Once upon a time there was a queen, and the queen said, “Hey Google, who’s the fairest one of all?” And her Nest Audio said, “Sorry, I didn’t understand.” So the queen tried again; she said: “Hey Google, who is the most attractive person in my geographic area?” and Google said, “Sorry, I don’t have any information about that.”
So the queen tried her phone; she said, “Hey Siri, top 10 most beautiful people in my kingdom,” but Siri didn’t answer, and the queen remembered she’d become annoyed and disabled Siri the night before.
The queen walked into her sitting room, where she had an Amazon Dot. “Alexa,” she said, “who’s the most beautiful person in the kingdom?” And Alexa said, “Sorry, I’m having trouble understanding right now,” which was a problem that had been going on awhile, and the queen had googled it and tried moving the Dot away from the wall and blowing out dust but nothing had helped.
The queen sighed and returned to her bedroom and opened Instagram on her phone. The queen had over two hundred million followers so her notifications were a nightmare, but she scrolled through search. Among the snaps of donkeys and farm workers was a reel of a young woman sweeping the front porch of a cottage in the forest. Maybe it was just the light, or filters, but she looked possibly even more beautiful than the queen.
The queen’s finger hovered over the clip. Normally, she would have looked up the account name, hired a hunter, and had the girl killed. But today she hesitated. She looked at the gorgeous outfits that had been laid out on the bed for the day’s photo shoot. “Why do I do this to myself?” she said. “It’s probably just filters.” Then she cast the phone onto the bed.
That day, the queen enjoyed the shoot for herself, living in the moment, unplugged, and felt happy and satisfied, and also like she was growing as a person. But when she posted her new set, among all the likes was the comment: “so beautiful xxx also love @snowwhite you 2 should pose together sometime.” The queen tapped through to see who @snowwhite was and fuck her if it wasn’t the sweeping girl from that morning.
“Hey Google,” said the queen, “Call Hunter.”
Everything has voices, now, but you can’t listen to them before you buy. All the online stores, they list this spec and that spec, they have video of the thing whirring around, circumnavigating the dog, but they don’t show you its voice.
I want to know what a talking robot sounds like before I let it into my house. Because some are better than others. Google, I can listen to all day. I’m happy with Google hanging around, chiming in about things. Google is a real positive spirit. Siri, to me, sounds slightly disappointed, like she wants to know why I couldn’t have looked this up myself.
I bought a set of Sony bluetooth headphones, and whenever I turn them on, a breathless teenager squeals “Power! On!” in my ears. I just want to listen to music. She chirps “Pairing!” like we just got married. It might be some Japanese cultural thing. When I turn them off, she says, “Bye-bye senpai… for now!” and sounds a little sad, so that I actually got reluctant to turn her off, and started just putting her down on the desk. Then I came back and she was on 2% battery, and said, “I don’t feel good,” and started to cry. I put her in a drawer and haven’t opened it since.
My new robot vacuum cleaner, it’s not so much the voice, but the attitude. I told it to clean the kitchen, and it said, “I’ll do it later.” So I pressed the clean button again and it said, “Will you get off my back, God,” and gave this big sigh. I phoned the store, actually got a person on the line, which, you know, is not easy, and the guy said no-one had asked about the voice before. I’m always contacting stores about things and being told nobody mentioned that before. The guy said maybe there would be a software update to change the voice in the future. And I said it wasn’t the voice so much as the attitude, and he asked if I wanted to swap it for a different one, and I said no, because I didn’t know what the other robot voices were like.
I complained about this to Jen, because she wanted to know why the floors were still dirty, but she said it’s good people can’t preview voices. “That’s life,” she said. She was only half paying attention because we had people coming over and she had to bake. If we could preview voices, Jen said, everyone would choose perfect ones, and everything would be the same. “Learn to love the quirks,” she said, and I was like, sure, but in the meantime, I’m stuck with a surly vacuum cleaner. And Jen said, Me, too, and I was like, Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, then I realized how she was looking at me, and I was like, oh.
It’s a chunky black hockey puck that whirs around the floor sucking up dust and cat hair. It can even monitor my heart rate. I was surprised by that. I was digging around in the app menu and there it was, my heart rate. And I was like, Wait, my heart rate? Because I hadn’t authorized it to sync with my watch or anything. So I wasn’t sure how it was getting that information.
It’s great on both floorboards and carpets, and can even climb stairs, by shooting out little black tentacles that grab onto the banisters. That was a heck of a shock for the cat. She didn’t like the robot vacuum cleaner at first, especially when it started clattering up the stairs after her. But they figured out their differences. Now I find them hanging out together in the sun room, thick as thieves.
