What you don’t know…

“They” say what you don’t know won’t hurt you. “They” are lying or have lived very sheltered lives. What we don’t know is a primary cause of headaches, lost productivity, and other trauma.

The hard part about the things we don’t know is that we don’t always know what they are. Sometimes there’s no way to know. Other times there are hints, but we choose to ignore them. Sometimes we just forget to (or choose not to) look.

Dealing with what we don’t know requires effort. Sometimes, in-spite of our efforts, something else we didn’t know (one we didn’t know we didn’t know…) still shows up and wrecks the party. The thing is, willfully ignoring what we don’t know is more likely to cost us than the unknowable unknowns ever will (that’s a probability of costing us, not a measure of how much…). So, at least assessing what we don’t know and deciding how to deal with those deficits is a fantastic idea.

Actually, assessing what we don’t know is the first of a chain of good ideas that will (more often than not) benefit us in the long run. Here’s the basic chain: 1) Honest assessment of what you know and what you don’t (“Check your ego”); 2) Assessment of your resources for finding more information (“Check what’s available”); 3) Building your plan (“What’ll we check next?”) 4) Seeking sources (“Check who’s in the know”); and 5) Reassessing and move forward (“Double check!”).

Since covering these all at once would make for a very long blog post, I’ll take them one at a time over the next few months. This will make for easier reading, and allow a clear focus on each step.

Without honestly assessing what we don’t know, how are we going to learn any of it? Probably by making mistakes and causing problems for ourselves.

If we don’t evaluate the resources we have, how can we make the best choices and plan for finding answers?

If we don’t build the plan, we’ll probably wander. And wandering costs us time and resources.

If we don’t use the plan we’ve created, what was the point of making it?

Reassessing helps us understand where we are and how things have changed (and what may change soon).

I’m not saying we need to get a doctorate in every little thing, but we at least need some idea of what we don’t know yet, what might happen, and what we’ll do if issues come up. The point is having a reasonable idea of what we’re doing and being sure the benefits outweigh the costs.

Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know, dear reader. The capacity to learn is part of who and what we are. In fact, it’s a defining factor of who and what we are.

Use the power that’s within you, dear reader. Lean what you need to learn. And, I’ll see you next post.

Growing and adapting

It’s January 2022. It’s a new year and a new opportunity for improvement. Here are some things we’re doing to improve here on the blogs.

Reorganizing

Over the next few months, we’re reworking and reorganizing the pages on our websites and the way we organize posts in the blogs. These changes should help us focus our material and develop our outward facing presence to improve communication and access to information. The specific changes will vary depending on which blog/site you’re viewing.

There are those who’ll ask, was the old stuff bad? Is there something you’re trying to hide? Nope, that’s not it. It’s just that I’ve learned a lot since we started all this (seven years ago) and it’s time to apply what I’ve learned and clear away some of the dead wood.

New voice

At Words Mean Stuff, we’re adding a new contributor. The blog has always been about learning, developing, and making good choices. This year we’ve got a professional teacher and instructional designer sharing some of the writing duties. She’ll be introducing herself in a couple of weeks.

Better organization

One thing bringing in a new partner forces me to do is to up my planning game. I need to talk to her about what she’s putting up and when she’s doing it; that means I need to think farther ahead about the stuff I’m putting up. Working together, we’ll both improve our product.

Improving what we’re already doing

The section header says it all, dear reader. The point is to refocus and help us do what we’ve wanted to do, and to do it better. Sharing the things we’ve learned and discovered is important. Improving our skills is important. The changes this year are a way of doing that.

If you’ve found value in anything we’ve produced, stick around. Things are only going to get better.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. I’ve got a digital photography course calling my name (we’re improving our visuals too). It’s a new year and a new chance to learn and improve. Take the opportunity dear reader, share your successes if you like, and (or course) I’ll see you next post.

Merry Christmas 2021

It might not be politically correct to say, but who cares! Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all.

What is Christmas? Why does it matter?

Christmas is a Christian holiday (even for the ones who want to forget that…). It is also a day with significant meaning. It’s a day meant to celebrate the search for peace and love. It is a day to celebrate the possibility of people coming together, being good to each other, and living in peace (it’s possible if we really work at it!). It is a day to celebrate the birth of one Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Who is this Christ we speak of?

Well, there are many people who wonder about that. People debate and even argue whether Jesus was God, a literal son of God, or just a man.

