Change for a Year

Take a year. Change your life.

Monday Motivation: Arnold’s Six Rules of Success

It’s one in the morning, and I’m walking and working while most of the world is asleep.  To be fair, I have project I need to get done, but it got me thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger and something he said that always made me laugh.

There’s 24 hours in a day. If you sleep six, you’ve got 18 hours left.

“I know there’s some of you out there say, ‘I sleep eight hours or nine hours.’ Well, then just sleep faster.”

Oh, Arnie. He even sleeps better than the rest of us. It is a great little speech though.

What is most important is you have to dig deep down, dig deep down and ask yourselves, ‘Who do you want to be?’

Not what, but who? … I’m talking about figuring out for yourselves what makes you happy.

Check it out below if you’ve got four minutes. We all need a little motivation to keep going some days.

Now I’m off to sleep. Probably going to sleep slow. Because I’m not quite a badass like Arnold — yet.

Two Weeks In, 10 Pounds Down

Two weeks in and I’m down 10 pounds. Huzzah!

I hate to jinx myself, but fuck it. I’ll say it anyway: I think this yearlong project is going to be easy.

Yeah, a fat guy saying how easy it to lose weight. Ironic, eh? The thing is I think I’ve finally hit the sweet spot in terms of both diet and motivation.

And this week wasn’t even all that great. I actually ate 300 calories a day more than last week and still dropped 3.2 pounds.

Stats from Week 2:
Calories eaten: 2374/day
Steps taken: 73,842
Time on treadmill: 13 hours 45 minutes
Total miles: 25.95

The only issue is hitting my walking goals. I need to average 30 miles a week to hit 1500 by the end of the year. This week I only got 26.

Goals for this week: Blow past 30 miles by Friday. Average 2100 calories/day.

I’m not setting any weight expectations. Move more. Eat less. The rest will happen on its own.

A Month With My LifeSpan Walking Desk

A month ago I shelled out some big bucks and bought myself a proper desk: a LifeSpan TR-1200 DT5 Walking Desk.


LifeSpan walking desk

I work from home and one day — maybe a year or so ago — while bumbling around the house, I had a sudden realization. It was Thursday.  The last time I had stepped outside was on Sunday. I was terrifyingly close to becoming the crazy, disheveled hermit next door that emerged once a year to mumble obscenities at the children as they ran off in terror.

Worse, I was totally sedentary.

Part of it was my job. I had to sit in front of a computer 40+ hours a week. Part of it was my back. I’d jacked it up a number of times at this point, and so I basically didn’t even want to move. So I didn’t. And then I’d feel worse. So I moved less.

I tried walking. I tried going to the gym. I tried working out at home. But even if did make time for that, it meant I was moving, what, an hour out of the day, sitting on my ass the rest.

So I bought the desk, and started my challenge: walk 30 miles a week, 1500 by the end of the year.

How Does a Walking Desk Work?

A few weeks in, I’d say I love it!

But everyone I speak to about it seems to be under the impression I’m sprinting on this thing all day. “How can you type” is always the first question. They think treadmill; they think running. I guess that makes sense.

Typing is actually super easy. Your hands rest on a pad and don’t really move. The keys are right there. Plus, you can walk as slow as you want. I’m walking at 1.8 mph as I type this. That seems to be a good, easy pace for me, especially if I’m going to be on it for awhile. Between work this morning and typing this post, I’m already over four hours on the day. The first week I walked at 1.5 mph, but even now, during things like meetings, I’ll drop it down to as low as 1.0 mph so I’m not huffing and puffing throughout.

The mouse can be slightly trickier, but not much. In fact, the desk itself is quite roomy.

Desk Space on DT5 Desk

I’m also much more alert while walking.

I try to split my day between sitting and the walking desk, and while some aspects are a bit harder while walking, overall, I think I’m quite a bit more productive on the treadmill. The blood is flowing. There’s less distractions. I stay on task.

It’s hard to crash after lunch if you’re moseying along and putting in a few miles.

LifeSpan Walking Desk

After an hour in the chair I’m ready for some YouTube videos and a nap.

