The brick walls

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” -Randy Pausch

I came across this quote at Zen Pencils today, and it was just in time.

I’ve been dealing with some hurdles in the publishing process. I wanted to be coming to you with a release date by now, a date which I hoped would be very soon. That might still happen, but it’s coming down to the wire. I’m struggling to scale the wall, and I don’t know when I’ll make it.

But I will. The wall is there to stop other people. It will not stop me.

Save it for your daydreams

I once was talking to a young writer—I say young, though he was probably around my age—who watched anime, just as I do. We were talking about the stories we were working on, and at one point, he began tell me about his grand designs.

He wanted it to be an anime, done by this studio and with these seiyuu. He could see a live-action movie as well, and described how some of the special effects would look. He thought it could then make the leap to TV, and wondered how the story would have to be changed to fit that medium.

That’s when I stopped him. Okay, that’s a lie—I didn’t stop him at all. I probably changed the subject because I didn’t know how to respond. Allow me to indulge in a little l’esprit de l’escalier, and tell you what I should have told him then.

Whoa. Slow down. You’re getting ahead of yourself. If you’re writing a novel, focus on that. If you’re drawing a webcomic, focus on that. Bend your energy toward making what you’re doing right now a success, rather than expending all your energy looking forward.

And as for the movie or the TV show, save those for your daydreams. Save them for when you’re talking a break after a hard day of work, when you lean back and imagine “what if?” That’s fine. Daydreams can propel us forward, and be a pleasant indulgence after all our effort.

Then get back to work. No amount of looking to the future can make your dreams come true if you don’t do the hard work of taking the first steps right now.

Worth doing

“Just about everything worth doing is worth doing because it’s important and because the odds are against you. If they weren’t, then anyone could do it, so don’t bother.” —Seth Godin

In our stories, we venerate the heroes who triumph in the face of great odds. But what we don’t always realize is that they’re not heroes because they won. They’re heroes because they tried.

You won’t achieve greatness if you’re the same as everyone else. It takes doing the hard work that no one else will do, because it’s difficult, and because the results are uncertain.

Good. That’s the only work worth doing.

Goals & expectations

One of the challenges of my new private accountability system is that it gives me concrete goals. When I’m on track or ahead of the game, it’s great – I’m more productive when there’s some pressure, but not too much pressure. But when I get behind…

My muse I don’t do creative work well under pressure. The key, then, is to give myself plenty of time and get ahead of the game, because then I’ll fly along. But with a full-time job, side work, writing for RandomC, a social life, and everything else I do, this doesn’t always work. And when I get behind, I begin to flounder.

Here’s what I do when this happens: I remember that goals are me trying to impose my expectations of the future on the world. That’s great for getting things done, but reality is under no obligation to hew to my wishes.

When my expectations are helpful, I hold onto them tightly and let them propel me along, but when they’re not helpful, I let them go. I remind myself that my expectations were likely unreasonable, and it’s unreasonable to expect things to always go my way. I remind myself that getting mad and frustrated doesn’t help anything. I let go of my disappointment, my condemnation, my self-loathing. I let it all go, and then settle down to focus on what’s important.

I had a goal. If that goal was worthy, I’ll still work towards it, even if I have no chance of reaching it anymore. I let go, sit down, and do the work…and what do you know, my work invariably improves. I fail by less, if nothing else.

If your expectations are getting in the way doing what you want to do, let them go. You’ll be happier for it, whether you reach your goal or not.

Private accountability

In my ongoing battle for productivity, let me tell you about my latest weapon.

A few months ago, I told you about Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret about not breaking the chain. After that I began publicly tracking how long my “chains” were, but I stopped doing that a while ago. Why?

Because even though I’m not published yet, and am therefore not a professional, I prefer to act like I’m one, and I feel that constantly talking about how much I am (or am not) getting done is unprofessional. You just want to know a release date, right? So I stopped doing it. Or rather, I stopped telling you about it – I still write every single day, and my current chain is pretty long.

Back before that I tried another method of public accountability, giving myself public challenges and then updating you on how I did. Those were more effective because there was a clear win/lose result, but it still felt unprofessional to me. Professionals shouldn’t air their dirty laundry, they should just get it done.

So here’s what I’m doing now. I’ve think that the best accountability systems involve two different kinds of accountability: 1) social and 2) monetary or public. Since I feel like public accountability is unprofessional, I’m tapping into the other two.

