I think the first advice I ever got from a writer about writing was that I should write every day. It’s also probably the best advice. It’s certainly the most common. In any case, it’s advice that I accept.

Writing daily is good for many reasons.

First of all, it means that you’re making progress. That’s all it takes to eventually get to the end. If you write just one page—250 words—each day, then in less than a year you can write an 80,000 word novel.

Second, you’re making it a habit. I find it a habit that’s easy to keep, if I just do it. Even on the busiest days I can squeeze in a few minutes of writing. But once I decide that it’s okay to skip a day to handle some other major task or allow for some schedule conflict, I find that writing “almost” every day is a much easier habit to let go by the wayside.

Third (and this seems especially the case for writing a novel in particular), you’re inhabiting the world you’re writing about. As long as I’m writing every day, the characters remain fresh, their world remains alive, their situations remain immediate. If I wrote yesterday, I’m vastly more productive today than if there’s been an interruption.

I wrote a while back about the difference between writing every day and exercising every day, because I think they’re very different. Exercise is about stress followed by recovery. You can exercise every day, if you’re smart about making sure that each day’s exercise activities allow for recovery from the previous day’s exertions. In running, alternate long runs with short runs. In lifting, alternate upper-body with lower-body.

It may be that reason number 2 (making it a habit) is a good enough reason to create an exercise schedule that allows for daily exercise, but I don’t think it’s important for creating a successful fitness regimen. It’s perfectly possible to get fit exercising just three or four days a week.

But I think reason number 2 is the least important reason why writing every day is important. Reason number 1 (making progress) is more important. It scarcely applies to fitness. (It’s not like you’re ever going to be done with fitness the way you can be done writing a novel.) And reason number 3 (inhabiting the world of your story) doesn’t even really have an analog in fitness.

This post was prompted by the recent post by my Clarion classmate Beth Adele Long, who has started a public effort to write a novel by writing daily.

But I’d already gotten myself back to daily writing some days ago: since January 21st, I’ve worked on my novel every day. Early on there was day that I only managed to get 41 words written, but I got those words and hundreds more each day since then. All together, I’ve written almost 8000 new words since getting back to daily writing—a tenth of a novel right there.

I’d written the first quarter of a novel some months ago (writing daily most of that time) and then stalled out when I discovered that the middle of the novel was terribly dull. I’ve spent the months since then figuring out where I’d gone wrong, and I don’t think I’m going to have to throw away much of what I wrote. I’ve got most of the already-written part whipped into shape and (I think) I’m ready to jump in on the next part and write the middle of an interesting novel.

So, one question is, if I hadn’t let the fact that I was writing a dull middle of a novel stop me a few months ago, would I be ahead now? After all, I could have written 165,000 words of dull middle in that much time—and very possibly I could have figured out where I’d gone awry sooner than I ended up figuring it out.

On the other hand, in that time I finished two short stories and got them out to markets.

So, I don’t have an answer there. But I am back at work on my novel, and I’m once again writing daily.

Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers WorkshopEvery year there’s a new Clarion class. Every year I’m a bit jealous of the new batch of students getting to study with the new batch of teachers.

There’s a little overlap this year—one of the anchor teachers, Kelly Link, was my instructor for week two. The others I haven’t studied with, but I’ve met some and read their work and would jump at the chance to study with them.

But you can’t go back to Clarion. (And, to be honest, you wouldn’t want to. Going to Clarion is a transformative experience, but that sort of transformation only happens once.)

I’ve written a good bit about my own experience at Clarion, besides keeping a daily journal while I was there. A year or two ago, I also wrote a series of posts on doing Clarion at home, if for one reason or another you couldn’t go.

But really, if you have a choice, it’d be much more fun to do Clarion at Clarion, if you possibly can. Head over to the Clarion site to apply.

In my ongoing search for a replacement for the sorely missed old Google Reader, I happened upon The Old Reader, which is pretty good. Good enough that I’ve moved my own reading and sharing activities over there, and updated the “Interesting stuff” item in my sidebar to point to the stuff I share out of the things I read via RSS.

