New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/24/site-issue-this-morning/

Site Issue This Morning

As some of you may have noted, there was an issue accessing this site beginning at around 8:45 am EDT. I checked with my host, GoDaddy, and they said it was a know issue and techs were working on the problem. While I was on the phone with them the site started to come back online. I imagine that it will be a little flaky for a while and then return to normal.

I wanted to apologize for the outage. I know that these things can be frustrating and I try to keep things well-maintained here to avoid these kinds of problems, but this one was out of my hands. If you’re curious as to what a site outage looks like in terms of the back end, here is a screen capture of the “real-time” Google Analytics data for the site before, during, and after the outage:

Site outage

I also wanted to mention that overall, GoDaddy has been a terrific hosting service. This is the first significant outage I’ve had in well over a year. The site was down today for approximately 25 minutes. If you do the math, that is an overall uptime of 99.99995%. I’d say that’s a pretty darn good uptime.

Once again, sorry for the outage, and as I mentioned, things might be a little flaky here for a while as they techs work to stabilize the servers.

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/23/how-i-automatically-capture-driving-data-from-my-automatic-link-in-a-google-spreadsheet/

How I Automatically Capture Driving Data From my @automatic Link in a Google Spreadsheet

I have been using the Automatic Link in my Kia Sorento since December. It is a good little device that plugs into your car’s data port and pulls out all kinds of interesting information about your driving habits. For a while, you needed the iPhone app to browse the data, and the data itself was not extractable in any easy way, but no longer.

A while back, the Automatic tracker became available on IFTTT, with a bunch of triggers that can be used in automation workflow. One of those triggers is when a new trip is completed. So I created a recipe in IFTTT that logs the data of each completed trip to a Google Spreadsheet. For now, it logs all of the data, even though I might not use all of it. The data is logged within 15 minutes of completing a “trip” (going from point a to point b and shutting of the engine). Here is a list of the data that gets collected in the spreadsheet:

  • Car
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Duration
  • Distance (miles)
  • Average MPG
  • Fuel volume consumed (gal)
  • Fuel cost (dollars)
  • Hard brake count1
  • Hard accel count2
  • Duration over 70 MPH (minutes)
  • Duration over 75 MPH (minutes)
  • Duration over 80 MPH (minutes)
  • Trip Map URL
  • Start Location Longitude
  • Start Location Latitude
  • Start Location Map URL
  • End Location Longitude
  • End Location Latitude
  • End Location Map URL

The spreadsheet looks something like this:

Automatic Link

The great thing about this is that, like the FitBit Flex or my Google Writing Tracker scripts, the data is collected automatically. This is, in my opinion, of critical importance for personal analytics, because any time you have to take for manual actions lessens the likelihood you’ll continue to collect the data. For this data, all I have to do is drive.

I only have a week of the data so far, but it has already confirmed what we already knew: we have an incredibly good commute to and from work. I live about 5 miles from the office (5.18 miles on the roads according to the Automatic Link). When we leave the house at 7:16 am (as we did yesterday), we arrive at my office at 7:28 for a total trip time of 13 minutes. (Kelly has to then catch the Yellow Line from my office to her office in the District.) Coming home. Our reverse commute in the evening takes 12 minutes, despite being right in the middle of rush hour.

There are a few things I am trying to tweak with the spreadsheet. One downside is that the data/time is entered as a text field instead of an actual date/time and that makes some charting difficult, but I’m working on some code that will convert this automatically. Then, once I have more data, producing some charts and plots similar to what I’ve done for writing and walking should be easy.

One thing I’ve learned from this that I’d never thought much about before is the cost of our commuting into the office. Looking at the fuel consumption of our commute and Automatic’s estimated fuel costs, our commute costs us $1.85/day. That amounts to $9.25/week, or assuming we work 48 weeks out of the year, $444 in fuel costs commuting to-and-from work each year.

That number is actually high because there are days when we both work from home, but I suppose the number wouldn’t be less than $400/year.

I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this data once I have more of it to make it more meaningful.

Notes

  1. The tracker detects when you brake too hard as part of its system for analyzing fuel consumption performance.
  2. The tracker detects when you accelerate at a rate that burns fuel in a less-than-optimal way.
New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/22/going-paperless-creating-and-sharing-household-instructions-using-evernote/

Going Paperless: Creating and Sharing Household Instructions Using Evernote

Ican remember back when television remote controls were these big brown boxes push buttons that popped down, and brown wires that wound their way back to the television like some kind of country snake. They were very easy to use. You had twenty buttons, each one representing a channel, and when you pushed the button, you got that channel.