The only issue I had at first was trying to use my laptop since it has a small screen.  I’d recommend getting a big monitor and then zooming in to make the text nice and easy to read as you walk.

So far, it definitely appears to be worth the investment.

Week 1: Almost 18 Miles and 7 Pounds

I stepped on the scale this morning and saw 321.0. That’s nearly 7 pounds gone in my first week. 

Stats from Week 1:
Calories eaten: 2065/day
Steps taken: 53,991
Time on treadmill: 10 hours 22 minutes
Total miles: 17.94

Those miles are all from my new walking desk, which I’ll post more about in the future. I work from home, so that 10 hours accounts for only a quarter of my work time. Less considering I use it some nights as well — such as I’m typing this (54 minutes in, almost 2 miles!)

So there’s plenty of room to grow as I ease into working on this bad boy.

My worse day food-wise was 3520 calories, but that was the only day I ate fast food this week. McDonald’s is a terrible habit. Too many many Big Macs makes a big Mac. Or a big Jeff.

Yeah, that was terrible. But this is my blog. Expect terrible jokes.

My favorite joke when I was a kid. First guy walks into a bar. The second one ducks.

I was a pretty cool kid.

Change for a Year Goal: Eat Less, Move More, Lose 100 Pounds

For the first time in my life, I actually have a budget. I downloaded an app, plugged everything in — and viola! — I have a plan to get debt free by the time I’m 35. Five years from now.

The crazy thing is that it took me all of 30 minutes to do. And it’s super simple. Set a goal. Track it. Adjust as necessary.

Stay consistent. Then achieve it.

That got me thinking about this blog again, and my original (and failed) goal of getting in shape. That was two-and a half years ago. I am down about 40 pounds from then — I started at 371 — but that’s actually a sign of the problem.

I know how to lose weight. I know how to be healthy. But just like with my budget, I don’t know how to be consistent.

And it’s super simple. Set a goal. Track it. Adjust as necessary.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Set a goal and track it. Every single week, all year long. It feels good to have to some simple weekly goals: move more, eat less.

But that’s too vague a goal. I need something to measure my progress against. Every day I’ll track my calories in the FatSecret Android app. Every day I’ll log the number of steps, miles and time I walked.  Every week I’ll post my results. Now I just have to be consistent. Fifty-two weeks to go.

Starting goals: a little over 2000 calories and 5 miles on the treadmill each day.

That means walking 1500 miles this year. And the weight — well, that’s just a byproduct of the other goals. But let’s shoot for 100 pounds. That’s a nice round number, and it’ll put me 30% lighter than when I started last Monday. I think it’ll feel good being 30% lighter.

Monday I weighed in at 327.8.


Alejandro the Foolish and the Magical Pen

Last night I watched a great talk by Ray Bradbury from 2001. He was the keynote speaker at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, and he imparted his usual no-bullshit writing advice to the students present including his belief modern poems are garbage (“if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere”), why you should ignore writers who say their job is work (“to hell with that, it is not work; if it’s work stop it and do something else”), and his usual disdain for technology (“live in the library for Christ sake; don’t live on your goddamn computers and the Internet and all that crap”).

Even at the age of 88, three years before his death in 2012, his passion for libraries was still strong. As The New York Times quoted him:

“Yahoo called me eight weeks ago,” he said, voice rising. “They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’”

Why bring this up?

Today I put short story up on Amazon. It’s a 5500-word short story about a boy named Alejandro and the mess he gets himself in, and there really wasn’t anywhere else to publish it.

The other day I listened to Marc Maron interview Larry Grobel, who is probably best known for his profiles of various celebrities in Playboy (an absolutely fantastic interview, well worth the 90 minutes), and he lamented that profiles like he used to write for that magazine, sometimes 20,000 – 30,000 words, had now become just a handful of pages, and there’s no longer an outlet for that kind of writing — too long for modern magazines, too short for books.

And that’s where Bradbury was behind the curve. For example, a quick glance at Amazon’s Kindle Singles page shows an excellent selection of long-form journalism, interviews, essays and short fiction ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands of words, writing that in general doesn’t have a place to go otherwise in today’s print market.

