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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Learning About Yourself

Posted by Tim Stobbs on November 24, 2014

So far this month I’ve written more than I ever thought possible in a single month.  I’m currently at ~39,000 words on my novel.  Which for those that are curious that would be about 156 pages or 78 blog posts.  I really do think I will hit the 50,000 word goal by Nov 30.

Yet while finishing the first draft of my novel is a good thing to achieve from all this time I’ve been putting in, I’ve also learned more about myself than I thought possible.

When I started this challenge this month, I had this idea in my head of what kind of writer that I am.  I needed quiet to write, I needed to not be too tired, and I needed to somewhat interested in what I was writing.  I also thought I was a writer that worked best with a bit of plot developed and then make up the rest as I go.  I also tended to to write from the start to the end.

Now I have learned all of that was excuses.  Excusing to prevent myself from writing, excuses on how I thought I worked.  Now I know I can write just about anywhere at anytime in any mood including 10:30pm, when exhausted, with music blasting away in my ears with a scene I couldn’t care less about.

I also learned that it is ok to make stuff up as you go. Tangents are fine.  You may not use it, but it may turn into an important scene in the book.  But the most important lesson that I’ve learned as a writer is this: writing is not editing and vice versa.

For years I would read what I had previously written and edit instead of writing. Thus never actually finishing the book and editing the first chapter like seven times over.  Now I’ve finally learned to just shut down that part of my brain and just focus on writing for a while.  So it doesn’t matter if I have plot paradox (fix it later), different character hair colour (fix it later), change the family tree (fix it later), really crappy pacing (fix it later)…end of the world on the wrong day of the week (fix it later).

So yes I’ll have a tonne of editing work to do at the end of this month, but that’s ok because that is editing…not writing.

The other things I’ve learned about myself are:

  • I do very well with bar charts and daily writing goals to get something done.  Yes the pace of 1667 words a day is a bit high to do all the time, but ~1000 words are more reasonable.
  • I do well with some kind of writing support.  Just someone to talk to about it and help keep myself sane during the process.
  • Writing 2000 words is hard, but 200 is easy.  So I tend to write in little blocks of 200 words or so.  Then I do another 200…until you end up at 2000.
  • Just how much damn time I was wasting at month because of movies and Netflix…it’s mind blowing when I gave those up for the month to do this.

So of course I realized that if a person can write 1000 words a day 8o% of the time you can write 292,000 words a year…or one novel, one non-fiction book, a blog three times a week and a collection of short stories.  ALL of them in one year even with a full time job (granted they might not been edited yet, but you get the idea).

Yet the best thing of all about this month was this…for the first time in my adult life I feel utter no guilt about my writing.  I used to have a constant feeling in my mind that I should be working on writing, but not do it.  This month I haven’t felt that at all and it is the best feeling in the world.

In the end, I now know I don’t have to save $500,000 to be a writer.  I can do that today and right now but just writing…shockingly obvious I know, but I can say I really didn’t fully understand that until this month.

So what have you done that taught you a lot about yourself?  Did it change your view of the world?  If so, how?

The Afforable Home Upgrades

Posted by Tim Stobbs on August 18, 2014

Sorry for the lack of posts last week I’ve been up to my eyeballs in projects around the house.  The major one is my wife’s long awaited cork flooring has arrived so I was doing a small test run on installing it in the front entry.  That way I’m ready for the much bigger project of installing the cork floor in her kitchen.  We also decided to buy enough material to do the same flooring in the back hallway and laundry room.  So while the material wasn’t that cheap ~$1900, it will cover a large area so it should make the house a fair bit more enjoyable once I finish all the installs.  Here is what it looks like so far.

Cork in Front Entry

Yet that wasn’t the only project I was working on.  The other project was completed in a single day for a cost of a mere $155, which is the main subject of this post.  It consisted of rescuing our backyard plant bed from the weeds and putting down two yards of mulch to suppress the weeds from coming back.  I recently learned I previous wasn’t putting down the mulch thick enough to do a good job of weed suppression.  I last time put down perhaps two inches of mulch when in fact 4 or more inches is required.  I learned the hard way on that one here is the before and afterwards pics.

