29 Jun

How to collaborate on fiction in 2016 using pair programming, Skype, and Google Docs

I just finished a new collaboration. It’s a short story of nearly 10,000 words that will be in Bridging Infinity (you can pre-order here), edited by Johnathan Strahan “The latest volume in the Hugo award-winning Infinity Project series, showcasing all-original hard science fiction stories from the leading voices in genre fiction.”

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The writer I collaborated with was Karen Lord, who currently lives in Barbados (author of Galaxy Games, Redemption in Indigo, you’re reading her, right?).

There are a lot of different ways to collaborate. I’ve done many of them. But for seamless and rapid writing, one method stands out to me that was first introduced to me by Karl Schroeder.

In 2007 Karl and I spent a weekend in Toronto writing a short story called ‘Mitigation.’ The story would eventually spark my time spent on the novel Arctic Rising a couple years later. To write this story, Karl invited me to spend a three day weekend at his home while we worked on the story (also a 10,000 word story).

We spent the first night there drinking scotch and spitballing ideas, and the next morning in a diner scribbling ideas on the backs of paper mats. The fun, world building stuff that could go on and on.

But back at Karl’s office the work started. Karl had a plan, one he said he’d done with another writer before, where we would share the keyboard. One of us would write a single sentence. Then the other would revise that sentence, then write a next one. Other writer would revise that sentence, then write another.

Starting can be the hardest, but with one line at a time, swapping in and out of the chair, we soon had a few paragraphs. In fact, it was starting to get hard to stick to just a single line. Karl commented that once we started being unable to stick to a line, we’d switch to paragraphs.

This had the effect of blending our styles. It also forced us each to check in with each other, live, line by line, on what we thinking and trying to do. Get stuck? Jump out of the chair and usually the other writer could jump in.

We did this until we had 2-3 pages in short order. We broke for lunch and spitballed some outline ideas, coming up with upcoming scenes.

At that point, we then each took alternate scenes, not paragraphs, concurrently. I’d work on my laptop, Karl on his desktop, and email the scenes into a final document and edit them. In three days we had a clean, tight, 10,000 word short story that ended up being in a Year’s Best anthology.

I’ve done many other forms of collaboration. Handing the document back and forth, outlining for others to write, muddling through it on an ad-hoc basis. But Karl’s method really jumped out at me and I proposed trying to use it despite the fact that Karen and I are thousands of miles apart.

The methodology we used is something programming friends of mine indicated were similar to the idea of ‘pair programming.’ According to Wikipedia:

Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. One, the driver, writes code while the other, the observer or navigator,[1] reviews each line of code as it is typed in. The two programmers switch roles frequently.

While reviewing, the observer also considers the “strategic” direction of the work, coming up with ideas for improvements and likely future problems to address. This frees the driver to focus all of his or her attention on the “tactical” aspects of completing the current task, using the observer as a safety net and guide.

Karen was willing to try it. To write the document we used Google Docs as we could both use it at the exact same time, creating that concurrent use atmosphere and live ability I found so fascinating when I worked with Karl.

To get the live Pair Programming aspect, we used Skype. To write like this, I really found the live ability to talk to a partner to be killer. The reason is this, in past collaborations, I’ve found a lot of communication can be lost in text, emails back and forth, and people going around in circles without realizing it.

I found that just talking live to the person, I can see their face the moment I suggest an idea and more accurately assess whether we both truly love it, or whether they really love it and I don’t, or whether it’s something we’re both ‘meh’ on and should keep talking about. There is so much more you can figure out, and faster. You can tell when someone is just spitballing, as opposed to really hung onto something.

Karen and I spent a two hour Skype spitballing ideas on the first day, from which we came up with a skeletal idea for plot, some world building, and what we wanted to accomplish from the story.

The second Skype session was a half day of using the same method I described Karl and I did, but with Karen and I meeting over Skype and using Google Docs. One of us wrote a line, the other edited it and wrote the next. Then the other would come on and edit that then write the next. Soon we were doing paragraphs. Then sections.

