GTD Revisited, 2017 #amwriting

My current GTD system


I’ve been using GTD in various incarnations for a while now:

Other examples exist.

Of course, GTD itself is just a discipline for gathering stuff to do, prioritising stuff to do, and getting it done in decent order. Implementation method is optional—and I’ve gone through several iterations (as shown above) on how to make it work for me.

My problem with my implementation up until this week was that I’d stopped using it. I was using automation to stuff everything into Trello, using it as my collector. But I’d stopped looking there on a regular basis, and had started using Habitica’s To-dos as my collection point—not by intentional design, but by, well, laziness.

Habitica has many virtues. Being a collector for possible things to do is not one of them. The least productive (things that I should just decide Not To Do), the hardest (high-value things to do that need to be broken down more), and medium value but non-urgent things to do all end up at the bottom of my Habitica list, getting redder and redder, their experience points getting higher, and breaking the game by providing experience points, gold, and mana all out of proportion to their true value if and when I finally get them done. I find this horribly demotivating in terms of getting the high-value items (like finishing my novel draft or making an appointment for a physical) done in a timely fashion.

I’m not the only Habitican who’s noticed this problem—and the Habitica developers are considering several different approaches to making this more motivating for prompt attention to to-dos and working better with outside to-do systems. In the meantime…

I’ve cut out the middleman. In order to do my weekly GTD review, I once had to open Trello, and open Google Calendar, and consider where to put my Trello cards on the calendar once I’d decided to do them this week. I then had a rather elaborate and failure-prone protocol for putting the lucky Trello cards into a special column so that Zapier would automatically place them on the Google calendar on the chosen day. Then I had another Zapier automation which would stuff them into Habitica just before they were due.

Now I collect things to do on my calendar. I actually have four calendars in my Google account—one for real, timed “Appointments,” one for “Scheduled” to-dos , one for raw, “Unprocessed” to-dos, and one for “Processed”, prioritised to-dos that have not been scheduled (this is also where I put time blocks so I’m sure to leave enough time for writing and exercise.)

Note that I don’t use the Google Tasks thing. They show up off to one side. I need to see my things-to-do stacked up on the day I plan to do them, as in my illustration. The to-dos are the all-day items.

I’ve convinced IFTTT to dump raw to-dos from iOS Reminders and Evernote into that “Unprocessed” to-dos calendar and make them nominally due on the next Monday. On Monday I do my GTD review. I take anything undone from the last week, delete its to-do from Habitica and stuff its calendar item back into Processed and re-prioritise it. All the Unprocessed to-dos are either deleted or given a priority. Anything that is priority 3 or above is moved to an appropriate day in the “Scheduled” calendar. (I never put more than six items/appointments due on any one day, including writing and exercise—if I don’t have room for something, then either it or something else goes back into the Processed calendar.) I then move leftover Processed to-dos to the following Monday. Zapier then takes all the items added to Scheduled and stuffs them into Habitica at 00:01 am on their due dates.

This way, no to-do hangs around in Habitica for more than a week, growing more and more evil. Monday morning I don’t have to open both Trello and my calendar, because everything lives in my calendar now. Zapier doesn’t have to try to parse Trello cards and stuff them into the calendar, just stuff the scheduled calendar items into Habitica later.

Okay, I admit it. Programming all the automation is—dare I say it?—fun. And eliminating the Trello collection step makes it a lot simpler. So, onward to Getting Things (like more writing) Done.

What font do you use when writing? (poll) #amwriting

It took me a while to decide what font to use while writing — a completely separate issue from what font to use when creating output for others to read. I finally settled on Verdana, for the following reasons:

  • It’s designed as an on-screen font, so it is equally readable on my tiny iPhone screen and on my non-Retina Macbook screen.
  • There is a distinct visual difference among the capital i “I”, lower-case L “l”, and numeral one “1”. Not being able to distinguish among the capitalized word ill “Ill”, the roman numeral three “III” and the number one hundred eleven “111” drives me absolutely bonkers when I’m writing. I want to know what letter I just typed, dang it.
  • It’s a proportional font, so I can immediately see the difference between a hyphen “-“, an en-dash “–”, and an em-dash “—”. It also makes the difference between capital o “O” and numeral zero “0” obvious—another case of wanting to know what letter I typed.
  • It has regular, bold, and italic variants. I tried American Typewriter for a while, but it has no italic variant. That meant that while I could italicise my text, I wouldn’t see it while writing in Scrivener. Boo.
  • It’s available on both Mac and iOS systems. In other words, it’s included at no extra cost and I mostly don’t have to do anything to have it available.

