If only there were somebody to send this letter to:
Dear Video Game Industry,
Please stop punching me in the discipline.
Thanks ever so much,
Let’s face it. I’m a weak, weak man. When Skyrim came out, I wanted very badly to spend my days pretending to be a half-naked guy in the freezing cold wearing a metal hat with a couple of cow horns glued to it.
But, because I’m heroically dedicated (hahahaha), I managed to pull myself away. Well, dedicated in the sense that I very much want to avoid having virtual tomatoes thrown at me for missing my next deadline.
Then, immediately after my hard-won moral victory, Batman:Arkham City came out. Ouch. Wore tights for like, one night. Then I averted my eyes and put it away for good. I may have cried a little in the process, but it was still a victory, dammit.
Last month, my friends all started playing the new Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic. AND THEN THEY STARTED TELLING ME ABOUT IT. In breathless, exciting detail. I had to wrap them in duct tape and lock them in the closet, but it was worth it. Well, to me, anyway. Temptation avoided.
And now this. Gabe and Tycho are super awesome, but must they, too, try and lure me into the Unmarked Van of Slacking Off? Et Tu, Gaming Icons?
Kingdoms of Amalur launches next week. And the demo is out now. A demo in which you can get in-game items for the actual game. Just by playing it.
I swear I’ll remain strong. No matter how long Gabe and Tycho sit in that damnable van outside, I’ll be a rock. Just sitting there, honking the horn and revving the engine…
I know what you’re thinking. “Mike, enough about writing already. WHAT ARE YOU PUTTING IN YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW?”
It’s a fair question. The answer is this:
These little gems are physically about the same dimensions as a ‘fun-size’ candy bar, but taste-wise are about the size of a 1973 Buick Regal. Four words for you: pecan, nougat, caramel, bacon. Yeah. Oh, and the one on the right? Swap out the bacon and replace with bourbon. I know, right?
And, of course, the whole thing is smothered in the finest Ecuadorian dark chocolate.
So tasty. So hard to hide from the spouse and children. So impossible to explain to your doctor.
Seriously, if you have any love for caramel in your heart, get some of these.
This is the worksheet that I use for planning out my novels. One quick note: the first tab is based on the story structure that Dan Wells advocates, although I tend to play pretty fast and loose with his good advice. If you aren’t familiar with this structure, I highly recommend following the link and checking it out.
As I’ve mentioned before, I use several different pieces of software during the creation of a novel, but this worksheet is in plain old Excel. You can get a copy here. If you don’t have a copy of Excel (or equivalent), you can upload this to Google Docs for free and use it that way.
I’m in this worksheet daily, far more than any of my other tools. It helps me with four basic functions:
Overall Plot Structure
Tab one is where the big plot goes.
Column A, the blue one on the left, matches the story structure I’m using and lists the seven major steps that I want to keep track of for each story and character arc. Column B is for the main plot. This is where I’ll jot down a quick note for each step of the primary story. You don’t need much detail here. The other columns are for any character or sub-plot arcs that you have. This will be much more sparse, and you’ll want to put them near the row that matches the main story arc where they happen. Take a look at the Dan Wells videos for more details on this. Also, this isn’t carved in stone, feel free to put whatever plot markers you like in column A. The goal is just to have all your plot threads on one page.
This is where I list out all of the scenes that I want to put in the book, in order. In the example workbook, you’ll notice that there is a column for each day where those scenes would take place. There’s no need to use a day structure, of course. You can use a single column with a long scene list, or break it up by parts of the book or plot. The goal is to lay them out in a way that’s easy to look at so you can get a feel for the passage of events. Again, not much detail needs to go here. Think index cards. As you write, you’ll be inserting or deleting scenes, which is why I like a spreadsheet for this. Also, notice that there is a small column called “Ch”, where you can list the chapters that the scenes are actually in. Fill this out after you write the scene, so that you can quickly find it during later drafts. In many cases, I’ll have an idea for a particular scene long after I write it, and this helps me not only find it, but also to remind me of the events surrounding it, just in case I’m about to screw up my plot.
These are revision notes. The first column is whether or not you’ve made the revision, the second is what chapter the revision is for, and the last column is for the actual note. I use this tab whenever I have an idea to implement later, to keep me from being sidetracked from the task at hand. I frequently think of something cool while writing chapter 20 which requires me to go back and put a gun/spaceship/baby doll in chapter 3. Instead of losing my train of thought, I just jot down a reminder here and then keep going. When it’s time to revise, this is the first place I go. Note that after these changes are in, the resulting manuscript should still be considered first draft. Once that’s done, then I start the second draft and use this tab again to note things that I see as I revise. Rinse, repeat.
