Tag Archives: agile

The Importance Of Not Doing

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

Do you have a schedule and plans? Daily plans? Weekly plans? Do you do them – them decide “well, I’ve got a bit more time” and go farther? Do you then realize . . . maybe you’re overdoing it?

Then do you try to not overdo it and still fail, going beyond your plans to do even more and burning out?

I had a realization about this recently as I was trying to keep up my daily schedule. I use schedules to keep myself focused during the Pandemic, and they’ve helped me “anchor” myself in these strange times. But I noticed on a day I was getting everything done, I asked what more could I do.

Then I caught myself. Why did I want to do more? Why couldn’t I stop?

Then I realized something. Schedules are not just ways to ensure things get done – they’re ways of setting limits so you don’t burn out. Part of the reason you have a schedule is to tell you what not to do or when to stop.

And of course, this ties into two parts of the Agile Manifesto. If you didn’t think I was going to tie this to Agile, you must be new here. Welcome aboard.

Anyway, in the Agile Manifesto, the tenth Agile Principle states “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” I always liked this as it was a good reminder to avoid unneeded tasks and technology. But recently I realized this applies to your schedules and plans – there’s a time to stop and not do things.

This also ties into the eighth Agile Principle: “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Good, sustainable work is at a pace you can keep up. This means not just being sustainable, but asking if you need to do something, removing things from your plans or not putting them in. Make a schedule that works for you, and remember that there is a time to not do something. Sure you may do it later, but you don’t have to do it now.

In fact, celebrate the fact you set limits! That should be one of your goals. Being able to not do something effectively is a success – you have time to rest, recuperate, and come up with the next neat thing to do . . .

Steven Savage

Writing And Metaphor

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

What’s Your Metaphor for writing?

Returning to fiction with my novel, A Bridge To the Quiet Planet and its upcoming sequel, a School of Many Futures, required me to think about writing a lot. Thinking about writing, how to conceive of it, how to pace it, how to develop it helps you, well, write. A metaphor gives you tools to think in and ways to improve.

For nonfiction I think of it in abstract, visual forms. I’m so used to writing it and have for so long that my metaphors are things I see and feel. Perhaps once I had to use more concrete terms, but time makes things unconscious and automatic, and I don’t remember.

But fiction? That was harder because I’d not thought about – and when I was rethinking my writing methods, I realized I was treating fiction as a “physical” thing.

You’ve heard me talk about “Big Rocks” as pieces of fiction and plot. I’ve discussed Agile and stories, but Agile comes from physical manufacturing and store stocking – it often has “physical” ideas built in. I treated stories and chapters as scenes as boxes containing various events.

Did these limit me? Hell yes, because fiction – and indeed a lot of writing – probably isn’t best thought of in physical metaphors. It’s too limiting, too atomistic, too confining.

Now how did I realize this? Because I was analyzing writing (as I always do) and realized how important editing is, and editing requires a product. You make something then improve it.

Writing fiction is like writing computer code.

Computer code is more a living thing, with components and distinct parts, but it works because all its parts come together. It’s about flows of information and functionality. Best of all, as long as you have it working – no matter how awful – you can improve in. In fact, you often have to make bad code to get good code because you don’t know how it’s going to work until you have something.

Seeing this metaphor, this new metaphor, really helped me get over some of my writing challenges. Thinking about the parts of a fictional story as physical started to fade away. I had a way to see things differently.

My metaphor or metaphors may not be yours. Even my more abstract ways of thinking are my ways, not yours. But a challenge to you, my writing friend, is to find what metaphors help you write. What is a good way to compare writing to something else that helps you?

Maybe you have it. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you just thought of it and have more to explore . . .

Steven Savage

A Thought On Scrum And Story Plotting

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

As you are painfully aware, unless you have never heard of me, I’m big into applying Agile to creative methods. Writing nonfiction, however, has eluded me – but I may have had a useful breakthrough.

First, assuming you somehow didn’t know anything about me beyond my name, an explainer. Agile is an approach to projects that emphasizes adaptability, adjustment, communication, and not-overdoing. It’s most common variant is Scrum, which I practice in my career as a Scrum Master – which surprisingly is not a minor He-Man villain, but a kind of process improvement enabler.

