A Series of Pilots

Tell Your StorySome people have asked me why I’m writing novelettes and novellas and not novels. My response: I am. Sort of.

So, I will explain in the following five points…

1. I like the Format

I like novelettes and novellas. Some of my favorite stories are too short to be considered novels, and thus fall into this category. For example, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” is a novella. And let us not forget Robert Silverberg, an award-winning SF writer who has excelled at these lengths with stories like “Sailing to Byzantium” and many others.

The Hugo Awards define a novelette as a story of greater than 7500 and less than 17,500 words; and a novella as greater than 17,500 and less than 40,000 words. Since most non-writers don’t think in terms of word count, a novelette is roughly 30-70 pages, while a novella is roughly 71-160 pages. Back in the sixties and seventies, lots of books were published that would now count as novellas. Then came the the rise of “The Big Book,” which led to the bestseller-driven approach followed by today’s traditional publishers, and the smaller books just disappeared.

2. Viability

Ebooks and print-on-demand services have made novelettes and novellas viable again. For busy people, like me and many others, it’s easier to carve out the time to read a shorter-length works than some massive tome. There are other advantages to these shorter-length works, as well. The stories tend to be the length they need to be, so there’s no padding and no extraneous subplots. They’re long enough for complex story lines, but not so long that readers get bogged down.

3. Multi-Tasking

I have so many ideas for stories in my head, ideas that have been bottled up for so long that they’re all clamoring to get out. If I worked on a mammoth project like a novel, I’d have to concentrate for an extended period of time on just the novel. Since my day job is all about multi-tasking, it just feels more normal for me to round-robin across my various projects.

By multi-tasking, I mean that I tend to work on up to eight projects at the same time. There’s a cost, of course, because each project takes longer in terms of calendar time. But, then again, there’s always new work coming out of my “story pipeline.” And my writing groups have gotten used to me bringing chapters from different stories to be critiqued in successive weeks.

Um, note that I don’t recommend this approach for most people, but it works for me.

4. Marketing

My pipeline of shorter works fits into the marketing approach I’ve chosen for indie publishing. Assuming a quality product as a baseline, then to some extent the amount of money that a writer can make is predicated on the number of products that they have. New products (and sales) tend to boost the sales of older, related products. This is the approach used by well-known indie writers Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband, Dean Wesley Smith.

5. The Pilot Approach

In my stories I’ve tried to emulate some of the television shows that I like. Shows where a season is really a novel, composed of individual episodes. One of the most famous indie-published books, Wool by Hugh Howey, was originally published in five parts.

In some sense, you can look at most of my novelettes and novellas as pilot episodes for different TV series. Right now, the series are:

  • Belters: In the 24th century, Jonas Kastle is a troubleshooter for the Outer Planets League (OPL) in the run-up to what may become the first interplanetary war.
     
  • Big Sky Country: Brant Halvar is a skyracer on the dangerous skyracing circuit. He and his crew overcome adversity as he advances through the ranks in his effort to be accepted into the elite Big Sky League.
     
  • Pageeda and Scuffee: Pageeda, a young homeless girl living in a gritty port city, struggles to find out what happened to her older sister. She is befriended by Scuffee, a strangely intelligent, oversized cat who has escaped from the local Arena.
     
  • Roadwerks Limited: Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, inadvertently buys a magic road…and gets far more than he bargained for.
     
  • The Royal Bodyguard: Lydio Malik is the Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, the heir to the throne of Salasia. He and a team of others defend her from powerful forces trying to topple the ruling dynasty.
     

Three of these series, Big Sky country, Pageeda and Scuffee, and The Royal Bodyguard are all part of a larger canvas known as The Thousand Kingdoms.

Now, each of these series has a story arc for the “first season,” an arc that I expect to be able to fit into a reasonably-sized book, much the same way that Wool slotted together nicely as novel. Generally, what I’ve envisioned is a five-part arc for each season. And, thus, in way, what I have is a whole bunch of pilots.

