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Welcome to Zen Madman Dot Compadre!

I’ve been contemplating this move for over a year now. I’ve finally decided to go ahead and divide my writing interests into 7 semi-broad categories. I’m going to publish one article in each of these areas every week. The categories are as follows:

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The Mosquito and the Spider. It’s Ironic. No, For Real.

Late one night, I was hunting a mosquito. I was having a hard time catching it. There was a spider in the room, sitting on a spider web. The mosquito got caught in the spider web. I killed the mosquito, depriving the spider of its hard-earned meal. Then I killed the spider, depriving it of its life. Poor spider.

But, oh! The delicious irony. The dramatic irony, to be specific. This is the one meaning of irony that is specific to the word.

The spider did what it’s good at. It caught the mosquito. And because the spider did a good job of what it’s good at, it perished. This is dramatic irony, where a character suffers because of their strengths, not because of their weaknesses.

Mission Accomplished

Yep. I got something done today. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. And now my brain feels empty, like mush. I guess if it were empty, it wouldn’t feel like mush. Those are sort of mutually exclusive, aren’t they? Since, you know, mush is like, something, and emptiness is nothingness.

Moving right along now…always more stuff to do.

In a sense, writing this blog is counterproductive, or unproductive at the very least, because I could be writing something more useful. Something like a script, a bit of copy, a contract, or even a wee piece of flash fiction.

Specificity

One week ago, I made a post here about my secret agenda. I said that you’d find out what it was, provided that I succeeded. From the fact that I am not going to tell you what it was, you may correctly surmise that I have not yet succeeded. In fact, this past week was what the kids might call an “epic fail.” And by kids, I mean people roughly my age, or maybe a lot younger or a lot older.

So…where does that leave us? I guess I can tell you about my secret agenda, without telling you any of the details. Or perhaps I’ll just say this: It lacked specificity.

In my haste to not tell anyone about the details of my plan, I forgot to tell myself those details. For a plan to work, it’s best to have some details. So, right now, I will write down those details. I will then print them out and put them in a sealed envelope and mail that to myself. Or not. But maybe yes. Instead of putting a band-aid on the problem, I’ll put a stamp on the solution. Let’s see how that goes.

Way of the Poker Warrior:
One Thousand Punches

# CHAPTER 6: ONE THOUSAND PUNCHES

After observing how ineffective my punches were, my teacher suggested that I do a thousand punches per day. He said it in a half-joking, “I know you’re not going to do this, but you should” sort of way.

I took the bait.

The next day I hung up the heavy bag when I was alone in the school. I started doing punches in sets of 10. First I did lead hand punches on each side. Then I did reverse punches on each side. Once I got up to a couple hundred, I started doing combinations.

By the time I got to 500, my knuckles were bleeding. I kept punching. I set the bag swinging and began doing counterpunches. I did sets of sliding jabs, pushing the bag further with each hit as it bounced off my fist. Before I reopened my school for the evening classes, I had done 1,000 punches. My arms ached and the skin on my knuckles was torn.

The next time I wore gloves.

In the martial arts, we use discipline to forge skill. Sometimes brute force repetitions get the job done. Other times, a little subtlety is required.

In poker, there are some skills that you can train with simple repetition. Let’s start with preflop play. While many players consider preflop to be boring and unimportant, it’s almost impossible to be a winning player while consistently making huge preflop mistakes.

In a game like No Limit Holdem, it’s easy to make huge preflop mistakes. Routinely getting all of your chips in when you’re crushed by your opponent’s range would be one such example. Playing way too loose from the blinds would be another, particularly because it often leads to costly postflop errors.

On the other side of the coin is Limit Holdem, where folding *too many* blinds can amount to a huge error. Since the size of future bets is so much smaller compared to the size of the blinds, defending the blinds is more profitable and, in fact, necessary. In early position, playing too loose can sink you as well.

So this is where I talk about static preflop play. Playing from a chart may feel stiff and unimaginative, but when you’re a complete rookie, it’s the best way to go. Over time, you can learn when to deviate from these standards. But to begin with, you’ll do well to develop a single simple skill.

This process applies to more complex decisions as well. Let’s take combo counting. The simplest time to count combos is when you’re facing a river bet and you’re considering a call. You estimate the number of bluffing combos your opponent holds, then multiply that by the pot odds you’re receiving. If your opponent holds fewer than this number of value combos, then you can make a profitable call. So you estimate the value combos, make a decision, and click a button.

