08 Mar

I Moved My Office Back Into My Basement: Here Are the Pictures and What I Did

I promised every one on twitter a comprehensive post about the basement office project. There are a few tweaks I want to do still, but now that I’ve spend a week working out of it, here you go:

My basement and I have a complicated relationship.

In 2007, it was mildly flooded during the great 2007 flood. Mold ended up taking off and it ended up costing us whatever was stored down there and paying a professional crew to rip out all the old wood paneling and do water damage remeditation and mold killing. They installed a sump in a canning room that kept seeping water and causing water to pool on the basement floor.

In 2008, while working on remodeling the basement to reclaim it I had a cardiac event that put me in the hospital for a bit and was how I found out I have a genetic heart defect. The damn basement almost killed me.

In 2012, I think, I hired someone to clean up the bare brick walls and floors and install some doors and lights in hopes of reclaiming the basement. But we mainly used it for storage and secondary space while I used a room upstairs for primary writing.

Spiders used the basement as an office, mainly.

Recently one of my daughters started advocating for a room of her own. She had a lot of good reasons, but we didn’t bite. It wasn’t until said daughter explained to me her plan to move into the spider-filled basement on her own (she explained how she planned to clean it up, and where she would keep her stuff, and how we could get the mattress down there) that I realized she really, really was all in on the room of her own department.

I told her I’d figure out what it would take to move out and give her the room, whether staying upstairs and carving space out of lesser-used living room. She started sleeping on my office couch right away.

I spent a couple hours staring at the basement. Some of the fluorescent tubes we’d installed five years ago had gone out. But last summer we spent a large chunk of money to have our front yard landscaping all pulled out, on the theory that the previous owners fancy large beds up against the front of the basement were keeping water against the basement, increasing the water seepage. Over the last year, as far as we could tell, the seepage had decreased a great deal.

Enough for me to make the basement not a storage place for stuff but my primary working environment again?

I like being up near the large windows as I work on sun. Being away from the sun depresses me.

But since regrading the front lawn, the windows along the sunward side of the basement were dropping more light into he basement. And if I put in some replacement fluorescents, even though I hated the flicker, I realized I could do something.

Another thing had been bugging me the last few years. I moved away from physical books to eBooks on my phone. But, as my kids were getting older they were assuming that time I spent reading books on the phone was me ‘playing’ on the phone. So I’d started ordering physical books to read so that they could see me reading a lot.

To my surprise, I found that I was enjoying being away from screens. No distractions or temptations, just a book and me and a moment of time.

Which meant that the 80% of my library that I’d donated I now missed. I wanted books on shelves again. And I wanted all my own books that I’d been published in, or published, to be around me. I’d had all those books stored away. With a large basement, I could have a lot of shelves.

Plus, now that I was playing frisbee outside and walking more I was getting sunlight. Maybe I could risk a basement office again. Then a friend of mine gifted me a 4K monitor large enough to display full editing documents side by side on, and a sitting to standing adjustable desk.

So three weeks ago I got busy and took a broom and cleaning supplies down into the basement to do battle with the spiders.

I scrubbed walls, attacked webs, and killed many spiders on day one.

I took out sixteen or so bags of things that could be put on the curb or donated.

In the canning room where the water seepage was the worst I purchased quick dry mortar repair and stuffed all the gaps I could find. I then painted two coats of DryLock paint over the walls in there. I also sealed the wooden ceiling of the canning room with Thompson’s water seal. So here we go from open cinder block and spider heaven to clean and dry to the touch:

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I went over the walls where I planned to put my office with primer and sealant where moisture had seeped through and discolored the paint.

Then I cleaned the windows. That actually boosted the light into the basement a bit, they hadn’t been cleaned in over a decade, I had to scrape dirt off the outer glass. So 50% more sunlight comes in now. I also went outside and pulled the metal wells free, giving more sun a chance to come through.

Of six four-foot flourescent tubes, four were still working. I found out that LED lights are being made for those same fixtures. I ordered them off Amazon.com. Not only did I get a boost in light from getting the two missing light tubes installed, but the LED lights are like 20% or so brighter than the fluorescents were. It feels like the artificial light doubled. Also, the light doesn’t flicker and feels ‘bright’ to me. On days when it’s dark and gloomy in Ohio outside, I’m often not noticing in the basement until I look out the window.

