Writing: Done before it started: a NaNoWriMo cautionary tale

I had a great idea for NaNoWriMo this year, one I conceived of months ago and have thought about a lot since then. Unfortunately, thinking is all I did about it, with the result being that my attempt at writing 50,000 words in 30 days died almost before it began.

There is something of a common problem among writers (and I’m not going to get into the philosophical, psychological, and practical battles here about what defines a writer) in that we often don’t write. We want to write. We think about writing. We talk about writing. Then we don’t actually write.

For the past year or so, this has been my shortcoming in the extreme. I actually really do love writing. I crave it, to be honest. I feel more complete when I am writing. Then for a variety of reasons, I don’t actually write.

My caution, then, and my encouragement for all of us flailing writers out there is to not let another November sneak up on us with a years worth of wishing about writing without any writing actually having been done. I’m not saying it will be easy or that it will be good, but if you’re like me, you need to do it.

So let’s.

DLH

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Writing: Pondering NaNoWriMo 2015 and the act of writing at all

I know it’s a while until November, but experience says it’s never really too early for one to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. For those who might have missed it, NaNoWriMo is an event put on by the Office of Letters and Light that encourages people to write 50,000 words in 30 days in an effort to encourage people to write. It’s a lot more difficult than it might sound, it turns out.

I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo six times starting in 2007 and achieved the 50k word goal in 2010. In fact, achieving that goal in 2010 reinforced for me something I’ve come to realize and have tried to avoid since I started taking writing classes in 2006: I’m not a novelist.

Instead, what I have discovered is that I am a short storiest. A really short storiest. In fact, I’ve found my comfort zone lies at around 2500 words, and writing 10k works feels like trying to move the earth. Why does that matter? Because if one wants to succeed as a writer, the best way to do so is to write to one’s strengths.

Of course, success in writing is relative. Another thing I’ve realized along the way is that my long-time dream of being a successful, published writer is probably just that: a dream. Some might find that sad, but what I’ve realized along the way is that I write because I have to get this stuff out of my head. If someone else likes it, I’m glad, but I like not having these ideas slowly drive me insane even more.

So, what does that mean for NaNoWriMo 2015? Basically, cheating. My plan is to write a thematic anthology of stories, more or less 30 stories in 30 days all centered around a single topic. For me, it’s the best of both worlds: I try to write 50k words in 30 days, but I do it by writing 2700ish word short stories everyday for 30 days.

I’m looking forward to the challenge. And to the relief. More will follow…

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: Swinging for the fences

The one part of our farming adventure at Innisfree on the Stillwater that has dogged us since the beginning is the fact that we have continued to lease our 100 acres of tillage ground, mostly for the sake of the cash rent. Of course, that lease meant a compromise in the form the use of herbicides and pesticides on that ground every year, but the money was hard to turn down.

Taking back over that ground has always been a part of our plan, and with the upcoming end of the current lease, it has been a regular topic of conversation for us.

This year, as the result of the advent of glyphosate-resistant weeds, the ante got upped with the application of 2,4-D to the entire 100 acres, which fact proved to be a bridge too far for my wife and me. As a result, we’ve decided not to renew the lease and to start working that ground ourselves.

This is a significant step for us, mostly in that it involves a loss of about a third of the farm’s cash income over at least the next couple of years as we transition to new endeavors. Irrespective of the cost, we plan to follow through on this because it is the right thing to do.

Sure, maybe we’re radical and idealistic, but we actually want to leave our little part of planet earth better than we found it for future generations. And so, we will take that ground back over and farm it the way we believe is right.

For us, that means planting about 40 acres of it in grass hay and about another 30 acres of it in fast-growing hardwood trees we plan to sustainably lumber for a variety of farm uses, especially for fence posts for our animal operations. The remainder will function as both a prairie area and for small food plots.

This transition is going to be risky and stressful, but neither of us have any doubt it is the right thing to do. We firmly believe Innisfree represents the future of agriculture, and that fact alone makes what we have decided worth it.