This is a skill that can be trained by simple repetition. Do it a thousand times, and it will become automatic. Once these skills are automatic, they take very little mental energy, and you can perform them accurately even when under high levels of stress while playing multiple tables.

## HAND NO. 6

**$15/$30 Limit Holdem:** 4 players
**Reads:** BTN is loose and aggressive (33/23) and a bit bluff-happy

**Preflop:** I have **Ad9d** in the cutoff
**Action:** I raise, BTN re-raises, 2 folds, I call

**Flop: 4c3h8s** ($115 – 2 players)
**Action:** I check, BTN bets, I call

**Turn: 5d** ($145 – 2 players)
**Action:** I check, BTN bets, I call

**River: Jd** ($205 – 2 players)
**Action:** I check, BTN bets, I call

The flop and turn decisions are trivial, but this hand presents a straightforward river combo counting exercise.

My opponent’s preflop 3-betting range is approximately: 22+, A7o+, A2s+, KTo+, K9s, QTo+, Q9s, JTo, J9s, T9s, 98s. I beat the following combos on the river:

A7 (12 combos)
A6 (3 combos)
KQ (16 combos)
KT (16 combos)
QT (16 combos)
Q9 (3 combos)
T9 (3 combos)

That’s 69 combos that I’m ahead of, but BTN will not bet with all of these on the river. He will likely check back A7, A6, and KQ, leaving only 38 combos that I’m ahead of. In this blind structure, I’m getting almost 8 to 1 on the river. 8 x 38 = 304. This is more than the number of total combos in my opponent’s range. So it looks like an easy call.

But what if he checks back KT as well? That leaves only 22 bluffing combos. 22 x 8 = 176, which is very close to the number of value betting combinations in my opponent’s range. As long as BTN will always barrel off with QT, Q9s, and T9s, I can profitably call down with any ace high.

While most players would intuitively make the right move here, regularly reviewing your hands will give you the tools to determine the correct play when it is not so obvious. Putting in the repetitions will make this process automatic.

Way of the Poker Warrior:
Discipline and Motivation

CHAPTER 5: DISCIPLINE AND MOTIVATION

A few months after returning to Taekwon-Do as a green belt, I came to learn that my side kick sucked. I was practicing my pattern with another green belt, preparing for a belt test, when our teacher made us stop.

“What is that? You’re just flicking your leg out and back. What are you going to do with that?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I figured I was doing a side kick, and it must be pretty good because it was really, really fast. It turns out I wasn’t doing a side kick at all.

“Go to the bar,” the grandmaster ordered. He was not telling us to go get a drink. He was sending us to the dancer’s bar along the edges of the mat. The place of torture.

He made us raise our legs into proper kicking position and hold them up for what felt like 20 minutes. This is where I learned the fundamentals of the side kick. Instead of just flicking the foot out and back with shoulders flying open, the hips were to remain closed, with the head turned, eyes looking over the shoulder. My back was facing the target. Instead of just moving the lower part of the leg, the whole leg moved in a straight line towards the target. The knee came from in towards the chest, drove the foot straight towards the target, then drew back in towards the chest. Once we had done the right leg for what seemed like forever, it was time for the left side. The whole side of my leg burned all the way up into my lower back. This did not feel like the most natural position in the world.

With the knowledge that I had a worthless side kick, but armed with tools to fix it, I came to every lunchtime class for the next month. Every day, I practiced 50 side kicks on each side. The test went well, and this kick that was once my nemesis is now my best friend in a fight.

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Discipline is telling yourself to do something and then doing it. Building discipline is a primary purpose of the martial arts.

We find someone whom we trust, then we listen to them. We follow instructions. When they say, “Jump,” we jump. We don’t ask, “How high?” as it’s implied that we are to jump as high as we can. We give our complete effort every time. At least, that’s the idea.

It’s not always so easy. There are days when we just don’t feel like it, and there are days when we want to do something else. In order to get through these days, we need motivation. Having a reason to do something makes it much easier to achieve.

In martial arts, we often have someone yelling at us to punch harder, kick faster, perform our techniques cleaner. This provides some motivation. Belt testing, competitions, demonstrations, and the desire to look good in class can provide additional motivation.

One thing that helps is to make two lists. On one list, write what you want to accomplish; on the other, list why. It may seem clear to you now (or it may not), but time has a way of eroding conviction. If you have a list of your motivations to refer to, you can quickly remind yourself why you need to follow your own orders.

