Feb 19, 2017

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Bullet Journal: year one (almost)

I am more or less always trying to hack my productivity. I have great big plans for my future and all of them involve doing a great many things. Sometimes at once. This often means that I end up forgetting stuff that’s coming up until it’s too late. For a short while, before and after, Viable Paradise I tried out Getting Things Done by Paul Allen. I couldn’t make it work for me beyond a few revelations that I got in terms of how to handle my todo-lists and my projects. It’s definitely worth taking a look at but, for me, it kept devolving into chaos. My last attempt was with Trello fell down in a uniquely digital way. So I went in search of an analog option and in March I came across the Bullet Journal.

I am by no means done hacking my process. Like Tobias Buckell says in his Bullet Journal post, it is essentially a personal UI. And for my part, I’m still searching. The thing that almost stopped me is that I can’t draw to any level that would make me want to keep looking at it in any sort of planner. I like colors, so that part was easy but a lot of the people that you see sharing photos or blog posts about their bujos have decorated their notebooks with cute little doodles and hand-lettered quotes. The absolute fanciest thing that I’m capable of is tracing fonts from the computer and adding colored blocks on a page.

Quite happy with the way this spread turned out. Two things I really need to keep track of this year. #bujo

Henkilön Nina Niskanen (@nina.niskanen) jakama julkaisu

The way I use my bullet journal is as a brain dump. Essentially speaking. I do this in four layers; yearly, monthly, weekly and daily. This is most in evidence in the weird mix of Finnish and English I use to write in it. I essentially use the language that the thing I’m writing is easiest for me to grasp in at the moment I’m writing it.


Unsurprisingly, this is the highest level and least used. Here is where I list the big picture stuff, things I know are coming months in advance. So far this year I’ve been updating it as the year goes on but last year I barely did. I’m not entirely sure how to make this more useful or if it’s just a matter of getting into the habit.

bullet journal future log / yearly planner


This is the one that has gone through most changes since I started. I started out with a calendar, habit tracker, affirmations, goals and a gratitude log. I’ve tried other things between then and now, finally ending up with this:

bullet journal monthly view

A simple monthly log, the big stuff I need to get done during the month and the very latest, notes for the next month. Latest as in I added it while I was putting together this post. The UI to my brain is clearly a living document.


bullet journal weekly page This month is the first that I’ve tried out the weekly log. I got the idea from Natalie Luhrs’ Bullet Journal Update. Next week is only the second I’ll be using it since I spent most of this week sick enough to not give a fuck about planning it. It’s not like any of the days would have said more than “sleep”, “eat” and “walk the dog”. So, while I do like the structure and the ability to see at a glance what I’m going to be doing during the week, this feature is still new enough that I don’t know whether or not it’s staying. But so far I’m liking it. Here, you can also see a key feature of my bullet journal that many bujoers shun: I don’t erase, remove or doodle over mistakes. A lot of people on Youtube talk about tearing off a page or they use pencils to sketch out the stuff they’re doing before committing to ink and I just don’t have the patience for that. I will do the fancy fonts once a month but that’s it. And this is why those people will always, always have prettier bujos than I. But that’s okay. I’m essentially an engineer anyway. My shit is practically ornate.


bullet journal daily log This is the thing that has me keeping up my bujo almost a year into it. This is also the part that has seen the least amount of development. Inspired by Tobias Buckell’s post, I added the “Today is going to rock because..” and I moved the gratitude log from the monthly pages to the dailies months ago. I’m keeping the gratitude mostly because I’ve seen reports of studies that daily gratitude is all kinds of good fo you, and frankly, it just gives me a little jolt of pleasure at the end of the day to come up with a thing. My key is super simple: I have a box for the task. I cross the box when the task is done. I cross one bar if I get to the end of the day and the task is only half done. If I didn’t even start, I draw an arrow inside the box. So far, this has been completely sufficient for all my needs but maybe it’ll end up changing by next year, especially since I’m planning to start incorporating more of my fiction world into my bujo. It’s not like I’ve managed to figure out my brain, or even most of it.

And so, dear reader, we come to you. What is it you use to plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

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Dec 13, 2015

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The Myth of Writing Can’t Be Taught

There’s a myth that I keep hearing about. For some reason, people think that art in general but writing, in particular, is the only endeavor in the entirety of human existence that cannot be taught beyond the ability to type. That somehow writing is the only thing where hard work counts for naught and natural ability is the only thing that makes a writer worth reading. To quote Tim Minchin: “Wow. That’s a good point, let me think for a bit. No, wait, that’s absolute bullshit.”

I’m a firm believer in stories. Our brains are wired to tell them and take them in whatever form they’re presented to us and learn from them. Every one of us has the brain to be a story teller. Of course, natural talent does play a part. And maybe you can’t turn someone with an appalling sense of rhythm and theme and character into an award-worthy writer, sure. But that isn’t the same as “writing can’t be taught”.

