a goal

Of goals made and goals missed.

As 2016 winds down, I guess it’s a good time to review my 2016 resolutions and see just how well I did with keeping them and meeting the goals I set myself. (Spoiler: Not very well at all). After reviewing those, I’m going to touch on another few goals and challenges that I had set for myself and my progress therein. First, let’s take a look at each of the individual resolutions and how I did with four days to go.

New Diet

I feel like the main aim of this one (to eat out less) was certainly achieved, as I’ve definitely cooked far more often at home, and my wife and I have documented that on our food blog. Though we did go for a while without updating the blog until we kind of dropped an archive of some of the year’s recipes towards the end of November and December. The minor downside is that things became less collaborative between my wife and I due to health issues on both of our parts at various times, so it became more individual efforts with occasional contributions, which is a pity because cooking together was one of our bigger couples activities. Hopefully we can get back on track to working together in 2017 as our health issues start to resolve.

2017 Goal: Continue in the same vein, with less delays on the food blog.

New Weight

Still working on this. I’ve maintained my weight at around 220 lbs. I’m still shooting for 200 lbs, and I’ve remained committed to the gym for cardio exercise. It had been a lot of treadmill work and stationary bike work, but the treadmill work has fallen off in the last month thanks to my having a broken wrist. You wouldn’t think that would affect treadmill running that much, and it probably doesn’t, but because I’m paranoid, it means I can’t grip the treadmill handles or hit the emergency stop button in the rare cases where that might be needed. Soon I’ll be out of the cast and able to rededicate myself to treadmill running, which I enjoy greatly as a kind of zen way to clear my head. I also use the Zombies, Run! app on my phone to make things a little competitive because I enjoy the idea of metrics and leveling up with any challenge I face.

2017 Goal: Still shooting for 200 lbs, and I have a jacker picked out as a reward if I get there.

Communicate Better

Yeah, I’ve pretty much completely failed at this one. I need to reach out to my parents and sister more throughout 2017 to try and re-connect with them instead of just kind of ignoring the contact details I do have with an “I’ll get around to it eventually,” which is the utterly horrible approach I’m currently taking.

On the plus side, I feel like I’ve done better by my son communication wise. In additional to seeing him in person on a regular basis (at least until this past month where, once gain, the broken wrist has interfered and made driving exponentially more difficult), I’m able to reach out to him between visits thanks to some social media interactions. Notably, he’s became a big fan of Snapchat, so it’s been great to send him a quick picture or video message through that. I need to do it more frequently still, but there have definitely been strides made in that direction.

2017 Goal: Maintain & improve communication with my son. Establish regular communication with my parents & sister.

Blog More

 

Let’s see, my initial target was to add an entry to this blog at least once a week throughout 2016, and this is the 52nd week of the year. If I’ve counted correctly, this is my eleventh entry of 2016, which means that i only missed this goal by forty-one entries, so I made it a whole 21% of the way towards my target. Amusingly, one of the projects I called out was my Supernatural blogwatch project, to which I managed to add a grand total of ZERO entries in 2016.

2017 Goal: Attempt to hit that once per week target. Have at least one season of Supernatural blog watch finished.

Read More

At last, a goal that I was able to achieve! I’ve been keeping track of my reading thanks to the Goodreads app. One of the things i like about that app is that you can set yourself a reading challenge target for the year. again, big fan of numerical metrics and competitive goals to meet. I’ve been increasing my targets by five books each year. In 2014, that was fifty books, in 2015 it was fifty-five. Fans of pattern recognition will realize that means that my target for 2016 was sixty books. And per that very same GoodReads app, I finished my sixtieth book of the year (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) on December 21st. this is in a bit of contrast to 2015 where I was cramming a couple of short books in early on New Year’s Eve.

2017 Goal: Ready sixty-five books. More non-fiction and less graphic novels. join a book club to read titles outside my comfort zone.

