number 42

42 Answers to the Question, “Why Blog?”

The Number 42

Few writers have made as much of an impression as Douglas Adams on my imagination. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy remains one of my favorite books.

“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

The number 42 has entered the popular imagination since the release of Douglas Adams' book. I don't know the ultimate question. I have asked myself on many occasion, “Why blog?” Most recently, while taking the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog course from Problogger. One of the first assignments is writing a post answering that question. It probably isn't the ultimate question, but I decided to use the number 42 to answer it anyway. Here are 42 answers I came up with to the question, in no particular order, as far as I know.

  • I get asked how I manage a full-time career as a librarian, and still find time to write.
  • I talk to writers and to readers who want to know more about publishing options today.
  • I enjoy blogging enough to keep doing it for many years, and to relaunch my blog this year.
  • rocket I like to talk to people about productivity, sharing techniques I use, and hearing what works for other people.
  • rocket I find discussing habits and process interesting.
  • rocket Asking questions, seeking answers, and sharing my thoughts helps me learn at the same time I help others.
  • rocket As a librarian, I get to help people, and I want to do that with my writing too.
  • rocket I learn so much from blogs that I follow, such as Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog, The Creative Penn, and others.
  • rocket  I enjoy learning new tools, such as ThriveThemes, to use in my blogging.
  • rocket A blog provides an opportunity for conversation with readers and other writers.
  • rocket The blog is like a time capsule that captures my thinking on different topics.
  • rocket It's easy to share blog posts.
  • rocket Blogging gives me a platform to share the amazing things that other people are doing.
  • rocket I get to learn cool things like SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
  • rocket Blogging pushes my librarian buttons.
  • rocket I enjoy writing non-fiction content as well as fiction, and the blog provides one outlet for that interest.
  • rocket I get to share my various interests, including coding and data visualizations.
  • rocket I'm using my blog to create an encyclopedia of my universes, Bibliogalactica (I'll share when I flesh out more content).
  • rocket I've created a store for my work on the blog, gaining more freedom, control, and ability to offer unique deals.
  • rocket I can help people get started writing.
  • rocket The blog provides a hub for sharing my work, including my email group Readinary
  • rocket I get to share how to get started with Amazon Ads.
  • rocket I can create a series of posts, e.g. creating a word count tracking spreadsheet in Excel.
  • rocket It provides a chance to share my current thinking on topics like selling direct to readers.
  • rocket A blog provides opportunities to earn income through affiliate links for products I use like RescueTime.
  • rocket I can create fun writing challenges, like how to write, finish, and submit a short story in a single day.
  • rocket It gives me a place to share methods I use for practice.
  • rocket Blogging about the challenges I face (such as depression) may help other people.
  • rocket I can create exercises, quizzes, and other material to help and entertain people.
  • rocket It gives me a place to share writing prompts.
  • rocket I don't have enough to do already (not true).
  • rocket I can promote other writers' work through my blog.
  • rocket Blogging is one of the cornerstones of my entrepreneurial plan.
  • rocket Content created on the blog can be used in other products, such as books, articles, or courses.
  • rocket It's easy to get started, and can keep me challenged for years to come.
  • rocket I enjoy sharing my work, despite being an introvert, and the blog gives me a way to do that.
  • rocket I've tried podcasting, and prefer blogging.
  • rocket It gives me a channel to talk about the importance of libraries.
  • rocket The blog is the best way for readers to connect with me.
  • rocket I don't think I could host my own TV show.
  • rocket My brain never shuts up.
  • rocket I hope that my blog will help my son understand me.

Go Beyond the Number 42

This is only the start. Go beyond the number 42 by subscribing to Readinary. Get my latest posts, techniques, thoughts, and offers. Grab a towel. “Don't panic.” – Douglas Adams.

Python

Get Your Code On: Generating Novel Titles With Python

Writing doesn’t require learning to code. But you can have fun, save time, and improve creativity by learning at least some coding. Even something as simple as creating a word count tracker can help with productivity. Picking up knowledge around HTML and CSS can help writers with websites. Discovering languages like JavaScript or Python unlocks potential for many other options.

I faced this recently with a problem I faced around titles for novels in a series. Don’t worry if you haven’t coded anything before—this is a short example of using Python to generate a list of possible titles for my books. The techniques used can apply to any programming language—or even to doing it entirely by hand.