So, I’m actually working on a bunch of novels at the same time. Part-time (since I still have a day job). And it all stays fresh for me, because I’m working on multiple projects at a time.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Capclave 2016

Capclave 2016: Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Convention Capclave is the Washington area’s premier literary SF and Fantasy convention, hosted each year by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA). I had a great time at Capclave, as always (it’s my fourth time), but especially from the business perspective of a burgeoning writer.

I was here with Marty Wilsey, a fellow member of my primary writing group, who was here to promote his indie-published military SF trilogy, the Solstice 31 Saga (it’s doing very well, by the way). I’m also on the verge of significant publication myself, with one of my novelettes due to appear this month in an anthology called Reliquary and another one about to be indie-published as soon as I can work out the cover issues with my cover designer.

From the business perspective, here’s what went really well:

  • Cathy Green, Capclave 2017’s Programming Chair, asked me to do a workshop for Capclave 2017. I’ve previously done workshops at Capclave 2014 and 2015.
  • I got to discuss the Reliquary anthology with the production team.
  • I got to discuss a future anthology, possibly two anthologies, that I’m putting together for publication next year.
  • I attended a workshop on “Book Design” put on by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, an industry professional who has successfully published many anthologies, including the highly amusing Bad-Ass Faeries series.
  • I networked with people who can help me promote my indie-published works.
  • I got to talk craft and business with other writers…who treated me as the professional writer that I believe I’m becoming.
  • I attended the “Microfiction Workshop” conducted by Dustin Blottenberger, Deidre Dykes and Brigitte Winter. I ended up with what I think is a publishable 101-word Halloween story and a venue to which to submit it.

In addition to workshops, I attended a number of great panels. One thing that was gratifying, and isn’t always experienced at cons, is that all of the moderators quite obviously spent time to both prepare for their panels and ensure that the content was suitable for the people likely to attend, i.e. – if the topic was aimed at writers then they made sure there was useful information for writers.

As both a writer and a fan, it was great conference and I look forward to attending again in 2017.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Creating An Adaptive Setting: Slides Available

The slides for my workshop, Creating an Adaptive Setting, from Capclave 2015 are now available online at Slideshare, which is where I host most of my public presentations and workshops.

For those who may not have seen my various advertisements for the workshop, here’s the general description:

Creating an Adaptive Setting

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve noticed that a lot of authors are making money with series. But crafting a series is hard, and it’s a subject that’s not covered in most writing manuals. Come learn a set of steps for creating a coherent, consistent and connected background to support multiple stories leveraging the same setting, primary characters and supporting characters. Give your series the foundation it needs to become what you want it to be.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Homework Every Night

Homework for Writers
Many thanks to my friend, Drew Rougier-Chapman, who snapped this photo of me as I was testing the introduction of my workshop, “Public Speaking for Writers,” in front of the Ashburn Toastmasters club. I got some excellent advice on how to fine-tune my introduction, as well as some sterling tips on conducting workshops from professional trainers Pam Wilson and Steve Cavin.

I love the quote: “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.” It’s just so true. That guy, Anonymous, he’s got all the best quotes.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged | Leave a comment

2014 in Review

2014 in ReviewAs a fledgeling writer, I think it’s useful to consider 2014, the year just past, with respect to how I’ve progressed as a writer. In a way, this is a follow-up to my 2013 in Review blog entry that I did last year.

By the end of 2012, I had decided to make a serious run at becoming a professional writer, inspired to a large degree by Hugh Howey, an indie-published superstar (and all-round nice guy). Starting in early 2013, I began actively pursuing my dream. By late 2013, it became clear that I needed to focus more heavily on fiction rather than other forms of writing output. And in 2014, I tried to really buckle down, focus on the craft of fiction writing and try to produce something truly publishable.

This is 2014 in review. How did I do?

Accomplishments

I tried a lot of things in the writing realm in 2014. Most of them worked really well.

  1. Scrivener: I started using Scrivener in November 2013. Throughout 2014, Scrivener functioned as my go-to tool for writing. It has become so integral to my writing process that it’s almost inconceivable to me that anyone would want to write without it.

