Rabbit Holes

Programming has a lot of rabbit holes that it’s easy to fall into. I just spent 20-30 minutes trying to find an answer to a user’s question on Stack Overflow for a three-year-old version of the PHP framework that I’m only just beginning to use. This is perhaps not the best use of my time.

That said, it’s probably the fourth or fifth rabbit hole of the day. The others I’ve been chasing to figure out customizing the look of my CakePHP project. I’ve installed a Bootstrap theme, tried to solve all sorts of problems that gave, then commented out the code that linked to it. I then spent some time poking around with the default layout and editing that. I also spent some time with the GIMP to make a default banner image, then went back to CakePHP to figure out how to insert the image and then how to make the image link to the home page.

Some rabbit holes lead to more rabbit holes. Others dead end. But I do feel like I’m learning things, and I am getting at least a little better at spotting the difference between something that will be useful to strap on the thinking cap and figure out and something that it’s not worth the effort to explore. But I suspect that I’ll never be able to ALWAYS tell the difference.

Soft skills

Settling in to things in Boston. I have unloaded the truck to the bedroom and a storage unit, with lots of help from friends (old and hopefully new) and family. I’ve been working on my resume this afternoon. One of the things in this job search that has taken be a bit by surprise is the lack of soft skills described in web developer job postings. Most focus purely on the technical skills, with a healthy side of description of the company. I suspect this has several sources. One is, of course, that the technical skills are likely the most important aspect, since things like working well as part of a team are easier to deal with than the inability to work in the particular system. It may also be that the demand for jobs outstrips the number of potential employees, so the soft skills are just not as important. This would also make sense for why it feels like there’s a strong emphasis on selling the company. It’ll be interesting to see how all this plays out, and whether or not I end up changing my thoughts on this as time goes on.

Under New Management

I’ve spent the morning making some changes to this little blog of mine. Given how long it had been since I had posted here, I considered just re-starting from scratch, but as I was reading over some of the posts, I couldn’t. I’m a bit of a pack-rat, so that doesn’t help, but I was also surprised by the level of enthusiasm I had for writing. I’ve not been writing for the last couple of years. A lot has gone into that, but it’s partly because I’ve been pursuing a degree in web development. I am now one capstone project class away from graduation in that degree. Assuming my plans for a career change (which include a move to Boston) pan out, perhaps I will have spare time and energy enough to put into that particular hobby of mine. In the meantime, I can start using this space to blog about the web development stuff I’m doing, as well as other facets of life (like what it will be like living in New England).

As I’ve been talking to folks at the job I’m leaving, several have said how inspiring this change is for them. I am trying to pursue a passion (web development), so I guess I can see that. I also see a lot of unknowns, and that’s really scary for me. I like to plan and re-plan and over-plan. Not having a plan means that things won’t be perfect. Someone, somewhere, might get mad at me. Only as I’m progressing with this path forward do I realize how much these irrational but deeply-seated thoughts and notions control me. Which is yet another reason that I’ve found that making this dramatic of a change in my life is good for me.

Plus, as I have been finishing up the project for this past class, I’ve found myself looking up from the computer to realize it’s 10:30 and past time for bed, and I was too in the zone to notice. Combine that with the 100% that I got on the project, and I think I’ve found something that not only am I good at, but that I really enjoy. In case I had any doubts. (Which I always have about myself. In case you didn’t catch that.) 🙂

“Save the Cat”

On the recommendation of some friends, I gave Save the Cat a whirl. It’s a book about screenwriting written by the late Blake Snyder. I experienced the usual ups and downs while reading it. Mostly downs. “No, I don’t do that and am a talentless hack.” “I must throw out everything I’ve done and start over.” This is why I often don’t read books on writing. Unlike quite a number of other books, though, this one has some homework that I feel might actually continue to teach me about screenwriting. (Assuming I do it, of course.)

This book focuses on writing movies for the big Hollywood studios. Which is something I’m sort of taking a stab at. I feel a lot more prepared now, but I also see more of the flaws in my current story. It basically has two climaxes, for example. Not really a good thing. And I don’t know that I have enough of a logline with enough irony. It’s all complicated and requires much thinking. (Rude, I tell you!)

On the plus side, he gave me permission to watch bad movies in a way nobody ever has before. I don’t know why his permission counts when others haven’t. In the past, I haven’t wanted to waste my time, but with this guide, I feel like I’ll be better able to say not only why a movie was bad, but how it could be improved, which could be a useful skill if I can learn to apply it to my own work.

Finding conflict

My screenplay has been on the back burner for quite some time. I knew the inner conflict wasn’t working quite right, but I had no idea how to fix it, so I moved on to other things and let it sit. The last few days, I’ve been thinking more about it. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. The conflict was actually already there in the story. I was trying to force a conflict onto the story that, while it had elements of this conflict, didn’t quite fit, especially when it came to the climax. That fizzing, electric feeling of “Yes, this is right!” is a wonderful thing!

I may be getting better at spotting conflict, too. A short story I’ve been in the midsts of revising has been limping along. I knew it needed “something,” but at first I wasn’t sure what. After a crack at the re-writing that added some description (the bane of my existence) but only made the character’s co-worker seem like an idiot and didn’t really fix the problem, I got another lightning bolt, and again, it was something that was present in the story, but I just didn’t realize it. Now that I know it’s there, I can bring it out, tone down her partner’s stereotypes, and possibly actually finish this thing.