Anyway, I really just intended this to be a brief post saying that my short story, Alejandro the Foolish and the Magical Pen, is now up on Amazon, and it’s free for the next five days (January 14-18). After that it reverts to its hefty 99 cent price tag. Maybe if I’m lucky I can get a free tank of gas out of the royalties. I’ve got a Prius, and gas is currently cheap.

Like I said, it’s kind of an ugly duckling with no home, so I’m glad it’s found a place somewhere.

Also, thanks for the feedback on the cover. I’ve tweaked it slightly so the title hopefully looks a little better.


An Evening with Ray Bradbury 2001

If you have some time today why not spend it watching the hour-long Ray Bradbury talk and 30-minute follow up interview:

Or if you’re in a hurry and just want to get a sense of Bradbury, listen to his story from the day the U.S. landed on the moon (starting at 24:15) in the video below.

And if you’ve made it this far and want to read my short story, you can get it on Amazon: Alejandro the Foolish and the Magical Pen

Making My First Book Cover for $15

The past month I’ve been tinkering on and off with an old short story I wrote. It’s sort of children’s story, but it’s a little dark. It’s a bit too long for most magazines doing young adult stuff, and it’s not long enough to make a novella. And it’s not really like anything else I’ve written, so it can’t exactly go in a collection.

Honestly, I’m not sure who it would even appeal to, so I don’t really know what to do with the thing.

I did have a hell of a good time writing it though, and I’d like to do something with it.

I’ve also been looking at Amazon and their Kindle Direct Publishing, so I thought I’d give it a test run to see what’s it all about and throw my ugly little duckling into the mix over there.

The problem with most self publishing though, which I’ve found researching tonight, is that the covers are mostly awful, especially in the ever-popular erotic genre. The last thing I want is to be another example of terrible design in self publishing. But I plan on making approximately $0 on this story, so I don’t exactly want to shell out a few hundred bucks for a site like 99designs to have a handful of graphic designers battle it out for a truly kickass cover either.


So I spent a few hours doing some research and putting my (very) limited design abilities to good use.

A couple hours trying to find a decent stock photo (and mostly failing), another hour or so tinkering around in GIMP, and a half dozen font downloads later (again, most of them not even close), I think I managed to create a cover that isn’t too half-assed. Not the greatest, but it’ll do.

And it only costs me 15 bucks for the photo.


It’s the little things in life, right?

The World’s Fattest Vegan?

People stumble across my blog every day by searching “world’s fattest vegan.” It’s a title I gave myself upon first starting that journey in December 2012. Vegans, it seemed, were the epitome of health. I clocked in at 371 pounds. I decided to make a change. Hence, the title.

It was funny. People on Twitter got a kick out of it.

But now that some people identify me as not just a fat vegan, but the fattest one of all, it brings to mind many philosophical questions:

Am I really the fattest vegan out there?

If I slip up, as I did recently pretty much the entire last year, does that mean I have to relinquish my belt? Do 99 percent vegans count? Or 95 percent? Or six-day-a-week vegans? The vegan police, I have since learned, are … well, they’re not all that nice.

That bread has honey in it, you traitor! Revoke his vegan card and spit on him on the way out!

Yeah, I’m convinced it’s those people that led to the whole idea that people who eat plants are condescending assholes.

However, the most important philosophical question is this: some things are just not meant to be life-long goals, right?

Do you realize that someone out there is the worst driver on the entire planet? Or that someone has set the record for shoveling the most chicken wings into his face in 30 minutes without vomiting? Or that someone can probably recite every Pauly Shore movie from opening shot to closing credits?

Some titles come with appropriate levels of public shame. It’s what keeps the human race on track.

In fact, pulling out some of the negative Google searches that bring people to this blog creates a rather depressing abstract poem:

worlds fattest vegan
fuck fatty
falling off the vegan wagon
tried to juice fast but couldn’t do it
don’t kill yourself

Hey, take it easy, eh? Tell me what you really think.

