Monday, July 29, 2013

The Sequester

     I know this is an old topic and I am surprised I haven't talked about it before because I really enjoy this subject. The reason I decided to talk about it was because I am see a petition to stop the sequester and I wanted to talk about it. For those of you who don't know (or have forgotten) what sequestration is I will explain before we get in the the whole petition thing. Sequestration was put into place because our government tends to have a hard time making cuts and forming a budget. So sequestration is mandatory spending cut across the board. Douglas Holtz-Eakin who is the former head of the Congressional Budget Office explained the sequester like this: "[W]hen you get underneath the surface, the federal budget is divided into thousands of different accounts...Each account gets cut by the same amount, regardless of what's in it. So, we have some accounts that are payroll, some accounts that are conferences, travel, whatever it may be. They'll get the same cut, regardless of what's in there." This eliminates the gridlock and forces the government to do something (or nothing as the case was). I won't get into the nitty gritty politics but lets just say our government refuses to work together. Very few people like the idea because it was (and still is) blown out of proportion. Many politicians made it out to be the end of the world but honestly it had little to no real impact. I was (and still am) one of the few people who though the sequester was a good idea. The sequestration wan't a cut in current spending. *Gasp* It was a cut in spending increases. The sequester is like gaining 25 pounds instead of 30 and saying you lost 5 pounds. Here is a fantastic article about keeping the sequester. It was written right after the sequester went into place and you can read it Here. (Please at least read the bold tags I felt like putting the article directly in the post would make it too long.)
     I know what you are thinking. What about defense budget? Ok I will admit that there is a slight problem here BUT that doesn't mean that the entire sequester should be taken away for several reasons. First we still have the largest military in the world. This chart from the Washington Post compares our military budget with the next 13 nations combined. Now I know this was 2011 but if you refer to the numbers you will see that spending has only increased and we would have to cut our budget a heck of a lot to change it.
      Second, we have withstood bigger cuts in our defense budget. According to the same article by the Washington Post: the Post-Korea budget decreased by 43%, Post-Vietnam -33%, and Post-Cold War -36%. We cut about 31% with the Sequester and budget caps. (Those numbers are from the Center for Strategic and International Studies)
      Now those of you who work for the military or have family in the military probably hate me right now and think I have everything all wrong. Just bare with me and I will explain. There is something amazing and wonderful that I advocated before the sequester happened. The president can grant something called Transfer Authority. It is fully explained in this article but here is an overview of what it says. Transfer Authority allows the given company to shift the cuts where ever they like. They still have to cut the exact same amount but they can pick and choose which departments or programs loose some (or all) of their funding. We saw that both high-priority and low-priority programs received cuts equally. If the president had granted the military Transfer Authority only low-priority programs would have received the cuts and those high-priority programs wouldn't feel nearly as much pain. If anything we need to make sure the military had this power. Cuts are necessary but it would make it a lot easier for the military if they got to choose which programs to cut from instead of everything being cut. We needed the sequester in fact it wasn't nearly enough. I wouldn't advise signing the petition but if you have different views go for it. I just hoped I made you slightly more aware of what the sequester did as well as an alternative for our military.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Turning off Your Inner Editor

    I don't know about you but when I write I tend to edit as I go which causes me some pretty big problems. Using this method I never get done with anything. Part of the reason is because I am a perfectionist and want it to be perfect on the first try. Today I want to talk about turning off your internal editor and just writing. 

     1. Remember the first draft ALWAYS stinks. This is where you find your voice, figure out the plot, and sometimes the story takes over and goes in a different direction than you thought. The first draft is messy and I know I personally will never show my first draft of anything to anyone. Get your ideas down or you will loose them and trust me that is not fun. Get it out of your head that it has to be perfect on the first go then when it is all done on paper go back and edit it. James Michener sold 75 million copies of his novels world wide. He said "I am not a very good writer, but I am an excellent rewriter."

     2. Use a pen: Still having trouble just writing? There are several things that can help you overcome that. Try hand writing your work in pen for a while. I know I am so old fashioned but it really helps.  Once you get in to the grove of not being able to erase words or sentences it will be easier on the computer. Develop the habit of just writing with out stopping. A good exercise for this is called Jam Writing. First you set the clock for however long you think you can write without stopping. Then as soon as your pen hits the paper just write whatever comes to mind. Don't pause, don't look back, don't think. Just write. You don't have to stop when the timer does but after time expires if you choose to continue the rules are the same. 

     3. Write or Die: Still can't control the backspaces? Still can figure out how to not stop? The other day I found this great app called Write or Die. They have a several apps for different devices (PC, Ipad, etc.) The primes behind this app is if you stop writing for a cretin period of time you are punished, that is you grace period. You can change how long the grace period is and you can also change the punishment. There are two that motivate me. The evil sound. If your grace period expire it admits a continuous annoying/evil sound until you start writing again. And what is more motivating that having your work deleted. If your grace period expires you have the option of setting it so that it starts deleting you work word by word. Now if you buy if for the desktop (it is only $10 and worth every penny) then you can also turn off the backspace. Talk about turning off your internal editor. Here is the link.
      4. Practice makes perfect. The more you practice writing the better you get at it. A football player doesn't start out as a professional, he has to work and work in order to get into the big leagues. Even those incredibly talented players work to keep their talent sharp and improve. Carry a notebook with you everywhere and carve out some time everyday to write.

