goals

Complicated, Secret, Wildly Visionary

One of the tricky things about maintaining an Author Platform™ (if you’re me, which I am) is figuring out which things to talk about when. I’m a naturally shy person to start with, and quite a lot of what I’m working on is complicated, secret, or wildly visionary in ways that I’m not used to people understanding. But it’s actually probably just the sort of thing that’s worth sharing.

More to the point, I want to stay in touch with you. You’re really wonderful, interesting people, and I like hearing from you and letting you in on what I’m working on. I don’t want to go dark for months at a time. So I’m going to try an experiment, basically start using this blog for semi-regular informal brain dumps. Schemes in progress. Experiments. Failures and discoveries. Complications. Revolutions to instigate. That sort of thing.

And when my lizardy1 brain tells me nobody will like/get/care about the complicated/secret/wildly visionary stuff, here’s how I’m going to try to fight back.

Complicated Stuff: Trust you guys to (a) be smart and (b) self-select.

I find it harder than you’d think to write about what I’m interested in and trust the right people will find me. But if I can be bold and true, I believe there are people who will be interested, even if it’s more about tech brilliance or reimagining crowdfunding than about my next story.

And honestly, I’m learning some super-cool stuff these days. Granted, it’s stuff about how to build a new kind of hybrid-publisher-slash-book-lovefest and nifty “shortcuts” that will make my job really easy just as soon as I invest several hundred hours on the front end. But still super-cool.

Secret Stuff: Stop trying to fake people out.

An ongoing question I wrestle with is how much to reveal about (a) things that are in progress and (b) unexpected behind-the-scenes facts, like how easy it can be to get a high-ish rank in a small-ish category on Amazon. I think holding off on revealing in-progress stuff is fine; revealing half-done work is no fun for you and no use to me. But the other kind gets more insidious.

It turns out it’s pretty easy to give an inflated sense of my success or importance, in the hope that I can impress and excite you and get more people into what I’m doing. But that’s not cool. So I’m going to try to be pretty transparent about how things are actually going.

And the work in progress? I’m still figuring that out, but I’ll try to pull back the curtain as much as I can without ruining the experience for any of us. And maybe even have more spoilery bits available for those who don’t mind having magic tricks ruined, so to speak.

Wildly Visionary Stuff: Be less afraid.

When I hesitate to share big ideas for the future, it’s because I care a lot and I hope a lot and I don’t want people to think the vision is (i.e. I am) dumb. But the alternative is being either shallow (not sharing what I care about) or fake (pretending to care about other stuff). So that’s no good.

And the thing is, the wildly visionary bits are the really cool part. It’s sometimes hard to make it seem plausible to the outside world—I mean, if it were clearly plausible I’m not sure it would count as wildly visionary—and that can make it easy for people to not take the ideas seriously, but I’m going to practice not worrying about that. Some of the ideas won’t happen. That’s fine. But some of them will, and either way it’s still worth sharing the dream.

My secret hope: I’m not actually nearly wildly visionary enough, and getting you in on my schemes will make everything even more awesome.


1 Per autocorrect, ‘lizardy’ isn’t a word. See? We’re already learning together.

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March In Review + April Goals!

Happy Spring! I’m back after a delicious Easter weekend where my community friends had not one but two homemade feasts–Eggs Benedict brunch on Saturday and four-course lamb dinner on Sunday. Illnesses and complications notwithstanding, we took the time to get together, share delicious food, and enjoy the new life God has given us. It is good to live in community.

No, no. Goals. Post.

I also enjoyed a bit of a break from my blog-per-weekday challenge. But I missed you. It’s fun to be back.

Now, on to business. My March goals post turned out to be revolutionary. It gave me so much clarity and motivation. I’m definitely making this a regular practice.