It was the loss of an RSS feed of the stuff that I share that made me leave Google Reader, which was otherwise excellent. For a while I’d been using Tiny Tiny RSS, which was okay, but which put too much of a load on the server that my brother and I share. The Old Reader, although it’s not as quick about finding new items as they are posted, seems stable and functional.

If you’re interested in the stuff I share, feel free to follow that feed.

During the debt ceiling crisis back in 2011, I suggested that it would be no big deal if the government just “prioritized” spending so as to match revenues for however long it took Congress to get its act together and raise the debt ceiling. I got some push back on this by people who said I was crazy if I thought that much spending would suffice, but I never thought it would suffice—I was just sure that the result would be so onerous that Congress would knuckle under in no time. I figured that was what the Treasury secretly had in mind.

I’ve changed my mind.

It would have gone like this: The laws are contradictory—Congress sets the tax rates, Congress sets the spending levels, Congress sets the debt ceiling. The poor Treasury, simply doing the best it could in a no-win situation, would hold up pretty much all payments except interest on the debt, judges pay, soldiers pay, and social security. Once payments to major corporations in districts where recalcitrant Congressmen lived got held up, the stalemate would have ended pretty quickly.

I no longer think that’s what’s going to happen. Basically, I’ve come around the view that the Treasury meant what it said when it claimed that its hand were tied: It is legally required to spend the money the Congress has appropriated, whether the money is raised or not.

And I think there’s a solution.

Really, it’s the same solution as the “platinum coin” solution or the “issue scrip” solution, but those solutions are just gimmicks to put a pseudo-legalistic shine on what basically amounts to paying our bills by printing money.

I don’t think there’s any need for the gimmick. I think what the Treasury means to do once the headroom for keeping under the debt ceiling runs out is: Nothing. They’ll just go on writing checks exactly as they’ve been doing.

They’ll stop issuing new debt of course, so there’ll be no new money in their account at the Federal Reserve to pay the checks.

At which point, I’m reasonably sure, the Federal Reserve will just pay the checks anyway—which the Fed can easily do by just crediting the depositing bank’s account. (In other words, printing the money.)

Basically, the Fed would let the Treasury run an unlimited overdraft.

This works on several levels.

First of all, it doesn’t require any reprogramming or rejiggering of the Treasury’s numerous systems for making all the many payments they make every day. (No entity makes more payments than the US Treasury.) That’s good, because any attempt to do so would be problematic at best, and probably catastrophic in the short term.

Second, the people who are being most recalcitrant about raising the debt ceiling are the ones who would be most outraged. (I can just see them frothing at the mouth. Oh noes! Inflation!!1!)

Third, under the current circumstances, it would probably be good for the economy. I’ve pretty much come around to Paul Krugman’s analysis that at the zero bound there is no inflation risk to printing money. Even better, if it did produce some inflation, that might get us up off the zero bound. (I for one would be very pleased to be able to earn a return on my capital.)

A generation ago the Fed would have hated this—bankers used to hate overdrafts in the deepest depths of their bowels. But overdrafts have been so profitable for banks these past 20 years or so, I expect we have a whole generation of bankers who have gotten over it.

As to whether it’s really legal or not, that’s something for the courts to decide. The debt ceiling applies to debt “subject to the limit.” The Fed and the Treasury will just say that, while an overdraft is debt, it’s not debt “subject to the limit.” The debt ceiling will be resolved long before any court case plays out.

The Treasury never admitted to having any contingency plans last time. Their take on it was that not raising the debt ceiling was unthinkable, therefore they would not think about it. But this is the only thing I can think of that could actually play out without chaos. If they weren’t planning on doing this (or something much like it), they’d have done something by now (such as having a dry run of their scheme for prioritizing payments).

Last time, I figured we’d get an 11th hour deal. This time, I think it’s pretty likely that the debt ceiling won’t get raised, and I think the Treasury will actually end up doing this—so I thought I’d share my thinking in case people find it useful.

