There’s Nothing Like The Feeling of Publishing a Doomsday Pandemic Book Before There is an Actual Pandemic

Not that I like to toot my own writing horn, but back in 2018 I wrote and published a novel about the results of a pandemic. The title is Eden and it’s all about how a smallpox variant is used to cure over population, and then gets used to keep the population in check. Must like the Thanos Snap, lots of people disappear but so do all of those pesky things like global warming and poverty. Which is kind of either intensely sad or very comforting, depending on which side you’re on.

Anyway, if you feel like checking it out the e-book it’s around the same price of a one of those flashy Starbuck’s coffee you can buy in whatever country you live in.

Your ‘Infinite Jest’ Survival Guide

On July 8th I finished reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Now that my will is broken and I can’t face the written word any more, let me share some survival tips with you so that your attempt is less arduous.

First off, I took a loongggg time to finish the book. I started on 11 November 2018, and didn’t finish until 8 July 2019.  That’s eight months. However, to use some project management speak, that was the task duration. The actual effort was less. I didn’t read Infinite Jest during the weekends or holidays. I tended to read it during my work day commute. Factoring in an average of 20 working days per month, it was around 160 days reading time. Take off approximately 14 days for holidays and that’s 146 days. This means I got through 7.14(ish) pages per day (when I was actually reading). This is a pathetic pace, but would be okay if I was dealing with a novel of a more average length. Even a 400 page novel would take just over 56 days (or in my case, 2.5 months).

The problem with my glacial pace is that I kind of forgot what happened in the first couple of chapters. By the time I got to the end, I was completely distracted by the character Don Gately (who is not the character the book starts with), and this left me with a strong sense of outrage and total confusion at the end. I think I read the last chapter, and muttered under my breath, “Fuck you, David Foster Wallace.”

After I got over my feelings of rage and bitter disappointment, I googled the term, “Infinite Jest what happened” and I discovered I wasn’t the only one entering that search phrase. Thankfully some blogs had attempted to answer this question, and it was helpful reading their interpretation because that relieved me from the terrifying burden of having to go and re-read chapters 1 and 2 to try and figure out how the beginning of the book and the ending possibly tied together.

So, summarized below are some lessons that may help your attempt suck less.

Lesson 1. This is not a book you can read at your leisure, picking it up and putting it down. The plot is meandering and over time you will forget plot details and which character is supposed to be doing what. You’re going to have to commit. It’s not going to be pretty.

Lesson 2. Spoilers might be a good thing. If you read a blog or two beforehand about what’s happening in the book, the slog may be less of a slog. At least you’ll know what’s going on and can be on the lookout for plot and character sign posts.

Here’s some links on what may, or may not be, the plot of the book (because the plot is kind of up for debate).

Lesson 3. Do not attempt to read this book as an actual traditional book. It’s non-transportable. It doesn’t neatly tuck into your backpack to read on the train, and it could actually fall on you and kill you if you attempt to read it in bed.  It turns out that the e-book format is an ideal one for Infinite Jest. Additionally, Infinite Jest contains an eye-watering amount of footnotes. Your e-book version will make it easy to read the footnotes and keep going.

Lesson 4. If you hate tennis then a large number of chapters in this book will bore you to tears. One of the major settings in the book is a tennis academy where a bunch of teenage boys do various things. Honestly, if you aren’t a fan of reading about tennis and teenage boys, you’re going to struggle. As does everyone with this book. Because precisely zero people think a book featuring a tennis academy and teenage boys would be an exciting read.

Lesson 5. If you hate acronyms because you work in IT and you can’t face more acronyms in your life then welcome to a novel that’s full of them. Be warned.

Lesson 6. After you finish, you’ll probably decide not to read a book again for at least a month. Get a trial with Audible. That’s what I did. I’ve just finished listening to Theft and Finding by David Sedaris and it only took four days, which cheered me up no end.  Infinite Jest is also a book offered on Audible. You can listen to someone else read it for 56 hours and 12 minutes. That would also save you some time and pain. (No, this is not a plug for Audible.)

