The Fraud Police: Who the Heck Do I Think I Am?

And once again, I look up from my keyboard, and three months have passed since I wrote a blog entry. This summer seems more hectic than usual: first, there were preparations for my son’s high school graduation and party. We’ve now also entered the time when my second artistic career (musician) kicks into high gear with community band concerts. And we’re planning for the departure of my son for college.

But in the middle of this, I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY NEXT NOVEL!!! It took over two years of inconsistent effort, but it’s completed. Now the fun of editing! No ETA as to when it will be fit for human consumption, but I’ll let you know when I know.

And now to start the blog proper…

The Fraud Police

This blog post was inspired by a convergence of events (which often seems to happen). I’m currently reading The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. While I’m reading that, I also caught an episode of Sarah Werner’s podcast Write Now entitled  Self-Writing and Self-Talk available here and wherever fine podcasts are available.

Who Are The Fraud Police?

Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help grew out of her TED Talk of the same title which you can see here. In her book, she describes The Fraud Police; her visualization of the imposter syndrome. Here’s her definition:

“The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of ‘real’ grown-ups who you believe – at some subconscious level –  are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying:

We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.”

This passage really hit home with me on so many levels. I feel like I’m constantly trying to elude capture by The Fraud Policy. This feeling hits me hardest when I’m playing in the pit orchestra for a musical. Almost everyone else in the orchestra is or was a music teacher meaning they took years of music classes. I feel like I’m largely self-taught because due to freakish timing, I had 6 different band teachers in 6 years. My music education was messed up to be sure. I strongly considered going to college to be a music teacher, but I found computers and that was that.

So, I sit there, surrounded by all of these professionals and I wait for The Fraud Police to take me away because I don’t have all of that training. I can usually rise above it, but when thrown into a situation like that, I almost feel like I have to apologize for being part of the group.

And Now The Other Shoe

Right after reading about The Fraud Police, I listened to Sarah’s podcast. The message of that podcast was to treat yourself the same way you would treat someone else. Don’t call yourself an idiotic, untalented hack. You likely wouldn’t say that to anyone else, why should you say it about yourself?

And that’s when it occurred to me how the two are interrelated. The Fraud Police are definitely inciting the riot in your mind that tells you that you’re no good, no one wants your work, and to quote Chris Farley’s character, Matt Foley, you’ll end up “living in a van down by the river!”

How Do You Evade The Fraud Policy?

I’m not sure I have any real answers because I feel like I’m constantly being chased by The Fraud Policy in all my endeavors. Here are things that sometimes work for me:

  • Join a group – I’m not much for joining discussion groups, but one thing that’s helped me on the writing side is joining the I Am A Writer. group on Facebook. Meeting people who are at various stages of their writing journey had helped me see where I am on my writing journey. It made me realize that I had learned a thing or two so maybe I wasn’t such a fraud after all.
  • Give Yourself A Little Love – This is where Sarah’s podcast comes in. Try to remember that you should talk to yourself the same way you would talk to someone else. I know this sounds a little Stuart Smalley (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”). In Sarah’s podcast, she suggests trying to write yourself as a character, treating yourself fairly, adding the good and the bad. In another podcast, Sarah suggested getting business cards that say you are a writer…and that’s exactly what I did. I gave them away at the local Arts Festival, but I have one sitting on my desk at home and my cubicle at work to remind me.
  •  Just Keep Swimming – Dory’s quote from Finding Nemo is truly words to live by. Just keep trying. There’s something about that phrase “faking until you’re making it”. If you just keep doing whatever it is, you will get better, and very slowly, you begin to see The Fraud Police as a figment of your imagination. I’ve now finished writing two books. In my head, that means, yes I’m a writer. Writing a book could be a fluke, but finishing the second one to me means that I am a writer.

You Have the Right To Remain Exactly How You Are

I hope that I’m not alone in my fugitive status from The Fraud Police. I try to follow my own advice and most of the time, it works. But there are days when I do get caught by The Fraud Police and I just wallow in despair.

But today, I’m Mike Tefft – a geek, a musician, and a writer.

Happy Journeys!
Mike

Read More

Writing and Coding

In the past few weeks, I’ve been writing and thinking about writing more. As I’ve mentioned in the last post, I’ve been listening to the Write Now podcast on my forty minute commute to and from work. The Write Now podcast includes a separate set of podcasts called “Coffee Break” which are interviews with authors. The mix of both episodes about writing and episodes about other writers got me thinking about how I write.