The next two days we traded off sections, and then we did a series of revision passes that were not done live on video.

It took about four or five days to create a 10,000 word story called The Mighty Slinger for Bridging Infinity. Calypso singers, hard SF megastructures, idea SF. It was a hell of a lot of fun to write and I’m pleased to see that for a second time this process of ‘pair writing’ in a near-live situation works well, and that fact that it can work over great distances was a pretty amazing experiment, I felt.

Writing can often feel isolating. Being able to spit ball ideas and gain energy from another writer’s enthusiasm over the project made this a great experience.

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26 Jun

Ultimate weeding tool recommendation

The front of house was getting a bit weedy, despite all the mulch put down at the end of last summer when I paid to have the entire front area re-graded, as well as the beds pulled out. Our suspicion, confirmed by a recommended landscaper, was that the large raised beds along the front of the house were holding water against it, adding to our basement wetness issues we’ve been struggling with since 2008.

I hate weeding. One thing I’m quite fond of is using a flame thrower to keep the weeds back that come up between our patio stones and walkway stones. That reduced what used to take weeks of fishing around between pavers to yank weeds to just a yearly half hour burn.

But I’ve never been able to really keep up on weeding the mulched beds out front of the house. Leaning over, back unhappy, grubbing around for the damn roots. And for some reason my front yard, whether through years of struggle or just aggressive weeds around here, is aggressive as hell.

I was noodling around online and came across this beast, a stand up weeder:

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The basic idea is that you step on bit sticking out to shove the 4 claws deep down into the ground to wrap around the weed and all the way down to its root. Then, to pull it out, you lean back on it and use leverage that both forces the claws to grab the root and the lever lets you pull up with great force yet minimal effort:

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The weeding tool arrived last weekend, but I was out of town. I finally took it out for a spin on Tuesday. I stood it over a massive chunk of crab grass, stood on the lever and my bodyweight drove it down seven or so inches into the ground. I then pulled back on the handle and the whole weed just popped out.

I then flipped it into a bag, all without bending all the way over.

Reader: it was a transformative moment.

It was a slower process than weeding by hand, but not by much, and way less struggling and pulling and leaning over. I put on an audio book and set the timer for an hour to see how far I could go.

Turns out, pretty far. With just an hour here and an hour there, by the end of the week the entire front of house beds were weeded. Something that, by hand, I would have spent a couple weeks tackling and was dreading.

So this weekend, with so much weeding done, I tacked the third bed that lies along our pathway:

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You can see one of the main beds up behind it that is mainly weeded thanks to the weed tool.

Here is the walkway bed weed free, I used the weed tool on the spiky dug in weeds, but the grass I did by hand as the bed there is not very deep:

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Then Emily and I replanted:IMG 1762

I forget what the yellow flowers are, but they’re supposed to stay six inches tall and bush out and have yellow flowers all summer long.

The creeping phlox that survived an accidental miscommunication with landscapers who took out some weeds a couple years ago, and also led to them removing all the perennials we had in that walkway bed, that I split into three. Hopefully it roots and spreads, as that will lead to a few inches high phlox that produces lavender buds.

I reseeded grass in the muddy bits in front of the house beds, the grass last summer didn’t take out front. The weeds did, though, which were a big part of what I removed. Here’s hoping a second attempt at getting grass into those muddy sections work. Those were the edges of the old, high beds out front.

But this would have been a horrible, long, dreary thing were it not for that stand up weeder. A few days weeding, then I got to do some fun stuff. Rather than the usual weeks of horror or just giving up and paying for someone to come in and do it for me.

Next up, I need to re-mulch the bed down by the walkway and I need to burn the weeds between the pavers.

There’s a part of me that really hates yard work and shit like that. I just fume about the fact that I could be inside creating something, or consuming something created. But that weeding tool…

…that thing’s the shit.