    For those who are not familiar with it, Scrivener is a word-processing application targeted for authors. I love this tool, especially since it parallels the tools that I’ve always used to produce software. As a web developer, I use an IDE (Integrated Development Environment). An IDE is a tool that displays information about your source code in different ways in separate on-screen panels, and provides you with all sorts of features to manipulate your code. Scrivener is basically an IDE for writers.

  2. Writing Groups: In April 2014, I decided to investigate local writing groups. What I was really looking for was: a) a support system of people who understood what I was going through with my writing, and b) no-holds-barred critiques of my fiction by fellow writers. In Toastmasters, critical evaluations had been vital to my development as a public speaker, and I wanted to put a similar evaluation system in place for my writing.

    I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. The Loudoun County Writers Group exposed me to a group of writers who were working just as hard as me to lift themselves up into the realm of literary professionalism. Even better, shortly after I joined, one of the participants started an offshoot, the Loudoun Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers. I participated in both groups throughout the year.

  3. Writing: The focus in 2014 was fiction writing. I also produced blog entries for my creative web site, davidkeener.org. Blog entries for my technical web site, KeenerTech, mostly fell by the wayside. Even Toastmasters, while I still participated and did speeches during the year, took a backseat to writing (which delayed my achievement of the Distinguished Toastmaster designation).

    I worked on six novelettes/novellas over the year. The first fell apart and had to be temporarily abandoned, but the others have worked out well. By the end of the year, they were all in various stages of the writing process. One abandoned but due to be picked up again in 2015 (The Silent Knight), one in progress (The Threefold Revenge), one in beta heading for final revisions (Bitter Days), and two that will be completed first drafts by mid-January (The Good Book and The Rooftop Game). Plus another story, Big Sky Country, in the formative stages.

  4. Rhythm: The only way to write a significant amount of content is to establish a rhythm that allows you to write at least a little bit almost every day. Despite some time impediments (related to my IT career) in the middle of the year, I was able to establish a reasonably solid writing rhythm. Certainly enough to establish me as one of the most prolific writers in both of my writing groups.

    By the end of the year, I was reasonably successful at producing a chapter (in a different story) for each group every week. Equivalent to a writing rate of about 4K words per week. It remains a challenge for 2015 to see if I can maintain this rate of production.

  5. Networking: I joined the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) at the very beginning of the year, and have never regretted it. I’ve met a bunch of people who are as passionate about speculative fiction as I am. Now, when I go to most SF conventions, I’m lucky enough to know some of the people there. It also led to meeting various professional writers and securing some speaking opportunities (more on this in a moment). Members have also made me aware of various contests and anthology opportunities, as well as even volunteering to be a beta reader. More than anything, though, I’ve had fun.

  6. Convention Speaking: My WSFA membership led to some interesting opportunities, such as being a panelist at Capclave 2014, where I also conducted a well-received two-hour workshop, Public Speaking for Writers. Many thanks to Cathy Green, the Capclave 2014 Programming Chair, for sending this opportunity my way and giving me an excellent speaking credential.

  7. Mastermind Group: In September 2013, I formed the Rising Tide Mastermind Group with some ambitious friends from Toastmasters. The purpose of the group was to pool our talents and experience to help all of the group’s members achieve success in their endeavors, which ranged from being a speculative fiction writer to becoming a motivational speaker. The group went on summer hiatus and hasn’t been back.

    It turns out that I’m so driven that I don’t need a mastermind group to help me keep my commitments. Others in the group didn’t really respond well to the pressure of trying to achieve monthly goals. A couple members of the group simply didn’t have a long-rage ambition that justified the kind of organized effort that such a group promotes.

    Still, we had a lot of fun, and did manage to cross-pollinate ideas across our respective specialties. It seems likely that the group will return in 2015, but perhaps in a different form — an organized night of talks at a local restaurant, perhaps.

Overall, from the writing perspective, I was pleased with 2014. While I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t self-publish any of my significant works in 2014, I’d much rather publish professional work when it’s ready than just push something out for the sake of getting it out there.

