Writing

How I Got More Out of My Writing Process

Cogitating Is Not Procrastinating

I’ve tried every cure for consistent writing I’ve read about.

The lure of quality has satisfied me enough, at least for this long while. Why bother writing everyday when I can produce decent quality on short notice?

I’m just someone who doesn’t write every day, I said.

The truth is I have always thought myself a writing fraud, though lazy better describes better my self-assessment. Why work hard when writing has never been that difficult for me? I’m not procrastinating, I’m cogitating!

Right. Quiet as kept, the cogitating ate into my self-esteem and played right into my fears of ignominy. You know the one where you dream people will be reading your words 200 years into the future? That was me. But since I was cogitating and not writing,  no one would read what I wrote in the future.

How could they? Statistically I gave myself no chance. My output had been too low. That connection – between output and wider recognition -was lost on me. I was just someone who didn’t write every day.

[Cue baby’s wail here.]

More is More

Recently I began lifting weights. Again. For like the upteenth time. A desire for a  revision of my top surgery motivates me. I want to have as big and lean a chest as I can. This will be my last surgery, and I want to make it a big one.

[Cue forehead hitting the desk.]

Big Ones happen by doing Small Things frequently. That is to say, I achieve a fuller, leaner chest by working out x times per week for x weeks. Each workout is small. But over time the result is the Big One.

More muscles = more weekly work-out sessions.

This time the working out led me to the realization that writing is no different.

More writing = more output.

Regardless of the quality, my productivity goes up.

In the world of goal vs process, the process of little steps every day leads to big goal outcomes. For example, writing 1,000 words 5 days a week (because writing is, after all, a job) for 49 weeks results in 245,000 words per year. That’s a lot of Big Ones. Like a novel or three; mucho blog entries; newsletters, etc.

The Little Becomes the Big

How I failed to grasp this reality is beyond me. Perhaps I just wanted to continue to feel shitty about myself. The old self-fulfilling prophesy thing, etc., etc. The whole thing is now so simple. I can write about 1000 words a day, five days a week. Easily.

I exert no mental pressure as to what I will write about. As a lifelong opinionated blabber mouth means I rarely lack for anything to say. There is still no pressure. I write what I write. Even when I don’t feel like it.

That’s another amazing thing. I finally understand why motivation and will power are terribly shifty friends, ready to flee when I most need them. It’s easier to show up and write than sit around wailing about what a loser I am and why my writing sucks and blah. Blah. Blah.

On the days when I haven’t felt like writing, I’ve told myself to just write one sentence. And it works! The words start to come.

I may not every produce anything of merit. My self-esteem though has begun to solidify. It’s like, “Yeah. I’m a writer. I write like it’s a job. Five days a week.”

Each single, little day strung together is making for some big gains and realizations. I’m getting more out of my writing process because I’m putting more into it, a little each day.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Unbearable Whiteness

A Confederate Flag Flew from a Northern House

On a recent daily morning walk, Ms. H. and I discovered a house around the corner from us flying a two-sided, U.S./Confederate flag. We live in a tiny town in southeast Michigan, a state that outlawed slavery in the 1830s and fought on the Union side during the Civil War.

At this point, I am supposed to point out that the confederate flag is a symbol of racism, particularly Jim Crow. And it is, of course. But as I reflected on how to begin this piece, I realized the double-sized nature of this particular flag speaks to the history of the United States.

The Union Fought to End Slavery?

Michigan sent Union troops to fight in the civil war. What this really means is that my state, and all Union states, fought to keep the Union together, a Union where slavery would be allowed to continue.

At the outset of the war, Lincoln had stated very clearly that he opposed slavery personally but placating the South was more important:

“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” [Read: The Best Inaugural Addresses Ever]

Abolitionism grew after Union soldiers interacted with fleeing slaves, who lived not in refugee camps, but in contraband camps. Cogitate on that for a moment. Contraband defines goods that have been imported or exported illegally.

Fleeing slaves lived in contraband camps run by Union soldiers. Like many southerners, northerners also believed that African-Americans were not fully human.

We in the North suffer from the delusion that the Civil War was about ending slavery. It wasn’t.

The war was about forcing the southern states back into the Union. With the inflation-adjusted equivalent of slaves valued at about 3 billion dollars (so I heard Ta-Neihisi Coats claim earlier this year), and many New York banks getting quite rich off the slave trade, and a bone-deep belief that African-Americans really were less than human (let’s not forget the 3/5s clause of our founding document), can we really claim with fully integrity that slavery was a southern problem only?

History Isn’t Ala Carte Menu

The Confederate Flag is inextricably intertwined with our national flag. Every state in the United States that could have legal slavery did so. Michigan, Illinois, Maine, New York. All of them had legalized slavery at some point in its history. We prefer to overlook this fact, I think. Southerners (which I define as anyone, anywhere in the U.S. who explicitly affirms a symbol such as the Confederate Flag) become convenient tropes for our forgetfulness.

We forget that the institutionalizing of slavery was part of our founding document. It is a much a part of our early American history as the Preamble to the Constitution. Yet we continually refuse to acknowledge or confront our past with any semblance of honesty. Because we aren’t Southern, we are somehow not part of the United States history of slavery. But history is rather like karma. We don’t get away with anything.

