Sprint 13: A New Year
January 7, 2016 by David T. Allen
It’s been a year since we started using a cork board to track and plan our writing goals. In that time, we published our first novella, redesigned our site twice, finished writing Echo Chamber Heist, were selected for #PitchSlam, and had eleven agents request our manuscript. The board is here to stay, but our process will continue to evolve as we learn.
We’ve been gathering our finished tasks in a jar all year.
Like I said back in February, Leslie wanted to roll around in them on January 1. Here we go:
The jar is now empty, for 2016, and all tasks have been moved to an even bigger jar … because that’s the kind of people we are.
I came short on tasks but completed my primary goal, which was to re-read the entire manuscript and note big picture issues. One of my suggestions made Leslie equal parts angry at how much work it would take, and excited for how much it improves pacing, tension, and makes it easier to close plot holes. This change will drive much of what we do in the next few months.
Leslie merged all of my minor revisions into the manuscript and outlined every chapter’s revisions based on the major change I suggested.
Louis Rakovich at Indigo Forest Designs finished our new cover for Dream Eater’s Carnival, which we plan on posting to Amazon soon.
40 original tasks
44 finished tasks
22 finished original tasks
21 finished scope creep
1 house task
- 18 unfinished original tasks (Leslie: 2, Dave: 16)
Leslie met her expectations, but I was far behind. Still, I accomplished my primary task, which was to finish making suggestions on the full manuscript.
I’ve been crunching some year-long numbers and discovered that, since December 2014, Echo Chamber Heist has received 585 chapter critiques from 65 people in our writing community.
Set realistic expectations, even if they’re very, very, low. There’s less time during the holidays, so expect to accomplish less. Don’t let reduced productivity get you down; enjoy the holidays.
Take a break from your manuscript. Put it away for a little while and re-read it. I reread everything after our trip to Japan and quickly discovered some solutions to problems that had been nagging us all year.
Let agents you’ve queried know if you’re revising your manuscript. After years of tinkering, we were certain our manuscript was ready to submit to agents, but then something clicked and we figured out how to improve tension and better unify the chapters. Five agents were happy that we contacted them, one agent’s intern was not.
Reduce critique swap obligations. We’ve been swapping critiques with a lot of people, but the obligations have been hanging over Leslie’s head. Instead of writing X critiques every week, we’re going to try to swap with people only at critical moments of writing.
Take time off when sick. Leslie was ill, so she took two days off and just played video games, then felt like she did five days of work over the next two days. That time in front of the PS4 also helped her mind wander to figure out how to conquer the revisions. Like at work, take time off when you need it.
- If you want to organize the pantry, do it. In other words, don’t let your environment distract you. Take care of it.
Leslie and I forgot to make resolutions ahead of time, so we headed out to get pancakes on New Year’s Day to discuss. There were a number of projects I’ve been wanting to do, but I needed her to help me whittle them down. I prefer to focus on only a few well defined goals, since spreading myself thin just means more won’t get done.
She started by determining our top priorities:
Revise Echo Chamber Heist
Query 50 agents (“get an agent” is a bad goal because you can’t control it)
- Finish a first draft of the second book
The next step was to estimate how long our most important goals will take.
At the end of last year, we learned that we work best in bursts of activity. When we’re aggressive then take a break, we have fresh eyes and new enthusiasm for another burst of work.
Leslie determined it would take her until mid February to finish revisions, then a month to get and implement feedback. We should be finished by April.
I wanted to avoid her finishing revisions then handing them to me for feedback, since time is lost in hand-offs. Everything would freeze if I get the manuscript back just as I hit a crunch time at work. However, I want Leslie to have ownership of chapters for a while so she can jump around as she sees fit. (I’ll still read over finished chapters from time to time to give a first impression).
I decided to start my revisions at the beginning of February, giving her four weeks to shoot ahead. This gives me one month away from the manuscript, so we decided I’d focus on the blog and outline our process. I wanted to write a productivity book this year, but realized I’m still learning, and want to try some different techniques. Still, organizing my thoughts should help me analyze our process.
After revisions, we’re going to take a break from writing while our beta readers prepare feedback. This is where I got excited: Leslie suggested we spend a month on video game development. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years now, but keep putting off because it’s a huge time investment. If I have one project I want to finish right now, it’s Bitlather Chronicles. But the burst technique makes time for other projects.
I’ll focus on programming (with Unity) and she’ll focus on art (with Blender). I hope to finish a light prototype by the end of the month, mostly to learn how to put the pieces together and see if this is something I’d like to pursue more seriously.
The March/April “deadline” is mostly a guideline, to get a feeling for what other projects are possible. Certain things can disrupt us, and maybe our focus will change, but it’s good to have some idea of what we intend to do. We don’t want to plan month-by-month after April, because it’s too far in the future, though I expect we’ll likely be aggressive on book 2 for a few months then take another break.
Oh, and during any break period, we’ll query a few agents a week. It takes time to research agents, which can be exhausting while focused on writing.
After we determined our five milestones, finished our pancakes, and went home, we plotted out this month’s board. Normally we only do two weeks at a time, but this was straightforward a month, and we want to hit our burst deadline.
Leslie has a roughly chapter-a-day revision schedule, with time set aside to write a steampunk fairy tale for a group project.
I will focus on blogging, researching writing competitions, updating our Dream Eater’s Carnival page on Amazon, and reviewing our process from last year.
Reflecting on December
Here’s some of the non-book stuff that happened last month as a reminder that our process isn’t just about getting more work done, but also about making time for family, friends, and fun.
Leslie celebrated her birthday at a roller skating rink with her mother and our friends. She’s sporting a bunny hat from Japan that reminded us a bit of Louise from Bob’s Burgers.
It took all month, but we finished putting together the Lego Parisian Café I got her for her birthday.
We attended Santarchy and Bananarchy with our friend, Gabe, and they overtook a Pittsburgh bridge to celebrate a wedding between two reindeer.
I discovered Mr. Meeseeks from Rick & Morty, which instantly became my favorite episode.
There were holiday parties out the wazoo. I spent a low-key Christmas morning with my parents and taught my mother how to use a selfie stick.
While at Leslie’s brother’s Christmas party, I learned about Alphonse Mucha, who was famous for his Art Nouveau style in the late 1800s. I bought a copy of the book and intend to read it soon.
While recharging between parties, I began to catch up on the stack of Game Informer’s that have been collecting all year.
Niko struggled with a blanket.
Leslie and I exchanged Christmas gifts—she got me a buff magikarp T-shirt, and I got her an Ukiyo-e Heroes print of Origin Story from Katamari Damacy.
Normally, we have a small gathering at our house for New Year’s Eve, but this year, we went to Abby’s house, which had some interesting design choices, like this picture of the guest bedroom ceiling that she titled “cherubs eating churros.”
Linus did this.
Schooner appreciated the new living room arrangement.
And, finally, my friend Tomohiro Suenaga sent us and the dogs some Japanese treats for Christmas.
I think 2016 is going to be even more productive, and happier, than 2015. We’re starting this year with more experience and a better process. It already feels like there are less unknowns.