I seem to have been predisposed to wanting to write fiction. I remember my favorite times in English class were the rare times we got to do creative writing. In middle school, a friend and I wrote a very crappy (and short) derivative fantasy novel in the vein of Lord of the Rings and The Sword of Shannara. In college, I took Creative Writing as one of the three liberal arts classes I had in my schedule (I was an Electrical and Computer Engineering major).

I also discovered computers during high school. This was in the heady days where memory was measured in kilobytes and a storage device was a cassette recorder. To totally give away my age, I cut my programming teeth on Apple II’s and a Commodore 64. I am happy to have missed the days of punch cards, but not by very much.

My day job is software developement, so I write code. I’m at the start of an upgrade project where we have to rewrite a bunch of the code that makes the screen look pretty (there’s the highly technical description).  Between that and the podcasts, my brain has realized how writing code for nearly half the day impacts my writing.

Ways Coding and Writing Are Similar

  • Both Start with a Blank Page – When you write code, you are starting with a blank screen just like in writing.
  • You Take Thoughts and Give Them Physical Manifestation – In coding and writing, you take logical processes and translate them in a physical manifestation just like the writer takes his/her thoughts and creates the  physical manifestation of the story.
  • The Physical Act of Coding is Identical to Writing – It’s no coincidence that programmers “write code”. In coding, you have a fixed grammar consisting of words and rules for how they must be combined. Computers don’t let you violate the basic rules of syntax or grammar, but as in writing, there’s nothing to stop you from creating a non-sensical, grammatically correct statement.
  • You Have to Create a Logical Sequence that Directs the Flow– Coders constantly wrestle with taking data, applying some action, and sending to the next logical step in the process. Writing also needs to follow a logical sequence; if you’re writing a mystery, the killer has to pick up the weapon before it’s used, the body must be discovered, the inspector must uncover the clues and solve the mystery. Readers don’t like it if the plot of a novel doesn’t flow in a logical sequence or a deus ex machina device shows up to eliminate the conflict (although I could tell you there are days that I could us a deus ex machina device to fix my code!).
  • Debugging and Editing – Same thing. In coding, you fix your “shitty first draft” of code; in writing, you fix your “shitty first draft” of the story. In both, you have to fix syntax, correct logic errors and generally look at it and say “Why did I do that?”

 

Ways coding has influenced how I write:

  •  I have to start with a clear idea of the “problem” – Like in programming, you have to know what it is you hope to accomplish. For my novels, I have a very loose outline in my head where I know the general plot points so I’m always moving from or to the plots points. And like a programmer, none of that is documented except in my head.
  • I have to work in a linear fashion – I have to start at the beginning and work my way to the end. I would have a difficult time writing scenes out of order and reassembling them into a whole. I have to work chronologically in the story.
  • It impacts the tools I used – I write with Microsoft Word. Many writers use it; many writers don’t. Tools like Scrivener let you break your work apart into pieces and allow you recombine it however you wish. Other editors do this or also offer a distraction free environment. I like Word because it really is the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) of writing; there isn’t much you can’t do with Word.
  • I do best when I can scroll through the whole novel – This is related to line above. I need to see the whole novel and be able to scroll up and down. I have a sense of where the information I’m looking for can be found and I just scroll back and forth until I find it. I think that comes from moving back and forth betweens screens of code.
  • Coming up with a clever solution to a problem makes me happy – I get a great deal of pleasure from staring at a  problem (in either code or writing) and coming up with a clever solution to fix it. When I fix something that hasn’t been working, I get very happy. Conversely, when I can’t figure out what’s wrong, I get very frustrated.
  • Trying to avoid the use of if/then in my writing – I’ve heard it said that you can tell a programmer’s writing versus a non-programmer’s writing by the use of if/then in his/her writing. For me, this started with my first computer language: BASIC. The construct for determine what to do during a certain condition was always:
    IF <something is true> THEN
    do something
    ELSE
    do something else
    END IF
    While I don’t write exactly like that, it’s second nature to write something like “If I can’t fix this, then we can kiss our asses goodbye.” OK – maybe that wasn’t the best example, but it’s very easy for it to sneak into my writing. And I work equally as hard to excise it.

So What Does This Have To Do With Anything?