In poker, motivation often involves making money. After all, that’s how we keep score. And it spends better than fancy plays, too. If money is your primary poker motivation, then having some sub-motivations can come in handy. Why do you want to make money? Is there something you really want to buy? Do you want to be a professional some day? Are you grinding for a charity?
I recently locked myself in my building for 28 days to grind 80,000 hands of Limit Holdem. I don’t think I would have made it without the proper motivation. But I had set up a fundraiser, where people donated money to various charities based on how much I played. This provided me with an endless source of motivation for the times I was tired, distracted, or just sick of playing poker.

Other motivations can include the acquisition of skill and knowledge. The competitive fire can be a huge motivation. It can also be one of your worst enemies. The most effective motivation is taking pride in making correct decisions, because this leads directly to always playing your best.

Due to the inherent variance of poker, motivation to achieve good results can be a tricky thing. But striving to make the correct play each and every time is an excellent goal. If you can make a good, thin value bet and get called by a better hand, lose the pot, and feel good about it, then you’re on the right track. If you can get all of your chips in with the best hand and feel proud of yourself, regardless of outcome, you’re doing well. If you can make a huge bluff and lose to the nuts, yet realize that your play was correct, then you’re doing great.

This motivation to do a good job is one of the most powerful things you can hang on to. So write it down, along with the reasons for everything else you want to accomplish.

You want to create a positive feedback cycle. Every time discipline overcomes temptation, it becomes easier to maintain discipline. The next time will be easier. And when you succeed again, it will get easier still. Discipline becomes a habit and, eventually, a way of life.

## HAND NO. 5

**$10/$20 Limit Holdem:** 5 players
**Reads:** BTN is a straightforwardly aggressive regular

**Preflop:** You have **AcJs** in the small blind
**Action:** 2 folds, BTN raises, you re-raise, BB folds, BTN calls

**Flop: 7c4d2c** ($70 – 2 players)
**Action:** You bet, BTN calls

**Turn: 4s** ($90 – 2 players)
**Action:** You bet, BTN calls

**River: 6c** ($130 – 2 players)
**Action:** You bet, BTN calls

Against most opponents, this river is a very clear bet/fold, but it’s a spot where many players chicken out and check/call, check/fold, or bet/call. The reason they do this is because they’re afraid of folding the best hand, or they’re afraid of putting in bets when they’re behind. Many of these players even know that they’re making the wrong play, but lack the discipline to think through the situation and make the correct play. Don’t be that guy.

BTN’s range here is comprised of ace high, overcards, rivered pairs of 6s, and some pairs of 2s. If you check, BTN will bet all of the hands that beat you, and very few that don’t. There will be enough bluffs (or at least uncertainty) in his range that getting 7.5 to 1, you will not have a comfortable fold. But your river bet will go in with very poor equity. By betting yourself, you will get the bet in against a weaker range that includes AT, A9, A8, A5, and A3. That’s 60 combos of hands that would have checked back, but will call a river bet. This is a spot where being the aggressor pays off.

One last note is that while the river card looks scary at first glance, it’s actually harmless. BTN is unlikely to have improved to a flush or a straight, as he would often semi-bluff those on the flop or turn. The ace high flush is typically the biggest concern, since that draw is often played passively, but you hold the **Ac**.

The FlashForward Finale

This post may contain spoilers for Season 1 of The Flash and Season 1 of FlashForward.

FlashForward was a pretty good one-season show. Towards the end of the first season, they found out that they might get cancelled. Unfortunately,  they ignored this possibility and ended their first season on a cliffhanger. The show got cancelled and the viewers were left to wonder what the hell happened next.

Season 1 of The Flash just finished. They wrapped up the main storyline,  then decided to introduce a wrinkle that put everything in jeopardy, then cut the season off there, ending things on a cliffhanger.

This is stupid. Do they really think so little of their audience and their show that they need to resort to cheap tricks to bring people back for season 2?

5 Minutes A Day

161 words about 5 minutes

161 words about 5 minutes

In theory, I’m writing a weekly post about exercise. Unfortunately, I’ve been feeling rather weakly, so my weekly post has become a weakly post. Today, however, I actually went for a run. 5 minutes or so to jog half a mile.

It feels pathetic running half a mile in 5 minutes and calling that my daily exercise. I read somewhere that people who run 5 minutes per day live longer than people who don’t run 5 minutes per day. So that sounds good. But I used to run a full mile in 5 minutes, and called that a warm up, not the day’s exercise.

