Persistence Ain’t All That

This post may come across as something of a rant, and possibly also as a humble brag. I have to concede that I’m ranting a bit, but I would like to emphasise that there is nothing humble about the bragging parts, and that I am entirely serious about the humble parts.

This rant was inspired by my misreading* of a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s blog by a (different) successful author. In it, she repeats the claim that persistence is essential, even the only essential thing, and illustrates it with her life story. It is true that persistence appears to have led her to success. There are a number of other famous examples of this available.

The overwhelming level of sample bias here robs the evidence of all meaning. What about all the persistent people who haven’t succeeded? Nobody listens to their stories, because they are nobodies. Why would you take life lessons from someone who has failed? Well, because if you only listen to people who have succeeded, you get a seriously distorted picture.

So, in full awareness that essentially no-one is going to read this, because I’m not famous enough, I’m going to tell the echoing ether that persistence isn’t enough, and isn’t even necessary.

Let’s take “not enough” first. I write and develop roleplaying games. I need to say that because hardly anybody has heard of me. I’ve been doing it professionally for 20 years; longer than Chris Pramas at Green Ronin, and a lot more people have heard of him. He even has a Wikipedia page.

I’ve not had a rejection letter for roleplaying games since I returned to them after deciding that they were not Satanic, around the age of 18. So, that thing about everyone having to collect piles of rejection letters? Not true. I’ve won an Origins Award and a gold ENnie award, helped out by the name recognition of Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen, but for a product, Ars Magica Fifth Edition, that was essentially my work. The previous four editions, which were not my work, did not win. I’ve been developing Ars Magica for longer than anyone else, and I’m getting close to having done it for longer than everyone else who has had the job put together. John Nephew has not fired me. He’s even given me pay rises and bonuses from time to time.

I do not suck, at least not as a roleplaying game author and developer. Because I am not depressed, I know that I do not suck. I do not suck, and I have kept this up for 20 years. Talent and persistence, getting published, I must have succeeded, right?

Wrong. Obviously, I don’t make a decent amount of money from roleplaying. Nobody makes a decent amount of money from roleplaying (except Robin Laws). But further than that, I have almost no name recognition. I’m working on a new roleplaying game, Kannagara, but does the fact that I am working on a new roleplaying game create any buzz anywhere? No. Now, we aren’t talking about fame. While people in the industry will recognise the names I’ve been dropping, I suspect that only the most dedicated roleplaying fans would do so in general. That’s the level I’m aiming at, and haven’t reached.

So yeah, persistence doesn’t always work.

I’ve also written a novel, and tried the online crowdfunding model. That was Tamao. That didn’t work, either. People I didn’t know did send me money. One guy even sent me $25 a couple of years after I’d finished, when it was obvious he wasn’t going to get any more story out of it. So, it doesn’t suck. Strangers don’t send you money because you wrote something that sucked. And I finished it. Wrote the whole thing in a year. That’s persistence.

No success yet.

Then there’s my blog. Not this one. I’m not so brazen as to claim persistence here, but my Japanese one. Every day, for nearly eight years. Recently, at least 1,000 characters (roughly 500 words equivalent) every day. Frequent and regular updates with new material, sustained over a long period of time. That’s how you make a successful blog, right? I’m averaging about 100 views per day, and no comments. That’s not a successful blog.

But I’ve not given up. I still do it every day. It has been great Japanese practice. Lots of persistence here.

No success, though.

On the other hand, let’s consider an area where I wasn’t persistent. Philosophy. I got a PhD in philosophy from Cambridge 15 years ago. So, yes, I was persistent enough to finish a dissertation. I then spent five years trying to get a job in philosophy. Failed.

So I chucked it in and came to Japan.

A couple of years ago, I was offered a job, which I’m still doing, based on having that PhD. The content of my work has steadily got closer to the content of my dissertation, to the point that, this year, I will be directly applying my PhD to my work, in the private sector. The job doesn’t currently pay brilliantly (start up), but it pays a lot more than minimum wage. And a lot more than roleplaying games, novels, or blogs — at least for me.

This means that the area where I wasn’t persistent, the area that I abandoned pretty much completely for eight years, is the area where I currently seem to have the most success. It has at least as much promise for future success as any of the others as well.

