poor and Socialism for the Rich– was indeed privileged and so very fortunate. There were endless other hardworking folk, like Dr. Fauci, out in the world who simply never knew, and would never know, the objective reality of how the world worked. It was sad, but necessary, or course. The one-percent was, by definition, the one-percent for good reason. If everyone knew what the one-percent knew, then there would be no one-percent.
“My good doctor,” said Mnuchin gently, “you should most certainly proceed with your fact findings. But put simply– whatever inconvenient information you may discover, we will simply shrug off as ‘priced in’– and then whatever other catalysts we require to dictate price action, we shall cherry-pick to advantage our agenda. We shall shape the perception to create the reality.”
“So our challenge now,” said Powell, “is to provide that roadmap. We need to give ankle-height expectations that we can then meet or slightly exceed. This is the way.”
“So, it’s all just one big show?” said Trump, looking thoughtful. “One big farce?”
“Just one giant circus searching for a Ringmaster, Sir,” said Mnuchin solemnly.
It’s always struck me extremely unfortunate that Japanese cartoons and comics (anime/manga) possess a second-class-citizen status here in America. Sure, there are definite fandoms. And I’ve met many Americans who are super-passionate about the genre. But I’ve also met many who are unfamiliar with the genre and think of anime and manga as “weird” and “perverse.” I’ve met both men and women, especially women, who hold the genre in extraordinarily low esteem– they’ve either never watched or read anime/manga and/or the little they have, they’ve only seen lewdly drawn art that blatantly objectifies women; and/or they’ve only read storylines that verge on pure male prepubescent fantasy– Eg. A number of female high school students pursuing an entirely unremarkable male protagonist; whatever the gender opposite of the “Mary Sue” trope would be (and the fact that this is even a genre –called “harem”– is alone troubling to many.)
Anime and manga have another challenge in American culture in that cartoons, almost overwhelmingly, Americans think of as a children’s medium. Obviously, there are Disney and Pixar– but even when you visit slightly “more mature” fare like content from Dream Works, Blue Sky, Sony Animation, or WB Animation, it’s still virtually entirely family-friendly. There may be some “inside jokes” thrown in for the parents that get a laugh or chuckle. But it’s all still material that children enjoy. A safe weekend, family outing enjoyable for all ages.
What has surprised me about writing is just how exhausting it
is. When I was working, there was a
general cadence to my day that was very non-taxing. Going at half-speed, I was able to join
conference calls, attend meetings, reply to emails, and write code. It was, only seldom when working on a thorny
programming challenge, that I would come anywhere close to spinning up my full
But with writing, that’s been completely different.
Every day I sit down at my keyboard is fraught. I’ve been trying a version of the Pomodoro Technique (but with one-hour sprints) which means each hour is similar to taking a standardized test like back in my schooldays. The heart rate is raised, my palms are slightly sweaty, and there’s a constant underlying tension and anxiety. It’s intense.
Consequently, my daily rhythms are weird. Sure, I’ve been currently fighting a long-term illness and maybe my stamina isn’t currently what it once was when I was a younger man. But every fourth or fifth day I’ll simply be so exhausted that I spend nearly the entire day sleeping. I’ll wake in the morning at my usual time, eat breakfast, try to write a bit or look at stock charts, maybe place a trade or two, and then a sudden unyielding exhaustion will simply overtake me. I never return to bed when I nap, because I’ve found that I always sleep even longer on a mattress and will only awake groggy or with a pounding headache. Instead, I nap on the floor which is just uncomfortable enough to prevent me from oversleeping. And it’s just mind-boggling, every fourth or fifth day, I’ll just sleep half the day away. By the time I wake, it’ll be around 4p. I get up off the floor, try to eat something, maybe do the laundry, and then that’s the day.
Every evening, Bagel and I also video-chat. And she’s always telling me how at her
office, people are routinely putting in 12+ hour days. In fact, when I worked at the bank, I too
remember routinely working from 8a – 10p.
That was a pretty standard day.
But now I’m just amazed by how much of that work was Grundoon-like
busy-work and not truly challenging in any way, shape, or form. I must have written thousands of emails
during my time at the bank. And
programmed hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Not to mention spent hundreds of hours in
meetings and on calls. But during all my
years there, none of that holds even the remotest candle in mental effort and
challenge it takes for me to brainstorm ideas, write characters and plots, and
edit/revise/polish prose. Not even in
the same galaxy or universe of difficulty.
Similarly, I remember from many years ago how professional mathematicians are pleased with themselves if they manage to get four solid hours of work done in a day. I’ve started developing a theory that if you’re in a job where you’re routinely working 10/12/14 hour days, then that job is clearly pretty menial in some sense. Simply because the human brain is unable to do more than four or five hours of “deep work” in a day. And definitely not consistently, day-in and day-out. Of course, I’m only talking about white-collar, office type jobs, because that’s all I have experience with. But seriously, this writing project is a whole other beast entirely.
After I met Bagel, it was definitely like finding another gear. I keep a few photos of us on my desk. And it always helps when I’m in my weaker moments, when it’s late at night and I’m feeling tired, sick, or frustrated, I’ll look over at us to remind me that we’re worth it. And so I’ll write another few hundred words or two. Granted, they’re not always the best words of the day, but the point is that, for me at least, external motivation has made all the difference. I do consider myself a pretty disciplined, determined person. But, man, writing a novel is a whole other beast. It’s mostly the incredibly distant time horizon that makes the project so difficult. I mean, when you’re a student, you kinda get used to cramming the night before in the library or pulling the all-nighter to finish the paper, right? And even when I was working at the bank, we were still delivering software projects in well-defined two/four/six-week sprints. There was constant feedback every step of the way, your team that you were meeting daily with to make any course corrections necessary, and a consistent sense of progress. Even if it wasn’t always exact, there was still (usually) a forward sense of momentum and progress.
