Friday, January 25, 2008

Reading Fundamentals

Last Book Read: Dawn by Octavia Butler

Another long post with the addition of a hastily and poorly built soap box.

Last November the National Endowment for the Arts released a report on reading and literacy in America. It made many splashy headlines. I decided it was important that I read the actual report rather than rely on the reporters.

I urge you (yes, you) to read it for yourself. Click here to open the (very large) PDF document.

There are a lot of statistics and graphs and charts. Bottom line: In America, we don't read so good. Or often. And it's getting worse.

The report doesn't blame any single cause (*cough*TV*cough*), showing how our leisure time, especially today, has many demands (*cough,cough*TV*cough,cough*).

It does have very interesting data on the impact of reading on all test scores, the economic benefits of reading competence by way of wages, and the involvement of frequent readers in volunteer, arts, and civic organizations and activities. The conclusion: Reading frequently is very important.

I think you all knew that.

There is one trend that I found fascinating. The report uses data covering about 18 years. The percentage of 9-year-old children who read almost every day for fun has been incredibly consistent over that time period, about 54%.

At age 13, that percentage has just as consistently dropped to around 30%. It drops again at 17, where the decline has been a bit steeper of late.

But regardless of the alternative entertainment media available, regardless of political flavors in office or reforms made in schools, east coast-west coast-and in between, regardless of everything, over the past 20+ years, lots of kids between age 9 and 13 significantly reduce the amount of reading they do for fun.

Just as the report doesn't try to pin blame (*cough*cough*cough*), it also doesn't propose any solution. Seems to me, when you get out of the habit of doing something, it's hard to get back into it. If 9-13 year olds are getting out of the habit of reading frequently for enjoyment, THOSE ARE THE KIDS WE SHOULD FOCUS ON.

In my humble opinion.

I'll be the first to step up and say 'mea culpa'. Once my daughter learned to read, I got out of the habit of reading to her. We go to the library every week. She gets piles of books and loves to read. If she can do it herself, mission accomplished, right?

Looks like, not.

Think globally, act locally. I've got a couple years before my daughter enters that 9-13 danger zone. Time to regularly read together again.

I'll also mention the 826 National organization, whose chapters are devoted to tutoring 6-18 year olds in "expository and creative writing." Writing and reading go hand in hand.

The Boston chapter currently has a book drive. Next week I'll be swinging by to make a donation.

If you have the means via books or treasure, consider donating to a local library, school, or other non-profit geared toward getting and keeping kids reading.

And if you have access to a 9-13 year-old, WITH THEIR PARENTS' PERMISSION, sit them down and read a book with them. They may not like it, and they sure as hell won't thank you, but they will be better for it.

We all will.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bits and Pieces


A new contest is up to help get through the winter. Click on the contest link to see the details.

Lecture Archive

Found via Wired magazine, the UC Berkeley lecture archive. Lots of fun stuff there to waste time listen to.


Finally, in honor of the upcoming holiday, a video via YouTube. Have a great weekend.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Writer RPG

WARNING: Really long, geeky post!

I enjoy playing all kinds of games: card games, board games, video games, MMORPGs. Writing requires choices and I have sacrificed time spent on games.* Which is too bad because they're fun.

Any type of work should have the potential for fun as well. Aspects of writing can be enjoyable, but also frustrating, heartbreaking, and misery inducing. Last December I wondered how I could make writing more fun like a game.

Why not a Writer Role Playing Game?

Any decent RPG needs levels for the players to climb, with appropriate titles and point ranges of course.

Level 1 - Dilettante (0 - 999)
Level 2 - Hack (1,000 - 4,999)
Level 3 - Neo-Pro (5,000 - 9,999)
Level 4 - Pro (10,000 - 24,999)
Level 5 - Serious Artist (25,000 - 49,999)
Level 6 - Literary Giant (50,000 - 99,999)
Level 7 - Writer (100,000+)

How do I earn points? Various writing related activities. I took inspiration from the six points in J.A. Konrath's Get Off Your Ass and Do Something.

Word Count +5 points per 100 words.

Submissions +10 pts/submission

Published Stories +5 pts/100 words.

Blog/Web Updates,
Event Attendance +5 pts/each instance

Online Participation,
Business Activities,
Research +1 pt/each instance

So while all kinds of activity can earn points, words on the page will really drive the leveling.

In addition, there is credit for random acts of kindness and generosity, such as making a cash donation to a library, buying a debut novel, subscribing to a fiction magazine, and so on. 1 pt/each instance.

Of course, as the game giveth, it taketh away. If I don't do anything for my writing career in a given day, that is a Bad Karma day for which negative points are awarded.

Now, we all know some days are better than others. We have to make some allowances for illness, vacation, holidays, etc. There is a sliding scale depending on the number of Bad Karma days. However, go over the threshold and all the days are assessed the higher penalty.

Days 1 - 10: -1 points per day.
Days 1 - 20: -10 points per day.
Days 1 - 30: -100 points per day.
Days 1 - 31+: -1,000 points per day.

Four weeks of vacation (20 business days) won't cause much guilt. Another two weeks, the pain starts. And if I go over a month of Sundays, we're talking serious trouble.

Sounds rather complicated, doesn't it? I already track most of the raw data in Excel. I added a couple worksheets, coded a macro to add things up, and had me an automated RPG tally sheet.

At the moment I'm at Level 1 - Dilettante. At least there is no Bad Karma so far. Maybe I can find a magic +4 keyboard to boost my statistics.

*The one exception is playing games with my daughter, who is very competitive and, ahem, kicks my butt on a regular basis.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Everybody Wants To Be A Cat

Last Book Read: Mort by Terry Pratchett

To continue on the question, 'what is the point', this is it for me:
To earn a living as a fiction writer.

Yes, that is the dream, to be the Top Cat. Many writers, with many books in print, never achieve that. To get there, I need to make significant progress each year.

This year cannot be just more of the same as 2007, more stories published for token fees or no pay. For example, having a professionally published story would be significant progress, or earning more than I spend on this career, or getting an agent interested in a novel. Without significant progress, this remains a hobby.

No one wants to be a dilettante.

Goals for January:

~ Finish first draft of Garbageland.

~ Register for three conventions: Boskone, Readercon, and Capclave.

Yeah, everybody wants to be a cat, because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at.