The Nature of Magic (and the Magic of Nature)

It took me about three weeks to read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book Call Down the Hawkwhich should say something about how much free time I have these days—and I can’t stop thinking about how one of her characters described the nature of magic:

If you’ve ever looked into a fire and been unable to look away, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the mountains and found you’re not breathing, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the moon and felt tears in your eyes, it’s that. It’s the stuff between stars, the space between roots, the thing that makes electricity get up in the morning.

[…]

The opposite of magical is not ordinary. The opposite of magical is mankind.

Part of me wonders if this is a direct response to all of the readers (including me) who read The Raven Cycle and wished they lived in a world that had actual magic in it—not like Harry Potter do-a-spell magic, but mystical set-your-intention-and-see-what-responds, draw-a-Tarot-card-and-see-what-it-inspires magic.

But you can only see what responds and what inspires if you have time enough to look.

***

There’s this thing I’ve been trying to do lately, which is basically “no laptop after work,” and the nights I can pull it off are remarkable. The evening stretches into presence, whether it’s me and a group of people singing in a church or me with a book and a candle and a piece of jade in my left hand.

I let myself use my smartphone for podcasts and ebooks and streaming video (the latter because I don’t have a television) but try to stay away from email and social media and web browsers and all the rest of it—which is hard, because that means getting every little fiddly piece of modern life management done during my work breaks, whether I’m ordering groceries, depositing checks, or applying for health insurance (which I really really really need to do this week).

But, as you might have guessed from the fact that it took me three weeks to get through a 480-page book, I don’t get as many no-laptop evenings as I’d like. Sometimes I have to make the choice between “no laptop after work” or “no opportunity to draft MYSTERY BOOK today.” Sometimes it’s more like “if you do not complete your passport renewal application tonight, your passport will expire.”

Which, like, of course adult life has always been like that. I can remember my mother spending her evenings paying bills and balancing the checkbook. You either get those tasks done while you’re “on break” (which can mean feeling like you’ve gone eight hours without a break), or you fit them in after work and on the weekends.

But I don’t yet have the self-discipline to finish my passport renewal application without also deciding to check Feedly and The Washington Post and The New York Times (I have successfully broken the social media cycle, though I may have just substituted feeds and articles for social scrolling), and then the majority of my evening is gone.

And there’s been no magic in it.

Only mankind.

***

We’re coming up on the holidays followed by the fresh start of a new year, which means that I’m thinking about everything I’d like to reshape and recast and resolve and revise and make holy.

Earlier this year, I started doing shutdown rituals at the end of every workday, which really meant turning off email (though I could still use my laptop for literally everything else) and, once I got back from my after-work Les Mills class at the YMCA, lighting a candle.

Now, while there are still a few days left in the year, I’d like to start making a little more space for magic—which seems to mean making more space for nature (yes, plants and candles and baking bread all count as “indoor nature,” also, ask me about the three loaves of bread I’ve ruined in the past week) and more evenings with no laptop and no internet and nothing but the world in front of me.

And then, see what responds. ❤️

Maybe This Shouldn’t Be a Daily Blog…

So the other day I was writing about why I thought I probably wouldn’t finish the MYSTERY BOOK draft by the end of the year, and Vaxtyn commented that maybe I should take a blog sabbatical.

I don’t really want to take a blog sabbatical, but I really really like the idea of not blogging every day.

Seeeeeeee I originally intended this to be a daily blog full of rich insights into the art and the finances of a creative practice, and while I began the year writing these long, detailed posts about the work and the life being two separate things and how to earn money from your creative work, I have done a lot of shorter, splattier posts as of late.

HERE ARE SOME FEELINGS

IN ALL CAPS

And so on.

This isn’t exactly what I want for Nicole Dieker Dot Com, especially because my short blah-blogs are now interspersed with more substantive guest posts—and I can’t let the guests be the ones writing the best posts on the site!

Also, you know, because this is theoretically my professional portfolio. So it should look PRO FRESH.

(Also I gotta stop doing the all caps thing. It’s outdated internet language.)

Sooooooooooooooo what if, instead of trying to crank out a post a day no matter what, I only posted when I had something worth sharing?

