Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man

5Sep/160

FOMO Strikes Back

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I like riding my bike. I like writing. I like playing music.

But my not-so-dark secret is that I'm an adrenaline junkie. I'm always looking for something cool and new to do, or learn, and watch, or whatever. But I think I put too much emphasis on what I'm doing. My life, for what it is, has been a whirlwind of activity, for decades.

I haven't written anything here in over a month. Most "writers" would look at that as abject failure. I'm tempted to, as well. The truth is, I've been very very busy. Mostly, doing good things... sometimes, just chilling and trying to unwind my warp-speed brain.

So I'd like to get back to writing, at least a little.  I don't know how I'm going to balance writing with fitness, or work, or remodeling, or anything else I'm going to do.

I've got a lot of good writing topics in mind, and considering the political/spiritual landscape we're in, there's no dearth of things to write about. Some may be technical, some may be opinion, some may be just plain crazy ranting.

But I think I'm in a place where I need to ramp my brain up for writing again. It will, however, require scaling back something, somewhere. I'm not sure what will give yet. I'm already behind on some things. It will not be an easy thing to do.

Probably the first thing I need to do is scale back surfing social media again. I need to figure out a centralized writing solution, as well... which will probably mean using Google Drive... and I need to organize it. It would help to have writing tools that can go with me. Not going to the point where I have it on my phone yet, but that might work.

Anyway.

I'm getting back in the habit. Expect some writing tomorrow, and we'll see how long I can ramp it up and keep it going. Who knows? My ultimate goal is to write enough on my novels to get one or more of them picked up by a major publishing house. If I can do that, I think my life accomplishments will be pretty much complete.

Stay tunes, faithful readers. We're in for a wild ride.

2Nov/150

NaNoWriMo: The Journey Begins

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

For those who aren't aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. What does that mean? It means that thousands of people will be trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I'll probably do it, too.

The Bad News: If you need to find motivation to write 50,000 words, then you're going to have a hard time. Chances are if your story isn't just bursting out of your fingertips, you're going to struggle. You're probably going to feel like your story isn't making progress, and you'll feel frustrated if things don't end up the way you imagined.

The Good News: You can still write 50,000 words. It will be a learning experience, and you'll grow from it. You'll find ways to get around writer's block, you'll figure out what works and what doesn't.

If this is your first time attempting NaNoWriMo, then focus on learning to write consistently. That is more important than doing it "right" or making the perfect first novel (a bit of advice: that almost never happens). If you go into it understanding these truths, then your experience will be exactly what it's meant to be: a learning experience.

20Oct/150

Pre-November Preview

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Things have been steadily moving forward with my current novel project. I'm getting the outline to the point where it almost writes itself, which is exactly where it needs to be.

This is the time where I decide if I want to officially try to "win" at NaNoWriMo this year. I'm of course thinking about how all the horrible fanfic and chick-lit authors will swarm the NaNo boards and discussions, talking about stuff I'm not the least bit interested in. I don't have to participate, of course, but that takes some of the fun out of it.

I am noticing that more and more writers are foregoing the whole "story" idea and just writing mush. As I've written previously, I have issues with contrived stories that lack focus... I ought to know, I wrote one!

12Oct/150

Marketing And Self-Promotion

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

For me, marketing is a something of a sticking point. As a general rule, I don't like marketing, for several reasons. Usually it's because they're trying to sell something that nobody needs.

So when I think "how can I reach more people" my first response is "Oh God, I'm becoming a marketer!"

But it's a question I have to start thinking about now if I'm ever going to consider writing for a living. I don't like screaming for attention, but in person, I tend to... how shall I say this... stick out in a crowd. I like interacting with people, but I don't see that as marketing. Why?

Because it's a two-way street. It's communication, not an advertisement. And advertisements annoy me because they assume they know what you want, when in fact 99% of the time they have no idea. But with communication, I can ask questions and adjust the conversation to suit that particular interest, or maybe segue into a related topic.

17Sep/151

Seeing The Big Picture

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Part of working creatively is learning what to do when things don't go as planned. In my case, I tend to put deadlines or challenges on myself, and I get rather irate when I can't reach them.

But it's mostly my own ego making me feel that way. I tend to put extremely difficult standards on myself, so high that even *I* can't reach them all the time.

This is both good and bad.

When I make a statement like "I pledge to write on my blog every weekday" and I actually do it, I feel awesome. But if I don't, I feel like a failure... even if I only missed one day in 6 weeks.

The good side is that sometimes, my ridiculous goals can push me to actually do something I honestly didn't think I could do. The bad side is, nobody bats 1000. So when I say things like "I'm going to write on my novels every single day!" that's a *huge* goal, and I need to accept the fact that I'm not going to actually be able to write every single day.

To that end, I'm going to set up a daily writing progress tracker written by Jamie Rubin, whom I've linked to before as his Evernote posts are fantastic.