Persistence: not needed, and not enough. Rather overrated, all round.

When you are struggling with something you want to do, but are not succeeding at, the big question can be framed as “Which story am I starring in?”. Are you starring in a story of someone who holds on to their dream, struggles through the difficult years of no recognition and piles of rejection slips, before finally succeeding? Or are you starring in a story of someone who wastes his life producing things that no-one wants to read, dying with piles of manuscripts that do not become interesting even posthumously?

Obviously, if you’re in the first story, you should not give up. Keep pushing! Keep writing! Persistence!

If you’re in the second story, you should quit now. Do something more productive with your life. Everyone has something to offer to the world. In your case, this isn’t it. Abandon the illusion that is holding you back, and find your calling!

So, which story are you in? It’s really, really hard to tell. In fact, I suspect it’s impossible to tell. That makes it unfortunate that the two stories recommend diametrically opposed courses of action.

This is why living a good life is hard. The decisions are not easy. There are no universal prescriptions that will always lead you to the right decision. Sometimes, you should give up. Sometimes, giving up will actually lead to success in the area where you gave up. And sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should be persistent.

Sometimes you should do what you love. Sometimes you should recognise reality and do what is necessary to live. Sometimes your family should come first, and sometimes you should prioritise work for a while to make sure that your family has a home and food. Sometimes you should stand up for what you believe, and sometimes you should keep your head down and wait for the persecution to pass.

There are no easy answers, and most people never get to know whether they made the right decisions. So, if you are a struggling writer, you have to decide for yourself whether you should give up. I’m not going to recommend either option. Giving up worked for me; persisting worked for other people.

I’m afraid you have to run your own life.

* The original post was by Kameron Hurley, and it turns out that her point was that she had redefined “success” in terms of persisting, so that the lack of other kinds of success wouldn’t put her off. Since that is what I have done for my Japanese blog, I think it’s perfectly reasonable. The post above still stands, however. Back


I have a new project, and it has its own website: Mimusubi. It’s a role-playing game about creating things. Those of you with good memories may remember some work on this topic here a couple of years ago. I’ll be discussing the design on the Mimusubi website, and plan to release it commercially in some form. If you’re interested, please go and take a look.

Yes, adding Mimusubi to the Japanese blog probably does mean that this blog will be neglected even more than it has been recently. Insofar as that is possible.

Published in Japanese

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here. I’m not dead; I’m just busy at work, and I’ve managed to sustain daily posts to my Japanese blog, so this one has been a bit (OK, a lot) neglected. I wouldn’t put any money on this post being the start of a trend, either.

The point of this post is to brag.

There is a magazine for English teachers in Japan called 英語教育, which means “English Education”. It has run for years, and apparently can be found in virtually every school in the country. Thanks to an introduction from one of my students, I was asked to write a short article for it, and the article was published in the September issue. It introduces my favourite teaching materials, and I talked about the Guardian Weekly’s Learning English supplement, and the book that the Japan Institute of Logic has coming out from Kenkyusha (a Japanese publisher) later this year. I will be paid a proper rate for this article. (I may in fact have been paid already; I haven’t checked the relevant bank account for a few days.)

The thing that makes this not just another professional publication is the fact that I wrote the article in Japanese. It has been edited, and I need a lot more editing in Japanese than I do in English, but it has not been rewritten or translated. This is my first professional publication in Japanese.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about finding my next goal in improving my Japanese. I still need far too much editing.

New Job

At the beginning of this month, I started a new job. Actually, I started working on it some time before that, but I started getting paid, and going into the office, at the beginning of this month. Yes, I have an office and a salary. Yet another piece of irrefutable evidence that I have entered middle age.

The job is at The Japan Institute of Logic. The homepage is all in Japanese at the moment, because producing an English version is on my list of jobs to do. It’s not very high on that list, however.

The Institute’s main purpose is to set and administer tests in logical thinking. The Japanese like these kinds of examinations, so there is a possible market. It also provides training related to those tests, both directly and indirectly. That is, we have seminars that will train you to take the test, and we have seminars to train people to train people to take the test. I’ve been hired to run the English section. Actually, at the moment, I’ve been hired to be the English section; we use freelancers for some things, but I’m the only real employee. That’s because we’re only just getting started.