They’ve only gotten more complex in the decades since that brown box. Regular readers know that if I have to do something more than once, I try to automate it. But remote controls flummox me1. And when we have guests, I used to have to give them a 3-part course on how to use the remote control for the big television in the family room. It was a good course, and at the end they received a certificate of completion. But there was a problem. On any subsequent visit, I’d have to repeat the course because all of the information was lost.

Our guests would look at me sheepishly and say, “How do I turn on the TV?”

So I decided to come as close as I could to automating this process. I documented the instructions in Evernote, and then share them with guests when they arrive. Here’s how I did it.

Documenting household instructions

Step 1: Snap a photo of the remote control

Our family room TV is controlled via 2 remotes, one for the television/cable box, and the other for the BluRay player. The first thing I did was snap photos of each of the remote controls.

I put the remote control against a white background before I snapped the photo because I knew that I was going to be marking up the photo and the white background would help the markup to stand out.

Step 2: Mark up the photos using Skitch

One I had my photos, I used Skitch to mark them up. I tried to highlight only those elements that a guest would need to use when trying to watch television, or play a BluRay disc. Here’s what the marked up photo of my cable remote looks like:

Cable Remote

Step 3: Write the instructions

With the marked-up photos, I created a new note in Evernote and began writing up simple instructions for using the television. I included only the minimum instructions I could manage and kept it as simple as possible. My instructions included:

  • How to turn on the TV
  • How to turn off the TV
  • How to get the Guide and change the channels
  • How to switch to the BluRay player
  • How to switch back to the TV

I titled the note “TV Remote, Family Room” and filed in my Digital House notebook. I ran a pilot test of the instructions with some guests we had and then refined the parts that were confusing.

Sharing household instructions

With the TV remote instructions complete and tested, all that’s left to do is share them. Evernote makes this pretty easy. I do this in two ways. The first thing I did was to paste a link to the instructions on the back of the remote control:

  1. Go to the note in Evernote
  2. Click the Share menu
    Evernote Share Menu
  3. Select the “Copy Note URL to Clipboard” option. This gives you the long URL for the link to the note in Evernote. Anyone with this link can access the note.
  4. I use bit.ly to create a short link to the note.
  5. I created a small label with the following text that I then taped to the back of the remote control:

TV Instructions: http://bit.ly/jtr_remote

This makes it easy to tell our guests where they can find the instruction. Of course, I can also easily email them the instructions:

  1. Go to the note in Evernote
  2. Click the Share menu
  3. Select the Send By Email… option.

If you are curious to see what my instructions look like, you can find them here.

Beyond remote controls

Obviously, creating and sharing household instructions works for more than just the TV remote control. There are countless ways that this can be used, from how to set the thermostat, to instructions for connecting to your home wireless network2.

Over the weekend, I fixed the wiring on our doorbell, and in the process, realized that the labeling of our circuit-breaker wasn’t particularly detailed, or good. So I snapped a photo of the circuit breaker, and then marked it up using Skitch to clearly indicate which breaker corresponded to what outlets and functions in the house. I included a floor plan of the house and color-coded the markups to correspond with the parts of the house affected. Now, if I need to shut down the power to any part of the house, all I have to do is glance at my note in Evernote to know which breaker to kill.

Oh, and inside the door of the circuit breaker, I taped a QR code that, when scanned, opens up my circuit breaker note in Evernote.


In case you missed it, last week I created a /r/goingpaperless subreddit on Reddit for all of your Redditors out there. It contains links to all of these Going Paperless posts, as well as other links of interest, and you can post your own links there.  Feel free to head over and check it out, if you use Reddit. You can find it in at /r/goingpaperless.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Ask Me Anything about Going Paperless, Using Evernote, or Automation.

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Notes

  1. I know that there are newer “universal remotes” that purport to do everything, but none of them are up to my standards of usability.
  2. Of course, for this, a person would need some other form of Internet access first, unless you decide to, eek! print the instructions on paper.
New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/21/baseballs-all-star-game/

Baseball’s All-Star Game

I‘ve always had a quirky relationship with baseball’s All-Star game. It’s premise is to bring together the best players from both leagues (the “all stars”) to play a game against one another. From 1935 – 1946, the team managers selected the players who would be all-stars. From 1947 and on (for the most part) fans selected most of the players. The problem becomes obvious pretty quickly. Popular players, good overall, but perhaps not the best performers of the current season, get picked because they are popular players. This can lead to a game in which popular players play while lesser known players are excluded.

