Once there was a man called Dan. Well. Once there was a boy called Daniel, who everyone insisted on calling Dan, and who eventually gave in and accepted the moniker. But that’s (mostly) beside the point.

If you asked Dan what he liked, he would almost invariably reply, “books”, or perhaps, “reading”. Indeed he sometimes wondered if there was an important distinction between these two options, but was yet to satisfy himself with an answer. Perhaps he could do so if he really sat down and thought about it, but at this point in his life he had yet to make that commitment.

Dan liked books so much that he was in fact especially keen to write one. Part of this desire stemmed from his general love of literature, and the pleasure he imagined he’d get out of having a job in the one area of life that he enjoyed the most. Another part came from the idea that a book, once published, would be like a little employee, going out and making money for its boss, who could sit back and reap the rewards of his mental endeavours. There were other motivating factors; at this stage however they were too nebulous to put into words.

On the other hand, Dan foresaw two large obstacles:

  1. He felt himself to be incredibly uncreative, and baulked at the thought of coming up with enough interesting content to fill a whole book.
  2. He detested the idea of other people reading his work, having a particularly thin skin when it came to being critically analysed.

These seemed to Dan to be insurmountable obstacles; certainly larger obstacles than he was used to surmounting. He was a man who liked his comfort zone – it was just so comfortable, after all.

One day, however, he decided to write a brief, mostly-autobiographical work, and post it on his less-than-sporadically-updated blog, reasoning that every journey of a thousand miles began with a single step, or so he was pretty sure of having heard somebody once to have said. And so his journey began.

On Misnomers, Part One: Self Storage

So we all know what self storage is, right?  As far as I’m aware (being no expert), a company owns a big old warehouse-type building, portions it up into storage units, and hires these out to people to store a load of stuff that for whatever reason they can’t keep at home.  All fine and above board, sounds like a smart way to make money and probably comes in useful for people with loads of crap.  I don’t have a problem with the business model.

But I do have a problem with the name.  Why on earth has it come to be known as “self storage”?  As far as I can see, this is literally the opposite of self storage.  Self storage should be when you look after your own stuff, yourself.  Not putting it somewhere that belongs to someone else.  That isn’t self storage.  It’s “someone else storage”.

Let’s even go crazy and accept for a second that self storage is a reasonable name for this, because, I guess, even though you don’t own the space, you have a sort of responsibility to look after it yourself (tenuous at best, I know).  Even then, why call it self storage?  That implies that you’re going out of the way to differentiate it from some other sort of storage, “not-self storage”, as a viable alternative.  Now, unless I’m uninformed here, no such other option exists for the everyday person with too much crap.  The only thing that you’ve got to compare it to is… storing things at home like everyone else.  So what’s that called then?  Home storage?  Imagine English isn’t your first language and you need to decide where to keep some of your stuff in an English-speaking country.  Home storage or self storage?  Sounds like the same thing to me.

Rant over.  Although I have learned something today – if lacking in creativity, just think of something that makes you angry.  Easy words.

On (Breaking) Streaks

After two solid weeks of writing something every day, I didn’t get a chance to write the last two days – and that’s fine.

I like streaks, but they always have to end at some point.  The sooner it ends, the less disappointed I’m going to be when it does!  It also gives me something to aim for once the streak is broken – now, having successfully written for 14 days, I have a realistic target to beat next time.  Whereas if I had broken my streak after, say, 140 days, not only would I be hugely annoyed with myself, but I would also be highly demotivated at the prospect of reaching such an unattainable-seeming achievement at any time in the near future.

So that’s how I feel about it.  Here’s to 15+ days of continued writing, coming up!  I hope.

On Writing, Part Three

I had an idea for a story (or series of stories) today.

I guess that’s a positive. The negative is that I am already worrying about how to turn ideas into actual pieces of writing. Plot, character, style, all baffle me.  I guess I can only really sit down and plan.

I’ve never been a planner and it has probably held me back in life a little. By this time next week, therefore, I promise that I will have at least tried to plan one of these stories. That’s all I can do!

On Ratings

Yesterday, I formulated on the folly of favourites.  Today, in a related quibble, I rant about the wrongs of ratings.  I actually began to write this as part of yesterday’s post but it started to turn into its own thing, which I guess is fine.

For any classification scheme rating something out of more than 5 options, it seems completely illogical to use the top band.

Why, you ask?  Well, let me tell you.  Say I read ten books, and I rate the best of them a 10, and the worst of them a 1, and everything else in between accordingly.  Perfectly logical so far, right?  Well, then I read an eleventh book and I decide it’s better than any of the other ten.  Well what the hell am I supposed to do then?

