Military Brainwashing: The Upside!

After having been in the Navy for about 14 years, I have a hard time differentiating what is military/Navy culture and what is common to everyone. Sometimes I mull over in my head saying certain things before I say them. I’m not sure if everyone will know what I’m talking about or not. Or if it’ll come off more abrasive than I intend. Common, cultural things you say and do in the military might not translate well to “fragile civilian sensibilities.”

(And when I say “cultural” I do mean that the Navy in itself has a culture, different from the Air Force or Army, but that the military as a whole has cultural norms different from civilian, etc. Every community has a culture of its own, though it may not be hugely different from a similar community next door. Your workplace has a culture. Your group of friends has its own culture, too. There are words and phrases that mean something to all of you that outsiders won’t understand. “Cultural” more often than not has absolutely nothing to do with skin color or religious dogma, just so we’re all on the same page.)

One aspect of Navy culture (and military in general) that stuck out of me recently is that of ownership. Very often, that thing is mine.

My guys are ready to go.”

“Did you finish the maintenance work on my antenna array?”

“That’s not how we do things in my Navy.”

I remember that being instilled in us as early as boot camp. The fifth-week recruits who were doing their service week by working in the galley, they’d say, “Watch my fire lane, there, shipmate!” and “Don’t touch my bright work, shipmate!” (Keeping us in line and keeping the polished metallic stuff shiny.) Five weeks into the Navy and they were already taking ownership of everything around them.

We learn it by mimicking those in charge of us. That’s part of your brainwashing. (And I’m not using that term to mean something negative here. Most military brainwashing is good for you.) Our RDCs (recruit division commanders) in boot camp took ownership of us and everything we came into contact with. The fifth-week recruits used that language three times a day when we were in the chow hall, so, five weeks later, we did too. And it wasn’t just a boot camp thing; that’s just where you first learn it. It’s a Navy thing. (And probably all military branches thing.)

You take ownership of things. If it’s yours, you care about it more. You take greater responsibility for it. You get it done and you treat it right.

That’s something I’d like to see more of in the civilian world. There is some of it, of course, but not enough. It’s not the same. It’s not part of our culture. Especially in America, where personal gain often gets the greater emphasis. I suppose there’s a lot of “that’s mine” or “I’m going to make that mine,” but it’s not in the same spirit…

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Sound familiar…?

jack

We’re getting hit by a blizzard here today that’ll lock me and the family inside together for a few a days while I try to get some writing done. Sound familiar…?

A New Years Resolution You Can Use!

new year clock before midnight

On New Years Eve night, as the clock on TV was counting down the last 10 seconds, along with everyone in the room, I had a terrible thought.

“This is all crap. Nature and the universe don’t give a damn about this arbitrary clock and random date we’ve picked. It means nothing. It’s the same as the midnight before and the midnight after. Why is everyone so excited?”

What a party pooper.

I didn’t voice that to my wife or guests, of course.

But then—much like the Grinch whose heart suddenly grew three sizes more—I had a revelation. I saw the spirit of it, the function, the purpose. Sure, the night sky and the seasons and the universe don’t notice what day we pick to celebrate our calendars turning over, but we can.

The benefit of the New Year is as much a renewal for us as the spring is to the world around us. (And spring is less predictable these days than it used to be. At least we know when to restart on the calendar!)

It really is our chance—and our choice—to start new. To drop all that weight and stressful burden we’ve been carrying and dragging around for the past year, let it crash to the floor, take two more steps away, and then turn and ponder. Get a good look. Say to ourselves, “Wow, no wonder I’ve been tired and my back’s been hurting! Look at all that shit I’ve piled up on myself!”

Pretty much all indie writers expect too much of themselves. And get frustrated when they don’t somehow manage to pull it all off.

But it’s not just writers. Everyone can think this way.

So we toss out last year’s calendar and hang a new one. A blank slate. A chance to reassess and set a new plan. Great!

Thus, the New Year’s Resolution.

And in having my epiphany, I went a little further: What is the main problem with the New Year’s Resolution?