Lesson 7. After you finish, you may feel an urge to read it again to try and make sense of it. Resist this for at least a year.

Lesson 8. Despite all of the downsides there are great moments in the book that will enthrall you. But it’s a little like climbing Mount Everest. If you make it to the summit, you’ll have bragging rights, and you’ll be one of the chosen few. But you’ll also need to be super fit and prepared for an extreme challenge. Also, you could get frostbite and lose a toe or several toes and some fingers.

Here’s a video that I thought did an excellent job of covering the main highlights.

And remember kids, don’t say I didn’t warn you…



I break another keyboard

I was just young enough back in the old days to find myself forced into having to attend typing class in high school. We were taught on solid metal typewriters designed for the office. They were so heavy it took two people to move a typewriter to another desk.

You also had to hit the keys hard. This was mainly to compensate for the use of carbon paper sandwiched between several sheets of paper. The only way to transfer the carbon was to hammer the keys with fingers that became freakishly strong over time.

At the time I hated it. The teacher was a stickler for posture and the ability to touch type without looking at the keyboard.  As part of our training to be future office workers in a secretarial typing pool, the typewriters had plastic covers that sort of looked like shower caps. It went over the keyboard, and you put your hands underneath to type. No peeking allowed. I failed this course and was told I had zero chance of a future in a secretarial typing pool.

Oh, no, color me upset.

By the time I left high school, offices had started to move to electric typewriters and shortly thereafter, computer keyboards.

Rather conveniently the class I hated the most (apart from math) saved me. Moving to computer keyboards after a manual typewriter was a doddle, and more importantly I was a faster typist than the other computer operators. Bonus number two was that I never experienced repetitive strain injury (RSI). Remember that? Everyone was trying to type on keyboards with shitty typing skills. I was fine no matter which keyboard I encountered because the correct wrist and finger positions had been drilled into me by the drill sergeant of a teacher.

However, over time I realized that my heavy handed pounding of the keyboard means that I break them. Regularly. I think I’ve broken a keyboard every year since I started using a computer.  Mechanical keyboards seem to last a little longer but not by much. The ‘n’ key stopped working on my last one yesterday, and six months ago the cursor keys started flying off and pinging around the room.

Anyway, I bought a new keyboard today and I look forward to this one surrendering sooner rather than later. I think my only practical solution is to buy a reconditioned IBM keyboard or something similar. I used them back in the day and they were impervious to everything, including a data entry operating pool that consisted of heavy smokers dropping ash onto the keys.

Other things I am grateful for: I never had to use Pitman shorthand in real life.



Wired magazine answers your typo questions

Here’s my latest blog post. Well, it’s not my post. It’s an article from Wired magazine about all of those embarrassing times that you published something and you read it a few weeks later and you cringed when you spotted the 20 typos that you should have picked up, but it’s too late, and now you have to reload it on Amazon and Smashwords, and it’s a big pain in the butt, and ruins your entire evening.

I’m not even going to copy the copy. Just click on the link and behold! Words and images appear in a new tab.



Should I use a Kanban board or a To Do List app to manage my writing tasks?

As a busy writer (stop it–you know you are, even if you really just watch Netflix all day), you may sometimes wonder what sort of app you should use that shames you into writing more. Or at least lets you see how busy (or not) that you are. Or means you’ll never miss another birthday ever again.

Here’s my simple decision making list that should help you decide which productivity app meets your needs. And save you from watching 90 million YouTube videos about the subject.