Write More

This started with the best of intentions and fell by the wayside as different life things piled up (the aforementioned health issues, moving to a larger apartment). For the second year in a row, I failed to complete the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I was actually close to getting back on track with that with a solid four day writing binge planned over Thanksgiving weekend. Then I broke my wrist and was basically unable to type or write properly for the rest of November. That means my 2017 NaNoWriMo attempt is going to have a lot of making up to do (see the goal below). On the plus side, I’m revisiting the historical fiction idea I had, and now have most of a year to gather and read the research materials to keep it a little more organized.

Outside of NaNoWriMo, I did get some more things written, even if they were mostly flash fiction pieces (a few of which made up those eleven posts for 2016…) and I also got more disciplined at outlining and planning out my story ideas. Hopefully, I’ll be able to translate that into more output for 2017.

Another thing that helped here was the establishment of a weekly writing thread on the Fark.com new aggregator website that I’ve been a member of forever. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get a story into the Start of Farkness fiction anthology that arose from those threads though.

2017 Goal: Complete at least 150,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (Equivalent to the 50,000 for 2015, 2016 & 2017) as 1-3 stories. Successfully submit a short story for a hypothetical 2017 Fark.com fiction anthology. Also, write more short stories/flash fiction and potentially draft one novel outside of November. Possibly invest in a copy of Scrivener software.

Game More

Well, I did game more than I had in 2015, but I didn’t come close to completing the “12 video games in 12 months” challenge, unless someone can recommend 10 ultra-short games I can finish in the next four days. I managed to finish two games in 2016, mostly because I’m not a big gamer, so it’s seldom been a priority for me. I was able to finish Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the original Secret of Monkey Island. I’m also very close to finishing off the original Portal, so I might be able to claim 25% of the goal by year’s end. I have taken advantage of some Steam sales to buy/download a few games for next year. As someone who’s not been a computer/video gamer, I haven’t played a lot of these older games, so I can catch up now without having to buy a new system by playing new-to-me games which have been published since around 1999…

I’m also going to some more tabletop gaming. My wife and I did play quite a bit of Magic: The Gathering, a couple of games of Munchkin and a lot of the DC Comics Deck-Building Game when it came to card-based tabletop entertainment. I’ve also purchased some actual tabletop role-playing games in order to run some games in 2017. You’ve probably seen the fruits of these purchases as part of the It Builds Character sub-series on this very blog (A new entry of which should be coming before year’s end.)

I’ve also finally given up on Games Workshop’s miniature war games as they’ve finally priced themselves out of my comfort zone. Of course, I haven’t abandoned miniature wargaming completely and am switching over to the World War II miniatures game Flames of War. So far, I’ve purchased but not painted or assembled my first few British forces for an Airlanding Company.

2017 Goals: Attempt the 12 in 12 video game challenge again, run at least one tabletop gaming campaign (probably Pendragon) either in person or online. Purchase and assemble enough Flames of War miniatures for two forces so that I can play a few games. Start a small Star Wars: Armada force.

Goal stock photo by Sander van der Veen.

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NaNoWriMo Thoughts: Ideas & Inspirations

Inspiration can strike in the strangest ways. This is probably why most authors hate the inevitable “Where do you get your ideas from?” question.

 

This is my attempt to answer that question: I get my ideas from the world around me. I think everyone does to a certain extent, which is why one of the most common mantras is “write what you know,” though I do think that advice is a little misleading. After all, if I’m writing a period piece or so me far-flung space opera epic, then what I know as an English computer dude living in Delaware really isn’t applicable.

 

So what can inspire you? One source is dreams, which is why it’s a good idea to keep a pen and notepad on your bedside table to jot down the ideas as soon as you wake, because you WILL forget if you decide to wait until later, as I’ve learned to my cost. An infamous example of the dream as inspiration is the “Terminator” franchise. It began when James Cameron had a dream that consisted of a metal exoskeleton walking out of flames (Harlan Ellison might disagree on that form of inspiration and there’s legal reasons for Ellison’s credit on the first film, but Harlan is infamously cranky and litigious so who knows?). That dream became the finale of The Terminator and is, in my opinion, one of the best “holy crap” film moments of the 1980s.

