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Many writers, myself included, are drawn to writing tools, advice, and inspiration. Do they have to potential to make us better, more productive, and happier writers? Yes. Is at least half their appeal the opportunity for distraction and procrastination? Assuredly.

(Knitters have the same sort of relationship with the website ravelry.com. Is it a fabulous resource for patterns, techniques, and support? Yes. Do we fall down rabbit holes looking at patterns and posting in discussion groups and admiring projects when we could be spending that time actually knitting? Without a doubt.)

Today’s distraction, er, tool comes to you courtesy of the amazing story collective The Moth. Stories shared during Moth events are told by a person standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It is not recitation or speechmaking. There are no notes, and there is no memorization. It is an organic, ancient, and undoubtedly nerve-wracking process, but it is not without preparation. These spoken stories involve as much craft and revision as anything written.

Over the last 25 years, The Moth has developed a program to help people tell their stories, to take an idea and learn how to not only share it but bring the audience into it. On April 26th, aspiring storytellers will be able to get their hands on How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.

Have I read the online excerpt on the Random Penguin website? Yes, I have. Have I read the sample on the website of the largest online bookseller? Yes, I have. Am I tempted to preorder it from my local independent bookseller so that I can get a pre-order bonus? Most certainly. (Do I have unread books about the craft and skill of writing on my bookshelves? Indeed, I do. Is that an impediment or a deterrent? No, not really.)

Based on what I have read so far, this book is not only for writers and performers. It is for anyone who wants to share a story with anyone else, to build connection and community. Isn’t that connection something we need in these wild and crazy times? I think so.

The Lego Curse

Poor Legos. They have been weaponized. When did that happen?

It is a common curse I have seen on social media — something along the lines of wishing someone a Lego block under every barefoot step.

I read a blog post about exercise, and the author had taken up running but didn’t much care for it. He thought that he should have pursued something easier and more pleasant, such as walking on hot coals or jumping up and down on Lego blocks.

The Smithsonian magazine even published a big article about why stepping on Legos is more painful that walking on hot coals or ice.

My version has long been the little green army men, ever since I saw a friend’s mother step on one, and I felt powerful to stop it even as I watched it happen. It was one of those slow motion moments.

Maybe little green army men aren’t as painful because the plastic isn’t as strong? I would think that they would have a higher chance of becoming embedded, which would be extremely painful. Then again, it might be splitting hairs at that point.

It has been a mostly sleepless couple of days (nights?) this week, so weaponized Legos are all I have tonight. Pick up your toys, kids!

Or maybe I love it when order starts to emerge out of chaos. I sort of had a plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then in the face of having rather a lot of things on my plate, it went a bit off the rails. I could call it project scope creep. I could say that I incorporated multiple goals or disciplines into one so that I wasn’t really giving up any of them, but the focus had shifted.

Then I read about a brainstorming exercise which is brilliantly perfect for writing. Maybe I am the last to know and everyone, or at least lots of people, writes this way, but it is completely liberating in the sense that it allows you to jump around between different ideas and don’t have to try to follow a linear plot or outline.

Let me see if I can explain.

I am about halfway through Lost and Found in Paris (and loving it). I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I need to provide a little bit of context, most of which can be found in the book summary.

Our heroine Joan flies to Paris with some obscure but valuable sketches for a potential buyer. The sketches are stolen. The thief leaves behind a clue which includes a poem\riddle\invitation and a copy of a page from one of her father’s notebooks. She figures out the first message, and when she arrives at the appropriate location, a security guard hands her a second envelope.

Nate, her romantic interest who is trying to help her recover the stolen sketches stops her from opening the envelope right away. He asks her to tell him what she thinks is in the envelope. What might be the next piece or pieces of information based on what they already know? Joan is skeptical.

He explains the exercise this way: “My sister leads the brain-storming sessions.  She went to business school, so there’s a method to her madness.  It works.  It gets your brain pumping before you have to zero in one the question at hand.  When we’re trying to anticipate what might go wrong or right with a project, it opens us up to other avenues of inquiry when we think about all possible scenarios.” (pg 139)

They proceed to brainstorm possibilities, following different avenues of thought, looking for connections.

The concept didn’t make any sense to Joan at first, but it totally clicked for me.