Here’s to hoping and to swinging for the fences.

DLH

[UPDATE: Edited for content]

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Science and Technology: Some thoughts on the ado about crowdfunding fails

Or, caveat emptor always applies.

If you’re at all like me and follow the crowdfunding world with a sense of excited curiosity, then you can’t help but to have noticed the crop of “how not to get scammed” articles littering the tech writing world in the wake of the FTC ruling over a known Kickstarter based fraud. I think the thing that surprises me the most about all of this is the apparent naivety it seems to reveal about the crowdfunding world.

Don’t get me wrong, because I don’t think even most crowdfunders are naive. Rather, I think enough of them are that their collective outcry when a campaign fails or turns out to be a scam gets a lot of attention. And that attention seems to come from the fact that not a small number of people think the crowdfunding world is somehow immune from the risks that have attended all ventures since the beginning of mankind.

Quite to the contrary, crowdfunding is its own unique kind of risky venture because it lets anyone who wants to help incubate ideas that other forms of venture would never would probably never let see the light of day. It democratizes the incubation of ideas, and as anyone who has paid attention to democracy will note, it’s a messy, error-prone process.

So, yes, crowdfunding efforts are going to fail. Even ones for great ideas. Scamsters are going to succeed in separating people from their cash. Even seasoned venture capitalists fall for that (Dot.com bubble or Enron anyone?). Neither of those facts make the process bad. Rather, they reveal crowdfunding has risk. If that bothers you, don’t participate.

As for me, I take the risk because I enjoy the potential outcome. That’s worth losing some money once or twice, because the potential reward so often outstrips the risk.

DLH

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Thoughts from Innisfree on the Stillwater: On animals and worldviews

I suspect that one of the driving forces of the greatest changes in society over the past 100 years versus the past several millenia has been specific movement of people away from caring for food animals.

One cannot help but learn about the brutal realities of the cycle of life to death to life when one cares for food animals. As a result, one cannot help but see the realities of the same cycle in every other part of life. Such realizations cannot help but make someone more pragmatic at the least, if not even a little fatalistic.

That kind of pragmatism then fueled all sorts of ways of thinking that dominated most of human history. And while, yes, that thinking justified all sorts of things we moderns consider savage and inhuman, it also gave birth to the world we have today and, to a great part, continues to sustain it long after most people have forgotten what it all might mean.

Now, being engaged in that kind of undertaking, I find my own thinking inevitably changed by the reality of what I do. In some ways I am softer. In some ways I am harder than I ever imagined I could ever be. My focus is different–dare I say, more focused–and the change in my view of the realities of life and death could not be more profound.

I understand the impracticality of a general return to agriculture, but I cannot help but wonder if we would not benefit from a return to some parts of the worldview it fostered. We need more pragmatism in a world sometimes blinded by the shining and ofttimes false optimism of modernity.  We could do worse than to revisit history, and I’m certain we can benefit from it.

DLH

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Worldview: For the love of god and country

I once opined that no one can face a fiercer opponent than someone fighting for what they hold most dear.

We Americans, and really most Westerners, have a very romantic view of that idea. When we hear it, we see Spartans fighting at Thermopylae or Colonists fighting the Redcoats or Churchill exhorting the English to fight the Germans on the beaches.

Sure, there is that, but nobody said that what someone holds most dear has to be lovely or honorable in order for someone to be willing to die for it.

In fact, it is that very romantic fallacy that is causing us to lose the so-called War on Terror. What we’re failing to realize is that the fighters who have flocked to the likes of al Qaeda and al Shabbab and ISIS and their many brethren around the world fiercely love the variety of Islam they have embraced. They love it so much, they are willing to kill themselves trying to spread it and defend it.

