writer

Striking Illustrations in a Modern Fairy Tale

ZYFA_DaggerRoseCover_120215v1prepressToday another Clickworks Press author discusses Kickstarter for authors (and illustrators), the value of fairy tales, and writing in community.

Keep reading: Bill Hoard

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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

Wrangling Your Author Platform

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a dilemma. The more immersed I get in doing a high volume of high-quality, interesting work, the more I totally forget to come up for air and share the latest news with anyone else who might be interested.

I’ll look up and three weeks went by and not a peep from me. And I’ll realize I should make a blog post or a friendly note to my mailing list or…you know, a Facebook post or something.

I feel like I’m alone in this—I mean, who has to make a discipline of Facebook in this day and age?—but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’re never the only person who has a certain problem.

I’m a systems guy, and this dilemma has been simmering in the back of my mind for a while, and I think I’ve finally developed a bit of a possible approach. I’ve been getting to the point where I feel an increasing need to wrangle or systematize my author platform a bit, given that I have presences all over the place and am intermittent on all of them and need to update several of them to, for example, indicate that I’ve published more than two things, or that Hubris Towers exists.

Here’s the approach that’s brewing for how to develop my author platform a little more strategically:

  1. Figure out all the places I communicate with readers. This includes my websites, mailing lists, author bios in various places, Wattpad, Patreon, social media, as well as things like calls to action (CTAs) in the backs of books.
  2. Decide what the point of each of them is and how often each one needs to get updated. For example:
    • Author bio in the back of a paperback probably never really needs to get updated. It’s clear it was written when the book came out.
    • Widgets on the side of my blog with links to buy my books should get updated when a new book comes out.
    • Facebook could use a couple updates a day, presumably.
    • Blog maybe every time I have something useful to say, though even that depends on what counts as ‘useful.’
      • Part of the question here too is whether blog is mainly for readers or mainly for authors or just for me and whatever I’m thinking about. Any of those could be valid, but as long as I’m not sure, I won’t be using it particularly well.
  3. Set up a quick schedule for when to touch each thing. This could get ridiculous really fast, so I think a light touch is important. But I have an (admittedly intermittent) system for tracking what I need to do and by when and such, so once I’ve figured out that I want to post to my blog once a week (or day or month or whatever), there’s no reason not to put that into the system. I’m a big fan of not having to remember stuff manually.
  4. (Optional ninja level) Make a list of topics to rotate through or provide inspiration and guidance for each thing. Speaking for myself, part of my real problem is that I don’t know what kinds of topics and scope are appropriate for each given platform. Do I tell my mailing list I’m having a baby? Do I spin out intriguing theories about the spirit world on my blog? Can I tell Facebook I’m feeling depressed and bad at writing, or do I need to keep on message? It may sound a little control-freakish, but I really think it would help me to be able to just look at a list of the 12 things I talk about on my blog/mailing list/Twitter and pick one, or (even better) have a few simple guidelines that help me pick through the thousand things on my mind and figure out which one(s) will be interesting and worthwhile to a given audience in the context of a given platform or medium.

What about the rest of you? For the authors and bloggers and brilliant social media-istas (?) out there, how do you keep track of what needs to be kept up to date? Do you keep lists of ideas for what to write about next? Do you write on a schedule or as your whimsy takes you?

Cheers!

—Ben

You Can Help Unleash Two Great Minds Upon the World!

Hi friends!

My friend Kate‘s husband Daniel just got accepted in to Yale Divinity School. Which is awesome! And really expensive. Please join me in helping them out at gofundme.com/helpdng. Even if you can’t give, sharing this message to help spread the word is huge help.

They’re a very promising young author and a very promising young theologian, respectively, and every dollar we can give now is multiple dollars of loans + interest they don’t have to pay back later, meaning we will have unleashed two great talents upon the artistic and intellectual world that much sooner.

I want skillful writers and thinkers to be able to do what they do in the world without having to be held back by massive debts and financial obstacles. If you agree, please join me in giving at gofundme.com/helpdng.

For great justice!
—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