March Goals + Accomplishments

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Wrote 7,555 words. Didn’t hit my minimum goal of 12,000.
  2. The Dream World Collective – Released 2 sections on Patreon. Reached minimum goal.
  3. The Stone and the Song – Completed initial design and received my first paperback proof from CreateSpace! The print quality was low enough that I’m going to try another service, but I’m happy to have a sample of their work and I consider this good progress toward my target. I knew going in that CS might not meet my standards, but I wanted to get a look at their work in person. Target goal was “Release paperback.” I count this as exceeded the minimum, didn’t hit the target.
  4. Hubris Towers – Sketched characters, setting, Season 1 overall arc, and an overview of all eight episodes of Season 1. And wrote 6,627 words of Episode 1! Stretch goal was to do all that planning plus write a “partial episode,” by which I meant 250-500 words. Massively exceeded my goals!
  5. Write a blog post every day. Done.

April Goals

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Current word count: 104,197
    • Minimum: Write 2,000 words
    • Target: Write 4,000 words
    • Stretch: Write 10,000 words
  2. The Dream World Collective
    • Minimum: Release 2 sections on Patreon
    • Target: Release 3 sections and overview remaining rewrites needed before launch
    • Stretch: Release 4 sections and overview
  3. The Stone and the Song
    • Minimum: Reformat for paperback POD through Lulu and order physical proof
    • Target: Release paperback
    • Stretch: Release paperback and audiobook
  4. Hubris Towers
    • Minimum: Finish Episode 1
    • Target: Finish Episode 1 and write 4,000 words of Episode 2
    • Stretch: Finish Episodes 1 and 2
  5. Author platform
    • Minimum: Two blog posts/week
    • Target: And announce Optional Fun Thing Alpha
    • Stretch: Fifteen blog posts in April
  6. Healthy, sustainable, balanced living
    • Minimum: Bike 20 minutes 5 days in April
    • Target: Bike 20 minutes 2 days each week
    • Stretch: Bike 20 minutes 3 days each week

If you want to get a mid-month progress update, plus friendly notes, early access, and exclusive deals, sign up for my email list.

I write fun, infrequent notes and work hard to make it something you’ll genuinely enjoy. Which seems to be working—so far my open and click rates are around triple the industry average, so people seem to be having fun.

No pressure, obviously. But I bet you’ll like it. (Here’s one I sent out recently, if you want an idea of what you’ll be getting.)

Subscribe Button Red Border 1

Cheers!

—Ben

Is Daily Blogging Worth It? Post-A-Day Challenge Pros, Cons, and Next Steps

A couple months ago I took on a more modest version of Bookshelf Battle’s self-imposed daily post challenge. Instead of a post every day for the rest of 2015, I committed to a post every weekday through the end of March. I’m a day away from completing it, having successfully avoided yetis, aliens, etc., and I’ve learned a lot.

Pros

  • Daily posts have helped me build a back catalogue. Just a couple months in and I have a rich variety of useful posts for new readers to check out.
  • It helped me see what’s occupying my attention. Turns out it’s mostly writing projects. (Surprise!) This is helping me get more self-aware and work to diversify what I think, talk, and blog about.
  • I grew in discipline. The ability to write when you have nothing to write is a good skill for a professional writer. I learned again that there are always ideas if you’re willing to work for them.
  • I started finding my voice. This is early, but the math-y, spiritual, geeky, whimsical, overthinky parts of me are starting to show through. My fiction deeply reflects who I am and I love it. I can’t wait until my blogging does so more fully as well.
  • It clarified my goals. The habit of writing a monthly review and monthly goals has been surprisingly transformative. It’s crazy how much focus one blog post gave me.
  • I made friends! Through blogging I’ve started getting in touch with some really cool authors and bloggers like Kara Jorgensen, Kate M. Colby, Dave S. Koster, and Bookshelf Q. Battler. (Man. Talk about a name that lends itself to a cool blog title. Lucky.)

Cons

Mostly this is variants on “daily blogging takes too much of my writing-related time and energy.” Here are some specific angles.

