productivity

A New Kind of 2016 Planner for Productivity with Gratitude

Happy new year, everyone! I’m trying an experiment and I’d love to have you join me in it.

I’ve designed a different kind of page-a-day planner that helps you overview your schedule and tasks while also cultivating gratitude, good habits, and human connection. I really built it for myself, but I think a lot of you would find it useful as well, and I’m interested in hearing how it works and how I can make the next one even better.

Here’s a link: The Wise Frog 2016 Planner

If you’re anything like me, you care a lot about productivity and setting good habits, but you also don’t want to be a task-oriented productivity drone. There’s a form of “success” that totally misses the point of life.

For me last year was very productive (published a few books, started Clickworks Press, published a couple other peoples’ books, etc.) but a lot of that came at the expense of time and attention I could have given my two-year-old girl, my wife, my close friends, and some non-book-related roles and responsibilities I have.

I basically spent a year completely obsessed with many layers of writing and publishing and selling stories, and while I think it was worth it as a short-term price for a long-term investment in my writing career, it’s not the pattern I really want my life to take.

Here’s where the experiment comes in.

I designed The Wise Frog 2016 Planner as a way to balance my day-to-day tasks and goals with what’s really important to me at a deeper level. I’m a systems guy, and it’s easy for me to make very streamlined to-do lists and productivity systems that keep me rushing toward the next release, next improvement, next success.

In fact, I can get so good at making a checked-off to-do feel like the win that I routinely put off playing with my lovely daughter or looking into my wife’s gorgeous eyes because I’m doing some dumb bit of coding or finalizing a table of contents or something. That is not the win.

So the Wise Frog is here to help. It’s a page-a-day planner with that is friendly and imperfect and has spots for my schedule, my big goals for the day, and also for gratitude, storytelling, tracking my human connections, working on habits, and jotting down ideas.

Even after one day of use I’m loving it. It’s built to not only plan ahead but also to note down a few key points of what my day was like so that over time I can look back and see patterns in my mood and activities and what I cared about. The spaces are small and focused and, as an obsessive, fiddly, over-achieving sort, it’s oddly refreshing to be able to fill them out in seconds (really to have to fill them out in seconds; there’s no room for an essay), and I’m already surprised at what a rich picture of my life they paint in just a few quick words.

It’s also crazy how much it has already changed my day. Today, unlike yesterday, I exercised and meditated and took time to reflect on how much I loved baking pretend pies with my daughter, all thanks to this little white day planner with a silly off-center frog on the cover.

So anyway, take a look, or share it with the people you know who might get value from something like this, and if you get one let me know how you used it and what kind of difference it made for you. (And, of course, how you’d make it better.) I look forward to hearing your stories.

Here’s the link again, where you can get a more detailed look: The Wise Frog 2016 Planner

Here’s to a brilliant new year! Thanks for all your love and support and interest. You guys are the best!

Cheers,

—Ben

May in Review + June Goals

Hi friends! May completely snuck up on me. Between a series launch, a string of family visits, and a heavy workload at the day job, I seriously didn’t even notice we were in a new month until about the 10th. It was, frankly, unsettling. Nevertheless, May was full of exciting developments. Let’s take a look.

May Accomplishments

1. Hubris Towers series launch!

Hubris Towers

Seriously! Go check it out!

Bill and I published Episode 1 of our new comedy series. It’s so good! You should totally read it!

  • Reader response has been phenomenal, with almost unanimous 5-star reviews to date. Brilliant!
  • First-month ebook sales were a little lower than I expected, but should pick up as we release new episodes.
  • The paperback Pocket Edition was surprisingly popular. I expected to sell a few to die-hard fans, but we sold dozens of them. Maybe because it comes with a free Kindle copy on Amazon. (Boom! Marketed.)

2. My first free promo I made The Stone & the Song free for two weekends in May, and—wow! Suddenly I understand why people use free promos!

  • My book hit #1 Free in Fairy Tales on the first day of the promo and stayed there for the rest of the weekend!
  • Downloads in the first day more than doubled my first month’s sales, and over the course of the two weekends I ended up with hundreds of downloads.
  • This is the first time I’ve definitively broken out of the friends-of-friends sphere of readers, and also resulted in my first (5-star!) review from a total stranger.
  • The first weekend did about four times as well as the second, and I have no idea why. Let me know if you have any theories or have seen similar results.