Making it work

Since my last oh-so-inspiring post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and even a fair bit of writing. I completed the outline for my screenplay and have started working through what I’ve written and matching it to the outline. I’ve also actually come up with a story for a couple of characters that have been floating around in my head for a while. I’m also on vacation and have actually slept for the last few nights, which improves my mood tremendously. I got a good chunk of work done this afternoon, including figuring out an aspect of the climax to the new story that had been perplexing me. A few more things to figure out, but I definitely have some solid bones.

I’ve been pondering quite a few things lately about how to make a go of this writing career. There’re several things I could do, starting with abandoning the working world to live in my mom’s basement. Considering that it’s flooded right now, this is not really much of an option. (Though if the sump pumps keep working so well….Oh, hi, Mom!) Honestly, though, I don’t think that would be the best path for me. I do like having a structure in my life. Finding balance between the structure of some sort of work and writing is important. This leaves me pondering several other choices open to me at the moment. Or open to me in the future, at least. I don’t like doing things rashly, that’s for sure. Yet in some ways, I think I need to be at least a little rash in order to make a go of a writing career. It will just be rash for me, as opposed to rash for other people. In theory, anyway. Has all this been cryptic enough for you? Good, because I’m at least as confused!

Just another oncoming train?

For about the last four months, my team at work has been down a person. About two or three weeks ago, I ran out of other people in the company I could give tasks to. This means that there’s stuff going unassigned, there’s stuff not getting done, and I’m doing a lot of things I should be delegating, since there’s nobody to whom I can delegate. Massive uncoolness all around.

I am very hopeful that this will end soon-ish. I still have one project that needs to be passed off, but that I don’t have anybody to whom I want to do the passing, and the replacement is unlikely to start soon enough to take it. Lots of stress all around, still.

All this means that most of my energy and focus has been going to work, not to writing. It’s gotten me thinking about the fact that so few people make careers as writers, and I wonder how much of that is because, for whatever reason, they cannot sit down and devote the time and energy to writing. Not won’t, but can’t, because of commitments like needing food and housing for themselves and possibly a family.

Yet there are people who still manage to make it work. In many ways, for me, this is actually discouraging, rather than encouraging. I haven’t been able to make it work, and at times like this, it seems unlikely that I ever shall. Do I just lack drive and vision? Is it really not my true calling? Or have I just worn myself out so badly at work these last few months that I can’t even psych myself out of a blue funk?

Becoming a morning person?

I’ve been stressing quite a lot lately about many things. Work has and seems to be doomed to remain quite busy. I haven’t had much time or energy for writing. But I might have hit upon a solution. The last few days, I’ve been putting in time in the morning, before I leave for the office. It helps that I have a middle and have been able to make good progress, I know, but it does, really, seem to work. Some positives:

  1. I’m not tired from a day’s work, so I have mental energy to devote to the work.
  2. I’m limited in the amount of time I have between when I get up and when I need to leave, so I am confined to only working for maybe half an hour to an hour. This is actually helpful. I don’t feel like I need to spend hours slogging over the work when I’m so brain-dead that “tasty” becomes “nasty.”
  3. I start the day feeling accomplished before even going into the office. Since a lot of my job now is not so focused on accomplishment, it’s rather nice to have that positive spin on the day.

This may not last forever. I mean, I could see, for example, that a day where things aren’t going well setting my day off to a bad start. Although, as the kids in the Secret Garden would tell you, that’s the wrong sort of magic. So, it’s working well, and it will continue to work well, because I am going to finish this thing!

By Jove!

I think I finally have a middle for my screenplay. It certainly took me long enough to figure out what happens between the beginning, which as remained relatively unchanged, and the end, which is also relatively unchanged. But there’s now all this stuff that happens in the middle, and it came because of two changes to the story, one which I figured out a few days ago, and one that came to me more obliquely. I’m so excited that, despite needing to be at church at 9am tomorrow, I’m still awake and bouncy. Crazy!

This is the part of writing that I love, when the idea comes hot and fast, blossoming in my mind, bringing streamers of follow-on action and solutions to problems. It’s what makes the fact that writing is hard actually worth it.

A strange phenomenon

When I haven’t left early or stayed home because of being sick, I’ve been staying really late at the office. Lots of things going on, and the uber-boss has made it clear that this will continue, and that it will be a refining fire, wherein he will see if we’re actually willing to put in the extra effort. And I am. But for some reason, as things are heating up and I’m melting nicely into a puddle of too-much-to-do-ness, I find my desire to write increasing.

Why? Is it because I want to escape from all the pressure? Is it because I actually thrive on having too much to do? I’m not sure. I mean, it’s not like I have time/energy to write. I got home at around 8:30 last night, completely brain-dead. I had dinner, poked my iPhone a little, and went to bed. Hardly a recipe for a dedicated writer. Yet my brain, in its spare time, is actually working on the problem I hit in my screenplay. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, logically. But my brain has never been particularly fond of logic, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.

Maybe it’s just guilt for not doing NanoWrimo. I didn’t do it last year, but it wasn’t quite as bad, since most of my friends weren’t doing it, either. This year, more are participating, so I feel like I have to justify myself. Which I realize is silly.

I blame Brandon Sanderson, who I have appointed as my nemesis for absolutely no reason at all.

Okay, back to reviewing documents, providing feedback, and trying to dig out of this mountain of work.