Joshua’s fingers tapped lightly on the keys.  Just enough to make noise but no force backed them up to make letters appear on the computer monitor.  They just tapped away… anxiously waiting for words to form.  Trigger happy soldiers waiting for orders from thoughts too jumbled and chaotic to give them.  He scrolled up the page to read through what had managed to get through.

Eyes squinted.  Lips tightened.  Not enough angst.  It pained him to no end… but he pressed on.  Needs to be darker and grittier here.

Further down the page, his neck twitched.  His very muscles betrayed him and nearly forced him to look away, but he refused to give up at the hands of his self-imposed torture.  He approached the last sentence and breathed deeply letting all the negative thoughts gather in that bubble of air.  Swirling around.  Twisting.  Stinging.

And then he let it all go.  With one breath, he exorcised those little demons of thought.  He felt alive and free.  He armed himself with weapons forged of motivation and perseverance and charged back into the heat of battle.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Again, his fingers released their anxiety with light taps on the keyboard.  Again, no letters appeared on the screen.  Again, his thoughts quickly fell into chaos and disarray.  Surrender looked promising.

He reached for the monitor power button and a miniscule arc of static leaped into nerves beneath his fingernail.  He cut the power to the screen and reeled back his hand shaking out the stinging sensation.  The screen faded and pulled the nighttime darkness from the rest of the room towards the light until all light left the room.

Joshua navigated his way past boxes and books and stacks of paper–a trip all to familiar to him after years of repetition.  Left of the big box, slide through the stacks of books, four more paces and reach for the door–

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Joshua looked back.  His eyes adjusted enough to distinguish the room in varying shades of darkness.  He stared at his desk.  Nothing there.  No sounds.  He wondered if imagination was getting the better of him.

Then a flicker of light from his computer keyboard.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

He heard it clearly now.  Someone was typing.

An edged surface pressed deep into the arch of his foot as it stepped on an old phone charger.  He hopped forward only to feel the corner of tumbling books smacking across the long bone of his other foot.

Tap.  Tap.  Tap. Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

He shoved the books aside and used the edge of the desk to brace himself as he stumbled around it and reached for the reading light on his desk. 

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

With a click of a switch, the darkness fled to the corners of the room revealing… nothing.

No one was there.  No more noises.  Nothing.

Joshua plunked down into his chair and rubbed his foot.  He bit his lip as fingers rubbed over dimpled, bruised flesh and bone.  Then he spotted something odd… a single key depressed on the keyboard.  The period key.  He examined it and the moment he touched it, it popped back into place.

He turned the monitor back on and as it hummed back to life, he saw words in his document.  New words.  Words he would never dare write.

"Once upon a time…"

There was a time I used to sketch all the time.  Technically, people referred to it as Math class (or Geometry or Pre-Calc or Calculus depending on which year of high school it was), but it was mostly free sketch period for me.  Or nap time.  Teacher’s didn’t take kindly to nap time so I did the activity that resembled taking notes.

And I’ll admit, I was never great at artwork, but I kept at it and got better little-by-little until I was a "passable" artist.  And for a time when I first joined the military, I did a daily cartoon for my unit for a couple months.  Pencils.  Inks.  Colors.  And hand-lettered.  All the fancy stuff.

That was an amazing thing to go through because I was able to watch myself get better.  Each week, I could see little improvements in proportions and perspective and most importantly, motivation.

I would have ideas racing through my head each day of stuff I wanted to draw for this cartoon and by the time I sat down, it would be there waiting to leap out of my brain and pounce on the paper.

Those were fun days, and even when I stopped doing that little cartoon, I still kept sketches in my notebooks for the longest time.  Mostly novel-style illustrations to go with the stories I’d write or doodles of places and things as I let my subconscious work through some tricky character moments or story events.

Then one day I stopped.

I don’t even remember when or why, but I just stopped drawing.  I still enjoy looking at art and if I see something really cool, I’ll sit there and dissect it trying to figure out how the artist put it together.  But my sketching went from every other day to every other month.  And that lack of usage shows in a bad way when I try to sketch now… a definite disconnect between what I see swimming in my brain jellies and what scribbles my hand generates.  It’s like that "pass it on" communication game where it starts out as a "dragon" in my brain and shows up as a squiggly, hairless cat with a smoking problem on the page.

