Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lazy Because Idunno -or- A Bye Week

This will be a short post, because I don't have much to write about. I've been extraordinarily lazy this week. I wrote a very short story fragment on one of my typewriters and went to SlugTribe (Austin genre critique group.) That's it.

There are lots of excuses I could make, or justifications, but I'll just be blunt instead: I needed a break (clearly), so I took one. I'm certainly not blocked; I have a ton of ideas, including the seeds of my next novel. This was part of the intention behind pushing so hard on my "on" weeks--an "off" week doesn't kill my yearly production schedule. Of course, this assumes my "on" weeks are sufficiently productive, which hasn't quite been the case so far.


Enough of all that. I almost forgot two other tidbits. I've been doing critiques for Critters online workshop, which should prove enlightening, and I did manage to lose my weekly pound. So this week isn't a total loss.

Media Breakdown: I watched The Rum Diary. It was good, but felt slow paced and overly long compared to the book. It was a 2 hour movie, and I figure it should have been closer to an hour and a half. Still worth watching, though. I'd give it a solid B.

And that's all he wrote, folks. See you next week, when I will (hopefully) have more engaging reportage to, uh, report.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Story Up - Furious Fusion Fist

I just uploaded a new story to Smashwords and Amazon. It can be found right here. Any reviewer types out there who are interested n a code for a free download of a review copy, just give me a holler.

The blurb for the story:

Having the last surviving video-game arcade AI as Sensei is awesome. Trying to impress the last surviving female with untested kung-fu is not. To triumph in an encounter with the brain-melted remnants of the former adult population, Peji must unlock the mystical power of the furious fusion fist technique. His life, his chance to win Nisa's heart, and the future of the entire human race depends on it

Furious Fusion Fist is a post-apocalyptic, adolescent love story for gamers, nerds, and geeks. It is 9,400 words long, or about 38 pages.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Report On Quarter the Third

I began writing fiction seriously on April 9th, 2001, a little over 9 months ago. This is the third Quarterly Report I have done since then. It is complete happenstance that my quarters fall so near traditional business accounting-type quarters, although I do have to admit finding the convergence funny.

A) convergence may not be the right word, and b) I have a very strange sense of humor sometimes. Also, c) regarding the previous sentence--I am quite confused as to whether I should capitalize all three letters ( a, b, and c), since they are items in a series; only a, because it is at the beginning of the sentence; and/or whether the word convergence should also be capitalized.

I am amused by this confusion, as well.

Moving on.

I have only completed a handful of short stories since the last quarterly report. I was fairly lazy wordcount-wise in the month leading up to NaNoWriMo, as well as in the month after it. That said, I do feel like my most recent stories are some of my best, and the quality does somewhat make up for the lack of quantity. My total stories written tally stands at 34, not including my first novel.

This quarter I entered and won NaNoWriMo. It was my first year of participation (since I wasn't even writing when it was held previously.) I quite enjoyed the experience, although it was fairly brutal. It took me almost the whole month of December to write the last 6 to 8k of my novel, but I did it. It still needs editing to even be considered a first draft, but I am quite proud of myself nonetheless.

The 70k I wrote for the Zero Draft of my novel, plus the other dribs and drabs I wrote this quarter, mean than I wrote approximately twice as much this quarter as in the first two combined.

***A quick note about wordcounts--I am obsessed with them because they are the only reliable metric I have for tracking my progress as a writer. I can see progress in my writing, of course. But how to measure it? Later on, sales and income might help me to understand where I am at in my career, but I don't really have either of those yet. I write at different speeds on different days, so time spent with butt-in-chair is not exact. A Million Words Of Crap requires just that--a million words. The best way I know of to measure those million words is word-by-word.***

I already have on story published that will count towards the current quarter, "Out, De'Moan!", but I didn't manage to publish anything last quarter, despite the promising start I got off to with Tes-Nin's Elbows. I did do a ton of submitting to paying markets, and got a ton of rejections, including a number of personalized rejections. I've also come very close to selling a couple of stories (and those stories still have a decent chance of selling to the markets that are interested.)