April #CampNaNoWriMo – Attack of the Block Ness Monster #amwriting

How can something this big sneak up on anyone?


I’ve got my backstory prepped! Yay!

Now I’ve got to actually plot my story. Bummer.

“Scene” cards from Story Genius by Lisa Cron are what I’ll be using—they’ve been a bit difficult to wrap my head around. You see, what Ms. Cron calls a “scene” is what I call a chapter. To me, a scene is a block of action (yes, my screenwriting training shows here) that is continuous both in location and in duration—one “master shot.” In other words, you can set up the cameras and let ’em roll. If you have to move to a different location, change the lighting, change the actors, change the costumes, or change the set decoration—well, that’s a different scene.

The examples that Ms Cron uses, though, are what I call chapters—one or more scene(s) that represent a complete dramatic thought. My chapters are about three thousand to four thousand words long, and can contain anything from one to five scenes, depending on how much action is in.

In other words, I’ve been trying to outline at the scene level all this time, when I really needed to be outlining (or “blueprinting” as Ms. Cron calls it) at the chapter level.

That explains a lot. Aside from the fact that I’ve just been thinking of scenes that might happen without any real way to make them into a coherent chapter, let alone a novel… I was taking my outline way too fine for novel writing. At least, for me.

But I’m working, and that’s the important bit. Back to it…

April #CampNaNoWriMo—Yes, I’m Participating

Let the jackalopes—er, Plot Bunnies, multiply


I apologise for posting so infrequently. I’ve been struggling with structure. I’ve re-read Story Genius by Lisa Cron, and even picked up and read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (which actually describes the same phenomenon from the opposite end of the telescope, as it were.) I’ve also dealt with a nasty case of the flu. Writing has been happening very little, I’m afraid. I know I’m not alone in the fear of Doing It Wrong, but it’s been debilitating lately.

I know when I pick up the Ulysses app demo and try once again to see if I wouldn’t like writing with it better than I do with Scrivener (answer: no, I wouldn’t), that I’m lost in the Procrastination Archipelago.

Well, that’s what NaNoWriMo is for, in all its variants—getting writers out of procrastination. So here I am, determined to meet my goal of fifty hours of structuring and writing for the month. With any luck, I’ll do a lot more. You can follow my stats on the Camp NaNoWriMo site. See you in the Land of the Storysquatch.

Outlining, At Last? #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

Story Genius, by Lisa Cron

Story Genius, by Lisa Cron is the Unified Field Theory of storytelling.


Those of you who have been watching me struggle with Pantsing v. Plotting (iThoughts and the Dreaded Outline, Movin’ On Down the Productivity Highway, Back To Work, Or NaNoWriMo Waits For No One, et. al.) know that I’ve blogged several “breakthroughs” about outlining that, well, have come to almost nothing. There’s always been something “wrong” with the systems I’ve looked at—Too rigid. Too much information to fill out that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with my story. Terminology straight out of an MFA program that doesn’t mean anything to me—even after I look it up. Directions to not let the outline be a straitjacket—but then I can’t let go of treating it like an engineering specification. Something. Always. Doesn’t. Work.

Well, if I can’t use Story Genius, by Lisa Cron to plan a novel, I’ll—strongly consider giving up writing and starting a knitting blog.

Ms. Cron explains why just sitting down and writing doesn’t work. She explains why plotting doesn’t work. She explains why most character bios are bunk. Instead, her thesis is that a story is NOT a series of things that happen (plot), not even if it has some interesting characters. Rather, it is a series of events that force its protagonist to change, to learn some specific lesson in some specific way. Every story. Yes, that one. That other one, too. Even “Grog Survived Being Almost Eaten By A Cave Lion.” Her list of academic references are impressive. Her system is—a lot of hard work.

