Strategies for writing and revising

One cluster of particularly good bits of advice that I got at Clarion came from James Patrick Kelly. (That link goes to my Clarion journal entry for the day I wrote about it.) Among other things, he suggested that we should:

  1. Save all our rewrites until after Clarion (as a way of carrying some of the energy of Clarion forward),
  2. Do the rewrites in order of salability (and perhaps not bother rewriting any that didn’t seem salable), and
  3. Write a new story for every story that we rewrote. (Otherwise we could easily find ourselves at the end of the summer with five or six nicely polished stories, but totally out of the habit of writing.)

More recently, having gotten several stories critiqued by the Incognitos, I decided to put that advice into practice again. I made a plan to start revising and submitting those stories, in between writing new ones. But I decided that I’d write one more new story before getting going on to revisions.

I made that plan rather longer ago than I’d like to admit, because for quite some time now I’ve had real trouble getting a new story finished.

After two or three attempts at new stories stalled, I should have just gone ahead and gotten going on a rewrite. But, no. Without really thinking about it, I just pushed ahead on a plan A, even though it wasn’t working. That wasted a lot of time, I’m afraid. It was also really frustrating.

But, good news: I’ve finally finished a new story! I’ve sent it out to the Incognitos, and it’ll be critiqued at the next meeting.

And now, finally, it’s time to look at the stories they’ve already critiqued, pick the most salable, and get to work revising it.

I am the 99%, and I am lucky

The crowd in West Side Park at the Occupy CU rally

I came out of college almost debt-free, because my parents paid for my education.

I got a job writing software. It was exactly what I wanted to do—the only thing I wanted to do as much as writing prose. I remember being glad that my manager didn’t know that I’d have worked for free, just to get access to the computers. (In 1981, computers were still expensive.)

I started my career right at the moment when software started to became important everywhere. Even though my degree was in economics, I had no trouble finding software jobs.

I got raises, because software went on becoming more important. Even when the companies I worked for fell on bad times, I found a new job without difficulty.

I saw things changing. After about 1990, jobs went away a lot quicker, and when they went away, they didn’t come back.

I was still okay, because software was still important.

I realized that software wasn’t going to remain special. I realized that millions of people around the world could write software just as well as I could. I realized that the ones in China and India could live a middle-class life on one-tenth the money I was earning. I realized that I couldn’t compete with them on price.

I figured I was safe for a while, but only because there were so many managers who were sure that an employee he couldn’t see working probably wasn’t working. But that wouldn’t last. Managers would adapt. And managers who couldn’t adapt would lose their jobs.

I started saving money. I could see that I wasn’t saving it fast enough, so I started living more frugally. That was a double win: Spending less left more money to save, and it also provided me with an existence proof that I could live on less.

I lost my job when Motorola closed its Champaign facility in August of 2007. By then, I had saved and invested a lot of money. Not enough to retire in any ordinary sense, but enough that I figured I could get by without a regular job.

I am a writer now. It’s exactly what I want to do.

I am very lucky. That’s not unusual; there are a lot of lucky people. What’s a little unusual is that I know just how lucky I’ve been.

I am the 99%.

Mentioned in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia!

I pick up a mention in the beta of the new on-line Science Fiction Encyclopedia, in the entry on Redstone Science Fiction:

“Like a Hawk in its Gyre” (February 2011 #9) by Philip Brewer delivers a soft but effective punch in portraying a future that’s not all it seems.

The story itself is available at Redstone: Like a Hawk in its Gyre.

An interesting variation on the patronage model

Ever since copying and storing bits became virtually free, there’s been a lot discussion about various ways “content creators” (writers, artists, musicians, etc.) might earn a living: per-copy sales, advertising, patronage, etc.

Felix Salmon’s recent piece on How the New Yorker monetizes old content is an interesting contribution to the discussion.

Apparently, the New Yorker is producing ebooks, drawing from their vast library of articles by great writers. The ebooks are paid for by a corporate sponsor, and then made available free to electronic subscribers and cheap to non-subscribers.