This solves, like, five different stressors that I knew I’d have to address before the end of the year, specifically:

  1. What am I doing with this blog
  2. I need to drop three discrete writing assignments per week because I am OVERLOADED (and yes, this blog counts as an assignment)
  3. THE BOOK THE BOOK THE BOOK
  4. I want to do better blog posts, not more blog posts
  5. “Like, five” doesn’t have to mean “five,” this time it turned out to mean “four”

So. On to the book, then.

And more posting when I’ve got something substantive to say—which should be at least once a week, don’t worry.

Also, I’ll still do the weekly “here’s where I got published” posts, so you can read everything else I’ve been writing. ❤️

Another Novel-Writing Update, or “Why Did I Think I’d Be Able to Finish This Draft During the Holidays”

So… I am pretty sure I won’t finish MYSTERY BOOK by the end of the year.

First because I followed the Lee Child method of letting the characters tell me where they wanted to go next, which unlocked a new subplot (which is a good thing because I really wanted this book to be closer to 70K words than 50K).

Second because there have been several days in which I’ve chosen to prioritize rest over novel-writing—which actually means I’ve chosen to prioritize other stuff, like client assignments and filling in as a piano accompanist and doing community volunteer things, and then in the time left over I’ve chosen to prioritize rest.

Which, part of me is all “this is the time of year in which people are asked to do a bunch of extra stuff, and here you are doing it, and it’s good to be part of the community,” and the other part is “I have written so many Lifehacker posts about the ways in which our priorities reveal our values, so does that mean I don’t value my MYSTERY BOOK draft?”

And then I remind myself that it took nine months to draft the 90,000 words in The Biographies of Ordinary People Volume 1, and another nine months to draft the 90,000 words in The Biographies of Ordinary People Volume 2, and I’ve been working on MYSTERY BOOK since October 1 and I’ve already got 30K good words. (I had closer to 40K words at one point, and then I chucked a bunch of them out because they led the characters into a corner and then the characters stopped wanting to do things and then I had to open a new doc and paste in only the words I wanted to keep and memory wipe all of the corner-path words from my characters’ heads so they could start making choices again.)

So maybe now really is the time to prioritize holiday caroling at the community center, because MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR and etc.

But I’ve also got this January writing retreat hanging over me, and although the absolutely eminently sensible thing to do would be to WORK ON THE MYSTERY BOOK DURING THE RETREAT, since the whole point of the thing is to “dive deep into your creative work” and “focus on your manuscript,” the event ends with the opportunity to pitch a bunch of agents.

Which means I feel like I should be in a position to show them an entire finished draft, instead of saying “I’m still working on this.”

Except we’re also going to be workshopping our manuscripts during the retreat, so even if I had a complete draft I’d probably want to rework it after it went through the workshop process. I’m feeling a lot of confusion and stress about this whole “end the experience with an agent pitch” thing, and maybe I should just email the organizers and ask whether we’re supposed to pitch finished work or the stuff we’ve been workshopping for the past week.

I still feel like MYSTERY BOOK is the exact right project for me to be working on right now, because every day that I don’t get to jump into the draft is a huge bummer. (When I was writing that PORTAL FANTASY DISASTER, there was a point at which every day I managed to avoid working on the draft was a relief.)

But I’m pretty sure it won’t be done by the end of the year. ❤️

Three Quotes on the Way Your Life Changes as You Get Older

I have been 38 for a week and a day, and in the past week I read (or heard) these three quotes that—well, I agree with the first two full stop, and the third one makes me feel a little grody inside, but here they are:

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, age 34, in Vogue:

I think the first half of your life, you’re trying to find out who you are, and you’re kind of knocking yourself against things, and testing things the whole time, to help kind of sculpt yourself. Then later, when you’ve got as close to sculpted as possible, you’re like, Don’t touch anything, in case it changes me.

Maggie Stiefvater, age 37, in a Reddit AMA:

I hit the NYT list with my third book (Shiver), the second year of my career, and I had to completely rethink the way I thought of my life shape. Because it is a very different thing to KEEP success versus GAIN success. It’s an entirely more disagreeable thing, I think, because the opposite of KEEP is LOSE, unlike the opposite of GAIN, which is really just STRIVE, which you can do forever quite happily, I think, or at least I can.