In my understanding, none of us is “just” anything. We’re far more complicated than one aspect or idea. And that applies to the man named Jesus too.

Our understanding is part of the problem. For Jesus to be what I understand him to be, his existence is partially outside of our current understanding. This sometimes leads to people making assumptions. It leads to serious mistakes, including writing off Jesus Christ as impossible, or (equally bad) assuming our Savior’s life and existence will always be outside of our understanding.

Some will even say that Jesus never existed, that he was just a story. Well, if he was just a story, that was a great story. Look at how the story of Jesus has shaped our world. Maybe this is something we should look into a bit more.

A few things I find in the story are that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, both man and god combined. He came to this world. He taught. And he left a lasting mark on our world, and on our individual lives if we’ll let him.

People will argue and dispute the logistics of how he could be man and god at the same time. Others will argue there’s no archeological proof he existed. But those questions aren’t really the best place to start.

If you’re teaching physics, it’s a lot easier to start with Newtonian models than string theory. If you’re teaching psychology, behavior is a lot easier to observe than neurochemistry. Maybe we should focus on who Christ was and what he taught and stood for before we go mucking about with the metaphysics of dual man/god existence.

As for archeological evidence of Christ; that was two thousand years ago. It can be a struggle to find evidence of individual people living much more recently. Finding evidence of a specific homeless person living on skid row right now could be a bit of a challenge. More important questions include what does Jesus (real or fictional) represent and can we come to know him.

My God is a god of agency…

One of the most important things God has placed in our world, and one of the most significant things his son showed us, is the principle of agency. We as people are allowed, even expected, to make choices; to act for ourselves and learn from the results of our actions. A key implication of this principle is that we won’t really learn about God and our Savior without making a genuine decision to learn and then acting on that decision.

We are given rules and guidelines about what we should do. But neither God nor God’s Son force us to follow them. We are free to choose our actions, and then benefit or suffer from the results.

Understanding this principle of agency and that we must genuinely choose to search and learn for ourselves is the first step to coming to know the truth about God and Jesus.

With an emphatic yes, we can come to know God and our savior. It just takes effort on our parts.

God is both knowing and knowable.

God knows us. His son Jesus knows us too. And we can know them.

I love it when people ask me if I’ve ever seen God. The answer is no, I haven’t. I haven’t seen the wind or the interaction of ions in a human nerve cell either, but I can observe their effects.

Coming to know God and our savior is a process or seeking, experimentation, and observation. Sometimes we study the testimony of others (like what we read in the bible and other sources). Sometimes we appeal to God directly (as in praying). Sometimes we examine the results and draw conclusions.

It really helps to listen to the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, but even when we can’t hear them, we can observe things in the world.

Do people who love and care for their families seem happier? And we’re not just talking Christian families here. Check a few Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists while you’re at it. The principal functions on its own, no matter what title we may put on our faith or behavior. If the results fit the principle, then the results support the principle. God teaches us to love and value our families, and I’ve seen the principle work with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. If you follow the principle, you get the result.

Right now, dear reader, I’m telling you I believe in God and our Savior Jesus Christ. I know they are here for us and Christmas is a holiday to celebrate that. So, Merry Christmas dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Nanowrimo aftermath… Success and the road ahead

Yes, dear reader, we’re back. I and mine survived NANOWRIMO and a few other adventures, and now it’s time for the road ahead. And I hope you and yours are doing well too.

Nano 2021: a successful draft (but not quite what I’d thought…)

I’d intended to finish two manuscripts, a novel and a novella for a total of 85,000 words. The reality was one novel of roughly 60,000 words. But, on the bright side, the story I finished was supposed to be the novella.

While doing the outlines for the books, I realized the structure needed to be a little different from what I’d imagined. The novella turned novel. I had to add a point of view track. For the other story, I would (and will) have to redistribute some of the story between points of view to tell it properly.

Also, in the “Win” column, some skills I learned from a recent writer’s conference really paid off. And, though I come out of NANO this year with more known work than I have in the past, I have to feel the story is in a better place. I’m producing a better-quality book that will be easier to finish and publish, even though I know there’s a ton of work to do (including finishing that other book…).

Not what I’d planned, but a finished manuscript and a NANOWRIMO win none the less. And, to be honest, finishing a book was far from the only reason I needed to do NANO this year.

