Displaying Story Ideas

So, I’m trying something new for organizing my writing ideas.

I don’t really have a centralized area where I write down my ideas for plots/characters/etc. Usually, they just end up in any notebook I have handy or any scrap of paper that just happens to be nearby. Sometimes, I’m careful to transfer these ideas to a central location, but most of the time they just float off somewhere, never to be seen again.

To remedy this, I’ve decided to collect some of these ideas in one place and, at the same time, give myself more of a visual reminder that, yes, I do get good ideas occasionally.

I’ve found some of the favorite ideas, written up a summary for each of them on sticky notes, and started covering my bedroom walls with them. There are three categories, each with their own separate section of wall: Place, People, and Plot.

Yes, a I am a fan of alliteration, why do you ask?

Under “Place”, I put setting ideas. Background stuff. Anything from maps of magical kingdoms to a fictionalization of a museum I once went to. One of these days, I’m going to add creatures I’ve invented, and fun houses that I wished I lived in.  This area will probably fill up pretty quickly when I start putting up my theories of magic. I spend more time than I like to admit coming up with rules for systems of magic (sociology, biology, conservation of energy, etc).

“People” is filled with characters that haven’t attached themselves to a plot. They are people with a distinctive trait, disability, or superpower that will require a certain style of story to accommodate. However, there are a couple of examples of people that are just interesting personalities that have asserted themselves when I’ve started writing. There is one guy, for example, that likes playing baseball. I don’t know his name, yet, or what story he is a part of, but I know what he sounds like and I know how he treats his younger sister.

“Plot” is filled up with log lines, basic “who” and “what” kind of stuff. I’m very careful to space the sticky notes out a bit, though, since I’ve added some smaller sticky notes below some of the main ones that start to detail the conflicts, characters, setting, or the origin of the idea. Ideally, each log line would branch out into a full tree of sticky notes that bring the story into greater detail with each layer added. In practice, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I can dream.

After putting an afternoon to get this set up, it surprised me how many ideas (decent ones) I actually had. For the exercise, I had gone back through some of my old journals, and found some short fiction that I had forgot I even had. When I finished posting everything up, it was encouraging to be able to see a history of my creativity.

I have to remind myself: Yes, I am a writer. I do, actually, have ideas. I don’t have any excuse for why I shouldn’t be writing.

Mind you, this hasn’t encouraged me to write more, like I hoped it would. But, still, it’s gotten me thinking.

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“He’s the Investing Type”

So, some coworkers of mine said something interesting to me the other day.

They were discussing the fact that someone from their division was retiring. He was, they pointedly informed me, only in his mid-fifties. My reaction was something along the lines of “Okay, sure. My dad’s is fifty-some and he’s planning to retire in the next year or so. Your point?”

Their reply was that retiring now left him with maybe 30 years of life left, and that it was weird that he was retiring now. What was he going to do with those 30 years? But then, as if to excuse the odd behavior, another coworker mentioned that “he’s the investing type”.

Wait, what?

The conversation ended at that point, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about it. My coworkers had some very distinct ideas about the man’s retirement, and it kind of shook me that I not only didn’t agree with them, I’m not even sure if I really understood them.

For example, the 30 years comment? In retrospect it could be taken two ways.

The first, which is what I think they meant, is that 30 years is a long time to spend without a purpose of some kind of keep you busy. The most obvious purpose is, of course, a job, but it could just as well be volunteering, a hobby, or looking after grandkids. If this is how they meant the comment, then I really hope that they hadn’t actually thought too hard about what they were saying. For starters, the ‘standard’ retirement age is 65, only 10 years off. As far as I can tell, keeping yourself busy for 20 years vs 30 years shouldn’t be that much of difference. If you’ve found something that you enjoy (writing, for example) wouldn’t it be great to have an extra ten years free of work to devote to it?

Yes, I realize that retiring in your fifties throws off the idea that most of your life is spent working, as opposed to being in school or being retired (assuming you live until 85, and that you graduated at 22, retiring ten years early would mean you only worked for 39% of your life, as opposed to 51%). Still, I maintain that this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why would my coworkers even bother to comment about it?

The second way the comment could be taken, is that 30 years of retirement is a much harder thing to budget for than 20 years of retirement. The extra savings and compound interest during those ten years would be significant. If they meant it this way (and I really don’t think that they did) then the investing comment, at least, would make more sense.

But if they weren’t thinking about money when they made that comment, which I’m pretty sure of, then what on earth did they mean by “he’s the investing type”?

As far as I’m concerned (and almost all of the PF community would agree with me), there shouldn’t be a group of people that are the investing type, because that would imply that a lot of people just aren’t. I’m not talking about people how most people live paycheck to paycheck and don’t learn to save, I’m talking about the idea (that the statement seems to imply) that when it comes to investing, you either have something that makes you an investor, or you don’t.