3. First multi-platform release The Stone & the Song is my KDP Select guinea pig, but long-term I definitely want to build up a robust cross-platform audience. Hubris Towers was my first multi-platform release.

  • So far, Hubris Towers is available on Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and Amazon.
  • So far no real traction on the non-Amazon platforms. I’m curious to see how this develops as the series matures and gains momentum. Still pretty sure it’s worth it long-term.

4. Released 2 more sections of the Dream World Collective

5. Wrote about 8,000 words of Hubris Towers Episode 2. (Now with Russians!)

  • Planned release date is June 13. That’s so soon!
  • This is by far the fastest-paced large-scale project I’ve attempted to date, and I’m really excited to see how that helps us build momentum.
  • Sign up here to get a reminder when it comes out

6. The Clickworks Press catalog is expanding! I can’t say too much yet, but I’m getting ready to release the first Clickworks Press book I didn’t write.

  • This is a game-changer. My plan from the beginning has been to make Clickworks Press bigger than me. Bringing in new authors makes it a fundamentally different kind of endeavor, and I’m so excited to be bringing in brilliant talent this early on.
  • Short-term, this helps authors streamline their publishing experience, cross-promote, and get more exposure. It points readers to great new reading experiences. It helps Clickworks Press develop legitimacy, flexibility, and a robust catalog. Long-term, just wait and see. We’ve got some incredibly cool ideas in the pipeline.
  • I’m still thinking through the details of the business model and I’d love to hear what you would find cool and useful. Drop me a line at byfaroe@gmail.com if you’re interested in brainstorming or have some ideas for me.

June Goals

That was long, so I’m going to keep this quick.

  1. Release Hubris Towers Season 1, Episode 2.
  2. Write 1/4 to 1/2+ of Hubris Towers Episode 3.
  3. Release more sections of The Dream World Collective.
  4. [Stretch] Set up a weekly auto-delivery system that will give people happy stories in their inbox.
  5. Iron out the first-phase Clickworks Press model.
  6. Investigate the costs and mechanisms of a Clickworks Press website that can support my super-cool ideas.
  7. [Possibly] Write more of The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Frobisher is the crème de la crème of my writing endeavors (which is saying something). It will not do to neglect it much longer.

What’s new with all of you? Anything I can get excited about with you? Tell me!

Cheers! —Ben

Sports as Myth, Catholicism on Homophobia, and a Very Sleepy Puppy

Hi friends!

Just a quick note to let you know I’ve got an article featured at Pints & Prose this week. You should check it out!

Here’s the link:

Everyone is Tired All the Time: A Challenge from Three Angles – We can’t all manage annoyingly chipper, but let’s at least get to tired-but-happy.

While you’re there, I also recommend the following:

If Christianity and/or LGBT issues matter to you: An Appendix to Raw Tact: A Catholic Perspective on Homophobia

If you like football, or don’t get why people like football: From Free Agency to the Draft: Football’s Season of Hope

If you’re a writer/artist: Calling All Creators

If you’re a gamer: Nat One Productions

It’s so cool to get to work with the guys at P&P. I’ve rarely met a group that’s simultaneously so brilliant in really varied and interesting ways, incredibly driven, and yet totally laid-back, unpretentious, and genuinely fun to hang out with. Really downright silly at times. I wish you could all come spend an evening with us and a good bottle of whiskey.

Anyone else have a great support network in your writing, thinking, or life in general? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about it.

Cheers!

—Ben

So Many Cool Things! Free Book, New Site, Call for Submissions, Series Launch

Hi friends!

Sorry to go incommunicado on you. May kind of snuck up and pounced. Also I have so many cool things going on that I didn’t even know where to start, so apparently I didn’t, but that’s no way to live. So here’s a quick rundown for now.

