Steve’s Update 8/28/2017

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

It’s my weekly Scrum style standup for my audience, so where am I?  Besides on time thank goodness.

So what have I done the last week?

  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet”: I hope to have Chapter 6 out this week.
  • Way With Worlds Minibook: The next book, on Food and Cuisine, is done!  Go get it at Amazon!
  • Seventh Sanctum: The new Fantasy Game Name generator is out!
  • Art: On top of all that, I’m doing my practice book covers – they’re now on my tumblr.
  • General: A few less social events this week – I almost welcome that.  Also planning for the next month!

What am I going to do this week:

  • Way With Worlds Minibook #4 I may start this week – but I may need a break.
  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” Pretty much keep at it.  I’ve set a pace for myself.
  • Other: I plan to enjoy the four-day weekend!  I do want to get some other work done.

Challenges:

  • Nothing really standing out right now – fortunately!

– Steve

Latest Generator: Fantasy Game Generator!

Been awhile team, sorry I haven’t made anything lately – summer got weird.  So I want to finish off the year with some fun ones!

The first is the Fantasy Game Generator.

Let’s try stuff like:
  • Battlements and Ballistas
  • Bows and Bravery
  • Courage and Castles
  • Explorers and Enchanters
  • Hellspawn and Halflings
  • Paladins and Plots
  • Prophecy and Potions
  • Saints and Scrolls
  • Swords and Sphinxes
  • Witches and Wanderers

Enjoy!

  • Steve

A Writer’s Life: Cover Me II: Electric Boogaloo

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Sorry for all the delays in actually posting on writing.  been a weird few weeks.  So I want to talk about Book Covers again – with an interesting exercise.

I was thinking about my future writing plans.

First, the covers for the new Way With Worlds books were OK, but I realized I didn’t have the skills/intuition to have made them jazzier.  In fact, I wasn’t sure they needed to be jazzier, and realized I lacked artistic insights.

Secondly, I’ve considered revising and updating some past books, and that would mean covers.  For some I didn’t want to go purchase new art, especially for more niche works.

Third, my “Big Books” usually have paid art.  But what of smaller books, or less “eventful” books?  Sure I could buy a cover, but I had some skills, so why couldn’t I make better covers?

Thus, I set myself a project – to build 30 covers in gimp (because I am cheap) before the end of the year if not earlier.  This way I’d at least have the skills to make a decent book cover, and more than enough skills for books that might not need something jazzier.

I did this by:

  1. Using the free photos at pixabay.com when I need them.
  2. Looking at various book covers and seeing what I could learn from them about what made them “work” – from classic sci-fi to cheese romance.
  3. Finding new gimp techniques and trying them out.
  4. Trying to duplicate different genres and feels.

You can see the results at my tumblr, and I think I’ve definitely gotten better.  In fact, the improvement rate has been pretty remarkable.

This is a great technique to improve anything – build a project with no “critical deliverable” but a goal and try it out.  It could be used for more than just covers – it could be for writing, cooking, and so on.  Take what you want to learn and make a fun project out of it.

However for you indie artists, this may be worth trying yourself.  All you need is the gimp and some photos.  If you build enough skills, then you’re just some time and maybe a royalty-free (or self-taken) photo away from a book cover.

 

– Steve

MVP and Anxiety (My Agile Life)

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

This is an odd post. In some ways it’s about psychology. In some ways it’s about my use of “Agile” and Scrum  in my life. Either way, I think you’ll find it valuable, even if you’re not reading those posts.

Imagine that you have a problem to solve, but you’re not sure how to solve it. Worse, this situation is complicated by having many options – a common problem in a wired age with so much at our fingertips. You’re paralyzed by choice and fear of the wrong choice – so what do you do and how do you get out of this?

There is a solution – and one that comes from Agile and Lean techniques. Yeah, I know, trust me on this and keep reading.

The solution is something called Minimum Viable Product or MVP. In software and general terms, it means something that delivers the minimum needed to go to market and satisfy customers and get feedback. To get an MVP you carefully look over what you have to do, pick the effective minimum for the audience, and get it done right.

In fact, an MVP may be all you need for a while. Consider how many people or companies use bare-bones web pages with nice graphics and don’t need any more. You can apply this philosophy to your life.

