creative writing

Trying the Don Roos Kitchen Timer system

This week I’m trying out a new system of setting and tracking writing goals. More of a philosophy, in a way.

I think it’s called the kitchen timer system, as espoused and/or created by Don Roos, which I learned about because my wife was reading Lauren Graham’s book, which lays it out, and she showed it to me.

The basic idea is that each day you set a time goal for the next day, and you spend that much time with only two things in front of you: your journal and your work-in-progress (hereinafter WIP).

Turn off your Wi-Fi, turn your phone face-down and ignore it, don’t watch or listen to anything except music without words, and start to write.

You have two options. You can either work on your WIP, or, whenever you want and without recrimination, you can write about anything at all in your journal. When you get bored of journaling, you can go back to your WIP. When you get stuck on your WIP, you can go back to your journal. You can even sit and stare at your journal and/or WIP without writing if you want, as long as you don’t switch to anything else.

If you put in the time goal you set for yourself, you win. Simple as that.

Even more canny, if you don’t hit your time goal–and this is critical–you just move on. Take it as a sign that your goal wasn’t very realistic and set a shorter one for tomorrow. DO NOT set an even bigger goal to “make up for it” tomorrow.

It’s kind of genius.

In my experience, it’s almost impossible to journal or freewrite for a very long time at all without getting down to the roots of whatever emotional/intellectual/creative issues have me stuck or preoccupied. It’s also very hard, having gotten down to said issues, to journal or freewrite about them for very long without some sort of useful resolution or reframe emerging. And once my issues are resolved, I generally find the WIP writing easy and fun, even addictive.

This system is also great because it defuses the psychological risk inherent in high-stakes and/or high-intensity creative writing goals, especially those framed in functionally less actionable terms. If my goal is to write 1,000 words on my WIP, I’ll finish that in somewhere between half an hour and never, especially because the implicit goal is to write 1,000 good words, preferably 1,000 brilliant words.

Usually, if I can’t think of words that seem sufficiently brilliant, I’ll sit and think harder. More realistically, if I can’t think of words that seem sufficiently brilliant, I’ll play a dumb game on my phone or turn on a sitcom. Or both. (I’m a terrible person.) This method invites me, when I can’t find brilliant words, to just write whatever words, which I can always do.

That keeps me writing, trends toward resolution (and, eventually, a return to brilliance), and gives me a controllable win. All I have to do is stay there and not open any other things until my time’s up. Unlike being brilliant, that’s something I can simply decide to do, and my brain gets a lot more excited when I make the win about a concrete decision, not an unpredictable flash of insight (much less a thousand of them in a row).

The Dream World Collective is now FREE on Wattpad!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

I’m excited to announce that you can now read The Dream World Collective on Wattpad. There’s a good chunk to get started with, and I’ll be posting more regularly.

I love this story. It’s about five friends who quit their jobs and move in together to do what they love, and it’s sweet and silly and geeky and heartwarming. If you’re an idealist or a geek or an artist, I wrote this for you.

I can’t wait to share it with you, and I’d love your help getting the word out. Please take a few minutes to check it out and share it with the dreamers in your life.

Read the Dream World Collective on Wattpad!

The Dream World Collective - Manifesto


Snow Day! Commence the Hubris!

Baltimore is partway through the process of receiving somewhere in the area of a foot of snow, and I got a half day off of work! Sort of a test run of the full-time writing life. Can I actually be productive with large chunks of free time?

Phase 1 says yes. Bill and I got together and sketched out season 1 of Hubris Towers. Overall arc, eight episode summaries, and hooks for the future. And while I can’t give too much away yet, it’s killer. I don’t remember the last time I’ve laughed so much. I seriously cannot wait to start getting this series out.

Phase 2 is a little iffier. Once he went home I had about 45 minutes to write more words on Frobisher. I’ve written this blog post and watched some Comedy Central clips. Not a great sign, because now I have to go be responsible. Still, day’s not over yet. And the snow’s not either.

Snow day tomorrow? Please?

In the meantime, here’s a neat article about a Chrome Extension that lets you see the way your writing in a Google Doc progressed, one keystroke at a time:



The Dream World Collective

I’m writing a novel about Summer, Zen, Otto, Sushi, and Alex, and I want to share it with you.

Summer likes gardening (and Alex) and Sushi paints and punches people and Zen likes hammocks and Otto’s a geek. And Alex is a boss. Or he’s about to be. But is that really the goal?

Anyway, just read this first part. It’s a quick read. If you’re not hooked by the end of it, no worries. If you are, there’s 100+ more pages waiting for you and more coming soon (for free!)

And it’s cozy and funny and it gets surprisingly deep. I really think you’ll like it. Here’s the PDF. Or you can get it for Kindle, Nook, etc. (Mobi and ePub) here—Wordpress won’t let me upload those formats. Happy Friday!