  • The Stone and the Song is free this weekend! If you like fairy tales, lyrical writing, living(ish) statues, or stories where the heroine does as much rescuing as the hero, now’s your chance to snap it up. (Click here to get it on Amazon.)
    • Super-cool sidenote: Last weekend was the first free promo I’ve ever done. The Stone and the Song hit #1 Free in Fairy Tales within 24 hours, and stayed there until the end of the promo! This time around it’s been hovering around the Top 10 so far, even without much promotion. Also got my first reviews from strangers, I’m pretty sure, including its 10th 5-star review!
  • Pints & Prose is live! I’m one of the founding editors and art director for Pints & Prose, a Baltimore-based creative laboratory. We’ve hosted local gatherings for years, and we officially launched our online presence earlier this month. It’s a place for writers, thinkers, and creators to create great work, enjoy it together, and share it with the world. I haven’t said anything about it because I didn’t want to be premature, but it’s been super-hard to stay quiet on this one. But now we’re live, and there are already some fantastic articles up, including a piece about why sports needs villains and a couple perspectives on the recent Baltimore riots. Check it out at pintsandprose.com!
    Ben Ponders the Pocket Edition

    The pocket edition is in my actual pocket!

    • Are you creative? We’re also looking for guest contributors, so if you’ve got great creative work to share with the world, submit it here and we’ll take a look.
  • Bill and I launched our new series, Hubris Towers! I feel like I haven’t shut up about this one, so I won’t go into it at length. Short version: I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve written lately. Early reviews seem to agree. Also the pocket edition is so cool! Learn more here or buy it on NookKobo, or Amazon (US Int’l).
    • Protip: Buy the pocket edition on Amazon and you get the Kindle edition free!

Brilliant!

I’m so grateful, as ever, to have you all along for the ride. Big things are happening, people. Leave a comment and let me know how you’re doing. I miss you.

Cheers!

—Ben

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

Jump-Start Your Writing With Ridiculously Easy Goals

I’m not a firm believer in writer’s block, but I have my tough writing days just like anyone else. Today’s one of them. Or rather, it’s becoming one because I’m forcing myself to work on Frobisher instead of Hubris Towers. Writing Hubris Towers is currently about like eating kettle corn. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs, I can’t help but write a few more. Frobisher, on the other hand, is getting so long and clever and funny and deep that it’s starting to feel like there’s no way I can bring it to a satisfactory fulfillment, and now I’m getting toward the end where I really need to figure out the extra-clever solutions to the very interesting problems I’ve been raising.

And the thing is, if I were to just sit down and write some stuff, it would probably be, on average, just as good as all the other stuff I’ve written, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t be, and I could delete it and write some more. It’s not like I’m facing bears or razor guns or something.

razor-gun by wiledog via DeviantArt

A razor gun, apparently.

But I managed to get myself into a mindset that’s more focused, I guess, on trying to figure it all out in advance rather than just writing it and giving myself more raw word count to shape into something exceptional. I’m finding every excuse and non-essential task I can find to avoid sitting down and actually writing.

It doesn’t help that my monthly target is looming, with 7,500 words left to write in the next few days (when I usually shoot for 5,000 per week).

I got out of it by making my goal easier. 7,500 more this month is too much to think about. Let’s start by adding 1,000 today. No, still intimidating. Maybe 500. Better, but that’s like half an hour unless I hit a groove, which isn’t looking likely. 250? Not at all scary, but what would I write? That’s still nearly a page and the whole point is I’m not sure what’s next

Bear in mind, of course, that if I were to just look at the page I’d probably manage to figure out what’s next. But so far I’m just arguing with myself while working on other things.

So I set a goal of 50 words. Seriously. That’s three minutes, one if I’m fast, five if I’m being ridiculous.

And it worked! Or at least it’s working. I’ve gotten moving on the writing, and as usual once I get out of my head and start spilling story it gets the flow going and soon I don’t want to stop.

There are a few reasons this works so well:

  • It cuts out the cost of trying – I can attempt 50 words any time I have a couple minutes to spare
  • It also cuts the cost of failing – who cares if I have to delete 50 words?
  • It gets my logistics in line – once I’ve done my 50 words, I have my tools in place and my Scrivener project open and ready for more
  • It forces me to look at what I’ve got so far, which gets me thinking about the story again
  • It provides an easy win. Once I’ve got 50 words (which is almost immediately), I can go for another 50. Then another. Then why not 100 this time? And by then I’ve finished 250 and that’s a quarter of a day’s production. A few more of those and I’m breaking actual targets.

So that’s what I’m dealing with today. Really am excited to see what I come up with for Frobisher now that the story’s open and growing again, though. In other news, I’m nearing completion on the paperback layout for The Stone and the Song. So much exciting in so little time! Stay tuned.

Cheers!

—Ben