The problem is, we don’t keep them, right? The gym fills up in January and is empty again by February.

But why?

I think one major factor is the scale.

Not the one you stand on and groan. It’s the proportion of your goals. They’re too big. We try planning for a year. A whole year! Who does that? And who can keep it up for that long?

Almost no one.

So my solution…

THE RULE OF 3

The solution is, you scale is back. You don’t set these big, lofty goals. You don’t load that big, heavy pack of shit back onto your shoulders and go right back to trudging up the mountain. Didn’t work last year, right? Why do it again?

Instead, you set smaller goals. Smaller time frames. And no more than three of them at a time.

For example, if you have today off and you make your list of things to do, how long does that list get? If you’re like me, there’s 8 to 12 items on there. And I know I’m not getting them all done. No way. But right after I say that out loud, I say, “Oh yeah, and fix the garage door. Add that on there, too.”

Not gonna happen.

As I look at my ever-increasing slate of writing activities and plans, I realize that I can’t swallow it all. There are so many items I’m putting on my plate, I’d choke.

How many pills can you take at a time? How many will get caught in your throat?

Rule of 3.

(Intentionally “3” not “three.” I know it should be spelled out. But seeing the digit tells me 3, no ands, ifs or buts.)

Put no more than three things on your list. If you find that you have to add more, then you need to scale back your time frame.

For example, I made my writing expectations list for the month of January. It had 3 items on it. Then 4. Then, oh yeah, number 5, gotta do that too.

Do I really need all five?

Well, over the course of the month, yeah, I kinda do. All those things really should get done. But five items on my list is a bit overwhelming and violates the Rule of 3.

Okay, then, what about the next 2 weeks? Half the month. Scale it back.

Hmmm… Yes, I can set goals for the next 2 weeks and keep it to just 3 items.

Great! So my goals are for two weeks only.

I’m not stressing myself out by thinking too far ahead. Nor by thinking too far back to all that heavy junk I was carrying last year and never quite finished. If I start throwing too much on my plate, I won’t be able to chew it all. I won’t even be able to wrap my mind around it all, I’ll get stressed out, and then give up. And, therefore, get none of it done.

The solution: Scale it back. Chunk it up into bite-sized hunks. Rule of 3.

So my plate, my slate, my timeframe is 2 weeks. Here is my very doable 3 things to get done and I have 14 days to do it. That I can handle. And when I do, then I’ll move on to the next set of tasks.

Bite-sized chunks.

Here’s another example we’re all thinking about:

You want to lose weight?

We all do! Seems impossible, though, right?

Let’s say you want to be 25 pounds lighter. That’s 2 pounds a month over the course of 2019. That should be doable. (Even if you want to lose more, start small. Accomplish the small steps before trying to tackle the big step. You can’t do the big one if you can’t do the small one, right?)

So I’d like to average a loss of two pounds per month. How do I do that?

Break that goal down further: What 3 things are you going to do to accomplish that. Measurable, simple, mark-off-your-checklist kind of things?

Well, first let’s scale it down to a manageable size. A week. What 3 things can I do this week to progress toward my goal?

I’m going to exercise in some form—be it walking, biking, yoga in the morning, or somehow actually dragging myself to the gym—three times a week.

For me, since I’ve already proven to myself that paying for a gym membership is just donating money to some corporate folks in better shape than I am, I’m not going to bother with that in 2019. Let’s face it: I’m not going to the damn gym! So I need to do something at home. At least until I establish a good habit that might then be translated to the gym or YMCA pool. If I can’t make myself workout for free, I’m not going to drive somewhere and pay for it every day.

In my house, we’re also bad about eating out, which almost always makes us fatter. So I’m going to make sure we actively cook supper 3 times a week. With leftovers, that should forcibly reduce the eating out.

And I’m going to set a drinking limit: I’m only allowed to have water, tea, and milk. Nothing else, except for special occasions, say once a week. (Not too hard for me, I don’t drink much beyond that anyway.)

And I’m going to plan on eating one protein and two vegetable servings every meal. And reduce my processed food and carbs to near nothing.

Oops, wait a minute. That’s four items.