Nano 2021: a transitioning tool

Previously, during November, I’d ditch my other projects to finish a first draft. Well, this year I had at least two other things on my plate that I couldn’t dodge; a new committee position and a new calling with my church. So, there was a lot I couldn’t put down for NANO. But therein lay my need for NANOWRIMO this year.

Currently, I’m the conference committee liaison to the marketing committee for a national writers and publishing organization (international actually were picking up members from all over the place). This is an unfamiliar thing for me. I’m finding myself working with the originator of the organization (an editor and retired publishing CEO) and several really driven people. Occasionally, I have to be the voice or reason surrounded by fellow creative types.

All by itself, this would be enough to drive me a bit nuts if I hadn’t had a good reason (NANO) to set some firm boundaries and time commitments. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing the work. But as a new guy, it could easily have sucked up all the time I have available (and more!). Sometimes we need an anchor to help us set boundaries. NANO was my anchor this year.

At the same time I’m navigating two committees and a novel, I was called to be a temple worker for my church. That means doing lot of learning, dealing with things that I “sort of but not really” know and a bunch of people, many of whom are just as lost as I was feeling.

Again, NANO was an anchor. This time it reminded me that I am competent and can learn and do stuff, even though I’m in a world where there’s a lot I need to learn. I knew I could do this. I knew I’d done it six times already and this year would be no different. And, once the panic wore off, I could handle the temple stuff too.

Yeah, I know there will still be more challenges. There’s still a lot to do. But NANO helped me make the initial transition and now I’m ready to face the road ahead.

Where things go from here

This month there’s a lot of picking up the pieces and planning to do. Assessing what I need to learn, what resources I’ve got and which ones I need. That’s a key step, but there’s more coming.

Next year (less than a month away…) there will be lots of editing, and more new writing. There will also be a new writer joining me here at Words Mean Stuff and fresh stories to share.

Hopefully around August I’ll have exciting things to share about an upcoming writers’ conference and a nonfiction book that’s been lurking in the background of all of this.

Short and sweet, the immediate future goes into planning and preparation. The medium and long term are where I’ll be applying the lessons I’ve learned to propel me to greater success. And hopefully I’ll be sharing some of that with you along the way.

Sometimes we need tools to help us. This year NANOWRIMO helped me and, even with clouds on the horizon, the future feels pretty good.

Well, dear reader, there’s much to be done. Good luck with your plans, hopes, and dreams. And, I’ll see you next post.

To NANOWRIMO and beyond!

Well dear reader, that time has come (again)… I’ll be taking about a month off from Words Mean Stuff to complete a NANOWRIMO project. As I’ve said, I’m working toward my highest goal ever this year and actually feeling pretty good about it (found some new tools…).

After NANO, I’ll be back with new stories (real and fictional) to share here as well as others intended for print publication. I’ll also be making some long promised changes to the blog. Please, come check out the new stuff after NANOWRIMO.

Until then, see you next post!

NANOWRIMO 2021…

Over at FMP this week, I’m talking about how my recent writers’ conference experience interacted with my upcoming NANOWRIMO experience.

Over here at Words Mean Stuff, I’m announcing the madness to come!

A couple years ago I hit a NANOWRIMO high of 74,000 words. Pretty good. But I’ve been wanting to do more. I’ve made the 50,000-word minimum six times. But I’ve never hit the “high tension number”; I’ve never hit 85,000 words.

This year I intend to do that. I’m also (being my crazy self) going to finish two manuscripts. A 50,000+ word novel and a 35,000-word novella. Both projects are part of a series I’ve been working on. They’re both needed to get that series right, and ready to release the world. And, I want to do it.

It won’t be easy, but you never succeed at anything if you don’t try.

This blog is about thinking and problem solving. It’s also about achievement and doing things you’ve never done before. In a couple weeks I’ll be taking a month off the blog to reach a huge achievement (one I’ve never reached before). And I’m inviting you, dear reader, to come with me.

If you’ve wanted to write a book. Try writing one. Join me in doing NANOWRIMO (link) this year. Even those who don’t finish benefit, if they take the time to learn from their experience.

If you’re not a writer… Or, if writing a book isn’t something you want to do right now… Choose something, some challenge you’ve wanted to overcome, put in the thought; put in the effort; and join me in doing things we’ve never done before.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Please take the challenge, join me in daring to be more. And, I’ll see you next post.

Inertia and room to maneuver

Over at Forever Mountain, I’m talking about some changes I’m making to the blogs. Here, I’m sharing a bit about the process and challenges of it all.

