Sprint 6: Let’s Try Setting 2 Week Writing Goals
June 1, 2015 by David T. Allen
Last month, we made significant gains on a print edition for Dream Eater’s Carnival and used our first KDP promotion. Our next book, currently titled Echo Chamber Heist, advanced a little further. The new scope creep “feature” was informative, so it’s time to try something new with this month’s goals.
What Was Fun?
I like to include what fun things we did every sprint article to show how we still have time to enjoy ourselves, even though I work a somewhat demanding job at a startup. We didn’t have much fun the first few years we were writing because we weren’t tracking our progress, so it always felt like we were behind. Ever since we began using “sprints” to plan and track our writing goals, we have been happier.
Something good happened at work, so Leslie surprised me with a celebration! Chipotle and some sparkling wine. It just so happened that our friends Amanda and Andrew happened to come over the same day because their block was on fire. At first, they gave us a strange look and thought the bubbly was for celebrating the fire.
Our friends, Megan and Dave, returned from New Zealand! Megan came back to Pittsburgh early, so I took a day off work so the three of us could go to Kennywood and avoid the lines. Leslie and I have been meaning to go since we moved back to Pittsburgh, but we never made the time for it before.
Once Dave got back to Pittsburgh, we decided to watch Mad Max at the Pioneer Drive-In Theatre in Butler. I had never been to a drive-in before, so we made it a goal for this summer.
Mad Max seemed an appropriate movie to watch from the car. We also invited our friends Travis and Jeff, so we needed a vehicle big enough for us all to fit in and still get a good view. Leslie borrowed her brother’s truck, and we fitted the back with our couch cusions.
A group of people were playing frisbee. We overheard one guy yell, “Hey guys, I found a TV in the woods!” He dragged it around by the cable. We heard a loud shattering a few minutes later (they threw it in a recycle bin). Unfortunately, you can’t make out the TV in the photo below... it’s kind of like the Big Foot of Butler.
Megan had a camping party. We showed up with Niko, because he hadn’t gone on a trip with us for a long time. Unfortunately, Niko didn’t have the good time we had hoped for him—he was too busy protecting the campsite from the dark.
Leslie and I got a little carried away and ordered about eight Lego sets. We hadn’t played with Legos in a long time, but we have some ideas for these.
In August 2014, I had funded a Kickstarter campaign for a guy in Pittsburgh who wanted to eat French toast.
My dad never like syrup/butter, so I only knew egg bread. Bread dipped in egg, fried and salted. I want to experience French toast.
He only wanted $10, so I gave him $9 when he had only forty-eight hours left. A co-worker pitched in the other buck, so I upped my bid to $10. By the end, the two of us gave him $15.
A surprise came on May 25. Nathan, my coworker and fellow sponsor, texted me:
I rushed to my computer and it was true: the guy was delivering! A little late, but I think that’s the true spirit of Kickstarter. Anyway, he wrote my name in syrup:
This had to be the best $10 I’ve ever spent. Tom finally got to have French toast (his “white whale”), and Nathan and I had a lot of fun since August, wondering if he would do it.
Sprint 5 Retrospective
We ran two KDP free promotions last month. This was our first marketing experiment; we don’t want to spend too much time on marketing since only Dream Eater’s Carnival has been published, but I do want to play around to see what works. Our first promotion on May 5-7 netted 627 downloads, with most of them happening on the first two days. Our second promotion on May 19-20 only had 53 downloads. I’m going to keep trying these but with different marketing strategies and I’ll keep track of what works and what doesn’t.
Now, on to last month’s sprint board:
In our last sprint article, I mentioned all of our tasks were on white paper. We did this so we could use colored paper to track tasks we added after our planning day. Pink represents scope creep. Yellow represents subtasks, which signifies I failed to break one large task into smaller pieces.
My one task, submit print edition of Dream Eater’s Carnival, was too big. I realized this when I started formatting the document. I spent days on it, and still didn’t finish by the end of the month. So, I created a handful of subtasks, since I knew tracking those would help keep me motivated.
Spotting scope creep (pink and yellow) helps determine how focused we were. There may be four tickets in the to-do column, but if three of the finished tasks were scope creep, then it sort of balances out.
Let’s break it down:
48 original tasks were finished
- 13 scope creep tasks finished - 6 creep subtasks finished - 67 tasks complete in total - (13+6)/67 = 28% of completed tasks were not originally on the board
We did great on the first week; everything was finished as planned. Scope creep started heavy in week 2, probably because I pivoted to focus on a KDP promotion I had planned at the last minute. Being able to separate scope creep from regular tasks confirmed my suspicions that a month may be too much to plan in one day.