  • It’s incredibly time-consuming (for me). I can’t seem to stop at two sentences, which meant uninspired days became long slogs. This is also why I’m bad at Twitter, incidentally.
  • Daily blog posts have a relatively low ROI. It’s been really useful having a blog in general. I’ve found some great people and—well, see above. But I think I would have gotten 80-90% of the value with 20-40% of the post frequency.
  • This means misdirected word count. I’ve posted around 8,300 words on my blog this month. Some of that was reposted from elsewhere, so say I’ve written 7,000, but even so that’s more than a full week’s word count target. If that were Hubris Towers instead of blog posts, I’d be finishing up Episode 1 about now. The blog posts are worth it if I’m saying something worthwhile, but not if I’m just trying to fill space or meet my quota for the day.
  • Blogging done my way has lots of peripheral time costs. It’s not like every 500 words on my blog is 500 words I didn’t add to a novel. While my composition speeds are comparable, I do a lot more editing and restructuring for non-fiction, and then I spend time on cool links and pictures and all. So really it could be that the opportunity cost of a 500-word blog post is 1,500 words on a story. And the stories are what I really love and am called to (and can sell, and what people might still be reading decades from now.) Kind of mind-boggling to realize I could maybe have written an extra 20,000-ish words this month. Maybe not—I mean, I also get distracted and dither and research and edit when I’m writing stories sometimes—but I’m curious to see how next month goes with lower blogging targets.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Broadly speaking, I think it’s really clear that it’s worth having a blog and updating it regularly, and (given the particulars of my case), that it’s not worth posting to it every day. I’m proud of myself for following through on my challenge to myself, and I think it’s more worthwhile early on in the life of a blog just to skip over the sparse, navel-gazy, getting-your-bearings phase. But I’m not planning to stick with daily posts.

Right now I’m leaning toward posting once or twice a week. This provides a bit of flexibility (to avoid wasting time when I have nothing to say) but also a bit of structure (because sometimes the good ideas don’t come until you sit and try for a while). It also maintains enough frequency to give you readers something worth coming back to with some regularity.

I’m also looking forward to branching out a bit into other topics like worldbuilding, games and game design, productivity, the many splendors of Baltimore, communal living, Christianity and the invisible world, food, language, and fun tidbits and background about my stories and their settings, characters, etc.

One question that’s still up in the air is whether I should pick regular days—say, Tuesdays and Fridays instead of just “two posts a week.” Could feel a little restrictive (though publishing as scheduled posts can help with that) but also sets up a dependable rhythm for readers. I’m probably going to go more freeform at least for April and see how that works out. But I’d love your thoughts.

How frequently would you like to see me posting? Does it matter if it’s regularly on the same days? Any broad topics or specific subjects you’d like to see more (or less) of?

Cheers!

—Ben

What’s More Important: Progress or Discipline?

What do you do when your passion for one worthwhile goal edges out your progress on another worthwhile goal?

My goals for March include writing a whole lot of Frobisher and a tiny sample of Hubris Towers.

But Hubris Towers has proven incredibly fun to write, with the result that so far this month I’ve written a whole lot of Hubris Towers and a modest amount of Frobisher. More precisely, I’ve hit a third of my minimum goal for Frobisher, and maybe ten times my stretch goal for Hubris Towers.

That raises an interesting question: Is it more valuable to make fast progress or to stick with the plan?

My guess is most people would vote for fast progress, assuming it’s good-quality progress on a worthwhile task. And there’s a good argument to be made for that. If each of several tasks (say, work on 3 different drafts) will be contributing to your overall goals (say, publishing lots of books), then it stands to reason that the more quantity you can achieve, the sooner you’ll reach your overall goals. If you can write 100 pages of one book instead of 20 of the other, why not go for the easy win, right?

But if you’re dealing with a well-designed long-term strategy I’m going to argue for sticking with the plan. That’s right. Given my March plans, I’d ultimately rather hit 12,000+ words on Frobisher and 500 words on Hubris Towers than 4,000 words on Frobisher and 12,000+ on Hubris Towers, even though it’s adding less to my total word count, and even though it seriously could mean not reaching some of my publishing and financial goals as quickly.

Because in the long term, patterns matter.