I talked to my editor, and in exchange for keeping him accountable for his own business, I’m setting goals every week and having him take me to task if I miss them. That’s the social accountability, because if I screw up I now have to explain to him why I suck. It also gives me a specific goal, which is more effective than the nebulous “write every day”. As for monetary, right now I’m using the possibility of a monetary punishment being added to motivate me, but if I fail two or three times, I’ll start actually paying my editor every time I screw up.

So far the results have been great. I feel the whip at my back, but not in a bad way – I have a deadline, which is great for my personality, but the setup feels more professional to me since you all would have never heard about if I hadn’t gone out of my way to tell you. I’m getting a lot done, and having more fun too! If I can keep this up, I’ll get this book finished far faster than my recent (and frankly deplorable) pace would have allowed.

Do you know why some people think they “need” a job? Because bosses keep you accountable. And they do, but they’re not the only way. You can throw off the mandatory accountability system and replace it with one of your own choosing, so you can get just as much done (or more!) when it suits you best. I much prefer that, provided I can find one that works for me.

Hopefully this is it. If not, I’ll update you when I find it. It’s an ongoing battle.

Combo counter update – It’s going well, it’s going not so well

For those of you who recall my Don’t break the chain post, here’s an update:

Combo counter: Editing chain, 10 days. Writing chain, 0 days.

So in some ways it’s going well, and some ways not so much. On the one hand I’ve been keeping up with the editing, and it’s helping me make some serious progress through this draft. On the other, I’ve been completely falling down on writing new content, and my failing has gotten so consistent that missing another day doesn’t bother me that much anymore. Which is bad since that’s counter to the whole point.

In addition, I have one other concern – I’m not editing quickly enough. Editing is in some ways more difficult and tiring than writing, but right now it’s the most important thing I need to focus on because I want to present this book to you. But at the pace I’m going it will be intolerably long before it even gets to the rest of my proofreaders and a copy-editor, and I don’t like that.

So I’m making a few changes.

First of all, I’m increasing my editing goal to 2,000 words a day. This alone might be too much for me, what with my full-time job and the occasional social life, but 1,000 just isn’t enough. Besides, even if I end up missing the mark once or twice, I think failing at a bigger goal will bring me closer to my true goal than taking it easy would. It’s worked before.

Next, I’m going to keep my writing goal at 1,000 words a day. However, I’m going to add RandomC posts into that total. Blogging for Random Curiosity simply takes too long, and while I absolutely love doing it, I have no prayer in hell of generating any other content after writing one. No big deal though, because blogging for RC is generating new content for publication, it just doesn’t happen to be fiction. Close enough.

So that’s my new plan. One caveat: If generating new content still proves to be too much with everything else I’m doing, I’ll drop that in favor of concentrating on editing. If that happens, I’ll edit this post accordingly. I’ll try not to though, because I want to have more stuff on the way when the first book comes out. Being selfish is a lot of work, apparently.

Wish me luck.

Edit: I’ve tried it some more, and a pattern has emerged – switching from one story to another in a single day doesn’t work. Who would have thought, eh? But when one story only needs editing and the other only needs writing, for me to do both in a single day I have to work on both stories.

Since that wasn’t working well, I’m switching to the following for my goal: Either write 1K words (goal: 2K) or edit 2K words (goal: 3K). If I hit either one, I get my writing check mark for the day. That’ll keep it nice and simple, and the more I hew to my goals rather than my minimums, the faster this book will be done. Huzzah!

Don’t break the chain

I’ve been struggling with my motivation lately. Actually, that’s only partily true – it’s motivation + a changed work situation that have thrown my old routines into disarray. But what’s an excuse, and those aren’t useful. What I need are solutions.

Two things. First, I refer you to Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret. Side note: Though he revealed on his recent AMA that he didn’t come up with it, I’m sticking with the name because it’s how I remember it. Sorry Jerry, you’ll just have to continue being an inspiration. I’m sure you’ll manage somehow.

When I finally finished the first draft of my book, it was largely thanks to Mr. Seinfeld’s productivity framework, which allowed me to make steady gains each and every day. 1,000 words a day, get a streak going, don’t break the chain. It works.

But I haven’t been using it since. When I moved from only generating content to heavily editing it as well, the productivity trick didn’t work as well. Or maybe I didn’t think it would, so I didn’t keep it up. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I’m reviving it, and once again I would like your help.