I was on a tight budget for this, I had been hoping to get the entire remodel done for under $500. That was my goal. But as I looked at bookcases everywhere I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to get rows of shelving for books and all the things in my office to sit on easily for that.

After wracking my brains for a while I started thinking of affordable shelving that people wouldn’t anticipate for books. I spent some time in food service, and I knew that NSF certified chrome shelving was sturdy, easy to assemble, and cheap. Further, the chrome shelving would fit with the industrial look of the basement, with the exposed ductwork and brick walls. I could get a sort of aesthetic that all fit together.

Along the 13″ back wall I decided to use an eighteen inch wide NSF chrome shelf that was almost as high as the basement ceiling, which came with six shelves. I would use two shelves to create an ego shelf and one shelf to create a desk area against the wall. I then figured out I could use pieces of a shorter fourteen inch wide shelf to create the legs that two of the other shelves left over could create another desk and general storage area on the right. Then I could use some hooks to create a desk in the middle.

Here it is:

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I then had four shelves left over from using the legs to create that eighteen inch deep area, that meant I could take the four shelf, fourteen inch chrome shelves and make them all five shelf shelves perfect for books:

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The wires run the length of the shelves, so books sit very nicely on them. If I do get worried, I can eventually cut and stain wood planks to add some warmth and sit over the wires: just drill a one-inch wide circular hole on each corner of the plank.

Here’s a closer look at the desk behind my computer desk:

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I purchased some cheap plastic sheets that sit on top of the wires for these shelves, as the wires run in the same direction as the books. They can fall through on the eighteen inch deep wire shelves, so that’s necessary.

On the first shelf I have books that I have published an original story in for the first time. They’re in order of year. Underneath are my novels, book ended by bookends made out of Bermuda Cedar, which is rare to get. Those were a gift from the government of Bermuda Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, and I’m super proud of them. Under the shelf I have hooks and binder clips holding some quickly drawn art that says “CREATE.” Emily is designing some more colorful letters for me shortly!

To the right is an extra desk where I keep some office stuff, a spare chrome book that the kids use, my iPad, and hanging above it is art from my first novel, Crystal Rain, that Todd Lockwood gifted me a print of and that I’ve always wanted to have hanging but didn’t have a place for. Until now!

Okay, so here’s the office as you entire the basement and turn to the right:

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I created a little area for reading, thinking, and editing on work. I have a surprisingly comfortable slatted (not uncomfortable rods) futon that converts into a queen for visitors or passing through family. It used to be upstairs, but now splits the office into two different parts and functions. My friend Ross Kaufmann came over to help me move it downstairs. A cheap $15 rug from a dollar store really ties the room together. At that point I had been over budget, so I don’t have a rug for the computer desk area or for along the bookshelves. One day, though!

Again, a Todd Lockwood print hangs by the futon.

Here’s the angle from the walkthrough area:

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I’m hoping to get a tiny dorm fridge to put soda water and protein bars in that little space along the wall there down the road.

I keep all my currently reading and magazines on the little red table that I appropriated from the kids. One of the kids is reading Muse and left it down there, so I’m not the only one using this is a reading zone.

I was super psyched to get this extra shelf from my friend Brandon Rhodes, python programmer extraordinare:

I unpacked all my extra author’s copies and loaded the shelf up. Again, this was stuff all packed away in storage that I had no idea what I had and what I didn’t.

The basement is divided into half with the use of a Kallax four cubby by four cubby shelf on casters (I will be getting casters for all the other chrome shelves, so that walls are easy to get to and clean, spider kill, and dust, but again, I went over budget slightly and will get to that in a month or so) next to another two by four Kallax on casters.

I ordered a sheet of Shoji paper to cover the back of the Kallax and let some light through as it’s translucent.

Side note. I had always thought rice paper was made of actual rice, why else call it that? Turns out it’s ‘rice’ paper like a Japanese car is a ‘ricer.’ It’s seems to be a western ‘we use rice to describe anything Japanese’ thing. Ugh. So it’s actually called Shoji paper, I found after a minute or two of looking for the paper, and it’s made of mulberry bush (Kozo). It should be called Mulberry paper, if anything.