As a result, I’m very busy. I’m in the office two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but they’re ten to twelve hour days, leaving the flat at 6:30 (before Yuriko is awake, and usually before Mayuki is awake, too), and getting back around 9:00 at night, at which point Mayuki is not normally asleep, although Yuriko is saying “Come on Mayuki, time for bed”. I don’t get paid overtime; the days are so long because, as we’re just starting, I can’t actually fit everything I have to do into two eight hour days.

So, what am I doing right now? First, I’m setting the first round of English-based logic tests. These are multiple choice tests, because those are the easiest to scale up, so I’m having to be quite creative to find ways to test the ability to create arguments in such a setting. I also need to set two levels, one that high school students can cope with, and one for the general public. Getting the level right is, as you might imagine, one of the hardest parts.

Second, I’m writing and giving the lectures on English-based logic. These are three hour sessions, with a bit more than half of the time devoted to practice questions, and we’re holding one every other week. That means writing a ninety minute lecture every two weeks.

In Japanese.

You see, although the lectures are about logic in English, they aim to provide useful techniques for people whose English is not very good. If I were to explain that in English, the level of English required to understand the lectures would be far higher than the level needed to use the content, which would be a problem. So, I have to write them in Japanese, and that is rather harder than doing it in English. Fortunately, keeping a daily blog in Japanese for the last five and a half years means that I have had quite a lot of practice at writing in Japanese, so I’m not finding it impossible, but I still haven’t had as much practice in Japanese as I have in English.

My approach to the problem, and what I am trying to teach in the classes and test in the exams, is that you do not need to speak perfect, or even roughly correct, English in order to communicate your ideas. If your ideas are well organised, and you make the individual points clearly and separately, then the people you are speaking to will be able to extract your meaning despite mistakes. Similarly, with practice you can pick out the important points from what people are saying, and understand their argument even if you don’t understand all of the words.

This is important, because it just takes too long to get a high level of proficiency in a foreign language. Even though I can write lectures on logic in Japanese, I am informed that I use a number of, how shall I put it, highly idiosyncratic expressions. Or possibly highly idiotic expressions. And that’s after eighteen months of full time study and a total of eight years living in Japan. Most Japanese people are not going to be able to put that much time and effort into English, so I’m hoping to offer a framework that will give them something useful for international communication in a much shorter package. As an added bonus, thinking clearly about arguments is very useful in Japanese as well, so they’ll get some benefit in their native language too.

Mr Hayashi, the director of the Institute, is very enthusiastic, which is good, and also has a lot of good contacts in various companies, which means I’ve been going to business lunches with the presidents of the Japanese branches of multinationals. They’ve all been very positive about what we’re offering, as they can see the need for more effective communication, and know from experience that studying the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs doesn’t help a lot. So, it’s not certain that the Institute will succeed, but the early signs are very promising. I certainly believe that this is a good approach to English, and to communication in general, which is why I took the job and am working long days, when I’m in the office.

This may well prove to be a major turning point in my life, on a similar scale to choosing to move to Japan (but not quite on the level of getting married or having Mayuki). At the very least, I’m getting to do something that I think is important in a completely different environment to the ones I’m used to, so what I learn will be valuable even if this project fails for some unaccountable reason. I’ve already had the experience of being on Tokyo trains at the height of the rush hour.

That’s another reason why I leave home at 6:30…

Too Busy

As people have noticed, it’s a very long time since I wrote anything here. I’ve been too busy; as well as teaching and editing, I’ve been keeping Tamao going and writing a Japanese blog entry every day. So this has got squeezed out, sorry.

We’re all fine. Mayuki is still happy and lively, and her first molar has come through. I think her second is on the way; that would certainly explain the times she has been crying for no readily apparent reason. She’s very good at feeding herself with her fingers now, and getting good with the spoon, and still eats just about anything we do. She also has a few words that she uses in context, and clearly understands a lot more, so she seems to be developing right on schedule. She does really like her DVDs, though; we have to make a determined effort to keep her away from them.

