Project fare+shot: My Sister’s Quest to Photograph Everything She Eats This Year

My sister never does anything half way. At the start of the year she embarked on an ambitious project to take a picture of everything she eats for an entire year. So far its been quite interesting. We haven’t eaten together yet in January but it will be interesting next time we’re together to see her photos of a meal we share. An added bonus for me is that it allows me to keep tabs on where she is in the world. For instance I just found out (more likely remembered something I was told and forgot) that she was in Colorado, eating her way across the slopes. Very cool! You should check it out:

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Corrections sits on my bookshelf unread. Two attempts left me saying “too depressing” so I didn’t know if Freedom would end up discarded as well.

It didn’t. 562 pages in just over a week. That’s a book that held my interest.

But I don’t know exactly what it means. Competition, rage, depression, marriage (not love), “freedom”, nature, middle-class, midwest, friendship (real love), change, desperate devotion, parenting, guilt, un-parenting, cruelty, despair – utter despair. All of these things.

Did I learn anything new about life? Probably not? I watched the life of this family through a magnifying glass; watched the people as they became particles, super-colliding into one another, disintegrating & merging, becoming different (but not new) things.

About “freedom”, this review:…

says this:
“Its title, “Freedom,” announces a theme that runs like a riptide beneath the narrative — lots of talk about what liberty means in terms of being free of familial responsibilities and ideological beliefs, and the rootlessness and dislocation that often follow in its wake.”

and this review:…

says this:
“It is no surprise, then, that “the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage,””

This does not seem like “freedom” to me. However, as the review goes on, this most certainly does:

“Franzen makes us see, as the best writers always have, that the only pathway to freedom runs through the maze of the interior life”

There are no heroes in this book, only villains. But this is not a depressing book. It is interesting and you should read it. Franzen is a great writer and it’s a great book. The novel’s structure and POVs are illuminating by themselves.

But I don’t think you should learn anything from this novel. You should enjoy the complex taste of it in your mouth, and then spit it out.

View all my reviews

Caia, Mozambique – Help Good, Hardworking People

I’ve been to Caia, Mozambique. It where my sponsored child Cabe lives. I’ve been in his hut and met his father Armindo. They are good people. They have a school there and are working hard to educate their kids. They could use a little more help though. Please take a minute and read this Food For The Hungry blog post about Caia. If you decide to give – or get your church partnered with this area – I promise your dollars will have real impact on good, hardworking people.

The Five Stages Of Kickstarter: One Man’s Foray Into Public Creativity

You’ve head of the Kübler-Ross model, right? “The five stages of grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Well let me introduce you to my own personal Wellnitz-Writing model: “the five stages of Kickstarter”.

Stage 1: Exploration / Excitement

So, I had one week. I’d just gotten back from an epic family vacation and was giving myself one more full week off work to write.  I had one! week! my brain was telling myself. To do something. To make a splash. I had to make that one week count!

I’d intended to keep working on a novel I’d been writing (working title: Gravity) but after a discussion with my wife (read: a discussion with myself with my wife looking on bemusedly) I decided to change track. I’d had an idea for a series of novels, one set in each state so I decided to pursue that instead. Instead of not finishing a longer novel in one week I could at least complete the intro to the series. So I did that. On Sunday July 7 I came up with the idea and by Wednesday I had a mostly complete draft and a cover. Now how could I launch this baby to the moon?

Kickstarter! I’d heard of it but never really played with it. I made an account and started messing around. The Kickstarter site is very nice. They ease you into the water and before you know it you’re boiling with excitement over the launch. And that’s what I did. Rewards. A video. Write copy. Re-write copy. Tweak. Tweak. Ready to go!

My little series intro is a rocket and Kickstarter will be the rocket fuel!

Stage 2: Frenzy

The idea behind the Kickstarter was, in essence: “get people bought into this series at the beginning so they’re invested in its success, thereby propelling me and the writing of the series forward”. Or: a public pre-commitment strategy to force me to keep writing via early success of the intro.

I paid for a press release. I built an email list (using MailChimp which is very good). I set up some marketing (here and here). I posted on Facebook and Twitter. I researched successful Kickstarter campaigns.

Stage 3: “Oh Crap”

Frankly none of it worked. I don’t know if it was the services I used, the way I set up the Kickstarter, the book’s cover or the whole idea itself but it was clear within the first ten days that the Kickstarter wouldn’t reach its funding goal.