To use MVP in your life, from plumbing to writing, ask yourself what is the minimum you need to do well to get something complete and ready. Sit down, list your concerns or needs or whatever, pick only the ones that must be done, and do them. You’ve solved your problem, and if it’s not perfect, you can tweak it later if you need to.

(And yes, that’s over-simplified, but it’s enough to get you started.  MVPs for products get more complex.)

Here’s a few examples:

  • You want to have premade lunches for a week so you make a big pot of chili and garnish it differently each day. Next week you might cook two different meals at once, but this is done for the week so you can relax.
  • You want to get a chapter of a book to an editor, so you make sure it’s clearly readable without fiddling with it endlessly. The editor can take it the rest of the way so you’re not caught in a writer’s panic.
  • Traffic is crazy due to construction, so you find a path to work that, if not the fastest, is the least likely to be congested. For the rest of the month your commute is longer than usual, but it’s predictable.

These solutions are not perfect but they are good enough and they get you on your way. In some cases they’ll save you time from worrying more than doing.

The other benefit of MVP is that going for the MVP prevents what’s called paralysis through analysis in the business world – overthinking. MVP gets you on your way and moving forward. In turn, the fact you are at least done means you can reflect on what you did, what you need, and improve things later. Sometimes you don’t even know what you need until you’ve done something after all.

In many cases – especially in life – the MVP is all you need for a long time, maybe forever. Sure you repainted the bedroom the exact same color, you didn’t spend hours debating colors like “Thupe” and “Preamble Brown”. Yes, the report at work could look a bit better but no one cares about the cover color. MVP can often bring you back to reality as well as keep you from anxiety.

Next time you have to fix something or do something, think about the MVP. It’ll focus you on value, keep you from over-elaborating, and reduce anxiety.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve

Civic Diary 8/22/2017

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

Yes, it’s time for my latest Civic Diary.  So where am I in my efforts to be a better citizen?

First, as always, holding my ground with my online work with a local political group, doing their Facebook page.

What I realized recently is that a lot of political groups that get established sort of stop innovating.  I’m there running the engine and so on, but I’m not just there to do that I’m there to innovate.  So I’m already taking what I’ve learned in author promotionals and using it on their page – add polls, roundups, and more.  I’m also calling a meeting to address social media – and probably have to make that every month or two.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t just run the engine in your activism, innovate.

Some of my other groups have taken a break this month, so we’ll see where they are next month.  Just in case, I’m tracking others I may want to join.  I haven’t quite found a “home” yet, except for the above-mentioned older group.  So always keep auditioning.

TAKEAWAY: Keep up your activism until you find a home – but don’t give up.  However . . .

I did have to take a break from my usual large amount of calls simply as I had so many events I’d become kind of exhausted.  So I didn’t do much calling later last week and don’t plan to start of this week.  That helped a lot – then again, man, have the last weeks been weird.

However, doing this kinda felt good as I saw how active others are in these times.  It helps to appreciate everyone else wants to change the world too.

TAKEAWAY: Take a break now and then from your activism.  It may let you see how others are doing.

I also keep myself on various activism mailing lists, so getting back on top of things is easy.  Those act as great reminders.

TAKEAWAY: Join some activist mailing lists.  It’ll help prod you – or jump back in.

Finally, I’ve found there’s a place that teaches Op-ed writing.  I’m thinking of taking it because let’s face it, I write.  Maybe I can use that to make more of a difference.  Plus a lot of op eds I see these days are shit.

TAKEAWAY: Seek out ways to use your unique skills in citizenship.

– Steve

Steve’s Update 8/21/2017

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr)

It’s my weekly Scrum style standup for my audience, so where am I?

First of all, on time.  Sorry about my delays folks.

So what have I done the last week?

  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet”: Churning away, working on getting a good pace.  Right now we have a demon, spies, and Scintilla’s ability to smuggle some very deadly weapons between worlds.  Also sarcasm, because how do you react when someone in the most obviously Evil Cult Robes hands you a book.
  • Way With Worlds Minibook: The next book, on Food and Cuisine, is formatted and ready to drop!  So this weekend is queuing it up and getting marketing together.  Looking good so far – and my editor is really knocking it out of the park.
  • Seventh Sanctum: I did NOT get to the new generator as I had a few more bits of code change to put in to improve error reporting.  Anyway, that all looks pretty good.
  • Art: Wait, art?  Yep, I’m trying a side project to practice my graphic skills by designing fake book covers.  I might share them and what I learned doing them.
  • General: This was a social-heavy week – honestly I’m a bit burnt out from it.  Plus side, got to marathon season four of RWBY which is, of course, awesome.