But I’m determined to get that skill back.  Whenever I see my daughter sketching or working on art projects now, I get this itch.  This uncontrollable need to sketch something.  I think most of my problem has been fear.  Afraid to get back into drawing because of how many times I’ve worked with incredible artists and how horrible my stuff looks compared to the stuff they crumple up and toss out as "crap".

But watching my daughter with her art.  The joy she emanates as she creates.  I remember that feeling and that feeling tears down all those insecurities.  Feeling that spark, I realized I hadn’t lost it… it’s just buried under years of day job drone-ification, turmoil and drama.  I’ve been dabbling here-and-there, but I decided to make reclaiming that skill a part of my 8 main resolutions for 2011.

I’m doing a "stepping stone" program for these resolutions where I start on just one a month and make it the focus of that month.  Then once I get used to it, I add on the next resolution the next month (all of them I’m setting aside at least 15 minutes a day for as a starting point).  I actually started all this in December.  Exercise more was number one and I decided to start it early.  Daily (Mon-Fri) blog updates was the second one.

And on February 1st, I begin part three–daily sketching.

Been out of it today… recovering.  Enjoying nap time to get my strength back up.  Naps though can lead to odd encounters in your subconscious.  Not deep enough into sleep to hit a full dreaming state, but still out enough to get some dream-like input from your brain.  None of it really makes sense and just seems downright weird.

Unless you’re a writer.

Then it all gets jotted down for use later.  I’m sure there’s some meaning behind all the images and connections that form during these surreal moments caught between sleep and reality.  But damned if I’m going to mention them to my wife after she just got a degree in psychology.  She’s analyzed me enough during all those years of working toward the degree.

But still… I wouldn’t mind figuring out where they came from and how these snippets formed the way they did as they floated along lazily into my brain jellies.  Yes, I’m Curiosity’s bitch and she’s gunning for me.  I mean there’s gotta be something in the span of my psychological awareness to spurn the likes of…

So, there I am.  Surfing a large wave made of used laser printer toner cartridges.  And my surfboard’s a taco.  No tomatoes.  Extra cheese.  Crispy (yet nicely waxed) taco shell.

Odd thing was… my wife came home and wanted to grab Taco Bell for lunch.  Good thing my semi-dream state was projecting the taco and not the toner cartridges.

Social this and social that.  There’s only so much sociality a person can handle… or is there?

It seems like more and more social networks are cropping up all over the place.  Specialty networks and niches.  So, I started jotting down some ideas for some Facebook spinoffs that provide appeal for some special levels of social interaction…

  • FaceOff – A social network for people who are afraid of insects and believe the best cologne is the Deep Woods variety.
  • FaceTime – A social network for those addicted to time management.  It could work as long as the members don’t forget to schedule time for it.
  • FaceMe – A social network for people who’d rather just socialize with themselves.
  • Face-To-Face – A social network for people located within close proximity of each other but can only muster enough courage to socialize via the computer.
  • FacePlant – A social network for people who love gardening.
  • FaceLift – A social network for people with self image issues.
  • FaceMask – A social network for people who can only be themselves by hiding behind the mask of anonymity.
  • FacePlate – A social network for people with metal plates on their skulls.
  • FaceDown – A social network for depressed people.  Careful… cheery thoughts will get you banned.
  • FaceUp – A social network for those suffering from one of those "longer than 4 hours" side effects.
  • FaceLess – A social network for people who prefer a network with the least amount of socializing.
  • FaceFull – A social network for those who like to talk about food conquests 24/7.
  • FaceRecognition – A social network for those who need to be seen (not heard).

Though you enforce your rule on our mortal lives with an iron pocketwatch, I beseech thee to show leniency to this poor fool who thought he could skirt your boundaries… who thought he could make more time to catch up on things that had fallen behind.

It seemed sound at the time to do multiple things concurrently to utilize time more efficiently, but once again, you have shown me it’s a fools quest.  Any little thing can break the stream and leave tasks tumbling over each other into a morass of lost effort and even increasing the time spent to accomplish the work needed to be done.

As I struggle to correct one thing, time slips away from everything else causing a temporal dogpile of work to dig myself out of.  Buried deeper and deeper until I can no longer keep up.

So I call out to you, oh Lords of Time.  I call out to tell you I’m giving up on time.  I will begin a time fasting–giving up on this whole illusion of seconds and minutes and hours.  It’s all just mystical hocus pocus to me know and I plan on ignoring it all.  For the extent of this fast, I’ll do things as I need to and as I see fit with no consequences of time burdening me.

"How long with that take you to complete?"