This strikes me as a debilitating mindset. I know, for a fact, that the coworkers involved in the discussion contribute to the company’s (rather generous, actually) 401k plan. But they have to go out of their way to designate this one man as the investing type, as if he’s an anomaly or specially gifted or something. What does that mean for them, then? Are they doomed to being forever pushed around by financial advisers and the current DOW numbers?

Obviously, I’m being a bit over-dramatic, here, but the conversation frustrated me because I don’t think this is a healthy mindset. So what if someone decides to step out of the path of “retire at 65 and you’ll be fine because you contributed the minimum to your 401k needed to get the full employer match”? If they’ve crunched the numbers and decide they can retire at 55 (or, heaven forbid, 35), more power to them. It doesn’t mean that they have something magical, just that they prioritized differently, and wanted the extra years of retirement so that they could go windsurf in Puerto Rico.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort over the last three years (or so) into learning about personal finance. Over that time, I’ve been gathering the courage and resources necessary to decide my own future: how many luxuries I choose to own, how much money I set aside each year, and how long I need to work before I can retire. It’s tremendously empowering, to know that I can make an informed choice on those topics, now.

But my coworkers are seeing the results without seeing the effort and the process. So, all they can say is “he’s the investing type”, which is rather missing the point. We can all be “the investing type”, it’s just that you have to take the time and effort to make the important steps between high-yield savings account, and well-balanced portfolio.

Trust me, it’s worth it.


Night Shift: Pros and Cons

So, a little while ago, the program that I’m working for had a HUGE and VERY IMPORTANT deadline. We were kind of rushing to get everything ready by then, so we wanted someone working on the hardware 24/7. However, because there were only really two people that could do that (myself and my supervisor), that meant that I was put on a 12-hour night shift (10pm to 10am) for about a week .

So, I thought I’d share some of the pros and cons of that experience.

Cons:

  • You never quite know what day it is. When you work over the transition between one day and the next, your internal calendar kind of quits on you. “So, I was working on fixing that error last night . . . yesterday, I mean. Oh, wait. I guess it was technically this morning, but I’ve gotten eight hours of sleep since then, so . . .”
  • Finding food is difficult. Either you’ve packed a lunch, or you hope that there is a Denny’s or something close by. I couldn’t even go out to the local IHOP, though, since I couldn’t leave the hardware alone for any length of time, so I kind of lived off of frozen meals. Even now, I keep an emergency can of soup at my desk in case I get pulled on to a weird shift unexpectedly.
  • If you get stuck on a problem, there is no one to ask for help. You either have to hit your head against a wall trying to solve it, or you find a way to work around it until the morning when everyone else shows up.
  • It gets rather lonely when you have to spend 10+ hours not talking to anyone. You can’t go out to lunch with people, because no one else is having lunch at midnight, and you can’t call up one of your friends to chat. Also, the next day, you have to turn down invitations to lunch because that’s when you go home to sleep.
  • When everyone else comes in the next morning all fresh-faced and rested and in their nice clothes, you feel horrible in comparison, because you’ve come off your huge shift and are tired, rumpled, and starting to get cranky.

Pros:

  • There is no one else there to watch you or make you behave. I did a lot of singing/humming/talking to myself. And, since the lab floor is nice and smooth, I would occasionally break out into dancing. It was amusing, especially at 3am when I was really feeling the boredom. I also got to wear whatever I wanted. This means that, instead of business casual, I was just plain casual (and more comfortable because of it).
  • When I made mistakes (and, trust me, I made a lot of them), I got to fix them/cover them up before anyone else saw them. It can be kind of embarrassing when you compile and find that, ooops, you forgot a semicolon at the end of one line of code and now you’ve got fifty error messages. On night shift, you can take the ten minutes to find and fix the error so that your supervisor only gets to see the nice pretty finished product when he walks in in the morning.
  • Since you’re working a shift directly  opposite of everyone else, traffic is never an issue. Rush hour traffic never affects you. And, when you get to work, you can park as close to the building as you want, since everyone else has already left for home. Also, since you’re already in the office come morning, you’re never late for the 9am meeting.
  • Once, my supervisor took pity on me, and brought in coffee and pastries when he came in for work in the morning. We sat through the morning phone conference munching on croissants.

All that being said, it was an interesting and informative experience. I encourage everyone to try it at least once, if they can.

Until next week.


New Years – 2014

Yes, I’m doing one of those “these are my resolutions, so please hold me accountable” posts.

Goal #1: Write a blog post every Monday and, before the end of the year, build up a backlog of 8 posts so that I can shift to posting twice a week. (I feel that a one month backlog should be fine to start with. Short enough that I don’t get to relax, but a lot better than I have right now. Disclaimer: This blog really doesn’t have a backlog. Hence the lack of posts over the holidays.)

