Writing Production

Since April, I’ve been using an online tool called Acunote to manage my creative activities, i.e. – writing, blogging and public speaking. Because I’ve tracked my activities so carefully, it’s relative easy to correlate my output with my scheduled activities. So, how productive have I been?

Before I start talking numbers, I need to provide some perspective. I have a day job which occupies 40 hours per week, plus 10 hours of commute time. So 50 hours of my week are already spoken for before I even get down to writing.

Let’s take a look at the chart:

Start End Sprint Entries Blogged
Where?
Words
Blogged
Speeches Presentations Videos Stories
01-Apr 30-Apr Month 1 6 AADKKK 494 2   1  
01-May 31-May Month 2 8 AADDDDDD 3283 2   1  
01-Jun 13-Jun Week 1-2 8 ADDDDDKK 6214 1      
14-Jun 20-Jun Week 3 2 DK 1097 1      
21-Jun 27-Jun Week 4 3 ADK 1663 1      
28-Jun 04-Jul Week 5 6 AADDKK 1700 2   1  
05-Jul 11-Jul Week 6              
12-Jul 18-Jul Week 7       1      
19-Jul 25-Jul Week 8 1 D 414        
26-Jul 01-Aug Week 9 1 A 137 1     1
02-Aug 08-Aug Week 10 3 ADD 956 1      
09-Aug 15-Aug Week 11 2 DD 1200        
16-Aug 22-Aug Week 12              
23-Aug 29-Aug Week 13 4 ADDK 1500 1   1  
30-Aug 05-Sep Week 14 2 AD 564 1      
06-Sep 12-Sep Week 15 4 AAAA 2445   1    
13-Sep 19-Sep Week 16 2 AK 370   1 1  
20-Sep 26-Sep Week 17 2 AK 295 1 1    

Using Accunote, I set up a series of sprints. For each sprint, I defined tasks in advance, then tried to make sure that I accomplished as many of them as possible during the designated time period. I started off with month-long sprints, but that was too long to effectively focus my efforts. Next, I tried a two-week sprint (which is what we do in my day job), but that was still too long for a solo endeavor like my ongoing creative activities. Finally, I decided on week-long sprints, which seemed to work well for me.

In the chart, I track the number of blog entries produced, the total blog word count and where blogged (A = Ashburn Toastmasters Blog, D = DavidKeener.org, and K = KeenerTech). KeenerTech is my technical blog, which is essentially an extension of my resume for technical, Internet-related topics. DavidKeener.org is my creative blog, and a focal point for my creative activities, especially my writing efforts. Ashburn Toastmasters is a venue where I can leverage much of my public speaking content.

In addition to blogging, my creative energy is focused on producing different types of products, including stories, speeches, presentations, videos and blog entries. As a writer, my goal is to produce stories. The other writing activities are ancillary, but still necessary at some level.

My writing production for the last six months includes 54 blog entries, 15 new speeches, 5 videos, 3 presentations and 1 story. That’s 22,332 words of blog content. I estimate each speech at about 1000 words, and the story at 2000 words. The videos are recordings of speeches or stories, so they represent editing and production work, but not new material. Based on the effort required, I’ll estimate presentation content as equivalent to about 1000 words per each 15 slides, so 99 slides equals about another 6000 words.

Summing up all these amounts, I estimate my effective total writing production for the 6-months time period at around 55K words.

Production Evaluation

Is this good? Is 55K in six months a valiant effort?

Well, frankly, it’s not good. It’s not terrible, either.

It shows that I can write steadily and effectively, despite the obstacles in my daily life like a full-time day job, etc. But it also illustrates the lop-sided nature of my output. If my goal is to produce stories, then I’m failing dismally, because I’ve only produced one in the last six months (although, in fairness, I produced two stories immediately before this six-month interval started).

The chart shows several weeks with almost zero production. Those are weeks when non-writing activities, notably volunteer work for Toastmasters, crushed my available free time.

Now, I’m not totally unhappy with the numbers. I’ve been working pretty hard, and my total output shows this. Let’s summarize my output again:

Blog Entries 54
New Speeches 15
Videos 5
Presentations 3
Stories 1

For most people, this would be a blistering production pace. But for a would-be professional writer, it’s not fast enough. It’s a good start, but some changes are clearly needed, i.e. – some course corrections.