I don’t have to write a linear story, even if I want to eventually end up with one. I don’t have to stress about picking a direction. I can start with an idea, a scene. I can set up the scene in different ways, and then I can tell the same story different ways or create different stories altogether. I can follow each thread from each starting point, or I can mix and match later on, keeping what works together and setting the other parts aside.

Instead of having to know what “really” happens and committing myself to one narrative, I can try out a whole bunch of different scenarios — no matter how ludicrous — follow each one as far as a I care to, branching this way and that as I go, and then backtracking to a certain point and starting a new branch or thread. (Yes, I am just going with the mixed metaphor.)

I tried it out with one of the ideas in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I decided to use as a month-long brainstorming session to just get ideas out of my head and into a document, so I think that I was pretty close to this newly-discovered process already. The problem is that I was letting myself get stuck on not knowing where to take a story or how to explore an idea for fear of not getting it right (even though I know it is not about getting it right the first time).

Now I can ask myself, “What are the things that can go right with this storyline or scenario? What are the things that can go wrong?” Do a little preliminary troubleshooting and then start trying out the possibilities.

The more I write out this idea, the more obvious it feels, but it was a complete watershed moment for me this afternoon. Maybe it’s the magic that starts to happen about halfway through a NaNoWriMo project. Whatever the case, I am feeling inspired, creative, and energized! I look forward to a weekend of writing.

The fine folks at NaNoWriMo are forever suggesting fun and interesting tools for writers, and I think that the Hero’s Journal is my favorite, perhaps because I have been doing more journaling lately. (I have to say that I am not a big fan of journal as a verb, although in this case it is a gerund, so the verb gets to work as a noun. I am not sure if that usage is better or worse.) The phrase “the exhaustion of toxic productivity” resonated with me.

I will note that if you have serious issues with either Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, these journals might not be for you. If you enjoy epic fantasy, quests, and magic, then these journals look like a fun writing exercise to help you build your writing confidence, cultivating a daily practice, or working through a writing slump — to name just a few options. It is designed for anyone — from kids to adults — who has a goal, and the goal doesn’t even have to be writing related. The journals turn that goal into an adventure.

The physical journals are a bit pricey, but there is a PDF version which you can use on a computer or print to paper. Even better, you can try before you buy with a generous 71-page free sample of each journal. Just enter your e-mail address.

If you like extras, there are side quest decks to enhance your experience, and according to the Instagram feed there have and will be other goodies like stickers and pins. There is a newsletter, too, which I would image also provides announcements about such things, but the Instagram feed has news as well as pretty pictures. The FAQ page has more details and tips for using the journals.

I have downloaded both samples and look forward to trying them, although I will probably wait until after Camp NaNoWriMo is finished. Watch this space for a report on my findings.

When I searched the web for a graphic of 200, I found this cute and appropriate illustration. I checked out the website, too, and I have to say that I am definitely a fan of the idea of teaching math as a life skill rather than just a course.

Why did I need a graphic of the number 200, you ask? Well, I was preparing to bemoan my inability to manufacture time and wanted to reread my post about increments in a day to remind myself what I had already bemoaned. When I pulled up the list of posts, the number at the top was 201.

I have written two hundred posts to this blog! Very sporadically and over many years, but 200 all the same.

After numerous false starts (most likely due to unrealistic expectations), I am finally having fun. I haven’t quite found a groove yet, and the site needs a thorough facelift, but those things will happen in due time. The persistence will continue to pay off.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has read and followed so far!!

Personal vehicles have become far too complicated. I make this statement as someone who is not a “car person.” I can appreciate, say, a Chevrolet Corvette as a fine piece of machinery and even a work of art. It is an iconic car, after all.

But why must everyday vehicles used for commuting and errand-running and social outings be ever more driven by and dependent on computers? Have we not reached a point of diminishing returns? Vehicles are fancier, but to what purpose? Some safety features might be helpful, but they can make drivers less attentive and more reckless.

Mechanics have to spend thousands of dollars on specialized computers which communicate with the on-board computers, and then the software on the diagnostic computers requires a monthly subscription so that it constantly downloads all of the latest information.

Right now there is an issue with one of the computer systems in my vehicle. According to the light on the dashboard, one or more of my tires has incorrect tire pressure. I have verified several times that the pressure is correct, and my mechanic agrees.