  • Any form of exercise is better than none, 3 times a week.
  • Cook 3 times a week .
  • A 3-item drinking menu.
  • A 3-item eating menu.

(Notice I’ve really taken the “rule of 3” thing to the extreme on these threes!)

But that’s four items. Perhaps more than I will realistically do for myself. I should only tackle only 3 things at a time. So, even though they’re all good ideas, I’m going to cut the drinking thing. I pretty much do that anyway, no need to add it to a list.

Or, I could cut both of the last two bullets and say, “I’m going to drink 3 liters of good old-fashioned water every day.” (A nice, measurable goal.)

Notice I didn’t say “I’m going to weigh myself.” Actual weight loss has a lot of factors to it and that can fluctuate from day to day, no matter what habits I start. Your actual weight is not totally in your control. And weighing yourself too often can deal an unnecessary blow to your confidence. I suggest no more than once a month, or every two weeks if you just can’t stand it. But once a month is best.

Again, the number on that scale is not always accurate or controllable. It doesn’t always reflect all the positive changes I’m making, or as quickly as I’d like. But coming up with 3 items that I’m going to make sure I do within a defined time frame—that I can control.

And once I make those 3 items habit, routine, then the weight will start to come off. But not right away. In the beginning, I’m still bouncing back to my bad habits here and there. I shouldn’t expect big changes during that time.

In fact, maybe I should weigh myself now, and then not again until March! I’m giving myself a year anyway, right?

And reducing stress helps lose weight too. By having a simple, executable plan that you can realistically stick to, you’ll reduce your stress. And thereby, your weight.

Rule of 3. Whether you’re writing a novel or losing 10 pounds. Simple, doable, bite-sized chunks, and no more than 3 of them makes it easy to keep track.

I just thought I would share this one, true, obtainable New Year’s Resolution with you. I hope it does you as much good as it does me!

Ghost of Christmas Future

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“The thing that all men fear.”

I only recently understood this line from Scrooged! It isn’t future Christmases that are scary, it’s our ultimate future: death. Thus the reaper-looking ghost. Duh.

This third of three blog posts, however, is not about our ultimate demise. It’s about my hopes, dreams, and (most importantly) plans for 2019.

One thing going forward that I would like to do (if I can scrape together the time) is get to this blog more regularly! Like, once a week, at least, aiming for Fridays and/or Mondays as posting days. I also would certainly like to talk about more than what book or story is coming out, or happens to be on sale this month, or whatever! No one wants to hear only about “Why don’t you buy this?” all the damn time!

Unfortunately, in the chaotic maelstrom that has been my during 2018, I haven’t had much time for the casual, “So how’s tricks?” blog posts. During a typical day, I’ll come up with lots of little tidbits, reflections, and opinions I could share, but having immediate access and/or time to blog about them just isn’t happening.

(And whatever is happening in the really-real world probably takes priority over blogging anyway, right?)

So anyway, one hope/plan for 2019 to blog three or four times a month, maybe every Friday or Monday if possible. And to talk about more than just my own damn books.

Some blog topics I do expect to do are the writing discussions from my book Top Secret Codewords for Indie Writers. The whole thing started as blog posts anyway, so it’s only fitting to bring it back to that too. I can do a chapter a week, or a fragment of, in the case of longer chapters. There are about 15 chapters to the book, so that’ll take a while. Can’t do it right now, because it’s currently enrolled in KDP Select, which is Amazon’s 90-day exclusivity deal. I’m generally against the exclusivity thing, but I do sometimes experiment with it to see what happens.

Another topic I’d like to be able to share more about would be games, more specifically Warhammer 40K and Dungeons and Dragons. I barely get to play either one anymore, but I’d like to! And I’d like to make more time for not just playing, but talking about them in general.