Course Corrections

Maybe all this analysis seems strange to most people, but this is what I’m trained to do with modern software development practices. It’s what I know, so it seemed natural to me to apply this to my writing production. I can make some general observations based on the data:

  • I need to focus more on stories.
  • I need to increase my overall output level.
  • I need to reduce activities that are interfering with my writing.
  • I need to create synergies between my different types of output.
  • I need to get stories in front of users in real venues.

I’m going to expand on each of these observations.

I need to focus more on stories.

The end goal is stories. My output so far has been focused on short-shorts, very short stories of under 2000 words, and I haven’t actually produced too many of them. I need to produce more stories, as well as stories of increasing lengths.

Additionally, the real money in writing comes from novels, so there needs to be a novel in the mix. Soon.

NANOWRIMO, which is the popular nickname for National Novel Writing Month, starts in November. This year, I think I’m perfectly poised to make a solid run at it, especially since I’ve planned a 2-week vacation for the month (but I’m not going anywhere).

If this means fewer blog entries or other ancillary products, then so be it.

I need to increase my overall output level.

Dean Wesley Smith is a prolific blogger, an experienced writer and an expert self-publisher. He’s blogged numerous times about his own productivity numbers. In fact, he’s currently doing a day-by-day expose of his writing activities. He’s producing about twice as much content in a single day than I am in a week.

Now, he’s a full-time writer, and a prolific one at that. There’s absolutely no way that I can match his productivity level. But I can do more. I need to do more.

I need to reduce activities that are interfering with my writing.

The largest amount of my time is, of course, allocated to my day job, and there’s nothing I can do about that. The bills must be paid.

Next up is the volunteer work that I do for Toastmasters. Here is an area where I need to cut back. I’m currently functioning as an officer in two clubs, advising in the formation of a third club, maintaining the District 29 web site and working diligently to achieve my Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) certification.

Toastmasters has been largely responsible for me getting back into the creative mindset. Some of my stories have started out as speeches. And my public speaking capabilities are an important aspect of how I intend to promote my stories, i.e. – through readings, workshops, panels, etc. Accordingly, the DTM is important to me.

However, the other volunteer activities can be cut back. The simplest way to cut them back is to recruit others to help me, so that I’m not the only one performing officer duties or maintaining the district web site. Recruiting volunteers therefore needs to become an immediate focus.

I have other activities that I perform with regard to running the NationJS, DevIgnition and RubyNation conferences. I still need to engage in these activities, but here again I can 1) be more efficient, and 2) recruit others to help me.

I need to create synergies between my different types of output.

This goal, “creating synergies,” may not seem to be as clear as the others. In a nutshell, it means that my production should be more directed, primarily to producing stories, and secondarily, to ancillary content that promotes my stories.

For example, if I create a speech, it should be either a story, or a non-fiction piece about writing or self-publishing that can be used in multiple ways, such as a blog entry on my DavidKeener.org site and/or a writing workshop topic.

I need to get stories in front of users in real venues.

Publishing content on my web site is not enough. I must get my content published in venues where readers can more easily find it. This means publishing free content in some venues, and getting some stories for sale on web sites like Amazon, Smashwords, etc.

Conclusion

I’m pleased that I’ve been able to track my writing production so effectively, and I’m equally pleased with how my organized sprints are working out. I believe the sprints have spurred me to create quite a bit of content over the last six months. More importantly, they have allowed me to get into a rhythm.

Admittedly, my production rate could be higher but, realistically, this is the highest it has ever been. The trick here is to basically keep the same rhythm I’ve got now, but increase the tempo.

Likewise, my analysis shows me that I need to be more strategic in producing my content, with increased focus on stories, as well as content that I can use to help promote both myself and my stories. Additionally, I need to recruit others so that I can share out some of my volunteer work.

These changes seem like fairly logical ways to increase my writing production. I suspect most beginning writers have to go through similar course corrections.

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The Dinosaur Museum

LungingTrex I took some time off around Labor Day and did something I haven’t done in years. I visited the museums in downtown Washington DC. Yes, I know there’s lots of museums there, but the two that made my hit list were the National Air and Space Museum, which I described in a previous post, and the Museum of Natural History, which I sometimes affectionately refer to as “The Dinosaur Museum.”