Branding Series Titles

For the sake of series branding, I wanted to follow the same title format that I used for the first books in the series, in this case Pierce, County, a series set in a fictionalized Washington state with vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of other monsters. Familiar? Think again. In this series the girl turns the tables on the vampires, reacting to them as the pedophiles they are rather than falling in love with them.

The first novel in the series, Dirty Old Vampires, came out a few years back under a pen name. I’ll be releasing an updated version later this year. Then I’ll follow it with Naughty Young Werewolves, and the third book, Pretty Dead Ghouls.

Get the pattern with the titles?

Three words, two adjectives, and a plural noun. The first word is suggestive with a “-y” ending, the second descriptive, and the last refers to a type of monster. I wanted to generate a list of possible titles from combinations of different words.

Creating the Word List

Before starting any coding, I created three lists of possible words, a list for each category. This step requires thinking up words. The lists don’t need to be the same length, but I kept at it until I had lists each with 24 words. I didn’t plan to use all of those words, I only wanted to see what combinations turned up.

The lists can be any words you like, with more lists, or fewer. The more lists, the more words in the lists, the greater number of possible combinations. And that is where coding comes in. The number of possible combinations for my lists exceeded 13,000. Although I could generate them by hand, it’d take a while to even list all of them, much less consider them. It's faster to use the code to generate the list.

After I review the code used for generating word combinations, I'll talk about how I went about narrowing that list down. Fortunately, the process didn't take too long.

Random Titles

You can skip the coding part and use word lists like this to generate title ideas. Pick a word from the first column, one from the second, and one from the third. If you’re using Excel and want to create random titles, use a formula like:

=INDEX(Table1[First],RANDBETWEEN(1,ROWS(Table1[First])))

The formula refers to the column of a table containing your words. You'd use the same formula in adjacent cells, except change the reference to the other columns of your table. Press F9 to refresh the sheet and generate a new random title.

Example Word List

Here's a portion of the word list I used in generating titles. I'll use these lists in the example code.

First

Second

Third

Crazy

Innocent

Reapers

Curvy

Bold

Gargoyles

Fleshy

Live

Sirens

Flirty

Cute

Zombies

Kinky

Brunette

Ghosts

Lusty

Wild

Demons

Steamy

Ancient

Angels

Sultry

Blonde

Mummies

Here's another way to try title combinations: in a table like this one, sort by the different columns to quickly see different combinations. 

Introducing Python With TitleGen.py

Here's the code I used for this simple title generator. I'm not a Python expert. I like experimenting and trying things out, but I'm still learning.

titlegen.py Python

The first lines with the hash mark # are comments. 

“import itertools” adds a module with code to help with combinations.

An array is a list. These are the word lists that I'm using for this example. You can see that they are inside single quotes and the comma goes outside the quote. If you want a possessive word use double-quotes instead (just be consistent).

The titles array is empty at the start.

def gen_titles creates a function, a piece of code, that actually generates the titles, adding each to the previous empty titles array.

Next is another function, show_titles, that sends the titles to the Python shell.

Finally, the code runs the two functions created, generating and showing the titles. 

Python Generated Titles

The example list of eight words in each group generated 512 possible titles as it iterated through the combinations. The text output can be copied and pasted into other programs.

Python output

This isn't the only way this could work. For example, if I only wanted to look at possible titles for zombies, I could run the program with only zombies in the third list and generate a list of titles that used every combination of the other words. That's similar to what I actually did to narrow down a list of over 13,000 items.

Reducing the Title List

Even with a long list of titles, some titles will catch your attention, e.g., Flirty Live Gargoyles. With this series, I don't want to use any of those words again, so I delete them from the arrays and run the program again. In that way, I can quickly reduce the number of titles by removing words used that I don't want to repeat and running the program once more. If you're using the random title method, the same technique works. Take out the words used and run it again. You can repeat that as many times as you like until you run out of possible combinations that interest you.

Adapting TitleGen.py

Nothing requires the program to remain structured the way I have created it. Don't want a three-word title? Leave an array empty or remove it entirely. If you remove the array, you'll need to update the for loop in the gen_titles function. The key part is the itertools.product(first, second, third). If you removed an array, removed the reference from the product function, e.g. itertools.product(first, second). Likewise, if you want to add an array, create it like the others in the program and add a reference to the product function, e.g., itertools.product(first, second, third, fourth).

Your arrays also don't need to be single words. You could have an array with prepositions, prepositional phrases, articles. Or one with verbs. Maybe you want words ending in “-ing.” You can create word lists from whatever you want and an entry in the array can include multiple words as a single entry, e.g., “of the” might be an entry. Customize it however you like.

