In celebration of their 10th anniversary Pseudopod—a consistently solid horror fiction podcast—is running a kickstarter:
Pseudopod has an excellent track record—both in terms of delivering the goods and doing right by their contributors—and impressive longevity (10 years of weekly operation publishing fiction for free is hard going; I know from experience). Their goal is to raise funds to increase what they pay artists and ensure their longevity. These are Good Things™
Kick in a few bucks; the 21st Century is nuts, and perhaps the nutsiest thing is the jaw-dropping array of free arts & letters we each enjoy every day—but it can only be free on the daily if we all kick in now and again. This is one of those moments.
Add bonus: there are some really nifty backer premiums, including this rad-as-hell mug and their first ever anthology, For Mortal Things Unsung—which features both reprints of pieces they
bought for the podcast (including mine), as well as new work A.C. Wise, Jim Bihyeh, and others.
I’ve written scads of advice things to folks who’ve emailed me expressing interest in freelance editing/copywriting, but nothing sort of generically about productivity in the “GTD” sense.
Anyway, when it comes to that, two pieces of advice jump to mind. The first is something a rabbi said during High Holidays services once, which amounted to “God doesn’t really give a shit about something you did one time; it’s when you repeat things over and over again that God takes notice.” The rabbi was talking about sin, basically advising against beating yourself up over a single fuck-up.Instead, make good and move on to Do Good Things (which may or may not square you with any Magickal Sky Fairy, but is certainly a helluva lot more socially productive).
But this position—that the thing you do one time isn’t what you are—goes for everything, good and bad: You aren’t a thief just because you stole something one time, and you aren’t a writer just because you wrote and sold one good thing.The last story/book/article/brochure does almost exactly jack-shit to help you write and sell the next one. You are a writer because you write every day. So, decide on the thing you want to be, and be that thing for at least a little while every day.
This sounds sorta stupid—or, at best, equal parts stupid and profound, like the Wise Men of Chelm—but still, every story I’ve sold in the last, I dunno, eight-ish years has been mostly written 25 minutes at a time weekday mornings while children slept.
The other piece of advice is straight from Ramit Sethi, who is sort of a huckster and sort of dead-on about most of what he says (albeit in a huckstery life-coach-ish way). Anyway, one one his big pieces of advice (at least a few years ago, when I was more actively following him) was to stop saying “I don’t have time for X.” All of us are busy and all of us blow precious minutes and hours dicking around on Facebook and leafing through shitty magazines and watching crap we don’t care about on YouTube and whatever. We have time for it. You can get up 25 minutes early every morning and write stories and novels 25 minutes at a time. You can get in shape—great shape, really—25 minutes at a time. You can learn about retirement savings or knitting or how to eat all vegan 25 minutes at a time. We use time as an excuse, because we don’t really—in our hearts—give a shit about the things we say we want. Just like TLC warns, we are scrubs “always talking about what we want / then we sit on our broke ass”
The real problem isn’t the time, it’s the prioritization. So, just the honest and start saying “I’m not prioritizing that.”
“Lose some weight? Sorry, I’m not really prioritizing going to the gym right now.”
“Hate my job? I’m not prioritizing finding a new one.”
“Feeling perpetually pyscho-emotionally fucked up? Yeah, well, I just can’t prioritize finding a shrink and going to sessions.”
(These are all drawn from my life, incidentally.)
Changing your language like this forces us to really look at what we’re doing, ’cause when your kid says “Can we go play at the park?” or “Can you read me this book?” or “Can we watch this show?” and instead of saying “I’d love to sweetie, but I don’t have time” you say “I’d love to, sweetie, but I’m not prioritizing that right now”—well, you feel like a royal douchebag, and you do the important thing instead of the thing you thought was important.
So, that’s the advice:
Be the thing you want to be for at least a little while everyday.