So glad you asked. I think understanding the things that affect how you write gives you a wealth of information. It shows you your strengths, your weaknesses, and things that can give you ideas to try something outside your comfort zone. Looking at this list, I think that a good challenge for me would be to either write something with a non linear plot or write the linear plot in a non-linear manner. Or use other tools to move the writing around throughout the work.

How does your profession influence the way you write?

Happy Journeys!

Mike

 

Read More

How Mike Got His Groove Back

I know you’re shocked – another blog post within only two weeks! But that’s because I seem to back in the groove with my writing. Right about the time of my last blog post, I was starting to slowly pull myself out of a writing funk. As any part-time writer will tell you (or at least this one), finding time to write when you have a full-time career and a family can be a challenge. My problem was I couldn’t bring myself to actually write when I did have time  and if I did, I barely squeezed out a few hundred words. Each word felt like a heavy rock added to the pile (All I can think of now is the line from The Crucible when they are punishing Giles Corey by stacking rocks on him and he keeps saying “More weight!”).

But things have changed and I’m on the upswing. In fact, according to the WordCounter app I bought for my Mac, I have written more in the last ten days than I had since the start of the year. I’m actually optimistic that I might finish the initial draft in the next few months. I have lots of activities coming up in the next few months so time to write on the weekends will be scarce. But I’m actually looking forward to the times where I can really get huge blocks of writing done.

Other than writing, I’ve been spending more time listening to a new (to me) podcast called Write Now with Sarah Werner | For Writers, On Writing. I’m a little late to the game because this podcast has been running for over two years now. Sarah’s podcast is about helping writers find a healthy work/life balance that will keep them writing. If you want to write and need a little push, I highly recommend it. I really enjoyed several of the more recent podcasts to which I’ve listened, particularly the one titled “Does Listening to Music Help Your Writing?” (btw, the answer for me is YES!!).

And one more thing I’d like to plug is the blog of my friend (and illustrator of my book’s cover) Emilee Smith called  The Perpetual Creator. Emilee is very much a perpetual creator;whether it be music, food, crafts, or art, she always seems to have some project in the works. For the five people who actually read this, I encourage you to stop over and check out her blog.

I hope to come back to the blog more frequently to update you on the progress. I’m excited again and that bodes well for the book.

Happy Journeys,

Mike

Read More

Hi Diddly Dee, the Writer’s Life For Me…

“So I’ve decided, I’m going to become a world renowned writer.
I shall write great books and earn barrels of money and I will give you all
everything you’ve ever dreamed of!”
Jo – from the musical Little Women

I’ve been horribly remiss in posting here. I really have no excuse other than I’ve been struggling with writing. I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to write and when I have, it’s been hard to get words onto the paper. I don’t know why – I’ve really wanted to write but when it was time, I seemed to be earning my title of “Reluctant Author”. The words that came out, came out slowly and haltingly.

I also just finished playing in the orchestra for a production of the musical Little Women. Every night, I heard Jo give the above line. And every night, I heard that line and couldn’t help but laugh. It also reminded me of the scene at the end of Down With Love where Renee Zellweger launches in to her monologue about how she would make Catcher Block fall in love with her by writing a New York Times best seller.

It just sounds so easy – “I’m going to write a best selling book!” And while I had no illusions that I would write a best seller, The Reluctant Captain came out of a single batch of condensed writing – about three months from start to completion of the initial draft. I think I had the beginner’s attitude that it looks easy and you just have to do it. I’ve experienced this in other areas of my life where I tried to do something new. I thought I knew what I was doing and I just did it. Later, I realized just how little I knew and when I tried to do it again, I found myself second guessing myself and somewhat paralyzed by knowing what I didn’t know.

Maybe that’s been my problem; maybe I don’t like where the story is going; or maybe I’m just being lazy. I think I’m working through my reluctance. In the new book, I have more work changing scenes and getting characters to and fro and I’m finding it taxing. I think I’m getting past this and that I’ll be able to drive to the end. Then of course, editing starts!

But despite how miserable it feels to stare at the screen and barely get a couple of hundred words out, I don’t think I’d change it. Pamela Slim, a respected business writer, once told me that writing a book is hard; having written a book is great (I hope I got that right Pam). I have to agree with her – the work can take you back to your high school or college days where you had a paper or essay due and all you had was an empty page and no idea where to begin. Some days it’s magical and the words can’t get on the page fast enough; other days feel like sheer drudgery. I shouldn’t complain because it’s not like I’m doing back breaking work, but it is tiring.

