A Year Of... interesting things

March Report

I don’t know what was about March that completely set me back to zero. No writing. Nada. Barely any reading too save for books because of travel Wildlife of the National Parks and Reserves of Costa Rica by Michael and Patricia Fogden and Costa Rica - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Jane Koutnik.

(On the flip-side, I’ve discovered a really cool sunscreen: Blue Lizard. The bottles starts white and they turn blue in the sun to indicate protection needs to be applied.)

I could blame my lack of progress on any number of issues:

  • travel/vacation - on one hand no more work, on the other hand exhaustion from activities and adventures;
  • COVID-19, which provided constant anxiety; travel + COVID-19 proved a real worry machine;
  • ramped up work to make up for vacation then catching up after vacation;
  • uncertainty over the direction to pursue and seeming lack of “inspiration”.

I need to meditate a bit on this and figure out exactly what’s holding me back. Perhaps it’s a matter of time, available time, but I feel there’s a deeper reason there. I need to find that deeper reason and work with it or against it, whichever gets me move forward.

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February Report

I have a bad habit of getting distracted with rabbit holes. I see one and I feel a compulsion to go down it. Sometimes it’s like starting with a Wikipedia article and many hours later I’m down only half of the starting page but I have read 100 other pages linked from it. Other times, it takes the shape of falling in love with a technical solution when a half-assed manual approached could have produced much of the same results and often much shorter time. February was the later.

In trying to make progress on research topic, I went down the road of trying to automate it. Scrape down a certain site, parse the results, extract the information using a Python scripts and store various metrics into a database so that I can build my data analysis on top of structured data.

The compulsion came from not being able to access an inelegant solution an so I spent a good deal of time trying to write not just useful code, but beautiful code too, and trying to learn and practice new concepts while doing so. While I have made good progress, I still don’t have a solution that allows me to proceed to the next step: data analysis and trying to determine, perhaps mathematically, a good niche.

Not all was wasted in February.

I have read several stories in a larger category as one of the recommendations I picked up was to read works in a potential category in order to become familiar with the conventions of the genre. It was eye opening and illuminating and I was happy that the books I read on reading have helped me better understand structure, characters, and settings.

I read only one “technical” book: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I enjoyed it and captured many great quotes and lessons from it. I think my favorite and the most relevant to my endeavors:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.

January Report

January had a fairly tall order: reading, writing, research, online persona creation.

As per usual, trying to grab a big bite is a recipe for failure.

Reading happened:

In in all, I also managed to find time to write a short, 1,000-word story. (It’s not much but it’s honest work meme)

It was … unexpectedly difficult. It was effectively fan-fic, in a way, but I combined two ideas that were very dear to my heart. I doing so, I thought it would’ve been easy, that words would freely pour out of me. An incident comes to mind: it’s [the story][dropbox] of a meeting between Steve Jobs and Drew Houston, the creator of Dropbox, in which Jobs tells Houston, derisively, that Dropbox is a “feature, not a product”. It’s an apt analogy for I thought I had a product – the story, but what I really had was a feature, an idea, without too much of a path to full realization.

Even with the pieces in place, it was hard to write the connecting text and do so with consistent tone and quality. Perhaps this is something that gets better with time. Right now, I cannot even begin to imagine what it takes to write a whole novel.

The online persona creation started with a Reddit account so that I can participate in discussions. I still need to figure how to create other accounts that are common with writers – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – keeping in with both their respective terms of service and the need to not have it connected to my identity.

Research is where it all faltered. I started going down that path, but I wasn’t able to make much progress. I am trying to take a programmatic approach to this research that would allow me to create a repeatable solution in order to be able to explore niches quickly. Or at least quicker.
February will need to pick up the pace on research.

2020 - Year of Writing

To be perfectly honest, I think this is more of a venture to tickle the vanity rather than to provide specific value.

I’m high on the success of 2019, the Year of Reducing, and feel like rewarding myself with a delusion.

I had originally started thinking that writing better would be a great skill – and it is – but I realized I was rationalizing. Sure, my text is not marketing or copy quality; it’s passable and functional. Sales skill would serve a lot better.

It does however align with a long-concocted plan to retire early and if some modest income could be derived by writing, something I always thought I loved doing, then it’ll be a strong pillar of those dreams.

It’s delusional too given that most writer do no make a living out of writing. I am armed with unrealistic hopes, though, and a thesis that bringing an analytical approach to discovering profitable niches will allow me to build this into a revenue stream

To that extent, a Year of Writing it is and its primary goal is to become a published author. I use “author” over “writer” because the goal is to be paid for my work.