This will allow me to see how much I've written over a broad span of time, as opposed to panicking over missing one day. It's much easier to see the big picture... when you can see the big picture.

(Write Or Die also has a word progress tracker, but I'm not going to be able to write with it all the time.)

1Sep/150

Creativity, and NaNoWriMo

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Fall is coming. That means November, a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month is also rapidly approaching.

For the last few years, I've been trying to work on drafting another novel- a couple of them, in fact- and I haven't been able to put enough time into it to really make a dent in it. I've discussed it before, in fact.

My friend(s) who are single are writing up a storm, and then asking me "when are you going to have time to edit my book?" to which I have to laugh. (I love you, man, I really do.) I don't even have time to work on mine, much less edit other people's. I don't have time to work on my bikes, fix my car, work on my music projects. I certainly don't have time to work on other people's. But they still ask, and I still want to help, because I'm just that kind of guy.

In fact, I've gotten so busy, I've had to slow down my creative freight train (thank you, ADD brain) just in order to get simple things done. Like cooking dinner, showering, sleeping, and other semi-important stuff.

I've been working on outlining my novel plots, which is new territory for me. I generally enjoy writing off the cuff without an outline, but this poses problems for me when I'm trying to bring the story to a close.

I have to be satisfied to just keep thinking about it, taking notes, and when the opportunity presents itself, I'll pull the 100+ hours it takes to actually write the book (not to mention editing it).

We'll see how it goes. I have nine weeks to decide whether or not I want to try to "win" NaNoWriMo again this year.

1Nov/130

NaNoWriWon’t, a.k.a. Why We Write

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Anybody who knows about NaNoWriMo is now in the throes of writing feverishly, hoping to crank out the elusive 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I've done it. It's not all it's cracked up to be. Cranking out 1,665 words a day takes me about 2 hours, give or take... and that doesn't include breaks. The real question is, do I have two hours a day to devote to writing a book that I might have to go back and re-write anyway?

Well, no, I don't have time to waste. And in the grand scheme of things, I have to stop and ask myself, "Self, do I really even need to write another book?" This is a question every writer should ask themselves, really. And sometimes, the answer might surprise you.

What it boils down to is, "Did God call me to write a book?" and if the answer is yes, then by all means, do what you have to do to write a book. Don't stop until it's finished! But if the answer is "I don't know" then you've got some thinking to do.

Why do we write? Is it because we enjoy it? Is it because we'd like to make money at it? Do we write just because somebody once told us "Hey, you're good at writing, you should write a book"? Or maybe, just maybe, it's your calling. Maybe it's what God has gifted you to do. You believe your story is going to change somebody's life, and maybe (probably) change yours in the writing process. But after years of doing things, I've realized (i.e. God has shown me) that just because you're good at something, doesn't mean God has called you to do that thing.

This will come as a shock to many. It was a shock to me when I realized it. "Why would God give me a talent if He didn't want me to use it?" That's also a valid question, one I've asked myself countless times. He does want you to use it! But the answer to how we use it lies in where your life is going, and what God has called you to do with your life overall. You see, "writing" as a verb isn't a calling. You can use writing to do something, to accomplish something for God. But the act of writing in itself isn't a calling. It's what you do with your writing that matters. And honestly, if God calls you to do something that requires writing, you don't have to be the best at it for God to use you. But you need to use your talents to do the will of God.

Just let that sink in for a minute, okay?

So where do we look for motivation? Why are we writing? The only way to know for sure is to seek out what God wants for your life, and make sure you're doing what God has put you here to do. How you accomplish that is up to you, but you need to find your motivation first. Only then, once you realize why you write, can you find writing freedom.

Are you ministering to people? Are you touching people's lives? Are you bringing truth to them? Are you filling a need with your writing that you feel God has told you to conquer? Then by all means, get writing! I believe God has given me a reason to write, and so I will do what I can.

(by the way, this post is 580 words!)

23Sep/130

What Portal (And Breaking Bad) Taught Me About Writing

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

What does playing a video game have to do with writing a story? Well, if you've played any recent games, you've probably realized they're becoming more and more story-driven. That's because developers have realized that a good story will suck players in more than good gameplay alone. In fact, the best games have great gameplay and story.

And so, I discovered the game Portal. It's a very non-traditional game, in that it's a first-person 3D puzzle game. And your character never speaks. Even in the sequel, Portal 2, she doesn't speak, despite being constantly accompanied by a talking sphere. And later on, a talking potato. Seriously.

The main things that stand out to me about Portal are how the story develops, and how the environment was designed to forward the story and the game without bogging players down. If there's one thing I've learned about good writing, it's that writers should "Show, don't Tell." Portal is a perfect example of how to do this: you start the game knowing nothing about your character, where you are, or what do to, and every level walks you through a little more of what you need to know without explicitly giving you directions.