My feelings on footnotes are undoubtedly colored by my experience in 10th grade. That year we had to write a research paper and it had to have footnotes typed at the bottom of each page.

I thought that was crazy. Putting footnotes at the bottom of the page is not so bad if you’re setting type, but doing it on a typewriter is madness.

I mean, really! If you’re setting type, one step is the galley proof. At that stage, you have the body text set, and then you have the footnote set in type right after it—easy enough for the typesetter. The footnote only gets moved to the bottom of the page when you go to page proofs—at the stage when you know exactly how long both the text and the footnote have turned out to be.

Doing the same thing with a typewriter is really hard. (Impossible, really, even if you’re willing to type out two “final” drafts, because line and page lengths are non-determinant when typed by a human on a typewriter.) In any case, much too hard to be worth doing.

Typewriter are a good reason to do endnotes instead. Endnotes are inferior to footnotes, but on a typewriter they’re so much easier to do the tradeoff is worth it.

People were coming around to that point of view even back when I was in high school. But not quickly enough. I had to type my research paper with footnotes.

I am no longer bitter about this.

What I am bitter about, is that momentum for the move to endnotes continued to gather, and eventually carried the day. Which is also crazy, because the victory over footnotes finally arrived just when it was no longer needed—when word processors made footnotes trivially easy.

I mean, really! Footnotes are much better than endnotes, because they put the reference or the digression right there where you can see it. They were just hard to do with a typewriter.

If it’s just a reference, I don’t really care—footnotes, endnotes, or a parenthetical with author’s name, date, and page number. But if there’s any additional commentary in the footnote, it should be at the foot of the page. I can’t count how many books I’ve read where I didn’t notice until 40 pages in that all the really good stuff was buried in the endnotes. (Just as bad is cramming the digressions into the text.)

Why is this so hard? If you’re typing a text, you should switch to endnotes. If you’re not typing the text, you should use footnotes. If that’s not what your style manual says, you need a better style manual. Geez.

For the first time in far too long I finished a draft of a story and sent it out to the Incognitos and a couple other first readers.

The working title of this story is “the demon story” and it is special in that it is by far the oldest story still in my “active” folder. It has its roots in the very first story that I started working on when I started seriously trying to write fiction for the pro markets, back in the 1990s. I have versions of this story dating back to 1995.

It’s also unusual in that it’s the only story that I’ve finished a draft of and then neither submitted nor abandoned.

The usual advice—almost universal advice—is that you not endlessly rewrite the same story. You’re almost always ahead of the game to simply write the best story you can, finish it, start submitting it, and then go on to something new. At some point, if you can’t produce a submittable draft, your time is almost certainly better spent working on a story that you can finish.

For this story, I’ve made an exception. I like it too much to submit a version that doesn’t work.

However, I’m done with it for now. Hopefully, the critiques will tell me that it’s nearly working, and give me a few tips for improving it. If so, it’ll go out to editors very soon.

It was on my first trip to England that I came to understand that what we think of as formal wear, business attire, and sports clothing was originally designed to be the most comfortable possible clothing for the circumstances. The circumstances in this case being the climate, technology, and infrastructure of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Without central heat interiors were going to be chilly, but even if you were quite frugal with your wood or coal they would not have to be really cold.

Given those indoor circumstances, and given that you had to make do with wool, silk, linen, and cotton (because there were no synthetic fibers), you would quite naturally end up with just the sort of garments that we now think of as being part of formal wear—wool coats and vests, silk bands to wrap around your neck, and so on. Sport clothing, of course, was for the sort of sports the English aristocracy engaged in: riding and shooting. Tweed and leather were very practical.

It seems obvious now, but it was something of a revelation to me. When I was younger, I always thought of that sort of clothing as being uncomfortable.

Partially that’s because such clothing is only really comfortable if it really fits. You don’t need a bespoke suit for it to fit correctly; even today good men’s clothing is routinely altered to fit. But clothing purchased for a child will never fit for long (and often never fit at all, because the child knows neither how the garment is supposed to fit nor how to articulate any issues discovered during the fitting).

