Establishing Stability In 2021 After A Chaotic 2020

When I started writing this post, I began by wishing you a happy new year, but I have a feeling the statute of limitations on holiday greetings has run out, so I’ll simply wish you a happy day.

The Road to 2021

It’s been awhile, more than an entire year since I last published something on this site. In fact the last two posts I published were my year end review for 2019 and my goal setting post at the start of 2020. While I skipped both of those posts this year, I thought I should at least fill you on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing and what I’m thinking about for 2021.

I won’t do the usual grading of myself to see whether or not I accomplished what I set out to do last January. I’ll just fill you in on what I said I wanted to do and what I actually did. I also don’t have my usual set of goals for 2021. I did take time in December, particularly the week between the holidays, to think over what I did and didn’t accomplish last year and what I’d like to accomplish this year. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t yet sure about the latter and needed more time to think about it.

I’m sure you’ll agree that 2020 was a chaotic year. Instead of letting it drive me crazy, I played into the chaos and made a variety of changes that I’d been thinking about for some time. I figured if things were going to be on the chaotic side anyway, I might as well experience some chaos that I wanted to experience because I thought it might lead to something positive. Not all of those changes have had a chance to settle.

I also realized that while I’ve usually thought of this time of reflection and goal setting as the end of the process, it’s really a snapshot of an ever going process. The change in calendar seems a good arbitrary point to take that snapshot, but there’s no reason I can’t take a snapshot next week or sometime in the spring.

For the time being I decided to install a little bit of stability and work on a few things I either need or know I absolutely want to do, and to continue thinking about what I’d like to achieve this year and what direction I’d like to follow.

But first, 2020.

Stated Goals for 2020

In January of last year I listed 6 goals across 4 general categories. They were mostly focused on writing in general.

  • Fiction
    • Finish another round of draft and analysis
    • Write/Publish more short stories
  • Non-Fiction
    • Continue writing for new site (Newsletter/Notebook)
    • Make a decision about writing design/development books
  • StevenBradley.me
    • Finish developing the site and launch it
  • Vanseodesign.com
    • Make a decision about what to do with this site

The very quick review is that I did finish another draft and have started on the analysis and I did continue the writing I wanted to do for the new site and the newsletter associated with it.

However, I have not yet launch the site, I didn’t write the short stories I wanted to write and I’ve yet to make a decision about writing more design and development books or what to do with this site.

Like I said, I’ll skip the grades, though I think it’s fair to say that overall I failed to accomplish the goals I set at the start of 2020. Let me fill you in a little more about what I did and didn’t do and what I’m thinking for 2021.

Fiction

As 2019 was coming to an end, I was finishing a set of weekly calls with an editor I hired to talk over a draft I’d finished earlier in the year. I’d been wanting another perspective, one not my own, and I was hoping over the two months we talked, that I’d end up with a modified scene list for another draft, which I would then write much the way I’d written the previous one.

It didn’t go well. For a variety of reasons I came to the conclusion that I needed a different process to write this draft than the one I’d written the previous year. That draft was more of an exploratory draft where I let myself meander to discover the story. This draft I was trying to tighten the previous draft and have it follow a more direct and less meandering path from start to end.

It took time to work out the new process and I ultimately created one in which I didn’t write prose as you would typically expect, but I did work my way through the story from start to finish, thinking through it one scene at a time. It’s written more as a set of “beats” for what happens in each scene. You could read through it as is and know what happens, but it isn’t written in complete sentences and here and there you might have to piece a few things together.

Despite the lack of prose, the “draft” still over 215,000 words and those words are in good shape for analysis, which is where I hoped to be at the end of the year. Somehow I arrived at exactly the place I wanted to go, even if I took an unexpected route to get there.

I’ve been entering information from each scene into a timeline app I have that will let me quickly filter the scenes so I can focus on a specific act or subplot or that include a particular character and take them all in at a glance. I think it’ll take another week or two to have the entire story entered and then I’m guessing I’m in for a month or so of big picture analysis and all sorts of notes notes in preparation for writing another draft which I’d like to finish by the end of this year.

Unfortunately, I made no progress with short stories other than sharing one through my newsletter and that was a story I’d written the summer before. I never did make the habit for working on more this year. I read a lot of short stories at the start of the year with the idea that it would help generate ideas for stories of my own, but by spring I’d switched to a deeper analysis of a novel and I never made it back to short stories at all.

I recently emailed a connection I’ve made through a writing community who would also like to write more short stories, but struggles to make the time, the same as me. It was actually her idea initially and my recent exchange was to revive the idea. We just started what we expect to be a regular call to talk about our stories in progress and give each other feedback and most importantly keep each other accountable so we both continue to write stories.

The goal is a story a month, which we both think is realistic.

Non-fiction

One of my successes for the year was that I maintained writing for my newsletter. I sent an article each month to everyone who’s subscribed. I also worked on content for the new site, though I struggled for much of the year to figure out what I wanted to write. I knew I didn’t want to launch a set of “how to” writing articles. There are already too many sites that do that and I’d rather not write and rewrite the same exact thing that can be already be found many times over.

Over the summer I worked out that I want to share my creative process by creating what I want and sharing it and offering some thoughts about it. The idea is to create because I want to rather than because I have to post something at a certain time on a certain day. I want to share things in various stages of completion in the hopes that it displays the process of creation instead of only the final result.

I’m also writing a series that combines stories to share a bit of my personal history with some of the concepts that guide me through life. The idea is fill you in a little about me and what led me to launch a site about the creative process, specifically my creative process.

The series is still a work in progress and I’m focused now on finishing the first few posts so have something to publish when the site launches and enough in progress to know I can regularly publish more for a few months.

