Write Every Day? Maybe . . .

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

You’ve probably heard of the advice that a writer should write every day. I disagree with that – I feel writers have to find their own pace – but it works for me and seems to work for a majority of authors I know. But, let me clarify that though it works for me, how it works for me wasn’t what I expected . . .

In trying to write every day, I found myself under strain to keep up on my various projects. Much of what I do involves writing, and thus writing every day was hard, as I tried to keep up on the many things I wrote.

You probably see where this is going, but to clarify – I tried to write on everything each day if possible.

Eventually I asked myself, why try to keep up on every project every day? It was tiresome, reduced focus, and the context switching was exhausting. Why, I asked, did I try to cover so much at one time.

Yeah, again, you see where this is going. I took the idea of writing every day and used it to touch every project each day.

What I’ve been trying recently is to focus on writing each day, but to deep dive on one of my projects. This could, in some cases, be three or four hours of writing if I’m in the mood. But, the goal each day is to write on something – but not necessarily the same thing each day.

This has been a revelation to me – though for you it may seem obvious. I was diluting my focus each day, getting less done with more stress. So far, I’ve gotten a lot more done and had a lot less stress.

There are a few insights I wanted to share:

  • This deep dive applies to just about anything from writing – writing, editing, formatting.
  • I find a “focus per day” works well, but the same things each day might get boring. You may need a break or have to focus on something else. At least you’ll do so after you’ve accomplished something.
  • This write-each-day-on-different-things works very well with goal setting as you can create much more solid goals per day – perhaps set goals for both days and weeks.
  • This approach develops discipline of focus as opposed to discipline for juggling.
  • It’s a good way to find if you’ve got too much to do. I already learned I was juggling too much.

I hope this insight helps you. It certainly has helped me – and you may just see more out of me now (or if less, be assured I’m productive in other areas).

Steven Savage

There’s So Much Stuff Out There

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

We live in a time of soul-crushing opportunity.

In this age, we can create so many works. We can publish books physical and electronic. We can make podcasts that fly across the internet. As I’ve heard it put, so many ways, “there’s just so much stuff out there.”

This then begs the question, “why create?” From giant conglomerates to people like ourselves, there’s so many people making things to read, watch, and so on. The chance of our works finding purchase in the world seems slim indeed, even if we pour heart and soul into marketing.

If we do work mightily to market, it takes time and luck and money and effort that could be used for writing. Even if success seems likely, how much of a drain is it on the time of a writer or artist?

It’s easy to get tired and discouraged. Worse, the idea of the “angry and discouraged artist” in our culture is an archetype, an image of despair we may too easily latch on to. There’s a blueprint for self-loathing and defeat readily provided when we get frustrated with all this stuff.

I get this too. I can do things beyond my wildest dreams with my writing and my works, and it takes me into a dizzying world of potential and despair. I’ve thought about it, and at times wonder, despite some twenty-plus books, “why?”

Then the answers come to me – and it’s always the same.

I write because I like to write, its what I do. If I wasn’t doing books I’d be writing something else. So it might as well be books, and I like writing books. If you like to create, then create.

I write because I do have thinks to say. I do believe in worldbuilding. I believe in improving creativity. I like to make fiction. If you have something to say then find a way to say it with your creativity.

I write because in this age I enjoy the challenge. I’m tired of the overload of things, of the onslaught of a thousand titles. I might as well try to stand out. Maybe if nothing else promote your works out of sheer bloody-minded determination.

I write because I want to find ways to crack the marketing of books. Because my works are worth seeing. Because if I learn something I can share it. So learn to market – your way – so you can beat the system and help others.

I don’t know what the future brings. Technology changes are driven by algorithmic takes on our own biases. The climate cracks under ill-conceived policies. Politics is a dumpster fire. But I am a writer, a creator, and this is what I do.

It’s what you do too. So do it, take your place among the legions of stuff coming out there, make your stand. It’s better than giving in. Better to make our place in this changing world and the overwhlemingness of the times.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 10/28/2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Hey all, busy getting back on top of my projects – and almost there. Let’s catch up!

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: Writing away on the Gods and Deities Worldbook! It’s going great and is a lot of fun – got a lot to make you think!
  • Chance’s Muse: Still on the first edit after a few delays. There’s some loose language I need to tighten up.
  • A School Of Many Futures: The book is now blazing away. Chapters 1 and 2 are in good shape, but 3 has some weakness. Still, looking good, much richer, more diverse, and a real interesting plot that merges the human with the setting.
  • Seventh Sanctum: I’ve got my future plans in place now that life is back to normal.
  • General: Still working on my improved time management, so I hope I can post more on it!