Let’s look at the work we didn’t do.
Right now, we distinguish between deprioritized tasks and incomplete tasks. We generally deprioritize tasks when we think our original goals were too lofty. By removing tasks we don’t think we’ll complete, we clear the board a little bit, which helps with motivation. The board’s primary goal is to motivate us, so if removing a few tasks in the middle of the month helps us work harder, than it’s worth it.
I don’t count this as cheating because we legitimately got a lot of work done, and we keep track of which tasks were deprioritized so we can reflect on them at the end of the sprint.
15 tasks were deprioritized.
- 19 tasks were incomplete but not deprioritized. That equals the number of scope creep tasks.
Last month, we deprioritized blog articles, a few critiques, some Dream Eater’s Carnival work, and some time spent on costumes. These were all seen as just too much work without enough value. Our KDP promotion and refocusing on the next book, Echo Chamber Heist, took priority.
Starting a presence on Pinterest seemed like too much work, for now. Besides, we got a cool idea for content on Pinterest that we may try this month, if we get the chance. I don’t want to just jump into a social media platform without having a plan.
Finally, I still have a few short stories I’m writing on the side. I was hoping to put some work into them and maybe publish a few next year, but I can’t justify taking time away from Bitlather Chronicles when we still have so much work ahead of us.
We made significant gains on the print format for Dream Eater’s Carnival.
We started discussing the cover of Echo Chamber Heist with Lana Hayes (she did the Torch Goose Press logo).
We inched toward posting all previously drafted chapters to our writing community. We posted 6,000 words, which had many iterations of rewrites and edits, but are still considered early drafts. I consider this a big win, because I can start to focus on Echo Chamber Heist again.
House is much cleaner, which means it’s easier to focus.
- Leslie nearly finished a mock-up for her corset, which she’ll wear at an upcoming steampunk convention.
Implementing scope creep detection increased happiness. When we add a pink scope creep ticket to “done,” we treat it as displacing a white ticket in “todo.”
Creep subtasks are good because they show planning was bad. I had one task for completing a print edition of Dream Eater’s Carnival but that took a long time, so I ended up splitting it into about eight tasks. If I had broken it down on sprint planning day, I would have less room on the board to add other tasks, so my expectations would have been more realistic.
A month is too long. We’re going to try a two week cadence. This should reduce scope creep and keep us focused on original goals. Since we will iterate more, we may discover more project management optimizations.
Do what you gotta do. We added some seemingly non-book tasks to the board, such as cleaning. Cleaning helps us get organized; usually things are messy because I leave ideas lying around everywhere. Seriously, I write about a dozen ideas a day on whatever sheet of paper I can find, then I leave them lying around. I’m kind of like a squirrel, but with ideas. Setting time aside to organize the ideas help us with our outlines.
Do what you gotta do, but be careful. We had a few time-sensitive life-related tasks that we wanted to complete. We added them to the board so that, when they were done, we could see that’s why we didn’t get as much book stuff done. Looking back, I shouldn’t have counted these as book tasks when the month was over, and perhaps even given them a different color of paper. You have to be careful that you don’t pollute the board with too many non-book tasks, so I will try to stop this behavior.
There’s a few things I realized I’ve been doing all along, but have never mentioned before:
Whenever I get ideas for next month’s tasks, I pin them as a post-it note to the bottom of the board. Sprint planning day takes a lot of time, so having goals already posted makes it easier. Also, once I’ve written something down, I can free space in my mind for other things. Otherwise, that task will nag at me.
- Keep thinking about next year’s milestones. Leslie and I have been talking about what we’ll do in 2016 since January. Should we just focus on Bitlather Chronicles, or do we take on a second project unrelated to writing? What other books should we write? We don’t want to make these up in January; we want well thought out goals.
Our first two weeks are going to be difficult because of how much is going on with family and friends, so we tried to keep it slim and focused.
My major themes:
Continue editing one chapter a week for Echo Chamber Heist.
Try to finish the print edition of Dream Eater’s Carnival. I’d like to review the first copy and, if everything is in order, make it available in stores at the end of June.
Continue trading critiques with other authors.
- Continue planning the Japan trip. It’s book related because we plan on doing research there.
Leslie’s major themes:
Continue working on costumes.
- Continue posting chapters for Echo Chamber Heist.
A Random Smattering of Last Month
Niko tries to keep warm, and we’re still scratching our heads over this Pittsburgh road sign.