Tag Archives: Non Fiction

The Most Valuable Gift I Got This Christmas

Remember the non-fiction book I mentioned? Of course you don’t; imagine my ego to assume that you would! The nerve of me.

Doesn’t matter. My grandparents gave me the book pictured left, which before cracking it open and reading a page, I thought, “That’s nice” and didn’t think much else.

Then I started to read.

In just two weeks I have become the biggest fan of Dave Ramsey’s teachings about money management. I’d already heard of another book by Ramsey, Financial Peace, because I have a coworker whose a big fan of it. I had already begun to enact some of those principles in how I spend money, for no other reason than because they just made sense. The Total Money Makeover appears to be the cliffnotes version of Financial Peace in shorter, broader strokes.

He begins the book by telling you what the book is NOT, which I love:

The book is NOT politically correct.

It is NOT a way to get rich quick.

It does NOT contain secrets (or even details) of investing.

It does NOT solve your problems without hard work.

What it does do, at least what it has done for me, was convince me that with a little sacrifice and a lot of effort and attention, my wife and I can be debt free in a few short years, and through rigorous investing thereafter, might retire as millionaires.

Again, no “get rich quick” schemes or gimmicks; he’s talking about spending years and years and years investing, and that’s only after you’ve freed up tremendous amounts of your income compared to the average American.

The steps themselves are simple, but most people just don’t exercise the discipline to put them into action.

1. Save up $1,000 liquid emergency fund.

2. Pay down your smallest debt. After that debt is paid, use its monthly payment as additional money for your next smallest debt. Use both those payments in your third smallest, and so forth.

There are more steps, but I’m going to pause right there because that’s the one that has me fired up and excited. Because it’s so easy if you just actually do it.

I’ve tried to talk to friends and co-workers about this, and as Dave predicts in his book, they just don’t get it.

“Imagine having no payments except your mortgage by 2012,” I posit.

My friends answer this as if I’d said, “Imagine having a flying horse by 2012,” and they answer appropriately.

“That sure would be nice. Keep dreaming.”

What? No. I’ve already done the math.

In our case (me and my wife’s), we attended an expensive private school (we didn’t know any better. We do now.) So our debt is going to take a bit longer to pay off: ~4 years at our current salaries. That may sound like a long time, but in my case, that’s roughly half the time it took me to go to school. Had we started the first year we were out of school, we’d be done by now.

It’s not magic, it’s not mythical, and it’s not hypothetical. It’s posssible.

But most Americans truly cannot even imagine living without debt, and dogmatically insist that it’s impossible to have no credit cards and no car payments, and no payments of any kind.

In the meanwhile, I’m convinced that most people have no idea just how much money they make because they throw quite a lot of it away. I’ve looked at the numbers in our budget, and without loans, we’d have a lot of spending money, even after rigorous investing. And I can tell you, we don’t make that much money overall. Neither of us pulls a salary I would consider even remotely “comfortable”. But when you look at where all the money is going, and how much of it is wasted on interest, it becomes clear there’s a lot more to be had than we thought.

If we manage it intelligently.

Step 3 is to save 3-6 months of expenses in some liquid form.

Step 4 is to invest 15% of your gross income. Which should be a cakewalk if you have no bills except mortgage and utilities.

Step 5 is to save for your children’s college eduction.

Step 6 is to pay off your mortgage. Entirely.

During all of this, you don’t charge ANYTHING to a credit card or loan. Ever. No 90 days same as cash. No car payments – you pay cash. No student loans; if you want to go to school, you pay cash.

People will insist you need a good credit rating. Why? If you aren’t borrowing anything, whom do you have to depend on for credit?

I’m sold, and I’m determined to be a millionaire by the time I retire, even if (god forbid) I never sell a single book. Not by some magic formula or get rich quick scheme. But by making the necessary sacrifices now to eliminate debt and keep more of my own paycheck.

I’ve done the math myself. There’s no reason it won’t work, except possibly lack of follow-through.

But by now, most of you already think I’m crazy for trying. That’s okay. I expected that.

This seems doable, but arbitrary.

writing-towards-a-word-countSince my pseudo-New Year’s resolution to actually write this year, I have stayed tightly focused on only a few projects:

Short stories all.

Novel and non-fiction book ideas have floated into the window, settled on my desk and sneezed twice, at which point I squeezed them into my hard drive in some fashion or other.

They remain unstructured, unrefined, and most of all, incomplete.

I should finish one.

And it’s been said that without milestones and deadlines, a project will never be finished. What’s the deadline? What are the milestones?

