Go go, gadget Go! Time to play Baduk!

If you know me,  you know that I love the ancient Asian board game,Go (also called Baduk in Korea and Weiqi in China).  So today I’ll try to convince you to give it a shot.

Why should I care about Go / Baduk / Weiqi?

  • First, it’s the most infinite board game we know of, which has made conquering it the holy grail of AI research. In fact, human professional players used to be considered unbeatable by computers because they played on intuition, which computers just couldn’t do.
  • In 2016, Google DeepMind created a AlphaGo, which for beat a human prosfor the first time. Consequently, this means a board game will end up changing the world at a fundamental level!
  • Hey, did you know it’s is the oldest board game we know of that is still being played? Cool, huh?
  • I’ve written a couple of cool stories about it, but they’re not published yet. You can check out my go-less bibliography here.
  • It takes 5 minutes to learn the rules if someone shows you. If you have 25 minutes free, you can get a pretty detailed course here. 
  • Othello is based off of it
  • Child prodigies in Asia study from the age of 6 in full-time academies in hopes of going “pro”. Only 10% of child prodigies that try to go pro ever succeed.
  • It’s pretty damn fun for us non-pro, normal mortals
  • Hey, there’s even an anime about it! Check out Hikaru no Go.
Go / Baduk Anime!
Hikaru no Go

What I’ve been doing

Well, I’ve been focusing on improving my ability to read ahead and improving my opening moves, and it seems to be paying off.  In fact, For a while there my rank shot to 6 kyu, which is amazing for me. (Ranks in Go start at 25 kyu and go down. After 1 kyu they start over at 1 dan and reach as high as 9 dan. This is very similar to the belt system in Karate.)

To get there, I did lots and lots of problems. All sorts of riddles.

In other words, I did drills! Deliberate practice. Look at me, a broken record!

Tsumego for You!

The Japanese call Go riddles “tsumego.” C’mon, check this one out! Black to live:

Go riddles!

Once you get into go (baduk, weiqi), the game just gets deeper. There’s a point where the board seems suddenly smaller and less intimidating, but that’s when you realize just how infinite the game really is. It keeps going and going, neverending.

On this board, whole universes are created and destroyed.

I keep seeing a statistic that shows there are more possible board combinations than there are atoms in the known universe. While I have no idea if this is true, the factoid pops up all over the place. That no one’s questioned it should give you a clue about how vast the game really is.

Enjoy, and have a good day writing!

My Korean Language Journey

Over the past year or so, I’ve been studying the South Korean language (not North Korean; that’s way different) and it’s been going well!”Why Korean?” I hear you ask.

I could tell you that I had a love of Korean dramas. Or that Korea is breathtakingly beautiful and I want to go there. Or that I love the food. And all of that is true, but it came later.

The whole place!
Jeju Island is a Word Heritage Site

Honestly, the answer is a little odd. I’ve always studied random languages (usually learning nothing in the process), hoping one day to be a polyglot. I just happened to be on Korean when I finally figured out how to get good at learning languages.

Rather than drop Korean and move to another, day-to-day useful language and have to start over from scratch, I decided I’d go down the rabbit hole as far as I could. I mean, why not learn one of the most difficult languages on Earth, when you have no particular reason to , have never been there, don’t plan to go, and you don’t know the culture? What could possibly go wrong?

Well, How’d Your Language Adventure Turn Out?

I’m reaaaaally glad I did it.  I heard a lot of advice not to pick a language where you don’t know about the culture. But I ended up learning about the culture along with the language, so it turned out great.

The people I’ve met so far are kind, polite, and diligent, and I love them all.  They are very good, if very busy, friends. The food is exotic and great, even if it takes a little getting used to. I’m a sucker for all sorts of Korean dishes now. Especially Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkum.

Learn a language to eat better food!
Kimchi Jeyuk Bokkeum

Here’s a recipe.

The culture of South Korea, as I said, is fascinating, if sometimes tragic. All cultures are tragic, I suppose. I know the U.S. certainly is. Utopia means “no place” for a reason.

South Korean Culture – Oh, the Humanity!

South Korean are probably the most capitalistic society in the world. It’s really survival of the fittest, with barely any rules to level the playing field.  Most of the population lives in Seoul, which is just… so unimaginably big to me. Wow. It’s huge.

Seoul at night.