Realizing versus doing

I’ve known for a while that I need to work on the blogs. A few weeks ago, I realized several pieces of what I need to do. I made note of them. And then…

Nothing happened.

Nothing happened because while I realized what needed to happen, I didn’t take the steps to do it. And accomplishing something requires both the realization of what you need to do and the worky icky bits of doing it.

Both take effort and learning. But they take different kinds of effort and learning. Intellectually and emotionally, they’re different processes.

The realization part might come from reading a book, watching a video, attending a lecture, or some other source of information. You have to work to get that information. You might even have to continue the “information search” work while you’re doing the doing part. But learning and realizing isn’t all you’re doing in the doing part.

When you’re putting your idea into action, you have plans to make, adapt, and follow. You have to “look under the hood” and see what’s actually going on. You need to change habits, fix old ones and make new ones. You may have to have some hard discussions with yourself and others. You may even have to admit you’ve made mistakes.

The doing part might include (should include) information gathering, but it also requires information synthesis and application. Those are more challenging processes (part of why the doing part can be so hard). You might have to get off your butt and actually talk to people and do things.

One thing you will have to do is develop (break, change, and/or create) habits to go with your new way of doing things.

Habits…

Habits can be helpful. They can also cause problems.

Habits can help us be more efficient. They reduce the cognitive load we encounter while doing things.

They also make it harder to do things differently.

When we want to start a new process or system, we have to break old habits (or at least redirect them) and create new ones. This takes conscious effort and work.

Our habits help us reduce cognitive load. But when we’re changing habits and creating new ones, we have to pay for that future efficiency with additional attention and load now. It’s a problem, but there’s another way to look at it. If the habit we’re creating is good, that extra effort is an investment.

Habits can be good or bad. The trick is, we need to invest in creating habits that help us, and in changing our habits as our lives and processes change.

Creating a success environment

Like it or not, we all exist in an environment. Our habits and behaviors both shape and are shaped by that environment. So, we have an important question. Is our environment good for what we want to do?

Chances are, no matter how good our environment is, there are things we can do to make it better. If our environment is terrible, the best thing we can do to change it might be to move to a new one.

A success environment is one in which the people and things around us align in such a way that they help us move forward toward success. If you want to learn to garden, hanging out with a good and supportive gardening club will probably help you. If you want to beat that alcohol addiction, going to the bar probably isn’t a good idea.

Some elements of our environment are fairly permanent. Changing them probably won’t work. (Sorry kids, as humans we need oxygen and function best in approximately earth normal gravity. No matter how much we may want to, floating around in space without a space suit isn’t going to help us.)

Other elements of our environment are changeable. We can turn on the lights if it’s dark. We can make choices about our daily schedules. By controlling these elements of our environments, we can place ourselves in a better position to achieve and do.

Success environments depend on who we are and what we’re trying to do. The environment best for me writing blog posts isn’t the best environment for my wife to take a nap. The best environment for me to write blog posts isn’t the best environment for me making pancakes either (the desk to stove ration is way wrong!).

Creating a success environment means analyzing our environment, our habits, our plans, and ourselves, and then making changes and improvements that will better support what we want to do.

Changes are coming, dear reader. I’m building better habits and a better environment. It’s a learning process, but it’s something we (all of us) can do. Good luck in seeking your success. And, I’ll see you next post.

November 2021, the press for success…

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while already know I’m a regular participant in NANOWRIMO, and that I like to talk about it here. Well, dear reader, I’m doing it again this year. And I’m talking about it again too.

For anyone not familiar, here’s the scoop…

What is NANOWRIMO?

NANOWRIMO is short for National Novel Writing Month, it’s both an idea and an organization. (link)

As an idea, it means during the month of November, writers from all over the world put their writing skills to the test by writing a 50,000+ word manuscript in a single month.

As an organization, it’s the people behind the event and a charitable organization that promotes writing and literacy. The folks behind NANOWRIMO work to help kids and adults to express themselves (Something we here at Words Mean Stuff are excited about).

Now, the NANOWRIMO organization asks for donations (nobody’s forced to give…). They also sell NANOWRIMO merch, much of which ties in to the year’s NANOWRIMO theme. But they also seek businesses as backers. And that’s good for participants (as we’ll see below…).

What’s it good for?