"However long it takes me."

"But… how long will that be?"

"When it’s done."

"When can I expect it to be done?"

"When I tell you it’s done."

Like most fasts, this is just a cleansing technique to clear my head of deadlines and worries and being repressed by Time itself.  It won’t last long…

… or will it?  I’m not sure… it’s hard to say when you’re not keeping track of time.

Today, I wanted to take a look back at my end-of-the-year vacation.  Reminisce a little.  Romanticize about another one.  Cause I’m definitely ready for another vacation.

Three days of work into the new year and I’m counting the days to my next vacation already.  This last one was… well, shorter than I planned.

I spent the first two days of it finishing up an install for a client and assisting another consultant with troubleshooting issues at another client.

I spent the last 4-5 days of it sick from allergies due to a massive pollen storm here in Austin.

In-between all that, I met up with family and friends in Houston, got some good tequila in me, enjoyed a tasty burger from Beck’s Prime, cooked the Christmas (Eve) dinner, and cleaned out/reorganized my office.  Well, mostly on that last one… allergy attacks sort of slowed that down.

Overall, I got to truly enjoy about 8 days of a 14 day vacation.  That means I got 57% of my relaxing, recharging and revitalization in… and my depleted brain jellies from some major work overload during the last few months of last year needed at least another 20-30% of that to fully recover.

So, I’m working and putting in as much effort as I can with the day job.  But I spent all Monday working through sickness (and lunch-time at the doctor’s) and then spent Monday and Tuesday night with insomnia due to a medicine reaction.  So, tasks that were second nature to me before where I could speed right through them with no issues… well, they’re not going as planned this week. 

That’s not the kind of slowdown you want to hit when you start the first week of the work year with 70+ hours of work on your schedule.  It’s not the kind of slowdown I ever like to hit with anything I work on.  But right now, it’s the best effort I can put forth… recovering from illness and taking extra precautions because I’m afraid my subconscious is still back there all twitchy finger on the vacation button in my brain.

Deep down though… I know I’ll get through it.  I’ve encountered weeks like this before and the best thing is to persevere and keep pushing forward.  Just keep making progress.  It may feel like I’m trudging uphill to the top of a mountain made of quicksand sometimes, but the work still needs to get done.

And now that my 15 minutes of writing are up… I’m getting back to getting it done.

If you’re an avid football watcher… or know someone who is… or can’t run away fast enough from someone who is… you’ve probably born the brunt of some tirade for (or against) Kansas State’s Adrian Hillburn’s infamous salute at the Pinstripe Bowl last week.  Oddly, they’ve dubbed it the "Bronx Salute", which would have definitely drawn a flag in violation of the rule….

Rule 9-2-1d –

Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself (or themselves)."

But a real, honest-to-goodness salute does anything but draw attention to yourself.  I can tell you those two officials that threw the flag were definitely not military veterans.  Maybe even raised in a military town where all those bravado-filled muscled military folk kept stealing their dates… or just their favorite bars.

Yeah, that would probably cause a ref to throw a flag at a young man giving a sign of respect to loyal K-State fans in the crowd who traveled halfway across the country and braved blizzard aftermath to cheer on this team and give them the fight to come back in a game where they’d made so many mistakes… but still managed to get back to a position to tie the game up.

The thing is… the salute is a sign of respect.  It always has been.  Lower ranking troops salute the officers to show respect to their leaders.  It draws attention to the officer and on a base, you can clearly see it.  If there’s a group of enlisted walking down the sidewalk and an officer approaches, the second that first salute goes up, they all go up.  To acknowledge his stature as a leader.  To honor him with the respect he deserves.

That’s also why military don’t salute officers in combat/danger zones.  Because you draw attention to the person being saluted… who then gets identified as a prime target for an enemy sniper.

There are some exceptions though.  There have been times when an officer will initiate a salute to a group of enlisted men and women… when they’ve done something worthy of being honored.  The officer will salute those troops to thank them… to show his respect for all their hard work and effort and support.  To draw attention to them and their accomplishments.

See… a salute focuses attention on someone being honored.  It focuses attention on someone other than the person initiating the salute.  By the actual letter of the law by Rule 9-2-1d, Adrian Hillburn had every right to salute the Kansas State fans in the stands.  He had every right to honor them and show his respect for their hard work and effort and support.  He had every right to give those diehard fans the attention they deserved.