Here’s the other side:

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Anyway, here’s the desk where I work:

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I’m hoping to add some art, cool books to the cubbies. I also have five plastic stands along the top of the divider, and I’m hoping to add W R I T E in colorful letters to them. Behind them is some Ivy, known for helping clean the air. To the left the other side of the basement is peeking out, a bunch of stuff is stored there that I need get to the curb/donate and clean out so that I can start to use other side for a small gym.

Here is the writing area with the standing desk up. I’m going to put in a glass dry erase board along that wall under the window there when the budget gets back in my favor. And a rug for my cold feet.

I’m pretty excited about the desk, as Skype sessions should be more fun. I can stand for them, and the area behind me will be framed by my written books and some colorful art. CREATE!

Another thing I might toy with is seeing if that one duct by the window can be flattened with a rectangular duct there to give me a little head room and allow more light in through that window.

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I pulled this together in a little over a week and a half. It’s full of light, clean space, and I’m really happy with it. I spent a day going around smearing essential peppermint oil and spraying it wherever there had been spiders two weeks ago, and they’ve taken the hint. Plus, it smells very refreshing down here! I also purchased an ozone generator and have run it to kill anything down here like mold, mildew, annoying small insects. I’ll run every once in a while to keep the air fresh.

I’m hoping to make this the center of my operation to launch a whole new act of writing great things from down here. I’m surrounded by books, my achievements, and lots of great creative space.

07 Mar

Patreon: end of the first day, into the second and some changes to the goal bonuses

I just launched a Patreon. I’d been hoping to hit $500 in the first forty eight hours of the big push and we’re at $290. Last night I right away saw that I should have set up the goals to begin at $500, not $1,000. I need $1,500 to replace the lost freelancing income and survive with book contracts. But for $1,000 I can take the jump. I over estimated the velocity, which is egg on my face. I had no idea how my Kickstarter campaigns would translate over to Patreon, which is a bigger ask and does not have as much a profile, whereas the Kickstarter thing is embedded (and gets some signal boost from Kickstarter due to past success).

It’s amazing that over 50 people have signed up already and are psyched to get stories from me and we’re slowly ticking toward 100. Always, crowdfunding is amazing to me.

I was trying to wrap my head around whether we had conditions for a success in the future of this or whether I’d miscalculated badly and should have just done two kickstarters for my collection System Reset and Just a Draft, my book collecting things I’ve written about writing.

Still, I’m roughly 30% to where I minimum need to survive, which means I can envision how to get to 50%. And once you have half of something, you have half the job of getting to the whole thing. I went back and looked at my old Kickstarter launch for the novel The Apocalypse Ocean, where I realized that it was a hard long slog. We launched and only had 20% of the funding at start. Everyone was worried I’d fallen on my face hard in public. But, we kept at it and it happened:

Kickstarter

I believe I can provide stories with characters of diverse backgrounds that are thrilling and through provoking and entertaining for people. I’m super committed to trying to spend the next five months making this Patreon work, so that I’ll never look back on this moment and say “hey, I didn’t try everything I could have.” It’s a leap of faith, but, I’ve never regretted trying a thing.

To that end, with some feedback from folks, I reshaped the goal bonuses of the Patron:

At $500 a month, I’ll start writing the stories. Period. So we’re well over halfway to that point. We’re 60% of the way to that point as I write this.

At $750 a month, using some deep savings and some judicious credit on the business side, I don’t have to start looking for new freelance work and the stories are going to keep coming for sure. We’re 30% of the way there, and the moment we hit it I’ll release the collection ‘System Reset’ to backers.

At $1,000 a month I’ll release my collection of thoughts about writing called ‘Just a Draft’ to Patrons and I’ll start designing covers for the work.

At $1,500 a month I’ll begin creating audio versions and podcasting the stories to you.

At $2,000, you get an original Xenowealth novella.

I’m learning in public here. There’s a reason most choose $500 for the first goal set and I just learned that the hard way!

06 Mar

I’m Gearing Up To Write a Story a Month on Patreon, With Your Help!

This morning on twitter I announced that I was launching a Patreon to write a short story every month for supporters.