This does not mean the popular players aren’t also All-Star quality players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that lesser-known players are not All-Star quality. The game is called the “All Star” game, implying that all of the “stars” will plays. Stars, by definition, are popular players.

Growing up, however, I always felt (intuited, perhaps) that the All Star games contained the best performing players. I remember with a great deal of pride the first time I made my Little League All-Star team. I think I was playing for Scungio Oil in the Appanaugh Little League in Warwick, Rhode Island. I played first base, and I made the All Star team. It felt great to be considered good enough to make the team.

But, looking back on it, maybe everyone made the all-star team. My memory isn’t good enough to recall this clearly. Maybe I somehow simply intuited that the best players make the all-star team, and that being part of the team meant I was one of the best players. But being a “star” does not necessarily imply quality.

What surprises me most of all is that the statistics that form the foundation of modern baseball are good enough to make selections to the team an objective no-brainer. I’m not even talking about old school stats like batting average and ERA. I’m talking about newer stats like runs created or runs saved or wins above replacement. It should be fairly straight-forward for someone with the knowledge to generate two teams, an American League team and a National League team, based on an amalgam of advanced baseball stats that indicate who the best players really are. It would be interest to see such a list compared to fan picks.

In some respects, baseball is lucky. There are objective measures that can be used to judge relative quality, performance, value added (or taken away) in just about every area of the game. It is far more difficult in other areas, where the relationship between popularity and quality is less certain, and for which no real objective measure are available to make comparisons.

Sure, fans stuff the ballots for the All Star games, and big market teams are better represented than smaller market teams. But I have to constantly remind myself that it is not the players I come to see at the All Star game. It’s their performance together that I enjoy, and I enjoy it regardless of who happens to be on the field. Can this particular infield combination work well together? What happens when you have two league leading hitters in the #4 and #5 spots in your lineup? I can’t speak for all fans of baseball, but I certainly feel that performance trumps personality . And so while I occasionally grumble at the system in place to select baseball’s All-Stars, I still tend to marvel at the performance when the players hit the field.

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/21/writing-by-the-week/

Writing By the Week

Yesterday, I mentioned how I completed my first week on the second draft of my novel, and provided the number of words I produced for the week. It occurred to me that in the past, I’ve been reporting mostly daily word counts and trends, and never weekly, so this morning, I took a quick look at my data to see how things look at the week-level as opposed to the day level. Here is a plot of the words counts for every week I’ve been writing, going back to the week ending March 3, 2013:

Word Counts by Week

The red line represents my average over the last 59 weeks, a number that comes to about 5,800 words/week. As you can see, last week, I broke my overall average for the first time since back in January. Those 10-, 12, and 13,000 word weeks you see last summer was back when I was racing to finish the first draft of the novel.

I took one more quick slice of the data, plotting it as a histogram, and came up with the following:

Word Per Week Histogram

From this, you can see that I’ve written between 4,500 – 6,000 words on 21 different weeks. I’ve written between 6,000 and 7,500 words on 15 different weeks. There is only a single week where I’ve written less than 3,000 words, and three separate weeks, I’ve written more than 10,500 words.

There are some hard limits here. As I’ve mention before, my biggest obstruction is not a lack of ideas or will, but time. I only get about 45 minutes/day to write, on average. If I could slowly work that 45 minutes up to an average of 80 minutes, I could come close to 2,000 words/day (14,000 words/week). But it will take time to get there.

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/20/week-1-of-the-second-draft-of-the-novel/

Week 1 of the Second Draft of the Novel

Last Sunday, I finally got started on the second draft of the novel I wrote last year. Second drafts are complete rewrites for me. In the first draft, I tell myself the story, figure things out, and then completely rewrite it in the second draft, based on what I know. I try to make it into an interesting story for someone other than me. Often this is where the characters come to life and the story finds its voice.

I wrote 6,000 words last week, breaking 1,000 or more words on 4 of 7 days. The last time I had a week in which I wrote more than a 1,000 words/day four times was back in January. That said, I struggled. I think I was trying to find the right voice, and I ended up getting into my head, the way a pitcher can get into a hitter’s head when they think too much at the plate.