John Green, age 42, in the Dear Hank and John podcast episode Crime Dentures:

One of the things I love about being 42 is that people are accusing me of being a Baby Boomer. It’s almost like all these things are made up, and what really happens is that as people get older, they seek to conserve the power that they have acquired or have had handed down to them, regardless of what the name of their generation is.

Remember how I wrote that adults don’t realize that adulthood includes specific developmental phases, just like childhood? This seems to be the phase I am currently in—for at least the first two quotes, anyway. I don’t feel quite as aligned with John Green’s quote about conserving the power I’ve acquired, though I am very conscious about the way I spend my time and my energy and my resources.

I mean, I don’t really want power—and I hope I don’t start wanting power when I turn 42, although the future is consistently unknowable. I want a balance of contentment and discovery and creative fire. I want a small, comfortable home and the opportunity to build friendships with good people. I want enough money that I’ll never have to be a telemarketer or live in a moldy apartment ever again.

I also want to visit every Disney park in the world, which is the kind of goal that can be achieved with budgeting and scheduling and patience, and I secretly want to create something extraordinary someday, though the majority of my work (including this current MYSTERY NOVEL) is about coming to terms with the idea that you can be creative and ambitious and interested in the world and still be, like, ordinary.

And now, because I’m in my late 30s and have spent the past two years becoming part of the Cedar Rapids community, I’m thinking about how to maintain the life I’ve built so far (which is very different than when I was younger and thinking about the life I’d like to have someday).

So that’s what I’m thinking about, a week and a day after turning 38—and it looks like I’m not the only one. ❤️

On Abstinence, Sense Memory, and Writing

So when I wrote that post about why I quit refined sugar (except for holidays), I ended it by noting that after having had a dessert on the day my parents were available to celebrate my birthday, I probably wouldn’t have another added-sugar-experience until Thanksgiving.

Then one of my relatives had a health emergency and my mom and I spent Saturday in the hospital, which meant that my mom didn’t go out of town that weekend like she’d planned, which meant that we re-celebrated my birthday on Monday.

This time I had a lot more refined sugar and a lot more refined flour, not to mention my first cup of coffee in a very very very long time. The restaurant we visited for lunch was serving a “sweet potato spice latte” with local sweet potatoes turned into some kind of in-house syrup plus locally-made marshmallows melted on top, and since it all sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime food experience (and I like supporting local stuff) I tried it.

Well… I had the worst sleep that night. Indigestion, up until 2 a.m., up again at 5:30 a.m. because I haven’t yet gotten used to the time change, and whether you want to blame the latte or the spinach-and-cream-cheese flatbread pizza or the candy I decided to buy because it was already going to be a “sugar day” so why not, I felt like total garbage the next day.

So bad, in fact, that I decided to take one of those “freelance sick days” where you do most of the work you’d do on an ordinary day except you do it on the couch under a blanket.

This experience only resolved me to go even harder on the no sugar thing (and the no coffee thing). Except… at this point in my life, I’m like:

  • No sugar (maybe not even for holidays)
  • No coffee (caffeine in tea is fine)
  • No alcohol
  • No meat (except in other people’s homes and occasionally at restaurants)

Plus, although I am very involved with community activities and see my family an average of every four days (according to my Exist app), I live alone and I don’t want to change that.

But the art I create, or at least the art I’m trying to create, isn’t just about happily single women who track everything they do and look for correlations between behavior and emotion.

So… like… at what point will my sense memories become outdated?

One of the main characters in the novel I’m currently drafting, for example, loves red licorice. She likes biting off the ends and putting the remaining licorice in her hot cocoa and drinking the cocoa through the licorice straw.

I’ve still got the memories of what it feels like to bite down on a piece of licorice that is almost too hard to gnaw through. The way it softens in the mouth, and the way it softens when you put it in a beverage. The way you have to let your cocoa cool down first before you drink it through the licorice straw, or it will burn your mouth. The way you can use the top end of the straw, the part that didn’t get immersed in the cocoa, to scrape the cup for any marshmallow bits leftover at the end.