Resources for Learning Python

Get started learning Python at your local library. There's a pretty good chance that they will have books to teach Python. My local library offers Lynda.com ($30/month value) which has courses on learning Python. You can also check out free resources online such as W3Schools and the Python.org website. Whatever resources you use, you'll want to visit the Python.org website to get started and install Python on your system.

It isn't necessary for a writer to learn Python, but its usefulness isn't limited to creating a quick title-generating program. There are many other different ways that Python can be used to help you in your creative efforts. Or any other programming language that you choose to learn. Writing is all about discovery. Learning Python is also about discovery. Go on an adventure. And while you're at it, go ahead and sign up for Readinary, my weekly email below.

Unplanned Time Off

Unplanned Time Off

I took some unplanned time off from working on my blog over the past few weeks. It stemmed in large part from a life roll—the loss of our two dogs. Poppy passed at the end of April, age-related reasons, at 18 years old. Worf, only 7 years old, was diagnosed with cancer and had stopped eating despite all that we tried. It became clear he wasn't improving and we made the difficult choice to have him euthanized. It's been hard for me and my family. As I get my creative life back on track, I thought I'd share some tactics I've used that you might find helpful. 

Accept Unplanned Time Off

Whatever the cause, the first thing to do is accept the need to take unplanned time off. In my case, as a working full-time librarian and writer, I needed to recognize that it was healthier for me to take the time off and grieve. It doesn't have to be grief. It could be any life roll that makes it more difficult to pursue your creative practice. Maybe you've got a move, a new job, a new relationship, a loss, an injury, or an illness. Family issues may also tip the scale. Allow yourself the space to address whatever the cause of your unplanned time off. 

Our self-imposed deadlines can encourage us to create new work and to be more productive and creative. If it becomes a source of stress then it is important to find ways to adjust and be kind to ourselves. I find meditation and exercise helps me cultivate a calmer mind and develop awareness and acceptance.

Getting Back to Creating

How do you get back to creating after your routines have been disrupted? I ran into this big time after finishing my latest degree. Between 2015-2017, my attention outside of work was on the degree. I wrote very little during that time. When 2018 came around, I tried to jump right back into creating as if nothing had happened. That hasn't worked. It wasn't realistic to expect that I'd immediately fall back into old routines. Whether the disruption that led to taking unplanned time off (or planned time) is short-term or long-term, you may find that you can't simply pick up those routines.

Or maybe you can? In my experience, that hasn't been the case, but you may have a different experience. 

I realized that I'm in a process of rediscovery or reinvention of my creative process. 

Discovering Your Creative Process

The other day, as I walked along the lovely trail near my house, I listened to Joanna Penn's podcast interview with Jeff Haden

The discussion around process resonated with me in that interview. It's at the heart of what I've struggled with, both in finishing my degree and with the recent loss of our dogs. In both cases, I've failed to pay attention to process.

For me, process is how you win, process is how you succeed because it weeds out all of the other stuff like talent or education or connections – Jeff Haden

Process, Not Deadlines

Deadlines may serve a purpose. This came up in Darren Rowse's recent podcast on deadlines for bloggers. This week the podcasts have hit right at the heart of my current struggle.

I relaunched my blog with a regular schedule of posts. I tweaked and adjusted it a bit, but pretty much stuck to the blog schedule. Only, it wasn't based on anything concrete in terms of my available time.

Deadlines can help or hinder. They can be incredibly motivating for some bloggers, who do their best work under pressure. But for others, schedules and deadlines are crippling. – Darren Rowse, Problogger

Internal vs. External Deadlines

Darren discusses the conflict with deadlines and makes the point that a deadline can be an internal deadline. I think this is an important point. I put deadlines on my books that I'm reprinting, deadlines on my writing new books, and deadlines on my blog production. 

There were two big problems with my deadlines. First, my deadlines didn't have a concrete basis. I'd talked myself into a writing deadline for novels that was based more on what I thought I should be able to write. Not what I'm getting done right now. Not a deadline that takes into account time spent writing for the blog, publishing tasks, marketing, or any other business tasks. Second, the deadlines increased my stress even though I hadn't explicitly stated my deadlines in public.

Darren's suggestion to have an internal goal makes a lot of sense because you don't want to have production slack off to nothing. 