But it’s work I need to do.

Ms Cron suggests that a would-be author (me) needs to select the lesson that the protagonist will learn in the course of the novel, and create very specific backstory that will make it absolutely necessary for the protagonist to learn that lesson. This creates a coherent focus on the specific theme I choose for the novel.

What? Me, focus? (Laughs derisively.)

Exactly. The world of Fane of Air and Darkness (FOAAD), The Bully Trap, and several other partly-finished stories, is one I’ve been thinking about, building, and creating a history regarding, for more than five years. That’s a lot of backstory, most of it sloshing around in my head. Following Ms Cron’s “blueprinting” process is forcing me to narrow my focus to only those backstory elements that have to do with FOAAD, and to write them down in sufficient detail to build a story with them. It forces me to look at contradictions. It forces me to put certain aspects of the Fraser and Spencer universe aside, as they will confuse the issue of FOAAD.

It’s slow going. Things that have nothing to do with FOAAD keep wanting to take over my brain and my keyboard. There are things that I know I’m going to have to cut from what I’ve already written. There are things I’m resolutely going to have to decide to, well, explore in a sequel. And of course, I’ve spent far more hours than I probably ought to have done, re-structuring my Scrivener project to accommodate this new method. (If you’re interested, Gwen Hernandez wrote an excellent article on this, Using Scrivener with Story Genius and included her Scrivener template which I’ve shamelessly perverted to my nefarious purposes.)

Dammit.

I want to shove it all in, and it’s hard work building a dam to keep irrelevant (for now) stuff out. But already I can feel the urgency building in my backstory—which is going to explode on the page in the story itself.

Ok, if writing a novel were easy everyone would do it. But keeping cats out of my knitting is much more soothing.

I’m Not Giving Up—But I Am Backing Off #amwriting

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Time to advance to the rear (Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


Well, I’ve injured my foot.

That makes it rather tough to keep up with my exercise goals—which in turn impact my other health goals. My health goals, in turn, impact my ability to focus, which means that my entire Beeminder-driven writing goal structure is in jeopardy.

Bummer.

For a change, I’ve decided to do something sane—I have taken every single health goal I have in Beeminder and added a week of flat spot. This means that while I don’t NEED to make progress to avoid a Beeminder payment, I do need to not slip backwards. And I haven’t given myself any slack on my writing or business goals.

With any good fortune, I’ll be back chugging on my step and weight goals in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I have no excuse to stop chugging ahead on my book.

And April Camp Nanowrimo is just around the corner. I think I’ll have a continuation/editing goal rather than a new project this time.

Revisiting Beeminder, January 2017 #amwriting @ScrivenerApp

My Beeminder Goals

I’ve expanded my use of http://beeminder.com quite a bit.


Beeminder has undergone a few changes in the past year—they’ve cut back on their free options (though it’s still usable free—just not as generously as in the past.) As a result, I’ve started a $4/month subscription. It’s worth it to me, just to be able to run more than three goals at once.

As you can see above, I’ve actually got seven Beeminder goals active. I’ve stated previously that I know I can’t handle more than three or four—what’s changed?

First, I’ve gotten myself a Bluetooth blood pressure monitor (Withings) as well as a WiFi-connected scale (also Withings). With these in place, a lot of data entry has gone poof. Instead, I can look at the tracking in Beeminder and say, “Oh, [Deity of choice], have mercy! WTF caused THAT spike?” and do something about it, without doing anything more than actually taking the readings. As long as all I have to do to get data into Beeminder is take readings, wear my fitness tracker, and work on my Mac (RescueTime), I’m good.

In fact, all is good except my word count. Lately my word count, to use the old Saturday Night Live line, “really bites the big one.”

I can’t get my word count into Beeminder directly. Scrivener remains stubbornly unconnected to things like IFTTT and Zapier. While I can track the amount of time I use Scrivener in RescueTime, I consider it highly unlikely that anything more sophisticated than tweeting word count automatically will appear in Scrivener 3.0. (Prove me wrong, Keith! Please!) Still, tracking word count in Beeminder is pretty hopeless if I have to have the discipline to do data entry every. Single. Freaking. Day. Even if Beeminder reminds me. Pleads with me. Flat-out nags me…

BUT—I’ve realised that I’ve stopped tracking only activities directly related to writing (Scrivener use, iThoughts use, Wikipedia (maybe), Evernote in my Writing notebook (maybe)). I started broadening what I had RescueTime consider “writing” back in October when I started the publishing push for The Bully Trap. That information is valuable, but it’s not writing time.

