Category Archives: Writing Goals

What I never expected

I’ve been off WordPress for a while and so it’s been a while since I checked my stats, and I was surprised to learn that I had something like a 200% increase in traffic last week, and for the best reason.

My “Fractals You Can Draw” posts have always been the most popular ones on the site. In general I think the writing life is weird like that. You never know what 20 minute or hour long effort is going to be the one that really lasts. I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing this blog, but that week I spent getting my wife to draw fractals, building a Sierpinski triangle out of marshmellows and toothpicks, and frantically trying to update by C++ skills has been one of the more lasting efforts of the last five years for me.

But the best thing is every year around the spring and fall I get new referrals from schools. WordPress does a pretty good job of letting you know where traffic is coming from, and every year I find some new class, ranging from grade school to college that references one of my fractal posts. That’s really the reason I’m doing any of this. What I’ve learned since I started blogging and especially in the last year working on the “Fractals You Can Draw” book is that I really want to teach people. I like writing fiction, but I love writing about math.

Honestly I’m as shocked as the rest of you.

Right now I’m working on Chapter 5 of the new book (or trying to, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks). I’m learning about new ways to use the Fibonacci sequence to draw fractals, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned. I’m so excited about this stuff I even snuck in a half an hour to write on Monday night while I was waiting for my mom to finish her grocery shopping.

If you’ve found this blog through one of your math courses I’d love to hear from you. To all the teachers who included links to my posts in their courses, thank you. And thank you for teaching people about fractals. It’s one of the best ways to build a love of math.

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Sharing someone else’s culture

I spent part of the weekend reading about creation myths and fables of the Chokwe, an ethnic group that lives roughly in Angola. This is part of my research for the new book, which is expanding to have an extensive “Ethno-mathematics” section (i.e. Math and Fractal Drawings from around the world), specifically the Chokwe tradition of Sona. Sona are drawings made in the sand while telling a story or riddle. It’s one of the ways in which Chokwe elders impart knowledge and fables, though from what I’m reading the Sona tradition is dying out. They bear a resemblance to the Kolam of the Tamil-Nadu community in India, and even to traditional Celtic knots.


Math from other cultures is becoming really intriguing to me, and it’s an area I don’t think is covered enough in public education. Colonial era westerners often made the assumption that these “primitive” peoples didn’t understand some of the higher concepts of technology and mathematics, but if my studies have taught me anything it’s that we westerners were a little behind the curve (so to speak). At the very least, learning about how other cultures look at math and art can help us to see connections between ideas from new perspectives.

But one of the things I am wondering about is how to tell these stories respectfully. Some fables and tales are very private, specific to a culture, and not something that is intended to be shared with outsiders. Now obviously, since I don’t have the resources to travel to Angola myself, I’m getting these stories from people who’ve already spread them around. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. But it’s still important to consider their meaning, rather than to just include them as a pretty picture.

A lot of Adult Coloring Books have mandalas, in fact mandalas seem to be the stand-in term for most circular patterns in coloring books. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying these patterns, or designing new ones, and coloring them as a loose form of meditation. But at the same time I think it is also important to be respectful and understanding of the tradition. We want to learn and educate ourselves about a type of drawing, not just appropriate it.

Sometimes meanings for things change. The Kolam tradition seems to have had religious significance in the past, but now it is more a form of artistic expression by women in the Tamil community. Celtic knot constructions have a triune grid which reflects the triune nature of God, but also look really good on leather bound notebooks.

I’m a guy who wants to spread art and cool designs for their own sake, while also trying to explore some of the deeper meaning these traditions have to the cultures that created them. And I want to do that in a way that honors those traditions, without sharing them merely because they are exotic or different. The best way, at least for me, is showing the connections between some of the more abstract concepts of fractals, and their origins before they really came into their own (the days of computers and Mandelbrot). I’ve been thinking about fractals as something that is a new concept in math, but their origins may be much older.

I’m still working this stuff out, but I hope my intentions if nothing else can shape the writing in a good direction.

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Financial Writing Goals


It can feel a little icky to have writing goals that involve money. Most of the goals I’ve created over the years have been about words per day, books completed, or projects undertaken. In other words, purely artistic goals. But the truth is one of the unspoken, pie in the sky, long term goals of mine is to be able to live off the writing, or at the very least have the writing make things easier.