So here’s to powering through to the end and following Jo’s lead to become a world renowned author!

Happy Journeys!

Mike

Read More

2016: It Was The Best of Times; It Was the Worst of Times

So another year is almost over and I guess I will bow to the tradition of reviewing the past year. And when I think of 2016, it could be best summarized by the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities.

The Worst of Times

I know I’m not alone when I say that much of 2016 was just plain awful. We’ve lost so many talented actors and musicians this year that it borders on the ridiculous. The election process was absolutely painful with all of the divisive, hateful rhetoric.  For the first half of the year, I was working tons of overtime and not feeling very appreciated at work which made me feel stressed and miserable. And of course, that led to little time or energy to write. I tried many times to change my situation at work with no results. In many ways, I couldn’t wait to see the back side of 2016.

The Best of Times

But starting in the summer, things changed. The biggest change came with The Great American Road Trip that I detailed in this blog. I saw sights that I’m not sure I would ever see like Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Crazy Horse Monument, and Old Faithful. The time (and probably the distance) gave me a different mind set and certainly did much to reduce my stress and change my mood. In addition, we also traveled to Kingston, Ontario as part of the college visit process and got to have haggis, just like Malcolm.

This year (in which Star Trek and I share the same “anniversary”), I indulged my love of Star Trek to an unprecedented degree. We toured the Star Trek:Exploring New Worlds exhibit at the Experience Music Project in Seattle; made a pilgrimage to Riverside, Iowa to visit the future birthplace of James T. Kirk; and travelled to the Intrepid Air & Space Museum to take part in the Starfleet Academy Experience to celebrate my birthday.

Professionally, things finally changed with a promotion and a slight shift in responsibilities. Now, I don’t loathe going to work. Don’t get me wrong; if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t be sticking around very long. But I’m not unhappy – which for those who know me, is a very new thing.

And on the writing front, I didn’t finish The Reluctant Agent. In fact, I’m barely past the halfway point of the first draft. But I had my very first signing at a Barnes & Noble, I took part in the inaugural Indie Author Day, and I had my very first writing retreat. So, it was a big year for me as a writer, even if I didn’t write as much as I hoped.

And What of 2017?

What about 2017? I’m not going to make resolutions for 2017, but I have a few goals for 2017:

  • Finish and publish The Reluctant Agent – I am having a writing retreat at home to begin 2017 (my family is at a student theatre festival) so I’m hoping that it will be the catalyst to finish the first draft.
  • Post more frequently (and predictively) on this site – time will tell…
  •  Be mindful of life and take advantages of all of its gifts and opportunities – with all of the deaths this past year and the significant milestone I reached this year, it really reminded me that life is never guaranteed.

I’d like to end the year by thanking everyone who read my blog this year; I hope to see you again 2017!

And I’d like to close by wishing everyone an exceptional 2017! Let’s make 2017 kick 2016’s sorry ass!

Happy journeys,

Mike

 

Read More

Thankfulness

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving has come and gone and now the crazy race for the holidays begins. But I wanted to stop for a moment and reflect on why I’m thankful this year.

Things For Which I Am Thankful

(OK – it may be acceptable now, but I have a near manic obsession of not ending a sentence with a preposition. I always remember “A preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with”)

  • I’m Thankful for the Travel Experiences I’ve had this year – This year, I think I’ve travelled more than I have in many years and that makes me thankful. In edition to our epic road trip across the country and back again, I got to spend a day in New York City getting to live my fantasy of joining Starfleet at the Starfleet Academy Experience at the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, a trip to beautiful Kingston Ontario for a college visit for my son, and our annual trip to the Theater Association of New York State (TANYS) Festival where I got to see a number of quality community theatre shows. And the icing on the cake was that I got to enjoy them with my family
  • I’m Thankful for my Writing Experiences I’ve had this year – It was kind a big year for me as a writer (despite the fact I haven’t sold a significant number of books). This year, I took part in a book signing at a Barnes & Noble (where no one came), I sold my books at the Sherburne Arts Festival, I had my very own “Writer’s Retreat” where the whole point of the trip was to write, and I took part in the Indie Author Day event. It’s really made me accept myself as a writer. Now if I only had more time to write….
  • I’m Thankful for Professional Success – People who know me will know that I haven’t always been happy with my day job (that’s probably a bit of an understatement…) However, seemingly out of the blue, I was promoted! This really meant a great deal to me because I feel like I earned it the old fashioned way – through hard work. And I’ve finally been promoted to the highest level I’ve had in my career – some of that was my own doing, some of it wasn’t. Either way, I’m thankful for it and look forward to the new challenges it will provide.