I asked my grandboss (that’s “boss’ boss”) who used to work at the Times what he thought good deadlines for a novelist would be. As he began to answer, I had to cut him off:

No, no, not deadlines for a novelist whose job is being a novelist. Deadlines for someone with a completely unrelated day job. Someon like…and of course we’re just speaking hypothetically, because I love this company and would never leave…me.

He didn’t know. His wife didn’t know. Everything from “take your time even if you only write a page/year” to “spend every free waking moment writing” seems equally viable good advice on the subject.

I think a reasonable deadline in my case would be the end of 2009. I started off the year with the purpose to write more; this would fulfill that purpose. And it doesn’t give you the cramped-lack-of-quality produced by NaNoMo, where the goal is to finish the novel within a month. Yikes.

So today I did some rusty math. (Footnote: Any math performed by me is rusty; I’m a words man.) To finish a 100,000 word novel, which is a relatively short novel (but I’m aiming for a tighter style than my wordier compatriots anyway), I would have to write 500 words a day.

That’s not a lot. 500 words is about 2 pages double-spaced. I’ve written articles here which were three and four times that length without too much effort.

I immediately thought: HA! I can do this!

…or can I?

A novel is more than a loose collection of words. Writing stream-of-consciousness non-fiction (hereafter to be referred to as either “blogging” or “crap”) is far easier than serious fiction.

Before I know which scene to write next, I have to know the characters, the circumstances, the upcoming events, the past events. I have to reread what came before, I have to visualize what comes after. This means researching, outlining, brainstorming, and in general a lot of activities which are equally part of the writing process, but don’t add to the word count.

Nevertheless, 500 words/day seems like a reasonable goal. To help relieve pressure for all the outlining, I could try to write non-chronologically for me, which has always been a barrier I’d like to overcome. Whatever scene I want to write that day, that’s the scene I write.

Will it work? I have no idea. Will it produce quality fiction? I have no idea. Will it result in publication? I have no idea.

Will it put words on a page?

…yes.

How to give the world 100 more hours per year.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m far better at non-fiction.

sweet-spot…which is disheartening, considering how much more I like fiction and would prefer to write it. Especially F&SF.

But it’s not surprising. I’ve had years more practice writing nonfiction. Every paper I wrote in college. Emailed stories to friends and family. Even those letters I wrote during class in high school, to be delivered in the hallway at the next break, which I will be mortified if any ever survived to this day.

Blogging continues the same trend; I am forever trying to examine life, analyze it, and reconstruct it.

Reconstruction for my own sake is easy. The hard part is reconstructing for others. Rarely are people persuaded, but persuasion is never my goal. (Dale Carnegie wrote that you can’t “win” an argument.)

My goal is to get people to RECONSIDER. Even if they land on the same side of an argument they did before, if they at least thought of it awhile longer, approached things from a different angle, my mission is accomplished.

The reaction I get most often is, “I still believe the same things, but I see your point.” Enough said.

So I’m starting my first non-fiction book-length project.

Correction: Define “starting”? This project has been in my mind for years and years. I’ve quoted notes of it to people, summarized chapters, written essays on some of the subjects therein.

Alright, fair enough; in terms of organizing and presenting these materials in book form, I’m starting my first non-fiction book.

And true to my brother’s advice (even more apropos for non-fiction I think), I have a specific goal in mind. A specific absolute goal that I want the book to accomplish, not just in the reader’s mind, but in the wide world we share.

That goal is give every reader 100 more hours per year. Obviously I don’t mean hours of life, or daylight, or other disparate phenomena I cannot affect: I mean 100 more useful, productive, valued, enjoyed hours.

How is that possible? What can anyone do to get more hours into a day, a week, or month?

I’m going to tell you. But while you’re waiting…

You can start by using your turn signal.

Non-fiction Article Sold…Again?

soldLast night I received notice from www.helium.com that another the same article was purchased again by a third-party publisher.

Same circumstances as before; subcontracted for pennies-on-the-dollar of the going rate for freelance articles. We’re talking payment so cheap, the article has sold TWICE and I still don’t meet the “minimum withdrawl” amount at Helium.

So although my work has proven profitable, to Helium in actuality and to two publishers in theory, I haven’t yet made a dime from it.

Still, it’s a thrill to know my work strikes a chord with people. Just a shame that even my marginal successes (so far) come from non-fiction!

The really good news is that I still own the copyright, and as many publishers as desire can buy the same article again, furthermore I can also still submit it to magazines on my own. (Just not for First North American Rights.)

The other cool thing is that this reminded me of a fiction story idea built around the same frustrations I express in this non-fiction piece.