Right now any time I choose to write the quick, easy, fun story over the tricky, deep (but fun) story, I’m training myself to do the work that appeals to me in the moment, not the work that is strategically valuable. And I’m training myself to act like the goals and deadlines I set for myself don’t matter.

Every writing project—really any important project you love—is going to hit a point where it gets tricky, where the ideas aren’t flowing as smoothly or the next steps aren’t as much fun as they used to be. A new project or a new system or a quick win can feel like a delightful escape, like you’re finally making real progress again and your work is fun and meaningful.

But every new project will, at some point, start feeling tricky and unglamorous too, and the real key to success lies in that decision point: push through and finish, or start developing the next fun, interesting idea?

In the end I’d rather know that I can keep the promises that I set and that no matter how tricky or complicated or unglamorous a goal feels in the moment, I can reliably push through and deliver anyway.

In the end, I’d rather keep finishing important projects than keep reaching the unglamorous halfway point of fun new ideas.

Hubris Towers: My Secret Master Plan, Mk. I

Ok, so writing Hubris Towers is officially getting addictive. This is my first deep fiction collaboration—working with Bill, who blogs here—and it’s so much fun that I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek at our process, my personal goals, and some fun new things I’m trying with this project.

Before I go further, a caveat: This is all highly speculative and subject to change. Part of the fun of this project is the freedom to try things out and experiment freely.

Serial Structure

Right now we’re planning on writing episodes of 12.5-15k words each—that’s about 35-45 pages—with eight episodes to a season. That lets us bundle each season into a solid, novel-length book, idea being that we could sell the book at a discount to reward loyal readers who know they’ll read the whole season, while also serving everyone who’s eager and likes a steady drip of new stories as they come out.

It wouldn’t be out of the question to release an episode a month, though for now we’re both sustaining day jobs, families, real lives, and other writing projects, so we’ll see. But even with a slightly slower pace that’s a steady output of a full season each year in steady, snackable chunks.

Our Collaborative Process

Bill and I have been friends for decades. We were friends in grade school in Ankara, Turkey, where we would routinely spend the night at each other’s houses on short notice and spend long hours reading and writing and plotting together, and now we live a few blocks apart in Baltimore, where, along with some other friends, our families have dinner together several times a week and we spend long hours sipping whiskey and reading stories and talking philosophy or theology or writing.

So you could say we’ve got an understanding of one another by now. I pray everyone who’s reading this has or will one day have friends like mine—it’s a massive blessing and one of the most fulfilling parts of my life.

Mushiness aside, here’s how we’ve got the collaborative process set up so far.

We met for a couple big-picture brainstorming sessions to lay out the story concept, setting, and characters. At the last of those meetings we sketched out the overall arc of Season 1, then developed it into paragraph-length summaries of each of the eight episodes, along with a few ongoing hooks and interesting ideas that will take us into Season 2.

I’m great with characters and settings, and my prose skills are pretty solid, but I have always found plots a lot harder to develop. Bill is a veritable fountain of brilliant plot turns and devices. I can say something like “We just need these three impossible things to happen. All at once.” And then he’ll think for a second and lay out a plan for how all three of them can happen at once, with this other clever twist developing in the background. So the plotting went pretty quickly with Bill in the room.

Short version: We had a four-hour meeting where we made each other laugh constantly.

Then Bill expanded Episode 1 into a detailed summary of a few thousand words, say a quarter to a third of the total projected length.

I’ve taken that summary and am fleshing it out into the full draft. We have very compatible senses of humor and are both being pretty unselfish with the plot, so it’s really turning into the best of both worlds. He’ll put all his best ideas in the summary, then I’ll take those, run with them, and add my own. I suspect it’s going to start turning into a sort of contest of trying to make each other laugh out loud. Certainly that’s where it’s going so far.

A Series That Pays Minimum Wage

This is a little ambitious, but I want to see if we can make this a project that pays minimum wage or better on average. Our plan is to keep it light, fun, and fast, and it occurred to me that I can actually track all the time I spend on it and calculate my overall hourly earnings for the project.