Goal #1: make at least $100 during each of the last three months of 2020 from published works.

Goal #2: to learn how to build a modest marketing and sales pipeline that would support and enable goal #1.

To this extend, my plan for the year is as following:

  • First quarter: research;
  • Second quarter: write;
  • Third quarter: refine and market;
  • Fourth quarter: profit, of course, but also still write.

I think the following is a good detailed plan for the first quarter:

  • January:
    1. read a couple of books on the craft of writing;
    2. create a nom-de-plume, an online persona for my writer as some of the writing venture might take me into territories I may not want connected to my other business ventures;
    3. begin research into literary niches that may be profitable and under-served; create a model or an approach on how to discover these niches;
    4. write at least one, likely terrible, short story on any subject; bonus: write two.
  • February:
    1. refine market research and start reading works in those niches;
    2. continue reading books on the craft of writing. If possible, focus on either books applicable to those niches or books that could help in those niches;
    3. write two short stories closer to at least one of the categories researched; bonus: write four.
  • March: at this point I expect (hope?) that research has pin-pointed one of more profitable niches and the effort will mostly towards serving those niches;

    1. continue reading material in the categories deemed most likely to be profitable;
    2. write a few (three or more) short stories in each of those categories (likely two or more categories);
    3. research self-publishing venues and eventually publish a subset of those stories online to gather some feedback – hopefully somebody is willing to also read them.

December Report and End-of-Year Reflection

A good part of the quest for ridding possession is controlling the intake. December tends to be a challenge.

It seems that no matter how insistent one is that they’d like to receive no gifts some people have a hard time respecting that. I don’t fault them; it’s tremendously difficult to go against the tide, against all the societal pressure that has long established that birthdays and Christmases be celebrated primarily through two means: food and gifts.

To be fair, I also didn’t prepare properly. I should’ve had this insight earlier on and provide a solution that would meet both minimalist requirements as well as the needs of the givers: ask for gifts of experiences rather than … things.

Examples of what I would consider experiences are, generally speaking:

  • entertainment tickets, be they to a movie, a concert, or a sporting event;
  • culinary outings: a new cuisine, a new restaurant, or even an old haunt that hasn’t been visited in a while;
  • wellness experiences – a massage or some sort of transient pampering like a spa day;
  • things that get reasonably quickly exhausted; for example, a bottle of wine or perhaps a bottle of hot sauce;

With the latter point I would also include certain “supplies”, although they’re a bit weird to gift, when properly chosen they may be extremely welcome even to a minimalist: a perfume, make-up, a bottle of ink for someone that’s into fountain pens, or say drawing paper or paints for an artist.

The final tally for December, taken even though there’s still a day left, puts me at: 17 items in, 28 items out, for a total of -11.

Overall, I ended 2020 with 231 fewer possessions than I started at the beginning of this journey, twelve months ago. A promise kept.

I also had some secondary goals:

  • reduce my consumption of alcohol or even give it up altogether: accomplished - from a drink a week I think I reduced it down to a drink a month or so;
  • attempt to reduce snacking and stress-eating - accomplished, although it waxed and waned throughout the year, overall it’s been reduced and healthier items (fruits and veggies) swapped for more caloric intense delights;
  • spend less time playing video games: under 10 hours/week: kind of accomplished – overall reduced, but the release of Borderlands 3, a favorite series, put me back into north of 20 hours per week for a couple of months;
  • spend less time on social media, mostly on Reddit: failed;
  • spend fewer days and weekends indoors and more out enjoying the wonderful parks my state offers: accomplished, but not to the level I would’ve liked.

A tertiary goal has been to reduce the reliance on single-client income and develop some alternately streams of income. Ultimately this failed. Although it’s something I intend to revisit in the future, I have eventually come to accept that the fastest path to FIRE - Financial Independence/Retire Early is to maximize my consulting income in order to achieve a half-retirement or a lean FIRE position (retire before 60 with less than $40k in planned yearly household expenses), which would be a good place from which to dedicate myself to building these alternate income streams.

Looking back at it all, I’d say it’s been a great year and the things that worked to make it so have all been underpinned by the SMART goal system:

  • Specific - reducing possessions, reducing consumption;
  • Measurable - the 10 things a month challenge;
  • Attainable - much thanks to Goodbye, Things for providing a good template on how to;
  • Realistic - 10 things per period seemed and was reasonable;
  • Time-bound - monthly periods and one overall year.