[Two good things: Craig Manning at Independent Publisher wrote just an excellent article about the project. It explained the whole thing far better than I was able to. And I reconnected with Rosie Amber who is doing a year of good things on her blog, one of those being posting about me.]

Stage 4: Night Terrors

So this was the point where I stopped sleeping. I’ve been in a dysfunctional relationship with sleep most of my adult life. But now it was bad: I’d planned on writing at night after the kids went to bed and I just wasn’t. I was stressing over the Kickstarter. I was back at work and – predictably, the post-vacation euphoria had worn off and I was back to the daily tired. About 9pm the space between my stomach and chest would start tightening and that would be it for sleep until after midnight. I hated it.

Stage 5: Realization / Acceptance / Determination

Tuesday August 6 was rock bottom. Two or three hours of sleep max. At about three am I decided that this would have to change and I had a few realizations:

1. The first step to writing a good book was WRITING A GOOD BOOK! I would stop with the gimmicks and marketing and just write a good book. Starting the following week I would get up at 4am each day and write. And I would write until it was good, no rushing. Two weeks into that I’ve managed to get up at 4am almost every day. And when I write in the mornings I feel better all day. I’m sleeping great.

2. The idea for the Kickstarter was flawed. The idea was to get people involved in the creation process. But when people read a novel its because they DON’T WANT TO WORK. In fact, they want to ESCAPE from work. (Maybe they want to participate in a world you’ve created but first you have to create that world). It my job to write the book and hopefully people will just enjoy it. I actually (very emphatically in hindsight) don’t want people to give me money to create. I want to create and have people love it. Period. No gimmicks.

(Though I am very grateful for the conversations I’ve had with people about how to make the book better and possible plot points.)

3. Utter and total gratitude. All 25 times I got the email that a person had backed me I felt gratitude to my toes (plus one person pledged outside Kickstarter via email). Here were people – who probably realized the idea or its execution was flawed in some real ways – but backed me anyway. And putting yourself out there publically, creatively, opens you up with huge empathy for all those people trying to do stuff. My backers included people trying to change careers, people leading organizations, fellow authors, parents, etc. My favorite part about my writing has been how its opened me up to all sorts of people that I  wouldn’t have interacted with / appreciated otherwise. “Successful” or not my writing has caused me to grow intellectually, creatively, spiritually, & socially, That’s purely a good thing.

So, after all the stages, was the Kickstarter successful? From the point of view “did it reach its goal”? No, it was not. But from a broader point of view it was. It “kickstarted” me into realizing I just had to work harder in a certain way to get this creative thing done. Two weeks of 4am have worked well so far. I’ve got 6722 words and half of a plot that I like. You’ll see it in this space when its done and only when I think its good enough to honor those 25 great people who backed me.

Oh yeah – I changed the title (dropped the “fifty”). I’ll be fiddling with the cover eventually. And here’s a hint about where (and when) the first novel is set: IA 7 ND 6.


Update: I missed this little piece of coverage in the Des Moines Register when it came out:

“50 novels, 50 states

You’ve heard of those people who run a marathon in each of the 50 states? Well, Jason Wellnitz is trying something different: He’s written the start of 50 short novels, each set in a different state, and is asking online voters to decide which one he should finish first.

The Cedar Rapids writer recently launched the project, “Fifty States of Grace,” on crowdfunding website, where donors can chip in ideas as well as money.”

Universal Amazon Link For River Way Home

This link is supposed to let people around the world click on the same link for a book and go to their country’s Amazon page:

Try it out!

[I set this up]


Announcing A New Project & Kickstarter Contest

As does @wilw from time to time, I got excited and made a thing.

The thing I made – a 99 cent eBook that you can download here – is the introduction to a series of fifty short novels, tentatively titled Fifty States Of Grace*, that I plan to write (over many years). Each short novel will be set in a different U.S. state. I’m also hoping to build a “crowdsourced” community around these novels that will help me:

  • Determine the order of states the main character (Austin Trenton) will visit
  • Get ideas about places items could be hidden in each state
  • Get ideas about plot twists & the “wrongs Austin should right” in each state
  • Help find typos and errors
  • Have people help shape these novels as they evolve

In order to determine the first state Austin should visit I’ve launched a Kickstarter project which this video will now explain (it also summarizes the plot):

If you think this idea could grow wings please back the Kickstarter project now. It’s very easy – you just use your Amazon account.

Other ways you could pitch in if you were so inclined:

Thanks for your help! Back your home state now!