In South Korea, like the US, you have to work extremely hard just to get an interview for a good corporate intern job, but if you get it, you are expected to get certain promotions at certain ages. Most people in corporate jobs get to 39 or 40, and then miss the promotion to executive level. They’re out on  their ear, and have to work menial jobs for the rest of their life. It’s pretty unforgiving.

That means South Korea has the most highly educated and business-skilled janitors in the world! And the thing is, even if you’re one of the very few to get to the executive level, and you’ve focus your entire life on it — you’ll never get to be a C-level. All the major corporations in Korea are family owned, and all top level positions are inherited. Because of the family aspect of corporations in Korea, there are always sex scandals and government bribery scandals. Never a dull moment!

That said, South Korea is the only country in the world that I know of to use it’s legal system to oust a corrupt President. So they do have that going for them. And their health care is very inexpensive, unless you go for their gene therapies (which are some of the most advanced in the world).

Epic Koreans

I find it ironic that North Korea is the most Communist country in the world while South Korea is the most Capitalistic. My take away is this: Koreans don’t do anything half way.  They are truly epic!

Also, if you haven’t watched a Korean drama and you like romance, check it out. There’s a joke among Koreans that all their TV dramas are romances, and it’s pretty much true. Series are usually 1 season long, 16 episodes each, with a full, completely wrapped-up plot arc.  Usually episodes are 45 minutes long.

You don't need to speak the Korean language to get there, but it helps
Epic, beautiful nature!

So, How are You Progressing with the Language?

I’m getting pretty handy with rudimentary conversation, and  I have over a thousand words in my working vocabulary. But I have a long way to go to be fluent or even to understand a TV show (I can understand about 25% of one right now!). Korean’s a fun language, and I’ve made some fascinating friends and learned a lot about South Korea.

I can talk with folks about a lot of stuff, though. So I guess I’m bilingual now. I never in a million years would’ve thought my second language would be Korean. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Soon it’ll be time to dig in deep on Japanese. I’m already messing around with it. I know hiragana, katakana, a handful of kanji, and a few dozen words, but the way I’m going at it won’t ever work. I have to shift into high gear for a few months so I can get a solid foundation to build on.  Then, if I’m lucky, maybe after a year or two of consistent work I’ll get my polyglot unlock.

Maybe by then I’ll get a novel sold to a big publisher, too! (Cross fingers)

If you’d like to see some of my fiction, check out my bibliography here.

Writing – Whassup with me!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a terrible commercial where people said “Whassuuup” to each other over and over, and this commercial had nothing to do with writing.  But…. I’m gonna use it as an excuse to update you on my writing anyway! Mwuhahaha!

First, I’m writing again. Yay!!! And for 143 days in a row!  Double yayyyy!!!

My minimum is 1 sentence, and many days I get less than 100 words. But word count per day has been getting bigger, and my last session I hit 2,300+ words. Triple YAYYY!!!

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m doing my own version of the mini habits system by Stephen Guise. Basically, it’s a really low-bar checklist so I don’t wimp out. Here’s the book that got me started, and it’s working for me:

good writing habits!
Yes, this an affiliate link! But it’s a really good book about he started writing.

Getting stronger after hell

My writing muscles are building back up, and my prose quality is going up. I have better control over the pacing and emotional beats of my scenes, as well. Basically, I’m getting all those skills back that I lost after my Three Years of Hell (TM), where my mother died,  grandfathers died, my house burned down, and I almost died and lost a lot of mental sharpness because of a surgery gone wrong.

Writing novels only for now

Writing wise, I’ve been working exclusively on novels. Honestly, I don’t have the time or the emotional fortitude to submit my short stories, so no sales there.

I’ve currently got two projects in the works:

  1. A rewrite of novel (first book in a series)
  2. A new novel (second book in said series)

I work on both every day, minimum 1 sentence each, and I also work on outlines (minimum one step/spreadsheet cell) or scene sketches (minimum three bullets) every day. Them’s the rules, and they’re working for me.

The daily grind!

The rewrites on the first book are soaking up most of my word count. It was a particularly hard book to edit, and I edited it 3.5 times line-by-line before I figured out what was wrong: The writing just isn’t up to my standards, and a simple edit will never fix it. Normally I’d trunk it and move on, but the structure is strong, and there are some really kick-ass scenes, and I like the characters. Complicating matters is that I’m about 22,000 words into the second book of the same series.