BUT WHAT IF THE LICORICE PEOPLE CHANGE THE WAY LICORICE IS MADE

WHAT IF IT GETS SOFTER

WHAT IF THERE’S NO HOLE DOWN THE MIDDLE

WHAT IF NO ONE EATS THAT KIND OF LICORICE ANYMORE AND IT’S ALL PULL-APART RED VINES

I know I’m going to lose touch with youth culture as I get older, unless I actively work to keep track of which bands are still “cool” (I have no idea which bands are currently popular) and the way teens communicate online. I know that one of the biggest “tells” in YA writing is the whole “I’m seventeen but my favorite bands are from the 90s” thing—and I don’t really have to worry about that because I’m not writing YA, but I do wonder what my equivalent is.

Where I’ll lose touch, and where my writing will read like the memory of a memory.

***

When I go to the Catapult and William Morris Endeavor Writer’s Winter Break seminar in January, I want to focus my time on making my writing more sensory. My work tends to lean towards the “thoughts” end of “thoughts and feelings,” so I’m curious what might happen if I tried putting in more sensory detail.

Not that this kind of thing is totally absent from my work, of course:

Then she walked up the stairs, past the line of women waiting to use the restroom, and out the door. It was still light out, and still warm; a cluster of gnats hovered in front of the glowing church sign and the air felt like the city had just taken a shower. Easy for Larkin to forget that it was September, that everyone was back in school except for her.

But so much of my writing is observational/internal: 

Larkin had thought that the one good thing about having to move to Iowa and live with her mother was that she wouldn’t be surrounded by all of that anymore. She wouldn’t have to walk through a stage door or listen to people go on about schwa sounds. She wouldn’t have to feel too tall and too awkward next to people like Jessalyn who always got the spotlight and didn’t even have the decency to be a jerk about it. Larkin had been an assistant director in New York. She had spent the past six years studying and working in Los Angeles. She had assumed that in Iowa she would, at least, be the smartest person in the room.

Which is also the way I live my life, for better or for worse.

And I’m curious if my various abstinences will make it harder for me to add the additional sensory detail I’d like my work to include, or whether I can still draw from experience and imagination and memory like everybody else.

Or, you know, I could always just go buy a Twizzler and see if they changed it since I last ate one. ❤️

Why I Stopped Eating Refined Sugar

So it’s HALLOWEEN, which means that it’s time for me to write about how I stopped eating refined sugar.

Before I get into this, I want to clarify that everyone is doing their own food thing for their own reasons and I don’t mean to imply that you should also get off the sugar train. There was an article in The Atlantic just this morning about how refined sugar is one of the best ways to stay fueled during a marathon, for example.

Also, there are about a bazillion articles reminding parents that it’s okay to let their kids eat sugar tonight, even A LOT OF SUGAR, and perhaps we should not be so worried about every bite of food we put into our mouths and just ENJOY LIFE AND ITS CULTURAL TRADITIONS, OKAY?

Which is why my “no refined sugar” diet includes exceptions for holidays. 😉

That said, when my parents took me out to a birthday dinner last week (because they will be out of town on my actual birthday next Monday) and I had a culturally traditional birthday dessert, I could feel the sugar. In my heartrate and in the way I slept and all the rest of it.

It’s sort of like… okay, so when I started drinking alcohol, a single drink would get me all WOOOHOOOOOOOOO THIS IS WEIRD WHAT IS GOING ON, and then eventually it took three drinks to get to that same point, but after I took a break from alcohol for a while my tolerance went away and, the next time I had just one drink for culturally traditional reasons, it was back to spinning-head-maybe-puking-times.

So at this point it’s easier for me to just not do sugar. (Or alcohol.)

Or, at least, to ask myself: is the experience I will have now worth the experience I will have later?

BUT WAIT, I can hear you asking. WHY DID YOU STOP EATING REFINED SUGAR IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Three big reasons.

First, because a few people close to me have had serious health issues in the past few years (and I’m not going to share much more than that to respect their privacy), which meant that I started reading a lot of books about cancer and dementia.