What am I going to do this week:

  • Way With Worlds Minibook #3: Get it done and probably out.
  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” Keeping up my writing pace and finishing chapter 6 hopefully!
  • Generators: Really I want to release the damn generator.
  • Other: Lots of end-of-month cleanup here, so that may occupy me.

Challenges:

  • Worst thing was pushing myself socially – I need to take breaks AND take breaks from big social events.  It’s not easy to be honest.
  • I haven’t taken time to do my posts on writing – and am kind of not sure how I let that fade.  I think I queue up posts so early I sometimes don’t budget time if I don’t have something 2-3 weeks ahead to go.  I’ll need to think that over.

– Steve

Steve’s Update 8/15/2017

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

It’s my weekly Scrum style standup for my audience, so where am I?

Well this one is late –  man I have to be more careful.  Though Monday was a bit nuts.

So what have I done the last week?

  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet”: Chapter #5 is out, with cops, secrets, demons, and more.  Marigold, Scintilla, and Beacon find out more about Shalen, while Briar Lindel contemplates bad recruiting and living with a teammember with magic-potion-induced flatulence.
  • Way With Worlds Minibook: The edits are done, the cover is mostly done (I just have to go to the final photo).
  • General: I added some better error checking to the Sanctum so people get less annoying 404’s – apparently someone revived a bunch of REAL OLD links (try 3-7 years) somewhere.  My guess is a few sites went live again or links got copied over.

What am I going to do this week:

  • Way With Worlds Minibook #3: Finish the cover and get it publishing-ready!
  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” Going to take a break writing for a few days due to my schedule, but then back at it!
  • Generators: OK I didn’t release that new generator, let’s see if I can get it done.

Challenges:

  • The unexpected issues have damped down, so cross your fingers.

– Steve

My Agile Life: Be Your Own Best Boss

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

One of the better bosses I had, when seeing a report I had created, noted “Now I understand where we are and I’m worried.”

Why do I say he was a better boss? Because his reaction to seeing disturbing data was to then figure out what to do. He didn’t kill the messenger (me) or berate the team (everyone else).  So, solve the problem.

This provided what’s known as Psychological Safety (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_safety), feeling I and we could take risks.  Ironically I was laid off a few months later – as was he – due to other reason.  I felt so bad for him being laid off I forgot my own feelings of annoyance.

Psychological Safety is crucial for good management and good Agile.  Agile philosophy and methods depend on feedback and authenticity so people can respond, communicate, and improve.  Without that it will fail -and trust me, I’ve seen some doozies.

In personal Agile, you’re everyone – the boss, the product owner, the scrum master, the team, the analyst, etc.  Psychological Safety seems to be a bit irrelevant here.

But I realized it’s not.

Ever berate yourself for mistakes?  Ever beaten yourself up over missing something?  Hard on yourself?  You probably have done all of this – you haven’t provided yourself with psychological safety.  You’re being the Bad Boss to yourself.

This is very common.  This is probably near-universal.  I’ve encountered many people who beat themselves up constantly, and worse of all excuse it.  They’re their own battered spouse, their own abusive parent, their own tormentor.

Honestly, a lot more of us probably need to be in therapy.  But back to Agile before this gets too depressing.

To be productive, you need Psychological Safety, even in your own personal life.  How can you achieve that?  A few things I’ve found:

  • * Honesty.  Be honest with yourself self, admit your mistakes and flaws and issues.
  • * Cooperation.  Work with yourself to improve.  Coach yourself.  “You” are on the same team.
  • * Enablement.  Help yourself get better so you don’t repeat mistakes and can improve.
  • * Review.  Review what you do to improve what you do.  It becomes regular, it becomes habit.
  • * Empathy.  Let yourself “feel” what you feel, its like having empathy for others but you’re taking a look at yourself.
  • * Humor and fun.  Learn to have fun, let yourself have fun, enjoy things.

It’s not easy.  But it’s better than the alternative.

Being your own worst enemy is, well, the worst.  This is because you can never get away from yourself.  How about being a good manager to yourself instead?