So I’m currently in the process of taking scene sketches and rewriting the entire book 1 from scratch. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a rewrite from scratch, and it scared the hell out of me at first. Honestly, it’s not terribly hard. It’s just loooooooong. It takes a lot of time because you’re doing double work, scene sketches, then writing. I know someone’s going to say I don’t need the sketches, but I think I do; I need the buffer so the bad writing of the earlier drafts doesn’t “infect” this one.

Results for my Writing

The results so far have been fantastic. It’s gone from a book that I couldn’t say enough bad things about to one I’m actually satisfied with. Quadruple YAAAAAY!

I know I know, you still have one more question: What ELSE am I doing (because I can’t possibly be busy enough)? Well…

한국어 배우고 었으습니다. I’m learning Korean!

NOW…. Whassup with you? C’mon… WHASSSSSSUUUUUUUP with you?

I have quite a few articles  on  writing. If you’re interested in them, may I suggest you start here with “The Path to Mastery”.

Project Resurrwrite!

So what have I been doing? Writing! Very slowly… But slow is better than no.

My brain feels rehabbed, my writing is getting stronger again. I no longer look at my old stories and feel like that kind of writing is impossible. But I’m a different person now. Less dark, less brooding. And that is reflected in my writing. And that’s fine.

my habit was DEAD ASLEEP

But I had a problem- my writing habit was dead asleep. I could do a week in a row, but then I would always miss a day, and some days 250 words seemed outright impossible. Eventually I kept giving up.

So right now I’m focusing on rebuilding the never-miss-a-day rhythm I used to have. How? By avoiding procrastination. How, you ask again? (Because avoiding procrastination is everyone’s problem.)

I avoid procrastination by removing all the road blocks. I have a super-easy goal of one new sentence every day. Even if I’m sick or crazy with work, I can still hit it, but usually I blow it out of the water.  Almost never do I feel resistance for this habit, and even when I do, I tell myself — remember, one sentence and you can bail.

But you know something? Other than two days where I was terribly ill, I’ve never done just the minimum. I always do more, and sometimes way more. Sometimes a thousand or two thousand words.

I’m 15 days in with no misses, and it seems pretty do-able to keep going for a year like this.  That’s my real goal. Resurrect the writing habit. Make writing and the  tiny sub-habits surrounding writing automatic.

Instead of making glorious, insane goals, and then having me and my sun chariot careen drunkenly into Mount Olympus, I’ll just keep plugging away and see how it all works out. One step at a time.

No magic here. No super secrets. Just slow, consistent grind.

Go / Weiqi / Baduk


So as an escape from the mundane (and a vent for stress), I started studying Go (a.k.a., Weiqi in Mandarin, Baduk in Korean). It’s the oldest board game we know of that is still played today, with boards and pieces dating from 2,000 years ago.

We call it Go because that’s what the Japanese call it, and they introduced it to the west.

If you are after a challenging, infinite game that has no luck to it, this is your game. It FAR easier to learn than chess — almost as easy as checkers — but the strategy is much deeper.

Only this last year did a computer finally manage to beat a top human player in Go. (They started beating Chess Grandmasters in the 70’s).  According to one article, there are more legal board positions in the game then there are atoms in the universe. This has made Go the holy grail of AI research, because if you can make an AI that can learn to master Go, it can — by definition — master anything easier than Go.

All hail our new AI overlords, AlphaGo and (soon) Zen. May they be kind and gracious tyrants. 😉

The Hallelujah! Booth

So… How am I increasing my productivity? Well, there are several techniques I’m using, but here’s a really simple one to implement…

The Hallelujah! Booth

I get this idea from Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the source of most commercial fiction/movies plot structure as we know it. His idea is that you  a “Sacred Space” and a “Sacred Time” will nurture your creativity.

This is the space you have that is dedicated to you and your creativity. You go here to create and to do. In my experience, this is perhaps the easiest way to start making time for your writing habit, and teaches your brain that there is a time of day to be creative. That said, you don’t HAVE to have one. Jay Lake, one of the most productive writers I ever met, wrote anywhere anytime.

But I do have one.

So what’s my sacred space/time? It’s a specific booth at Chick Fil A that I show up to before work. I put in a solid hour of writing, and sometimes, if i get there early, a little more. The weakness of this is that 1) Weekends as a whole are difficult, since I don’t go to work those days, and 2) Sundays are really hard, since Chick-Fil-A is closed. But I’m learning to work around that. Slowly.