Tokyo is having good weather today, and after a few rainy days a week or so ago that’s been fairly constant. Yuriko’s kimono course is going well; they’ve just had their first exam, which she thinks she passed. I have very nearly as many students as I would like, and the number of readers of Tamao seems to be going up, so that’s looking pretty good at the moment.

So, another reason I’ve not posted anything is that not a great deal has happened. Even the erupting volcano only left us with a fine coating of ash on the balcony.

Busy With Work

Sorry about not keeping the blog up to date; work has been busy. Actually, what’s happened is that I’ve had a bad couple of days for getting writing done, so work has piled up. Today I finally got a decent amount written, but I think I’m going to have to work over the weekend anyway. The fact that I’ve had to do my income tax and now need to get my passport renewed is not helping; I’m losing a day or so every week to that sort of administration. Still, at least that should be over relatively soon.

Mayuki is fine. She’s still healthy and smiley, and generally seems to enjoy her bath. She’s getting better at reaching out and grabbing things, and is showing an intense interest in her books. She even turns the pages herself. She’s sleeping a lot less during the day on average, and isn’t waking up too many times during the night. She practices making strange noises a lot, which is also good. In short, everything seems to be going fine. She doesn’t roll over yet, so that’s a bit later than average, but nothing to be concerned about. Yuriko seems to be fine, too. In fact, I seem to be the one in the worst way, what with work pressures. And since I’m not that bad, I’d say the whole family is doing well.

Another Long Gap

Sorry about that, I’ve been busy with work. On the bright side, I’ve now got most of my work up to the point I wanted it to be; I’ve caught up with all the editing that was left over from last year, and dealt with what arrived this year, and got my reading up to the right level. Teaching is also going pretty well; at least, I’ve not let it slide to any extent. Writing has been rather neglected, but with everything else caught up I’m planning to get on with that from next week.

The people who are bothered about me not posting probably want to know how Mayuki is. She’s fine, still a happy, healthy baby. She’s grabbing things around her much more than she was a little while ago, and we’ve had to start being careful where we put her down; she is capable of pulling things over on top of herself, now. If we leave her on her back on the floor, she can scoot herself along, although I don’t know whether that’s deliberate, or just a side effect. She’s also looked to see where we’re pointing on a couple of occasions.

The most interesting reaching out she did was for her own image in the mirror, a couple of days ago. I don’t think she quite realises that it’s her, but that will come in time. Particularly if she keeps trying to play with it.

I’ll try not to neglect the blog quite so much next week, but I suspect I’m still going to be busy. I have to start catching up on writing, after all.

Growing Bigger

Oops, I seem to have skipped a few days there.

We went back to the clinic on Monday to have Mayuki looked at, and she now seems to be putting on weight at an acceptable rate. We’ve increased the amount of formula she’s getting in addition to breast milk, because she’s still a bit behind where she should be. However, the nurses seemed to think that she would be able to catch up over the next couple of weeks, which is good.

She’s being a really remarkably good baby, all told. She doesn’t cry much, she basically sleeps quietly between about midnight and eight am (admittedly with wakes for feeding, but she’s quiet then and goes back to sleep quickly), and doesn’t complain at all about her bath. In fact, I think she slept through it a couple of days ago. Even more important, yesterday I had my first English lesson since she was born, and she was good and quiet all the way through.

I don’t imagine that we’re going to be that lucky all the time, but overall I think there’s a good chance, at least at the moment, of her being quiet most of the time I’m teaching, which is a relief. I rather need to be doing that, and teaching away from home is, in general, inconvenient. On the days when I have several consecutive lessons, it’s pretty much impossible.

Other than that, things have been going pretty well, settling into something of a routine. The Shinto course I’m taking started again today after the summer holidays, so I was able to go to that; it was interesting, but confirmed that I still have trouble following jokes told as muttered, fast side comments during an academic lecture. I followed just about all of the actual content, though.

If life continues in this general pattern, it looks perfectly manageable.

New Computer

I have a new computer. Specifically, I have one of the new metallic iMacs from Apple, the 20″ one. (Wait long enough, and that link will point to the newer versions, but for now, it’s the one I have.) It arrived Tuesday morning.