Measurable Results

I tracked my writing output, expenses, and writing income all year (this last isn’t particularly hard to track when it’s basically zero). Expenses included web site hosting, conventions, books, domain name renewals and training (in the form of Toastmasters and workshops). Toastmasters might seem like an oddity for a writer, since it’s a non-profit organization dedicated to improving public speaking and leadership skills. But professional writers speak on panels, moderate panels, participate in interviews, make pitches to publishers, do keynote speeches, and do readings in front of an audience.

I produced 52 blog entries, 18 speeches (10 of them original, i.e. – not derived from other projects of mine), zero videos and 2 presentations (including one two-hour workshop). I worked on six stories, which are all in various stages of progress.

Let’s compare this to 2013. At 52 blog entries, I’m down from the 70 that I produced in 2013. This is expected, though, because I focused much more heavily on fiction writing this year. In 2013, blogging amounted to 32,047 words, but this dropped to 21,952 in 2014. Fewer blog entries and slightly shorter ones, on average. However, blogging was almost completely concentrated on my creative web site, davidkeener.org. This reflects my increased focus on fiction writing.

I did 18 speaking engagements this year, but only 10 were original (by which I mean that they weren’t repeats of a speech I’d already done, or solely re-purposed content from one of my other projects). In 2013, I had 18 original speeches, so once again, I’ve reduced the amount of non-story work on my plate.

I produced no videos in 2014, compared to three in the previous year. This is a weakness I’ll need to correct in the next year. Videos provide an excellent opportunity to separate yourself from the rest of the pack. Since I’ve got the tools and expertise, it behooves me to do more in this arena. Once again, though, this was something of a casualty on the altar of fiction writing.

I created only two presentations in 2014, compared to 3 in 2013. However, they were much more strategic, since both were aimed at writers. The presentations were The Pitfalls of Medieval Fiction Writing and Public Speaking for Writers. This last was the highly successful two-hour workshop that I conducted at Capclave 2014.

OK, if everything else was down because of my focus on writing, what did my fiction output look like?

In 2013, I produced only 12,583 words of fiction. This increased to 49,233 in 2014, plus another 12,980 in the non-fiction realm (not blogging). This represents almost four times as much fiction, plus non-fiction on top of it. Total output was 97,898 words (compared to 2013’s 68,630), but 50% was fiction (as opposed to 18% in 2013). Non-fiction was 13%. So, fiction and non-fiction combined were 63%, which comprised all of the content targeted for eventual publication in various forms. Blogging was down to 22%, with the remaining percentage represented by presentations and speeches.

2014’s output was up 43% from 2013. Overall, I think my numbers are where they need to be. Blogging is a necessity as far as I’m concerned, a vital part of my online platform. While blogging may amount to 22% of my output, it actually occupies a great deal less time than fiction writing since blog entries are 1) shorter than stories, and 2) written once and then published (rather than going through the cycles of revision that my stories go through). So the effort involved in writing in 2014 was considerably greater than is suggested by the percentage increase. My daily average in 2014 was 268 words.

With more than half of my output in fiction, and slightly less than two thirds in publishable content (fiction and non-fiction combined), I’m reasonably happy with these percentages.

Conclusions

My course corrections in late 2013 to focus more on fiction have paid off in 2014. The writing groups have also been highly beneficial, as well. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get anything indie published in 2014, but I’d rather wait until the content is ready and can be marketed properly. I’m also pleased that I have a solid pipeline of content going now, and can expect stories to exit that pipeline in a regular fashion throughout 2015.

The total amount for fiction needs to go up, though. Producing 4k words per week of fiction would amount to 208K of fiction in a single year. That’s more like the rate that I need to achieve in order to make writing potentially viable from a monetary perspective. That would be two significantly-sized novels per year, or one novel and a bunch of novelettes.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Latest Slideshare Stats

Slideshare Rocks!Many of my friends and readers know that I publish almost all of my presentations online on my “channel” at Slideshare.net. I have twenty presentations online, of which fifteen are technical presentations in the IT field (associated with my day job) and five are on topics more closely related to my creative endeavors. To date, I’ve received 93,146 views.