DWC 1 Text Art Flat

Measuring Success as an Indie Author

Figuring out when you’ve “made it” as an author can be tricky. Perhaps the easiest measure of success is signing a publishing deal, though in reality that’s far from indicating any lasting literary or financial success. Still, it’s a convenient benchmark.

Unless you have no interest in getting a traditional publishing deal. My goal is to make a full-time living as an author, and, in broad strokes, I’m convinced self-publishing is the best route for that. So I don’t have the convenience of a literary establishment to give legitimacy to my work.

So maybe it’s about sales numbers. But what’s enough? 100 sales per month? 1,000? 10,000? It feels totally arbitrary. There’s always going to be someone selling more than you, and as soon as you’ve sold any books at all you’re in a pretty high percentile among aspiring authors. And there’s such a smooth gradation in between that I don’t think I’d be satisfied by reaching any particular number; it would just be time to bump the number up and start again.

Same goes for income. I do have a specific target income in mind that would allow me to quit my day job and write full time, but even there, how long do I need to sustain that income before it’s justified to make the leap? And who says that means I’ve made it? If I give in and write crappy 30,000-word self-help books with SEO’d titles that will sell like hotcakes and get me there faster have I really won at writing?

Is it enough for my family to barely scrape by on my writing income, or do we have to be marginally comfortable and secure before I’m really successful? Or do I need to be able to buy nice things or rent an office or something? Past a certain point, income is just another number. No, my financial goal just marks when I get to go full-time, not whether I’m succeeding as a writer.

In the end, I have settled on two measures of success. To measure my success as a writer, I always turn back to this:

1. Am I crafting worthwhile stories and ideas that only I can put into the world?

2. Did I substantially add to my word count today?

A Writer’s Credo

I really don’t want to write today. I’m doing everything I can to avoid it. If I were a hobbyist or an amateur that would be fine, but I am not, so I am going to take a few moments to restore my vision and put the fire back in myself, and then I am going to write. I hope this helps you too.

1. I write kick-ass stories. I make worlds of wonder and delight, with crooked, clever, funny little people and unexpected alleys and mechanisms that inspire the real world to become better. Every word I write is worth it because every word gets me closer to the revelation of a beautiful, fascinating world full of life and growth and beauty and brilliance. Each of those worlds can make many lives better.

2. I write because I care about the craft. If I want my story to be perfect, the solution is to write faster and truer, not to hold back and slow down. Word count is my raw material. A high-intensity distillation takes a high quantity of raw materials. As a writer, I have the luxury of freely creating as much material as I need. All it takes is time and will.

3. I write because stories last. Once my story is done it can spread to countless people around the world over many generations. Once the quality is there, my story can do what it does for as many people as find it. Every hour I put in now has the potential to multiply its impact by the thousands.

4. Writing is fun. I get to write what I want, the way I want, because it’s what I enjoy. Nobody is telling me what tone I have to use or what content to cover or making me fit in links or keywords. I can run free and go wild. I can try new things, hide in-jokes, build worlds, tweak societies, create new customs and creatures, and send my people into hilarious and gripping and heart-warming moments, exactly however I want to. Yes, the story builds its own constraints, but even that is just the manifestation of the world I’ve chosen to work and play in.

5. I write because ideas are important. I don’t rehash dead plots and I don’t ask questions just to preach an answer I already know. Stories are the best and richest way to deeply explore the questions that cut deep into me, to test out the theories I’m not brave enough to speak in real life, to build whole worlds that work on beautiful or interesting principles and play them out to the end. My stories are laboratories where I can experiment with all kinds of what-ifs, where person doesn’t have to mean human and moving doesn’t have to mean living and magic can be part of science and definitions can visibly matter to practical life and decisions. There is nowhere else in my life that I have total freedom to ask the deep questions and trace the answers out wherever they may go.

6. I write because I care about people. I don’t know why I get to have such a good life when so many people are so sad and alone and afraid, but I have this one chance to write stories that will lead people into worlds that show that a different life is possible. It’s not just about escapism and it’s not just about distracting people from their troubles for a little while. It’s about realigning our views of how the world should work and how the world can work. It’s about helping people care about people again and spreading great ideas about things worth trying and cracking open the possibility that even the real world is different than you thought it was. A good story sends ripples into the real world. It’s not just a dream; it’s a warcry.

7. I write hard because I only have this lifetime to get my stories out into this world. This time next year I’ll wish I’d written twice as much today as I did. Five years out I’ll either still be dithering with a novel draft or I’ll have lots of stories in the world and lots of people finding them and real momentum on the next ones. Decades from now I’ll regret all the times I spent surfing the web and frittering time instead of writing more words. Better a poor showing and a few dozen words than a failure to even show up.

8. I write fast because it’s a rush. I can keep the flow going by refusing to slow down and refusing to worry about how it’s coming out, and once the flow gets going there’s nothing like it. There’s always time to edit later, but in this moment, my one job is to write.