There are a few common themes in those books, one of them being “look, both cancer and dementia are multifaceted diseases and there’s no magic pill to prevent them—but if you’re looking for controllable action items to lower your risk, we suggest avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, getting more sleep, exercising regularly, and eating less sugar.”

However, I was reading these books during a point in my life when I was eating more sugar than ever. I live across the street from a candy shop, so it would be, like, go to the emergency room, then go to the candy shop. Have a difficult conversation about shutting down The Billfold, then go to the candy shop. Anxiety-related insomnia? SOLVE THE NEXT DAY’S BRAIN FOG WITH CANDY.

So I started playing this game with myself where I would “reduce my sugar intake” by not purchasing any groceries that included refined sugar (which meant I was eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, etc. plus Huel) while still making my regular candy runs. I did the math and calculated that one pile of candy per week still averaged out to fewer grams of sugar than the average American eats during the week, so I was winning!

Until I started checking my Exist app. My weekly sugar binge—and it was often more than once per week, let me tell you—made all of my other metrics worse. Heartrate went up, sleep got more restless, I became less productive, I did less physical activity, and even my mood ratings plummeted (probably because I knew I’d just done this thing that had only made me feel good for a few minutes).

So I decided to give it up. No refined sugar, at all, except for holidays.

Here’s what changed:

I stopped peeing all the time. I used to joke that there was never a moment when I didn’t have to pee, at least a little. I would spend all day using the toilet every hour, and all night waking up every 90 minutes or so to pee, and I always thought that was just how I was, like as a human?

Nope. IT WAS THE DEMON SUGAR.

(Right now, it’s been three hours since I last went to the toilet and I do not currently need to use it.)

I started sleeping better. This is correlated to “not waking up every 90 minutes to pee” (these days, I wake up only once) but also, my sleep is less tossy-turny altogether.

My weight remained constant but my body fat dropped one percentage point. I didn’t get off sugar to lose weight, but I was curious whether I’d see any changes there.

I had to up the amount of healthy fat in my diet to prevent SUPER CONSTIPATION. When you go read stories from people who’ve done Whole 30, they’re all “but the constipation,” and one of the reasons I occasionally went to the candy store more than once per week (when I was trying to cut down on my candy visits) was because eating candy was a sure-fire way to, like, make sure I pooped the next day?

And then I remembered that a chocolate truffle was just cocoa and sugar mixed with a bunch of fat, and I asked myself whether I could solve this problem with olive oil instead.

(SPOILER ALERT: IT WORKED.)

Anyway, that is the long story of how I got myself off refined sugar. It is not a recommendation for you to do the same, unless you want to—because, ultimately, I think a little sugar is fine. But, like Gretchen Rubin (who also went sugar-free), I’m more of the abstainer type and it’s a lot easier for me to say “no sugar except for holidays” than to continually ask myself “is this a little, is this too much, will eating two chocolate truffles make me spend the rest of the afternoon thinking about whether I can justify four more truffles,” you get the idea.

And no, I won’t be eating any candy this Halloween even though it is a holiday. I had a sugary dessert last Saturday, and that’s enough to last until Thanksgiving. ❤️

On Writing for Yourself and Writing for Money

I don’t know if you read LitHub, but last week they reprinted a 2001 New York Observer essay titled “Will Write for Merlot: The NY Curse” under the headline The Media Went Crazy When I Made $20,000 in a Week For Writing.

The piece is by the late Glenn O’Brien (whom I know very little about, apart from this essay and his Wikipedia page), but apparently at one point the internet of 2001 was as eager to discuss the week he earned $20K as this year’s internet was to discuss that Taffy Brodesser-Akner earns $4 a word for some of her work.

During the week in question, O’Brien had been given the task of drafting all of the copy on a new ecommerce site:

Never mind that I actually wrote everything on the site in that week, edited all the automated responses, gave a charming voice to their animated “personal shopper” Miss Boo, who, by the way, had several top hairdressers flown in to redesign her cartoon hair. Never mind that the company had purchased warehouses full of time-critical merchandise for inventory. I don’t think it was mentioned that even after their way-delayed launch Boo.com was not accessible by Macintoshes.