Before

Before

After

After

But that project was the perfect example that home improvement doesn’t in fact have to be expensive.  Unfortunately due to media brainwashing everyone tend to think of major improvement like redoing a kitchen when in fact there are a entire class of projects that can make a home more enjoyable which can be done on a limited budget.  The trick to find something that largely requires time to complete it, but you have the skills to do the work yourself and the material costs are low.

So as I already mentioned, mulch is a damn cheap material to work with. So it can be used under trees, in beds to keep down weeds and also look a bit nice looking.  Other bulk materials like crusher dust can be used to create pathways or support patios and if you order is bulk is again fairly affordable.  Also ask friends and neighbours about splitting perennial that already exist in their yards like iris or day lilies. You can often create a nice bed of plants with a bit of labour and some patience.

Inside the house your best friend in the world is paint.  Per can it might be expensive (DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON PAINT YOU WILL REGRET IT – trust me I learned that also the hard way), but your coverage is fairly huge and it can make a big impact on a home.  This is by far the most common reno we do after buying a new property as we can often get a room done in a regular weekend.  Or if you can secure some help for a week it is possible to paint an entire small house in just a week.

Other project that can be affordable include change out light fixtures (as long as you don’t shop for a new chandelier), flooring projects (if you choose an affordable option and keep to a smaller area) and most projects that involve fabric if you know how to sew (new pillow covers or curtains).  Then if you are open to shopping around a bit you can also snag some excellent deals on materials, it just helps to have an open mind and not being bothered by buying other people’s leftovers.  I once got a great deal on oak hardwood just because the people in question decided to sell their house instead of finishing the flooring project they had started.

So in the end, don’t think you need to spend $20,000 to do a reno project to your house.  In fact, you can like make your house a lot nicer for a fraction of that cost as long as you don’t mind doing the work yourself.  Since I like learning new skills I rather enjoy that sort of thing myself.

What was your lowest cost project in your house?  Any other ideas on affordable renos?

Want More Time, Then Give It Away?

Posted by Tim Stobbs on April 12, 2013

So I’m currently taking an online course at Coursera.org on behavioral economics and last night I watched a lecture that has stuck in my head.  It was a guest lecture by Mike Norton from Harvard on money, time and happiness (a wee bit of an obvious hint on why I’m taking the class, eh?).

Now what struck me about his work was he first confirmed what I’ve know for a while.  Making more money doesn’t make people much happier (each additional amount has a declining increase to your happiness). That first job earning less than $10,000 feels really good, you feel a bit better when you get your first career job after university, but after a decade of work the next $10,000 is sort of what ever.  Yet he also commented that making more money tends to make people more selfish, which had not occured to me.  He argues when you win money what is the first thing you think about: what you can spend the money on, not giving it away or spending it on other people. Yet to combat this, they also ran some experiments that if you give money away or spend it on others you feel happier than if you spent it on yourself.

Interesting results, but what really blew my mind was the idea that exact same results apply to time as well. What the #@$?! How could spending your time on others make you more happy?  Won’t that cause you to feel ever more stressed about your time?  Apparently, what happens is if you spend either resource on others it causes you to feel a sense of abundance, so you feel better about your time even if you actually have less of it.

So while this sounds good, I want to actually try this out.  So here is my plan, from April 15 to May 15 I will spend more of my time and money on others.  To be exact I’ll put half of my spending cash or $100 towards spending on others and I will spend at least five hours a week on others.  I will then track my happiness daily on a five point scale and then sum of the results and present it back to you guys.  I’ll spend the next few days before that constructing a baseline of my current happiness.

Insane? Perhaps, but let’s field test this idea prior to writing off the idea either.  Anyone want to join me?