I've also vastly improved my typing skills, as well as my ability to use a voice recorder to get more writing done when I am out and about. I started and have maintained a Daily Log, which has already shown it's value as  a personal metrics tool (yes, I just made that up. No I don't know what it means either, exactly. Except that a Daily Log comes in handy.) My punctuation and grammar have improved somewhat as well.

All in all, I've accomplished a lot this quarter. Not as much as I could have, but more than enough to satisfy me. The most important--finishing a novel (draft)--counts as not only an accomplishment in and of itself, but as proof-of-concept that I can write and finish long form fiction. I also verified the truth (for me) of what I have often heard: It is easier (at least in a wordcount outputted vs skullsweat inputted sense) to write long fiction than short.

Looking ahead: If I keep up the pace, I will likely end up with 250k or thereabouts written during my first year. More if I hit the goals I set for myself this year. I also hope to finish this first year with at least eleven titles published, a Zero Draft of a new novel, and a bunch more shorts. With some luck, I might start to make a little money off my self-epubbed stuff, and/or a few short story sales.

I've got plenty of content, now it's time to make getting it out there as much of a priority as generating new stuff.

Overall verdict: I kicked tail this quarter.

Weekly report:

I am still losing weight reliably. Nothing drastic or infomercial worthy, but I am down at least three pounds since New Year's, if not four or five. I am having no problems maintaining an improved attitude and outlook (40% improved, to be precise.) My wordcount was better this week (over 8k) but still not up to par. I do feel like I am gaining some momentum in that area, though. And I did do more (over 2k's worth) background material/Idea Bank writing.

I haven't done a self-epub for the week yet, but I am hoping to today or tomorrow. So there's a good chance I will get three out of four again this week. Things are looking good so far for the first month of this year's challenges.

Also, I am planning on doing FebuWriMo next month. If I do as good a job on wordcounts as I did during my last noveling stretch, I may have an easy March ahead of me. We'll see.

Media Breakdown:

It turns out both Superhero Squad and Transformers Prime are right up my son's alley. I like them okay as well. Not awesome, but not any better or worse (when considered objectively) than the cartoons I grew up watching (and loving.)

I've been listening to the album "All Eternal's Deck" by The Mountain Goats a lot. Not a lot of rock-n-roll, but really good, thoughtful, and emotional lyrics. Lots of bittersweet, lots of indie-acoustic vibe, a high degree of thoughtfulness and literacy. I highly recommend it.

And that's it for this week. See you all next time.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New Story Published!

I am proud to announce the publication of my second story in the Hammers and Hexes series, "Out, De'moan!" by Step5 Transmedia. It is available as of today on Smashwords, and will be up on Amazon and all the Smashwords distributed stores like B-n-N, Sony, and iBooks in a few days.

It's available for 99 red cents at Smashwords.

Needs More (Voice) Recorder

I have three thing to cover in this weeks installment. The main point is more voice recorder stuff, including some revelations on my process. I'll also cover (of course) my resolutions and how they are progressing. And we can finish with more Media Explosion.

Voice Recorders - I have managed to write several stories using the voice recorder and have also progressed about a third to halfway through several more stories. I'm getting a lot done with the voice recorder. In fact, my main bottleneck seems to be getting butt-in-chair and actually transcribing/editing/finishing what I'm working on.

My day at work is mostly spent driving, with only short interactions with other humans. I have a lot of time for listening to podcasts and audiobooks, which is nice because I get to learn about writing and the publishing business as well as keeping up on what other writers are doing storytelling-wise. Even so, I felt like I could do more with my day--hence my efforts to write with a voice recorder. I'm trying to maximize the use of my time, multi-task by earning a living and working on a more promising career simultaneously.

The Zero Draft concept has served me well as a writer. It helped me to complete the draft of my first novel, as well as many of the stories I have written since then. It is natural and normal for writers to question the validity of whatever they are currently working on. I often don't add the coolest bits, the things that make me really love a story, until the very end. So a story can go from humdrum to awesome in an instant, if the writer is only willing to keep pushing ahead until they cross that threshold.