So yes, if you asked me how much I would charge to write every word that appeared on a new website, $20,000 might seem fair. (Of course, it’s two decades later, so technically I should charge more.)

But that’s not why I wanted to share this piece with you.

This is why:

Perhaps the worst indignity for someone like myself, who writes poems and the occasional side of a bus, is when someone says, with all good intentions, “So, are you getting to do any writing for yourself?”

What is the answer? “I only write for the others.” “I’m writing for Christ.” I wonder if that’s what got to Andy Warhol when he was drawing shoes for I. Magnin? “Doing any drawing for yourself, Andy?” The genius was that Warhol did every ad like it was a painting for the Met (and maybe vice versa.)

We have to find a way to make people accept that working for food, even Beluga, does not invalidate one’s Parnassian credentials, that writers deserve luxuries too. Writing tag lines and care instructions or e-commerce caveats does not detract from my sonnets or essays. 

Now, I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. You might remember Michelle Song’s guest post from last week about how she can’t do corporate writing and personal writing at the same time:

“Just write in your free time,” they say. “Do both. Keep your day job and invest in your creative pursuits in the evenings and weekends,” they say. Right. Perform at a level that keeps you employed at a top consulting firm, at a job that squeezes the work and life out of you, and re-energize yourself afterwards to squeeze more blood out of the stone. 

And I had to get very very strategic about my schedule and my sleep and my meals and my energy in order to both keep up my freelance schedule and draft my mystery book (current word count: 20,488).

But if you’ve read my novel The Biographies of Ordinary People, you know my feelings on the “write for yourself” thing:

Then he asked the question. “Do you do any writing for yourself?”

“It’s all for me,” Meredith said, keeping her hands still and steady on the table and looking right into Travis’s eyes, forcing him to see the idiocy of his question.

“No, no,” Travis said, “I meant for fun.”

Meredith kept her gaze. “It’s all fun. I mean, there’s work in it, it’s not easy, but you don’t write three thousand words a day unless you love it. You don’t start a magazine.”

“I guess I meant”—and Travis looked like he could not decide whether to apologize or double down on whatever power he had hoped to command throughout the evening—“I meant fiction.”

“I write fiction for Effable,” Meredith said. “I’ve written fiction for a few other sites as well. I get paid for it.”

She also wrote diary entries, the occasional half-sentence scribbled across a notebook in the ten minutes before sleep just because she found the phrase beautiful, and the novel she was working on nearly every night, after the three thousand words. She wouldn’t be able to work on it tonight, because she had gone on this date. There wouldn’t be time.

It’s been a few years since I wrote that and it’s still all for me. I mean, it’s obviously for my clients, to their specifications, but my freelance business— and my decision to stay in this business—is for me.

It’s also for the reader, which is to say that I’m writing as performance instead of play, which might be why part of my meticulously crafted schedule includes time to bang on the piano or play puzzle games on Steam. That kind of stuff is for me in the sense that nobody sees it but myself (and, I guess, the people who keep track of Steam achievements). It’s for me to take and keep, not for me to shape and polish and give back to the world.

WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT is that what people mean when they ask “are you doing any writing for yourself?” Are they literally asking if we’re all doing writing that isn’t designed for any eyes besides our own? If we’re making time for play as well as performance?

I always assumed they were asking me whether I was writing fiction, because that’s supposed to be the “fun” kind of writing (spoiler alert: fiction is just as fun, and just as challenging, as writing a post for Lifehacker or Bankrate).

But maybe I misunderstood the question, all these years. ❤️

Time Is Shaped Like a Clock

So after I bought Crypt of the Necrodancer—which is apparently the theme of this week’s posts—I fired off this Twitter thread that ended with a video of me dance-padding while acknowledging that I am “definitely not the target market.”

Except… I totally am.

Or at least, I was.

I used to go to MAGFest, the annual music and games convention in Washington, DC. I gave the keynote speech at the first Rockage, a “celebration of retro music and indie gaming.” I was the project manager for the video game cover band Bad Dudes. I’ve had email conversations with some of the people who worked on the Crypt of the Necrodancer soundtrack.

But that was all a decade ago.