So I’m splitting “writing” into two goals—“Writing” and “Business_Hours”. Business hours will retain a goal of 22 hours per week. Writing hours will cut back drastically to 3.5 hours per week (included in the business hours goal) to make it easier to get started again. If it looks like I might derail, I’ll scale back the writing hours goal further, until I can succeed—and then start increasing it again. As I do this, I’ll adjust the activities (websites, apps, etc.) which are allocated to each category—on a daily basis at first, until they’re mostly right again.

I have to fight off feeling discouraged. It feels like starting over again—but it’s not. It’s cleaning up my act.

Besides, I have some True Fans out there. I have to keep on keeping on—for them. I’ve promised.

A Word in Praise of T-Mobile #amwriting @TMobile

T-Mobile
What T-Mobile has to do with writing:

I write in coffee shops. A lot. While I usually choose Starbucks and its excellent WiFi, at least weekly I go to a shop with unreliable or non-existent WiFi. Without WiFi, RescueTime isn’t tracking me and keeping me honest. So, yes, a reliable mobile data connection is important while I’m writing.

I switched to T-Mobile from Verizon, primarily for lower cost and better international service. It’s delivered on the cost and the international, but I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the following:

  • T-Mobile has service in Los Angeles’ subway line. AT&T does not.
  • T-Mobile’s loyalty program, T-Mobile Tuesdays, has made my life materially better with free and extremely low cost promotions, like a free Frosty at Wendy’s or $2 movie tickets. Verizon’s loyalty points program offered “auctions” I could never win, or “discounts” on luxury goods that were more cheaply available elsewhere even after the discount. So from free Frosties to $2 3D IMAX tickets for “Rogue One”, I have gotten more in four months with T-Mobile than I got from Verizon in two years.
  • T-Mobile has better service at my home than Verizon.
  • T-Mobile has better service in the Los Angeles canyons, places in which cellular reception is notoriously spotty for excellent geographic reasons.

When my son and I got home from “Rogue One” last night—an expedition we could not have afforded without T-Mobile Tuesday—I shouted “T-Mobile rocks!” I estimate I get 10-20% of my bill back in Tuesday promotions every month.

Sorry, Verizon. You’ve lost me forever.

Shame and Blame in the Indie Writer Community #amwriting

Arrows of Blame

Arrows of Blame point in all directions. (Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I made my first Tweet on my book author Twitter account. As a result, I was served up some “Who to follow” suggestions. One was an indie writers’ group-blog Twitter feed. I followed it—why not?

I shortly found out. I was shocked by the levels of blame, bitterness, and shame among my fellow indie writers, as well as outright misinformation being spread about. I will not contribute to this toxic stream, but I will write down my own impressions.

Blame and Bitterness:

For the record, I am not yet even making Starbucks money with my book release. I do not think this is because Amazon or CreateSpace, or any of the retailers reached by Smashwords is ripping me off. I do not think this is because Amazon has too liberal a return policy. I do not think this is because my fellow indie writers are pricing their books too low and underpricing me. I do not think this is because Amazon Unlimited is Evil Incarnate.

I think this is because releasing a short novella—by itself—was not the best decision I could have made from a pure marketing perspective. I released because if I waited to have my second, or even third, novella ready to publish, I might have lost my nerve. I don’t think this is irreparable, and I will be taking vigorous marketing measures when my second episode is ready for publication. This is exactly as I expected. I am not disappointed, and there is no one to “blame”—not even myself.

Shame:

It’s the definition of independent publishing that, well, anyone can. That means that people who are not qualified to be authors are nevertheless publishing. For all I know, that category includes me.