I suspected that there was an issue with a sensor in one of the tires and\or a communication issue. The problem is that the information coming from the sensors and the main computer don’t agree. The computer says that one of the sensors isn’t communicating. The sensors says that the computer isn’t listening. Also, the tire\wheel positions might not be correctly identified, which might be cause for confusion.

The codes have been cleared and the current wheel positions have been identified. Now I just drive until the light comes back on, and then I can go back and possibly actually have the problem fixed.

Now, as a non-car person who views the vehicle as a tool to get me to work and the grocery store and wherever else I might need or want to go, being alerted to tire pressure issues sounds like a good idea in theory, but so far it is becoming more of a hassle and an expense than a benefit.

I have similar feelings about power windows and locks. They are nice to be sure, but when those controls in the driver’s door fail, you can find yourself locked in or locked out until they can be (expensively) repaired. Ask me how I know.

At least the car doesn’t talk to me or try to drive for me, so I don’t have to worry about those systems failing. It’s all about perspective, right?

ETA: I realize that this is 100% a first-world problem of privilege not worth complaining about in the grand scheme of things, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how bigger issues break down into smaller ones and how smaller issues add up to being bigger ones. Today I decided to write about one of the smaller issues.

It’s Monday, and my brain is kind of full of work-related learning, so this will be a short post which mostly says, “Watch this video if you are interested in hearing about, among other things, Janci Patterson’s thoughts on co-writing.”

Brandon Sanderson has written several books of a series set in the Cytoverse (as opposed to in the Cosmere, which is where the Stormlight and Mistborn series are set). The fourth book is a collection of novellas which he wrote with Janci Patterson. The video is of a conversation they had about the new book. They talk about writing together, and Patterson talks about other co-written projects she has done as well as different aspects of her writing process.

I found it fascinating and entertaining, so I am sharing. You don’t have to know anything about either author or their books to enjoy the writing part of the discussion (which is most of it).

I really wanted to make the title of this post “If I want exposure, I’ll get my tits out, but the internet being what it is and working (or not) the way it does, I wasn’t sure if it would be risky or risque, when it is actually neither. It is the honest and slightly caustic response of one brilliant fiber artist to a request that she donate a large amount of her time and wares because it would be good “exposure” for her business (i.e. work for free).

The fiber artist was the Countess Ablaze — a dyer of yarn and spinning fiber in amazing colors with (to say the least) irreverent names. She ran an amazing business for ten years before she moved on to her next adventure. Other than her amazing yarn, she will be remembered for a venture called the Tits Out Collective.

Two events precipitated this movement. First was the above “offer.” In response to that offer, she dyed two special colorways and donated a significant portion of the sale of each skein to a woman-supporting charity. Second was that another dyer bought a skein and copied the colorway.

In response, the Countess published the color recipe she used, encouraged other independent dyers to create their own version, and they all released their yarns collectively on July 1, 2018. This blog post from A Woolly Yarn provides a bit more background.

Click on the image to watch a Facebook live video for the original announcement. It is a bit choppy, and the language is a bit salty, but you don’t need a Facebook account to watch it. If you have an account, you might be able to go further back in the feed to find more posts.

The Countess holding her two charity colorways “Shit Tea and Tray Bake” and “If I Want Exposure, I’ll Get My Tits Out. Copyright Countess Ablaze

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a reference to Etsy raising the fees sellers pay to do business on the site, and she flat out tells people to raise their prices accordingly. Supplies are expensive. You should be fairly compensated for your time and expertise.

It is now almost exactly four years later, and Etsy, which did HUGE business during the pandemic even as so many makers and artists struggled, is raising prices again. In between, I have noticed (and heard from a few sellers who moved away from the platform) a push to offer “free” shipping and discounts on items added to a wish list or the shopping cart.

As a result, sellers are going on strike, putting their shops on “vacation” from April 11-18 and encouraging customers not to shop during those days.

A percentage point or two might not seem like much, but it adds up, and it eats into already miniscule profit margins. Yarn and dye and dye studios and all of the tools for dyeing are expensive. Payment processing fees are expensive. Shipping fees and materials are expensive. And that’s just the overhead. We haven’t even talked about actually paying the person or people doing the work — dyeing, twisting, labeling, photographing, listing, packaging, and shipping.

