An Experiment in Immersive Storytelling
Behind the Scenes:
How I Wrote, aka Mad Scientist Hair

You know what sucks?


noun [
the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

At some point during any kid's life, they probably wish to be an adult, not realizing that—while awesome—it comes with a whole set of annoying distractions called "responsibilities." Things like feeding yourself, taking a shower, paying the bills, cleaning the house, the list just goes on. Those necessary evils can be ignored, but only if you want your life to eventually fall apart.

For almost every adult in the world, there's a full-time job, and those adultly responsibilities are tacked on top, like a Jenga of doom just waiting to come crashing down if you forget to handle an email or lock your front door at night.

A kid playing Jenga. The tower of blocks is precariously close to falling.
Kid doesn't know what's waiting for him in a few short years. Photo credit to Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash.

Being an adult is a lot to keep up with. Usually, the thing that slips in the midst of all this "trying to survive" is doing stuff you enjoy. You get up, rush to complete a morning routine, work, and for most of us, feel like falling flat on your face after an exhausting day. So, what do you do next? If you believe popular advice, then you find some way to "unwind." For us Americans (and a lot of the world), that means turning on the TV¹ and quickly falling into a hypnotic vegetative state until you realize your hand has been sitting that empty bag of Doritos for two hours straight, and you ran out of beer² about four episodes ago.

¹ 3.1 hours of TV per day before the pandemic; 5.5 hours per day after it started.
— Gallup (global analytics firm)

² 26.2 gallons of beer per adult per year.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey

On average, there are 13 minutes of commercials per hour of TV. Prepandemic, with 3 hours (rounding) of TV per day, that's 39 minutes of commercials. Keep that up for an entire year, and commercials take 14,235 minutes or about 237 hours or nearly 10 full days of your 365 days per year. That's a lot of commercial time. Life expectancy varies worldwide, so for simplicity's sake, let's say it's 80 years. Continuing this math we're doing, that's 800 full days (over 2 years) out of your life spent watching commercials. You could say, "but I watch Netflix, and it doesn't have commercials," or "I don't watch that much TV"—but realize that I'm handwaving over a lot here to make a point.

Millions of people, probably more, wonder why it's so hard to be "productive." Don't get me wrong, watching TV and drinking beer is a solid American tradition, much like baseball or apple pie, and if you decide on that activity, then more power to you. It's a type of productive, depending on how exactly you're measuring "productivity."


achieving or producing a significant amount or result.

There are thousands of productivity systems out there aimed at telling you that you need a notebook or an app or a full-length self-help book to set yourself on a path to success and productivity.

The global productivity management system market size was valued at USD 47.33 billion in 2021.
— Grand View Research

I'll tell you a secret, though.

Whether you realize it or not, you choose where to invest your time.

When was the last time you thought about what you wanted to do "in life" and then molded your not-work-not-adulting time around that? Imagine you stop watching TV and suddenly have hours freed up per day. What do you do with it? You carefully choose where you put that time. Maybe you decide TV is your thing and you go back to it, or maybe you don't. Maybe you read, learn blacksmithing, axe throwing, accounting, salsa dancing, how to make rockets—the possibilities are endless because you are consciously managing your most precious resource: time.

When I created Absolution, it had been years (decades?) since I cut the cord and stopped watching TV. It was an active choice to reclaim my time. I have a full-time job where I work more than full-time on it, and I have tons of adulting to do every day, so there aren't many options on where to reclaim time from. The idea for Absolution came around, and it had its own tight deadline: Zarina's birthday. As it turned out, with mindful management of my most precious resource, I had hours per day, every single day, that I could dedicate to it.

I never kept track, as I didn't have any reason to, but thinking back on it now, I guess I could calculate it out to be 3 hours per day and around 2 months = 180 hours.

That's a lot. I let some things slip, like brushing my hair, which is hard to picture now because I've shaved my head. But, nearly every night, I ended up with what my spouse Tae called "mad scientist hair."

Five images of Giorgio from the show Ancient Aliens, each of the images shows his hair longer and more crazy.
Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the modern master of crazy hair. He and Albert Einstein would have a showdown if they were both alive now.

Throwing myself into the creation of Absolution so entirely meant that I really had no chance of it failing. Something was going to happen. Whether it was good or not, that was a different question. But, I was making something, and that something would get done.

Having free time every day, making an active decision on how to spend it, and giving myself a tight deadline, meant that every time I sat down to work on Absolution placed me into a world where writer's block simply didn't exist. I had a goal, and I was going to make it happen, no matter what.

Yoda says: "Do. Or Do not. There is no try."
Yoda gets it.

The entire Absolution immersive story is done, but I still use the concepts I just laid out. In 2021, I started and finished the first draft of a novel. It only took about six months, but I put over 1,000 hours of work into it. It's not a simple calculation of hours per day on that one because I really decided to throw myself into it—so, while I wrote every single day, I put a lot more time into it on the weekends. In fact, it's been around a year since I decided to take on writing as a big part of my life. There have been less than a handful of days I didn't write in the past year. I can actually count them on the fingers of one hand. Those were days when I was sick. I've gotten a hell of a lot done in a year—and that's why.

Giorgio Tsoukalos with hair standing up about 8 inches. Caption reads: My hair is an ancient alien.
Maybe now I get a mad scientist beard when I write. Picture this, except as a beard.

To complexify something I oversimplified earlier, I sometimes watch TV shows and movies, but I mindfully choose when and how much. It doesn't matter if you watch TV or not; we all have our own version of this concept in our lives, whether it's the TV, hours on social media, games, staring at the ceiling, whatever. These things can be helpful, as long as you're making a conscious choice to use them. It's when they become an automatic time sink that the problem arises. Decades from now, on your deathbed, will you regret not spending enough time on TikTok? Or, will you regret not taking the time to climb that mountain? (Metaphorically, of course.)

At this point, you may be thinking, "Uh-huh, great. You made time. But how the hell did you start from nothing and make all that in two months?"

I had a system, and I had help.

"He's talking about me there. I'm the best help."
Photo of Tae Hernandez
Tae Hernandez