I’ll be honest, it’s nerve wracking to do crowdfunding projects. I’ve done a Kickstarter for the 4th Xenowealth novel The Apocalypse Ocean when I changed career directions to do Arctic Rising. I also followed up with two short story collections that did really well.

But it’s a wild ride to walk out on stage to see if there are enough fans on the spot to make something happen. When I first did The Apocalypse Ocean Kickstarter back in October of 2011 I got a lot of concerned emails from folks that asked if I wasn’t worried about failing in public.

Well, of course I was.

But, the upside was that I would get to write more things that people were asking me to write.

In this case, I’m trying to do something a little more ambitious: I’m trying to get enough of a Patreon off the ground that I can overall focus on creating more fiction and doing less freelance work.

Here’s the thing, I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I am lucky with my fiction, but the money is so irregular that I have always used freelancing to create a monthly income stream to balance the long delays in publishing. I could get the greatest news about a book out on submission today, and maybe not see a check after the contract is negotiated and money sent for 7-12 months.

For the last couple years the freelancing opportunities really increased and I took advantage of that. I started working longer days and using more of my creativity and emotional energy. By December the fiction was getting harder to juggle, and when my largest client cut me back by 80% in January I took the time to examine what to do next and what offers to accept.

But since I set aside money and live simply here in Northwest Ohio (as much as the weather isn’t all that fun or the rural life that stimulating) it allows me to make gambles. Being a freelancer was one of them. Having some time to try something different is another. I was exhausted from freelancing on a variety of different fronts and some accelerated deadlines. I took the time to work on moving into a new office, recovering from being sick, and thinking about how to make a go of the next year or so.

Six months ago I’d polled twitter, thinking about how a Patreon may or may not work. A couple hundred folk indicated interest in a short story Patreon, where I pledge to write a short story a month and if the story is delivered they’ll pay a certain amount per story.

So I’m back to crowdfunding.

I’m willing to write a story a month in that place I had been doing freelancing, even if it means a solid pay cut. I’d love to focus harder on the fiction and go all in. The last time I did it, it was because supporters got behind the novel The Apocalypse Ocean and I spent a year writing fiction.

I set up the Patreon so that at $5 a month everyone gets a short story, based on successful Patreons by writers, though I do worry that maybe everyone getting a story would be more successful. I’m second-guessing myself a lot there. I’m certainly nervous about this, as I’m sure I will ‘less successful’ in some people’s eyes. But I’ve enjoyed the direct projects for fans that I’ve done since 2011.

If we can get to $1,000 on the Patreon, I’m willing to take the leap on this and start doing the writing to see where I can take this over the next six months before making a decision on whether to stop it.

I’ve also tried to sweeten the pot by offering rewards for different levels. If we reach $1,500 in the first month I’ll give out my 3rd short story collection, as of yet unpublished (System Reset). I may have to tweak those bonuses after we see whether this Patreon does well.

If I can’t reach $1,000 in the first month, I’ll write a thank you story and shut this down, with thanks for everyone giving it a try. I’m honored that we’re already 11% of the way there here on the day of the first launch. I’m nervous about stepping out into public like this to try something different, something new. I’ve been doing the freelance on one side, novels on the other, for so long it’s become the easy path.

But I stand at a fork in the road over the next few months. And forks like that are usually opportunities. The last time I stood somewhere similar, I was laid off from my day job, looking at not being able to write novels again for years, and thinking ‘maybe I can try freelancing to replace 70% of my day job income and keep writing.’ And I built that freelancing/writing combination over a touch and go year following that.

If there is ever a time for us to build something new, to get more fiction out of me, to create more stories, then this is another one of those years, I think.

But like then, it’s scary.

I hope you’ll join me in jumping off this cliff and take a look at my Patreon.

Become a Patron!

01 Mar

Quick Book Review: City of Stairs

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I have to admit to being a bit late to post this, as I read City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennet earlier last month but during my three weeks of being sick as a dog. So I didn’t get a review up.

This is a great example of what I would have called, prior to the early 2000s, “Urban Fantasy.” That is to say, a fantasy novel set in a city and influenced by historical cities. The genre label of Urban Fantasy was rebadged by publishers taking paranormal romance into a wider market a while back, so Urban Fantasy became something very different.

