Category Archives: Skills

Numbers Are For More Than Pages

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Being a writer, on the side or professionally, requires a lot of skills. A self-publisher wears many hats, but even authors with agents and support have to take on tasks other than writing. Of those many skills, one stands out as very important and easy to miss – Math.

People have widely differing reactions to hearing “we’re going to talk about math.” Trust me, it’s worth it whatever your response is – because math is used everywhere in an author’s work.

A writer’s growth requires math to be measured – and improved. Comparing word counts lets you determine if your typing speed is improving. Time taken to edit a document helps you determine if your grammar is improving. Becoming a better writer may mean being better at math.

But once you’re writing, math comes in again as you plot a schedule. How long will it take you to write this chapter for your pre-readers? How long until you need to get a cover from your artist? Scheduling is all math – often made more challenging with timezones, calculating dates, and the like.

As a book progresses, math once again comes to the fore. How fast are you working? What’s the percentage of a book done? Do you have to change your schedule or speed up your pace? Scheduling is math – but so is seeing how you’re doing.

When a book is done, there comes more math. How many pages is a book, and how does that affect cover size? What’s the ideal formatting with font sizes and margins? If you do self-publishing and don’t outsource formatting and the like, get out your calculator.

Finally, a book launches. It’s out and . . . here comes more math. You have to calculate if your ad spends are paying off. Evaluating book sales requires math, often with complex date-time calculations. Your newsletter opens and clicks need to be compared to past events – which means math.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it? When I first realized I had to write this column, I was overwhelmed with the realization of just how much math my own publishing involved. I was so used to it I didn’t see it – until I wrote this.

If you like math like me, or don’t, this should be a helpful realization. Math is a skill you need to use in writing, and if your math skills are lacking you have a new motivation to improve them. Math makes a better author.

Steven Savage

Why I Wrote It: Skill Portability

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Skill Portability is an book that comes out of a weird phase of my career writing. It’s a lovely little book, but one I didn’t intend to write until I thought about it.

Many years ago I had an obvious insight on my writing – a good writer keeps writing books. It improves skills, it shares knowledge, and it gets your name out there. As I wrote about careers as well as creativity, I asked myself “what more should I write.”

That’s when I realized that a major part of career advice is transferring skills between one job and another. This is important in general, but moreso for my audiences of fans and geeks – people who want to move their interesting skillset elsewhere. That’d be a great book . . .

. . . because I’d already written it.

Many, many years ago I had written a series of columns on transferring skills between jobs, careers, and even hobbies. I had thought of it as done, but really, sitting on my blog they weren’t doing much (and they’d aged a bit).

But reviving these columns? Expanding them and rewriting them? That had potential for a new book and for helping people even more.

But were they good enough? Well, yes – because I’d already had a system.

The columns themselves outlined a system to analyze how useful skills were – called DARE. It stood for Direct, Advantageous, Representative, or Enhancing – four categories of skills people have. A pile of columns is one thing that may or may not be “bookworkthy” – but one with a system? Something with structure can be built on.

An organized way of thinking about anything, from recipies to job skills, is something that people appreciate. A system allows people to easily understand and employ whatever you’re teaching them. A system also helps one structure something for communicating – like, say a book.

It didn’t take much to turn the columns into a more comprehensive book, and one that’s a nicely useful and light guide.

The real lesson here is that if you think of taking previous writing and expanding it, it helps if it has some organized format to begin with. A system like the above leads to a book. A short story with good structure can be the center of a novel. Structure is a sign you might want to take something farther.

Conversely, if you are writing something or creating something you might think of expanding, consider how it’s organized. Build a system to organize your writing. Put parts of a speech into a clear mnemonic. Something to give it form – because that form can be more easily built on.

Also I’m glad to write up this blog post – because it helps me see the value of the forms I build so automatically. This nice little book wouldn’t have existed without my habitual organization.

Hmmm, maybe another lesson on writing is write on why you write . . .

Steven Savage

You’re Doing It Wrong

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I hurt my back recently – nothing big – but I did need some physical therapy. It’s been going great, but then the therapist told me something that blew my mind – I was walking wrong.

This news was a bit stunning, as I’ve been walking for decades and figured by now I was pretty good at it. But apparently, the way I was carrying myself wasn’t helping my back and made things worse. It was weird, but a few changes in how I held myself, and I had a noticeable difference in my discomfort.

On top of everything else I’d done to myself, I’d started – or had been – walking wrong. This gave me pause for thought – followed, of course, by a pause for blogging.

There’s a lot of things we do that we’re used to, skills that are habits. They’re instinctive and automatic, and we’re probably pretty good at them. Just like my walking – but it could be cooking, driving, writing, etc.

But just because we’re good at something doesn’t mean we can’t end up doing it wrong.

We could end up adopting bad habits over time, slowly corrupting our abilities with bad choices. We miss the point where our practices outweighed our skill – perhaps our attempts to cook quickly lead us to make poorer dishes.

A crisis or bad experience could lead us to bad choices. Perhaps we restrain ourselves, or overdo something, or avoid a challenge. My back injury seemed to result in my favoring my back the wrong way.

Perhaps we don’t practice our skills or avoid a challenge, and our abilities weaken. They can’t support our ambitions or our goals. We use them, but not enough, not in the right way, and they fade and become fragile.

Or maybe we become too strict in our practice, too linear. We’ve got checklists and outlines, policies and procedures. We become stiff and unyielding in our ideas, and even though we do things, somehow nothing gets done.

We can all become bad at things we are expert at doing. Even walking.

This is why it’s essential to practice and keep learning, no matter what we do. This is why it’s good to ask questions when you have a problem with something that’s normal or something you were once good at doesn’t seem to be going well. Those things we do well may change.

Here’s your assignment – what’s something you’re really good at, and how do you ensure you stay good at it? Think it over . . .

Steven Savage