Whether yours is midnight in your closet or mid-day in your car in the parking lot of an Office Max, defining a sacred space and time will get your habit rolling.

Writing lots of words!

So, I mentioned recently that I’ve been researching productivity and how to speed up my writing. Well, it’s been going pretty well. Actually, I’m lying.

I’m bouncing with joy at the results!

–Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics–

Here are my results. As always, statistics should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • 51,780 Total Words for the entire month of January, 2016
  • Writing
    • 26,747 new words
      • all before Jan 16, when rough draft was complete
    •  2578.2 average WPH (words per hour)
  • Editing
    •  22,276 words edited
    •  869.7 average WPH

The remaining words fall into a misclellaneous bucket of brainstorming, plot noodling, etc.

–How Many I Keep–

I keep getting this weird question, over and over: “But how many do you keep?”

This is a weird question, that seems to assume that more productivity is worse productivity. I’ve actually seen a reverse trend. I’m getting out lots of words, and while they might not be perfect, I have, out of 17 scenes written with the process, only tossed half of one in the garbage.

…And that was a really complicated fight scene.

…And what I threw away gave me a much firmer grip on what needed to happen and what order.

So no real words lost. Instead, mostly, I end up expanding the words.

–Some Cold Water–

This is nothing compared to some authors, who get 10k words per day on a consistent, repeatable basis. I can only dream of getting there.

I’m currently at about 3-4k per day for new words, and 700-1.9k for edits.

That said, I’m doing pretty well, a lot better than any time I’ve had before. It’s massively more productive than the 0 words a day I had been getting, that’s for sure!

And, fingers (and toeses and noses) crossed that I’ll get better! Especially on my editing speed!

Robert Johnson, the Rock and Roll Faust

If you haven’t heard about the blues legend Robert Johnson — who supposedly sold his soul to the devil to master music, and who sang about walking with the devil, being chased by hell hounds, and making a deal with the devil at the crossroads, and who supposedly died at age 26 howling and barking like a mad dog at the moon — then you have now. To say his impact on rock and roll was astronomical would be to put it too weakly.


Robert Johnson has often been held up as one of the most amazing musicians ever by many rock and roll legends, however a lot of his songs sound very high-pitched, eerie, and can be offputting to new listeners. This is because they were recorded slightly too fast on the record machine, probably to cram more songs on the record and save money.

Well, now someone has at last gone in and slowed them back down again, and man, I like them better this way. I could listen to them all day. As an added bonus, you can now hear the influence of Son House on his singing, hear the emotion and humor in his voice, and his songs also feel like a natural extension of the Mississippi Delta Blues.

Listen to them here:


Looking without looking, seeing without seeing

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight. The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops where their teeth dragged and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually HERE.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.

Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.

Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

Deliberate Practice Writing Drill: Practicing Compressed Description

Deliberate Practice is the path to mastery: breaking down an art, sport, or craft into individual skills and training each of those skills independently.

Continuing on my Deliberate Practice Drills for Fiction Writing series, I present a drill designed to help focus descriptive powers.

Set a five minute timer (or if you’re really fast, two minutes). Look around, pick and object, describe it:

  1. Capture the look of it as fast as you can
  2. If you have to, instead of describing the whole object, focus on one detail
  3. Stories are emotional journeys; every object in fiction should have some emotional impact on the reader, so try to realize some emotional truth, shade the description with an emotive tone, or even personify the object.
  4. Keep it short, one sentence to one paragraph, and definitely no more than three paragraphs even for the most complex scene.
  5. Repeat this at least 3-5 times in one session.


  • This is not about writing a story. You do not need characters, setting, pr any sort of plot… Unless you WANT them 😉 Be true to the paragraph. Don’t hold yourself back.
  • If you get done in time, feel free to go back and tweak it a little. Play with the words. But move on when the timer goes off.
  • It doesn’t have to be good. This is about practice, about learning. About developing skill. My example below I am torn about: Is it good? I don’t know. It is as good as I can get it within the confines of the time limit, but that is all.


He sits at his desk and stares hopelessly at the mousepad. The mousepad is him. Worn, faded, bulging in the middle. He remembers it once bore a Picasso sketch of a bull charging, but every trace of it is gone, worn away by time and stress like the man’s hair.

Advanced Tip

Instead of just doing objects, try doing the whole room or a person.

More to come!