  1. Do you have a good memory, and/or like writing in a day planner and/or loathe technology?
    • If the answer is yes, then stick with pen and paper. If no, then go to point 2.
  2. Do you have a minimal list of things you need to remember, and/ or you don’t have a budget to pay for an app?
    • If you really like ticking items off your list then Microsoft To Do will work for you. It’s free, and does a good job of organizing tasks. However, it doesn’t integrate outside of the Microsoft ecology. That means there’s no direct sync with Google calendar. I liked Microsoft To Do for the weird satisfaction I got when I ticked off an item and it made a very pleasant ‘ding’ sound.
    • If you don’t care about ticking things off and just need a list, you can try Google Calendar. Google Keep and Tasks might also work but I’ve never been able to stick with either of them.
    • If the above ticked all of your boxes then stick with Microsoft To Do, and/or Google Calendar. If not, then onto point 3.
  3. Do you have quite a few things to remember but hate lists? Are you are Kanban board enthusiast?
    • Trello serves all of your purposes. The free version should get you going, but you can always pay for the power-ups. Personally, I’m not a fan of Kanban boards for writers because I think writers need a start and end date to push them. When I’ve used a kanban board, some items have remained in the Doing column for an embarrassing amount of time.  One item stayed in the Doing column until I was so ashamed of myself, I deleted the item and pretended it never existed.
    • If the above allowed you to move all of your tasks into the Done column then you’re done. If not, then onto point 4.
  4. Do you have a budget to spend on an app, but you don’t require a team of people to ghost write your books?
    • I like Todoist and TickTick in this category. You can try them for free without having to fully commit, although the features in the free versions are both fairly limited.  They’re much more usable if you pay for all of the features. (If you can’t afford to pay for either, I’d give them both a miss and use Microsoft To Do. There’s nothing hiding behind a paywall with Microsoft To Do. What you see, is what you get.) I’ve been with Todoist for a while but I’m also currently trying the paid version of TickTick, and I’m liking TickTick a little better for the in-app calendar view. Each app has its particular strengths but both should make scheduling your tasks a whole lot easier. They also allow you to share tasks with other people. This is ideal if you want to assign housework tasks to your teenagers, who never listen to you anyway. Both apps are a similar price, but TickTick is currently cheaper. Todoist is $36 US a year and TickTick is $27.99 US a year.
    • If those two apps will let you schedule to your heart’s delight, then you’re scheduled to schedule. If not, onto the step 5.
  5. Do you have a team of people (or a family) to coordinate and lots of tasks along with a touring and speaking schedule that won’t quit?
    • If your schedule is heavy, and you need people to assist you, or already have a team, then you probably want to move to a project management type application. These apps can get very expensive, especially when you start paying for your team member’s accounts.
    • ClickUp and Asana seem to be solid entrants in this category and they also offer a freemium model. Both seem to have a ton of features and have a reasonable monthly price per user that can make it affordable for a small team that consists of less than five people. If you are particularly good at bending an app to your will and using it for other purposes, you could also try Jira. It’s specifically designed for software development but it charges a flat rate of $10 US per month for 10 users or less.  It consists of the same basic features as everything else (kanban board, due dates for tasks, assigning tasks to people in a team) so this may allow you to schedule for a team with a flat charging rate.

And that’s it. Five steps for deciding how you’d like to organize your life. BTW, If none of those suggestions work for you, you could try using only pen and paper. That includes making your own kanban board and sticking it to a wall. Try lists and boards and see what works for you, then when you’ve settled on the technique that works, move to using an application.

Lastly, remember that you rule your schedule, not the other way around.

Twitter Tweedle Dee

The Writing Group suggested that Twitter was a good thing. I avoided it for thirteen years, which seemed sensible considering the occasional news items I’d read online. (Re: Twitter is a cesspool of horribleness. People suck. Avoid at all costs.) In addition to the dire warnings about humanity’s behavior and what happens when we’re allowed to use our opposable thumbs to type things on a keyboard, I had developed my own dark, weird conspiracy theory about Twitter. (And Google, and Facebook.) They are responsible for global warming. Do you have any idea how big the server farms are to enable us to keep posting videos about babies, cats, and dogs doing cute things? And how much power they consume? The answer is a lot. A LOT.

Anyway, because the chances of me being proactive enough to write a unique Twitter entry are precisely zero, I have connected my blog to Twitter. Apparently WordPress will just send this entry here, to Twitter, way over there.

From there, I’ll see how long it takes before I lose complete interest. Wish me luck. And enjoy this video from Google that shows how big one data center is. Skip through to 2:04 so you can start saying, “Holy shirtballs. That’s big. Like really, really big.”