Every day I’m challenging myself to do two things: write 1,000 words of new content, and edit (or rewrite) 1,000 words of previous content. (By the way, only writing/editing my fiction counts – blogging is extra.) Then, on every post I publish here or on Random Curiosity, I’m going to put my current total for the two chains at the bottom of the post where everyone can see them.

If you know me, you know why I’m doing this. When I’m only answering to myself it’s easy to take a day off or let a short chain lapse, but when I have to tell all of you that I’ve been slacking off…well, that’s another story. I hope to once again harness the power of pride and public shame to keep me going, but I’ll need your help to do it. Oh, you don’t have to do much; just keep reading what I post and silently judge me when I falter. Just knowing you’re watching makes all the difference.

I’m probably biting off more than I can chew. I’ve never both written new content and edited this consistently. I’m probably being too ambitious–but no, those are excuses too. I need solutions. I need action.

Writing chain: 0 days long; Editing chain: 1 day long.

I have some work to do.

On writing fast, writing well

I’ve given myself three challenges since I started this blog, two of which I succeeded at, and one of which I failed. Today I realized another difference between them: while the first two were editing challenges, the latest one was a writing challenge. It was also the one I enjoyed the least,

To me there’s a major difference between writing and editing. Writing is the fun part, where the artist in me gets to play around and do all the fun creative stuff I so enjoy. The first draft is always the worst, but in many ways it’s the most fun because I’m still figuring out the story myself.

Editing is work. It’s not bad work, I don’t grumble too much when I’m doing it, but it’s still work. Editing is what separates a mediocre writer – or perhaps a good writer who never finishes – from those who can go further, because it’s in editing where a story is fixed, tweaked, refined, and polished into something fit for human consumption. It’s still work though, and not nearly so fun as playing around.

The difference between writing and editing speaks to why my previous challenges worked so well, while this one felt so onerous. When I was faced with work (editing), I was grateful for the extra incentive because it kept me from slacking off. But when I was faced with fun (writing), I resented the deadline. It squashed my creativity, stopped me from considering other possibilities, and turned what was usually fun into work.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo. Understand that I don’t have anything against it, it’s just not for me. I don’t have a problem writing or plotting out a story, and I will finish what I start; it’s writing a good story that concerns me, something breakneck speed is not conducive towards. When the pressure is on you can’t sit back and ruminate, you can’t turn back and rewrite, and you can’t junk entire tracts of story when you realize they’re not working. No, you have to keep running, lest the deadline’s whips find you.

Also, that’s not even taking into account the fact that difficult quotas are ineffective and demotivational for most people. But that’s another post.

I think when it comes to fiction some urgency is needed, otherwise the work will never get finished and you’ll never be able to read it. Creativity actually can be rushed, and sometimes it needs to be. It needs to be rushed later in the process though. Early on and it threatens to destroy the reason I enjoy writing at all.

P.S. As for this latest short story, even though it was rushed I think it turned out well. I won’t really know until I go back and edit it though. After all, that’s where the real work begins.

One short story, one week – buzzer beater

Another challenge completed, and this one ended in victory. I wrote my second short story in the universe shared by my novel in one week, but damn if it wasn’t a near thing.

I have things to talk about – why I was barely able to hit the goal, some lessons learned, etc. – but it’s late (early?) and I used the last bit of today’s effort hitting the goal. I may edit this post or I may make a new one, so check back in soon. For now just know that your judging eyes once again spurred me on to hit my goal, for which I thank you.

Now I shall sleep. It’s good to do that sometimes, I’m told.

Writing challenge – one short story, one week

I haven’t done a writing challenge in a while, and surprise of surprises, my writing speed has dropped in their absence. I think it’s about time I fixed that.

Related: I got the promised feedback from my editor this past Saturday, and after I shrugged off the hangover from that night’s (unrelated) festivities, I took a peek yesterday. I have so many edits to make! *cries* Fortunately his feedback is really helpful – it illuminated a lot of problems I didn’t realize I had, and will force me to fix others I always suspected but didn’t want to believe.

But first I have unfinished business. In my last update I said I was planning to churn out another short story before I went back to editing, and while I really want to say “screw that!” and get back to the novel immediately, I am a man of my word. Or at least I’d like to be. Thus, it’s time for a challenge!

My goal: write a good first draft of the second short story in one week. The challenge will start today, Nov 11th, and will end next Monday, Nov 18th.

I have no idea whether this will be a hard one or not – the story shouldn’t be long, but if my current plan ends up not working then my plans could be shot. All I know is that the challenge is now out there, and I don’t want to lose. I’d better get to work!