Well, times change. So do people. They don’t change back, or maybe they do. I haven’t finished last night’s episode of The Flash yet, so we’ll see how that goes in fiction. I do know that, while real people can’t get literally younger, we can feel younger with the right combination of diet, exercise, sleep, and all that crap. Here’s to that!

Forming Flash Fiction
(From ZMM’s FFF)

BLOQwritelightningI wrote the following as an addendum to my first book of fiction, Zen Madman’s Flash Fiction Folio. Perhaps ironically, I am posting it now because I don’t feel like writing at the moment.

FORMING FLASH FICTION FANTASTICALLY FAST

Write. Now.

That’s the most succinct advice I can give you for becoming a writer instead of not a writer. If you’re not there yet, turn the page. I’ll expondicate.

FORMING FLASH FICTION MODERATELY FAST

Inspiration. Have an idea. It can come from anywhere.

Sketch. Write one sentence each about your character(s), setting, and plot.

Outline. What happens in your story? Without description, scrawl out a sequence of events.

Write. No editing. Just pen to paper, fingers to keys, words to page.

Revise. Now edit. If your outline was good, you’re mostly proofreading and swapping a few words. If larger changes need to be made, start with those.

Read. From beginning to end, view your story through a reader’s eyes. If you’re unhappy with it, re-revise, then re-read. Do not repeat ad nauseum.

Publish. This step is important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog with three readers or an international publication. Put your work out there for others to enjoy.

FORMING FLASH FICTION IN FULL

Still not there yet? Fine. I can prattle on for pages about this stuff. I’ll take each of the seven headings from the last section and expondicate on them.

INSPIRATION

Who knows where inspiration comes from?

Sometimes I’ll have a weird dream, then wake up and start writing. Other times I’ll see one thing that makes me think of another thing, and I’ll write about that. On occasion I’ll solicit ideas from friends, or receive them without solicitation.

One thing I’ve often read is that there are only two ways to improve your writing. Reading and writing. Both of these are essential, but there are other, subtler ways of improving your writing. Speaking, listening, watching, seeing, feeling, breathing, thinking and simply living can all improve your writing if you have the right mindset.

Finding inspiration is a little bit zen. If you look too hard, you’ll usually miss it. But when you’re open to it, you’ll find it everywhere.

My advice is to write stuff down. You have an idea for a story? Write it down. Just a character sketch? Write it down. Funny piece of dialog? Write it down. You visit an interesting place? You get the picture.

What you put in your idea box may not immediately spark a story, but it will give you a folder of inspiration.

SKETCH

There are three parts to (almost) every story: character, setting, and action. You can start with a real person, a real place, and a real event if you don’t want to rely on your imagination. Jot something down about each aspect of your story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a sentence or a paragraph. Order doesn’t matter either. You can start with setting or action instead of character if you prefer.

It’s been said that novels are driven by character and short stories are driven by action. That’s all well and good, but if you accept that action is driven by character, then so too are even the shortest stories.

When thinking about characters, you can start with stuff like gender, race, nationality, sexuality, occupation, and physical appearance. All of these can be useful in describing a person to the reader. But these are often non-essential components of a short story.

Having read my stories, you may think that I skip over this step of thinking about character. I don’t. I never start writing without a strong idea of who my characters are. While a character may remain nameless and faceless, action reveals all.

Strictly speaking, you don’t need a setting. It can be useful, however, if you want your characters to do stuff. Action and character may dictate where your story takes place, but if they don’t, choose between somewhere you know well and somewhere that inspires your imagination. The former will provide you with a convincing level of detail, and the latter will prompt you to make stuff up.

The action of your story will get fleshed out in the next step, but first ask yourself a simple question. What happens?

If you can’t answer this in one sentence, you’re probably not writing flash fiction. Even a novel or a film can usually be summed up in a few words. For example: big boat sinks.

OUTLINE

While an outline isn’t strictly necessary for any story, I find it helps. You don’t have to slavishly follow your outline. Its purpose is to free you from getting stuck.

There’s no need for all the big I, little i, big A, little a, 1, 2, 3 business. Bullet points will do. All you need is an ordered list of things you’re going to write about.

It’s very simple. You’re basically telling yourself what each paragraph will be about. You won’t need more than ten paragraphs, so the outline can be brief.

A story I read as a child bore the moral: begin at the beginning. When you’re ready to begin writing, the beginning is a great place to begin. But when you’re making an outline, here’s a tip: start with the ending. If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there.

WRITE

Put words on the page.

