Daily Logs

In a few weeks, I’ll be a guest of honour at When Words Collide in Calgary, and while I’m there, I’ll be giving a 15-minute keynote address and an hour-long presentation on…something. I’m in the process of planning those presentations now; I haven’t finalized what I’m doing yet, but it’s got me thinking about planning. As a result, I thought I’d share some of what I do in order to figure out how to spend my days.

Today, I’ll write about my daily log. This records what I consider the most important information about what I’ve done during a day. Each day’s log has eight lines:

Writing AM
What I wrote in the morning and how long I spent on it; for example,
Haunted House novel, 2:45.
Mornings are my most creative time, so I schedule my most important writing then. On a first draft, I usually record word count rather than time spent, but during later drafts, I record time.
Writing PM
What I wrote and/or edited in the afternoon/evening. This is usually when I write short stories and commissioned work. Again, I usually record time, but sometimes word count.
PR
Anything I do as self-promotion…like this blog entry. PR is one of my weak spots, so I really want to keep track of what I’m doing; I need to make sure I’m not letting it slide. It’s a danger sign if I see too many days in a row with this slot blank.
PD
Professional Development: Anything I do to help myself improve as a writer and/or businessperson. Yes, I still read a lot of books on writing and creativity…but I also read stuff on promotion. Typically, this entry will list what I’ve been reading. (As I read PD stuff, I take notes in a separate notebook. The log just records book titles and article headings.)
Reading
What books I’m reading for “fun” (including audiobooks I listen to)
Push-ups
Since I’m trying to get better at push-ups, I record the number I do each day.
Exercise
Other exercise I did during the day including walking, jogging, going to Kung fu class, etc.
Life
Anything else worth recording, like getting a haircut, going to a movie, buying gas, etc. Basically anything I think might be worth keeping track of.

I write all this down by hand in a notebook. At some point, I might switch to keeping records on my computer and/or iPad, but for now, I find it simplest to keep a notebook on my dining room table and scribble log entries throughout the day.

As always with any kind of note-taking, I recommend choosing a medium you’ll actually use. Fancy record-keeping software is pointless if you never fire it up…and for myself, if there’s any friction at all to making a note, I just don’t do it. (Someday I’ll tell you the story of how I stopped watching TV.)

So there, that’s my method: at the start of each day, I write those eight headings in my log book, and then throughout the day, I jot down log entries. This helps me keep on track. If, for example, the Push-ups line is still blank near the end of the day, it shames me into doing some. I admit I don’t like doing them, but how else will I improve?

Villainous Observation

I’m listening to back-broadcasts of the Writing Excuses podcast, and in Season 11, they make an observation about villains. (They tentatively ascribe this observation to Victoria Schwab although they aren’t 100 percent certain.)

The observation is that villains often have a “big picture” motivation for what they do. “In order to save the world, I have to…” “To advance science, I must…” “If I want to improve everyone’s life, I’m going to…” High-level goals are how these villains justify low-level acts of evil: “Murdering a few individuals is insignificant compared to the great things I’m trying to accomplish.”

Heroes, on the other hand, often have small-scale personal motivations. “This villain killed my father.” “If the villains get their way, my friends and family will suffer.” Etc. Paradoxically, such intimate motivations allow a universal connection: any reader can sympathize with someone who wants to avenge their father.

More abstract causes aren’t so easy to connect with emotionally. I may not even agree with a villain’s high-level motivation (do I really want to see America made great again?)…but even if I think what the villain wants to do is admirable, I’m much less likely to continue with, “So it’s okay to commit violence in such a cause.”

I like this observation, and I think it holds true in a ton of fiction: bad guys abstract, good guys personal. I’m passing it on to the readers here, just as something to contemplate.

P.S. But I hate the saying, “The end doesn’t justify the means.” This is often said in the sense of “No end ever justifies any means.” But that’s nonsense. Lots of ends justify lots of means. Cutting people up with knives is usually bad, but if I’m a surgeon performing a life-saving operation, the ultimate goal justifies making careful incisions.

In fact, the end is the only thing that ever justifies any means. Whatever you do, you should have a good reason for doing it; if you don’t, that’s bad.

So I’d rather see the phrase changed to, “Some ends don’t justify some means.” That I wholeheartedly agree with.

Idle Thoughts on Role-Playing

I’m embarking on a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with a number of people who go to the same Kung Fu school as I do. I’m the Dungeon Master, which means I’m the one who sets the stage for the players and who referees the game if necessary. Since four of the five players are beginners, I’ll also be helping them understand the rules, and orienting them a bit in terms of their odds of succeeding or failing.

(Spoiler alert: even though it’s called Dungeons & Dragons, beginning level characters should not try to slay a dragon. They will fail. However, I have a policy with brand new players: I promise that their characters won’t die in the first three sessions. If they really do try to slay a dragon, the dragon may just beat them up, take all their stuff, and leave them naked outside the nearest town. Or more likely, the dragon will singe them a bit, then say, “Okay, if you don’t want to die, you have to agree to run an errand for me…”)

As I said last week, I love planning campaigns. I love dreaming up new worlds full of wild and wonderful things. Also, since this campaign will only be the six of us sitting around a kitchen table, I love stealing stuff from my favorite books, comics, movies, TV, etc.

In my real writing, I can’t steal egregiously…but at the kitchen table, I can. So in the past, I’ve stolen from Doctor Who, Michael Moorcock, Star Trek, H.P. Lovecraft, and many many many more sources. For me, creating a campaign is a form of fanfic: as over-the-top as I can make it.