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve

My Agile Life: Overwork

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s LinkedIn, and Steve’s Tumblr)

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

Uhg.  So as you know from my blogging about agile techniques, I’ve been getting overloaded.  I’m trying to fix this with some success.  So here’s what I’ve been trying.

  • Velocity.  Velocity, the measure of work done in a timeframe, is a big part of Scrum.  One reason to measure it is to see what you can do – but another is to make sure you’re not overloaded.  I can tell my usual workload doesn’t quite work out, so I’m trying to reduce it a bit here and there.  EXAMPLE: Restructuring how much I put into a given project a month.
  • Effectiveness.  Do things better.  I’ve found you can also save time just by doing stuff better.  EXAMPLE: I made graphic templates for upcoming graphic work.
  • Letting go of the schedule.  Work done on time doesn’t matter if it’s poorly done.  You have to re-evaluate and re-assess your schedules and in some cases dispose of them entirely.  EXAMPLE: I had some library donations to make that kept getting interrupted, so I had to accept “it gets done when it gets done.”
  • Iterativeness.  The flipside of efficiency is to not try to be perfect.  Some things are iterative, things you do over and over or regularly.  These can be improved, or mistakes compensated for.  EXAMPLE: Cleaning.  If I miss a hard water stain in the shower it won’t kill me as I’ll fix that next week.
  • Capture.  Be sure to capture any big blocks of time you want to use for something.  EXAMPLE: I have some convention speaking coming up so I literally put it in my schedule as a big block of time to note “I will be doing nothing else then.”
  • Sizing.  I’m sticking with the Fibonacci numbers for sizing my work – in hours – as it seems to produce better estimates.

I’ve also looked at things that mess up my planning and scheduling and productivity.  The Antipatterns.  They are

  • Loading Up.  When you find your maximum velocity of work, it doesn’t mean it’s what you should do.  It’s what you’re capable of when you push yourself.  What is you sustainable rate?
  • Lumping.  When possible break things down so you can calculate your workload – and because it lets you adapt better.
  • Missing lumps.  Some things are just purely about a time commitment, like “setting aside X hours to relax.”  Some things are better lumped together just so you’re not micromanaging.
  • Not looking at value.  When you do something ask what makes it useful – believe me there’s some surprises in there.
  • Bad Deadlines.  Again, deadlines should serve quality, not the other way around.
  • No goals.  When you don’t have goals, you can’t plan.  We often substitute panic, deadlines, etc. for goals – those aren’t goals.  Goals are positive.
  • Done over quality.  Doing something fast poorly can be worthless.
  • Rigidity.  Agile methods are about embracing change, and if you have to keep things rigid, you’re not Agile.  You need to find ways to be adaptable.

Hope these help you out.  Something to look out for in your own life – and anyone you manage.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve

Steve’s Update 8/7/2017

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, www.SeventhSanctum.com, and Steve’s Tumblr)

It’s my weekly Scrum style standup for my audience, so where am I?

First, apologies for missing another start-of-month update two months in a row.  It’s like I forget to do a post on those times, and will try not to do that.

So August’s goals are pretty much get out the Way With Worlds Book 3, keep writing “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet,” and I may get out a generator or two.

So what have I done the last week?

  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet”: Chapter #4 was released to my pre-readers.  Remember if you want to pre-read, let me know.  Plus I also integrated a lot of feedback – what I’m doing is, as feedback comes, reviewing past chapters to correct any mistakes or common mistakes.  Definitely helped, but a bit draining.
  • Blogging: I recorded more blog posts – so as you can guess, more is coming!  I have some pretty interesting stuff coming up!
  • Speaking: I spoke at Kin-Yoobi con (and really I gotta post the Asian Cooking Hacks handout).

What am I going to do this week:

  • Way With Worlds Minibook #3: I’m going to do the cover and hopefully the edits.
  • “A Bridge To The Quiet Planet:” General writing, finish up Chapter 5 and probably do some more fleshing around of the plot to incorporate some changes I came up with.
  • Generators: I’ve actually got a new generator queued up and I plan to launch it.  I think I may do “funnier” generators for the rest of the year, take a bit of a break.

Challenges:

  • Fair warning this month opened with a lot of unexpected issues; friends moving, friends having job changes, friends with family health issues, etc.  So I might see some interruptions.

– Steve