Do I call it a 10, knock the current 10 down to a 9, and so on?  If I’m doing that, then I have to recalibrate my entire system every time I read a better book than the best book I’ve read so far.  Do I call it an 11?  That would be feasible if most ratings systems weren’t constrained by computer applications and things.  Do I call it a 10 and let it sit alongside the other 10, which I’ve now decided isn’t actually as good?  No.

So my only solution is to keep the top spot free, not for the best book I’ve ever read, which has changed over my lifetime and will hopefully continue to change, but for the mythical best book I will ever read (and in theory, the bottom spot for the worst book I will ever read – but I’m not so fussy about that).

Well, you might say, what about a sort of percentage system?  1 for anything you rate in the bottom 10%, 2 for anything from 10-20%, etc.  It has crossed my mind but frankly I don’t really have the capacity to get that specific with my ratings.  And that’s just for a 10-point system.  Anything above that would be utterly impossible.  Which brings me to my exception – 5-star systems.

It’s just not worth implementing the “keep the top spot free” process for a 5-star system.  Leaving the top spot for the best book ever and the bottom spot for the worst only leaves me with 3 ratings to play with, which is hardly a ratings system at all.  On the other hand, I probably can sort things into 5 bands of enjoyment/quality factor.  Just be aware that if I ever rate something 5 stars, that means I am making a judgement that this will probably turn out to be in the top 20% of books I will read – which, really, is a lot of books. But if I call it a 10/10, I’ve decided it’s the best book in the world ever.

Sorry, that was a bit rambling.  I promise I’ll get better at this writing thing eventually.


On Favourites

I don’t really approve of the idea of favourites.

I should probably qualify that statement a little – I’m talking about favourite books, favourite movies, favourite food, and other things like that.

Favourites make sense when there is a justifiable reason to choose.  For example, my “favourite” football team is Crystal Palace.  This means that I support them and only them.  They’re not so much top of the pile, as taken out of the pile completely.  The others don’t matter and never will.

But let’s look at books as an example.  When someone asks me what my favourite book is, there’s no answer.  Sure, I have enjoyed some books more than others, of course.  But when you start getting into the top fifty or so, how am I supposed to pick between them?  What criteria am I meant to be using?  And more importantly, why?  What does it achieve to have something you can call your “favourite”?  I guess it would make an easier answer to an innocent question than “I don’t do favourites, sorry”.

But even if you can come up with an answer to fob people off with, then you run the risk of them getting the wrong impression and thinking you care more about a particular thing than you do.   Telling someone your favourite book is Harry Potter* can give them a very different impression of you than if you said Pride and Prejudice or The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if in your (my) mind those books are essentially inseparable in terms of the enjoyment they gave you and the impact they had on your life.

And what about my favourite author?  Is it Agatha Christie, who I find among the most readable and enjoyable in general, but who has written quite a few duds (sorry Agatha), or is it, say, George Orwell, of whom I have only read about five books but got on very well with all of them, or is it, say, J.K. Rowling, who created one of my favourite stories but hasn’t penetrated my consciousness otherwise?

I guess what I’m saying really is that favourites are fine as long as you make them specific enough that something jumps out and you aren’t forced to choose any more.  Favourite book?  Try again.  Favourite Agatha Christie book?  Nah.  Favourite Hercule Poirot?  Keep going.  Favourite Hercule Poirot published between 1920-30?  Easy – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?


*I know Harry Potter isn’t a book, calm down.


On Driving, Part One

I like driving, but not as relentlessly (or at least that’s how it seems) as I have been obliged to for the last few days.

I have driven from Manchester to Coventry, Coventry to farthest Kent, and farthest Kent to Coventry on consecutive days.  Which means I have spent most of my time driving or recovering and none of it writing.  The M1 really takes it out of you!

Proper updates to come soon, I promise.

On Writing, Part Two

So I have successfully written something every day for a whole week now.

Have I written anything worth reading? Probably not.  Do I feel any more creative?  Not really.  Should I drop this habit of asking myself questions only to answer them immediately? Definitely.

I’ve enjoyed it so far though, I think.  I have had to stop myself writing posts in advance to make myself actually write every day like I said I would.  I feel like this may have led to some wasted creativity – I’m not sure whether I should take it when it comes or try to make it work for me.  I suspect the latter will be better in the long run.

So there you go.  I’ve got a nice long list of things I want to write about anyway, so hopefully I’ll keep this up for a little while longer yet.