We don’t get to pick the parts of history we don’t like. If we get teary eyed over the preamble, then with equally open eyes we must embrace the 3/5ths clause, the contraband camps, the institutionalized segregation that existed (and I would argue still exists) in Detroit, New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia.

The double-sided U.S./Confederate flag are two sides of the same history. Southern history and southern slavery and southern segregation is Northern history and Northern slavery and Northern segregation. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not doesn’t make it less so.

Standard
Security Style

Security Style for Creatives – How Websites Work

Understanding how websites work provides the foundation through which we can understand how websites get hacked. My first goal is that you have such understandings, so that when you contract with a designer/developer, you will know what questions to ask about your website’s security. My second goal is right understanding so you don’t pull a Jay Sennett on your website. That’s where you think you know what your doing. But you don’t and get hacked.

What makes website security even more frustrating? Creatives like musicians, writers and photographers turn over website design to designers, many of whom know little about website security, too.

Would you turn over your abode’s security to your interior designer? I didn’t think so.

How a Website Works

Bluehost created this lovely little video below on how websites work. Here are they key points. In parenthesis I describe weaknesses that can allow hackers in.

How Websites Work

Websites are files contained in a series of folders. (Weaknesses are:

  • The files themselves. WordPress has known vulnerabilities in the files that can, without constant security patches, provide hacker opportunities. Third-party editions in wordpress, called plugins, are a vast treasure trove of hacking opportunities, as are the themes that make WordPress look pretty.
  • The permission settings of the files and folders. Each file and folder on the server has a read-write-execute “mode.” Some settings are very secure. Others leave your site vulnerable to attack. More in a future post.
  • The setting a person uses to upload the files to the server. Some settings are extremely secure. Other settings are not. Again I’ll explain more in a future post.
  • Passwords you use to access your files/folders/software.)

Browsers use a computer language called HTML and CSS to make or render your site on a computer. (Weaknesses are:

  • Browsers contain security vulnerabilities that have allowed hackers to create malware that you download unknowningly. This malware can then track your keystrokes, for example, and allow hackers to know your passwords, for example.)

Servers are computers used to store and serve the files to anyone’s computer who requests your website url. (Weaknesses are:

Most of us use shared hosting because it is significantly cheaper than private hosting. Shared hosting means your files and folders are stored on a server with scores of other files and folders, each of them an opportunity for hacking.(Weaknesses are:

  • In a shared hosting environment, your files become vulnerable. Very vulnerable. Your files may be very secure but that security becomes compromised because other files may not be secure. What’s even worse, is that some computer hacks actually target the server, potentially infecting thousands and thousands and thousands of servers. GoDaddy has had servers hacked. My hosting company has had servers hacked. You would think hosting companies would be expert-ninja security experts, deft at thwarting attacks, but they often aren’t. Running servers is actually a full-time job.)

Domain Name Servers (DNS) provide the addresses for your web addresses. Think of DNS as addresses books for all the web urls around the world. (Weaknesses are:

As you can see, hacking opportunities are baked right into a website’s existence. With good security style, which I’ll be discussing in the upcoming weeks, you can do a darn good job of protecting your website, even a in a shared hosting environment.

Standard
Security Style

I Got Hacked, Part 2

Getting hacked has been a tiring but rewarding experience. Absurd, yes?

Let me explain. I have spent my entire adult life learning how to be more responsible for myself, my stuff, my projects and my people. Responsibility frees me. No longer am I beholden to others. I am also no longer beholden to my own fears.

Responsibility entails knowledge and a willingness to act on that knowledge.

When I got hacked, I realized I had done something very, very, very stupid.

WordPress is a web-based system that runs through a web database system called MySQL. Structured Query Language is relational-database (data in one field can be related to data in another field through a relationship) that is about 45 years old. Without SQL (and php, but that’s another discussion) wordpress would be unable to save posts and pages and comments.

It would be like a car without an engine.

I run WordPress myself (as opposed to wordpress.com). That means I have access to the MySQL databases attached to my wordpress files.

The gold standard for web security with regard to wordpress (and any website running SQL) is to have one username per website per SQL database. That means the database attached to jaysennett.com should have one username (call it user1); the database attached to homofactuspress.com should have a second, different username (called it user2); and so on, for all my domains.

Why should this be the gold standard?

If a hacker gains access to the database information (which is quite easy to do, actually, since that information is contained in the configuration file that runs wordpress), they can only vandalize/hijack one website.

I’m sure you can see where this is going because that is not what I did. Here’s what I did. Each domain/website had the same username for the database running it. So when they hacked the jaysennett configuration file, they gained access to all three database files.

This is a really, really, really STUPID thing to do. And it is very irresponsible. Not even to my readers, however few they are, but to me! I had wasted my own time and money resources.

I was too smart to know how stupid I was. That’s how stupid I was. But I’m learning and quickly. And the reward has come from becoming responsible for my websites. Websites require responsibility. I’m still amazed that I even have to right such a sentence. Everyone knows houses require responsibility. But websites?

Yes, the website will require maintenance. Yes, security is something you will be responsible for. Yes, having a website is a responsibility.

The Impacts of a Hacked Website, Tony Perez, Sucuri Co-Founder/CEO

Are you a responsible website owner? Do you have security style?

Standard