Time is feeling a little squirrely and circular right now—like, I just got this flyer advertising swing dancing lessons, which I’m probably going to do because I used to take swing dancing lessons, and I also used to do rock climbing and it looks like I’m going to get the chance to do that again fairly soon, and I just paid for a month of Hulu in order to watch the Looking for Alaska miniseries, and I’m reworking some of the songs from my singer-songwriter days so I can perform them for a new audience, and, like, IS IT 2010 AGAIN?

Part of me is wondering whether this recirculation of interests, for lack of a better term, happens to everybody.

The other part is wondering whether it’s happening to me because I’ve got extra disposable income right now (which was, coincidentally enough, also the case ten years ago) and—perhaps more importantly—because I do not have children.

Which means I can buy dance pads and pay for swing dancing lessons if I want to. I can indulge any interest that crosses my path, as long as it fits into both my schedule and YNAB.

I think I thought I wasn’t the target market for a rhythm-based dungeon crawler first because I’d never been into dungeon crawlers before and second because I was, like, turning 38 in two weeks? (I have decided the dance pad is my birthday present to myself. It just arrived a little early.) But then I read this NYT article that suggested that we feel as old as the group with which we identify, and I was like “okay, I wonder if that means I’m going to fall out of sync with my age peers in the next few years, or if there will be enough people like me for it to be a thing.”

I also think, while we’re on the subject, that it feels really weird for the Looking for Alaska miniseries to be set in 2005 and for none of the characters to have cell phones, because by then we were all T9 texting each other and using our cheapo candy bar phones to play snake. (If the story’s plot hinges on the fact that these students have to use a pay phone to make off-campus calls, the miniseries needed to be set in a time period when that would have been realistic.)

Anyway.

Discuss! ❤️

UPDATE: I got the Looking for Alaska book from the library and apparently it is set in 2005? Cell phones are not allowed at the boarding school, but one student has one.

On Knowing When You’ve Got a Profitable Idea

So I mentioned yesterday that I had just started playing Crypt of the Necrodancer, and when I was searching YouTube for tips and tricks I found this video by indie game developer Ryan Clark (co-founder of Brace Yourself Games, the studio that produced Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule, and more).

It’s a 45-minute talk on how to consistently make profitable indie games, but much of his advice could apply to other creative art forms—so if that’s the question you’re currently asking yourself, set aside some time to watch the whole thing.

The biggest takeaway from the video is probably this pull quote:

If you are not confident in being able to explain why the hits hit and why the others did not, you shouldn’t be confident about your game’s chances either.

Clark then explains, in detail, the three-step process he uses to create a profitable game:

I evaluate the quantity and the quality of the game’s hooks.

I evaluate the viability of the market for similar games.

I consider how I can describe and promote the game.

I didn’t do any of this background work before launching into the draft of that mystery novel I’ve been mentioning lately, and it’s making me wonder whether I should have thought more carefully about THE HOOK and THE MARKET.

My initial instinct is to plow through the draft while I’ve got all of this creative energy and figure the rest out later, but Clark suggests that this how we get competent creative art that doesn’t survive the marketplace. If you put as much time into evaluating and eliminating your creative ideas as you do into putting the best of those ideas into practice, you’ll be more likely to create a hit.

He also recommends running your ideas past your potential audience as soon as possible, so I might as well run this in your direction:

In our eternal and dismal present, 35-year-old failed theater artist Larkin Day finds herself with no choice but to move herself, her crushed dreams, and her unpaid student loans and maxed-out credit cards into her mother’s guest bedroom.

In, like, Iowa.

After her mother insists that Larkin do something besides sit on the couch and scroll social media for celebrities with worse lives than hers, Larkin reluctantly joins a community choir as they prepare for a tri-city performance of Beethoven’s Ninth. When Larkin discovers the choir’s devilishly attractive accompanist dead on the stage door steps, she realizes that her ability to understand and manipulate people’s emotions—a skill honed through her years of stage training—might make her the ideal person to solve this mystery.

(Of course, she won’t be able to do this alone. This story, like so many stories, is really about the friends you make along the way.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you today, gooooooo enjoy the video and/or let me know what you think about that idea. ❤️