pjhstudios blog

Lessons learned from writing 52 short stories


short story pen and paper

This was originally posted on reddit a while back, and I’ve been meaning to post it here.

The what

I wrote 52 short stories across 9 different genres that totaled over 52,000 words. My constraints were one short story every Sunday, at least 500 words, and I’d publish them on my personal website. I’d consider them as first drafts, some needing more work than others, some exist as scenes, and some serve as the start of a longer story. I gave myself the challenge in order “just write,” but also explore different characters, genres and ideas.

Success and learnings

In doing this, I now have a body of work, where I could (and will) return to and edit them to be excellent stories. And with this body of work, I can see what tics or habits I lean on. For example, I need to get better at showing emotion in a variety of ways, and my ingrained aversion to to-be verbs causes verb tense issues at times. Moreover, if I don’t have a clear vision of an ending, my endings get muddy and flat no matter what idea I had at the start.

In exploring ideas, I found fun in writing other genres and challenge in working to incorporate people different than my male, American, hetero self. The western I wrote about a bar tender recounting a story of a samurai in his saloon was one of the best, and I realized I could work with the conventions of the genre and still be able to execute; the same can be said of the fantasy stories I played with. And I made conscious decisions to write women, minorities, LGBT, in fantastic or mundane scenarios as normal, ordinary people. Did I do them justice? I don’t know. I’ll need to get feedback, especially for the story where a transwoman goes and buys a gun in reaction to an election.

Story telling may just be an exercise in empathy.


Ideas came from all over:

  • A picture of greenhouse I saw on r/pics spurned a horror yarn with two teenage boys
  • News headlines gave me more than one
  • My father asking about whether I wanted any of our Brio trains chugged along into a magical realist story
  • A joking comment about bourbon poured into oatmeal swirled into a story about a cam girl
  • Self driving cars can go on dark rides along technology’s cliff
  • Storage unit + science = !
  • Ferris wheel that goes underground
  • Social media is ripe for exploration

And on and on…

I even managed to write three on my phone while traveling 35,000 feet up in the air. But I’ll be honest, there were days where I scraped my keyboard for words. One idea I’ve had for sometime revolves around the woman in white ghost story trope but at a whiskey distillery. I was miserable writing it—i wasn’t feeling well, the setup was off, and it needed to be at least 5,000-6,000 words to create the tension. It was my worst. I cheated with the end, writing, “everything burned, and he died.”

I do intend to go back to that one and redo it.


  • Scrivener served as my main tool; the iOS Notes app, and then the iOS Scrivener app for mobile
  • I listened to a lot of post rock, jazz, and ambient music while writing
  • I drank coffee, water, Mountain Dew, beer, or whiskey
  • I really need to get dictation set up. I played with Dragon and a headset, but got frustrated with it


  • Total words: 52258
  • Average: 1005
  • Median: 885
  • Longest: 2351
  • Shortest: 515

Genre breakdown

Genre Count
Contemporary 15
Crime 2
Fantasy 7
Historical Fiction 1
Horror 6
Literary 1
Sci-fi 15
Supernatural 2
Western 2
Young Adult 1
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An internet dialogue about music, creation and ownership


Emily White, an NPR intern, kicked off the discussion early in the week, stating she never made the transition from physical to digital consumption of music.

I never went through the transition from physical to digital. I’m almost 21, and since I first began to love music I’ve been spoiled by the Internet.

I am an avid music listener, concertgoer, and college radio DJ. My world is music-centric. I’ve only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs.

Then, Camper  Van Beethoven and Cracker founder, David Lowery, responds with a nearly 3,000 word essay regarding the ethics and philosophy of creating music (or art) and being compensated.

Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices. I would suggest to you that, like so many other policies in our society, it is up to us individually to put pressure on our governments and private corporations to act ethically and fairly when it comes to artists rights. Not the other way around. We cannot wait for these entities to act in the myriad little transactions that make up an ethical life. I’d suggest to you that, as a 21-year old adult who wants to work in the music business, it is especially important for you to come to grips with these very personal ethical issues.

But Jonathan Coulton takes the idea further in a different direction, using Legos to speculate what may happen with physical goods if 3D printers proliferated.

Your kid loves Legos. He’s got an X-wing fighter kit that he’s super excited about, and as he’s putting it together, one of the little pointy laser turret pieces on the tips of the wings slips out of his hands and falls down the central air conditioning vent. No problem. You fire up the old internet, and you find www.legowarez.to, the small crazy place where all of the Lego nuts go to obsessively upload and catalog 3D scans of every lego piece that has ever existed. This site is ad supported, and some douchebag in Nigeria is getting rich off it. But you find the file for the piece you need, you download it, and a few minutes later you’ve printed out a replacement piece.