NANOWRIMO creates a challenge, a place and time for writers to get off their butts and get that novel written. They also provide a supportive community of fellow writers to share ideas, support, and inspiration.

NANOWRIMO is there to set writers up for success in writing that first draft. They set a start date and a deadline. They help you know you’re not out there alone. And they provide a place to find support and track your success. NANO helps motivate new and experienced writers to challenge themselves in getting that manuscript done.

For NANWRIMO winners (those who complete the 50,000+ word challenge), there are also goodies you can get from companies that contribute to NANO. Often, it’s discounts, samples or free trials. Yeah, it’s marketing, but it’s also free stuff you can win which supports your writing efforts. If you can get the words out, it’s good for everyone involved.

What isn’t it good for?

NANOWRIMO is about finishing a first draft. As far as that goes, it’s really pretty “doable”. But, never think NANOWRIMO is going to give you a finished book. It’s about writing a draft, not editing.

Actually, it’s usually a good idea to set your inner editor aside for a while and just write. That means you’re going to have lots of work to do after winning NANOWRIMO. Any first draft needs editing. It’s definitely true for a NANOWRIMO book. Most of us don’t have time to do finished book level editing while cracking out that first draft on a 30-day timeline.

NANOWRIMO isn’t a guarantee or publishing contract. Books that start as NANO projects get published. I’ve done it myself. But you have to do the editing, decide to self-publish or seek a publisher, do your marketing, do your editing (did I mention that?), deal with cover design, and all the other steps needed for any other book.

Is NANOWRIMO for you?

For some folks, it is. For some folks, it isn’t.

Some people “don’t write that way”. Some do.

 Some people put in the work afterward. Some don’t.

Is NANOWRIMO for you? There’s only one way to know. Try it out and find out. To write well, you need to learn about yourself as a writer. NANOWRIMO is an opportunity to do that.

Over at my other blog, Forever Mountain Publishing (link), I’ve posted about planning for NANOWRIMO, and some other thoughts about NANO success. If you’re interested, take a look.

Either way, I’ll see you next post.

Don’t forget your purpose

I’ve been working on learning Japanese again… Actually, I never stopped. But I did kind of lose my way. I forgot why I was doing it. I got distracted by competition with other learners. I kept it up because I had a tracker with an impressive streak of days studying. I kept doing it because I didn’t want to say I stopped. But I forgot the point was learning Japanese.

It’s not what you’re doing, it’s why you’re doing it

When you forget why you’re doing something, it’s easy to get lost. In my case, I got stuck doing the same wrote exercises again and again. With a friend of mine, he got so wrapped up in the money and perks of being a restaurant manager that he left college. Twenty years later, the restaurant game isn’t fun anymore and he could really use that degree. But he doesn’t have it….

We have reasons for everything we do. It’s a good idea to examine them from time to time. If our reasons are good and what we’re doing has value, it’s a good idea to keep those reasons out in front of us. If we don’t, it’s easy to lose track of them.

When we lose track of our reasons, it becomes easier to be distracted. It becomes easier to chase those transient shiny things that don’t really get us anywhere. It gets harder to do the counter-intuitive things that get us closer to our goal.

Sometimes the work isn’t glorious. Nobody enjoys taking out the trash. But, if we don’t, we end up living in the trash, letting it get in the way and making it harder to do what we really want to. It’s understanding our purpose, the why of what we do, that gets us through the hard parts. It also tells us when it’s time to quit.

The law of diminishing returns…

Sometimes we get an immediate payoff. Sometimes the value of what we’re doing grows. But then, eventually, the payoff lessens or even stops. It may be we’ve ‘mined out’ the benefits we were getting. Maybe we ‘grew out of it’ and don’t value what we were getting anymore. Either way, if the amount of reward per amount of work is declining, we need to look and decide if it’s really worth it to keep going.

Sometimes it will be. The worth of souls is great in the sight of The Lord. So, working to help a loved one through puberty/addiction/‘life stuff’ probably has a payoff in the long run, even though you’re not seeing it right now.

Sometimes it isn’t worth it. If you’re working 20 hours a day and not making ends meet, why are you doing it? It might be time to look for something better.

The point is, we need to match our actions to our purposes. For me, that means putting more effort into learning Japanese and less concern on what people think about my learning Japanese.

It also means I do some deep thinking about the blog. Not about putting it away, but about what to do to make it better. Changes are coming, dear reader. I’ll tell you about them soon. See you next post.