I flailed around quite a bit on Wednesday and Thursday and bombed on Friday. But I tried not to let that get me down too much. I took a deep breath, and spent much of Saturday allowing the story to play through the background of my day. Yesterday evening, I sat down to write, and got 1,500 words, and I think I found the right opening. I’m not certain, since I’ve flailed around quite a bit, but it was strong ending to a tough week.

And so, while I wrote 6,000 words, only 1,500 of those words are words that will (for now, anyway) stay in the second draft. This isn’t completely out of the ordinary for me. I tend do this in short stories as well, although not as much. I feel like I have a bit more of a command of that form than novels, but I’m learning as I go.

For week 2, I’d love to get 7,000 words, but I’ll be happy with whatever I get, as long as the story is taking shape, is interesting, and continues to move me.

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/19/more-things-before-10-am-than-dreamt-of-in-your-philosophy/

More Things Before 10 am Than Dreamt of In Your Philosophy

I am mostly offline this weekend, Getting Things Done. I was up early this morning, even for a Saturday, even considering the kids who usually wake us by 6:30, so that I could get to Home Depot before it got crowded.

I picked up 10 bags of mulch, some Scotch Guard, and door bell wire. Came home, and put the new mulch down, then fixed the wiring for the doorbell, which has been broken for over a year. Then Scotch-Guarded the new sofa. All successful, all before 10 am.

Kelly and I left the kids with their grandparents (who are in town for a visit) and went to the store to shop for Easter dinner. We decided to forgo the ham this year and instead got a nice salmon, some asparagus, mashed potatoes, some nice ciabatta. I’ll grill the salmon and asparagus tomorrow.

I cleaned up some stuff in the office, and I still have some writing to do later today, but I’d say that this has been a very productive day. I knocked for big things off my to-do list before 10 am, and that felt good.

While we stood and line at BJs, the nice couple in line ahead of us told us we could skip ahead as we had very few items.

“Aw, that’s okay,” I said, “we’re not in a rush. The grandparents are watching the kids, so this is a little break for us.”

Hope everyone else is having a great weekend!

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/17/going-paperless-is-now-on-reddit/

Going Paperless is Now on Reddit

For you redditors out there, as of today, there is now a Going Paperless subreddit which contains links to nearly all of my Going Paperless posts to date.  If you prefer that platform, or use it frequently, feel free to join the discussion there. You don’t have to, of course. Things will continue as normal here. I’m fairly new to Reddit and still finding my way around, but I think I’m beginning to get the hang of it and I’ll be monitoring the goingpaperless subreddit there, responding to comments, answering questions, and of course, adding links to new Going Paperless posts. In Reddit terminology, the subreddit is:

/r/goingpaperless

And as a reminder, this week you can ask me anything about Going Paperless. I’ve gotten quite a few good questions so far, and I’m happy to answer more if you have them. Head over to this post to ask your question, or see what questions have already been asked and answered.

New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/16/the-9-phases-i-went-through-to-become-a-writer/

The 9 Phases I Went Through to Become a Writer

I submitted my very first story back in early January 1993 and I have been submitting stories ever since. Back when I started, I wanted to believe that one day, I’d sell a story, but I didn’t quite dare to. It’s funny to look back over the path that persistence takes you through. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, if for no other reason, to show what I went through with the thought that others go through the same thing.

I’ve identified 9 distinct phases to the evolution of my writing career. They are not all equal in duration, and some of them overlap, but I went through all of them, and continue to go through some of them.

1. The Newbie (1993)

I decided that I wanted to be a writer, and that was enough. I was in my junior year of college and I told everyone around me, whether they wanted to hear it or not, that I was a writer. I wrote a dozen stories in rapid succession without knowing anything about how to tell a story. I wrote sex stories and sent them to Playboy thinking that is what the magazine published. I wrote science fiction stories and sent them to the science fiction magazines. I wrote a story about a cat and sent it to Cat Fancy.  I collected, with glee, my first rejection slips. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was writer, dammit.

The big lesson for me here: read the market guidelines! Otherwise you’re just wasting time (and in the early-mid 1990s, postage).

2. The Fanboy (1994-1996)

I read a lot of autobiographical work by my idols, and decided I was going to be just like them. When I was in my Piers Anthony phase and received a rejection, I took Piers Anthony’s attitude that the editor was an idiot. Moreover, I didn’t just want to be like my idols, I assumed I already was. If Isaac Asimov could write a good story in an hour and sell it two hours later, well, by God, so could I. After all, I had all of the experience of three or fours months. And I had the rejection letters to prove to anyone who asked that I was a Real Writer.