With our collaborative process it’s a pretty speedy production cycle, and I bet the serial structure will help us be efficient with post-production and may even net some economies of scale like, say, repeating cover design elements within seasons or bulk purchase of ISBNs.

My part of the planning for Season 1 is basically done, and took about 4 hours. I’ve since maintained an overall average of 15 words per minute composing the draft. If I can maintain that, writing a season of 100,000 words will total around 111 hours of writing time. Let’s add 20 hours to account for post-production. That may seem optimistic, but I’m only counting my own time here. With Bill’s help my time on editing should be minimal, and I think we can get the compiling and publishing down to a science.

I’m going to assume the average reader (who goes on to finish Season 1) buys one standalone episode then gets the full season. With that assumption and a 50/50 income split, some back-of-envelope calculations indicate we’d need a little under 600 readers for me to make minimum wage on this. And that’s not out of the question by any means. If I can bump my speed up to 25 words per minute the minimum-wage point drops below 400 readers. That’s really not out of the question. The Stone and the Song passed 100 sales in its first month and that was just my very first short, preliminary test run, with no product funnels in place and minimal marketing. Hubris Towers will be building on itself over months and will have both Bill’s network and mine drawing readers.

Anyway, that’s all kind of pie in the sky, but it’s fun to think about.

More to the point, at this stage the writing is cracking me up constantly. It’s so much fun I’m stealing time from other projects, even Frobisher, which I love, to write more of Episode 1. I’ve already written about 10 times as much for it as I meant to this month, to the extent that it’s almost becoming a problem. Except not really, obviously. Glee! I can’t wait to unveil it in all its Wodehouse-y (Wodehouse-ish? Wodehomely?) glory. Patience.

Cheers!

—Ben

Write Like the Wind!

Today is looking really busy. I may not get much time to write, but if I do I want to put it into building word count on books.

But that’s boring, so let’s make it a challenge. My starting goals for the day are:

Minimum: 500 words

Target: 750

Stretch: 2000

I’ll check in in Comments with how it went. If you want to join me in the challenge, reply in comments with your own goal(s) and let’s spur one another on. To victory!

—Ben

February in Review + March Goals

Some pretty cool writers I follow are writing month-end reviews and goals. It’s a great idea. I might make a practice of it, too. Certainly last month was great and this month is exciting, so I’m going to try it out today.

February Accomplishments

  1. I released my first story,The Stone and the Song, on Amazon. Lots of work, but a smashing success!
  2. Released 2 more sections of The Dream World Collective.
  3. Launched my mailing list and got 2-3x industry average open and click rates. Because my people are awesome. Sign up here for friendly notes and mysterious missions.
  4. Wrote more of The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Uncharacteristically, I’m not sure how much.
  5. Recorded about half of the audiobook version of The Stone and the Song.
  6. Established rough concept for Hubris Towers, an upcoming serial fiction collaboration, with Bill.
  7. Wrote a blog post every week day.

March Goals

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Current word count: 96,642
    • Minimum: Write 12,000 words (avg. 3,000/wk)
    • Target: Write 22,000 words (avg. 5,000/wk)
    • Stretch: Round it up and hit 120,000 words total. (That’s my projected total word count! Could finish the rough draft this month! That’s crazy!)
  2. The Dream World Collective
    • Minimum: Release 2 sections on Patreon
    • Target: Release 3 sections and overview remaining rewrites needed before launch
    • Stretch: Release 4 sections and overview
  3. The Stone and the Song
    • Minimum: Keep encouraging readers to leave reviews
    • Target: Release paperback
    • Stretch: Release paperback and audiobook
  4. Hubris Towers
    • Minimum: Sketch characters, setting, and rough arc for Season 1
    • Target: Above plus sketch concept for each episode in Season 1
    • Stretch: Above plus write partial episode to test process and develop speed projections
  5. Write a blog post every week day.

Oh, man. This is such an exciting time! Let me know in comments or at byfaroe at gmail dot com if you’re interested in beta reading, collaborating, or chatting about the art and business of writing. I love this stuff and I love finding other writers who are serious about making it a career and/or lifestyle.

Cheers!

—Ben