Dark MattersDark MattersDark MattersDark Matters

Focus on Process

I realized through all of this that the key for me right now is to focus on process. I need to let go of deadlines. With a full-time career, a family, and a reading habit, I'm not going to spend every moment producing new content. I'll watch TV sometimes, or a movie. Play games. Run errands. Work on the yard.

I don't know how long its going to take me to write my current novel. I don't know if it'll take more time or less time to reprint the book I'm working on than the last one. When it comes down to it, should doesn't matter. I need to focus on my process. I can follow a process. I can improve a process. 

With enough time and work on my new process I might eventually have a better estimate on how long projects will take. My ability to estimate it right now is limited. I can plan to work on my process.

For example: I need to spend time editing the next book I'm publishing. To overcome resistance, I dropped a shortcut to the document into the startup folder on my computer. My habit is to sit down at the computer with a bowl of granola and almond milk in the morning. Instead of reading posts on Facebook or news, now I'm going over edits on the book. It may turn out to be the only time I have to work on edits all day. That's fine. The process moves the project a bit closer to completion. 

Process is Key

So right now I'm focusing on processes. Each process that I follow whether writing new novels or stories, blogging, improving as a digital painter, publishing, marketing—whatever it is that I'm trying to accomplish. I have internal goals, but I've shifted my attention to the process. If I follow the process, I'll get to the desired outcome. I'll finish writing the book. I'll publish a book. I'll launch my new newsletter. Whatever it is, I'll get there by focusing on process rather than deadlines.

Process is also how I'm dealing with my recent unplanned time off. It gives me something concrete to focus on. One step at a time in the process, and I'll make progress.

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Noting Techniques

Recognizing Your Thoughts and Emotions | Using Noting Techniques

I practice meditation daily. Similarly, I practice writing. I have many different practices. In my last post, I talked about how focusing on the next step can help you be more productive. I've also written about productivity killers faced by writers. One of the big things that makes me feel as if I'm failing at times is the thought of all of the projects and tasks that I'm not getting done. In my meditation practice, I use noting techniques that help me with mindfulness. You can use the same noting techniques in your writing practice (or any other parts of your life).

What Are Noting Techniques?

Enter your text here…

Next Step

Focus on the Next Step and Improve Your Productivity

Take a look at the 650s section in a public library and you'll find a selection of time management books. Depending on the focus, you may find additional titles in other sections of the library, e.g., a book with more of a psychology focus might be in the 150s, while you might find some others in the 300s. Take a look, you may find a method that works well for you. For me, one of the key elements is focusing on the next step, that one thing I can do right now to move a project forward.

Overwhelmed? Find the Next Step

With so many possible things to do each day, how do we make progress? It's something that we do automatically in some areas of our life, and struggle in others. Whether as a librarian or as writer, I always have more projects than time. If I start listing them all, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Setting aside major parts of my life, and looking at my writing and publishing career, a few things on my list are:

  • Write new books, with titles planned across several current series, new series, and some standalone titles. I have literally dozens of books that I want to write—and that's assuming I don't come up with any new ideas (which happens constantly).
    • Add to that the short stories I want to write.
  • Publish new e-books of my backlist and current titles. I've released a couple new editions recently, I'm busy on the next title which is a new release, but I've got about twenty books to do.
    • That doesn't count the print editions in paperback, hardcover, and large print.
  • Write this blog, because I enjoy sharing what I'm learning and my journey. I hope it helps you. I know it helps me.
  • Update and manage my website, SEO, and the rest of that stuff. 
  • Study, learn, and practice to become a better writer. I read constantly, fiction and non-fiction, and continue working on becoming a better writer.

I could go on. That's only a portion of the things on my plate. I want to improve as an illustrator (currently working on getting t-shirt designs). Listing it all out this way makes it sound and feel overwhelming. The fact is, I can't tackle all of that at the same time. At any point, I have to pick the next step, the thing that I'm going to do right now.

Dark Matters Cover

Avoiding “Should” When Picking the Next Step

Faced with a long list of projects and things to do, how do you pick the next step? If you struggle with making the decision, it can be daunting. Fortunately, people are generally pretty good at deciding on the next step. We're not so good at handling what we think we “should” do, or how much we “should” be able to get done. Have you ever done this?

  • I only wrote 100 words today—I should be able to write much more!
  • I know I should work on my book—rather than spending time walking.
  • I shouldn't have to give up my time to write—except no one respects my writing schedule. 