What’s most interesting to me right now, though, is that my five non-technical presentations, which are among my newest presentations, have together amassed 13,947 views. They are:

They’re ranked by number of views, which also currently corresponds to age. So “Public Speaking for Writers” has been online for only a little over a month. Interestingly, “21st Century Writer” is the fastest mover and will probably top the list within the next year.

Check them out if you get a chance. I’d like to think that I’ve made some pretty decent content available online for free. Please let me know if you find it interesting or useful (or both).

Posted in Science, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Unexpected Knight

I’ve been working on a story called “The Silent Knight” for quite a while. It’s about a knight named Sir Kedric Hawkthorn. The backstory is that Kedric’s tongue was ripped out while on a diplomatic mission for his liege, King Bannon. Hence, the nickname, the Silent Knight. After the king’s death, Kedric’s entered the service of the new king, a spoiled imbecile who hates everything associated with his father, including Kedric.

It was an ambitious story, featuring a character who can’t talk, some elements of romantic comedy, a dastardly villain who can influence the story but can’t physically oppose the hero until the very end, and a time span of about four months. All of these things are challenging.

I reached about 11,000 words of what I intended to be a novella, a story of 18K to 25K words. I also intended it to be Part 1 of a 5-part serial, with all of the parts being individually self-published on Amazon. Then, I intended to gather the parts together into an omnibus, a book.

The problem was that the story didn’t come together the way that I wanted. The further I continued, the less I felt that I was building the conclusion on a solid foundation. I still believed in the story, and the characters. But it didn’t feel like it was coming together for me.

So I put writing the story on hiatus. I let it sit for a while. Then I sent it to one of my beta readers, a friend who is also a non-fiction writer. She’s also in Toastmasters which, while it is an organization for teaching public speaking, also provides training on giving evaluations. In other words, she knew I was looking for problems, not praise. In the story, where sections were left unwritten, I provided a concise outline of what was supposed to happen and how it would affect the characters.

This is what I got back from her:

I’ve read it, all in one shot. It’s a great story. I have few suggestions. Need your list of what you are concerned about to continue.

One suggestion: If you have a term that is strange or foreign to people of this generation and time, the first time you use that term you need to define it. After that, use it without the definition.

It’s a good story. I want the ending!! I saw the roughs of the ending. Cool ideas. Where are you stuck? What doesn’t feel right?

How long do you intend it to be? Does it have to be of a certain length for some reason, or the length is no problem. I could see this as a whole novel. The silent part is not a problem. Clever tactics to get to know him by other people talking about him.

Great writing!

I was totally floored. What wasn’t working for me, worked just fine for my beta reader. Naturally, I sent her the list of my concerns so she can continue her evaluation. At this point, I think I’m also going to run the story past some of the members of my writing group as well.

It looks like this story is going to come off the back burner again this summer, probably right after I complete the second story about Pageeda and Scuffee. Even with its problems, the story has achieved some of the impact I was hoping for. I’m excited again. You don’t know how good that feels.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What’s Your Dream?

This is a picture of me taken yesterday at Comcast Studio in Reston, VA. About 5 seconds after this picture was taken, I delivered a 6-minute, one-take motivational speech called “What’s Your Dream?” for a segment of the television show, Mastering Business Communications.

David Keener at Comcast Studio

And I nailed it.

Totally.

I only found out last Friday that I’d be doing the segment. I’d been listed as the tertiary backup, but both of the people in front of me got cold feet about appearing on television.

Unfortunately, my supremely busy schedule and the short notice made it difficult to find the time to write and then practice the speech. So I burned a vacation day at my day job, and took Wednesday off. I completed writing the speech by 10:00 AM. Then I practiced it 30 or 40 times that day. I got to the studio early, and practiced it twice in the actual studio &mash; once without an audience, and once with a couple of my friends watching me.

When it came time to do it on camera, I was ready.

The new episode of Mastering Business Communications will be televised in VA on both the Comcast and Verizon cable networks. It will appear on TV sometime next week, and is currently available on Vimeo (I’m at the 9:15 mark in the episode).

