Crocodile Dandies and 2016

I made quite a few changes in 2015. I started a new job as a UI designer/ JavaScript developer, began a serious workout practice that I’ve maintained since July, and wrote nearly 100,000 words of fiction.

Big accomplishment’s for 2015

My daughter and I worked our way through a number of classic science fiction and fantasy movies. The biggest delight of this journey was the Mad Max collection of films. We caught the original undubbed Mad Max at the Texas Theatre first, and then went on to watch Road Warrior, and Beyond Thunderdome before seeing Fury Road in the theater. We loved Fury Road. It’s the standout film for me of 2015. We also managed to play Disney Infinite, discover we share a deep love for all things Fallout, and collect more plastic cups from Fuzzy’s Tacos than should be allowed. Others may claim to have the best daughter in the world, but I will not believe it.

I started a very serious, not-shitting-you-I-now-lift-bro workout. I discovered I love lifting heavy objects. I still love running long distances, but lifting heavy objects is like a drug. The more you do, the more you want to do, and pretty soon your brain can’t go without the high of picking up something heavier than you are and putting it back down. In six months I managed to create about 8 pounds of solid muscle and burn away a little over 2% of the fat on my body. This doesn’t sound that impressive, but what I’m doing is for life. I’m turning myself into a weight lifter who runs. I’m not doing this so I can look good in two months, because that never actually works.

I created an excellent AngularJS application using Material Design as the UI. I’ve been developing now for almost twenty years and I absolutely love writing code for the web. It comes with a lot of gotchas, but for the most part it’s an enjoyable process where you get to see a number of new technologies put into action quickly. I’m always learning, always experimenting, and always making improvements to the product and my code with each iteration. I’m at the point in my career where I can honestly state that I don’t want to be a full time writer at this moment. I would rather write code for a day job than write fiction. If I had to write fiction, I couldn’t write the kind of fiction I want to write. Right now, I write the kind of code I want to write and write the kind of fiction I want to write, and though I’m still relatively unknown in the writing world, I don’t think I care.

But my publishing life isn’t completely without mention. I had three short stories published this year. The first was a professionally paid entry in The Novel Fox: Anthology I. They graciously accepted and published one of my more weirder, literary pieces titled “Clean, Like Water from a Winter’s Thaw” in March. May saw the publication of my short story “Reflection in Her Eye” in Black Denim Lit. This is one of my weird, horror stories. The amazing author and friend A. Lee Martinez invited me to submit a story for his anthology Strange Afterlives and I spent about two months agonizing over a weird, and complex novella that would have confused P.K. Dick. Once I walked away from that I had an idea involving women fighting pilots of WWII. I sat in a Starbuck’s one afternoon and in one great rush wrote “Night Witches”, a Twilight Zone-like short story with an undead bi-plane. With a few small revisions I polished it off and sent it to Martinez. Everyone who has read it has loved it–or they’re just being really nice to me. And I’m okay with that. I made Honorable Mention, and Silver Honorable mention in two of the three Writers of the Future contests I entered. Not too bad. I also sold a story to Strange Horizons. Yes, I am appropriately excited by this milestone. Yes, you will definitely know from me when it’s been published. Yes, I will have the podcast on continuos play for a week.

2015 was scattershot for me. I managed a high degree of productivity in some areas, but failed to achieve a few goals in other ares. I discovered certain truths about myself. I like to overcomplicate things. I tend to bite off far more than I can chew, and when I get disappointed I walk away from half-finished projects. 2015 generated a lot of words for me, but not many finished projects. Don’t worry, I plan to correct that. When I’m answerable to someone I will show up and I will get the work done with a high level of competency. This is my day job and this is my workout and this is being a parent–without someone to report to, I’m pretty much a stoner slacker (who doesn’t actually smoke) who will sit around all day and play on the internet or the Playstation). Not that I’m against playing. Many of my burnouts were just that. Me spending weeks and weeks trying, trying, and trying, instead of listening to Yoda and doing. I have a tendency to build up all things around the thing I’m doing and not actually just doing it. I also tend to not walk away to relax. Writing for more than an hour a day is a waste for me. Coding for more than six hours a day is a waste for me. In truth, I’m an iterative developer. It means I have to create something fast that looks a lot like what I want to make and then I have to walk away from it for a little while, and then I have to remake it a few times until it looks and works the way it wants to look and work. This means that I am a discovery artist. Discovery takes time. It takes questioning and contemplation. It is not a fast process.

Discovering I am a discovery artist has changed my outlook on my application development, my writing, and what I now consume for entertainment. I love discovering, I love building on that discovery, and I love seeing the results applied to the real world. It’s why I love games like Skyrim and Fallout 4. It’s why I love certain types of fiction over other types of fiction–I want my fiction to help me discover who I am through other people. I care less about the engineering in science fiction than I care about the result of that engineering on humanity. Fantasy is not about setting the world right, it’s about seeing the world for what it really is. These are my opinions and they aren’t opinions shared by all, but they’ve helped me to understand the type of person I am, the type of writer I am, and to understand why I value certain works of art over other works.