But City of Stairs is a great example of that sort of fantasy that resists the countryside and bucolic pastoralism that affects some fantasy. The city of Bulikov, a place ravaged by the impact of colonialism and war and once-great magic is as much a character as anyone else in the book.

Technology, magic’s side effects and implications, all of that is explored thoroughly, making for a book that reminds me of China Mievelle’s landscapes, or K.J. Parker’s rationalist worldbuilding.

Definitely worth a read.

27 Feb

Quick Book Review: The Stars Are Legion

Kameron Hurley has a new book out, The Stars Are Legion:

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I snagged my own hardcover not that long ago. It’s full of squicky biological science world building, dying wordlets, a really wild SF-nal set up that reminds me of Hardfought by Greg Bear (mixed with Ann Leckie) in the way that it gives you such a close, intimate view of a world that has long since forgotten where it came from and what it is that it might as well be secondary world fantasy in some ways.

It’s a fast and intense read that sucks you in pretty quickly. I’m always a sucker for worlds that have no knowledge of the past because they’re so far removed from anything we can recognize that you get whiffs of deep time and humanity becoming so far altered from anything we consider normal (whether environs or people themselves).

31 Jan

Capsule Review: Seveneves & Aurora

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I just finished reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson while I was sick and confined to either bed or couch the last five or so days.

It’s a combination of disaster-survival novel in the first third, with the last third being science fiction novel set five thousand years in the future.

It features things I would have loved when I was in my late teens or early 20s, and still enjoy reading now: competent engineers making hard rational choices! Space hardware! The concept that we can engineer our way out of anything! You can exist in a small, tight, closed ecological system by just engineering your way out of it.

Sciencing the shit out of it, that made me cheer in The Martian. A great line. And as a rationalist, seeing how much science does get ignored (99 out of 100 scientists are concerned about global warming, what toothpaste do you want to choose?) drives me nuts. So it’s nice to retreat into some competence porn.

Man, I do love me some competence porn.

In fact, I think that may be what I love about *Science* Fiction the most. But there’s this edge that comes with that, which is the belief that you can engineer your way out of any disaster that comes with a lot of rivet-heavy SF that I found less fun to engage with since reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora which really critiques that whole idea. I could have sworn I posted a review of Aurora here a couple weeks ago, but can’t currently find it. Gah.

Which is to say, had I read Seveneves *before* I read Aurora, I would have enjoyed it a shit ton more as it is designed to push all my buttons from my golden age of reading SF and my love of private space industry reading that I’ve followed so closely since 1998 (I used to have a column about space access attempts in my college newspaper, no less).

But Aurora is like this point-counterpoint of all the stuff that I love. It takes all that rivet-loving engineer your way out of it and leads along with it… and shows you how unlikely and devastating that outlook can be when pushed up against engineering realities.

Both books are science fiction thinkers at their most technical, thinking about complex systems. Both are incidentally favorite authors of mine. Both are fascinating reads. Both are worth reading. I just recommend reading Neal’s first or you might, as I did, feel as if Aurora is just reading over your shoulder.

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Clicking on either cover takes you to Amazon, by the way.

Any of you read these books? What did you think?

18 Jan

Toy Planes, my short story, is now a short comic online!

My short story Toy Planes is one of my more well received short stories at readings (particularly in the islands).

Pablo Defendini has done an amazing job of turning it into a short comic online. It’s fully responsive and serves as a testbed for demonstrating how to do fully responsive comics online that Pablo put together. It’s also a fantastic rendition of Toy Planes in graphic form. Please check it out at www.toy-planes.com.

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03 Jan

This is how I Bullet Journal

Hi, I’m Tobias Buckell, a science fiction writer, and this is how I Bullet Journal.

I mentioned I’d started bullet journalling on twitter and people were curious and suggested I create a blog post.

So in September, I had been seeing people mentioning Bullet Journals and seen some Instagram links and Pinterest accounts about bullet journaling.