The big lesson for me here: I am not Isaac Asimov or Piers Anthony. I am me and I had to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses and not pretend others.

3. The Impressionist (1996-1997)

Have you ever had a friend who claimed to be a great impressionist, and who, after making such a claim, went on to do a Ronald Reagan impersonation that sounded exactly like your friend and nothing like Ronald Reagan? Well, I felt like I was the Rich Little of science fiction, and my favorite impression was Harlan Ellison. During this phase, every story that flowed from my pen was written in what I perceived to be the Voice of Harlan Ellison. This is incredibly painful and embarrassing to admit, for as you might imagine, my impression of Harlan’s writing was like that friend’s impression of Ronald Reagan. But when I finally burned through this phase, I turned the first major corner in my evolution as a writer. I’d gotten the newbie, the fanboy and the impressionist out of my system. I had become, in fact…

The big lesson for me here: Voice needs to emerge naturally in a story. If you try to fake it or imitate another writer’s voice, readers can tell.

4. The Beginner (1998-2002)

I deliberately began to set aside attempts to be like my heroes and write like my heroes and instead find my own voice. I also began to write stories that, at last, had distinct beginnings, middles, and endings. If only I could have started from here, but the truth is, I think I had to go through those first three phases, if for no other reason, to learn first hand how to do things the wrong way. It was during this phase that I received my first two personal rejection slips. The first came from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, back when she was editor of F&SF. The second came from Algis Budrys when he was editor of Tomorrow.

The big lesson for me here: Editors really do read what you submit. And they take the time to provide feedback on those submissions they feel warrant it.

5. The Student (1997-present)

I tried to learn everything I could, not just about writing, but about the genre that I loved so much, science fiction. I skimmed a few books on the subject of writing, but I’ve always been hesitate about how-to books when it comes to writing. My sense was (and generally, still is) that each person has to find their own way of doing things, and what works well for one person, may not work so well for another. But the education I got from my reading of the genre was invaluable. I read David Hartwell’s Age of Wonders and made a list of a dozen or more books he cited, fiction, to read. It was a real branching out for me and served to show the amazing things that could be done by talented writer.

It was around this time that I began to find the method that worked best for me when writing my own stories: know how the story will end before you start. My problem was the once I figured out the ending, I rarely deviated from that, even if the story wanted to take me in other directions. I continued to submit stories, although at a slower pace than before. I collected mostly form letter rejection slips, but an occasional personal rejection came in now and then.

The big lesson for me here: You don’t know it all, and you never will. Reading is just as important to being a writer as writing is.

6. The Rookie (2002-2007)

I’d written a pair of novelettes that I thought were pretty good, even taking into consideration the pitfalls I’d already encountered. I’d submitted them around to all of the major short fiction markets and they’d been roundly rejected. One of these, a story called “Shunting the Trolley,” I decided to retire. The other story, a fun somewhat Heinleinesque novelette called, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” I really liked and didn’t want to give up on. I decided to submit it to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine, which was relatively new at the time, having put out just 3 issue. I submitted the story and a year passed before I heard anything.

Meanwhile, I continued to write stories. Not frequently, but when I did write a story, it had what I thought was a solid structure. Also, I felt that I’d conquered the opening. I could write a lead-in hook that was as good as any out there. My problem was that often, the rest of the story simply didn’t live up to the opening hook.

Almost a year to the day after I submitted “Learned Astronomer,” I received an email from the editor of the magazine, Edmund Schubert, expressing interest in the story. We went back and forth through a round of revisions, and finally, he accepted the story. A few weeks later I received a contract, and a few weeks after that, I received my first check, $500, for something I had written in my spare time for the sheer pleasure of writing. The story was published in the July 2007 issue of the magazine. I was a professional writer, based on Stephen King’s definition of that term1

The big lesson for me here: Persistence and patience are two key virtues of being a writer.

7. The Broken Record (2007-2008)

When my kids do something I think is funny, and I laugh, they immediately try to replicate what they had just done in order to get me to laugh again. It is sometimes funny the second time, amusing the third time, and by the fourth and fifth time, I feel ready to move on, and only stick with them because I don’t want to upset them. Adults behave this way, too, sometimes, and I certainly did after that first story sale.

Several of the next stories I wrote were attempts to capture whatever magic had worked for “Learned Astronomer.” The problem was, I had little idea of what worked in that story in the first place. Edmund had said he loved the voice in that story, and so naturally, I wrote several stories in which I overcooked the voice. The strange thing for me is now, looking back on the list of titles I wrote in the wake of that first sale, while I remember the stories and while they were not as nearly as bad as the stories I wrote in the early phases of my development as a writer, I don’t remember sitting down and writing them.