Second, if you wonder who I am, I’m obsessed with creative improvements and development. I kinda write on it a lot – so I like reconciling creativity and Agile.

But as for taking Agile, specifically my beloved Scrum, and applying it to fiction? I’ve been challenged. First, let’s take a look at Scrum.

  • Scrum at its very basics is this:
  • A backlog of stuff ranked in order of importance – these are called Stories.
  • One takes a timeframe (called a Sprint), takes a certain amount of stuff from the backlog, and does it. Sprints are usually the same size, and usually have themes – they produce deliverable results. You focus just on the Sprint.
  • At the end of the Sprint, you re-evaluate your work, apply lessons, and do it again.

Scrum sometimes is extended in various ways. One of my favorites is “Epics” – groups of related Stories. There are also various scaling methods and so on.

On one level, you can see how Scrum may help a writer. A story is orderly sets of distinct things – events (organized into scenes). But writing is also very unpredictable; it’s certainly not a simple 2D backlog as things change. Plotting is challenging as well – with so many arcs, etc. a simple list of “write this in order” doesn’t seem to work.

This has troubled me over and over because I like writing, I like Agile, and I’m too hard-headed to give up reconciling writing and Scrum. I also want to plan my book – but I overplan it and have to back away – something Scrum could help with.

Then it hit me – this can be done. Here’s how – grab some notecards or spreadsheets.

Write down your major story arcs. There will probably be about 10-30 of them if you go into fine detail (I usually assume each character has 1-3). These are your “Features” – big bundles of events that are kind of their own tale. Think of it this way – your story “Features” several story arcs – but I’ll call them “Arcs.”

In each Arc, write down the main things that need to happen in order. Remember order – not chronology. This isn’t a timeline of “X happens in Y month,” this is a sequence. In Scrum, these are called “stories,” but for the sake of clarity, I’ll call them “Events.”

Now you have major story Arcs. In each are major Events that need to happen, which will probably either be scenes or part of a scene. Now how do you plot this out?

Simple – we use Sprints. Sprints become Chapters.

Now we have a way through.

  • Create one Sprint for each Chapter. If you have no chapters, perhaps pick an arbitrary number (I recommend ten or twenty, easy to get a percent complete). I’ll just call these Chapters.
  • Take the Arc that spans the entire tale, and sequence out its Events spread among Chapters – take your best shot and when they would happen when. Make notes as you do so.
  • Now, take another Arc and do the same – choose one of the larger ones. As you do this, you may start switching around some Events from your first effort – that’s fine.
  • Next, take one smaller Arc and place out the Events in the various Chapters – it probably won’t span the entire set of Chapters, of course. While you do this, re-sequence the Events – figure what order they happen in.
  • Finally, just do this for all of your Arcs until, adding and adjusting and rethinking. Take plenty of notes as well, scenes and inspirations and ideas are going to come to you. Also, remember, everything should be in the order of occurrence.
  • Eventually, you have a set of Chapters, containing Events, that fulfill Arcs.
  • You’ve just created an outline for your book using Agile – in a kind of mutant Scrum using different terminology, and slightly violating the idea all Sprints are the same duration (hopefully they won’t be).

By the way, note how easy it is to switch things around if you change your mind? Move one event up or down to different Chapters? Yes, very easy – because you have a rough idea of what order things happen in, but you’re not locked in – it’s all still pieces.

When you write the Chapter, then you can plot out the specific scenes. Take the particular Events, recheck their order, group them in scenes, and go. Why plot it in fine detail until you’re ready?

I used some similar ideas when plotting my current novel – but then overdid it – and as soon as I did, things felt less fun and fluid. The reason? I thought too far ahead. When I “Deplotted” it, it worked much better. Novel after this one, I’m going to try this system (unless I invent another).

Know where you’re going and in what order. But decide on the specifics when you’re ready to write them. That way, you can react to what has to be done, not have your mind three chapters ahead, and two chapters behind.

Steven Savage