I was a bit put off by it all because there were pictures like this (these aren’t actual Bullet Journals, but emblematic of the sort of thing that kept me from engaging initially):

Or like this:

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It seemed like a group of scrapbookers vomited all over to-do lists. I bounce off the scrapbooking aesthetic. I wouldn’t mock it, those examples above are beautiful. But, it looked like it could, maybe, you know, be a lot of yak shaving or vacuuming the cat before getting stuff done:

Yak shaving is a programming term that refers to a series of tasks that need to be performed before a project can progress to its next milestone. This term is believed to have been coined by Carlin Vieri and was inspired by an episode of “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”

I don’t know if that’s fair, but to me (and I emphasize that ‘to me’ part), needing fifteen different colored pens and the right paper, stencils, and so forth, to get a to do list done, that seemed like madness.

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But then someone I really respect (who had the same reaction to it all) told me they were thinking of doing it. Always curious to examine new personal time management tools, I told that person that if they did it, I’d also try one out for a month as a personal experiment and see what I thought.

Bullet Journalling Attempt #1

I went online and purchased a Luechtturm 1917 A5 Notebook as devotees of the system recommended it. I overnighted it, along with a nice gel pen (also recommended). Why reinvent the wheel?

Here’s a youtube video review of the notebook:

Nice notebook!

I then watched the official Bullet Journaling youtube video by the Bullet Journaling inventor:

There. I was ready to start and be awesome! I was relieved to find out that the creator of the Bullet Journal didn’t recommend using fifteen different colored pens and stencils.

I grabbed my fancy new pen, opened my fancy new book, and started following the instructions on the video…

…and promptly biffed it.

I’m ADD, I’m dyslexic, and I made a bunch of mistakes making my first pages.

However, I was determined the experiment continue. I realized that using a pen terrified me because I kept making mistakes. I also wanted to be able to rip out pages if I screwed them up (Bullet Journallers say you just create a new page, or decorate around the mistakes, but, I wasn’t feeling it at the start of the experiment). So I drove up to Staples, purchased an A5 binder with some paper and, on a whim, I snagged a bunch of mechanical pencils.

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I booted up the video and started again.

Within a week of keeping that loose-leaf, three ring binder, I came to a few conclusions:

1) using a pencil helps me lose my worries about making a mistake on the page.
2) with pencil I didn’t need loose leaf paper.
3) man, that Luechtturm had really nice paper, regular American school paper was shit.
4) this is the most important: whatever may or may not work with Bullet Journalling, the idea of indexing my notes and scribbles was revelatory.

Okay, about number four. That’s like, paperclip obvious. It’s so obvious in retrospect I don’t know why I wasn’t doing this in high school or college. But honestly, I have gone my entire life writing things down on scraps of paper as they occur to me, and then collating them onto the computer.

One of my most popular posts is “How I Write a Novel” and you can see that I do actually use paper for brainstorming:

But I get that into computer quickly as I can because it’s then organized and searchable. And when I was planning things, my desk would look like that.

But creating an index, that was interesting. Because now I suddenly, like a light bulb going off, realized I could create not only daily to-dos, but project to-dos, and flip back and forth. Even better, while I used a variety of to-dos via digital software, some projects of mine were getting so complex that I needed a way to glance at the 30,000 foot view quickly.

Surprisingly, there is no official graphical user interface for a novelist 10 years into his career who needs an at a glance look at what’s going on with all his novels in one place.

But with an indexed paper system I could built a two page spread with all that data, including my own symbols for different things happening to the books and…

…all of a sudden I understood all the custom scrapbook-y stuff I was seeing. These were personalized UIs. And creative output, of course.

I quickly created a sketch of a two page spread that would allow me to see all the complicated things I was doing for my novel career, and right away I was like “yeah, I’ll be opening this up every time I talk to an editor, or agent, or accepting a deadline.” I could see everything I was up to on one page.

Bullet Journal #2: Considering aesthetics

So, the Staples binder was a shitty quick solution. The paper was cheap. The binder was cheap. And I hated the rings. Yeah, writing on the right page was easy, but writing on the left? I had to hold my hand in an odd way. I took to writing on only half the page. In the second week, I got online and started ordering possible Bullet Journal systems.

Here is what I ordered:

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Upper left is the shitty Staples A5, 3-ring binder. I liked A5 size because I could stick the notebook in a backpack pocket, or take it with me to a panel to take notes.

