J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Category: Creative Work/Career (Page 1 of 12)

Activity Audit – Where Does All The Time Go?

At some point everything drops …

December and January brought more freelance coding and database work than expected, but now I’m in a quiet stretch. It’s given me the opportunity to experiment with my ideal schedule. That is, working on writing and music as much as I want to, without a heavy load of client work. For the moment (and as long as I’m comfortable with how much I have in the bank) I can pretend I’m a full-time artiste.

It’s fun! I’ve been writing fiction in the mornings (with more optimism these days–I recently had another story accepted for publication at a pro rate, bringing me that much closer to SFWA active membership). In the afternoon I head to the studio and make beats, or work on Loöq Records, or do whatever needs to be done around the house. Pretty much my ideal weekday schedule.

But large swaths of unstructured time can be dangerous. I’ve had similar opportunities in the past, and squandered them, losing whole days to video games or trying to read the entire internet. Those of you who are self-employed may be able to relate.

A few years ago, in response to my own “Where does all the time go?” question, I ran an “activity audit,” a detailed analysis of all the activities in my life that require work/effort. After listing all the major activity areas (database/coding work, fiction writing, music production, household/parenting, etc.), I asked myself a series of questions about each activity.

Honing on in the what, why, and how for each activity gave me a great deal of clarity. It also improved my focus throughout the day (especially my ability to resist distractions), and helped me decide what to do each day, and in what order.

In the long run, the activity audit was more effective than any other productivity technique I tried, like locking myself out of certain internet sites, or depriving myself of coffee until I’d started writing. If I’m clear on my purpose and intended direction in life, and how the things I spend my time on fit into that picture, distractions are less of an issue. I still use quotas and have production targets, but I don’t rely on those for motivation.

Here are the questions I asked myself in regards to each activity:

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Gambling With Your Time

Hold ’em or fold ’em.

An analogy: each hour of your life is a casino chip. You can cash in (relax and enjoy life) or place bets (expend effort and willpower in an attempt to get more rewards).

What are the rewards? Whatever you value. Health, wealth, love, admiration, respect, fame. Or, if you’re Conan: crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of the women.

Odds aren’t the same in every casino. In some casinos, no matter how you place your bets, you’ll lose. Some casinos even cheat. But if you’re fortunate enough to live in a country with low rates of corruption and a thriving economy, the odds are probably decent. If you make good bets (expending effort in reasonably smart ways), you’ll get rewards.

But even good casinos favor some patrons over others. Certain combinations of gender, ethnicity, age, physical attractiveness, sexual orientation, etc. may convey better or worse odds.

So how do you bet? What’s the best betting strategy? How do you get the most chips?

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Fiction Writing History and Update

Do we really need more books in the world? Yes. Yes we do.

In 2013, after fifteen years in the underground dance music industry, I got serious about writing fiction and made a real commitment to learn the craft. Since then I’ve worked on short stories or novels every day (either outlining/brainstorming, writing, or revising). Starting in late 2015 I started sending out short stories, and in May of 2016 my first published story appeared in Strange Horizons.

That’s the narrative I’d like you to believe, that I had good run making house music, running a record label, and being a nightclub promoter and then boom, I switched over to writing fiction and sold a story at a professional rate almost immediately.

The truth is messier, with lots of overlap, and many false starts.

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Happy at the Bottom

Recently I wrote about various careers I’ve had and am still having, both accidental and on-purpose. My current sci-fi author career is so fledgling (exactly one published story) that any sensible person wouldn’t call it a career.

My dad says it’s my calling. Maybe it is. But I’m approaching it like a career, methodically and strategically. I write almost everyday, not just when I’m feeling inspired. Even though I have little to show for my efforts (so far), I can’t remember having this much fun trying to build something. At least not since the days I was sending out cassette-tape demos in padded mailers to NYC house music labels (and getting ignored). Or joining Trip ‘n Spin, a disorganized, fun-loving music label/collective in San Francisco.

It’s kinda fun being at the bottom. My friends and family (and maybe even some of you gentle readers) are genuinely rooting for me. A few might think I’m tilting at windmills, but not in a mean way (I may even inspire some to tilt at windmills of their own). I don’t have a professional reputation to protect, because I have no reputation in this field.

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How to Think About Your Career

It’s possible to have a career without really thinking about it. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve had at least three-and-a-half accidental careers so far.

  • I started doing computer support and database design right out of college, just a few hours a week, at my dad’s friend’s company, learning as I went. Ten years later I was the Senior Database Administrator for the San Francisco Symphony, and I still do freelance db work to this day as my main source of income. But none of my friends ever remember this, because it’s so boring that I never talk about it.
  • My record label business partner wanted to start a weekly happy hour at an art gallery. I thought it was a terrible idea. The ayahuasca-snorting gentleman he initially partnered with to throw the event got a little squirrelly and they parted ways. I reluctantly stepped in, and under our management we had a decade-plus run as one of the biggest dance music events in San Francisco, lines around the block, written up in international guide books, DJs from around the world eager to play to our crowd.
  • I had no interest in DJing. But we needed to promote our album. So I learned to DJ at my own party, trainwrecking mix after mix. Spesh put me through DJ bootcamp and I got a little better. Soon we were headlining the biggest dance clubs in San Francisco, voted among SF’s Top DJs in the Nitevibe poll, on the cover of The SF Weekly, and touring in Europe. But eventually I quit because I don’t like travelling, or listening to hundreds of promo tracks to find the few good ones.
  • I started a blog in 2009. I can’t remember why. Probably to practice writing, to express myself, to share my ideas. Eventually some of my health posts (about sleep and artificial light, about the paleo diet) got popular. The blog hit a million views. CNN interviewed me. A TV show The Doctors flew me to Hollywood to be a guest. I experimented with advertising. Then I wrote a post about how I regrew some of my hair by intensively massaging my head, and things went crazy. Views through the roof, readers begging me to make instructional videos, asking for personalized advice. Should I take up hair regrowth coaching? I thought about it. Maybe I could help Tim Ferriss regrow his hair, or Prince William. But I’m not patient enough to be a coach, and I didn’t want to be the hair guy. Or another paleo guy. So I made it clear to my readers that though while I would still write the occasional health post, the content of this blog was much broader (systems for living well, self-experimentation, the creative life).

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Quality Control: Getting the Work Done Despite Your High Standards

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Over the last few years I’ve been compiling notes on good writing technique. My favorite authors have been generous with their advice, and I’ve been collecting it, analyzing it, and trying to apply it to my own work. How to build suspense, how to create relatable characters, how to construct a good sentence, a good scene, a good story.

Two problems …

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