I submitted more during this phase, but received a slew of rejections, most of them form letters, which admittedly stung because I thought that, having sold one story, I’d crossed some magic line. I even received rejections from IGMS, which felt like a big step backwards after making a sale there.

The big lesson for me here: There is no magic line, there is no secret to getting a story published. Like Stephen King says, you have to read a lot and write a lot, and learn as much as you can from your efforts.

8. The Journeyman (2008-2011)

With that first sale, however, came my formal entry into the science fiction community. I attended my first science fiction convention. I joined SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I joined a local writer’s group, and I began communicating online with other writers, almost all of whom eventually became my friends. I found mentors in this community, as well as people who burned with the same passion for writing and for science fiction as I did.

And I continued to write. I sold a story I had written years earlier to Apex Magazine and then, after 2 lengthy personal rejection slips from Stan Schmidt, sold a new story to Analog, which was like a dream come true for me. I was home with my little boy on the day I learned of that sale. He wasn’t feeling well. We were downstairs in the family room. I had my laptop on a table on one side of the room, and I’d been playing with him. I glanced at my email and saw the name Stan Schmidt in my inbox. I looked at the message which began, “Dear Mr. Rubin, I’m buying ‘Take One for the Road’ for Analog…” and I jumped up in the air screaming, and in the process, frightening the little man into tears.

The big lesson for me here: When an editor says that they like your writing and please submit again they really mean it. That is exactly what Stan said to me in those first two rejections slips, and clearly, he meant it.

9. The Writer (2012-present)

I’d say that it really wasn’t until early 2013 that I crossed the threshold into the “Writer” phase. It was then that I began to write every single day. Indeed, since late February 2013, I’ve written 411 of the last 413 days. There are only two days in that time when I didn’t write anything, and I had pretty good (although not great) excuses each time.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel during that time, and then I went on to write 3 new stories, one of which sold 4 hours after I submitted it. I wrote and sold four pieces of nonfiction. I wrote a regular book review column for InterGalactic Medicine Show. I found beta-readers in the community willing to read my stories and provide useful feedback, and I do the same for them. I volunteered for SFWA, acting as this years Nebula Awards Commissioner. I sold a story to an original anthology, had a story reprinted, and had an audio version of my first story produced.

But mostly, I write every single day. I have a schedule in mind for each of my writing projects, and I have evolved a process that works very good for me and helps me to produce the best possible story that I can manage.

I still receive rejections slips, although I will admit that it has been a while since I’ve received a form letter rejection. Rejection slips always sting, but these days, I have enough experience to try to learn from every rejection I receive. And perhaps most important, I feel like I’ve earned the title, “Writer.” I worked for 22 years to get to this point, and have the scars and victories to show for it. There are plenty of writers out there who did it a lot more quickly (and probably more easily) than I did, but we all start out with different levels of talent and determination. I had little of the former but a lot of the latter.

The big lesson here for me: I can’t say, yet. I’m still relatively new to this phase. Ask me again in a year or two.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

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Notes

  1. King has written that if you’ve written a story, submitted the story, had the story accepted and received a check for the story which you were able to cash and use to pay your heating oil bill, then by God, you’re a pro.
New Post has been published on Jamie Todd Rubin

New Post has been published on http://www.jamierubin.net/2014/04/16/the-9-phases-i-went-through-to-become-a-writer/

The 9 Phases I Went Through to Become a Writer

I submitted my very first story back in early January 1993 and I have been submitting stories ever since. Back when I started, I wanted to believe that one day, I’d sell a story, but I didn’t quite dare to. It’s funny to look back over the path that persistence takes you through. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, if for no other reason, to show what I went through with the thought that others go through the same thing.

I’ve identified 9 distinct phases to the evolution of my writing career. They are not all equal in duration, and some of them overlap, but I went through all of them, and continue to go through some of them.

1. The Newbie (1993)

I decided that I wanted to be a writer, and that was enough. I was in my junior year of college and I told everyone around me, whether they wanted to hear it or not, that I was a writer. I wrote a dozen stories in rapid succession without knowing anything about how to tell a story. I wrote sex stories and sent them to Playboy thinking that is what the magazine published. I wrote science fiction stories and sent them to the science fiction magazines. I wrote a story about a cat and sent it to Cat Fancy.  I collected, with glee, my first rejection slips. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was writer, dammit.