* “Fifty States Of Grace” is a tentative title because I’ve received feedback that it’s too close to “Fifty Shades Of Grey”. Help me think of a better title!

This American’s Life

This American Life recently broadcast its 500th episode which was a remembrance of staff favorites (more here).

I really can’t overstate the importance of This American Life in this American’s (my) life. The show started in 1995, which was my first semester at OU. In 1997 I moved into 614 South Lahoma, a house I shared with a menagerie of other scholarship students who are still my good friends today. We refer to ourselves as “614”. I had a room on the 2nd floor facing the street. The house had a giant fan in the roof; when it was on it would pull air in the windows. Taking naps on my bed by the window with the breeze flowing over me is one of my favorite memories of college. It was in that room I discovered public radio. I was sliding through frequencies on my radio and all of a sudden I recognized music. My mother had listened to NPR in our kitchen – I’d never paid attention – and the tones I recognized were from All Things Considered. I started listening – partially because it reminded me of my Mom – and soon I found This American Life.

My first memory of This American Life is hearing the conventions episode, specifically at 51:96 where John Perry Barlow tells what happened on the plane. That was the moment I fell in love with this art I was hearing come out of my radio. This American Life would be with me later in that apartment on Division Street in Chicago, in that basement apartment in Seattle with the spiders, and on the road between all those places. I consider myself a collector of TAL, I think I have all the mp3s. Thier voices have been with me everywhere I’ve been. The recent episode on bung made me laugh and smile for days.

I consider Ira Glass a personal hero (as well as those less famous members of his staff, present and past). This American Life is a model of sustained brilliance and excellence that I use as a benchmark to strive for in all of my endeavors, business and personal, creative and otherwise.  Ira’s series on storytelling made me think I could try to tell stories of my own.

Congratulations to Ira and This American Life. Your lives, in a very real way, have touched the life of this American.

If You Are Going To Self Publish, Buy APE First

A few months ago I ran across Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s new book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. I asked if I could get a copy to review and I’m very glad I did. In my non-publishing life I’ve done software and project management. In each of those cases I had books that I’d return to at the start of a project to remind myself how to do things right; how to start the project on the right foot.

I did that with A.P.E. on my upcoming project (not quite ready to announce – hint, hint). I revisited it throughout the startup phase of my project and I’m very glad I did. It got my head in the right place and reminded me of some things I’d forgotten since last time. It’s chock full of reference material that will remain evergreen. I’ve done the authoring phase and am about to enter the publishing and entrepreneuring phase of this project. I will keep A.P.E. at hand throughout the process.

Before you self publish, buy APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur by Kawasaki and Welch.

Precommittment In Action, Or: My Cousin’s Quest To Write A Novel

Precommittment is an idea I’ve been familiar with for some time. “Burn the ships” is the most common expression of this idea, Hernán Cortés having burned his ships to “precommit” his men to conquering the Aztec empire (but perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “scuttle the ships“). You can also throw out all the junk food to precommit yourself to eating healthy. This idea is expressed well in the exceptional book Willpower by Baumeister & Tierney.

Slate has a good article on The Odysseus Option here:

That’s why truly binding precommitment devices are so interesting. The first known practitioner of such voluntary bondage was wily Odysseus, en route home from the Trojan War. As his ship approached the Sirens, he was determined to hear their song without, well, going overboard. Necessity being the mother of invention, he invented history’s first precommitment device. “You must bind me tight with chafing ropes,” our hero instructs inRobert Fagles’ translation, “so I cannot move a muscle, bound to the spot, erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast. And if I plead, commanding you to set me free, then lash me faster. …”

What a moment! The Odyssey is really all about self-control, and Odysseus’ foresight and skill at managing desire explains why he—and he alone—survives the harrowing journey back to Ithaca. His actions in this instance set the standard for all who would later enlist others to compel themselves to follow their own commands.

My cousin, Hadley Barrows, is putting this idea into practice. She’s precommitted to writing a novel by posting about it on her blog. She’s very good about goal-type things. You can read about it in her first post here:

My New Goal: Write a Novel

and her follow up post here:

Write a Novel: May Update

I admire her approach and wish her the best of success. I’ve started a new novel as well (about 12,000 words in) but I’m not quite ready to precommit to a launch date. Perhaps I’ll eventually follow my cousin’s lead and precommit in this space. Until then I’m not committing (or precommitting) to anything.

(P.S. Thanks for the review Hadley and I can’t wait to see you at the cabin in a few weeks!)