motivation

Near Miss #17 (Or Why ‘Distractions’ Aren’t What’s Keeping You From Working)

This was originally posted on 12/11/10 on a different blog. I still love it.

Oh my gosh, guys. There is such an intensely strong correlation between lack of clarity and distracting myself with internets. I’ve started paying attention, and it is practically one-to-one. When I know (e.g.) the next thing that needs to happen in my story, I make it happen. When I’m not sure yet, I open a new browser window and check something. Anything.

It’s kind of blowing my mind. Every time I hit Ctrl-N on pure instinct, I stop myself for a moment and pay attention to how my story/planning/life is progressing. Every single time, it turns out there’s a question I’m too chicken to face. I’m never just bored. I’m not even distracted. (!) I’m scared of uncertainty. New rule? Brainstorm, don’t evade.

Is this just me? (Seriously. Leave a comment. I’m curious.)

Case in point. For an upcoming DWC episode starring Summer, I had a rather obscure planning note: ‘Near miss with Alex.’ I don’t even know what that means, much less how to do it. Suddenly the internet blossomed before me. But I fought it. Opened a blank document and, before sense could catch up to me, typed “Seventeen kinds of near miss with Alex:” and started a numbered list.

Rrrgh. Seventeen is an insane number of kinds of near misses. I ran out of ideas after number 3 (and checked 43folders). Then I ran out of ideas again after number 5 (and checked my e-mail). Then I ran out of ideas again after 7 and 8, which were both lame anyway. (I quote: “7. He asks her out but she’s not feelin’ it. 8. She asks him out but he’s not feelin’ it.”) Then a bookshelf fell over for number 9. Then I ran out of ideas again and checked Penny Arcade. Not kidding. I ran out of ideas after numbers 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16, and checked some website every single time.

Lesson: If you’re like me, you’re never “getting distracted.” You’re not sure what to do next, and you’re trained to dodge the question instead of answering it.

Incidentally, numbers 11, 14 and 17 were were worth something.  Side lesson: You don’t actually run out of ideas. Just keep punching your brain. Training yourself to dodge that painful moment of effort is very comfortable, very easy, and totally deadly.

I’m On Restriction (But It Did Get Me Writing)

I’ve now spent two days this week meaning to write 1,000 words or more and writing none instead. I mean, I wrote a lot of words on blog posts and marketing stuff and posting story chunks after final edits and all, but that doesn’t count. I mean real words, new word count on novels in progress.

Now that all of the new release hullabaloo is over, I’m really feeling an urgency to get back to regularly producing lots of word count. I’m more excited than ever about the great stories I have in store, and while marketing and publishing are key parts of the work, and I find them rather fun, my single top metric for success these days is new word count.

More than that, I want to become the sort of person I can trust to hit word count goals like a clock, absolutely reliable regardless of circumstances. It’s going to be a while before I can go full-time with my writing, but in setting up milestones or benchmarks that will help me decide when it’s time, I’m beginning to formulate a new one in terms of reliable writing streak, something like “Can’t quit the day job until I’ve logged six months of 5,000 words each week without exceptions.”

Marketing and publishing and “research” and fun ideas and future planning will all still exist when I’m writing full-time, and there will be a lot less of the artificial structure and boundaries that force me to write fast in rare little bits when I can, so it’s absolutely critical to get the patterns of reliable production firmly embedded now. Counterintuitively, it may actually be easier at this stage, when my entire livelihood isn’t resting on it and I have long patches of my day taken up with other occupying pursuits so ideas can simmer and develop in the background for my rare patches of writing. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

But anyway, in the meantime I do need to write, and my target is 5,000 draft words per week, and I dropped the ball the last two days, so for today I put myself on restriction: no blogging or marketing work until I’d written 250 words. Because for me it’s really mostly about getting started. I didn’t finish those 250 until halfway through the day even so, but the last 130 were in a single 3-minute burst. Let’s see if I can catch up for the week, or at least hit my thousand for today. I’ll report back tomorrow.

Do you guys have any tricks for getting writing (meaning new actual story material) when there’s other stuff vying for your attention?

Cheers!

—Ben

Patron Perks, Stone & Song Edits, and a Prototype

I’ve got a few exciting production updates and goals today. Here’s what I’d like to finish by the time I go to bed.

Patron Perks for the January Bonus Bundle

It’s time to deliver the January Bonus Bundle to my wonderful patrons! I still need to finish some of the writing and get the post-production completed. Today I’d like to finish all 3 parts:

– The History of the Moustache (A Modest Contribution #2) – These are short, funny bonus episodes hosted by the Dream World Collective’s resident geek, Otto. Always sure to be highly edifying and inaccurate. Tons of fun to write. Should be about 1000 words.

– Character sketch of Sushi Vasquez (3 sections) – $3+ patrons also get a peek at my character design sheet for Sushi. This one should be easy to finish, but the original was lost with the theft of an old laptop long ago, so it will still involve some rewriting. Guessing this will be 500-750 words; the outline-ish format will make it easier, as will the fact that I know most of the content already.

– Kitchen Adventures #1 – A cooking show with Summer (also from The Dream World Collective). This is the first one I’ve created and I’m unusually nervous about it. Maybe because it has to be funny but also end up with a recipe that (more or less) works. Otto’s the guest on this one, which should help. This goes to $5+ patrons, so currently has a very small potential audience, which may also contribute to the jitters. Best guess is 1000-1500 words, but I’m going to play this by ear. Could be shorter if the focus ends up more on the recipe than the adventure by which they get to it.