Posted in A Little Inspiration, Toastmasters, Writing Tips | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Writer’s Village

The writer sits in a darkened room, his face lit only by the glow of his computer screen as he madly types on the keyboard. Soon, his latest opus will be completed, so perfect that no second draft will be needed. He’ll submit it to a publisher, who will instantly accept it, and all too soon it will be a New York Times bestseller.

For many people, the perception is that professional writing is done by supremely talented people working in isolation and producing perfectly publishable stories and novels without any additional help from anybody.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it generally works in real life.

Think about it for a moment. Have you ever opened a book and seen an acknowledgement page where the author thanks dozens of people for helping him complete the book?

What’s going on here? Isn’t writing a solitary art? What could all of these people possible do for a writer?

I’m going to tear the veil aside, and tell you who these people are, what they do, and how they help writers produce their stories and novels.

This is, of course, highly relevant to me because I’m trying to jump-start my own encore career as a professional science fiction and fantasy writer.

To that end, I’ve set up, or am in the process of setting up, five basic groups of people to help me.

  1. Mastermind Group: To help with the business aspects of being a solo entrepreneur.

  2. Writer’s Group: To help with the creative aspects of being a writer.

  3. Alpha Readers: To help improve my content by focusing on structural issues.

  4. Beta Readers: To help improve my content by serving as a test audience.

  5. Subject Matter Experts: People who know more than me about key subjects like sword fighting, military tactics, etc.

So, what’s a Mastermind group?

Writing is a business, and I’m pursuing a multi-pronged approach for my writing career. While writing needs to be my primary activity, I’ll be augmenting this with other activities such as workshops, storytelling performances, videos, blogging, marketing, etc. Basically, I’m planning on using my advanced public speaking and storytelling skills as a locomotive to pull me through the marketplace and help advertise my fiction. This is a complicated business plan with a lot of moving parts.

Accordingly, I need a team of people to help me out with the business aspects of being a solo entrepreneur. A Mastermind group provides a collaborative environment where ambitious, driven individuals can meet to discuss business plans and engage in mutual problem-solving. Most importantly, however, a Mastermind group requires members to set goals, and holds them accountable for reaching those goals. The group helps members push their limits.

A Writer’s Group allows me to interact with other writers in my field. We can meet, kick around ideas, brainstorm, solve writing problems, etc. This helps me get better at the craft of writing.

Alpha readers and beta readers help make your content better. Alpha readers are people with industry knowledge who read your story in its roughest form, often multiple times, and tell you what’s not working, where there are structural problems in your story, etc. They also challenge your underlying assumptions. To put it bluntly, they tell you if your story sucks, explain why it sucks, and give you recommendations on how to make it suck less.

The best example of where I thought alpha readers could have really made a difference involves the two Star Wars trilogies. If George Lucas had surrounded himself with the kind of detail-oriented people who make good alpha readers, he would have never perpetrated Jar Jar Binks on us.

Beta readers are your test audience. When you think your story is complete, and ready to be published, you give it to them. By the time they see your story, the basic architecture should already be sound. Beta readers help you fine-tune your story to make it even more effective. They tell you about issues like character motivation problems, clumsy dialogue, pacing problems, and areas where they were jarred out of the story.

Finally, subject matter experts. Have you ever seen a book where key details were wrong? Subject matter experts help prevent this. They are volunteers who give you advice on topics like sword fighting, police procedures, forensics, the possible physics of interstellar space drives, etc.

And you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to find subject matter experts to help you. If you ask nicely, most people would love to answer questions about their profession or hobby. For example, I needed expertise on sword fighting for a story. This past Memorial Day weekend, I attended the Virginia Scottish Festival and Games. One of the organizations present at the event was the Virginia Fencing School, where I met two men who were delighted to answer my questions about fencing, the different types of swords, and different fighting styles.

Writing is not a solitary art. All of these people are essential if you want to be a high-performing professional writer. If you’re writer, or want to be a writer, I hope that I’ve opened your eyes about the writing profession and how volunteers can help you achieve your dreams. If you’re not a writer, well, I hope that I’ve provided you with a better understanding of how stories and books are really produced.

Every writer really does need a village.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Writing Tips | Tagged , , | 2 Comments
« Older