Goal #2: Change my eating habits in two ways to improve my health: a) Eating more regularly. (I have a tendency to skip breakfast because I’m rushed or feel nauseous, and sometimes I miss dinner because I work late.) b) Anytime I eat, focus on portion control. I don’t have to eat as much as I think I do.  

I had some minor success with 2-b on Saturday, when I ate some leftover (homemade) fried rice for lunch, but left the second helping in the fridge. I told myself I would go back and eat it if I was still hungry in 15 minutes. Half an hour later, I my sister walked into the room happily munching on the rest of it. I was only minorly disappointed, which I took as a sign that I really didn’t need that second helping anyway.

Anyway, I’m soliciting help with keeping these. Feel free to bug me about any of these over the course of the year.

To reciprocate, if you leave a comment with your resolution(s), then I’ll bug you every so often to make sure you keep up with them. (Like NaNoWriMo, New Year’s resolutions do best with lots and lots of peer pressure.)


Libraries and my Research Method

So, I have this interesting reaction to being nervous/worried/concerned about changes or new elements in my life:

I research the heck out of them.

Sometimes, this means the traditional Google search, where I read the top ten helpful pages and afterwards feel a little more in control and stop looking. But when I need solid opinions, or in the time before Google became my best friend, I instead went to the library.

I love libraries. We have a wonderful relationship where I use and abuse them, and in return I occasionally pay small fees when I overstep my bounds. I’m pretty sure all of my inborn female “love of shopping” got channeled into library browsing. And that’s great, because it’s like the Monopoly money of shopping. It’s the best parts of shopping without any of the costs. You can search through shelves of products, pick out all the things that look interesting, not pay a dime even when you buy things that in hindsight you didn’t really need. And best of all within a month or two the items have been returned (with no glares from the customer service desk) and you don’t have the stuff cluttering up your house.

Yes, I might just be a little obsessed. But I find the library to a great destressor. I don’t know if anyone else feels better when they smell paper or can run their hand down a row of spines, but I find it fun and relaxing.

But I digress. I was talking about researching topics as a way of calming myself about upcoming life changes.

For library research, my method goes like this:

  1. Check out as many books as possible on the topic, and any books that happen to be shelved near those books. (This results in 20 to 40 books and a receipt that’s longer than my arm).
  2. Take the books home. Sometime in the next few days, go through the books a little more carefully, fully reading the back of the book/the inside cover. Usually, I’ll find a few books that are not remotely helpful to my situation, or a few with premises that I simply cannot stand. These go into the return pile without even being opened. (This leaves 15 to 25 books that might be useful).
  3. Next, I check the table of contents of the books that might be helpful (but I don’t know for sure). If they look promising, I might even read the introduction. This is to check that the author has a writing style that I can tolerate. Not all books pass this test. Most times, this is enough to eliminate a few more books. (Leaving 10 to 20 books).
  4. At this point, I start reading the books that I know will be helpful. These are usually the bestseller ones, with titles or authors that I’ve heard of before. I go through almost all of these before tackling my pile of “maybe” books again. (There are 3 to 7 of these slam-dunk books).
  5. Now, I take the rest of the books and I skim though them. Does the table of contents mention any new topics that the books I’ve read haven’t covered? Do they offer counterpoints to what I’ve already read? Is the author just awesome or different enough that I’d read their book for fun even if I don’t learn anything? If none of these get’s answered “yes”, than the book gets returned. Otherwise, it goes into the “must read pile” with the bestsellers.

Some examples of topics that I’ve researched using this method: How to succeed in college (I didn’t follow through with most of this advice. Ooops?), Personal Fiance (when I discovered Green with Envy), Independence/Career advice (Still feel shaky in this area. I’ll let you know when I have something worth sharing), what I should/could actually do with money (Millionaire Next Door, Richistan), and I’m currently looking up investing (Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Bogleheads Guide to Investing).

(Note: Yes, I know those are mostly about PF. I get that. I do. I’m still telling myself that this blog won’t be a PF blog, and maybe one day I’ll believe it.)

I get some interesting results using the library to do research. Some books I learn a lot from and they shift how I view the world (most of the PF books listed). Some of the books I just find amusing even if I don’t learn much (most of the college books, the finance book “Shoo, Jimmy Choo!”). Sometimes, I miss out on fundamental books because the library doesn’t have them or they’re checked out, but for the most part I feel that I’ve come out with a pretty well-rounded education on anything that I’ve used this method on.

In summary (tl;dr): Use and abuse your library. It’s like shopping without paying anything, and there is no penalty for checking out books you don’t read!