Now, on the one hand, having content paid for by selling advertising to sponsors is one of the standard models. But this is a little different. The things are cheap to produce (no printing costs) and cheap to market (free to subscribers, making them more willing to pay for their subscription). The New Yorker only needs to find one corporate sponsor—presumably a small task, compared to the regular job of their sales department.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see the model spread into speculative fiction. I can definitely see sf&f magazines finding sponsors willing to cover most of the cost of editing and the acquisition of reprint rights (all pretty cheap). Making the anthology ebooks free to the subscribers of their electronic editions would make the subscriptions more valuable, and making them available cheap for non-subscribers would be great advertising for both the magazine and the sponsor.

I’m always glad to see any new source of money for writers, and any new channel for getting old stories in front of new readers.

The Meadowbrook Jazz Walk

One of the unique events in Champaign-Urbana is the Jazz Walk. Bands (duos and small combos) are scattered across the sculpture garden at Meadowbrook Park, and you walk from one to the next. The result is a series of surprisingly intimate performances. You have each group almost to yourself, sharing one or two or three songs with a shifting mix of perhaps a dozen or so other pedestrians.

You can linger longer if you like, but the event only goes on for two hours, so if you spend too much time with one band it begins to eat into your time to spend with the others.

As a bonus, you get to enjoy the sculpture as well.

I liked all the music, even the groups that didn’t play exactly my sort of jazz had the sort of energy that makes a live performance worth attending.

It was a cool, cloudy evening, and was already getting a little dark for photography, but I thought my camera did pretty well—I got an adequate shot of each group, and a few pretty good ones.

Bluesnik performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Bluesnik
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg
Almost Anything performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Almost Anything
The Jazz Cycle performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
The Jazz Cycle
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim
New Orleans Jazz Machine performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
New Orleans Jazz Machine
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez
Peter and the Wolves performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Peter and the Wolves

2011 Harvest

Our 2011 harvest of peppers
Washing our pepper harvest

After Jackie broke her wrist, we quit going to the garden. She couldn’t do that sort of work at all, and I was so busy trying to do the bare minimum of my work plus the necessary fraction of the work she couldn’t do any more, anything extra had to be dropped. The garden was one thing we dropped.

Jackie’s nearly all better now. The splint has been off for several weeks. The hand therapist said she was doing well enough on her own and didn’t need formal physical therapy. (He gave her a bunch of exercises to do.) But we still didn’t go to the garden. It just seemed like it would be too depressing to see the remnants and imagine what our garden might have been.

And yet, we figured there’d probably be some stuff to harvest. We’d had a hot, dry summer, so we didn’t expect the tomatoes to have survived. And without us there to do the weeding, we figured the greens would have been overshadowed terribly by weeds. But the sage should have survived, and perhaps the peppers as well.

As it turns out, it wasn’t even quite that bad. Two of our cherry tomato plants did very well. And, as you see, the peppers produced in great profusion. We also got some sage, some swiss chard, and a some sunflowers.

Now I’m feeling a little silly that we didn’t get to the garden earlier. We’d certainly have gotten a lot more sunflowers—we could have had flowers steadily for all these weeks. We’d also have been able to eat the peppers steadily as they ripened, instead of getting a whole bunch at once that we’re going to have to preserve. But not very silly. We did about the best we could under the circumstances. To have gotten this much of a harvest despite doing no work since early July is kind of a bonus.

Investing for collapse

There’s a whole genre of collapse-oriented investment writing. I’m something of a connoisseur of the form. But one really needs to treat that sort of literature as pornography—interesting to read, if you’re into that sort of thing, but almost nothing in it is stuff you’d actually want to do.

There are two ways most collapse writers go wrong. One is to assume that keen insight into the nature of the problems we face will allow one to make a bunch of smart investment moves in advance—as if there were some advantage to being the richest guy standing in a post-apocalyptic world.