At least with yarn dyeing, there is a tangible item which might justify more expense. It is more difficult with patterns. Even a simple pattern needs to be written, edited, test knit (with yarn which much be purchased), and formatted. Then there is the expectation of introductory discounts. Some designers can sell thousands of copies of a single pattern, but they are few.

Designer Ruth Brasch wrote this blog post where she breaks down the effect that fees from sites such as Etsy and Ravelry have … and she only includes the parts of the cost which she pays someone else (yarn and tech editing). She doesn’t include her time spent knitting, writing, photographing, and formatting.

Some small businesses are surviving or even thriving, but so often creative businesses struggle to even be seen, much less turn any kind of profit.

Don’t just shop small. If possible, shop direct. And if you love the work of a particular small business (artist or no), tell everyone you know in every way you can.

Every drop into the ocean makes a ripple.

Does anyone truly enjoy social media? Is it fun? Informative? Helpful?

I have heard and seen some lovely stories about people being able to help each other out through Facebook groups, but do those positive outcomes outweigh all of the negative and harmful things that happen?

As an introverted, anti-social person who doesn’t get out much, social media platforms seem like they should be a great way to socialize without having to actually, well, socialize, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

Several years ago I decided that social media was having a negative impact on my sleep and mental health. I deleted most of my accounts, set the last one to private and disabled the application on my phone. The positive impact was almost immediate.

After a while, I crept back into my Instagram account and discovered that logging in on a web browser eliminated seeing an advertisement every third post. Then I discovered that some of the authors who interested me were active and interesting on Twitter, so I set up a new account. Also, I missed exchanging messages with one of the hosts of my favorite radio station.

It was fun for a while, and then the negativity crept in bit by bit until it seemed to dominate. I realized that I wasn’t just seeing content from accounts I followed. I was seeing content from accounts they followed and posts they liked, replied to, and retweeted. Suggested topics have infiltrated my feed as well. Over on Instagram I am being bombarded by ads and suggestions. Some of it was fine, but a lot of it was content I did not want to see.

Maybe I am using social media incorrectly, but it became too much work to get to the content for which I had actually signed up, so today I disabled Instagram again and signed out of Twitter on my phone (which required something like five steps).

I have accounts with a couple of smaller, specialized social sites, but I am not good about keeping up with them. They feel like those productivity applications or programs which require so much maintenance that they don’t actually increase productivity.

Ugh. Yes, I know. It is just SO hard to be me.

Maybe I will have to start actually talking to real people. Perish the thought!

ETA: About 24 hours after logging out of Twitter on my phone, I logged in on a web browser, and my feed was much more to my liking. Maybe it is just the mobile applications which are hostile and aggressive with their algorithms of chaos.

The last several years have been … well, everyone knows what they have been. And nothing in the news headlines indicates that the situation will improve significantly anytime soon. Sure, there are bright spots here and there, but the shadows still loom large and dark.

There’s a lot of talk about self care — to the point that it has become an industry unto itself. If any of those offerings work for you, great! If not, then just find something small and simple, and don’t underestimate the power of small, simple, and brief.

Last night my bliss was freshly-popped popcorn, a homemade vanilla milkshake, and opening day baseball.

Tonight I am distracting myself with a new book: Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan.

The basic premise is pretty common — a woman finds out that her marriage has fallen apart, and she is the last to know — but this one has a slightly different twist, at least to me.

I have only read the first two chapters, so I don’t really consider these to be spoilers, but if you want to preserve all of the mystery, avert your eyes now.

Joan’s globe-trotting photographer husband cheated on her with his assistant five years ago. Yawn, right? The fun part is that the relationship resulted in the birth of twin boys. Casey (the husband) has come to the conclusion that it is time for him to become a more involved father, although he and the mother have been co-parenting the whole time. He offers that the five of them could become one big blended family, but his priority is the kids. After sharing all of this news with Joan, Casey gets on a plane to Japan for a work trip.

What I love is that Joan opts for, if not a scorched earth policy, swift and complete excision. Casey walks out the door, and the first item on Joan’s to do list is changing the locks. She is devastated, but she doesn’t let it keep her from taking action. She seeks counsel from her friends (and her attorney), and she cuts off the friends who knew about the other family and somehow convinced themselves that it was in her best interest not to tell her … for five years.

Now it is on to chapter three in which Joan has to tell her mother.

Happy weekend, everyone!!

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