I like to think of this as each creativity particle the writer has already added to the work synergistically and logarithmically working together, following Moore's law and the law of accelerated returns until the work crosses the Story Singularity--the point that the writer can neither imagine nor conceptualize beyond beforehand. Okay, I will admit that concept might be a little overblown and grandiose, but it sounds pretty boss, huh?

And I just made it up right now. During the process of transcribing the recording I did yesterday of the zero draft of today's blog. One that struck me as ho-hum before I started. In other words: I just crossed the Blog Singularity.

Back to the Zero Draft. It is mostly a mental tool for me, something that lets me keep charging ahead until I hit that Singularity. It is especially important in voice recorder work, where often a huge chunk of what I dictate ends up unusable. It really isn't possible to cycle, which is my normal method of drafting, using a recorder. Editing goes write out the window, except for notes about what to go back and change. The final product is very, very rough. But the important thing is exploring the story and getting it all down.

Because of these difficulties, I've found it easier to write short fiction than long. Flash fiction works especially well. Outlining is one of the prime uses of the recorder. Also, writing a partial draft, something to get started on when I get in front of the computer, works well. I get the tone and style from the dictated story fragment, and the rest I fill in from the outline. I also do a lot of listening back to what I've dictated so far and thinking about the story, sort of aimless, letting-my-subconscious-work time. And of course, it's great for outlines, character notes, funny phrases and titles, all the tidbits a writer might normally scribble in a notebook. Brainstorming aloud is great, too.

Voice recording is very time-consuming compared to using a notebook or something similar, however. For me, between the difficulty and general bad-idea nature of writing while driving (yoiks), the recorder is a good choice. It saves me time at the keyboard at the cost of more time burned while away from the keyboard; it's a trade-off, definitely not for everyone. Those with good handwriting and the ability to take notes might well be better served sticking with that method.

One idea I am considering is typing up my dictated partial draft to carry with me and to read over quickly, thus saving myself the listening time. I'm sure other tricks will come to me as I keep at it. Which brings up the final point I want to make: Practice Makes Perfect.

Just like learning how to touch-type took time and effort, just like like learning how to tell stories took work and and still does, learning how to write with a voice recorder will take more than just flipping the thing on and starting to talk. It is a new skill, in and of itself. I find myself getting better at it, slowly figuring out new tricks as I go. But it is definitely work. Like many productivity tools, the benefits come downstream once the tool is mastered. A writer who tries using a recorder once, gets frustrated, and gives up immediately would do well to keep this mind.

Resolutions - I've done about the same as last week, perhaps a little better. Lost my pound, was an attitudinal champ, wrote maybe 1k more than last week (still way, way under par), did formatting work on a new story but no cover and no epub. I did a little more Idea Bank writing, and got slightly more done writing-wise, but I'm still calling it only a 2 out of four week. This is both disappointing and somewhat concerning, but I'm not going to dwell on it. I still have 50 weeks to get up to speed. This year is a work in progress.

Media Breakdown - I finally got the chance to watch Moneyball. The theme of the movie was very interesting, and I quite enjoyed the statistical stuff plus the game theory crossed with market analysis aspects. The drama was a little overblown for me. I realize the flick is based on a true story, but I found it disappointing that the protagonist basically lost at the end. I wanted more than just vindication of his theories from the storyline, even if real life hadn't been so compliant. I still recommend watching the movie for anyone interested in outside-the-box business thinking (and baseball, of course.)

That's all for this week. If anyone out there is using or has used a voice recorder and would like to share their thoughts and/or process, feel free to comment. See you all next week.

EDIT - I managed to get a story published for the week, after all. See for details. 3 out of 4 feels pretty sweet.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Two Out of Four Ain't Bad

Today's blog is about goal-setting, specifically expectations versus achievements. I set some pretty high goals for myself as part of my New Year's resolutions. I expected this first week to be as much about learning how to meet those goals as actually hitting them, and I was right. In that same vein, the coming week will be about learning how to recover from missed goals.