In his recent post Where Should I Put My Money Before Things Collapse? John Robb avoids that trap pretty well. He understands that the systemic nature of the problem makes attempts to align your investments with the underlying trends pointless:

Looking for a safe asset class today, is like a Soviet bureaucrat in 1989, sensing trouble ahead, looking for the directorate with the safest job.

The other is to assume that there will be a collapse event. Those writers seem to suggest that you can spend your time until collapse behaving much as you do now (with some occasional time off to stock your shelter and practice your marksmanship), and then spend the end times hiding out in your shelter. That’s wrong, because there’s no reason to assume that there will be a collapse event. It’s at least as likely that things’ll go on much as they have been, with occasional points where a bunch of people lose their jobs, yet another class of investments suddenly becomes worthless, and various things (such as food or fuel) spike up in price.

John Robb does pretty well avoiding that trap as well. He understands that the only sensible response is to find a lifestyle that works now, and that will continue to work as collapse proceeds.

Just as he indicates, the right responses to problems like peak oil, peak debt, climate change, environmental degradation, habitat loss, and so forth are going to be community-level responses. With that in mind, he’s putting his money into supporting efforts to create that community response and those communities.

Having said all that, four decades of reading collapse literature have convinced me that collapse happens slowly. Very slowly. Slowly enough that we’re going to need to go on investing in ordinary investments for quite some time to come.

It seems like it would make sense to want those investments to be informed by the societal problems that we face, but my experience has been that an understanding of the sources of impending collapse doesn’t lead to useful investment insights.

There are a lot of reasons. First, as I said, collapse happens slowly, meaning that shorter-term trends will end up dominating. Second, a lot of governmental power will be brought to bear in support of pre-collapse norms, meaning the sort of large profits that might be produced if your investments do align with the large trends are prone to being seized or taxed away. Third, the situation is intractably complex, meaning that even a clear understanding of several of the problems may yield predictions that end up being trumped by other problems—no one can say whether peak debt or peak oil will influence the course of the economy more strongly or more suddenly.

The upshot is that investing for collapse is as pointless as Robb points out; I merely disagree with his analogy. Rather than being like a Soviet bureaucrat in 1989, I figure it’s more like being CEO of a department store chain in 1969. There are still opportunities to get ahead following the old arrangements, but all the most powerful forces of society, human nature, and nature itself are arrayed against you. You’d be much better off charting an entirely new course—and Robb’s suggestions are good ones.

Dmitry Orlov and the iron triangle of House-Car-Job

I’ve already shared this on Google Reader (you can follow my shared items if you’re interested), but I wanted to blog it as well.

The always-interesting Dmitry Orlov is interviewed by Lindsay Curren in Transition Voice. As usual, Orlov is funny, but here he’s hitting on a lot of the same points that I like to hit on—that is, the points that I think are important—and is saying some really interesting stuff:

There’s this iron triangle of House-Car-Job, and the entire landscape is structured so you have to have all three or your life falls apart. People have to be creative in escaping from there.

He has a bit of advice (that I’m living right now): Retire immediately.

. . . make what ever adjustments are needed considering that you’re not going to have much of an income. Have a little bit of an income. But get rid of the mortgage, obviously. Get rid of the car.

He suggests that you shirk off for a couple of years and see where that takes you, then go back to work and earn enough to support the kind of lifestyle that you’ve already adjusted to.

A lot of people have, of necessity, already done this. But a lot have taken the opposite tack: they have abandoned any hope of every retiring. With their retirement savings destroyed and their kids unable to support themselves, they’re figuring that they’re going to have to keep working for years—maybe a decade or more—past what used to be retirement age. But that’s a crappy strategy. (For many reasons, but especially because it may well not be possible. There’s a good chance that your job will go away, even if it seems secure now. And there’s a good chance that your health won’t allow you to maintain your current pace, even if it’s holding up pretty well so far.) Orlov’s suggestion is a much better idea.

Check out the whole interview: No shirt, no shoes, no problem.