Follow your outline and use your setting, but if the story changes on you, let it. If your characters want to do something different, let them. It’s their story, after all.

Don’t edit yourself while you’re writing. Spelling and grammar count for nothing in a first draft. If a sentence is awkward, leave it. You’re pumping out unrefined oil in this step, not producing fuel for clean consumption. Don’t judge, don’t edit, and don’t look back.

Just write.

REVISE

Now is the time to fix all the spelling and grammar and crap that you ignored while writing your first draft. If you have someone you trust to double check your grammar and usage, feel free to phone a friend. It’s okay to break rules, but it’s good to know when you’re doing it. I’m an advocate of verbal jaywalking, but I try to look both ways before crossing the language.

Tighten up loose sentences and paragraphs. Trim the fat. Never repeat yourself. Let me repeat. Never repeat yourself! Not unless it’s really important. If you said something twice without a good reason, pick which phrasing you prefer and erase the redundancy. Be merciless with your own words. If one of them is sitting there doing nothing, eliminate it. Flash fiction has no patience for lazy words.

If you outlined well, you won’t need to make any huge changes. Your story is mostly done.

READ

I think they teach this in the first grade.

Experience your story the way your audience will. If your story is under one thousand words, it should be quite easy to read from beginning to end without distraction.

If you don’t think your story works, you can go back to the last step and make larger changes. If a word or two cries out for replacement, go ahead and fix it.

This step is about quality control. Avoid second guessing yourself. If something sucks, make it better. But don’t agonize over everything. Once you’ve followed the first six steps, you’re ready for the last one.

PUBLISH

Sharing your work with others is what makes it more than a journal. If you want to write a journal, that’s great and I support that. But if you bother to spend your time writing stories, please share them with us.

The digital age has made it exponentially easier for writers to connect with their audiences. Simple self-publishing is as easy as starting a blog and posting your story online. There’s not much money in it, but there are a host of websites thirsty for regular contributions of flash fiction. If you have a story that you’d like to see published on Free Association, send an email to submissions@freeassn.com. (Yeah, that place isn’t there anymore.)

If you have a collection of stories that you’d like to publish, we can help you put it together and publish it in PDF, Kindle, and hard copy. We offer editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, illustration, and interior book design. There are many other websites offering similar services, and I expect the industry to continue its expansion.

CONCLUSION

There are a million ways to write a story, but all of them come down to putting ordered words on a page. That’s what writing is. For many writers, however, too much time is spent staring at a blank page instead of putting words to one.

The goal of this essay is to give you an easy way to start writing fiction. If you’re already writing fiction, then perhaps this will help when you get stuck. It also applies to non-fiction, but that’s another story for another day.

The point of writing something short is to let you finish something. I think it’s the best approach for anyone new to the game, but it’s especially useful for someone who already has “too many projects going on.” I’m one of those people, and I found a way to put this collection together in a relatively short time.

You may not have time to write a novel right now, but who can’t squeeze an hour out of a day to write a flash fiction draft? The whole project can be spread over a few days, taking at most a few hours in total.

Happy writing.

Read the Ingredients

Ingredients. I read them on food packages. A lot. People sometimes look at me weird for doing that. My friends know what I’m doing. I’m checking to see if there are any animal ingredients. So they don’t look at me weird anymore. Not most of the time, anyway.

But I’ll check the same product repeatedly. Not literally the same package, like in an obsessive compulsive way. But when I pick up another package of the item in a store, or see it somewhere else, I’ll read the ingredients again. Why?

Tonight I was looking at a package of Annie Chun’s Udon Noodle Soup. It used to be vegan. It said so right on the front. Now it has bonito flakes in it. But it doesn’t say “Not Vegan” on the front. No, there’s just bonito extract or whatever in the fine print ingredients on the back now. On the front, it says “Now tastes even better!”

Well, I don’t intend to find out how the new one tastes. But I’m glad I read the ingredients. Again.

Secret Agenda

I have a secret agenda. I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll find out over the next week, but only if I succeed.

On this site, I’ve often made my goals public. Sometimes, that can help. I wouldn’t be writing this post tonight if I hadn’t publicly committed to publishing a post every day for the rest of 2015. But sometimes it hurts.

There’s a theory that sharing one’s goals with others gives one a sense of accomplishment, almost like those goals have already been achieved. According to this theory, this sense of accomplishment decreases one’s drive to achieve the goal.

So instead of being the one in that theory, I’ll be zero. Agent Zero. Wait…I have enough pseudonyms. Zen Madman out.