The big lesson for me here: read the market guidelines! Otherwise you’re just wasting time (and in the early-mid 1990s, postage).

2. The Fanboy (1994-1996)

I read a lot of autobiographical work by my idols, and decided I was going to be just like them. When I was in my Piers Anthony phase and received a rejection, I took Piers Anthony’s attitude that the editor was an idiot. Moreover, I didn’t just want to be like my idols, I assumed I already was. If Isaac Asimov could write a good story in an hour and sell it two hours later, well, by God, so could I. After all, I had all of the experience of three or fours months. And I had the rejection letters to prove to anyone who asked that I was a Real Writer.

The big lesson for me here: I am not Isaac Asimov or Piers Anthony. I am me and I had to figure out my own strengths and weaknesses and not pretend others.

3. The Impressionist (1996-1997)

Have you ever had a friend who claimed to be a great impressionist, and who, after making such a claim, went on to do a Ronald Reagan impersonation that sounded exactly like your friend and nothing like Ronald Reagan? Well, I felt like I was the Rich Little of science fiction, and my favorite impression was Harlan Ellison. During this phase, every story that flowed from my pen was written in what I perceived to be the Voice of Harlan Ellison. This is incredibly painful and embarrassing to admit, for as you might imagine, my impression of Harlan’s writing was like that friend’s impression of Ronald Reagan. But when I finally burned through this phase, I turned the first major corner in my evolution as a writer. I’d gotten the newbie, the fanboy and the impressionist out of my system. I had become, in fact…

The big lesson for me here: Voice needs to emerge naturally in a story. If you try to fake it or imitate another writer’s voice, readers can tell.

4. The Beginner (1998-2002)

I deliberately began to set aside attempts to be like my heroes and write like my heroes and instead find my own voice. I also began to write stories that, at last, had distinct beginnings, middles, and endings. If only I could have started from here, but the truth is, I think I had to go through those first three phases, if for no other reason, to learn first hand how to do things the wrong way. It was during this phase that I received my first two personal rejection slips. The first came from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, back when she was editor of F&SF. The second came from Algis Budrys when he was editor of Tomorrow.

The big lesson for me here: Editors really do read what you submit. And they take the time to provide feedback on those submissions they feel warrant it.

5. The Student (1997-present)

I tried to learn everything I could, not just about writing, but about the genre that I loved so much, science fiction. I skimmed a few books on the subject of writing, but I’ve always been hesitate about how-to books when it comes to writing. My sense was (and generally, still is) that each person has to find their own way of doing things, and what works well for one person, may not work so well for another. But the education I got from my reading of the genre was invaluable. I read David Hartwell’s Age of Wonders and made a list of a dozen or more books he cited, fiction, to read. It was a real branching out for me and served to show the amazing things that could be done by talented writer.

It was around this time that I began to find the method that worked best for me when writing my own stories: know how the story will end before you start. My problem was the once I figured out the ending, I rarely deviated from that, even if the story wanted to take me in other directions. I continued to submit stories, although at a slower pace than before. I collected mostly form letter rejection slips, but an occasional personal rejection came in now and then.

The big lesson for me here: You don’t know it all, and you never will. Reading is just as important to being a writer as writing is.

6. The Rookie (2002-2007)

I’d written a pair of novelettes that I thought were pretty good, even taking into consideration the pitfalls I’d already encountered. I’d submitted them around to all of the major short fiction markets and they’d been roundly rejected. One of these, a story called “Shunting the Trolley,” I decided to retire. The other story, a fun somewhat Heinleinesque novelette called, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” I really liked and didn’t want to give up on. I decided to submit it to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine, which was relatively new at the time, having put out just 3 issue. I submitted the story and a year passed before I heard anything.

Meanwhile, I continued to write stories. Not frequently, but when I did write a story, it had what I thought was a solid structure. Also, I felt that I’d conquered the opening. I could write a lead-in hook that was as good as any out there. My problem was that often, the rest of the story simply didn’t live up to the opening hook.

Almost a year to the day after I submitted “Learned Astronomer,” I received an email from the editor of the magazine, Edmund Schubert, expressing interest in the story. We went back and forth through a round of revisions, and finally, he accepted the story. A few weeks later I received a contract, and a few weeks after that, I received my first check, $500, for something I had written in my spare time for the sheer pleasure of writing. The story was published in the July 2007 issue of the magazine. I was a professional writer, based on Stephen King’s definition of that term1

The big lesson for me here: Persistence and patience are two key virtues of being a writer.