Hope that this is helpful for those of you writers who can't turn off their internal editor. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Writing Group

I LOVE to read. I mean absolutely adore it which is one of the reasons I like to write. Now for some of you writers out there words come easily. It doesn't take you an hour to write a paragraph. Not only do they come easy to you but it actually sounds pretty decent the first draft. My friend Hannah fits into this category. On the way home from NITOC I just sat and watched her write. On the very first try her words are intriguing, they pull you in and you want to know what happens. Others, like my sister Emily, have really good and creative ideas but don't know how to develop them into a cohesive story let alone put it into words. She helps someone like myself get inspiration. What ever your style of writing it is vital that you practice and continue to learn. This is my first writing post and I hope there will be more. There are many techniques and tips out there and I want to go over the ones I have done and let y'all know the options that are out there.
     One way to improve your writing is getting together with other writers from all background and experiences.  I got invited to a writers group and the first meeting was today. I was incredibly nervous because everyone else is in college and older. I am the youngest at the moment and even though I generally hang out with those who are older then I am this group was intimidating. But honestly after the meeting was over I knew it would be a perfect fit. The people are amazing and I know I will learn a lot. I don't know how much I will be able to contribute to the group besides support but I am super stoked. I think that writing groups are very important and every writer should be a part of one. It doesn't have to be big but there must be at least one other person there.  The main reason I think it is important is because you need critics. No matter how hard you try you are not going to spot every flaw in your story because you love it and as the author you tend to fill in things so they make sense in your head. This is not good. Very few people are published this way in fact I don't think anyone can be published like this unless they are a genus and even then good luck.  
     Be careful and make sure you find the right group. One whose dynamic suits you and one where you will learn. Also it helps if the others in the group are as devoted as you and have somewhat similar goals. If your goal is to be published don't join a group of hobbyist.

     By the way the picture I posted at the beginning is my favorite sign of all time but I can't seem to find it anywhere. If any of y'all see this sign could you let me know? Otherwise I shall have to make it.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dealing with the Famous

     We have all seen those teenage girls screaming as some celebrity passes in front of them. Some people upon meeting a celebrity become incapable of speaking and are therefore are seen as airhead fan girls (or boys). I myself have a problem with this. No, I don't scream at the sight of Justin Beiber but when meeting writers I become incredibly nervous. Even after 4 years of speech and debate I still feel incredibly inarticulate when meeting authors. My friend and old debate coach, Matt, is the son of a well known apologist. I know and love his entire family but the first time I met Mr. Mittleberg my heart was pounding and I was very nervous. One time we were at a conference about Atheism and refutation to it. During the conference I had a question which I posed to my group. Matt said "Come on let me introduce you to Lee and we can ask him." Lee as in Lee Stroble....yea I was pretty freaked out. I couldn't believe he was so relaxed at introducing me to Lee Stroble! Luckily I ended up talking to Mr. Mittleberg instead and was able to articulate my thoughts a little better. What is the point of this blog post? No it is not to tell y'all of my inability to articulate thoughts when meeting writers but I want to talk about dealing with someone who is famous. Yesterday for 4th of July a whole bunch of my friend gathered together to celebrate the Mittleberg's included. Again I was very nervous when I saw Mr. Mittleberg had come and it got me thinking about fame and how the average person should deal with meeting someone famous. So here are my thoughts:

                                  1. Identify why you admire them
     This is the first step. Think about why you are starstruck. Is it just because they are famous?* Are they really successful at something you want to do? I am well aware that the reason I have trouble with talking to authors is because I admire them and respect them. I have gain knowledge through them that I wouldn't have gained otherwise. Without them I wouldn't be as close to God, be able to defend my faith nearly as well. Through authors I have learned about how people think, about places (real or imaginary) I haven't seen or known about, and am spurred to create worlds of my own.   

                                   2. Identify why you are nervous
     What is the real reason for your anxiety? You know why you admire them but why are you nervous? I mean you admire a teacher or friend yet you don't get starstruck. Is it the fame that changes things? Maybe but I know for me that fame is only part of the problem. The thing is when I admire someone I want to impress them, I want to show them that I have grown because of them. They have had success and especially for an aspiring writer people like Mr. Mittleberg are not just a source of adoration but also role models. And honestly when I have to do something like debate in finals front of someone I admire I become nervous and even more of a perfectionist than I already am. We are just more use to seeing them which would explain why Matt talks to well known apologist with apparent ease. He is use to it so it doesn't bother him as much.

                              3. Remember they are human
     This is the last and final step. Remember that they are human and they started out exactly where you are right now. Take a deep breath and if they talk to you don't freak out! Keep as calm as possible and pretend they aren't famous. That they are just the father of your friend or a teacher or whatever works for you. 

*If this is the case then skip to step three and no offense but it might be a good idea to find someone else to admire.