And as we can plainly see, the NCAA is establishing its right to snub those fans.  To piss on them while they’re freezing in the stands watching a game they paid to be at.  Money which goes to keeping the NCAA fat with cash… and fan eyeballs that go to helping the NCAA keep all those TV deals and endorsements.  The NCAA should be saluting fans every single game… but with actions like this and interpretations of rules like this, they’re just flipping the fans a real Bronx Salute.

Part of my New Year’s resolutions was to increase my writing.  I’ve been writing lots of stuff behind-the-scenes for months now… working on my screenwriting, scripting some graphic novels (the easy part… I get to go artist hunting later this year for them), and dink-dunking away at one of those not-so-graphic novels (though there is some "graphic" content).

All productive in the end, true.  But very tucked away… hidden.  If I were a marketer, I’d be kicking myself in the ass and saying, "Son, look at all those good words going to waste."  Sure, they’re not finished, but unseen is unknown.  Unknown is unreliable.  Unreliable is unsold.

Side note: I wasn’t sure unsold was a real word the first time I ever typed it but turns out it is.  What kind of hyper-positive la-la land was I in when the word "unsold" never crossed my mind as a writer.  And how do I get back there?

So, I decided my additional writing would be out in the open.  Fifteen minutes a day.  Unfiltered (scary).  Unedited (scarier).  Unthinking (actually, not quite as scary).  Timer go and write.  That’s what this post is the start of.  Every day this year, Monday through Friday, you’ll catch me here.  Writing something.

  • Micro-fiction… absolutely.
  • Self-motivational rants… very possible.
  • Crazy ideas I’m too chicken to take to market… signs point to yes.
  • Science and educational topics… my kids would be disappointed if I didn’t.
  • Sample scripts… I do SOC detangling of small sections of behind-the scene stories in my journal, so why not here?
  • Movies, comics, sports, music and many things loosely and/or widely considered entertainment… they do tend to preoccupy portions of my mind when I least expect it (read: when trying to get work done… so it’s actually totally expected).

And that’s it for the first 15 minute blog on the first Monday of 2011.  What are you gonna do this year?  

I saw a private forum post out at yesterday that caught my attention:

Just wanted to make a quick post about a podcast that Brad and Scott did a while back; the first (and only) episode is about writer’s block, an issue that I am currently struggling to overcome.

The person wanted to open up a discussion on writer’s block and presented some of the points made in the podcast, but the first thing I noticed with this quick post was the length.  217 words.  Nearly the length of an average page of a novel.  I felt compelled to respond…

You can’t have writer’s block.  You just wrote that post.  Thus, you wrote something.  I know you’re probably thinking “But that’s not what I’m blocked about!”  But you can apply the same principles it took to write that post to other writing and get going again.  Let’s look at what the main factor to a forum post is:

1 – You have a goal.


You know what you want to say or what you want to ask.  You know where you’re going with the post.  Do you know where you’re going with your writing?  If so, go there!  If not, break down where you’d like to go with it until you can start writing it and then just get writing.

The first thing I ask writers I chat with who have trouble sitting down and writing is this… “How does your story end?”  Most don’t know.  They have a cool idea for a story, but they haven’t thought that far enough ahead.  They’ve focused on how they want to start the story without knowing where it goes.  And most of the rest… they only have a vague idea of their ending but not enough to establish even a loose spine to the story.  The thing is… it’s all about endings.  Visualize this:

A group of friends lounge about the living room.

Friend1: “Hey, let’s get out of here and go do something,”

Friend2: “Whadya wannna do?”

Friend1: “I don’t know.  What do you guys wanna do?”

Friend3: “We could go to the video store.  Or hit the $1 DVD box.”

Friend2: “Maybe the park.  Shoot some hoops?”

Friend3: “I hear there’s a Cajun food festival downtown.”

Friend1: “Nah, Cajun gives me gas.  We could catch a move?”

Friend2:  “Sure.  Whadya wanna see?”

… etc, etc, etc.

Notice, they haven’t gone anywhere yet.  And until they figure out where they’re going–what their goal is–they probably won’t leave that living room.  They could debate it all afternoon and wind up not going anywhere at all.  When you don’t know where you want to go, this is what’s happening in your head.  You want to write, but you haven’t defined a clear enough goal to get started.

And for those people that know where they’re going and still have trouble starting, most haven’t broken down things to a small enough scope that they personally can deal with.  With the example above, they finally mention a movie.  Until they figure out which movie, they can’t figure out which theater it’s playing at.  Once they decide on a movie, then they can break down which theaters they could go to.  Unless they’re in a one theater town, but hey, work with me here (it’s just an example).