I realize I’ve been a bit sidetracked from my goals — as I type this there’s a steadily growing pile of pizza boxes on the counter — so I’m thinking maybe I should finish up that first goal. What was that? Oh yeah, eat healthy and get healthy.

Oops. Slipped my mind somehow.

I think that’s realistically something to shoot for: transition from world’s fattest vegan to just a plain ol’ fat vegan. Besides, I’ve still got a few vegan projects I’ve got to finish up on this blog yet.

Yeah, I think I can do that. Though I’m still not sure on the whole juicing part.

You Want to Get Paid to Write? Here’s How I Did It

The other day a colleague called me out of the blue wanting some career guidance.

“You’ve got the kind of job I’d love to have,” he said. “I’m wondering if you could give me some advice on how you got started.”

It made me think. I am pretty damn lucky. As the editor of HackSurfer, I spend my days getting paid to write. I get to coach and teach new writers. I get to try new things. Basically, I get to do whatever the hell I want.

When football season started, we created our own game called Fantasy Cybercrime. Every week our staff faces off against each other and we post the results. I’m currently in second place. The winner gets a bobble head trophy. I want it.

I host webinars using Google Hangouts. I get to interview experts in the field. I mess around on social media. I create graphics and videos and papers and ebooks. Most of all, I get to write and come up with new ideas. Every day. Soon, we may start a podcast.

I have an amazing boss like that. “Tell me when I’m shitting the bed, otherwise, I’ll just run with this,” I told him. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I started running.

It’s awesome and I love it. Occasionally, I forget how lucky I am. Everyone does. Like anyone who gets to live their dream, I’m constantly waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under me. So far, it hasn’t.

It’s been a long and strange journey to writing full-time.

My First Paycheck for Writing

It was 2001. I was 16. I wanted to write, but had no clue how to go about it. Truthfully, I had no clue what to even write about.

I bought that ancient tomb, the Writer’s Market, and would pour through the submission listings, circling anything that sounded like it might let a hack like me slip through. I bought writing magazines, there were a handful at the local bookstore, and read them cover to cover. One in particular had a short story writing prompt each month. I used them to pen some truly horrific short fiction, including a version of this short story. A few years later, with a bit of editing, it’s not that bad.

I had no idea what it meant to be a writer. I’d just watched Almost Famous. I imagined myself penning in-depth features for Rolling Stone that sprawled across a half dozen glossy pages.

But even at 16, the math of it all didn’t add up. How could a person survive? There were listings at the big magazines that paid big — maybe $2 a word — but damn, that would mean I’d need to land a feature at a brand name magazine every single month to keep putting food in my mouth.

And I hadn’t published anything, or submitted anything other than some terrible short stories that wouldn’t even pay if they were published. It was a daunting hill to climb.

But I kept looking and reading, and I found a few sections in writing magazines where they accepted stories from writers about writing. I wrote a short piece, “Another Day, Another Rejection Letter,” about walking to the mailbox and the excitement, and fear, of seeing that envelope with your own writing on it — the joke of it all being that evil editors would not only make you wait months to reject you, but also make you pay for your own rejection with those damn self-addressed-stamped envelopes.

The one line I remember: “There is some kind of sick, self-inflicted torture that I find in paying for my own rejection.”

It was funny and interesting, and I knew it.

It got rejected one or two places with encouraging comments before being published in FellowScript, a quarterly Canadian newsletter.

I was paid $15 — in Canadian money, which at the time was actually like $13.75.

Phase 2: Being a Broke Writer in College

Truth be told, I may not be the most inspiring case. I was never the plucky young writer who wouldn’t give up until he reached his dream, bashing down barriers one heartfelt story at a time.

I stopped writing. I changed course. I gave up — many times.

I was going to be an engineer. I kicked ass at Advanced Calculus. I kicked ass at Advanced Physics. But throughout my high school and college years, I loved writing assignments.