Love, meet hate. Don’t skip this tab. Use it, especially if you have a deadline. If you don’t have a deadline, give yourself one, then use this tab. The first column is for the date. Never skip a date here. Ever. If you can’t write that day, then your progress is zero, but it still needs to be noted. This serves two purposes. The first is that your average words per day are calculated correctly, and the second is that it provides motivation to get some words down in order to keep a writing streak alive. If you’ve made progress for a solid week or month, the last thing you want to do is drop in a big ol’ zero. You can use whatever quota you like, but this tab is currently set for 1000 words a day. If you change the cells for target and minimum words per day, the colors will follow. Enter in your starting count and ending count each day, and the progress column will automatically calculate your progress.
The goal with this workbook is to have a quick and easy map of your book to work from. The plot tab is basically a big overview, the scene tab is a more detailed roadmap, and the last two tabs are to provide course corrections and to keep you moving. When you finish a scene, check to see what the next scene needs to be. If you get a great idea, take a quick look at where it fits in the existing structure. Need to chop something for length? Scan the scene list for organ donors. You’ll be surprised how often you come back and check this road map during all stages of completion.
I use the hell out of this thing. It’s made a big difference to me in terms of being on time and producing coherent plots, and I hope it does the same for you.
I’m going to be pretty scarce this week, so to make up for it, here’s a picture of my dog, Cher.
She’s the very best dog in the world. And SMART, hoo boy, is she smart. But right here, in this picture, she’s convinced that she can get this ball, which is a toy for horses, into her mouth.
Not gonna happen.
The look she has on her face? That’s what we call, “The Crazy Eye”.
That’s the look you get when your complete dedication to a task is met by the utter refusal of the universe to cooperate. I’m pretty sure she learned it from me.
I’m going to stop this post now before I succumb to the temptation to make a bunch of ball swallowing jokes. See? 2012 is the year of mature restraint!
For game day last week I made some tasty, tasty arancini to snack on. This is where you improve
anything risotto by deep frying it. They’re lightly crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, and are kind of like starch heroin. Here’s how to make your own.
Step 1 – The night before, make a nice batch of risotto. You can use the linked recipe, or if you’re lazy like me, use this. It takes about 30 minutes, and is dead easy. At the end, add a nice handful of peccorino romano cheese. Let this cool and then refrigerate overnight. You’ll want it to be cold and easy to work with.
Step 2 – Make some fatboy breadcrumbs. Take any bread you like, preferably something with a stiff crust, and roughly chop it in a food processor. You should end up with pieces the size of snowflakes.
Step 3 – Separate 2 or 3 eggs and put the whites in a bowl. You won’t need the yolks.
Step 4 – Get some cold risotto out of your container and roll it into a ball. Traditionally these are about the size of a baseball, but I was making snacks, so mine are a little larger than a golf ball. Much easier to hold and game at the same time. Also, I like a higher crust to rice ratio, so smaller is better for me.
Step 5 – Dip your risotto ball in the egg white, then dredge in the bread crumbs. Let sit for about 30 seconds so the bread gets a chance to adhere.
Step 6 – Fry! Use 350 degree oil for this. They’ll be light and crispy, and by the time they are golden brown, the insides will be hot.
These are super easy to make, and if you make the risotto and breadcrumbs the night before, you can fry them up half an hour before game time, easy.
Enjoy, and think of me next time you’re clogging up your arteries with fried cheesy rice goodness!
As you can probably tell from my release schedule, I work under some fairly tight deadlines. Luckily, I write pretty fast, so it hasn’t turned into a total disaster. Yet.
But unless I get better about maintaining a consistent output, I really have very little control over the final completion date. So, in the spirit of ‘you have to understand something before you can improve it’, I’ve started tracking this year’s daily output:
I have two goals here:
- Maintain as close to a 2000 word per day average as possible
- Maintain a continuous daily writing streak
There are a couple of things that aren’t reflected in this chart. First, notice that the word count implies total work that day, so it appears that I was really slacking on the 2nd. In reality, I did a ton of re-writing on a scene I wasn’t happy with. It just happened to come out slightly larger than the original. This entry could just as easily been negative.
Second, it doesn’t account for time spent doing non-prose work, like plotting or research. I spent a significant amount of time on both the 2nd and the 4th on both of those things. So, even though I spent roughly the same amount of time working each day, my totals varied wildly.
My answer to that? Too bad. In the end, I need the book done by a certain date, and to do that, I need to put out at least so many words per day. The fact that plotting and research and re-writes take time is irrelevant. Nobody cares why a book is late, it’s just late.
If you’re not tracking your daily output, I highly suggest you give it a try. Even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind, it’s a great motivational tool to keep your ass in the chair. There’s a big difference between the feeling that you’re slacking and actually having to look at the proof.