This year I have two main goals or mantras:

  1. Earn more than $500 (net) from writing.
  2. The writing funds the writing.

Goal 1 is about breaking out of the bottom third of author yearly earnings (according to The Guardian in 2015). It’s not a huge amount of money in the grand scheme, and the hourly rate is abysmal, but it’s a start. Four months in, this looks like an attainable goal, particularly if I can get some work selling shorter pieces.

Goal 2 is about investing in the business side. Selling books to a bookstore funds buying another order of books. Selling coloring books funds research material for my next book. Amazon profits go to buying writing supplies and notebooks. This goal is not strictly fenced in by any means (I’ve raised nearly $90 toward the writing just by selling things I no longer need), but it is a broad principle intended to keep expenses in check. Keeping the cost of writing a book below the money earned from it would be a great place to be (it took the first fractal book at least a year to reach this point).

Both of these goals drive writing and creative decisions throughout the year. Over the weekend I created a short story to submit to a magazine, which in turn might drive some people toward the universe of Surreality. I’ve subscribed to a number of Facebook groups that show listings for paid articles and am working up some submissions. This feeds the artistic side in that it demands versatility, requires the ability to get work done in a timely fashion, and keeps the brain creative and from getting into ruts. In other words, money goals can drive creative goals.

I won’t be hugely disappointed if these goals are not strictly met. Just shooting for them puts me into places I might not have tried without them. And earning some money makes this feel more like a profession, and less like a hobby.

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Writing Anxiety


I think everyone in the self-publishing game goes through periods of self-doubt and anxiety. My big one is that I haven’t done enough to build my “author platform.” I’m an introvert by nature, and my relationship to even the online world tends to be a cagey one. I love connecting with new writers whose work I love, and who I can engage with in conversation about the craft we both love. But it can be a little hard to tell who is going to be that kind of writer, and who is going to spam my Twitter feed with ads.

I recognize I need to reach out more than I do, and slowly I am working on doing just that, but there are so many aspects to publishing of any kind beyond just working on the books. I think many writers would like to just sit at a desk writing, then hand their work off to someone else to take care of the nasty business of selling it.

Ultimately sitting at a desk staring at my computer until my eyes get blurry isn’t much of a way to address any anxiety I might be feeling. There are much more practical ways to cope:

1) Remember this is a long game – There’s always time to build new connections, to write the next book or the next dozen books. It’s very unlikely you’ll get success with your very first effort, even if you’ve built a fabulous platform. Just do the next book a little bit better based on the things you learned the last time around.

2) Do what makes sense to you – Don’t force yourself to half-heartedly do things you think might help. Your engagement with the campaign, whether it’s promoting your book or forming new relationships, will come through your actions. Get to know people because you want to get to know them, not because it’s “mutually advantageous.”

3) Do a little something – Do one small tangible thing a day toward the area you’re worried about. Submit your book for review in a new place, comment on a new blog, work on an ad.

4) Get others to help – Writing the book was likely not a solitary endeavor. There are friends and family who will be more than willing to help when you need a boost, even if it’s just a friendly message.

5) Keep writing – When you can’t do anything else, do the most essential thing. Actually writing something tends to make me feel better, and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. And at the end of the day, you need content that people can actually read, and you need to get better at your craft. Writing will never be wasted time.

6) Don’t put the book away – If a book isn’t selling yet, there’s no particular reason to give up on it. You can always relaunch with a new cover, or try to build it up with a slow burn. It’s something you’ve worked hard on, and sometimes there can be a bit of depression or exhaustion after finishing a project. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go back and give it another go. Most things we read aren’t the latest and greatest thing. They’re the books our friends have recommended, or the new discovery we make in the library.

7) Be patient – Don’t panic and make rash choices. Take the time to write a good synopsis or pitch. Wait a day if you’re not sure what to do. Better to do it right the first time a few days later than to have to redo or write off that place to submit.

8) Help others – Chances are there’s another writer you know in the same boat. If you’ve got time, and expendable income, read their book and write a review. Or just throw out a random word of encouragement. We’re all in this together, in some ways more than ever.

9) Relax – Have a beer. Watch a little TV. You’re never going to be able to work all of the time you want to. If you did, you’d miss out on life, and have very little to say about it in your writing.

If you ever want to talk about this stuff, the bar is always open. Flash a message to @fractal_man or If you don’t look spammy, I’ll probably say hi 🙂

Want to try a bit of Ben’s book? Download the first few chapters of Surreality here: (epub | kindle)

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