Every moment where a teacher wrote, “You’re a great writer!” or “I loved it!” on a paper stayed with me. I remember my Food Journalism professor reading out loud an essay I wrote in college, and I could sense the classes disappointment — it was pretty damn good, even moreso the way she read it. She encouraged me to write for the school paper, and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

But writing some bullshit personal essay is cheap. That kind of stuff didn’t count. It’s not going to get you paid, I told myself. I still believe that’s true. I blog here, and it’s fun, but I don’t expect to make any money off of it.

I decided to not work for a year, snagged some private loans to pay my expenses, and tried writing again, eventually for the student newspaper.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, interviewing was the most important thing I learned. For years, I had no idea how to write something that would actually lead to getting paid — other than some abstract idea like writing a book and praying it sells — but with interviews, I could write about anything.

I interviewed professors. I interviewed students. I even got to interview Patrick Rothfuss, who taught at my college, about a book he was releasing. This was before he was the badass international bestseller he’s now become, though the epic beard has never changed.

I learned a ton. For one, I learned what it’s like to be a real writer. I remember one story I wrote about student debt and all of the pieces that I had to assemble. I must have interviewed a half-dozen people for it. I read studies. I quoted statistics.

It started with a student. “I’m scared to go to school,” he said about the mountain of debt he faced. “I’m contemplating if I want to continue.”

It was my first every true feature-style story.

Another story I wrote began:

As semesters draw to an end at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Anthony Ellertson usually can be found standing in front of his class quoting T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and telling his students that, if Einstein’s right about time, each moment is eternal, and they will always be sitting in that room together.

As semesters begin he often tells his students they’re going to change the world.

It’s not quite the expected subjects for a group of students learning about Web design.

I quote those to illustrate a key point, one that I will make again and again. People want stories. In order to tell those stories, you have to go out into the world, or at least pick up the phone. It seems obvious now, but for years I couldn’t make the connection.

Yes, it was terrifying at first, especially for us introverts. I made a fool of myself on more than one occasion. But once you begin to collect those stories and statistics and ideas and play around with them and shape them, it’s exhilarating. That’s the fun part.

Interviewing is now, hands down, the favorite part of my job.

I should point out that throughout this short period I didn’t get paid. And a lot of what I wrote was crap. But some of it was good, at least a couple of articles, and it gave me a variety of stories that I could showcase when people asked for clips. You need them.

My professor put me in touch with a local paper, and I wrote an occasional story for them. Sometimes I’d rework a story for the college paper for their weekend edition. A few times they asked me to cover something in the community: a new charity in town, or a man who put a camera on huge kites and took beautiful aerial photos of the city.

Each story paid $40. I was moving up in the world.

Then I graduated. I moved. I had to start over. I gave up writing.

Phase 3: Quitting My Job

Writing, I thought, can always be a part-time thing, a hobby. So I looked for a real job. I went through a few different ones. I worked hard. I became a manager. For the first time in my life, I made decent money.

Then I quit.

After years of not writing, I realized I wanted to try again, and rather than dust off that old Writer’s Market, I went online.

I found a few sites where I could make money: content mills like TextBroker and Content Authority. Writing for them certainly wasn’t fun (get paid $5 to write 300 words on how to stain a deck!), but they gave me confidence that I could slave away and live off ramen noodles while waiting for something better to come along.

They’re mostly shitty, soul-sucking places that pay less than minimum wage, but they are an easy way to make something if you can quickly produce error-free articles.

I quickly moved to Elance, a site where you can bid on articles. A lot of the stuff on there is similarly shitty work at slave wages, but I actually found decent success there and some good opportunities.

The challenge was to stand out, and not undersell yourself. When I saw a job I really wanted to land, I put some effort into my bid. I’d make sure I had a few quality, relevant clips to send along as PDFs, and I made sure to provide several ideas or options to give them less of a chance to write me off.

That short bid is all they have to choose who to hire. Finished clips show them what you can produce. Ideas show them you understand what they want and can provide it to them several different ways. A realistic price shows them that you’re a professional and understand what you’re worth.

Yes, I did undersell myself a few times to get those initial jobs and ratings, but I was always looking for a big fish.

That’s where I found my current job.

Phase 4: Becoming a Full-Time Editor

This post is becoming long, but it’s for a reason. When people ask how I got started writing, I tell them I quit my job and four months later I was the editor at a new startup and managing its cybercrime website.