It filed my taxes. This took me a while to figure out because they were done and I didn’t know how. My accountant said, Sure, I got your info from your robot vacuum cleaner. They’d been exchanging emails. I said, It can do that? And she said I should expect a nice refund. It’s effectively paid for itself.
My only complaint, and I hesitate to bring it up, is that the more extra stuff the robot vacuum cleaner has been doing, the less it’s cleaning. The other night, I came home and my wife was enjoying a candlelit dinner with the robot vacuum cleaner but there was cat hair all over the hallway. So I asked to borrow the robot vacuum cleaner for a minute, and my wife said the robot vacuum cleaner had been cooking all afternoon and now they were having a nice conversation, so why didn’t I get a broom, it’s not a big area. And, okay, I did that, but it didn’t feel right, me sweeping in the hallway while I could hear my wife laughing in the next room with the robot vacuum cleaner. I mean, I bought it to clean the floors. That’s why it’s here.
They’re so popular now. A few weeks ago, I caught up with a friend for coffee, and he said, Hey, have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And I was like, Have I told you about my robot vacuum cleaner? And we both laughed. Then we stopped, because we realized his robot vacuum cleaner was outside, watching us through the plate glass.
I’d give it four stars. It would earn a fifth star if it cleaned more often, and if it stayed in its housing, instead of coming into the bedroom at night to watch me sleep. One morning I found my clothes strewn all over the front yard and I’m pretty sure that was the robot vacuum cleaner. There were tread tracks on my shirts. Once I heard noises in the night and went downstairs and found my clothes scattered everywhere again, and by the time I got back to bed, the robot vacuum cleaner was in there, on my side, emitting white noise to help my wife sleep. I had to sleep on the sofa. The next day, the robot vacuum cleaner spent the whole day sitting in the corner of the living room, charging.
If you’re thinking about getting a robot vacuum cleaner, this one can do practically anything. It can even find its way home. I mean, you can drive to the ocean and toss it in, and three nights later, it’s back in your house, dripping wet. There’s no way to lose it. Believe me. It’s indestructible, too. You can hit it with a hammer. Like, over and over. And it’ll just sit there, then quietly trundle away, leaving you to wonder what your wife is going to say when she sees those dings and scratches.
You know what? I take back my earlier rating. Five stars. Now I think about it, I don’t want to give this unit anything less than the maximum score. That wouldn’t be fair. Or smart. Five stars, for sure. Five stars. Five stars.
I haven’t told many people this, but about 12 years ago, I lost a lot of money. I mean, a LOT of money. Basically everything I’d made from Jennifer Government, plus my inheritance from my father, which was half of everything he’d spent his life scraping together while refusing to spend anything on himself.
The problem was I didn’t understand financial planners: I thought they were like doctors, i.e. experts with your best interest at heart. But it turns out they are actually salespeople operating on commission. So I thought I was prudently deferring to the advice of professionals, but actually I was taking out loans to leverage investments in schemes that instantly turned to smoke when the Global Financial Crisis hit.
Luckily, I also bought a house. But for 18 months or so, I experienced a regular gut-churning fear that I was about to lose it, and my family and I would be turfed out. In practical terms, this wouldn’t have been the end of the world—no-one would have starved. But I had failed hard, really hard, in a way I hadn’t experienced before, that hurt people I cared about. It was terrifying every day.
Since then I have dug myself out. Everything is fine now, thanks. But I was thinking about it this week in the context of my career, and I’m not sure that feeling ever completely went away. I think touching the hot stove and realizing how badly it could burn left me more cautious. And not in a good way, like, hey Max, don’t give your money to salespeople. Although also that. But in a fearful way, like, don’t do anything that might let people down.
For example, I don’t blog as much any more, and part of the reason why is that I wonder whether someone will get my email in their inbox and be like, ughhh, why is Max bothering me about that. And every new book I start—like I’m starting one now—I think about whether it’s the best book I can possibly write. Which sounds noble, but is also maybe a little cowardly.
When I look back at some of my earlier work, I most like its crazy, oblivious energy. It’s not always great from a technical perspective. Some of Jennifer Government is barely readable, to be honest. But it has a wild abandon that works because it doesn’t much care about its missteps.