But one of the best things about role-playing is that the game isn’t just what I steal and what I invent on my own. It’s a joint creation of everyone at the table, all of them smart and devious. Players always invent their own goals and backstories—stuff that goes beyond what I could dream up on my own. We work together, developing the story from all that material. This means that a role-playing campaign emerges unpredictably from interactions between everyone present. Like good improv theatre, nobody knows what’s going to happen until it happens.

Role-playing is also an excuse to get together with friends. Perhaps that’s the most important feature. Of course, we could just get together and talk…but we probably wouldn’t, and certainly not week after week. Playing the game is fun, but it’s also a pretext to socialize and surprise ourselves in the process.

The next session for this group is Friday night. I may or may not report what happens; I’ll have to talk to the others about it. But if you’ve ever thought you might be interested in role-playing, I strongly encourage it. And perhaps I’ll talk more about role-playing games in the near future.

[Disclaimer: For a lot of you reading this, role-playing games are probably old hat…but given that some readers haven’t played RPGs before, I’ll write these posts assuming no prior knowledge.]

[Dragon picture by Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]

Sharing, May 7, 2019

Links? I got ’em.

Convention: When Words Collide, Aug 9-11, 2019, in Calgary
For a long time, I’ve loved the concept of When Words Collidge. It’s a convention specifically aimed at genre diversity: science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, and more. It’s a great way of expanding your horizons beyond your favourite niches…and this year, I’m going to be one of the guests of honour! Yay! So come out, say hi, and enjoy the convention.
Role-Playing: A New Dungeons & Dragons Campaign
I’ve been talked into running a new D&D campaign for a group from my kung fu school. I didn’t take much persuading…and now I’ve been cackling to myself for more than a week as I design the arc of the campaign, with a whole bunch of surprises built in. I can’t give details, of course—at least one of the players reads this blog. But starting any new tale gets my juices flowing, whether it’s a novel, a short story, or a campaign. [*Insert sinister laugh here.*]
Season: Spring
Today, most of the trees on my street suddenly acquired leaf buds. Within a week, the trees may actually look like trees. About damned time! And it means that I can get out and start running (okay, jogging) again.

 

 

Sharing May 1, 2019

Let’s get back to this, shall we?

Books: The Slough House series by Mick Herron
I’ve been burning through the books of this series one after another. Slough House is the place where MI5 agents are sent when they’re burned out or incompetent, but for one reason or another can’t just be fired. They’re given boring and meaningless desk jobs in the hope they’ll give up and quit…but of course, things don’t stay that simple. In each book of the series, the “Slow Horses” as they’re called stumble into serious cases that the rest of the Security Service has overlooked. Not only are the books exciting thrillers, they’re written in a delightfully snarky tone of voice that makes me laugh a lot. Highly recommended.
Place: Banff
The last time I was in Banff was 1979, but I had a chance to get back there last week. The town has completely changed, but the mountains haven’t. Neither has the smell of the air. I should get back there more often.
Movie: Avengers: Endgame
It’s not at all a perfect movie, but it does what it had to do: serve as a gala ending for Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Technically, the forthcoming Spider-Man movie is considered the end of Phase 3, but no matter how good that movie is, it’s more of a palate cleanser than a climax…although it could still go out with a bang as I suggested in my recent speculations.) I’ve seen a lot of people point out weaknesses in Endgame, many of which I agree with, but still—it worked for me.

Sharing, February 26, 2019

Stuff I’m doing:

Fixing a cataract: I’ve had a slow-growing cataract in my left eye for at least three years and it’s finally reached the point where (perhaps) it’s time to get rid of it.

My cataract is almost certainly just a symptom of age. The way I understand it is that the lens in your eye is made of transparent fibers which should lie tightly side by side. As you get older, the fibers loosen up enough to allow small gaps between them. Not only does the lens have more difficulty focusing, but light can get in through the gaps which has various effects. In my case, if I look at a single point of light, I see three points (or sometimes six, depending on the size of the original point).

Luckily, my right eye is still good, and with my glasses, it’s 20/20. This means I can still see fine for driving. However, I’d love to have two working eyes again. As it happens, eye surgeons prefer not to deal with cataracts until they’re bad enough—cataracts can develop very slowly, in which case there’s no reason to jump the gun. At long last, though, my optometrist says that it’s time; so I now have an appointment with an eye surgeon to see if he agrees.

What I’m reading: The Mister Miracle graphic novel by Tom King. Mister Miracle is a lesser known DC “superhero” created by Jack Kirby. I put “superhero” in quotes because MM doesn’t fight crime, and he seldom gets involved in standard superhero shenanigans.  Instead, he’s the greatest escape artist of all time.

The graphic novel is essentially about MM having an extended bout of depression. It’s not played for laughs (although there are plenty of humorous moments). It’s very human and highly recommended.

What I’m playing on the computer: Dragon Age: Inquisition. I don’t know why…but on the weekend, when I looked at the list of games I have on my computer, DA:I is the one I clicked on. (I’ve played DA:I from start to finish at least four times. I guess I might be making it five.)

What I’m writing: In the mornings, I’m working on the novel I’ve designated PROJECT TECH-BRO. In the afternoon, I’m working on a short story I’m tentatively calling “The Red Wolf Canto” (although that might change). It’s a combination of Little Red Riding Hood and Dante’s Inferno. Because they belong together.

(Seriously, on the very second page of Dante’s Inferno, Dante meets a wolf in a dark forest. So hey, it’s a gimme.)