Author: Ben Y. Faroe

A Productive Hubris Towers Work Day

Last Thursday Bill and I took most of the day to work on a couple upcoming projects, including planning the overview of Hubris Towers Season 2. It was absolutely delightful – just the sort of day I hope will one day constitute my actual full-time job.

We spent the morning embroiled in a proof-of-concept of a project about which I am not yet able to say much, except that:

  1. The proof of concept definitely proved the concept. This project has legs. At this point I’m pretty confident that it will happen, and if/when it does, it’s going to be great.
  2. We had 2 nice-ish microphones and 3 computers of varying age and no combination of computer and mic worked. Tech. Fail. But the show must go on, and we found a way to do a thing anyway.

After that fiasco-slash-smashing-success, we went out and got yummy shawarma from a food cart and took a walk around a grassy park in the sun–a rather surprising amount of sun for a February day, really–and talked about our production schedule for Season 2.

Season 1 was eight episodes varying in length from about 12,500 words to over 20,000–I forget the exact numbers. We’ve decided to make Season 2 six episodes of roughly 20k each. That gives us room to develop a full story in each episode and keeps the production schedule from stretching out too long.

We talked about a couple refinements to our process, too: mainly getting me a full clean outline before I start writing (instead of overlapping Bill’s outlining and my writing, as we often did in Season 1) and alerting Bill sooner when I start to diverge from his outline (as will happen from time to time) so that he can account for the changes as he continues to plot.

In the afternoon we retired to my basement headquarters to schedule details and talk plot in broad strokes. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so without going into too much detail I’ll just say that the compact high-rise golf course mentioned late in Season 1 makes a reappearance, we have some great character arcs in store, and both of us laughed and laughed as we talked it out.

Parallel parking schematic

Now there is some science, my friends. This is what I’ve been waiting for someone to show me my whole life.

Of course, in Baltimore we sometimes have to parallel park on the other side of the road, too, which puts a new spin on your quark, so to speak. But still. A solid grasp of the fundamentals is key.

Trying the Don Roos Kitchen Timer system

This week I’m trying out a new system of setting and tracking writing goals. More of a philosophy, in a way.

I think it’s called the kitchen timer system, as espoused and/or created by Don Roos, which I learned about because my wife was reading Lauren Graham’s book, which lays it out, and she showed it to me.

The basic idea is that each day you set a time goal for the next day, and you spend that much time with only two things in front of you: your journal and your work-in-progress (hereinafter WIP).

Turn off your Wi-Fi, turn your phone face-down and ignore it, don’t watch or listen to anything except music without words, and start to write.

You have two options. You can either work on your WIP, or, whenever you want and without recrimination, you can write about anything at all in your journal. When you get bored of journaling, you can go back to your WIP. When you get stuck on your WIP, you can go back to your journal. You can even sit and stare at your journal and/or WIP without writing if you want, as long as you don’t switch to anything else.

If you put in the time goal you set for yourself, you win. Simple as that.

Even more canny, if you don’t hit your time goal–and this is critical–you just move on. Take it as a sign that your goal wasn’t very realistic and set a shorter one for tomorrow. DO NOT set an even bigger goal to “make up for it” tomorrow.

It’s kind of genius.

In my experience, it’s almost impossible to journal or freewrite for a very long time at all without getting down to the roots of whatever emotional/intellectual/creative issues have me stuck or preoccupied. It’s also very hard, having gotten down to said issues, to journal or freewrite about them for very long without some sort of useful resolution or reframe emerging. And once my issues are resolved, I generally find the WIP writing easy and fun, even addictive.

This system is also great because it defuses the psychological risk inherent in high-stakes and/or high-intensity creative writing goals, especially those framed in functionally less actionable terms. If my goal is to write 1,000 words on my WIP, I’ll finish that in somewhere between half an hour and never, especially because the implicit goal is to write 1,000 good words, preferably 1,000 brilliant words.

Usually, if I can’t think of words that seem sufficiently brilliant, I’ll sit and think harder. More realistically, if I can’t think of words that seem sufficiently brilliant, I’ll play a dumb game on my phone or turn on a sitcom. Or both. (I’m a terrible person.) This method invites me, when I can’t find brilliant words, to just write whatever words, which I can always do.

That keeps me writing, trends toward resolution (and, eventually, a return to brilliance), and gives me a controllable win. All I have to do is stay there and not open any other things until my time’s up. Unlike being brilliant, that’s something I can simply decide to do, and my brain gets a lot more excited when I make the win about a concrete decision, not an unpredictable flash of insight (much less a thousand of them in a row).

Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of GodThe Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I keep coming back to. You always think a book like this is just going to be boring and religious and helpful in a vegetables kind of way, but this one’s about a clumsy monk who worked in the clangabang monastery kitchens with everyone shouting for this and that, and still found such a simple pleasure in being with God in the middle of it that the set prayer times were at best no better and at worst a bit of a redundant bother.