I didn’t make a decision about writing more design and development books. The chaos of the year had my thoughts elsewhere. I can’t say I’ve missed writing “how to” articles about design and development and had been leaning toward not writing books about either. That is, until recently when I received a couple of emails from readers of my Design Fundamentals book, both of whom enjoyed it and learned from it and had some very nice comments, which have made me wonder if I should think a little more before making a decision.

I’ve thought about repackaging the book with a new cover design and title. I might even
make the content more general since it’s more about composition overall than design specifically and should have value for photographers and artists as well as designers.

I also have an idea for another book about design concepts, something along the lines of how I develop a concept and then execute it. It makes for a nice companion book to Design Fundaments as that latter offers the how for the former.

This is all preliminary thinking at this stage, but it’s something I want to keep in mind and think about this year.

StevenBradley.me

I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point, but the site really is close to being done. It exists solely on my laptop at the moment. It’s mostly writing the content that’s holding it up, though I do have a little work left on the site itself. I’ve procrastinated designing a home page which I’ll need to design and develop and there are some tweaks and fixes throughout the site that I need to work on.

I decided to move away from WordPress. While I think the recent changes with Gutenberg will prove good for WordPress and the people who use it, I don’t think the changes prove quite as well for me. What I originally liked about WordPress was the small core and ability to add functionality through plugins, but more and more of the core now seems to include functionality I neither need nor want and I feel like I’m being forced to work according to someone else’s idea of how I might work best instead of how I actually work best.

I’ve also felt limited at times by what I could create within the software as opposed to the greater flexibility of standalone HTML and CSS so I decided to give Grav CMS a try. I looked into a variety of static site generators and systems that didn’t require a database and in the end chose Grav. It offered a backend admin interface and seems to have a robust enough plugin community to meet my needs. I had to learn Twig and Yaml, but neither was difficult to understand, at least well enough to build the site.

It’s mostly a new way of doing things and I spent some time familiarizing myself with a new content management system for the first time in about 15 years. It took a little while, but now I can find my way around Grav and I’ve enjoyed using it so far, especially as it makes it easier to art direct the new site. There are probably some got’chas I’ve yet to encounter, but overall I’m happy with the change, at least locally since I’ve yet to upload the site to a server and make sure it still works.

My progress was slowed in part when I purchased an iPad Pro this summer. I’d been holding out trying one until it had a keyboard and trackpad, and the Magic Keyboard Apple released in the spring had both. I added the Pencil too. I bought the 11 inch model thinking I’d try to differentiate it from my laptop, but it became my default computer in less than a week.

Unfortunately, you’re limited in how much development work you can do on an iPad. Apple doesn’t allow you to run code directly on the device so setting up a real local development server is impossible. I did find an app called DraftCode, which is like MAMP lite for iOS. It has support for WordPress, but I couldn’t get Grav to work inside it.

Instead, I opted for an external keyboard and trackpad for my MacBook Air, which I’d bought before Apple gave up the garbage keyboard they used for a few years. One of the reasons changing to the iPad was so quick for me was because of how bad the keyboard on my Air is and how little I want to type on it anymore. I’m thinking an external keyboard and trackpad will fix that and I’ll prop the Air on a stand and use it that way when I need to code.

That said, the site is close. I’m working on creating content for the launch and I’ll be getting back to the last of the design and development work within the next week or so. I’m hoping to have the site launched by the end of February, if possible, or as soon as possible after, if not.

VanseoDesign.com

Like the decision whether or not to write more design and development books, I never made the time think about what to do with this site. I could blame it all on the year that was, but something tells me the chaos of 2020 had nothing to do with it. I enjoyed not feeling the responsibility of having to write for the site and maintain it beyond clearing out spam comments.

That said, I did find myself wanting to write something here and there that would probably have been most appropriate to publish here. Given the time I’ve put into Grav, I figure you might enjoy reading a little about it. I did design a new site too and will want to share thoughts about it when I finally launch it. I can also imagine you might be interested in what I’ve thought of the iPad Pro and accessories and perhaps tablets in general.

I hope once the changes I implemented in recent months settle a bit, I’ll have more time to really think about this site and what to do with it. Ideas have popped into my head on and off, but I really need to dedicate some time to writing out all my thoughts and organizing them so I can make a decision.

What’s the Plan for 2021?

I don’t really have a plan yet for 2021 beyond letting some changes settle and working on a few things I know I need to finish as soon as possible. My thought is that I’ll give things a month or so to stabilize around the work I know I have to do and I’ll continue to reflect and rethink what I want to work on for the longer term.

In my most recent newsletter I wrote that stability would be my overarching theme for the year, but I can already see a need to be more efficient with my writing and I’ve been thinking about ways I can do that, which is the subject of the newsletter I’m working on now.

Reworking my overall writing process in terms of what and where I publish will be a goal throughout the year. I think the key is going to be flipping the way I think about what I schedule to write so that I’m writing more of what I want and less for a specific destination.

I’m still waiting on some information from others on a couple of projects to know if and when I should schedule them and I think I’ll have a better idea by the end of the month about what and when I’ll be working on.

Closing Thoughts

2020 was a chaotic year for a lot of people. My day to day existence didn’t change all that much, but I tried to go with the flow and use the chaos around me to make some changes in the way I do things.

I think it’s time now to stop making changes, or at least slow them down, so I can reform habits and routines and get back to being more productive. Hopefully the little bit of stability I created for myself to start the year, will be all the time I need to work out the rest of the 2021.

I can’t promise how often I’ll be here, since I don’t yet know myself, but I figured I should at least let you know that I haven’t gone away entirely and that I’m still thinking about this site.

I hope this year brings whatever you would like it to bring and I hope we talk again before another year is out.

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