Life and Fear


I’m a little worried about my work.

I’ve not had a great success in a long time, but I’ve also been trying to learn a new programming language to implement and save us a ton of work going forward. I’m trying so hard to modernize the intranet site I support and bring it into the 21st century (it’s built using mostly stuff which was current last in something like 2003). But I’m flustered and not able to get my head around all of it for some reason.

When I do, I really feel like I’ve accomplished something great, but the fact is, I have no idea how much more tolerance for my slow progress my boss will have. We have something on the horizon which is forcing us out of our current office location into one which puts us smack in the middle of the other division with which we share the building (it’s their building, we’re only tenants). While a lot of that pressure (because we’re losing our individual server rack too, and being co-located into the same rack with the other division’s servers, I was facing the daunting task of making sure we have all the right naming conventions in EVERY.SINGLE.PAGE) has been removed from me, I still have the incredible pressure of trying to do stuff I don’t know how to do in a programming language I barely know.

So, when I get a few minutes to myself, I go through a progressive “agony wheel” which goes something like this:

  • I want to write fiction, so doing fiction writing is what gets me at the computer keys every weekend and evening.
  • I feel I should be doing more to learn this language thing, so I draw a sigh and go to the online training sites I have memberships to.
  • I get distracted when I think of something more interesting and go look it up.
  • I get guilty again and go back to the training sites.
  • I open up Scrivener with a niggling idea at the back of my head, ready to be dropped into an outline template so I can start developing it. Scrivener wants me to name the project first thing before it even launches, which puts me off, then I realize I haven’t done anything yet, so I…
  • Get guilty again, worse this time because it’s coupled with panic about how far behind on my projects I am and how some of them are due on September 1, so I get a nasty adrenaline burn in my gut and
  • Go back to the training sites.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now, this may not be every time, but it’s a fair amount of time at this point. Also, because of things which have recently occurred to me as a writer, including a reader review which shot holes in my confidence in my talent and writing skills, I slip into “analysis paralysis,” and do a lot of either staring at the screen or trying to figure out whether I’ve gotten the best ending for my books (especially that last, based on how the reviewer tore me up).

Result: I didn’t do a lot of writing over the weekend. If you’ve followed my blog for a few years, you might remember a story in which I decided to dabble in literary fiction called Sharkey – the story of a young man grieving the death of his friend and mentor. It really isn’t a “story” because I did so little except write what I felt were amusing flashbacks of vignettes with Sharkey being who he was in relation to other characters in the book. It got a lot of love from those who read it, but I didn’t have any real goals for it.

Until lately.

I decided to see what my new Dramatica story theory lessons might do if I ran Sharkey through those filters. What happened was, I got almost a full outline from it. I have a few odds and ends to work out, I think, but the Dramatica theory of story is so strong – and I know so little about it still – I was able to develop a fuller, richer story and plan out the map of the throughlines. All that’s left is for me to take the throughlines and develop their markers (called “signposts”, logically enough, since this is a roadmap through your story) into sequences.

So, I have grandiose plans but nothing in detail yet. This is, believe it or not, deliberate.

I almost want to resort to index cards on the floor again. My wife has been advocating my doing that for years. She actually wanted me to use different colors for each throughline, but the colors are horrible and garish, and I can’t abide them. White it is.

But which story to do this with? Hm.

More on that on my fiction blog.

How was your weekend?

-JDT-

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4 thoughts on “Life and Fear

  1. What language are you learning?

    I’m TRYING to learn VB.NET, but I’m not adverse to learning C#.NET. Any tips, pointers or recommendations for learning? I’m open to almost everything, short of dancing naked under the moonlight. No one wants to see that.

  2. Have you done any general “intro to programming” reading? Picking up a new language is pretty straightforward when you have the basics down. MIT has some free courseware (videos and such) in this regard.

    I’ve tried. I’ve got online training and some books. Problem is time. I have to get up and running ASAP and so I don’t even know how to get started — where to begin, that sort of thing. And when I do try, I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and the syntax doesn’t stick. Does that make sense? Probably not…

    I’m afraid I’ve only messed around with the .net stuff, so I wouldn’t know exactly where to point you.

    That’s been my trouble too. The books I have are either too basic, too advanced, or just too doggone thick! 1600 pages?! C’mon.

    Also, it sounds like you’ve got more of an issue with focus than anything else. I recently started using (again) the pomodoro technique. It’s boosted my productivity at work immensely.

    /end plug

    I tried that one. Maybe I should try it again. We’ll see.

  3. Your boss definitely needs to give you more encouragement. Bosses sometimes have a bad habit of only noticing mistakes, without acknowledging all the things you did RIGHT. (I try not to be that kind of boss.)

    Based just on the things you say to me, I sorta wish I worked for you.

    But to be honest, my boss is a very nice guy. He’s put up with a lot of slowness from me in the last 20 months, and I don’t blame him for being impatient if he is. I’m worried about it, but all I can do is the best I can do. I think it would be a different situation if I were competent with the OLD technology while trying to move to the new, but that’s not the case, so everything he asks me to do is pretty much over my head. I don’t want him to decide he made a mistake in hiring me.

    Your “agony wheel” sounds pretty miserable. Since you seem to naturally flip back and forth between work and writing, could you perhaps schedule it, rewarding yourself when you stick to the schedule? Like, if you can focus on work for 30 minutes, you get to surf for 10 minutes, or work on a story idea for 15 minutes… and then at least at the end of the day you’ll be able to know exactly how much you accomplished in each sphere, without burning out on either of them. Just a suggestion…

    And a very good one! Maybe I can try that. Couple with Bryce’s suggestions (see the other comments), it might be just the thing I need to pick up the pace. Of course, they do nothing to help me understand WHAT I’m doing, but they DO help manage my time. Thank you so much, Spark!

  4. Is 2003 not current anymore?

    Well, let me put it this way: This is Microsoft. Since 2003 we’ve have:

    1. Version 2005
    2. Version 2008
    3. Version 2010
    4. Coming soon: Version 2012

    So, I’m gonna say no, it’s not current anymore. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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