The Stone and the Song Preliminary Edits

So I’ve committed myself to a very quick turnaround on this (cf. my early experiences setting up an Amazon pre-order). I need to finish all my edits, proofreading, and post-production (including any CTAs and the Dream World Collective preview I’m including) and upload the final manuscript by midnight Wednesday 2/11/15. Not sure if that’s midnight at the beginning or end of Wednesday. I suspect the former. Will be done Tuesday night just in case. I committed to this before I’d really even previewed the manuscript to see if it needs any rewriting or just proofreading and tidying up.

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

It’s only about 30 pages and I finished preliminary edits on the first third or so yesterday. Today I’d like to get through at least proofreading and formatting on the rest of the manuscript. I think at least one scene needs a minor content revision. If I can get that done too, so much the better. Tricky thing there is that it’s based on a possible minor plot glitch, so I may actually need to figure out what’s going on (unseen to the reader), which can take an unpredictable amount of time.

A Prototype!

I’m really excited about this one. For February I’ve got a really fun scheme in mind. I’ve developed an elegant little mechanism for folding a single sheet of paper into a mailable letter with just a few folds: no cutting, adhesives, or envelope required.

Idea is to create little fill-in-the-blank notes and letters that you can print out, fill in, fold up, and pop in the mail to someone you love (or like, or know, or don’t). I’m kind of going to shanghai Valentine’s Day and take it beyond romance, because love comes in all sorts of forms and people are valuable.

Only problem is that I think the current version ends up about half an inch too small to fit USPS machinable mail guidelines, so I’ve got to rework it a bit. Here’s a preview in the meantime.

Letterfold – Blank (Prototype 1)

And So Much More!

Oh my gosh. So many things going on right now. I also need to get the patron-only preview of the next section of Dream World Collective up so I can post it publicly over the weekend.

And I need to get the landing page for the letterfold project up. (By the way, is calling it the Share The Love event too cheesy? Any better ideas?) I’m also setting up a proper mailing list host and possibly even an autoresponder. Really should get that going by the Stone & Song release date at the latest so people who read it and love it have a good way to get in touch with me.

I’m really excited, though. This is a time for pushing hard to lay a ton of infrastructure, which should really help as the first couple novels reach completion.

Thanks for being in on the journey with me! What are you reading/writing/working on these days? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Cheers!
—Ben

365 Days. 365 Posts. 1 Nerd. [Edit: Now With Additional Nerd!]

As usual, I love the way bookshelfbattle thinks. This post is well worth reading if you’re interested in goal-setting, finding readers, or developing a writing practice. Before I send you on to the original post, a few thoughts and responses:

1. I love that this is concrete, actionable, and attainable. You can’t decide whether someone follows you, but you can decide whether you’re going to post; make your goals in terms of things you can do.

2. Quantity and consistency are worthy goals. It seems there’s some debate about whether it’s worth pushing for quantity instead of quality. My stance is that if quality is your goal, quantity is a great path to it.

3. I like that bookshelfbattle isn’t shy about trying to get readers. That’s the whole point. Writers want readers. And readers want good stuff to read. If you don’t think your stuff is worth reading, write better stuff before you go public.

If, however, you think your writing is worthwhile, why would you not want to give it to as many people as will benefit from it? Applying strategy and focus does not make this evil, it makes it effective.

4. I’m joining in, but more cautiously. (Caution™! Putting the boring back into success!)

I’m planning to post every weekday, holidays optional, through the first quarter of 2015. I’m still figuring out where blogging fits into my overall career strategy as a writer, but I’m enjoying it so far and I think three months will make a good baseline.

Also I really appreciated bookshelfbattle’s willingness to share stats, so for the record:

  • After about 2 1/2 weeks of posting consistently, I currently average something like 10 visitors a day, with about 40 people following.
  • End of March will be (let’s see…math math math) 42 more days of posting, so by then I’d like to see at least 100 following, with 25-30+ visitors a day.

Really what I’d like to see is more people reading my stories, so in addition to posting I’ll probably be experimenting with new ways to make those more visible and fun.

Anyway, enough from me. Enjoy. And if you have any thoughts on what you’d most like to read about here, I’d love to hear it, so leave me a comment and let me know.

Cheers!
—Ben

PS – It will be especially hard for me to write quick posts without worrying too much about quality. I think that alone will be a useful discipline to develop.

Bookshelf Battle

If you have the time, you can check and see that every day in the month of January 2015, I made at least one post per day.  I’ve been thinking about challenging myself to making one post per day on this blog in 2015, but wanted to get through one month before committing to the idea.

So, consider me committed.  And frankly, for agreeing to do this, I should be committed.

My theory:  Daily posts = more readers = more site traffic = an overall stronger platform.

Your theory probably = do less posts, idiot, and the posts you do, make them quality.  Quality is better than quantity!

And it is!  I’m not disagreeing.  A great feature of Word Press is that you are allowed to schedule posts in advance.  Many of my short posts are written and scheduled to appear on different days.  I write a bunch in…

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Inspiration

Here’s the kind of inspirational quote I can get behind.

“You could say this advice is priceless,” she said. “Are you listening?”

“Yes,” said Tiffany.

“Good. Now…if you trust in yourself…”

“Yes?”

“…and believe in your dreams…”

“Yes?”

“…and follow your star…” Miss Tick went on.

“Yes?”

“…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Good-bye.”

— The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

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.