One note about setting a number for the daily quota. After several books, I have a pretty good feel for what my pace is when I’m taking of business, so I set my quota accordingly. If you don’t know what your pace is, just do the tracking and make sure you do some work every day. Do this for a month, and see what your average speed is. If you feel like you were hitting a good clip, use this as a starting quota. If you spent the time doing less than you wanted, raise it a bit and try it out.
In the end, the goal is to get consistent output, not to burn yourself out. Don’t set the daily quota you wish you had and then kill yourself trying to meet it. Base it on your actual writing speed and tweak it later if needed.
Now beat it so I can work. I can’t bear the thought of another one of those shameful red boxes.
Every year my family asks me what I want for Christmas. Or more specifically, what kind of weird nerd things that nobody else has ever heard of, that I want. And more often than not, that list turns out to be comprised primarily of stuff I can cram in my face. Eating is my one vice (HAHAHAHA), and if I’m going to get a present, it might as well be delicious.
If you haven’t heard of it, Foodzie is an online retailer that specializes in totally amazing food from small shops and growers around the world. What they offer changes all the time, but it’s always fantastic. It’s also a bit on the spendy side, but the price is commiserate with the quality, I assure you. Still, I tend get things from them as gift items, rather than making it a regular thing.
Here’s one of the things I got this year: the Butter Cup Collection from Ococoa:
This is something I never would have even heard of if not for Foodzie. And yeah, every piece was a magical experience, like eating a fried unicorn rolled in chocolate.
Anyway, I just ate the last piece, so I figured I’d share the love with you. Notice that I offered to share the love, but I ate all the chocolate myself.
Sorry, but that’s how I roll. SELFISHLY.
2011 was grand. I didn’t plan it that way, and I certainly didn’t expect it to take the turns that it did, but looking back I have to say that overall it was pretty friggin’ sweet. I had a few successes, some of them in spite of myself, and that was cool. But most importantly, I learned some things that I badly needed to learn. Here’s what 2011 taught me:
Do It Now
I wish I could do that, but I just don’t have time. 2011 was the year I learned to quit using that phrase. The truth is, 99% of us really do have the time to do cool things, what we don’t have is the ability to make it a priority. In my case it was writing novels, but it could have been anything. Learn an instrument, be an activist, do more with the family, whatever. When I said I didn’t have time, what I really meant was that I would rather spend the time I did have playing games, hanging out on the internet, or watching movies.
During 2011, I had a 60 hour a week job and a family. I also managed to put out two novels. Not because I’m just that awesome, but because I made writing a priority over entertaining myself. And you know what? I still ended up having time for that, too. Not as much, certainly, but I didn’t have to give it up entirely. Every long term effort has to be sustainable, and I found that doing what was important first made it possible in the long term. I could never have become a work-every-minute-forever kind of guy for more than a few months before I threw in the towel, but it turned out that I didn’t have to. All it took was the commitment to take care of business first. The next time you’re about to sit down in front of the TV, remember that you can do something that matters to you instead. The TV will still be there when you’re done.
There’s No Shame in Asking for Help
Everything I’ve ever done that was worth a damn, I did with the help of other people. My wife and friends mostly, but also professionals that were willing to share their expertise, both paid and unpaid. The real lesson wasn’t really that I needed help, it was learning to accept it. Criticism at its best is really just pointing out where you screwed up and how.
Don’t be defensive. Don’t make excuses about why it has to be that way or start on some long rambling story about how it got there, just suck it up, admit that you were wrong, and fix it. Don’t get me wrong, not every criticism is valid, but by and large if someone makes the effort to point it out to you, especially if that someone is an expert, you should really make an effort to stand on your ego and listen.
Helping Others is Helping Yourself
This is something that I knew before 2011, but it really came into focus this last year. When you help someone else, you end up getting at least as much out of it as the other person. Also, just because you happen to know more about a particular thing right now, that doesn’t mean that whoever you’re helping doesn’t know more than you about a half-dozen other things. You’re not handing down wisdom from some plateau to the clueless throng below you, you’re loaning a cup of sugar to a neighbor who may well be a better baker than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared something with another person, only to turn right around and get help from them on something else. Also, don’t keep score. Give what you can, when you can. Don’t worry about getting as much as you give. Trust me, you’re getting plenty by being there for someone else when they need it.
This one is easy. I had way more success in 2011 than I had any right to expect. Part of it was hard work, part was because I had help from amazing people, and a large part was just good old fashioned luck. I have no illusions about taking all the credit, believe me.
For everyone who helped me along the way in 2011, including all of those who took a chance on an unknown author with their hard earned money, thanks. You have my gratitude.