7. The Broken Record (2007-2008)

When my kids do something I think is funny, and I laugh, they immediately try to replicate what they had just done in order to get me to laugh again. It is sometimes funny the second time, amusing the third time, and by the fourth and fifth time, I feel ready to move on, and only stick with them because I don’t want to upset them. Adults behave this way, too, sometimes, and I certainly did after that first story sale.

Several of the next stories I wrote were attempts to capture whatever magic had worked for “Learned Astronomer.” The problem was, I had little idea of what worked in that story in the first place. Edmund had said he loved the voice in that story, and so naturally, I wrote several stories in which I overcooked the voice. The strange thing for me is now, looking back on the list of titles I wrote in the wake of that first sale, while I remember the stories and while they were not as nearly as bad as the stories I wrote in the early phases of my development as a writer, I don’t remember sitting down and writing them.

I submitted more during this phase, but received a slew of rejections, most of them form letters, which admittedly stung because I thought that, having sold one story, I’d crossed some magic line. I even received rejections from IGMS, which felt like a big step backwards after making a sale there.

The big lesson for me here: There is no magic line, there is no secret to getting a story published. Like Stephen King says, you have to read a lot and write a lot, and learn as much as you can from your efforts.

8. The Journeyman (2008-2011)

With that first sale, however, came my formal entry into the science fiction community. I attended my first science fiction convention. I joined SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I joined a local writer’s group, and I began communicating online with other writers, almost all of whom eventually became my friends. I found mentors in this community, as well as people who burned with the same passion for writing and for science fiction as I did.

And I continued to write. I sold a story I had written years earlier to Apex Magazine and then, after 2 lengthy personal rejection slips from Stan Schmidt, sold a new story to Analog, which was like a dream come true for me. I was home with my little boy on the day I learned of that sale. He wasn’t feeling well. We were downstairs in the family room. I had my laptop on a table on one side of the room, and I’d been playing with him. I glanced at my email and saw the name Stan Schmidt in my inbox. I looked at the message which began, “Dear Mr. Rubin, I’m buying ‘Take One for the Road’ for Analog…” and I jumped up in the air screaming, and in the process, frightening the little man into tears.

The big lesson for me here: When an editor says that they like your writing and please submit again they really mean it. That is exactly what Stan said to me in those first two rejections slips, and clearly, he meant it.

9. The Writer (2012-present)

I’d say that it really wasn’t until early 2013 that I crossed the threshold into the “Writer” phase. It was then that I began to write every single day. Indeed, since late February 2013, I’ve written 411 of the last 413 days. There are only two days in that time when I didn’t write anything, and I had pretty good (although not great) excuses each time.

I wrote the first draft of my first novel during that time, and then I went on to write 3 new stories, one of which sold 4 hours after I submitted it. I wrote and sold four pieces of nonfiction. I wrote a regular book review column for InterGalactic Medicine Show. I found beta-readers in the community willing to read my stories and provide useful feedback, and I do the same for them. I volunteered for SFWA, acting as this years Nebula Awards Commissioner. I sold a story to an original anthology, had a story reprinted, and had an audio version of my first story produced.

But mostly, I write every single day. I have a schedule in mind for each of my writing projects, and I have evolved a process that works very good for me and helps me to produce the best possible story that I can manage.

I still receive rejections slips, although I will admit that it has been a while since I’ve received a form letter rejection. Rejection slips always sting, but these days, I have enough experience to try to learn from every rejection I receive. And perhaps most important, I feel like I’ve earned the title, “Writer.” I worked for 22 years to get to this point, and have the scars and victories to show for it. There are plenty of writers out there who did it a lot more quickly (and probably more easily) than I did, but we all start out with different levels of talent and determination. I had little of the former but a lot of the latter.

The big lesson here for me: I can’t say, yet. I’m still relatively new to this phase. Ask me again in a year or two.

Enjoy these posts? – Tell a friend

Recommending readers is one of the highest compliments you can pay to a writer. If you enjoy what you read here, or you find the posts useful, tell a friend! Find me online here:

Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Blog | RSS

Or use one of the share buttons below. Thanks for reading!

Notes

  1. King has written that if you’ve written a story, submitted the story, had the story accepted and received a check for the story which you were able to cash and use to pay your heating oil bill, then by God, you’re a pro.