But writing is a multi-month (maybe even multi-year?) process? This is a campaign of an entirely different stripe. And it’s one without as finely defined, well-understood goals and milestones. For every successful Normandy invasion, you may also get a Waterloo or a Gettysburg. Sometimes you spend years building the Atlantic Wall or Maginot Line and it, well, just doesn’t quite do what you expected.
Additionally, with novel-writing, the formative initial “requirements gathering phase” is a little different. There’s a discovery process that’s actually more like the beginning of a data science project or trying to QED a math proof; initially you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. But you have some ideas of what might work. And so you poke around to see if any of your pet theories have legs. And then the entire project starts to (slowly) crystallize and firm up and you mold the beast as best as you can.
Obviously, along the way there’ll be dead-ends. And there’ll be days when you take one step forward but two steps backwards. But if you just keep laboring away, every day in the salt mines, it will slowly start to come together. I can’t remember who said this but I remember once hearing on a Fresh Air podcast an interview with a famous writer and she painted the analogy: “It’s like driving up a foggy, pitch-black mountain. Your head-beams only allow you to see a few meters ahead of you at any given time. But it’s enough. Slowly, but surely, you’ll make it to the top. That’s what writing a book is like.”
Or, similarly apropos, writing’s a lot like having
faith: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see
the whole staircase.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
Two weeks have now passed into my new fiction writing project and what I’ve been a bit surprised by is the fecundity required to generate, unceasingly, two-thousand words a day, which has generally been my target. (Needless to say, I have definitely not been consistently hitting this daily goal.) I’ve always enjoyed writing, but other than a few Novembers when I attempted NaNoWriMo (without succeeding), I’ve never tried to consistently hit daily word counts when I write. I historically just wrote when I was struck by a particular idea or thought that I found intriguing. Being forced to hit a daily count is exhausting though. Maybe I’m doing something wrong? I honestly don’t know.
Once you set off on a journey produce an actual, complete fictional product though, the process changes a bit. It’s an interesting project of mixing several components: Of course, the writing. But there’s also editing, revision, ideation, and organization. There have been some days in the past two weeks where I’ve written zero new words and either just edited/revised old writing (trimming fat, adding color, etc) or just brainstormed and organized, doing a lot of “meta-writing” like tagging certain passages or writing out certain ideas/characters/plots just so they make more sense to me. That “meta-writing” is a bit like commenting code when I program my day-trading bot (which I’m also simultaneously still slaving away at! Need to find a way to pay the bills!) None of the comments compile into any assembly, obviously; they’re just there to help me keep track of what’s going on. Between day-trading, writing, and seeing doctors and taking meds, it’s all been pretty draining. Yet, where there’s a will there’s a way. “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,”Confucius once said (I think).
I don’t know if I’m doing this right, but I’m currently just
trying to race through 100,000 words as fast as humanly possible so I can get
some sort of scaffolding up, even if I know I’ll have to eventually toss some
here or there; or revise heavily. It’s
much easier to carve an ice statue once you have an actual block of ice.
I read a lot about other writers. Specifically, I’m fascinated with people’s different creative processes. How do people ideate? How do they develop their ideas? What are the rituals or sources of inspiration that they use to get the train going?
While there are obviously many different schools of thought
on the matter, the approach that seems to work best for me so far is a
combination of John Scalzi’s and Lev Grossman’s.
From the Scalzi school, I’ve adopted a very commercial, capitalist approach: First and foremost– what subject is probabilistically most likely to sell the greatest number of books? What is the “Product Market Fit?” Notably, when Scalzi wrote Old Man’s War, he perused the shelves at his local bookshop and identified the genre which appeared to move the most units. Military Sci-Fi was the answer. As the story goes, Scalzi aspired to be a professional novelist (he was already an accomplished newspaper columnist by that point) and really didn’t possess an allegiance to any particular genre. More than anything else, he was motivated by how to make the most money possible. Additionally, then he honestly assessed his own abilities and that intersection of the Venn Diagram was thus the birth of Old Man’s War.
I really enjoy following Scalzi’s blog and writings because this guy is one fecund sob. Truly, Scalzi’s production is genuinely legendary. Sure, the quality might not be Lev Grossman-level. But Grossman only puts out a book once every half-decade or so. Magician’s Land was published in 2014, already nearly six years ago. As Scalzi has remarked previously in multiple places, writing to him is a cold-hard vocational trade. It’s a feature, not a bug, that he deliberately aims for being as mass-commercial-mainstream as possible. He enjoys raking in the cash! And possesses not an iota of romanticism about it. And I think that’s profoundly inspiring. I too, like Scalzi, hope I can one day make a living from writing fiction. So I pretty much hang on his every word anytime he says something about the craft/business.
My other huge inspiration is Lev Grossman. Man, this guy can really write. I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet Mr. Grossman at various book-signings that he’d hosted in the past. And what I admire most about him is just the sheer beauty of Grossman’s writing. Sure, it doesn’t always go somewhere, plot-wise, but the absolute gorgeous prose just can’t be denied. I once read an Amazon review somewhere that compared Grossman’s writing to “cul-de-sacs” and that analogy is entirely accurate. Again, it doesn’t always go anywhere, but the words fit together so enchantingly that that alone is worth the admission price.
First, random highlight of the week. This is truly spectacular; really inspires the human spirit:
I have found that in fiction writing, organization appears to be half the battle. As I begin to amass an increasingly large body of work –drafts, revisions, finalized copy, brainstormed ideas– the challenge becomes keeping track of it all. Luckily, I love to organize things! I’ve been having a fun time tagging everything and putting it all into a sort of coherent structure. Onward!