Yes, I know the Museum of Natural History has a lot more than just dinosaurs. But for the little boy in me that never outgrew his “dinosaur phase,” it’s always going to be The Dinosaur Museum.

Who can forget the dark, looming Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that greets you as you enter the first gallery of the museum?

If you’re a budding science fiction writer, how can you not be enthralled with all of the different forms that life has taken throughout the history of our planet?

And that’s just the first gallery. Each gallery leads you to the next gallery, and the end result is like taking a stroll through history and seeing the unfolding of species. Evolution right before your eyes.

I could easily spend an entire day in the museum, but I only had about three hours, so I did my best to make them count. If you get to DC, I recommend this museum whole-heartedly, but make sure you allocate a whole day to it.

TRex Looming

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21st Century Writer

The publishing industry has been going through a dramatic revolution over the last six years. In my presentation, “21st Century Writer,” I cover the evolution of the publishing industry using an easy-to-understand metaphor, and detail the advantages that writers have in the current market.

It truly is a great time to be a writer. Find out why by viewing the presentation below:

Let me know what you think of my presentation. I’d love to hear your views on the changes in the publishing industry.

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At the National Air and Space Museum

Yes, it really is rocket science.Since I hadn’t had a vacation in quite a while, I turned Labor Day weekend into an extra-long weekend by taking off the preceding Friday and the following Tuesday, giving me a 5-day holiday. On Friday, August 30th, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years — I visited the museums in down-town Washington DC.

More specifically, I visited the National Air and Space Museum (which has spaceships) and the Museum of Natural History (which has dinosaurs). These are two museums that should be on every SF fan’s hit list. I’ll cover the National Air and Space Museum in this post, and the Museum of Natural History in a separate post.

For me, the National Air and Space Museum is easily covered in a few hours. I’ve been to the museum numerous times over the years and, frankly, it hasn’t changed much in all that time. All the real action nowadays happens at Udvar Hazy edition of the museum out by Dulles Airport in northern Virginia.

It’s still fun seeing all of the various rockets, space capsules and moon rocks. But I also find it a little sad, because so much of the museum is devoted to things that we can’t do anymore. We don’t have the capability to send a man to the moon. It’s like a shrine to past glories that are beyond our means, despite our more advanced technological level.

Here’s one picture that I thought was pretty cool. It’s a mural of two people standing next to a Model T Ford and looking up at a dramatic night-time sky. It took me a while to get a good capture of the mural (plus I had to do some Photoshop magic to get it to come out the way that I wanted).

The Sky and the Model T Ford

The museum also had a star map, which is something that I’m fascinated with. As an SF writer, I’m more interested in where stars are in relationship to each other than I am in learning what section of the sky to point a telescope at in order to see a particular star.

Star MapThe star map posed some interesting photography problems, since it was placed in a dark area for impact. But it was also composed of layers of glass, which were sufficiently reflective to preclude the use of a flash. So, another interesting picture augmented by Photoshop.

The cloud of dots in the center of the box are stars. Star maps, especially 3D ones, are generally sufficient to make SF writers salivate. Or maybe that’s just me, I dunno.

Just by coincidence, before I left the museum, I decided to check out the main store within the museum. Now, frankly, most of the stuff in the store is really tourist-oriented (although they did have an excellent selection of space-oriented documentary DVD’s), so I didn’t expect to buy anything (and, indeed, I did not). I was just curious about the kinds of things that they were selling.

They had lots of stuff for children, including toys, posters, videos, clothing, “space candy,” etc. The DVD selection was excellent. And then I discovered that there was a second level.

The USS EnterpriseAlways the intrepid explorer, I descended to that second, almost hidden level. I found a few interesting things down there.

I found books. Apparently, books are relegated to the basement because they’re not the type of high-ticket items that tourists buy.

And I found the Starship Enterprise.

The original model of the ship from the classic 1960’s series.

Relegated to the basement level of the museum store where almost nobody would find it.

And that made me angry. Whatever it’s flaws, that show was important to me and millions of other viewers. Even today, Star Trek is thrilling millions of viewers around the world with the vision of a future in which space exploration is a worthwhile goal and where heroes work together to overcome obstacles.

In a shrine to past glories, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed fitting that the only forward-thinking display, one that glorified mankind’s future in space rather than its past, was banished to the nether regions of the museum where almost nobody would find it.