To that end, another of my would-be New Year’s resolutions is to manage to paint one unit a month of 40K miniatures. Over the decades I’ve collected quite a few—too many, in fact! I have enough to field armies of Eldar, Crimson Fist Marines, Space Wolves, various colors of Chaos, Daemons, and a few odds and ends. And I’d like to try out just about every force in the 40K universe, just for fun! I’ll never get them all painted, unless Games Workshop all of a sudden decides to hire me on full-time just to see if I can do it. (Purely as a challenge—they’d never hire me for my painting skills.) But if I can get to a single unit a month—be that one hulking monster or a 10-man infantry squad—that might be a realistic goal. (Semi-realistic, anyway.)

So that’s another possible, don’t-quite-hold-me-to-it resolution: Get one unit of 40K models painted per month.

On the D&D side, it’s mostly talking about what I like about 5th edition, maybe updating my optional rule companion on the Dungeon Master’s Guild, the Fifth Edition Creative Companion. Although, I’m kind of waiting to update that after I write a fantasy book that’s literally been brewing for years, so that I can then include what would be their 5th Ed stats, too.

I also hope to read more in 2019. I’m probably not alone in that one, eh? I’ve read more in the last few months here than I did all year, and probably all last year. I’ve started reading before I go to sleep at night. That helps alot! I was also reading during my lunch while I worked at the busy, busy hospital. Needed the relaxation there. Eventually I’ll blog about what I’ve been reading, too.

And, of course, there’s the usual New Year’s fare: lose weight, get into shape, make more time for friends, make some friends, go to Mars, discover the cure for cancer, and other equally lofty and unlikely things.

The biggest focus for me, though, is more writing and more business of writing. Expand my penned library and build more of an actual business from it so that, one day, it might actually serve as my full-time job. Even if it allowed me to work a day job only part-time, I’d be good with that, too. But if you want writing to be a business, you have to know something about business! So I need to carve out time for that, too. I’m writing and making book covers and all the fun stuff. That’s getting done. But the harder side of things, the marketing, the accounting, the taxes, etc. All that… Not so much.

There are resources out there, indie writers more successful than myself who are lending a hand to (and making a big chunk of income from, btw) other writers.  I have been collecting lectures and videos and slideshows and tips and everything! (…pant, pant, breathe…) I just haven’t had the time to make use of them.

So next resolution: focus on business, as well as writing.

To which end, I also always reassess at the end of each year to see how I can streamline my operation. Remove clutter, reduce drag, you know. This year, I think that means cutting two sites that I’ve been publishing on. Neither of which produces jack for me anymore. (Or ever did.)

Now it could be argued that, since I’m already there, I should just leave everything up. The work that’s done there is done, just leave it be.

But they’re both still work. When I upgrade and update things, like with my whole superhero universe right now, I have to go back on and spend hours on those sites doing it too. And for what? No one ever buys anything there. No one even knows I’m there! It’s hours of work with no appreciable results. So…

Streamlining.

Okay, that brings me to the last section of Future, the best part: my writing plans for 2019.

Of course, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy and mine pretty much change monthly, if not weekly or even daily. But here’s the basic structure/idea I’ve got going forward right now:

In keeping with my “Donut Hole” codeword/philosophy, I have existing series started but not finished. Those need to keep running. But unless fans give me a reason to really dedicate my efforts to one series or another exclusively, I also have many more ideas that have been waiting years to finally reach the page.

So, going forward, my tentative plans are:

  • One Identity Crisis Universe (superhero) book. At least one. (Besides, Deus Ex Machina, which will land January 31st, technically a 2019 book.) I’m already about 10,000 words into Golden Age Heroes (Secret Origins: 3) and about 25,000 words into Twilight of the Gods (Identity Crisis: 3). TotG I literally started writing years ago. It’s going to be a long one, though. I once thought it might be two books instead of one, but I really want to keep it inside one cover right now.
  • One Cold Stars book. This is another long-view vision of a science fiction series. I envision six books, the first two of which have essentially been all short stories. Book 3, Ghosts of Chaucer, will include two novellas. Book 4, then, will be the first full-length novel. (Which I already wrote, back in 2003! Needs tweaking though.) The early books set up characters on their own paths across light-years of space, who, by Book 3, are drawn together into one big plotline. Books 5 and 6 will be way more focused on one galaxy-threatening story.
  • One or more miscellaneous, as time allows. As I said, I’ve got years’ worth of shit swirling around up in my noggin. 2019 will definitely see Green-Eyed Monster come out by spring, which is a collection of 9 or 10 short stories and novelettes. Those are all but ready right now. Beyond that, I could also write the first of my D&D-style fantasy books, start the long-awaited space pirate series, do my relatively new werewolf-space samurai trilogy (not as lame as it sounds, I promise!), or maybe my “strange noir” book. So many options, so little time!