Perhaps more important, such clothing is only comfortable in the sort of very cool environment for which it was originally designed. If your interior temperatures are around 60°F, you will be more comfortable in a wool coat over a wool vest than you would be in shirtsleeves. At 70°F it will be the other way around.

My attitudes toward such things has also been influenced by Jackie’s work with fiber. In my youth, my experience with wool was that it was scratchy, uncomfortable stuff (totally aside from it being made into garments that didn’t fit and were wrong for the climate). Now I’ve learned about the many different kinds of wool—starting with merino, of course, but by no means ending there—that are not scratchy. Now I have wonderful vests and sweaters, made to fit, from premium materials.

Of course, the top layers are really the last thing to think about. Comfortable clothing begins with the base layer. There again, my experiences as a child turned me against a whole very useful category: long underwear. Any clothing that you’re going to put another layer of clothing on top of needs to fit exactly right. An outer layer that’s too loose can be tolerated. But a too-loose under layer is going to get bunched up and shifted away from where it needs to be: Intolerable.

The ill-fitting hand-me-down long underwear I got as a child turned me against a whole category of garments that doubtless have an important role to play in comfortable dressing. I’m only now, more than two decades after returning to the Midwest, beginning to accumulate items for an appropriate cold-weather base layer. (I’ve made do up to now by having a wide range of top-layer options: spring jackets, fall jackets, winter coats, parkas, my Alaska pipeline coat.)

As a young man, I think I’d have been perfectly happy to wear nothing but shorts and t-shirts, and simply crank up the heat to make up the difference. My attitude has changed. If I had the money, I’d be very pleased to get and wear wool coats and vests, silk cravats, smoking jackets, and the like. Not because of the fashion statement they’d make (which would be a rather silly statement, however much I’ve come to appreciate a fine tweed), but because they’d be very comfortable.

I didn’t sell any new stories in 2012, but I did have two reprint sales:

I’m a bit dissatisfied with my productivity of new fiction—I scarcely finished a story all year, although I worked on several, as well as on a novel. I will apply myself to both with renewed vigor in this new year. (The novel, in particular, although forward progress stalled out some months ago, is still attractive. That’s different from previous novel efforts, where I discovered structural problems that made them seem too flawed to be worth continuing.)

One member of the Incognitos moved away this year. That, together with the fact that none of us was quite as productive as in years past, has meant fewer meetings, especially in the second half of 2012. However, we’ve recently been in touch to work out plans for including the absent member via Skype, so we’re all set once we start getting stories finished again.

On the non-fiction front I did about as well as last year.

I had a guest post at Asta Lander’s Simply Living blog called Choosing Freedom, about the tradeoff of freedom for a high standard of living.

I was interviewed about my thoughts on personal finance and frugal living for both a podcast and a radio program, specifically:

One of my old Wise Bread posts was featured on the Soldierette blog.

I wrote 27 articles for Wise Bread. I’ve bolded a few where I thought I managed to say just what I was trying to say:

My brother has a stock response when anyone says anything about their dreams: “I had a dream in which other people’s dreams were interesting.”

For a brief time when I was in high school, I experimented with lucid dreaming, and turned out to have a knack for it. It’s fun enough, but it didn’t seem like much of an accomplishment. I occasionally still do it, when I happen to notice that I’m dreaming. Mostly I just say, “Huh, I’m dreaming. Cool. I wonder how this dream goes. . . .”

I remember my father discouraging any tracking or analysis of dreams. As I understood it at the time, he figured dreams were a side-effect of the brain doing its daily housekeeping, and that your brain could handle all that stuff perfectly well on its own. Paying attention was much more likely to cause problems than it was to do any good.

I did have one insight into brain function that came, if not dreaming exactly, from an experience when I was mostly asleep.

I was on the verge of awaking, and some parts of my brain wanted to stay asleep while other parts were ready to wake up. I was able to perceive the related negotiations, and was very startled when one part of my brain flat-out lied to another (falsely claiming it was Saturday, so there was no need to get up early).