Until we realize these people have embraced in harsh reality an ideal we have turned into fuzzy romance, we cannot beat them. It will never be enough to drop some bombs on the places they are currently hiding or to occupy the countries they happen to be operating from today. No, we have to attack the very foundations of what drives that ideology in the first place.

I understand that last notion is ugly and fraught with the potential for being cruel. As it turns out, so is our enemy.

DLH

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Worldview: Philosophy: A thought on creativity

For whatever reason, I’ve come across several discussions recently wherein someone has opined that one creative person “ripped off” another creative person and that supposed theft was then presented as evidence that there is no real creativity anymore.

These sorts of observations make me shake my head. My study and observation of creativity–not just art, but all forms of creation–reveals to me that there has never been any other form of creation but theft by the standard presented above.

What makes me sad about that standard is that it has become so commonplace in everything from creative education to corporate litigation to patent law that fewer and fewer people are trying to create anymore. Far too many people believe that, in order to be truly creative, they have to create an astonishing new masterpiece the first time or they are a failure.

That last sentiment is a lie society has concocted on the basis of not even knowing, let alone understanding, the history of creativity. The fact is that there are very few new things and that nearly everything is in some way tied to something that already exists. In a lot of ways, creativity is about refreshing old ideas and combining them in new ways rather than about creating something new.

So my advice to all the creative types out there is this: steal and make it your own. The future will thank you for having done so even as the past approves of your method. These naysayers have no idea what they are talking about.

DLH

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Worldview: Science and Technology: It’s impossible, eh?

So, Amazon engaged in an amazing bit of free advertising Sunday night when it announced its research initiative, Prime Air, on 60 Minutes. From the moment the piece aired, sectors of the internet have been abuzz with the news.

But what has amused me the most has been the response of the technology media, led by the likes of Wired. If these writers are to be believed, if man was meant to receive packages by air, God would have given bicycle messengers wings.

Certainly, I’m being sarcastic, but I wonder if these writers really look around themselves at the age we actually live in very often . There is a very good chance you are reading this post on a device you pulled from your pocket that contains more processing power than the entire Apollo 13 mission–spacecraft and ground stations combined–that functions as a phone, network access device, and computer and was produced just 137 years after the phone was invented, 40 years after the cell phone was invented, and 21 years after the smartphone was invented.

That’s a course of development 40 times faster than it took to get from the wheel to the car.

My point here is that history is replete with examples of  people, especially the so-called well informed, declaring that something is impossible because it is different or outside the mold of what we consider normal or beyond our current technological means. It’s actually quite amusing how often the march of progress has proven such Luddites wrong.

Now, I am not saying that Amazon will succeed, or that drone delivery is the thing of the future, but I am saying that the idea is now there and that someone is going to figure out how to make some version of it–maybe even a version we haven’t imagined yet–work. And when they do, we can look back at these prognostications and laugh like we do at the early 19th century writers who said people would not be able to breath if they went faster than twenty miles per hour.

DLH

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Worldview: The strange reality of getting what you want

I’ve wanted a library, lab, and studio since I knew what those three things were. In fact, one of my earliest verifiable geek memories comes from when I was about seven and I discovered a chemistry set in the Sears toy catalog. To this day, I remember being heartbroken for about thirty minutes when I got the, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” response to asking for one.

Thirty-three years later, I find myself in the enviable position of now having a library, lab, and studio. And, just like that, I have to figure out what to do with them.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I find it easy to dream. I think about things all the time, from the small and inconsequential to the massive and grandiose. So, it has been easy for me to daydream about what it would be like to have places to do things I’ve always wanted to do.

Now I have them, and it’s like my mind is blank.

That’s not entirely fair. I know what I want to do, but how do I pick? Seriously, there’s only one of me, only twenty-four hours in a day, and I have a wife and a farm. How do I decide what to do with these new-found assets in such a way that the rest of my life doesn’t come crashing down?

I’m thankful I can even write about having such a problem, but it still seems daunting for the moment. I’d better get back to the lab. Time’s a’wasting.

DLH

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