Writing has a number of facets that affect it. Character, plot, theme, those are just the very beginning. All of it is subject to being able to practice and learn, just like anything else. Writing is about practice. There are so many people who are writers today, making a living at it, who were told by some tosspot that they were, nor would they ever be writers because they didn’t naturally write like bestsellers or award winners.

Writing requires work (which is not to say that it’s hard labor. There’s a difference). For everyone. The talented and the untalented alike. There are people with natural talent who never bothered with the work and therefore never succeeded. Telling people not to work at achieving their dreams because they might not happen is, in my not so humble opinion, cowardice or simply being mean. That doesn’t mean that everyone who has a dream of being a writer should pursue it with single-minded determination.

I’m not saying, “quit your day job if you want to be an artist”. I’m saying, do something. Write a poem, a novel, a short story. Show it to someone who a) won’t rip your heart out and make you eat it while it’s still beating and b) will still give you feedback. Repeat. At some point, get teaching from a working writer or editor. Someone who actually knows what it’s like to be the man or woman in the arena. Listen to them, try out what they tell you to, they might actually know something more than you do. And then again, they might not. We’re not all perfect, unique snowflakes, but nor are we exactly the same either. If something is hard, that just means it needs more work. And if nothing is hard, then you’re probably not developing as an artist.

Go out there and make art. It probably won’t be as good as you hope it will be but here’s what you do: make more art. And when you can’t see what to do to make your art better, ask the man in the arena. Maybe writing can’t be taught but it can for damn sure be learned.

Edited to add: As it happens, the day after I wrote this I started reading Mindset by Carol Dweck which explains at length why natural talent as a predictor of success is absolute bullshit. Also good for explaining why we are culturally primed for impostor syndrome. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Sep 19, 2015

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073 (2)I’m a fan of tattoos. Have been as long as I can remember. I’ve always found it fascinating how the things we use to decorate our skins tell the stories of us.

The most interesting thing about tattoos is that they’ve remained essentially similar throughout human history. Whether it was tribesmen in the alps, sailors on the high seas or modern peoples everywhere, creating a tattoo is essentially the same. Using a sharp implement to break the skin to drive ink underneath the epidermis. Modern tattoo machines are more precise and allow for more control to the artist than the traditional Ta Moko type tools, let alone the singular needles used in old sailor and prison tattoos. But the process is essentially the same.

I’m in the middle of editing a space opera novel, The Avatar Legacy, in which one of the two main characters has tattoos and uses them as a way to deal with the fact that she’s killed people. This has got me thinking about the future of tattoos. There’s this scene in the Starship Troopers movie in which the Roughnecks central to the story go in to get tattooed.

And while that sure looks cool, there’s something missing from the process. Doing my entire back took something like 50 hours of work. Granted, a lot of this is because the artist who made it was very detail oriented. Each of the scales on my dragon is inked in individually and that shows if you look at it up close. But there’s definitely something pensive about the process of getting tattooed that’s been there from the beginning but is entirely lacking in the Starship Troopers clip. And while my memories of getting tattooed may have been gilded by time, I don’t recall any of it hurting quite that much, even while the artist was working on top of my spine.

There’s a tactile quality to tattoos and tattoo artistry that I somehow doubt will ever quite go away. The best artists create their own designs instead of working off stock pictures and the move toward more artist control seems the likeliest. Tattoos can be an art just like any other. On the other hand there will probably always be tattoo “artists” who work off template designs, working on the cheap and for them a machine like the Starship Troopers one would be great. They could set it to work and be done for their part. I’m not sure if both of these can be present in the same machine.

There’s a Writing Excuses episode where Howard Tayler talks about making his Schlock Mercenary PRG. The game producers delivered him perfectly drawn templates and asked him to trace them out because part of his “voice” as a cartoonist is the way his hand shakes or moves while he’s drawing. The same undoubtedly goes for tattoo artists. And I don’t know if you can maintain that while creating a more mechanized process of actually putting the ink under the epidermis.

What do you think?

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Jul 11, 2015

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Introversion and dealing with people

glow ball red

Most people refuse to believe it when I tell them that I’m shy and introverted. It takes effort for me to speak whenever I’m with people I don’t know, and people I know too for that matter. Meeting new people is not only exhausting but terrifying for me. It didn’t take me long to realize that it would be a lot easier to do all kinds of cool things if I was able to deal with people in a sociable manner. So I learned to cope instead.

The thing is, I wanted to be good at my job, get training and so forth. And often it turned out that getting the training I wanted meant being the one to organize it. So, you know, I just had to get over it. Which is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Every time I go to a con, I need to make an effort to meet people. My first instinct is to sit in a corner with my laptop and maybe watch people, wishing my friends were with me. So I took the advice of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Neil Gaiman; I pretended that I was someone who could do it, even found things like asking strangers how their con was going enjoyable.