I was not surprised to perceive my brain as a bunch of competing impulses that push me in various directions and then cobble together an after-the-fact justification that “I” “decided” to do whatever it was those impulses added up to. But the idea that some of those impulses were not above lying to others to get their way was a surprise to me. I was so surprised it woke me up, which I hope was a good lesson to it on the virtues of honest discourse.

I think I know why it has been so difficult to pass any sort of significant gun control legislation in the United States.

Most democracies in the world have gun control laws, which serves as an existence proof that it is possible, and yet in the US gun control has been very much a matter of x steps forward, y steps back (with what you see as the values for x and y very much depending on your political position).

You can point to “historical reasons” or “cultural reasons” for our unique situation, and you’d certainly be right, but I don’t think that serves as much of a guide to anyone who wants change (in either direction). Instead, whether you advocate or oppose gun control, think for a minute what it means to have gun control—or any kind of government control—in a democracy.

In a democracy, you’re going to end up with laws that are (to a first approximation) supported by a majority of the people. In fact, in the sort of representative democracy we have in the US, it’s very hard to get any substantive change in the law unless it’s supported by substantially more than a bare majority, because it’s so easy for a determined minority to delay or block changes.

What that says to me is that, in a democracy, changing the law has to begin with changing people’s opinions.

Trying to do things the other way around—by pushing for legislation in advance of majority support—leads to exactly what we’ve seen these past few decades:

  1. Laws that are ineffectual, because they are loaded up with compromises needed to cobble together a majority in the legislature.
  2. A stiffening of opposition to the legislation, because opponents feel their viewpoint has been ignored.

If you want to get something like this done, your best bet is to follow the model provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They wanted stiffer penalties and lower blood-alcohol limits, but their efforts in the legislator were initially quite ineffective. Where they were first influential was in changing public opinion.

In the early 1960s, drunk driving was something to be laughed at. Many a comedy bit was created around taking some guy so drunk he couldn’t stand up, pouring him into his car, and sending him off weaving down the road. They were funny. Watch those same sketches now and they’re appalling.

Once public opinion was changed, changing the laws was easy—because we live in a democracy.

There’s a second reason public opinion needs to change first: The police are  unable to enforce laws that aren’t broadly supported, except through police-state tactics.

If you have broad support—not just a majority, but a general consensus across society—then it’s easy to enforce laws. Few people break them. When they are broken, witness come forward to report the crimes. When people are prosecuted, juries convict and judges impose sentences as prescribed by law.

How would you enforce a gun law that was opposed by half the population?

It would be easy enough to enforce a law against open carry of a firearm, but enforcing a law against concealed carry would require the police to stop and frisk people on the street. (Of course, this happens already in certain neighborhoods. People who live in those neighborhoods are properly outraged, as are those who believe in freedom. But let it start happening in neighborhoods full of middle-class people—neighborhoods full of voters—and the laws would get changed back very quickly indeed. At least, I hope they would.)

It would be even harder to enforce a law against owning a firearm in your home. Even in the sorts of neighborhoods where people are routinely stopped and frisked, the police are not yet so bold as to enter and search people’s homes. But without that step, illegal guns would linger for decades. Indeed, for generations. And with that step, I suspect we’d see the law changed back very quickly: Many of the same people who support gun control would still object to the police-state tactics that would be necessary to impose a ban on guns.

And, lest I be accused of arguing against a straw man, on the grounds that “no one” is arguing for a ban (just reasonable regulation), I’d like to point out that the enforcement problem is the same.

I suppose the intermediate step that gun control advocates anticipate would be laws that regulate gun ownership, but with enforcement happening only when guns are discovered incidentally: If your house is searched for some other reason, then your illegal guns will be found and their presence will be used to pile on additional penalties. I most particularly object to that scenario, just as I object to all scenarios where ordinary people are required to keep their papers in order or face harsh penalties.

My main point here, though, is that seeking changes in the laws should always be a second step. First, seek a consensus in society that things should be different. Do that and it’s easy to change the law and easy to enforce it.