Jay Frank gets curious and uses Google Trends to seek out data about potential piracy.

Google, as the worldwide leader in search results, is a strong indicator of actual file trade demand. In fact, industry watchdog Moses Avalon argued such this week at New Music Seminar. Yet, when I went to look on Google Insights to see the level of demand for free music by David Lowery’s group Camper Van Beethoven, the message I get is, “Not enough search volume to show graphs.”This basically means, from what I can gather, that less than 50 people per monthin the entire world are even showing intent to steal his music. Statisticians basically refer to this as essentially zero.

In the broader sense, creators deserve to be paid for their work, regardless of the medium or method of distribution. The transition to legal, digital services to do this is only a recent development. Upon discovering Spotify, friends marveled, “How is this legal? There’s so much.” But if there’s no demand for an artist’s work, irrelevancy seems a much steeper price despite whatever medium the art is in.

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Creating more Caine’s Arcades


In the 10 minute video, Caine Monroy shows the arcade he built using discarded card board boxes and other supplies behind his father’s shop. It’s a fully realized vision of an arcade with games, a fun pass and prizes. He adapted materials and conformed them into something new, and in a way, it was a means of play to him, to create a mini-business.

Children like Caine should be nurtured. How to do this? Encourage interests in a playful manner. By this, get a child to describe what they’re doing or what they’ve done. Ask them about other ways to do things. Show them new experiences and how one experience can be combined with another. Creativity is all about making connections with disparate things or ideas and putting them into novel or different contexts.

If something isn’t wholly original, point out what you find interesting and ask what if questions. If a child is challenged by a what if question, step back and ask about their favorite activities and how those activities apply to the task at hand.

As a parent, it’s key to expose a child to different experiences. Early in life, reading to a child increases attention spans, curiosity, language skills to express themselves. Seek out field trips for hands on learning and showing them the world. Shy away from using rewards for creative acts–you want a child to develop a strong sense of self-motivation and restraint and to enjoy the process of being creative. Yes, celebrate and recognize the outcome of the creative work, but recognize what they had to do to get to the outcome. Always reframe a child’s failure as a learning experience for them. They can’t change what they did, but they can affect what they do in the future.

Here’s a detailed list of creativity for children.

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The truck surpassed 50,000 miles

Good Friday. Heading south on Bryant Irvin under a clear, blue sky. An LCD readout on the rearview mirror tells me it’s 84 degrees, and a rolled down passenger window catches the breeze. After I cruise through the green light at Overton, I change lanes to the right and the iPod fades into the next song, ‘Ho Hey’, by The Lumineers. As I pass a red Nissan Xterra, my grey Chevy Silverado surpasses 50,000 miles.

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It takes work to become awesome at kicking ass


Over the past week, the theme of posts in my RSS feeds revolved around learning, careers and personal growth. Some ranged from calls to action–we need to rethink our entire education system for todays world. Others spoke of self reliance, be aware and do your best to kick butt. A few were introspective, realizations of actions.

Seth Godin released an expansive manifesto, called Stop Stealing Dreams. Every group imaginable related to schooling, learning, employing, policy making receives commentary.  Schools are holdovers from the industrial age. Parents and teachers are complicit in encouraging obedience instead of passion and imagination. Employers seek those who say yes. Policy makers make uninformed decisions that ignore real needs. Godin includes statistics when needed, references academic research and includes colorful anecdotes. One such anecdote recalls an email from a blog reader critiquing the use of bespoke, instead of custom.

My blog is hardly filled with words most educated citizens would have trouble understanding. And yet a cable TV–inoculated audience wants everything dumbed down to the Kardashian level. This relentless push for less (less intelli- gence, less culture, less effort) is one of the boogiemen facing anyone who would mess with the rote rigor of mass schooling.

It seems to recallIdoiocracy, where the future is a dystopian state of passive entertainment for the lowest common denominator.

Andrew Olsen, takes a less passive route, believing the best skill you can learn, and possibly the only skill you need is the ability to learn. From this principle, he lists a 100 ways to be successful without going to college.

In this world, the only skill you really need is the ability to learn new things. If you know how to read (really read) and absorb new information, your knowledge will be far deeper than the average college graduate who listened to lectures and filled in bubbles on tests.

