Old Writer Meet New Writer

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

“Put it down for a while” is advice often given to writers. Tired of your story, then take a break. Done editing, then take a break. The virtuous idea is that if you’re frustrated, tired, or just did a lot of writing, a break lets you return with fresh energy and fresh eyes.

I am a believer, if a hypocritical one, in taking a break as a writer. But as food for thought, let me suggest a break does not just give you fresh eyes – it gives you new ones.

When you finish a project or a writing setting, your mind is awhirl. Letting yourself take a break lets the lessons sink into your mind. Your break is a time of change.

When you finish a project or a writing session and take a break, your mind does other things besides writing. In that time, you take new stimuli, new ideas, new inspirations. Your break is a time of taking in other things.

When you finish a project or a writing session, a break is a chance to see a project differently. Stray ideas and unstructured contemplation let you gain new viewpoints. Your break is a time to gain new insights.

The work does not change when you take a break – but you do.  The person who returns to work after an hour or a day or a week off is literally someone else.

This viewpoint provides more than a way to discuss the nature of impermanence. It’s a reminder that sometimes you need to stop writing and rest to become the person that can continue your work. If you are tired, uninspired, etc., you may not just be in a bad state – you may be the wrong person for the job. A rest from writing is a chance to become the you that can go on.

So next time you’re tired of writing, frustrated, or just exhausted, just rest. The person you are has done their job; the person you will be can take over next. Give them space to arrive.

Steven Savage

A Future Of Nows – Redux

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Well this is embarrassing. I re-published my math column under this name I had for a philosophy one. So uh . . . let’s post the right one.

The future is fundamentally unknowable, but we seem to work very hard to live there. My friend Serdar explores this in an epic, poetic post at his blog that you should read and reread. We are only ever in this present moment, so any extrapolations on the future are phantasms, if well-directed ones. Our predictions are partial by definition.

This may sound troublesome, but it brings us to a lesson many a mystic has stated – we need to be more aware in this present moment. If you’ve ever practiced meditation for some time, you know that moment of being “here.” Those are the only times in our life we can act, the now.

If you give up on needing the future to be solid, then you can get to where you are. Too many times, we’re somewhere else than the only place we can be – living now.

But the future still vexes us. What can we do about the future, because we wish to have one. Indeed, if you are any kind of meditator, you’ve probably come to realize the only world we have is the one we make for all.

The answer to this, I have found by hard experience, is that we are best off setting goals for a future. Prediction is all well and good, but a prediction can be a trap for arrogance or fatalism.

Thus we can make decisions each there-moment to advance towards our goals. With the future we want in mind – however solid or vague – we can make progress with every second, every minute, every bit of awareness. You build the future in tiny increments of now.

This build-a-future-in-bits even keeps us aware of the now, the only moment we know.

It is with no irony I note this is one of the lessons of Agile philosophy and methodology. Agile approaches emphasize setting goals but knowing we face unknowns and changes. With our future goal in mind, we navigate bit by bit towards what we want, evolving both our approach and what we desire.

An excellent way to live – and perhaps the only one we can do with any sanity, humility, and responsibility.

Sure, it may sound strange to combine mysticism, the human condition, some Zen and Agile. Certainly, I hadn’t foreseen I would write something like this last week.

But as I noted, the future isn’t as easy as it seems.

Steven Savage

A Future Of Nows

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Being a writer, on the side or professionally, requires a lot of skills. A self-publisher wears many hats, but even authors with agents and support have to take on tasks other than writing. Of those many skills, one stands out as very important and easy to miss – Math.

People have widely differing reactions to hearing “we’re going to talk about math.” Trust me, it’s worth it whatever your response is – because math is used everywhere in an author’s work.

A writer’s growth requires math to be measured – and improved. Comparing word counts lets you determine if your typing speed is improving. Time taken to edit a document helps you determine if your grammar is improving. Becoming a better writer may mean being better at math.

But once you’re writing, math comes in again as you plot a schedule. How long will it take you to write this chapter for your pre-readers? How long until you need to get a cover from your artist? Scheduling is all math – often made more challenging with timezones, calculating dates, and the like.

As a book progresses, math once again comes to the fore. How fast are you working? What’s the percentage of a book done? Do you have to change your schedule or speed up your pace? Scheduling is math – but so is seeing how you’re doing.

When a book is done, there comes more math. How many pages is a book, and how does that affect cover size? What’s the ideal formatting with font sizes and margins? If you do self-publishing and don’t outsource formatting and the like, get out your calculator.

Finally, a book launches. It’s out and . . . here comes more math. You have to calculate if your ad spends are paying off. Evaluating book sales requires math, often with complex date-time calculations. Your newsletter opens and clicks need to be compared to past events – which means math.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? When I first realized I had to write this column, I was overwhelmed with the realization of just how much math my own publishing involved. I was so used to it I didn’t see it – until I wrote this.

If you like math like me, or don’t, this should be a helpful realization. Math is a skill you need to use in writing, and if your math skills are lacking you have a new motivation to improve them. Math makes a better author.

Steven Savage