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: Keep writing of course! I expect it to be out in later December.
  • Chance’s Muse: Finish up the first edit run and start the final run.
  • A School Of Many Futures: Get through Chapter 3 and then re-edit it of course! I will also probably look for pre-readers.
  • Seventh Sanctum: Working on getting back to coding.

Steven Savage

Well That Was Easy: The Ivy Lee Method

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

Looks like my blogging this week is about productivity. I wanted to share something that set off a chain reaction in my own personal organization, the Ivy Lee method. It’s led to me rethinking a lot, which I will doubtlessly share in more, excruciating detail.

So I love all sorts of productivity methods, study them, integrate them, and so on. This is one I hadn’t heard of, probably as it’s A) Old, B) Common Sense, and C) Not insanely elaborate so you have to buy a ton of books from someone (not that guys like David Allen aren’t worth it).

Business Insider sums it up here.

Basically? Each night write down the five or six things you want to do the next day in order of importance. Never go above six.

You’ll recognize a lot here that I and others talk about. Focus. Force-ranking work. Limited scope.

I started using it to focus “in the small” as I already had plenty of Sprints, long-term plans, etc. It proved quite helpful, and made me rethink and expand a few of my other processes – which, again, you will probably hear about.

This is a good reminder of why you always want to study new ways to be productive, experiment, and revise how you work. There’s always something to find, and even the smallest things can open up enormous vistas.

Steven Savage

Productivity: When Does Your Week Start?

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

I want to ask a seemingly obvious question – when does your week start? I mean for a lot of my readers the answer is “Sunday” since it’s the first day of the week we all sort of use. But that may not be the real answer – for many of us the week ends on Sunday and starts on Monday if we’re part of a normal US work week. For many of us even that doesn’t apply.

So when does your week really start and end? Why ask this? Because it’s a key to getting things done, and it’s best illustrated with two stories.

  • I use Scrum-style personal time management. Part of that is having Sprints, similarly-sized periods of work you plan and have reguarly. I used to use a month-long Sprint, moved to two weeks, then moved to a week as my life had gotten more variable. Originally my “sprint weeks” started on Sunday and ended on Saturday – which ruined my weekend. Now my “real” week is Monday to Sunday.
  • I’ve worked with development teams who use Scrum, and their Sprints are two weeks long. Despite having the usual workweek, their Sprints start on a Wednesday and end on a Tuesday. Why? Because Wednesday worked better, since no one wants to do elaborate planning Monday or Friday, and Tuesday and Thursday were basically Monday and Friday Junior. Wednesday was perfect (and worked really well).

So look at the way you plan your work for the week. What day is really the best day to end your week and make sure things are done? What day is really the best day to start your week and make sure you know what to accomplish. Your answer isn’t necessary going to be mine or anyone else you know’s – it’ll be yours.

The best day to end your week is one where you can catch up, round up, and plan for the next week. That could be a quiet Friday each week, or a raucous Monday when you figure out where you are after the previous week.

The best day to start your week is one where you can dive in and get going, knowing where you are and what is ahead of you. Maybe that’s a Wednesday, a hump-day where everything is clear and you can get energized. Maybe it’s a Saturday, and your “real” week starts with the weekend to relax.

But there’s more. Consider the other ways you can apply this “best time”:

Daily. What times of day do you work best? Are you a morning person? Evening person?

Monthly. What’s the best day of a week or a month to look at long-term plans?

Yearly. What month in a year is good to assess your big picture goals? Or to take a break from your elaborate plans.

Either way, start by looking at your week, your own personal week, and asking when it really ends and begins – in a way that’s best for you. With that knowledge, you can rethink your whole plans – and like me, you might be surprised.

Steven Savage

Steve’s Update 10/19/2019

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Whew! Life is a bit calmer here so let’s get to the update on my projects! Less than I’d like, more than I expected!

So what have I done since last time?

  • Way With Worlds: The new book has been outlined – I’m covering Gods and Deities as that’s a popular subject – and one that deserves more coverage if only because its too easy to resort to tropes.
  • Chance’s Muse: Is in the first run edit! If all goes well, I can still drop it late November/early December!
  • A School Of Many Futures: I’m back to writing, doing a mix of writing and editing to get my mojo going. September 2020 looks likely, but maybe I can catch up! It’s definitely a hell of a lot better than the first draft, and bluntly, better than my first book – by chapter two our cast is dealing with a troubled teenager from a magical bloodline, and by chapter three or four we get our first mysterious death . . .
  • Seventh Sanctum: Still not a lot of progress on Python. I feel bad I’ve ignored this, but as the site is doing its job, being a few months behind or not dropping a generator for awhile is OK. I have plotted a few possible generators beyond the idea stage

What’s next?