Goal #1 is 400k by year's end, broken down into 10k a week (which leaves me every 4th or 5th week off, ie. plenty of room for screw-ups.) And this week was a screw-up. Between my addiction to the Wii game Fortune Street, my organizational efforts in other areas, and a dollop of laziness, I have only manage about 3,800 words this week. So that's one out of four missed so far.

In order to counteract the seductive pull of Fortune Street, and deftly sidestep my natural inertial laziness--or lazinertia--I am adopting the following new rule/guideline: My weekly minimum is 8k, broken into 1,150 per day. Both metrics leave a little breathing room. This is required to be met pre-Internet anything, video game, reading, or anything else I like. The goal is still 2k daily, 10k weekly; the minimum should at least keep me from falling behind.

Goal #2 is to self-epub (and what an awkward term that is) 40 titles this year, which breaks down into 1 a week (again leaving every 4th or 5th week off for a margin of safety.) I have a few JPEGs and a vague idea how to arrange them to make a cover for the title I intend to publish later today. I am not nearly confident enough in my work habits to take this for granted as likely to happen, however. So that's two out of four missed so far.

Seeing a pattern here?

My countermeasure for this is simple: when I finish my wordcount for the day, I will work on my ESP (a way cool acronym for E-Self-Pubbing.) Leisure time comes after my wordcount is done and after I have a title pubbed for the week. Gosh darnit and doggone dagnabit. To heck.

Goal #3 is to lose forty pounds this year, to the tune of one pound a week (same margin of error.) I am happy to announce that I have dropped from 235 to 233. I am keeping meticulous records of my weight, eating habits, and exercise habits; this will keep me on track. So one out of four made, and comfortably at that.

Go me.

Goal #4 is to be 40% nicer. Which I totally have, in so far as this one is even measurable. I have noticed a distinctly pleasant uptick in my daily interactions as a result, and thus my general level of happiness. So two out of four made, for a batting average of .500. Not that bad, actually.

The two I missed are fixable, with some tighter discipline on my part. The two I made are arguably more important, health and happiness trump productivity any day. And may actually improve my productivity long-term.

I will do a more condensed version of this weekly weigh-in next week, and every week after until I make my goals, the year is over, or I die. Hopefully the first rather than the last.

Weekly Media breakdown - Tried to watch "Bag of Bones"--made for TV movie based on the Stephen King book. Only made it about 15 minutes in. No dice. That's all I watched this week. I haven't read anything, either (been busy not writing.) My son likes G1 Transformers better than Voltron and Xena, but he likes Planet hulk even better still. And... erm... that's it. Short segment this week, huh?

Other stuff--I've been using the heck out of the Olympus VN8100PC I got for Xmas. Plan on putting up an in depth review later in the week, but tl;dr is: this is the best cheap-voice-recorder-for-writers currently available.

Writing on a voice recorder is a very different experience from typing. More difficult, definitely, because of the lack of visual input and editing capabilities. Even so, I am finding it quite usable for a zero-draft level of writing. It's probably not much of a time-saver just yet, but I think with practice it will be.

As I get more competent with the process/workflow I will do a blog on how to get the most from spare time and a voice recorder (for writers.) Nitty gritty sirt if stuff.

For now, though, I will say that he key is practice, and lots of it. You can't expect a new productivity tool to change your life immediately. Sometimes they do, but often it's the work put in now that pays off down the line. Like an investment in yourself.

I learned this from Fortune Street.

And that's all I got for this week. Next week will be quarterly report number three (slightly overdue.) See you then.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Belated New Year's Post, Plus Fortune Street

I was going to do a New Year's resolutions post yesterday (my normal Sunday post), but I didn't. Instead I got sucked into a new Wii game--Fortune Street. It is absolutely fabulous, albeit only suited for a narrow range of players. More on that later.