No try, and no should. You do a thing or you don't. In my Full Focus Planner, you're encouraged to choose your weekly big three items, and each day you pick your daily big three items. Together they build to help you reach your goals for this quarter and the year. The daily items are the next steps I can take each day. I'll don't try to do them, I do them or I don't. It'd be easy to fall into the notion that I should be able to accomplish those items every day and feel guilty or feel like a failure when I don't. 

Instead, aim for mindfulness when deciding on your next step. Consider your energy levels, your location, and what excites you at the moment when choosing what to do. Have fun!

Revitalize Your Writing Career

It’s Never Too Late to Revitalize Your Writing Career

A decade after I decided I needed to “get serious” about my writing career. I already had a master's degree in writing popular fiction and had been writing since I was a teenager. I'd managed to get a couple stories published and enjoyed my first professional sale. At the time, I thought I'd start making a living from my writing within five years.

That didn't happen. I watched other writers, newer writers, achieve the sort of success that I wanted. I kept at it and sold more stories. I made my first forays into indie publishing and it didn't take off the way I wanted. Since I also have a satisfying career as a librarian, I shifted my focus to my library career. I kept a few things going with my writing, but mostly I let it rest for about three years. Now I'm rebuilding, revitalizing my writing career. In this post I'll share four strategies I've found helpful in starting over.

Let Go of Envy and Focus on Your Writing Career—Not Another Writer's Career

It's normal enough to envy another person's success, particularly when their success is in your own field. You may see someone who started after you enjoying the success that you desire. Envy can quickly turn poisonous. 

  • “They got lucky…”
  • “It's terrible writing…”
  • “They only got attention because they are [blank]…”

None of that is positive or helpful in your own writing career. I've heard people (all too often) denounce a writer and their work because it is ‘too popular,' a condemnation based on classist views that equate popularity with lesser quality. Maybe that writer's books aren't to your taste, but clearly there are aspects to their writing that people enjoy. 

Rather than envying another writer's career, learn from them. Don't focus on what you think they've done wrong, or what you think are their weaknesses. Focus instead on their strengths. Maybe they're strong in an area where you can improve. Put aside your envy of their success and learn instead. 

Reframe Your Expectations

Do you see what I did years ago? I decided that I needed to “get serious.” For me that meant giving my writing career more attention, focus, and study. It meant increasing my production. And I expected that the work I was doing would result in making a living from my writing in a fairly short time frame.

Realistic? Not particularly. It wasn't based on any concrete reasons. I wanted a certain result, and expected that result to materialize simply because I worked hard. Whether or not that happened, my expectation wasn't reality-based. It was based on hopes and dreams rather than anything concrete, or anything within my control.

Set realistic and fair expectations for yourself. Can you control sales? No. Can you practice writing copy? Yes. Can you test different ads? Yes. Can you study how other writers create engaging openings? Yes. Is it realistic to expect to write 10,000 words per day? I don't know, it depends on you and your circumstances. It isn't a realistic expectation for me. 

Figure out realistic expectations for yourself, based on what you control, and you'll see more success with your writing career.

Refresh (or Release) Your Titles

One way I aim to revitalize my career is by refreshing existing titles with new editions and by releasing titles that I haven't previously published.

Maybe you have titles that haven't performed the way you desired. You're not stuck with that experience. You can change anything you want. Maybe your book needs a new title? Cover? Design? Everything? Many writers find improved success by relaunching and refreshing their backlist. 

If (like me) you have unpublished titles sitting in your files, why not get them out? I took my break from my writing career to focus on my librarian career after a year in which I wrote several books. I have the first two books in one series, and several other books that I haven't released yet. The first new book, Stowaway to Eternity, will come out soon.

Stowaway to EternityStowaway to Eternity

Focus on Fun

Finally, don't do what I did and “get serious.” I'm not suggesting that you don't do the best you can. I don't believe that it's a great idea to take your writing career so seriously that it strips away the fun. I've written stories for decades whether they sold or not.

One of the best ways to revitalize your writing career, gain new enthusiasm and excitement, is focusing on fun. Write the story that you want. After you're done you can figure out what you've written. Give yourself the freedom to experiment and try new things. Take risks. Challenge yourself without making the book too important. The more importance and stress you put on yourself to write the book, the harder you'll find it to stick with the book.

I'm excited about relaunching my writing career. I'm trying out new things and having fun. Over the rest of the year I plan to have many more books available. I hope you'll check back to see how it goes, and share your own progress with your writing career.