When you play through the game with the designer's commentary on, they stress the importance of how much they developed the game to teach players how to play the game. The whole idea was to shape the environment so that players would come to the right solutions, without just giving it away. That way players felt a sense of accomplishment, even though the entire game was designed to lead them down the right path, and entertain them along the way. Every single "discovery" was carefully crafted to elicit a certain response, and the player never even realizes it.

When writing a story, we need to stick to the same idea. Why have a massive deluge of information when it's more fun for the readers to come to the same conclusion on their own? It takes a little more creativity to craft a story completely out of surroundings (as opposed to just spilling your guts) but when you do, the reader feels like they are in control of the story, and they figured it out on their own... even if you're leading them by the hand behind the scenes. The tension, the curiosity, the sense of accomplishment. All these things come from not just reading the story, but experiencing it from the character's eyes.

You need to lay out all the plot pieces as the character finds them. You have to make it so that the reader finds the story on their own, but doesn't realize you were leading them there.

In television shows, they use what's called a "Cold Opener." This is basically an opening scene that the viewer is thrust into, without knowing anything in advance. In the cold opener for the show Breaking Bad, we see the main character standing next to a smoking RV in nothing but his undies and a shirt, and holding a gun behind his back.

Immediately, your brain is thinking "Why isn't he wearing any pants? Who's the other guy? Who is he afraid of? What's all that stuff in the RV? Is that why they have gas masks? And what's with the apron?" You're trying to figure out what's going to happen, but you only have a few visual clues to go on... there's no narrator, no prologue, no back story. Just Walt in an apron. In Portal, you get nothing except Chell waking up from hibernation, a few visual clues, and the ramblings of a deranged computer (which you can't really trust). Gradually, as the stories progress, you get pieces of the puzzle. Eventually, you put enough of the puzzle together to figure out what's going on, and by then, the story's almost over, and it's time for the epiphany. By then, the reader/viewer/player is ready to engage, and that's when the final action sequences have the most impact.

As a writer, don't spill all the beans. Don't be afraid to leave details out at first, and don't be afraid to hint at things early on. Trust me, if your story is interesting at all, people will remember those tidbits, and make the connections. Our brains naturally file things away to use for later, even if they don't make sense at first. At last, when the reader makes the connections, bam, they're hooked. They've invested in the story, they've worked on figuring it out, and they will stick around to see how it ends up.

18May/12Off

Writing Is the Hardest Thing

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

You know, there are days when I think writing is a waste of time.

No, really, bear with me here. I know some of the greatest minds of all time (of all time!) expressed their thoughts through writing. But the more I try to write, the harder it gets. More and more, our life is run by 30-second clips of images, music, flashes of light, and maybe a brand logo or three. But very little thought matters in the regular world anymore, and I'm becoming more aware of it as I get older.

Most of the guys I work with (I work in a large factory that builds agricultural equipment) have never read a novel. A good chunk of them barely passed high school. So what good does it do for me to pour my soul out in words, page upon page, chapter after chapter, when almost nobody I know will read it? How will this affect people around me? Well, the truth is, it probably won't affect them much. But for the few people who read my work, I'm happy they enjoy it.

I just wish I could reach more people with my writing, otherwise, why do it? I certainly would like to make a living at it, but that's not why I write. I want to be able to reach people, and engage their minds in ways otherwise impossible. You can't carry a conversation about morality, world events, and spirituality over a rushed 30-minute lunch break. Most of the guys I work with spend that 30 minutes eating and showing each other crude pictures from Facebook on their smartphones.

I guess I need to revisit why I write. Is it for me? If so, I need to not worry so much about how and what I write. Is it for others? If so, then I need to make more of an effort to make that happen, instead of wasting time.

Ah, joy. Yet another day of self-doubt as a writer. Time for some more coffee.

3May/120

Current Novel Project

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I've been trying very hard to keep my writing momentum going, but being at home makes it very hard for me. There's just too much going on, and people (kids and wife) that need my attention. This isn't a bad thing, it just makes it hard to write without being interrupted.

The excerpt I posted recently is from the book I'm working on now. It's basically a tech-thriller/drama/action/crime... well, heck, I don't know exactly what you'd call it. All of the things I write are hard to nail down to one specific genre! I guess the most appropriate would be to class it by location or setting, which means it's a modern action story. I'm finding more and more as I write that my ideas and stories really don't fit narrow genres, and I guess that's okay in that it appeals to a wide audience, but bad in that it makes the book hard to market!

Anyway, I'm up to around 51,000 words (before editing) so I'm definitely getting closer to my goal of around 75K or 80K. That seems to be a good length for the kind of story I'm doing, and I think it'll come together nicely at the end.

The other side to it is I want to finish this book before I write the Prequel to Seeking The Heavens. That's going to be an interesting book in and of itself, and I've got a couple chapters written already, but I need to outline it and work on key scenes before I can really say it's a "work-in-progress."

Okay, I guess that's enough for now, back to work!