  • Way With Worlds: I plan to start working on the new book next week!
  • Chance’s Muse: Finish up two runs of editing. At that point it’s ready to format (and hopefully that goes well)
  • A School Of Many Futures: Continue to work on Chapters 1 and 2 until my creativity is working again, then dive into writing like crazy.
  • Seventh Sanctum: Keep pushing to get back on track! Finishing Chance’s Muse may help.
  • General: I’m trying an evolved version of my current planning technique, which I call “Nested Scrum.” This should reduce context-shifting and stress!

Steven Savage

We Have To Go Smaller

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

If you’ve followed my updates or my newsletter, or just heard me ranting, you know that I’ve been very busy lately. Because I was so busy, I kept trying to power through the draft of my next novel, a School of Many Futures. Sadly, the powered through version felt off, emotionally disconnected. When it’s a sequel to your first novel, and a skewering of the “special school” genre, you want proper emotional connection, if only so the jokes land point-first.

So I began looking over what had happened to the writing, because this bloody well didn’t feel like my last book.

I had a good outline, using a mix of my own techniques and the snowflake method. That had helped me write.

My writing was fast. I can easily put out 2K words or more an hour. The outline helped.

But everything felt off. That’s when I figured out what had happened – I had written to the outline, but not engaged emotionally with the contents. I had missed the fine details, the feelings, the subtle connections. Being tired from so much going on, I had written, but I hadn’t written well.

With that revelation, I asked – how do I get back into the swing of things?

Well, the problem wasn’t with the outline, it was with the scenes. So with that in mind, and with a few ideas from Randy Ingermanson, I decided to rewrite each scene. I set out specific goals:

  1. Each scene would be a “Crucible” as Randy put it – there had to be a reason to be there.
  2. Each scene should be a relateable scene, and give us a character viewpoint.
  3. I would rework the chapters slowly so I really recovered my connection with the story and characters.

In short, I went smaller.

The result? The result is the rewritten work already feels much better – literally like a different story. Characters are more alive, stakes clearer, and even some of my outline has changed as I’ve made discoveries about my creations. Getting smaller made things bigger.

(By the way, I don’t think this negates my earlier advice of “power through when writing.” I had to do this to find my flaws.)

But there was an additional lesson here. Sometimes while redoing scenes I found a sequence didn’t work. Or a paragraph didn’t. Or a sentence didn’t. Sometimes I had to go even smaller in my focus.

We often get caught up in the big picture, not realizing it’s made of many smaller pictures, a network of them. Sometimes we have to ignore a story to work on a scene.

But maybe, there are times we ignore a scene to get a sequence of events right.

Or we ignore a sequence of events to get a paragraph right.

Or we ignore a paragraph to get a sentence right.

There are times we have to think smaller or we just don’t connect with our works. We get lost in the big picture with no idea what it’s made of. We become ungrounded trying to follow an outline. We get lost while knowing where we’re going.

So next time you’re writing and it’s not working, stop thinking bigger. Think smaller. It may just make your work the next big thing

Steven Savage

The Infinite Goods

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

Recently, I saw Promare for the second time. If you haven’t heard of this film, think “superhero firefighters with robot suits versus pyrokinetic terrorists” and then that’s only the start. In short order with this premise, it then races towards crazytown at the speed of light while slamming an energy drink. It’s a roller-coaster ride and visual treat, but not an emotionally deep story – it’s not aiming for that.

But, is it good? It seems to have been what Studio Trigger wanted.

I’m also catching up on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, the animated series. It has many story arcs, and like Promare, starts with a simple premise – Victorian martial arts action where people battle a vampire. However, over time it becomes a generational tale of people with “Stands,” psychic doubles, battling various evils and each others. Oh, and it’s filled with music jokes, crazy posing, and character designs somewhere between Tom of Finland and a Rave.

But, is it good? The creator is obviously having a blast and it’s enjoyable being in on the ride.

We can ask that question of so many things. Recently I saw Fellini’s famous surrealist character piece, And the Ship Sails On. And the Great British Bake Off. And any number of things.

But, where they good?

Well the fact I put time into them and got a lot out of them tells you I thought they were good. The thing is there are different kinds of good.

Promare and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures are experiences that are almost about feels, they’re states of mind. Fellini’s bizarre piece was both mood and exploration. The Great British Bakeoff is a mix of human and history and information. All were good, but not necessarily the same kind of good.