This is a big deal for me, because I’ve always been of the impression that I was more of a “plotter” than a “panster.” Considering I like to make elaborate plans for projects and that I’m always fascinated by elaborate and complex systems, this seemed the rational approach I should take to creating. Plan to the minute detail. Execute that plan in order efficiently like a machine. Like writing code.

Only that’s not how I write code anymore. It’s been my experience, at almost every company I’ve worked, that there’s rarely a product owner who actually knows what they really, really want. This is why Agile methodologies have won over many development departments. We can give you something, it might not be exactly what you think you want, but it will be something you can work with. The big plus side to this methodology is that you’ll see something in two weeks. We’ll meet, we’ll agree on a direction, and you’ll see something else in two more weeks. It doesn’t sound incredibly efficient, but it sure beats working on a project for a year to six months only to find out it isn’t anywhere close to meeting the client’s needs.

Iterative delivery of little bits of something at a time. What’s delivered is useful and production ready. This works for software and it can work for art. It can work for writing, it can work for sketching, painting, game development, and many other pursuits. I’m not saying it’s the ultimate key to the universe and all happiness, but it will keep you productive and it will help you to produce.

Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. No, I’m not starting a whole new business. I don’t plan to get into creative professionals coaching. Nothing like that. You see, this isn’t a New Years resolution, a way to take what I’m doing and try to turn it into something else, because quite honestly I really like what I’m doing. This is a commitment to continue down a path. Paths probably shouldn’t change every year. Remaining healthy and fit is a daily task, not something you commit to at the first of the year and forget two months down the road. Everything is a daily practice. Because of this, you only have so many things you can focus on in life. You only have a few chances to get good at something. So I’ve narrowed down the four areas where I really want to improve. Where I want to spend my energy. This is an easy list that I can post on my wall to remind me every morning when I wake up the reason I’m here on this planet. I don’t believe in a god or an afterlife, but if such a thing existed I wouldn’t mind standing before that judge and saying that these are the things I was focused on.

There are four big things I want out of life right now. I want to be an amazing father to an amazing daughter. This is number one on my list of priorities. In the future, when my daughter has become the amazing independent woman she will likely turn into, I will make the priority charitable work. But right now, I have a human I’m responsible for helping to become the best human she can be.

Number two involves my health. I want to be in the best physical condition I can be in without being a full time athlete. I can spend about two hours a day dedicated to health and wellness. The rest of my life can be mindful of those two hours and help where they can.

I want to be a great developer. I don’t want to be a rockstar developer. If my boss is floored by the work I do, if our clients are floored by the work I do, and if I’m happy with the work I do, then I’m achieving those goals. I will probably spend more time studying to improve my own personal development productivity, but most of my job is really just making complex things simple. I don’t need to know all the things, just the things that matter to get the job done right.

I want to write short fiction that publishers want to publish. Notice I wrote nothing about readers. Readers are far too nebulous. I can’t please “readers”. I have no idea what they really want. However, I can read a handful of magazines, say to myself, ‘these are the kind of stories I want my work to be associated with’, and I can make sure that meeting the criteria of those magazines is part of my process. I can please the readers who work tirelessly to find stories for their editors. I want to make those people happy. Luckily, I even know who a number of those people are. I know their tastes, their likes and dislikes, and luckily most of those are aligned with my likes and dislikes. This might seem sleazy and a little like stalking, but I don’t see any use wasting a lot of my writing time on work that no one will publish. I’ve had a number of very, very close acceptances this year. I do believe my failure to write stories that appeal to particular magazines is part of the reason I have a stack of stories that won’t see publication.

Those are the big four things – Good dad, healthy human, highly valued developer, and publishable writer.

It’s been my experience that achievement requires regular dedication to a practice. We practice being good parents, we practice healthy habits, we practice improving our careers, and we practice writing great fiction. Everything is practice. This year the only thing I’m changing is the degree of focus. For my daughter, it’s preparing her more for adulthood. For my health, it’s mastering form and maintaining discipline. For my career, it’s mastering tools and maintaining clean structure. For my writing, it’s focusing on the fiction I love and writing the stories I think my favorite publishers will love.

I hope your 2015 was a year of health and happiness. I hope 2016 can be that and more for you. Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Crocodile Dandies and 2016

  1. A good summing-up. Lots of insight there. Two hours a day working out made me groan. Half an hour every once in a while is about all I’ve managed. You remind me I need to do better–on all counts.

    1. There’s a lot of backpayment involved in my present workout. Years of sitting at a desk writing code has taken its toll and now I have to try to pay it back. Hopefully, that means a longer life.

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