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Titanic: The Forgotten Passengers

Last year, on April 15th, it was the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. There were many news articles about the famous sinking, but one of them caught my attention. It featured an interview with J. Joseph Edgette, Ph.D., from Widener University, and it was about the pets that were on the Titanic’s maiden (and only) voyage.

As a dog lover, I was intrigued, so I did a bunch of research and created a PowerPoint presentation on the subject. I’ve had the opportunity to present it to several audiences; it comes out to about 12 minutes or so.

I uploaded it to SlideShare, so I could publicize the presentation. For your enjoyment and edification, I’ve embedded the Slideshare widget below so you can view the presentation online.

If you’re curious, here’s the text of the talk that accompanies the slides.


1. Titanic: The Forgotten Passengers

The Titanic sailed from Southampton on April 10, 1912, and sank after striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912. Even after 101 years, the tragedy of the Titanic still echoes in our collective memories. There are so many stories of that fateful journey – of bravery, of cowardice, of self-sacrifice, and more. Tonight, you’re going to hear some more stories, some of the lesser-known stories. Because Titanic wasn’t just a human tragedy. Come back to Titanic with me, and let me tell you about … the forgotten passengers.

2. Dogs on the Titanic

The first picture is of Titanic leaving on its maiden voyage from Southampton; it would stop at Cherbourg in France, then Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, before heading across the ocean on its doomed voyage to New York.

The next two photos are the only pictures in existence of Titanic’s forgotten passengers, the pets that were brought on board. The on-board photos were taken by amateur photographer Frank Brown, who left the ship in Ireland. His are the only surviving photos of the pets on the Titanic, as well as the interior of the Titanic – White Star Lines had commissioned Eastman Kodak to take the official photos of the ship in New York, but Titanic never arrived.

3. The Other Passenger List

There were 12 dogs confirmed to have been aboard the Titanic, plus one unconfirmed. Pets had to have tickets, too, so each pet, regardless of size cost roughly half the price of a full ticket, or a child’s fare. Even the lone canary on board cost 25 cents. As a result, only the rich, first-class passengers brought pets aboard. First class passengers were even planning a dog show on board, to be held the morning of April 15, many hours after Titanic had already sunk. Small dogs were kept in cabins with their owners.

Larger dogs were kept in an on-board kennel on F deck. Three small dogs are known to have survived, and legend has it that the last, unconfirmed dog, Rigel, also survived, but there’s no way to verify now if the animal even existed.

4. The Survivors

Only three of the confirmed dogs survived – they were all small dogs, kept in the passengers’ cabins, and carried aboard the lifeboats by their female owners. Officers thought Margaret Hays dog was a baby, since she wrapped it up in a blanket because of the cold. The other two dogs were carried onto lifeboats by their female owners – it’s doubtful if the staff even knew the dogs were being carried since they were so small.

5. The Toy Poodle

The only other dog that had a real chance of survival was “Frou-Frou”, a toy poodle owned by Helen Bishop. The dog was so scared that she didn’t want her mistress to leave, and even ripped Bishop’s dress with her teeth by tugging on it to keep her master with her. But one of the ship’s staff told Bishop to leave the dog in the cabin, saying that they’d be right back. Helen Bishop always bitterly regretted leaving her dog behind – Frou-Frou ended up being the only dog trapped in a room when the ship sank.

6. Dogs on Deck

Somebody went to F Deck and set the other dogs free – legend has it that it was John Jacob Astor IV, the richest man in the world, who apparently regarded his pets as family members. Astor remained on board, and died when one of Titanic’s funnels fell on him. Survivors reported the surreal sight of dogs racing up and down the slanting decks of the Titanic, the excited barking forming a weird counterpoint to the continued musical accompaniment of the Titanic’s musicians.

Astor is known to have died when one of Titanic’s funnels collapsed and fell on him.

7. Three Famous Dogs

From the “Famous Picture”… 1. Dog, the Fox Terrier: owned by William Dulles – no stories persist about this dog, except that he didn’t survive. 2. Gamin de Pycombe: After the Titanic went under, Robert Daniel’s champion French bulldog was seen swimming strongly in the water, but must have eventually succumbed to the frigid conditions. 3. Great Dane: The saddest story, though, belongs to the Great Dane owned by Anne Elizabeth Isham. She loved her dog so much, she visited him every day on F deck. She had a seat on a lifeboat, and got out so she could try to save her dog. She was spotted days later by a recovery ship, frozen in the water, with her arms wrapped around her faithful companion.