But there’s a lot of shame out there among my fellow authors. Shame that we don’t have—or couldn’t hold—a traditional publishing contract. Shame that we might be judged by contamination with the, er, less-qualified of our fraternity. It seems to me that this manifests in a few ways:

  • Pushing hard to get books into brick-and-mortar bookstores. This is one thing that traditional publishers can do much, much better than indie authors. I’m not going to even try. My effort will be much better spent getting recognition in ebook channels.
  • An insistence on hiding every possible evidence of indie-ness. This includes (but is not limited to) buying a big block of ISBNs lest someone notice that the entry in Books in Print for our work lists CreateSpace or some other entity noted for giving indie authors free ISBNs. It can include getting incorporated and/or building a “MyPublishingCompany.com” website. (NOTE: I’m not saying that any of getting a big block of ISBNs, getting incorporated, or building a publishing company-type website is a bad business decision. It depends on business circumstances. But if it’s because I’m ashamed of being indie—well, I doubt I’m fooling anyone but me.)
    • [Aside: An ISBN is an international stock number for books. Almost all booksellers use them instead of a private SKU.]
  • A corollary of the Books in Print entry shame is the belief—often voiced but unsubstantiated—that every independent bookseller has a massive resentment against Amazon.com. This resentment will lead them to refuse to stock any book that has “CreateSpace” listed on its entry in Books in Print. The truth is that CreateSpace has a different, less-advantageous offer to booksellers than the standard offer—one that includes a lower discount for retailers and doesn’t allow returns. It’s therefore a rational business decision for a bookseller to not stock CreateSpace books—though of course they will special-order on request. If bookseller stocking were important to my business plan, yes, I would use a different printer. But as I am focusing my business plan on electronic sales and sales through Amazon—no. Not now.
Misinformation:

There is almost a cult out there insisting that taking free ISBNs offered by CreateSpace, Smashwords, and others is tantamount to condemning one’s work to indie Hell. That no matter what these companies say, they’re really getting rights to my book forever. If one of them should go out of business, I would never, ever, be able to sell my work again, because I couldn’t do another print or ebook version. Again.

Nonsense. If that were true, no one would ever be able to republish a book that had gone out of print. ISBNs exist to connect a given product with a given wholesaler—usually but not always a publisher. The name “CreateSpace” is in the ISBN description because CreateSpace is the entity that a retailer (bookstore) would contact to order my book, in a given (paperback) format. Smashwords is a distributor—again, retailers (Kobo, iBooks, Barnes and Noble et. al.) contact them for the electronic version of my book. So if I want to take my print book out of wide distribution by CreateSpace, then assign my own ISBN to a new edition that will be available from, say, IngramSpark, I’m free to do so. I’m free to fire Smashwords as my distributor and develop a new edition with my own eISBN that I put up on each platform separately. I’d have to wait until the distribution channels clear, and I might be well-advised to do a cover (and trim size for print) change at the same time so the different editions are distinguishable—but as long as only one ISBN connects to one place for a retailer to buy an edition/format combo at a time, I’m good.

Conclusion:

I’ve (largely) rooted out this shame-and-blame addiction from my marriage, but I’m still hypersensitive to it. So, I run like a deerhound from indie author sites or groups that indulge. Sad.

Want the Early Skinny on Scrivener 3.0? You Won’t Get It Here #amwriting

OK, so an email came recently asking me if I want to be on the Scrivener 3.0 beta test panel when it happens.

I said no.

I can hear you now: “What are you thinking, Silver Dragon? Why wouldn’t you want check out all the cool new features and find all the bugs in Scrivener 3.0?”

The short answer is that I don’t want to spend hours chasing bugs. I’m too much of a nitpicking perfectionist—and my vision of perfection doesn’t always match that of Literature and Latte. Besides, I did that for a living too damn long.

Yes, I produced some good blog posts as a result of being part of the iOS Scrivener beta team. But I’m convinced that the hours I spent on beta testing materially delayed releasing The Bully Trap. Besides, it’s stressful. If Scriv 3.0 is buggy when it comes out, getting work done with Scriv 2.8 will be… challenging. Not that I would—I’d spend hours reproducing bugs, documenting bugs, explaining bugs, explaining bugs again, finding more bugs that were uncovered after the first dozen were squashed…

The end result would be six weeks of beta in which I got one week of writing done. Again. No.

Just no.