Everything introduced in a story must be resolved.  If you look at any good story, it’s a series of beginnings and endings.  Story begins.  Story ends.  Subplot B begins.  Subplot B ends. Chapter begins.  Chapter Ends.  Scene begins.  Scene ends.  Interaction begins.  Interaction ends.  Awesome begins.  Awesome ends.  Crap begins.  Crap ends.

If you can break your story down to the individual endings that occur–the individual goals you want to achieve within that story, you win half the battle.  Now you have goals to reach, and you can start any way you like as long as you point yourself at that goal and get going.

Sure, perfectionism freezes people.  And procrastination takes hold.  And there can be serious bouts of “Ooh, shiny video game!”  Just set aside some (any) time for writing… and make the most of it.  If you have a series of shorter goals to reach a larger goal, you always have something to work on when you sit down to write.  When you know where you’re going, writing doesn’t need to occur linearly.  You can tackle whatever part of your story you want whenever you want.  Not feeling that opening scene right now?  Go ahead and write that cool sequence you’ve been thinking about for weeks.  Or write out some dialogue between characters for a later scene that’s been rolling around in your noggin.  Work on any part of the story, and your brain will fiddle with those other goals in the background until it finds a good path to take.  Let that brain multi-task… it can handle it.

And yes, I know this is more for the longform style stories–the comics with longer story arcs, but the same principles apply with gag-a-day stuff as well.  With a strip like that, it’s all about the gag or punchline.  The wonderful zinger in that last panel that ties the whole thing together.  Instead of starting with the beginning, start with the punchline and step backwards to the beginning.  “What could make <character of semi-awesomeness> say or do something like that?  And then what would cause them to do that?”

And if you know the punchline and still have trouble writing that strip?  Write another punchline.  Keep writing them until one takes hold.  Now, you can work on that one while your brain fiddles with the others in the background.  See?  It’s the same process… just on a smaller scale.

Just remember, it’s very difficult to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.

I shared some writing advice with a friend from high school and thought it would be nice to also share that out here.  One thing I like to do when I learn something useful is making it memorable by shortening it to a small, catchy phrase.  That way, I possess a mnemonic device for remembering stuff with practical applications.

Then I write those phrases down and keep them nearby to keep those lessons fresh in my head until they become second nature.

Here are examples pulled from some of my favorite writing tips:

  1. “Know how it ends.” This doesn’t mean you need to know everything about the story, but you should have an idea how you’d like it to end.  It gives you a goal to work toward and allows you to keep the story (mostly) on track.  The end of a story should have a lot of thought put into it.  Why?  You could have pages and pages of awesome smothered with gravy, but if your ending sucks, you’ll hit that audience gag reflex.  And that can lead to them regurgitating bad stuff from your story all over the place.
  2. “Finish what you start.” Every time you start a chapter or scene or sequence or bit of dueling dialogue… it needs to have an ending.  It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular–just something to tie up that loose end.  If you pose a question or start a mystery or start anything in your story, you need to wrap it up at some point.  Anything left unresolved will subconsciously drive readers crazy.  Here, let me give you a really great example…
  3. “Flaws speak louder than coolness.” What makes a character memorable isn’t always the “cool factor” about him or her… it’s their flaws.  The little quirks or phobias or eccentricities that help humanize them in a sense.  It brings them down to a level readers understand.  Everybody has flaws… and if you have a character without any, people will notice and their instincts will alert them there’s something unnatural about that.  “Look over there!  That guy’s absolutely perfect!”  “Grab the pitchfork boys.  That there ain’t natural.”
  4. “Put your characters through hell.” Easy is boring.  If something is a walk through the park, it’s boring.  Piece of cake?  Boring.  Roller coaster ride with a broken track and car full of explosives, puppies, nuns and only your character to save them?  Probably done before… but not boring.  Remember, your characters are secretly daring you to give them your best shot.  Don’t make them beg for it.  Or do.
  5. “Read it and weep.” That lovely piece of dialogue that sounds perfect in your head can drive you to tears once it’s read out loud.  Don’t wait for someone else to make you cry.  Just go through and read all that dialogue out loud to get it sounding right.  Get into character.  Make funny voices.  Use sound effects.  Okay, maybe not the sound effects, but feel free to go crazy with the make believe voices.  Personally, I like making my tough guys sound like Elmer Fudd.