I am going to go ahead an tackle the resolutions (in the form of challenges, natch) first, then do the launch of my newest blog feature--the weekly media breakdown. Which is basically what I've been doing the last few weeks anyway, where I talk about books, movies, and games I've been grooving on lately.

I am a (moderately) Old Person. So yes, I am allowed to use phrases like grooving on. You might also note--pursuant to my quest to chunkify my writing--that I am using em-dashes, parenthesis, italics, quotes, semicolons, and colons liberally. You are my punctuation guinea pigs; I hope to make you squeal. With delight, of course. Literary delight.

Moving on, Here is my 2012 Challenge List--otherwise known as the forties. Which is  a reference to one of my favorite songs, 40oz. to Freedom, by Sublime. And yes, that is the correct spelling. No space between 40 and oz.; no capital o in oz. either. Thank you Internet search engine.

Also, their are lotsa fours and multiples of fours and other math stuff.

1 - Write 400,000 words of new fiction this year. Otherwise known as the "Beat Michael Stackpole's 2011 Wordcount--or BMS2W--Challenge". This breaks down to about 2k a day on weekdays. I hope to write 3 novels as part of that 400k, which will cover about 2.5 k or so. The rest will be short stories/novellas. This challenge is roughly equivalent to doing NaNoWriMo two out of every three months, which is kind of nuts. Wish me luck.

2 - Self-epub 40 titles. I will likely not count five and ten story collections towards this goal, unless time gets tight. :) Roughly equivalent to three titles every four weeks, or four a month with two months off. Again, fairly aggressive. I'm starting to get scared.

3 - Lose 40 lbs. Which, not coincidently, is about how much weight I've gained since turning into an Old Person. Works out to about a pound a week, with the occasional week off. I am easing into a regular jogging/workout schedule, plus cutting back on snacking. In many ways his is the easiest challenge. Excepting that time to work out is difficult to come by for a blazing pen such as myself.

I clearly have no grasp of the insanity I'm signing myself up for.

4 - Of course there's a four! Be 40% nicer to people. This one is a little tough to quantify, and/or judge success; I'll admit that. Roughly, as long as one out of every two times I say something complimentary instead of choking someone out, I win. Important Note--I only choke people out in my imagination.

So there you have it, quite a full plate for Your's Truly this year. I'll be giving regular updates/running totals to keep myself honest and to (hopefully) provide inspiration for those out there that are struggling like myself. Note the lack of any goal related to submissions. I will continue to send some of my stories off to paying markets (magazines, mainly), but my focus is shifting.

Announcer: Aaannnd now...

cue drumroll

Announcer continues: The Weekly... Media... Breakdown... (echo: own... own... own...)

As promised--Fortune Street. This is a Wii game, featuring characters and themed boards from The Mario and Dragon Quest series. Gameplay is like a much deeper version of Monopoly, and is skill-based (while featuring just enough luck to keep things interesting.) If you love statistics/combinatorial type stuff, Mario/Dragon Quest, property buying and trading games, and are a super-nerd (like me), this game is for you.

Each game takes a few hours and there is no twitch-type action. There are a few minigames, but they are entirely luck based, with no real player input. This game is all strategy and horse-trading, folks. There is an easy mode, with reduced complexity, but I haven't bothered with it. The full game is where it's at. I haven't tried playing with other humans; the AI is good enough for me so far. But apparently you can play online, so I might try that out later.

Also, when you finish games you win stamps, which can be spent on outfits for your Mii (avatar.) I know, I know. But it is squee-ishly fun to dress your Mii up in a Santa suit with pink butterfly wings. Seriously, I love this game.

Other stuff - I finished 11/22/63. Writing was great throughout; ending was a bit meh. Worth reading anyway. 'Nuff said. Just watched Contagion; it was decent. Some fun virus stuff that might be useful for SF/Thriller writers. Hangover 2 - fun if you like jokes about sexparts. This series is basically the raunchier version of American Pie, which was the raunchy version of Porky's, and so on.

That about does it for this week. By next time I'll be reading something new; dunno what yet. See you then.