 

Another obvious source of inspiration, and one partially alluded to in my Ellison aside above is whatever you might be reading. I know one of my earliest short stories was inspired by me reading Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon and thinking “I could do better than this!”

 

Thankfully, there are no extant copies of that story online as it was typical of a new, young writer in that it was terrible. That’s beside the point though. I read a lot of non-fiction, and listen to a couple of different history podcasts. And one of my most frequent thoughts are generally “what if this happened instead?” which leads to alternate history ideas or cross-pollination between disparate historical events and genres. What would the Roman Year of the Four Emperors look like through the lens of a fantasy world? I don’t know, but I might well find out by the end of National Novel Writing Month as that seems like fertile ground for at least fifty thousand words.

 

My current plan for the 2016 edition of that exercise revolves around an eighteenth century naval battle with a commander who was very much conflicted about whether he was even on the right side, which means I’m going to be hip-deep in geographical and historical research for the next couple of weeks. And that inspiration came from a single line in one of the “…for Dummies” series of books.

 

I also have dumber ideas inspired by mass media such as movies or television. Like most of the residents of the United States right now, I’m drowning in Presidential election coverage. Watching bits and pieces of the debates not long after finally succumbing and watching The Silence of the Lambs has lead me to a short story parody idea which so far involves Donald Trump looking in a mirror and asking “Would you vote me? I’d vote me so hard.” It’s very stupid, and I’m not sure I need the mental image of Donald Trump as Buffalo Bill, but since I inflicted it on myself, I figured I’d inflict it on my loyal readers, as few as you might be.

The last source of inspiration I’m going to consider is people watching. As I type this, I’m sat in a coffee shop facing a large window that opens to the street. This is both because I’m clearly a terrible cliché and because it’s a fantastic spot to observe the small section of the world that is my street. For example, about five minutes ago there was an African-American woman in a purple halter top engaged in an animated discussion with an older gentleman in a wheelchair. I don’t know what they were talking about, but judging by the wild gesticulations, it was clearly something both parties felt passionate about. I created a backstory in my head that it was the first meeting in around fifteen years between a school custodian and an infamous vandal who made his work a living hell. They’ve both long put such things behind them, but were reminiscing about old times in the way that people who aren’t quite friend sometimes do.

 

So, how do you get inspiration for your stories? I submit that the easiest way to do that is simply to keep your eyes and ears open.

 

Lightbulb stock photo by Kyryl Lakishyk

Late to the party – GoodReads

GoodReads logo

As is the case with most writers and wannabe writers, I’m a voracious reader. Or at least I like to think I am, though I’ll freely admit that my writing time has severely cut into my reading time lately.

I’m also someone with a bit of a competitive streak who is a fan of defined metrics and measurable outcomes in everything. If I can reduce things to numbers, that becomes a goal to be beaten I want to win.

How does that apply to reading? Simple, I finally discovered the reading social media website/smartphone app Goodreads (I have no connection to the product other than as a user). It lets me keep track of how many books I’m reading, and it has options for progress updates either in page numbers and percentages. Indeed, I’ve even added a GoodReads Widget to this blog, right beneath the Twitter feed.

What has proved fatally attractive to my competitive nature is that it lets you enter a target number of books to read for 2014, and then gives a percentage achieved towards that goal. I went with a fairly tame goal of fifty books for the year, which works out to four and a sixth books per month. that means I have to have read eight books, and be at least thirty-three percent through another by the end of February. Currently, I’m behind on that goal but trying very hard to get ahead of pace. I’m also inordinately pleased to be two books ahead of one of my Richmond WriMo friends who is also trying to hit the fifty books target this year. I realize that’s incredibly petty of me, but it means I’m winning against someone.

I’m also probably the last writer blogging to have not used GoodReads before 2014, hence the “late to the party” part of this blog title.

What social media websites and apps do you use that you’d recommend to me as a writer and reader?