I agree with his principle of being able to learn is the best skill to have. It goes along with being able to figure things out–take the most basic thing you know about what you’re working on and build from there. Granted, this can’t be applied to every aspect of your life (how many people can repair an engine?), but for most knowledge worker tasks, it can.

Where I disagree with him is the value of college.  College is a safe environment to learn about life and how to manage it. How do you balance work (classes) and life (social gatherings) and coping with the stress it brings. That should be emphasized more than the degree one works towards. As Therese Schwenkler says, “your college degree will not get you the job you deserve“.

Her post led me to Charlie Hoehn’s Recession Proof Graduate. It provides interesting strategies to always be employable, the primary way, he suggests, is to work for free.  It’s a gamble and a method that should not be the norm. It’s sad that for someone to gain experience, employers can essentially receive free labor. Perhaps, one should follow Jessica Hische’s Should I Work for Free flowchart.

Or, instead of a flowchart, how about Jesse Thorn’s Make Your Thing: 12 Point Program for Absolutely, Positively 1000% No-Fail Guaranteed Success. It references his experiences and those mostly in the creative fields. The best takeaway:

I hear from so many people who have a great idea. The difference between the successful ones and the unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones do it, then do it again and again.

As we become successful, we’ll encounter others with ideas that are different than our own. Jason Freid suggests giving things 5 minutes.

His response changed my life. It was a simple thing. He said “Man, give it five minutes.” I asked him what he meant by that? He said, it’s fine to disagree, it’s fine to push back, it’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give my ideas some time to set in before you’re sure you want to argue against them. “Five minutes” represented “think”, not react. He was totally right. I came into the discussion looking to prove something, not learn something.

Similarly, Dustin Curtis thinks of 3 questions to asks the individual.

All this seems like a lot to take in. It is. Like driving a car, everything’s new and we’re hyperaware or don’t recognize patterns and habits. Over time, the things we learn, want to learn and apply to our daily lives, become innate habits we don’t even think about. This is true for bad habits, and with awareness, we can change them.

Like good habits, tt takes work to become awesome at kicking ass.

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Review of Doxie Go scanner


It seems too good to be true, a wireless, portable scanner that can send documents to your computer or iOS device. Perfect for one’s office within a Starbucks. Kind of.

Measuring a foot long, two inches tall and about 3 inches deep, weighing in at less than a half a pound, the Doxie Go is definitely portable. It powers on to a default scan mode of 300 dpi and can be toggled to 600 dpi, if needed. The power button can easily be erroneously pushed, too. Paper (photos, too) get scanned face side up, and the scanner gently pulls the item through, saving the scanned item within its on board memory or an SD card that you can add. The scanner seems fickle when pulling the item through.  If the item isn’t lined up perfectly, or you hold on to the paper a moment more, the Doxie Go doesn’t scan. Also, if the paper goes in angled or as it goes through and the paper catches on a random object on your desk, the resulting scan is a trippy blur of digital LSD. And don’t even bother with wrinkled or worn paper–vending machines take crumpled money better. Ideally, you’re scanning a relatively flat piece of paper and you either have a very clean desk or surface to scan on or you guide the paper through, catching it so it doesn’t get caught on any stray pens or keyboard.

The catch, for wireless scanning, is you have to add the wireless capability yourself with an Eye-Fi wireless SD card. So in a sense, it is wireless, but to get the scans off it, out of the box, it’s not.

Oh. OK.

Otherwise, to get your scans off the device, you must connect the Doxie to your computer via a mini USB cable,use a thumb drive, or, in the case of non-Eye-Fi SD cards, a memory card reader. Then, to do anything with the scans, processing through the Doxie software is required.

The software is free and actually pleasant to use.  Before your first use, the Doxie requires a setup procedure. To note, the Doxie Go I received needed a full charge before using. Setup is painless. To import the scans, select import, and the scans will be moved to your computer within a Doxie application directory.

The quality of the scans is quite good at 300 dpi, usable and the equivalent of a very good, clean fax machine. Scans can be saved to JPG, PNG, PDF, PDF with OCR (object character recognition) in black and white or color. Images scanned OK to good.  Scan images that have a purpose, e.g. labels, clips from magazines, and don’t necessarily have to be reproduced.