The language is old-fashioned and may be a slog for some–he lived centuries ago, after all–but this is a delightfully refreshing reminder that we can keep going back to God any time, and that, religious systems and mystical complications aside, in the end it all comes down to doing everything out of love for (and in love with) God.

There are effective and ineffective ways to go about this, of course, and it’s mentioned several times that it took Brother Lawrence ten years of steady practice before it became totally natural, but as one who has at least occasionally experienced, like him, the need to “take measures” to cover up how gleefully overwhelmed I am by the nearness and kindness of God lest I start to freak the people around me out, I can attest that it’s going to be worth it.

If I could add one book to the Bible, this would be it. For real. Check it out.

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Review: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My LifeHow to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this book is a little scattered both in format and subject material, it has some very helpful ideas about reframing your approach to life in ways that are likely to maximize your chances of success overall and your happiness even in the meantime.

Some of my big takeaways:

  • Arrange your life around processes, not goals. As you learn to routinize patterns that increase your energy level, skills, human connection, risk tolerance, etc. you’ll continually increase your chances of success while rarely having to power through big lifestyle changes on sheer willpower.
  • Learn to think of failure as a resource, not an outcome. Select and arrange your endeavors in a way that will result in useful gain even if the endeavor fails. This will free you up to try lots of things, fail freely, and in the process keep gaining new skills, connections, experience, etc., increasing the likelihood of success on future endeavors.
  • Best starting point is caring for your body. Energy levels (used kind of loosely to mean a mix of physical energy, optimism, and drive) are a linchpin to unlocking your capacity in most other areas. Learning to eat right (in enjoyable therefore sustainable patterns) will increase your tendency toward (enjoying therefore maintaining habits of) physical activity and fitness, which will tend to improve your mood, likeability, creative/productive capacity, and more, which will make it more likely that you will feel happy, try interesting things, enjoy and be enjoyed by other people, etc.
  • Tips and tricks. Some helpful specifics on conversational skills, developing sustainably healthy diet and exercise patterns, and more.

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Book Review: The Dream World Collective, by Ben Y. Faroe

“…if you like interesting personalities, hidden depths, deep emotions, determined artists, and hilarious dialog, this is the book for you.”

Check out the full review below!

The Page Turner

: The Dream World Collective: A NovelThe Dream World Collective: A Novel by Ben Y. Faroe

  • Paperback: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Clickworks Press (December 13, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1943383138
  • ISBN-13: 978-1943383139
  • My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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    Just how much “relaxing” do I really need?

    I’ve been thinking about rest lately. Having a fitful 4-month-old will do that.

    Strangely, what got me thinking wasn’t the many sleepless nights. It was when we collectively conked out one Saturday and did pretty much nothing but family movies, Wii games, convenience foods, and (finally!) solid naps for everyone, including the grown-ups.

    And it was good to veg out and all, but really it wasn’t that good. By the end I felt more sluggish than energized, even though it was all the “relaxation” I could cram into one day. Instead it brought into focus a question that has been bugging me for a while now: Just how much “relaxing” do I really need?

    Put differently, when do I expect that I’m going to put down my phone and actually do all the life-giving but effort-requiring things I’m remembering I love but rarely do these days? Will I ever touch Latin again? Write good theology? Read actual books like a gentleman?

    There’s some part of me that assumes that once I rest up and feel a little less zombie-ish I’ll start digging in on those things. And that’s probably kind of true, at least for the ones I already do sometimes, but really what’s going to make the difference is better free time routines. I want to stop being someone who defaults to smartphone-poking-while-“watching”-Netflix in my free moments.

    A few early discoveries on this path:

    • Most of the entertainment I consume doesn’t particularly rejuvenate me. Books are probably the exception, for whatever reason.
    • Constant stimulation isn’t necessary. It’s rare for me to be without a book or a show or a background podcast these days, and I’m finding just sitting quietly is actually quite nice. Boredom isn’t as scary as I thought.
    • Walks are brilliant. This one I’ve known all along. It’s fresh air and low-key exercise and, if you’re with someone, good company and a chance to talk. I’m trying to take a walk or two a day, and it’s lovely. Sitting on the porch reading a book for 20 minutes is also remarkably refreshing.
    • Walks and quiet time also help me figure out what I actually want to do (and when and how). Figuring this out is (unsurprisingly, in retrospect) a key step in the transition from vague aspirations to real life changes.
    • Finishing looming background tasks is more restful than avoiding them, even if they’re scary and ambiguous. We faced a couple big complicated tasks head-on (after weeks to months avoiding) and, while they made for a tricky weekend each, we feel so much relief and freedom now that in my book it’s totally worth it.

    One way I’m applying that last one, incidentally, is to shorten my books-in-progress list. I’m generally in the middle of, say, eight books at a time (which is probably not industry best practice anyway). Instead of a page of this and a page of that, I’ve started plowing through one book at a time (or one fiction and one non-fiction) until it’s done, and I’m now down to maybe four books in progress instead of eight or ten. It’s been surprisingly freeing. I hadn’t realized how much brainspace books-in-progress take.

    What about you? What have you found truly restful and life-giving?

    Cheers!

    –Ben