Beyond pretending to be someone who can deal with people, my advice is to take care of yourself. If you know you’re going to do something utterly, soul-crushingly exhausting, like going to a con, make sure you can have some alone time afterwards. Which is not at all to say that cons aren’t enjoyable. After all, why go to a con if you don’t get something out of it? For example after a con it takes me a few days that I cannot tolerate anyone other than my partner around me. And even he barely gets grunts and mumbles from me.

And the thing is, even though I try, I get awkward around people I’m intimidated by. I want to be smooth and suave and instead I end up saying something stupid or nothing at all.

So really, I’m still learning.

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Nov 6, 2013

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Through the Looking Glass

I spent the last weekend at World Fantasy Convention, my first ever professional convention for writers and using the word magical to describe it would hardly be exaggerating.

I never quite understood the fascination with celebrities. When I see celebrity gossip, I hardly ever read them even about actors/directors whose work I really like, unless that news happens to include something else I’m interested in as well. Gossip related to a movie or Amanda Palmer taking her kit off to flip off an idiot journalist I will read just out of curiosity.

But that all changed last Thursday before I even managed to register to the convention. I was on my way to the registration desk when I literally ran into Mary Robinette Kowal coming around a corner. I’ve been nervous about going to this convention on and off since the summer because I was going alone and I didn’t know anyone other than Mary who was going. And Mary is a lovely, lovely person but she is Mary Robinette Kowal so it would hardly be appropriate to cling to her and beg her not to leave me (which would be my first instinct). But I was so relieved to see her that I couldn’t prevent myself from exploding all over her. While we were chatting at the corner Tobias Buckell walks past and I try not to stare too obviously. After Mary leaves and I head for registration and back the same way, Ellen Datlow is going the other way and I know I failed to prevent myself from staring that time. So then a little while later Joe Hill is walking up a staircase talking about Halloween with someone while I’m walking down that same staircase and I nearly break my neck from tripping over my own feet. At this point I decided to get myself a drink while my head exploded just a little.

Thankfully this year’s World Fantasy Convention had Newbie tables at the bar so I didn’t have to look like Unabomber while my head exploded and got to meet some lovely people who were also feeling a little overwhelmed and alone.

In the end I wound up not going to that many panels. I had so much fun at the bar just meeting people and the readings were so incredible that I spent my days and nights mostly in either of the two. Plus the lecture halls were FREEZING! Seriously. In one of the three panels that I did attend, people in the audience were sitting in their winter coats it was so cold.

Did I mention the free books? A mountain of books, all for the price of admission. I knew that it happened but I was still blown away by the amount of books that were given out. Which was doubly fun because a lot of the authors were actually there and you just randomly got to meet them. Like for example the fabulous Kameron Hurley, author of God’s War. I met her because her husband came to sit with us in the newbie table and later we went to dinner and one of the parties, where Kameron joined us. And now I’m waiting for my books to come home so I can start reading it. She was so much fun that her book can’t be anything but good.

Now if I could just figure out a way to save the money for next year’s trip to World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C.

This is likely to be the last post on this blog before the beginning of December. I’m trying to do NaNoWriMo again and I’m also doing Dean Wesley Smith’s Plotting Workshop and working full time which hardly leaves me with time to eat or sleep let alone blog.

PS. After I wrote this, I found out that there had been harassment and other not-lovely things at the con. Jim C. Hines has a roundup of all the relevant posts. I didn’t notice the harassment, nor the panel disparity. The latter mostly because almost none of the panels interested me enough to pay attention to who was on them. I don’t know if this is normal for WFC so I didn’t think anything of it. I also assumed that like other cons I’ve been to the programming would have been provided by the program participants but this is apparently not the case. However, I have managed to talk my husband into going to Washington for next year’s WFC so at least then I can compare notes better and hopefully be a little less star struck as well.

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Aug 14, 2013

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New Job & a Worldcon Bid

Today I begun at my new job (wheee!). As expected though I’m a little brained right now so instead of a progress report I’m going to tell you why you should vote for the Helsinki Worldcon bid. Or better yet; allow some other people tell you.

Jeff & Ann VandeMeer:

And here’s how it works:

And most of all, you should support a Helsinki bid for WorldCon in 2015 because Helsinki is an awesome city! It’s beautiful here in August, but the nights are already getting dark so you don’t need to worry about not being able to sleep for that reason. There’s no need to worry about a language barrier as Finns in general speak english pretty well. Not everyone of us is going to be able to debate you on the finer aspects of english literature coherently, but I double dog dare you to find anyone (not including tourists) who won’t be able to give you directions to wherever you’re going. We have cheap and ubiquitous public transportation, cool people, beautiful nature and a fabulous fandom.

In other words; you should totally vote for Helsinki in 2015.

Full disclosure: I’m not in any way involved in the Helsinki WorldCon bid, I’m just really, really, really excited about the prospect that Helsinki might get to host a WorldCon. <3

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