Right now you’re doubtlessly worrying about your own writing, art, games, etc. You wonder if they’re good, but that belies the question.

It’s not if they’re good – is it the kind of good you want?

Maybe the game you’re writing is supposed to be an action game of mood, of feeling over continuity, of mashed buttons over careful strategy. And that’s fine if you deliver the right kind of good.

Perhaps your story is inaccessible to many, a thing of dense references and subtle connections. It might not be for everyone, but it’ll be good to the right audience.

It could be your current creative work just has to be good to you as it’s fun, and if other people like it, they can sign on for the ride.

Stop worrying about doing “good” work and aim for the right kind of good. Make your choice of how your book or comic is supposed to go and embrace that. It focuses you, it guides you, it tells you what to leave out and what to include.

Also picking your “good” means that you accept you won’t please everyone – because odds are you won’t. If you were inventing chocolate or pizza for the first time, you could please most people, but those have been kind of done. So don’t please everyone, please the right people.

Life goes easier when you understand this. Besides, when you pick one good, you can find others, or expand your “goods” later in your works.

But pick a good and go for it. It may be shallow or deep, silly or serious, but it’ll be yours, and you can focus.

Steven Savage

Suddenly I’ve Discovered Podcasts

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

For a long time I really didn’t get into podcasts. Sure, I did a few, but that was about it. I’m not sure why – I guess I figured I had enough media to consume or that it’d be distracting, since many people I know listened to them while doing something else.

However, a friend turned me on to some interesting political and cultural podcasts. That made me realize I should also take a look at writer’s podcasts. Then game design podcasts (a side interest of mine).

And now, I’m listening to them all the time. They’re great for when I’m working out, or taking a walk, or doing things like stat-crunching that don’t always engage my language center.

What’s stunning to me, as a sudden podcast-arriver, is just how much really good stuff is out there. Really, I’ve been too far behind the curve.

This is a good reminder to keep trying new things, keep exploring, and keep asking.  New tools, new books, new technology are all out there, and some of it is probably damned good.  A little curiosity goes a long way, and takes you even further.

It’s also a reminder that, sometimes, you can’t try new things.

I had a lot going on.  My media consumption habits didn’t always fit podcasts.  I had other priorities.  Maybe I needed to try podcasts earlier, but simply I selected my priorities.

So keep an open mind, but also pace yourself.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed.  You can’t be on top of everything.

Now as for writing podcasts I’d recommend?

Self-Publishing Journeys – With author Paul Teague.  He shares his plans and experience self-publishing weekly.  It’s fun, human, intimate, and provides real knowledge.

Write Minded – A nice varied podcast on writing that ranges on many subjects.  Even if one doesn’t fit you, the next one may!  Plus they get some surprising guests!

Give them a shot!

Steven Savage

Writing As A Living Thing

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

“The story falls apart,” the writer laments. I’ve heard that from many writers, and I’ve said it myself. Sometimes the tales we create turn into a pile of junk with alarming regularity, even if this happens in our heads. That’s because stories only work in motion – just like a living thing.

A story is a lot like a body, constantly in motion, and only in motion is it alive. Scenes connect, actions flowing like blood between theme. An event in one part of the story flies across the tale to create events later, a shocking nerve signal of continuity. Strong world ideas hold it together, the bones and muscles that give the tale solidity.

But if it stops moving, flowing, living, it slows. It stills. It may even die.

The problem is, we often harm our living stories.

We strangle them, trying to force them down certain paths. A story is a living thing, and its going to surprise us – the more we force it, the more it slows, the more danger we kill it.

We try to force them to move faster, as if we’re drugging them for performance. As we force them, they wear, continuity and characters malfunctioning, and if we’re not careful, they sicken and die.

We focus on tiny issues of stories, ignoring larger issues of health. Distracted, we don’t address the important parts of our story, and the story staggers and stumbles.

We become lost in huge abstract issues of our tales, ignoring important smaller ones of our tales. Focusing on giant overarching issues, we miss tiny flaws in our stories, and like our health, tiny issues grow to larger ones. We can be surprised at what we lost.

We go for crank ideas and trendy suggestions, following today’s latest trend or writing advice. Just like crank medicine and diet fads, these arent good for us, but we get caught up in the moment and the hype. It is only later that we have to figure out how we harmed our stories and fix the damage we inflicted.

Take care of your story just like you would a living thing. It’s a good metaphor – and if nothing else, can give us a bit of writer hypochondria to keep us on alert.

Steven Savage