8. The Legend of Rigel

Rigel was a black Newfoundland who belonged to First Officer William Murdoch (who perished with the Titanic). Newfoundlands have webbed feet, a rudder-like tail, water-resistant fur, and are cold-climate dogs. Rigel survived swimming in the water until the rescue ship Carpathia arrived (just under two hours after the ship sank).

His barking prevented the Carpathia from running over one of the lifeboats whose occupants were too weak to be heard. He was later adopted by Jonas Briggs, a crewman on the Carpathia. This story is disputed, but difficult to verify either way. The newspaper clipping is from 1912.

9. The Legend of Jenny

All large ships back then had rats, and usually kept one or two cats on board as rat catchers. Titanic even had a sighting in one of its first-class public rooms, when a rat ran across the room in full view of dozens of first-class passengers.

10. Quiet as the Grave

Even though the Titanic lies now on the bottom of the ocean, the stories aren’t over. Tonight, you heard a few more stories about the the famous doomed ship. The legend of the Titanic lives on in our memories.

11. Biography: David Keener

12. Credits

13. Credits (2)

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Watching the Moon Launch with WSFA

WSFA - Washington Science Fiction AssociationI had an interesting Friday night. I’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area since 1987, when I first came here for a job. There’s a science fiction organization in the area called the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA), which I’ve known about for a long time, but I’d never attended a meeting because, for me, they’re on inconvenient nights in inconvenient places (the first and third Friday of the month, in Arlington and Maryland respectively).

However, as I embark seriously on an SF writing career, I really need to become familiar with the local SF clubs, conventions, etc. So, I decided to attend my first meeting yesterday. I secured the appropriate “kitchen pass” from my wife so that I could 1) go to the meeting, and 2) move our regularly scheduled “Friday Date Night” to Saturday instead.

As SF clubs go, WSFA is reasonably influential. They’re one of the oldest SF associations, formed in 1947 and meeting continuously since then. From the 1950’s to 1997, the organization ran a convention called Disclave; I attended a couple of those events back in the early 90’s. A few years passed without a convention, and then they started up Capclave in 2001, which I was already planning to attend (it’s on October 11 – 13 this year). They’ve also hosted the Worldcon twice, which is my favorite convention, and they hosted the World Fantasy Convention last year.

I showed up at the meeting, which was held at the residence of Sam and Judy Scheiner. I had a great time talking to a very nice group of people who love SF the way I do and, in some cases, know even more than I do about it. During the business portion of the meeting, of course, most of the discussion centered around the logistics for running Capclave in just a little over a month.

I also admitted, in public, to the group that I was trying to become an SF writer. That was … surprisingly daunting. Fortunately, folks were very encouraging.

Some other benefits to the meeting…someone brought a box of ARC’s (Advance Reader Copies) that were left over from Worldcon, and I managed to find a new book that sounded interesting (The Hidden Worlds, by Kristin Landon). Free books, always a good thing.

LADEE Moon LaunchLater we all trooped outside to a nearby park to watch the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) launch, which was happening on Wallops Island just off the Virginia coast at 11:27 PM, near its more famous cousin, Chincoteague. A key player in the launch was a company called Orbital, which has its headquarters near my house. Ken Kremer, a science writer, has a lot more information about the launch in his article on the Universe Today web site, if you want to learn more about it.

We couldn’t see much of the launch. It was partially obscured by trees, and the rocket never got very high from our vantage point as it headed eastward from the launch site. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly thrilling to watch the moving speck in the sky and know that it was a moon launch, and not just a plane flying by.

Overall, I had a good time. I met some fellow SF fans, and had some good, spirited SF discussions. I learned more about Capclave, got a free book, watched a rocket launch, and scored a reduced-cost ticket to Capclave from someone who bought their ticket long ago but won’t be able to attend. I call that a pretty good night.

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Strawberries and Champagne

Strawberries and Champagne

Strawberries and champagne at pool-side for my (ahem, cough, cough)-th birthday celebration. What’s not to like?

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