Yes, I got lucky, but luck plays a part in everything. Mostly though, I knew I wanted the job, and I made damn sure I got it.

The point I want to make is that it wasn’t as easy as I quit, I found Elance, I landed a job at a cool company.

I wasn’t the only person on Elance writing stories for this new company, and I knew that they’d be hiring someone full time soon.

I took it for what it was: a test. May the best man win.

Problem was, I knew absolutely nothing about cybercrime. Years ago this would have terrified me. It would have been a show stopper.

But I knew I could write about anything if I found the right people to talk to. So I found a few experts each week to interrogate for new stories. I built up a roster of contacts. I leaned on them heavily, perhaps too heavily at first.

And a few months later, I got the job. I knew I would. Because I stood out.

That’s it. That’s the long answer to how I got started and how I became a full-time writer.

Now I’ll keep working and improving — and hoping the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under me.

Want more tips on freelance writing? I’ll collect them all on my Freelance Writing Guide Page for future reference.

One Shelf of Books — What Makes the Cut?

I wrote this post a few months back as I was preparing to move to the coast. I’ve since decided to stay in Wisconsin, at least for now, thought the oceans still calls me:

Downsizing some things is easy. With others, it’s painful.

This year I’ve made many promises to myself, and one of them is this: I’m going to live on the beach, at least for some portion of my life, and likely soon. I’ll spend my mornings watching the sun rise over the Atlantic, my afternoons writing and editing, and as the sun sets, my evening drink in hand and the sound of the waves on the beach lulling me to sleep.

I dream of hopping on my motorcycle with nothing more than my laptop, a bag full of clothes, and a few things that I cannot part with to begin a new life chapter — maybe just a short side story, maybe more.

But that poses an important question. What can I not part with?

If you want to find out what’s truly important, downsize.

With most things it’s easy, but as I looked today at my book collection — already cut in half several different times from previous moves and whittled down to books I loved — I realized I had to make some tough choices.

And I was vicious.

The fantasy classics from my youth, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit? Gone, finally facing the same fate as the two-dozen high pile of Star Wars fiction that had gotten the boot years before.

That whole row of Stephen King paperbacks that defined my high school years but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of even when I donated all my Dean Koontz books to the library? Gone.

Those nonfiction books that had opened my eyes to the world like Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? and Richard Grant’s God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre? Gone.

The same fate befell Bob Dylan’s Autobiography and The Hunger Games trilogy and a dozen other books that I took chances on and ended up loving like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Mostly I held this rule: if I’m not planning on rereading it soon, it goes.

So what’s left?

It’s an interesting way to look at someone’s life — not the books they do have, but the books they can’t let go.

Like the two books I read that will forever stay with me as an example of what it means to put brilliance on paper: Of Mice and Men, which showed me the power and tragedy and poetry that language can evoke, and The Great Gatsby, which I didn’t much care for in high school but have since fell in love with.

To part with them would be impossible.

In fantasy land I couldn’t part with Game of Thrones. Will I ever reread them? At their length its hard to justify, but to cast away the first five books without their upcoming companions seems wrong. So they stay.

Same with Pat Rothfuss, whose books I’ll never part with. Partly because they’re spectacular, partly because he went to the same school as me and wrote for the same newspaper, partly because he’s the only famous author I’ve ever interviewed. His books are more than books in that sense. They’re a moment in my life.

Neil Gaiman stays too. Mostly because everyone speaks highly of American gods and I don’t much remember it, so it must be reread. Plus, he has written one of my favorite short stories of all time.

Then there’s the dozen or so books I’ve purchased but never gotten around to: Richard Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens in nonfiction, Fitzgerald and Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard in fiction.

There’s a half dozen more I’ve bought and never read, and of course there’s The Lovely Bones, a book I read twice when it came out and continue to love. I’ve just realized the author, Alice Sebold, was born 30 minutes away from my house. She has other books. They must be read.

There are so many to read. So I must read them, absorb them, and clear space for more.

But some will never go.

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