Spent the holiday weekend chilling with friends, and we built a few Jitterbugs (tiny, super-simple, super-cheap robots that run away from light, cockroach-style). I’d totally forgotten how much fun these are. Here’s a video of my 4-year-old sitting in the closet with flashlights and competing at “reverse sumo” (first person out of the ring wins):
Here’s a set of Jitterbugs built by Stephen Trouvere and his boys, with the addition of LED eyes:
I love how those lil guys turned out! For the curious, all we’ve done is built the standard jitterbug, then taken a pair of regular ol’ red LEDs, wired them in parallel, buffered the positive lead with a 100Ω resistor (brown-black-brown stripes), and soldered the free resistor lead to the positive battery terminal, and the negative LED legs to the negative terminal (it’s the same way we wire up the LEDs in the “Switchbox” project in that same book).
If you’re at all mechanically minded, you’re going to start our sort of underwhelmed, since the solution seems pretty transparent: Any determined craftsman could get similar results with a homebrew pantograph and template (hell, you could do it in LEGO).
But keep watching. You’ll get more impressed around the 2-minute mark when you see the mechanism, and more so around 2:40 when you see the cams and realize that the device isn’t tracing letterforms, but rather, in a mechanical sense, understands a series of modular strokes than can be built up in different arrangements to form different letters. Finally, you’ll totally shit yourself at 3:55 because this damned thing—built in the late 1700s—was programmable.
My son has been at “Rocks & Robots” camp this week (mostly building
sumo-wrestling robots with Mindstorms, plus two half-days of rock climbing), and apparently he and several other kids have developed a species of spoken-word text-based adventure that they play over lunch, called “Dungeon!!!”The game starts with someone saying something along the lines of “You are in a cage hanging from a rusted chain, and realize the cage door is not actually locked. What do you do?” Whoever else is sitting around is in the party and starts asking questions and making decisions. No gold, no XP, no dice, no pencil, no paper—just you and the Dungeon.
I love watching Rob Scallon rock out on a shovel guitar.FYI, this is a totally doable afternoon DIY project for any of you (yes, even you!) or the bored teen in your life.You can build something just like this (or a hockey-stick bass, an electric broomstick banjo, an axe ax—you get the gag) using the methods laid out in the “$10 Electric Guitar” project in my first book (click here now to get a FREE copy of that project—and, if you’re near Metro Detroit in July, you can come to Motor City Steam Con where I’ll be running a workshop on electric-guitarifying stuff).
Artists: Even if you are lukewarm on Weezer, this interview with Rivers Cuomo (the band’s frontman) is so worth your time. I’ve got more than a little experience with collaboration, creativity under duress, constrained writing techniques, and Oulipo-like methods, and yet I’ve never come across a process like this, which is at once ornately technical (spreadsheets, demo files, something akin to A/B testing) and is so meticulous in the interest of harnessing randomness and stripping context and formal planning out of the creative process.
Weezerians: To those who dig Weezer already, know this: The stories in their songs are not stories they wrote, but stories you wrote in response to the fragments they gathered and the formulae they use to collect and organize those fragments.
Public Service Announcement:Song Exploder is consistently awesome (for example, it introduced my 9yo to Iggy Pop and made him an instant fan). So worth subscribing and supporting.
Here’s the thing about habits and rituals: They are enormously evolutionarily advantageous. We are cognitive misers; making decisions and remembering things take energy (which is finite), and forgetting things can be very costly–even deadly. So, we’re primed to form habits, because they offload this effort. The productivity books and blogs are full of anecdotes about Famous Admirable People establishing rituals to free up their headspace (e.g., Einstein had a closet full of clothes that all matched and never wore socks; he could just dress at random without putting effort into choosing garments).
Any task that you can initiate in under two seconds is not perceived as requiring effort; it easily slips into habit and automation: Putting on a seat belt, switching off a light, grabbing some M&Ms from a bowl on someone’s desk, glancing at a cellphone.
As this little list makes obvious, there are up and downsides to this mechanism, as an unhealthy or downright dangerous habit can form and ossify just as easily as a good one.
So, I love that this guy’s nail-polish hack–by creating a consistent distraction–effectively increases the cognitive effort of the habit up beyond the threshold, so the automation falls. Maintain this consistent cognitive load, and the habit softens up and becomes far more susceptible to modification.