Each scan can be tweaked for clarity and contrast via several sliders (see screen shot below). A neat feature, to group scans, like a 10 page legal form, you select the 10 related pages (make sure they’re in the order you want them). One lacking feature is the ability to zoom in on a document. Legal forms look the same, and distinguishing them was a challenge in Doxie’s software.

doxie editing controls

Battery life seemed to be less than I expected.  I’d only get about two dozen scans out of it across several weeks. It comes with a mini USB cable, carrying case, which is a black bag, a calibration card, a guide in which to place 4″x6″ images and some random dongle that I have no clue as to what its purpose is.  I never go the Eye-Fi to work properly with the Doxie Go, despite several attempts. If Eye-Fi can put a wireless transmitter in something the size of an SD card, why couldn’t the engineers at Apparent put a wifi transmitter on their device to begin with? Would it really raise the price more than the additional $80 it costs for the Eye-Fi?

If you’re regularly out of your office and need to scan a document or three, the Doxie Go will work. Pass on it, if your multifunction printer already has this capability or own a flatbed scanner.

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Autoplay on the web is rage inducing


Go to the grocery store. Grab your shopping cart, carefully choosing the one with four squeak less wheels. Liesurley browse for bananas, add the box of Cheerios, select the pepper jack cheese that’s on sale (bonus!). Now, browse to the frozen food section. Scan the frosty shel-.


Shocked, you’re now either at best surprised, or at worst, angry, and if anything, annoyed at the unexpected interruption. For all the media encountered during the day, you think you’d be desensitized to these random bouts of advertorial extroversion.

Websites do this constantly. Videos auto play. Advertising attempts to do something clever. The granddaddy of them all, the pop up, still makes an appearance. These are all hostile interruptions to the user and moreover, disrespect the site’s content.

On YouTube or a music site, you expect something to automatically start. On news pages, where there’s only a video story, that’s expected as well.  On a news page with video and a text story, the video should not auto play. If they do, why so damn loud?

The solution, which publishers are in an arms race with, are browser plugins that disable auto play and other forms of advertising. Users get fed up with the interruptions and unruly, distracting advertising and install the plugins, which then the publishers seek to find a different way to make money off the users accessing the content.

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The audience


Stand in front of crowd. A few friends, a gathering of family, a room full of strangers.  Speak a few words. Announce that you’d like to say something. Present a prepared pitch with or without a slide deck as your copilot. In those first, present moments, you have their attention. The group becomes an audience.

Here’s a secret: 99.98% of the time, when you have an audience, they want to hear what you have to say. They want you to succeed. Know this secret to conquer the fear of speaking to an audience.

Underwear, and envisioning people in their’s, should remain a secret.

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Pinterest is the new women’s magazine


I picked up my mother’s copy of Women’s Day.  Thumbing through a few pages I read about dinner (and cookie) recipes, household tips, clever pop culture items, quick style blurbs and general interest items.

Scrolling Pinterest’s front page, I spy a recipe for a sugary confection, photos of style “looks”, make up tips, pictorial witticisms, photos of cool things to make or do around the house.

Women’s Day, the paper magazine, is social to the extent of giving the magazine to someone or clipping out an article and physically sharing it.  Pinterest is social as simple as finding something you like and pinning it for anyone one to view.


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What a college career center should be


Yes, the college career services should offer the following stock services:

  • Resume and cover letter help (I’d argue that cover letters are a waste)
  • Mock interviews – know how to talk and be self aware
  • Resources for soul searching to figure out skills and interests

I’d expand with the following:

  • No nonsense, active tips, in the vein of Ramit Sethi, where individuals are encouraged to be aware of their strengths and market the hell out of them.
  • Industry, pull-the-curtain-back on how businesses and careers run, styled like Penelope Trunks‘ detailed missives.
  • Light hearted life coaching that encourages personal introspection, ala Therese Schwenkler
  • Big, bold, constructive, have no fear to do good work, as told by Seth Godin

What links the four individuals? An emphasis on active actions (monster.com, sending out resumes are passive), where we’re self aware of what the hell we’re doing.

Sethi details psychology of actions and their perceived impacts. He may come across as arrogant in his style, however, fine tune his advice to the point of self  confidence. Formatting and whitespace on a resume ain’t gonna do that.

Trunk hails as the veteran, the insider, the one who’s been there and still doing it.  She seeks out information to gleam insights into trends or to justify why a common approach really doesn’t work. She emphasizes doing something and learning about what your learning–random jobs can teach you something.

Schwenkler brings the “life balance” dialogue to the career center.  If you’re not happy, aren’t aware of your attitudes, all your relationships will be a challenge. She’s that cool, slightly quirky advisor that can actually relate to people.

Godin is a marketer of life.  His writing belies an understanding that puts everything into perspective–career and life and all that we want to do with it. So long as we’re honest, working to do the right thing and not be afraid of our self doubts, we’ll be successful.

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