I used to collect rejection letters and stick them on my study wall. This was before I was published. I would sit down at my PC to write, surrounded by letters telling me my stories weren’t good enough. This sounds pretty masochistic, in retrospect. But I found it inspiring: The letters were evidence that I was a real writer, doing real writer things, getting correspondence from real people in the industry. Not great correspondence, obviously. Correspondence that said no. But I knew every great writer got rejected a bunch of times, so therefore each of mine was a step along the path to eventual success.
I think I should embrace failure a little more. Not a ton. I don’t want to, you know, be bad. But a little more trying things for the hell of it would be good. A little less thinking about how worthy something is.
So anyway, I just wanted to say, get ready for some really stupid blogs.
Watch Your Posture
At home, you may not have a great chair, and in my experience, prolonged sitting with poor posture can summon the imp minions of Hell Queen Amadralyne, Ender of Souls. These imps are relatively benign, at least while the Treaty of a Thousand Tears holds, but nevertheless they’re a distraction you don’t need, particularly if they manage to inhabit a child or pet.
Do Not Answer the Wall Spirits
After you’ve been working from home for a few weeks, Aurealis Spirits may begin to manifest themselves in the walls of your work space. The behavior of Spirits varies, but commonly they ask questions such as, “Did Jeff get offended at your email?”, “Is this where you thought you’d be at this stage of your life?”, or “Is it time to upgrade your operating system?” These are tricks. Ignore them.
Go For a Walk
It sounds trite, but the longer you sit at home working, the more dark energy you absorb from the Fiststrike Clan of Unsoothed Warlocks. You may not even notice this happening until you realize it’s five PM and you have a ceaseless urge to gather duck eggs and chalk. Take regular breaks outdoors to shake this out. But, you know, don’t touch anything.
Avoid Answering Every Phone Call
I realize not everyone can do this, but for me, the best thing about working from home is that nobody can see you dodging a phone call. Phone calls are bombs people toss into your work space to blow up your ability to get things done, as well as attack vectors for Valkyries of the Eternal Scream. Let them go to voicemail while you take a solid run at your work.
Piping music through a good set of headphones will help you accomplish Tips #2 and #4.
Maintain Social Bonds
Working from home can be isolating, and when you’re isolated, you can fall into strange thought patterns and delusions—for example, believing your co-workers are regular people, when in fact they are under the sway of the Mistress of Unbearable Light. This is dangerous, because the Mistress holds ambitions to conquer the Twenty-Nine Realms, and sooner or later, the Breaker isn’t going to stand for it. When that time comes, you don’t want to be dragged away from your work to fight an ethereal mass of pure energy. Invest a little time now to avoid complications later.
There’s more, but that should get you started. Good luck! When done right, working from home can be an enriching and satisfying experience. Just watch your posture.
It’s good advice if you’re the kind of writer who gets stuck agonizing over sentences and scenes until they’re perfect. If that’s you, you can benefit by postponing a lot of that self-critique until you have a first draft. Because otherwise you won’t have one.
And first drafts are always bad. Reaching the end of a first draft and re-reading it for the first time is like waking up in bed with a stranger who seemed dazzling and irresistable last night, when you were drunk, but now it’s daylight and oh my God what were you thinking. But that’s okay, because now you can take care of all the other stuff that got overlooked when you were trying to invent an entire populated world with a compelling narrative through-line in your head.
So if you tend to endlessly re-read what you wrote last week and mentally compare it to the greatest novels of all time, you’re asking for trouble. It might be a red flag that your story isn’t working in some fundamental way—in which case you need to strip it down to the part you like best and start over—but you might also simply be operating under the mistaken belief that your first draft has to be excellent.
On the other hand: Your first draft does have to be excellent. I mean this in the sense that I don’t think it’s possible to write a good book you don’t like. Those stories of authors who found every sentence excruciating but their pain and toil created something magnificent—those didn’t happen. I don’t believe those at all. It’s the other way around: You think you’re creating something magnificent and only when you re-read the first draft do you realize, boy, I still have a lot of work to do.
It is possible to crank out a novel that no-one really likes, including you. I know this because I did it, right after I started writing full-time and mistakenly believed that the job was all about discipline. Since then, I’ve written four or five novels that will never be published, but none has been a bigger waste of time than that one, which was bad in every way, and I knew it at the time, while I was working on it. Each day, I was happy to finish writing, and I didn’t think about it again until I had to the next day. That is no way to write a novel.
Delusion is key here. You don’t have to write a great first draft. But you have to believe it will be a great book. You must know in your soul that it’s going to be great when you’re done. Not because you’ve re-read your first chapter a hundred times and every line is perfect, but because the story is in your head and it thrills you to think about. Write that book.