It’s really nice. Big, bright, clear screen, really fast processor (2.4GHz), enormous hard drive (750Gb), nice keyboard and mouse; the hardware is great. I took it out of the box, connected up, plugged in, and put a DVD in to enjoy the show. Box opening to use: five minutes, if that.

Of course, I want to run Ubuntu Linux on it, so that wasn’t the end. Next, I had to download and burn four live CDs from Ubuntu, to find one that worked with my machine and booted it. Then I partitioned the hard disk, reinstalled MacOS X, and restarted again. Next, start from the Ubuntu CD, and install. I had to use the Gutsy Gibbon Tribe 5 testing release, because the 07.04 stable release doesn’t seem to work with this machine. (This isn’t surprising, because the machine is newer.) At this point, it wouldn’t boot into Linux, so I had to poke around on the web a bit to find rEFIt, which I installed, and which worked flawlessly first time.

So, at this point I had two working systems, and I copied my Linux files over from the tarball I’d made on my external USB drive. In the process, I discovered that USB 2.0 is about twenty times faster than USB 1.1. I knew it was faster, but I hadn’t realised it was that much so.

Moving data to the Mac side was held up by the fact that my old machine was not working at all well in Target Disk mode, so in the end I copied everything to the USB external drive, and then copied it on to the new machine. My photos took about four hours to copy onto the disk, and about fifteen minutes to come off again. The old computer only has USB 1.1…

A couple of pieces of software I use a lot weren’t in the Ubuntu repositories, so I briefly pointed Synaptic at the Debian repositories to get them. Then I had fun and games trying to get Japanese input working. The software was easy, but I ended up having to set environment variables in /etc/environment. Still, all working now.

Thus, all told and including sleep and teaching, it took a bit less than 36 hours from delivery to fully-functional. That’s still, I think, fairly fast, given what I needed to do.

And if you understood everything in this post, I am afraid that you are indisputably a geek.

Catching Up

I’ve let the blog slip a bit this week (book reports get written in advance, in case you hadn’t guessed), but today I have a bit of space, so this entry will be a quick overview of what we’ve been up to.

On Monday, we had another appointment at the clinic, and got to see more ultrasound pictures of Yudetamago. She’s still growing right along the average curve, which is good, and there were no grounds for concern.

This week, Yuriko’s mother was in Yokohama for the International Esperanto Conference, and Wednesday was a day off for excursions. So, instead of going to see tourist sites in Japan, she came to see us. I was working most of the day, so, more specifically, she went shopping for baby things with Yuriko. They bought lots, and had it delivered here, so that it all arrived on Friday. We now have almost all of the basic necessities, plus a push chair, which we can’t use immediately. The only things I think we’re missing are the cot itself (coming), and nappies. There was another moment of it all seeming more real when I looked at the baby clothes Yuriko had bought, and realised that we were going to be putting our daughter in them.

I did have time to have dinner with Yuriko and her mother on Wednesday, and we went to a relatively new soba restaurant near Mizonokuchi station, which was nice. We talked about the baby, and about Esperanto, and I discovered that I can already basically read Esperanto. It’s based on European languages, so a background in English, French, and Latin makes it pretty easy. Since it was designed to be easy, I might be able to learn to speak it fairly quickly, too, but I don’t think it’s a high priority.

Work has been busy. I’m doing preparatory reading for a new writing project, and it’s been taking a lot longer than anticipated. I’ve nearly finished now, though; I suspect that I will actually finish tomorrow. Then, of course, I have to do the writing. I might be able to get it done before Yudetamago is born; I certainly hope so. However, that depends, to a certain extent, on exactly when she decides to join us.

My teaching is in a slightly odd state. On paper, I have plenty of students. However, with the summer holidays, I’ve had rather less than I’m aiming for every week for the last four weeks. So, I might get a brief period at or above the target level, before I have to take time off to help look after Yudetamago, and everything gets disrupted again. While freelance work definitely has its benefits, stability and predictability are not among them.

We have a few things left to do before the baby arrives, and then we’ll be as prepared as we can be. Of course, there’s no way we can fully prepare for the event; all we can do is look forward to it.