On the upper right, I snagged a Japanese 20-ring binder with some nice paper.

On the lower right I purchased a very nice 6 ring system with a luxurious leather holder that could take credit cards and extra pens and pencils, plus it had more space in the middle. Many diarists in the US use that gapped six ring system, I found out. Incidentally, my wife took up that notebook for her own Bullet Journalling (it is infectious apparently).

On the lower left is the system I settled on: the Kokuyo Systemic Notebook cover.

Here’s a product shot of the whole thing:

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For the pencil (it has this great pen loop) I have a Uni-Ball KuruToga 0.7mm Mechanical Pencil which is magical because it has a mechanism in it that rotates the lead every time you pick it up, so that the pencil comes down sharp on the next stroke. I use the diamond infused lead for the super sharp lines. Pencil isn’t as sharp as pen, but this pencil really helps compensate for that.

I used that to build out my to-do list and project management, heavily using indexing so I can jump around and find what I need.

Each Kokuyo twin ring notebook lasts me about two months. I think I could get three out of them, but I haven’t tried yet.

I also added a Moleskine Cahair slim notebook on the left panel of the Kokuyo Notebook cover. So my project management happens on the right, with the twin ring, and on the left, I write down ideas and writing snippets.

Bullet Journalling: What I do

So I have an index, then I create some pages for quotes. Two pages of my favorite quotes, one for life, one for writing.

Then come the future pages that Bullet Journalling recommends. They don’t work as well for me so I’m slowly deprecating them. But my month page is a thing just like normal. Then I start doing my daily pages (dailies some people call them).

My page looks simple, I don’t adorn, I have the shittiest handwriting. Here’s a sample fake page:

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Date at top (because that helps me know what day I wrote things on).

Priority: I write in two to three (no more than three) priorities for the day, things that absolutely have to be done. Like ‘refill meds’ so that I can continue living.

After a skipped line I write “Today will rock b/c:” and then fill in why it will rock. This is something I picked up from a neurophysiology researched, how to work/live better journalling exercise I read about. If I can’t fill that out, that means I’m not looking forward to anything on this day. Seeing a blank after that is a clue I need to stop and think about why or what is in the way of me having even a small thing to look forward to. Often it says something like “Today will rock b/c: I’m going to have a Choco Taco after dinner!”

Then I have my daily to-dos that I’ve filled out in the morning or the night before. I use a box for these (instead of a dot), and if the box is half filled it’s in progress. I like coloring in the box after I achieve a to-do, it makes me feel happy, accomplished, and kick ass. It’s dumb, but there you go.

I interweave journaling and to-dos, which is what blew me away about some Bullet Journallers. It’s not official, I don’t think, but I use a circle to denote a journal entry. So right under the to-dos I’ll often have something like:

Bubble: “Man it’s colder than all fuck outside, this is so depressing. I hate being cold all the time. I hate winter. Etc” I wanted to start journaling because I’ve read a lot of research showing its positive impacts. Interweaving the to-dos and journaling mean I do this organically throughout the day, and can also meta-comment on my mental state regarding some of the to-dos.

I can add new to-dos as they occur to me interleaved through this all as well.

And lastly, I use a plus sign to denote a thing I did that wasn’t scheduled:

+phone call from XYZ. We discussed ABC project. 1pm-1:30.

These plus activities are added in for things I know to do, interruptions, last minute etc.

With all this in play, I can look at each day and see that ‘oh, I failed on my to-dos but a crisis happened’ or what have you. Journaling helps me express myself and engage in meta-cognition.

I use a triangle to denote warnings, or things I’ve noticed.

Triangle: you didn’t get enough sleep and are feeling like shit. I was perusing my journals and noticed a number of patterns flagged by triangles that I was able to get ahead of.

Lastly, I try to write at the end of the day if I was grateful for anything. Gratefulness journals are again, shown to by psychologically helpful.

I’ll take notes on a lecture, or call, right on the page of the day, then go index them after I’m done (a significant lecture will get indexed from front, I keep a project page called ‘call log’ and log the date, time, person, and quick summary on that page, which notes the page of the diary that is on, that call log is a project page indexed by index). Sounds complex, but I’m able to keep a surprising amount of info organized easily, and generating it is easy.