I hope that anyone reading this can look at their life and find thankfulness in their life. I know that sounds trite and just a year ago, I might have looked at my own statement very cynically. And we all know that there are many things going on in the world right now that can challenge that viewpoint. But I just want you to know that things can change and there are many things that can make us thankful.

Novel Update

Because of all of those travel experiences listed above, the actual writing of the next novel has slowed down considerably. With my promotion comes a great deal of knowledge that I need to document. So I am doing a ton of writing – just not on the novel. I’m hoping to carve out some time in the next month to spend more consistent periods writing. I can say I’m about half to two thirds of the way through the first draft – so I am making progress in drips and drabs.

Let me leave you with a picture from one of my more recent travel experiences. When we were in Kingston, we ate at a pub housed in the former law office of the first Prime Minister of Canada and I got to have the traditional Scottish “delicacy” Haggis with Tatters and Neeps. Malcolm would be envious!

14955826_1329614323737895_4676337585574367217_n-2

Happy journeys!

Mike

Read More

Embracing the Writer Within

Embracing the Writer Within

Since returning from my writing retreat, I’ve had a couple of experiences that have encouraged me to embrace the fact that I really am a writer as much as I am a programmer or musician.

Saturday, October 8, I participated in the Indie Author Day at the Sherburne Public Library. This was a national event and I was so very happy that our library chose to participate.  The goal of Indie Author Day was to bring together libraries, independent authors to start a partnership to get independent works into libraries and to new readers. I was fortunate enough to share the event with Herm Sherwood-Sitts, Justin Palmer (local authors), Brian McDowell, owner of Log Cabin Books (a small independent publisher) and a number of people interested in becoming authors. Writing is a solitary pursuit so it was nice to have a discussion with fellow writers and share experiences. And to top it off, I sold a book to a high school friend who I haven’t seen in a long time.

img_1938

One of my takeaways from the Indie Author Days was learning not be afraid of asking people to buying your books. This was the push I needed to take part in “Artistic Discovery”, an event where people can sell arts and crafts at my place of employment. I really had no idea how many I would sell, but I was very surprised that I sold fourteen books.

Between my writing retreat and these two events, it’s forced me to really embrace the fact that I’m a writer. As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to not self identify as a writer. Although I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve written a book, I am hesitant to mention it. I’m not sure why exactly. I think it comes from being picked on in high school about being smart. It’s taken me a long time to embrace being a a computer programming, Star Trek loving epitome of a nerd. One thing that has helped is that there’s been an acceptance of geek culture in the last ten years or so.  And social media has allowed people of the various geek tribes to come together. But writing is a little different. Writing is perceived as more intellectual. And without getting too political, I can safely say that there definitely is a large current of anti-intellectualism going on in this country. Admitting you’re a writer is like admitting you’re an intellectual elitist.

Especially now, writing is NOT elitist. Anyone can write, anyone can publish. All you need to start is a pen and a bunch of paper. My former English teachers and English teacher friends will hate me for saying this, but our educational system crushed any love of writing out us with the essays analyzing the symbolism in Farewell To Arms (here’s where I’m going to be a heretic: I pretty much loathe anything I’ve read by Hemingway). The truth is, almost everyone writes on a daily basis: email, social media posts, etc.  If you want a real writing challenge, try to express a complex sentiment in the 140 character limit of Twitter. Talk about  an intellectual exercise!

But we never stop to think of that as writing. And it is. Writing shouldn’t be this big scary thing; it’s something we should all embrace. Whether you publish it or not, the act of creating is important in and of itself. But if you want to publish and see that book on a library shelf, there’s never been a better time to do that.

So I’ve decided to embrace my identity as a writer and I’m asking anyone who reads this to embrace it too. We are all writers; we all have a fundamental need to communicate in a way more permanent than the spoken word.  Even if we never share the words with another soul, we are at the very least, communicating with ourselves.

Now if I only had more time to write, but that’s a different story….

Happy Journeys!

Mike

 

 

Read More