Am I really going to write three or more books this year? With my crazy life?

It’s certainly possible. I generally aim for 10,000 words a month. (Unless I’m editing/revising a book at that time.)

And my doable, working stiff publishing goal is 80,000 words a year, which will already be covered when Deus Ex Machina lands in January. (Although a lot of indies might say, “That’s not enough,” they may not have as much on their plate as I do.)

So the pressure’s off, baby!

That gives me a year to have 80K ready for 2020. Easy breezy! (Though don’t worry—I have no intention of waiting until 2020.)

Okay, that’s it, folks. The end of my Christmas Ghosts. And the end of 2018!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, have a good Kwanzaa, celebrate the New Year, and I’ll see you on the other side of 2019!

(P.S. If you want to join up for the future, you can enlist on my Conspiracy Newsletter by clicking here… I’ll never spam you or abuse your info. I’m way too busy for that crap!)

Merry X-Mas, Emperor Palpatine

I am both excited and offended by recent developments in my life related to Star Wars.
Allow me to explain.
My son, who just turned eight via a Star Wars/Darth Vader-themed birthday party last week, has finally gotten into something cool. I mean, he had a brief relationship with the classic G.I. Joe cartoons about a year ago, but after I spent way too much on cool toys for him for Xmas via Ebay, Joe basically got his walking papers.
The chief factor responsible for getting him into Star Wars is the Battlefront video game we have.  I decided to go ahead and track down the original movies (the only ones I like) and expose him to Star Wars the correct way. We started with Empire, not only because it’s the best one, but the first movie is kinda boring. Plus, he’s really into the big AT-AT and AT-ST walkers.
Tonight we watched Jedi. Apparently, over the long years, I had forgotten just how great these movies were. I was never the big Star Wars nerd my friends were (except when I was 8 years old myself, maybe), but they really are great.
And then, at the very end, I got super offended.
I knew that crazy old man Lucas had gone back and messed with the masterpieces. But my tender sensitivities were deeply offended when the ghost of Anakin at the very end was that punk kid from the new movies! WTF??!!!  Damn you, George Lucas, you’ve ruined my childhood!
Well, maybe not ruined. But boy, am I sore…
jedi-meld

Ghost of Christmas Past

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Ah, the classic Dickensian Ghosts of Christmas: Past, Present, and Future. For my purposes, they will be depicted in their incarnations from my favorite Christmas movie, Scrooged.

What do they have to do with what I’m about to blog? I don’t know yet, I’m working on it… I just came up with this as a theme to fit what I want to say. Forcing my words to fit that theme is part of what writing is all about, right?

“Your assignment: write X.”

“Roger that. X on the way…”

What I’m really trying to talk about is the past, present, and future of my writing plans, the rollover of the new year, and the exciting news that’s happening now and how it relates to what’s past, present, and coming up.

(Yeah, that’s it! I knew that, somewhere in here, I knew what I was talking about!)

Which makes this the post about Christmas Past. And for the past several months, this guy has been driving…

scrooged-ghost-of-christmas-past

That should pretty much tell you all you need to know! But I’ll elaborate a little…

Okay, very little. ‘Cuz it’s depressing, confusing, and more than you really care about.

Basically, got out of the Navy in February, in and out of the Navy Reserve since then (active to inactive, actually), started a job, quit by Naval decree, got another one, went inactive reserve (so Naval decree has way less weight), went back to first job. So December 10th was me starting over yet again! At least it was the job I started back in February, so I am at least familiar. But it’s still starting anew.

So unstable life. Moved from Japan to Ohio, family still settling in and finding their places. My son’s been in three different schools this year.