Project pages. I mentioned that I have a novels project page. I also keep pages that log books read, tv shows watched and my thoughts, movies and my thoughts, each audiobook I’m listening to. These are as I go logs.

I also keep lists. I have lists of movies recommended to me written down, and books recommended to me.

Specific complicated projects all get a page.

One of the most useful pages ever for my mental health was “Things I’m Waiting On.”

Open loops, things that are undone and in-progress, that I have no control over, keep me up at night. When I created my first ‘waiting on’ page, I had 43 items on there. It was a relief to list them all out, collating the items from various project pages. I list contracts I’m waiting for, checks, people getting back to me about questions, things being shipped, etc. Knowing that it was on a page that I could update really took it out my perpetual worrying back mind. It also let me put dates next to them so I knew how often to ‘poke’ the project on a set, regular reminder schedule.

I also have pages for ‘life goals’ ‘year goals’ ‘places I want to see’ and things like that.

Project pages are more decorated up with lines from a ruler, and things to help me graphically understand what I’m up to. I can’t share these really, right now, as they have either personal info or info about projects I can’t talk about. But really, there are lots of arrows and things written sideways and all custom designed by me to get the gist of what happens next.

One thing I have learned from Getting Things Done, each project breaks down parts by next actions on those pages, so I understand what I have to do next and can copy a next action onto my daily page as an easy to do.

So to create an internet business project page, first step might be ‘investigate open domain names related to ‘theme of business’’ after that ‘register the domain’ because each of those are concrete, actionable steps that I could almost assign anyone, that I can follow when brain dead. Obviously creative stuff is not something I can assign, but if I were to assign it to another writer, how would I write it? (Say: write one page of X. Or brainstorm 3 ideas for X. Or ‘spend 30 minutes brainstorming ideas for X). That is how I break it down for creative stuff.

That is basically been how I spent the last four months, and I actually think it saved my sanity because the crunch of work I had to achieve in the last four months meant I depended on this heavily.

My only issue was that two months per notebook sucked. I think I can squeeze three out of the Kokuyos, but I am currently testing out a Luechtturm 1917 that I think I can 3-4 months out of and that will be nice, as I won’t have to copy over my project pages every two months.

But man, I love that clear plastic cover and the immediate index of the Kokuyo, so we’ll see how this goes over the next two months.

06 Dec

Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

Several people hit me up to note that Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard just came out. It’s apparently the first biography of Louverture that’s English first that has come out in 80 years.

I snagged a copy that arrived last night and read the book promptly.

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It’s best read if you already have an appreciation of Caribbean history. Something like Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads is a great start.

Haiti’s history and the US is so intertwined. I could write a large essay. But short of it: the entire Louisiana Purchase came about because Napoleon wanted to reinvade Haiti after Toussaint Louverture’s successful rebellion. Haiti was such an economic crown jewel that Napoleon jettisoned enough territory to the US that it doubled the size of the US, much to the shock of the negotiators who showed up. There is no modern US as you conceive of it without Haiti. The French gave up plans to invade the US as well, which was a war that had been possibly brewing.

See Haiti and the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) helped Toussaint draft a constitution. Hamilton, famously finding democracy and liberty messy, basically suggested a highly centralized military run system and advised against an American styled system. We’re not sure how much that influenced Toussaint, but that’s what he went with.

I find the American blindspot to Haiti very frustrating.

Oh, yeah, and Jefferson as president actively supported the French attempt to retake Haiti (Sant Domingue) because he was just plain racist.

A lot of the American South reacted to the revolution and refugees by becoming super racist, setting the state not only for the American Civil War but to the Southern Strategy in US politics that just kicked our ass right now.

It’s all bound together. History still lies with us. The evil of slavery and the creation of racism as a major tenet of modern Wester Civilization still stains the body politic, so it’s important to read about one of the major figures in this long, sad history of the fight against slavery and its follow on effects.

So finally digging deeper into Toussaint is important, and I read biography last night in one big gulp. It’s not a hagiography, but then few really good delves into the complications of major historical figures are. While I learned some things I wasn’t expecting, I have a greater appreciation for the sheer unlikeness of what Toussaint did.

Here are some highlights I noted on twitter as I was reading: