Writing Big Year: Societal risks are tough to assess

A recent image of a Californian dam experiencing problems. Dams do fail and when they do, casualties can be high. The pro-nuclear folks say reactor risks – the actual deaths over half a century, even allowing for Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima – are dwarfed by dam risks, let alone coal risks. As an ex-actuary, I’m partial to numerical calculations, but all my reading of the voluminous writings in the “field of energy risks” hasn’t put me fully in sync with that judgement.

You see, I can’t help but feel that the ordinary person in the street is right to be scared of reactors. Often they’re frightened not because they’ve evaluated risks but simply by association with mushroom cloud images. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The antinuclear folks can exaggerate certain reactor risks, but the scariest risk, that of meltdown and mass radiation release, seems to me to be terrifying for all the right reasons. Maybe that risk is one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “black swan” events, very rare but horrendous in outcome. Who knows what the next meltdown, assuming there will be one, will bring?

No wonder I love my work. How hard to make up one’s mind, yet how endlessly fascinating!


Writing Big Year: Immersion in a decade

At Archie & Kirk in Marrickville, the ideal spot, in a superb suburb of Sydney, to submerge the brain in the most important chapter of my book so far. The decade from the mid 50s was when the global battle between different nuclear power reactor designs roared. Every skirmish cowered under the more fraught peak of the Cold War. All the histories of this country or that country or some aspect . . .  well, they gloss the drama and reality with myth-making. Only one person can decipher the truth. Or so I tell myself this cooler morning.

I’m five days into seven of this work here, a bewildering period on many levels. My mind writhes at night and I sleep in every morning, technically breaching the Big Year rules. I struggle with jogging and cycling. Progress through my stacked notes is tardy, though it’s quickening. Several times I’ve longed to give up, just give in.

But the welcoming hospitality, just being away from home (where so much side work awaits), and a steady, dull routine . . . all these have worked a magic. I’m perceiving the rhythm of the past, absorbing the sins of our fathers, spying patterns. I smile.

Writing Big Year: Abstract and Niemann and creativity

I’ve already posted about this but let me keep sharing Niemann’s hard-won conclusions about creativity (I’ve taken notes from all over Abstract’s Episode 1, don’t expect my notes to retain overall coherency) (here’s the YouTube official trailer for the 8-part series):

I’m convinced you always have to change direction while things are good. . . . I need to be in control and I need to have a very clear sense of where I’m going and why something is working and not working. On the other hand I’ve also realized that being more free-spirited is needed. I’ve found that I need to develop these two personas separately. . . . be a much more ruthless editor and be a much more careless artist. This I find psychologically exhausting but there’s good stuff happening there. . . . I take very specific time off for this kind of free creation because I know it’s basically impossible to do under a deadline. Literally just sitting in front of a piece of paper and just doling stuff and being fearless . . . there’s something there that I need to go back and investigate further.


Writing Big Year: A full refresh

A big year is meant to give you 365 days of existential certainty: “come what may, every day I know what to do.” Well, the Writing Big Year has shifted completely and I’m redefining it.

Put simply, my 2017 goal was to wake up early every day and draft the nuclear power book. To get my 20 chapters done, I recast the year as the next fifteen months, that is, I’d finish Chapter 20 in March 2018.

That target changed completely when I finished Chapter 3. I now have Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5, plus an earlier draft of Chapter 4. I don’t think they’re too bad. But if the full book was meant to be 800 pages (I know, I know, it’s long!), well, the first five chapters should take up 200 pages, but the tale I’m telling goes way over 200 pages. Two choices: trim or do something else. If Joe Publisher instructed me to trim, of course I would, but there’s no Joe Publisher, and cutting down would be such a wrench, and in any case, I think the story I’m telling is damned good enough. Conclusion: don’t trim, do something else.

What does “something else” mean? I’ve now taken the decision (thanks Daniel Kabel, thanks Pam Kabel) to publish in three volumes. The titles on this blog’s image are jokey-fake but you get the picture. Each volume covers a quarter century. And I’ll accord myself the thrill of self publishing (in ebook and print-on-demand forms) Volume I as soon as I can. But I won’t let off the pressure to draft the whole saga.

So to avoid doubt, as the lawyers intone, the Writing Big Year is recast:

  • Rise early
  • Protect the writing cave and write
  • Draft Chapters 1 to 13 (two thirds of the book) by December 31
  • By December 31, publish Volume I
  • By December 31, also publish an old murder mystery (why the hell not?)

(Next year’s main big year will be a continuation, completing all drafting by May, publishing Volumes II and III, and commencing another writing project.)

I now have a week-by-week program. I begin.

Writing Big Year: Taming the tumult

Congratulations, Andres, you’re working so damned hard . . . but on the wrong things. Well done, kiddo, your Big Year (rising early, harnessing energy, etc.) seems a big success . . . but you’re considering messing with it. A change in writing/publishing strategy is afoot . . . but you can’t imagine transforming yourself. Sharp advice sneaks in (thanks, Daniel Kabel) . . . however, imagine the wrench of such a revolution!

All this is a way of saying my beloved has gone hiking for a week and loneliness threatens. But the week is also an opportunity. Drift all alone, grow calm (call it mindful, if you like), sketch options and their implications, and find the space to change course.