Every step forward is followed by two steps back. You know that dance, right?

Despite all these real-world setbacks, I’ve still managed some progress in my writing world. My yearly goal for words published (not written, but actually published into the world) is 80,000 words. A novel by definition is 40K, though a typical one put out by the Big Five New York publishing mafia is about 80K. I’m going to fall short of that mark this year, but that’s okay! I allow myself some leeway given all the seismic shocks of our lives this past year. I’m lucky to have gotten anything published at all.

Here’s what I did get out there. Most of these are short stories or novelettes that were written before 2018. One book I did write this year. (Crammed it in in only 2 short months, in fact.) Plus, I have a short story coming out still in Weirdbook Magazine #41, hopefully before the year is out.

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And even though I fell short of the 80K goal, I’ll more than make up for it in 2019. I already have Deus Ex Machina set up on pre-order, which is 85,000 words by itself. BAM! My 2019 goal is already in the bag! And Green-Eyed Monster will soon follow, which is a collection of all these short stories above, plus several more. BAM! Overkill! And those are all already written! So 2019 will be a productive year.

But that’s a different ghost…

We’re talking 2018 right now. The yearly wrap-up.

For a while there I had decided to stop tracking my written word counts. This was likely one of my new 2018 streamlining goals about this time last year. About mid-way through the year, though, I decided to start tracking them again. My monthly, active writing goal is a comfortable 10,000 words per month. Given my chaotic and over-taxed life, that’s not bad. And even without writing new words every month in 2018, I still managed about 86,000—and that’s probably underestimating April and May when I wasn’t quite keeping track. You can’t publish 80K next year if you don’t write some this year, right? Well, even with riding the whirlwind and all, I still cranked out enough to ensure my current and future publishing goals. Not too shabby.

What I did not get enough of in 2018 was business savvy. Marketing knowledge. Cybernetic infrastructure. The administrative and business side of the indie writing biz. I hope to make more time for that very soon.

For now, given the tumultuous real-world events of 2018, I’m pretty damn happy with the way my writing/publishing year turned out. Which I couldn’t really say until right this minute! Because I, like all indie writers, am too impatient and too hard on myself. Which is why doing little recaps like this are good for me (us). Looking back and seeing that, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I mean, uh, Yes, Virginia, you did accomplish more than many aspiring writers this year, despite always cursing yourself as a failure. Therefore, No, Virginia, you’re not a piece of shit.

Good job.

Alrighty, that’s it for the Ghost of Christmas Past. Stay tuned. Expect the next ghost at the stroke of one… (This was the midnight ghost, ya know?)

Daily Disaster

Photo on 12-9-18 at 2.21 PM

This sums up my life right now.

After going to A LOT of trouble to get myself a snow blower (including having to pay way too much to rent a van to go pick it up), I tried to start it up to move it to the shed and… broke the damn cord.

I don’t blame the guy who sold it to me—no way he could have known that would happen. He’s a mechanic and agreed to fix it for 20 bucks. So add 20 to the mounting cost of the damn thing.

We better get a lot of snow this year…

On top of that, tried to change the light bulbs on the front outdoor lights. They were both broken inside and have come apart rather than unscrewed. So I’m screwed.

Bought two different items to address the safety issue of our fireplace, neither one has worked out. One didn’t fit, the other was missing parts.

So I’ve spent a lot of time going back and forth and getting nowhere. I’ve also gone back and forth a jobs. Starting my old teaching job AGAIN tomorrow. Long story on that one. And back and forth on Navy stuff too. You thought I was out of the Navy? So did I…

Those are just some of the reasons why this blog has been seriously neglected. I’d LIKE to blog about more than when I have a book on sale or coming out, but who has the time???

One of my planned resolutions for the new year is to do just that. Blog once a week, and at least 3 a month NOT be just about my books. I don’t want to just ram sales shit down everyone’s throats. I just don’t have time for pleasantries.

Speaking of which, more new book announcements on the way soon…

In the meantime, I hope everyone is making more real life progress than I am right now.

Cheers.