I’ll likely be doing a better job of keeping up on the weeding too, now.

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24 Jun

A Reaction to the #Brexit Vote

Many of you probably don’t realize this, but I’m not American. It’s always a shock, and some folks in essays have continually flubbed it, but I’m actually a Brit in technicality.

Truth is, my mom’s the real Brit. Born in Middlesex, time spent in London, then sailed with her family around the Mediterranean and ended up in New Zealand for her equivalent of high school before rejoining the family who had sailed to Grenada. Grenada then, being a part of the last bits of British Empire.

Grenada achieved independence the year I was born, and mom was still a Brit, so she opted for the UK passport for me. My understanding is that I’m eligible to apply for a Grenadian passport if I visit. I’m also eligible for a US passport and citizenship after classes and tests.

I have kept hanging onto the UK passport all along as it is one of two things that I have from my childhood. As a kid who grew up always moving, it was one of a few roots that I got to hang onto.

The first time I visited the UK, despite being a subject of Her Majesty the Queen, was a few years ago. We went to visit some of mum’s family and see Wales, where her family originally hailed from. And the third time I visited, I used the passport to easily enter the EU and move about France and Spain.

It was one of the reasons I valued the passport. The knowledge that it gave me the ability to plug in to a larger community of 300 million.

This has been one of the biggest cutting off a nose to spite a face scenarios I think I’ve seen. It’s stunning. I’m still sorting through my reactions.

Basically, when Donald Trump, Iran, Moscow, and right-wing racist groups are all totally psyched, you fucked up.

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09 May

Today I’m celebrating 10 years of being a freelancer

Ten years, man! Ten years! I’ve been freelancer/writer/whatever for 10 years now, sailing my own ship:

Ten years ago I had just published my very first novel. It had been out a few months. But I never got to enjoy or dwell on my first novel experience because I learned just a couple days before my book was to launch that I was going to be out of a job by the end of summer.

I spent that February, March and April:

-finishing the manuscript of my second novel, Ragamuffin, in a panic. I didn’t know if I would be working a McDonald’s or what later in the year. I wanted to have written two novels, so that no matter what mess came next I would have at least done that.

-looking for a new day job. Turned out there were no tech jobs within a decent commute at the time. I was underwater on my mortgage in a house I’d just moved into and had to stretch to afford.

-working freelance gigs that appeared as I announced my availability and impending job loss. I still remember that my boss read my blog post announcing that I was being laid off and ‘encouraged’ me to take it down and I was like ‘I don’t even understand what you mean’ because my focus was on letting the world know I needed to start something new.

By May it had become clear that I had enough lined up that I could take the leap into just working as a freelancer and author.

Ten years. Wow.

There have been a lot of ups and downs. I became a New York Times bestseller thanks to the Halo novel. I went on to write book 3 of what became the Xenowealth series. Agreed to put #4 and #5 on hold after the Halo book and wrote Arctic Rising and Hurricane Fever. The freelance gigs have shifted and churned around a bit in the background. I’ve had some banner years in terms of fiction earnings, but not enough I would stop freelancing.

My wife, Emily, has joined me to help out with the freelancing. So the business has grown. We haven’t killed each other yet being home all the time.

I almost died just a few years into freelancing. Found out I had a heart defect. Spent years recovering and learning how to manage a whole new life.

Had twins. Still trying to figure out this dad thing. Very much a learn as you go.

I have published 9 novels in that 10 years, 2 under a pseudonym. There are two more written as of yet unsold as well. I’ve also done 4 collections, 5 novellas, and sold 36 short stories.

My income streams shift and change, but overall everything is growing.

I’m looking out over the next ten and thinking very hard about how I want it to look. I’m in the middle of a great deal of change right now. But… if there’s one thing I’ve learned from 10 years of being a freelancer you have to be comfortable with a great deal of variability.

Does it ever become normal?

I wouldn’t want it to.

What’s next on the horizon?

I’m hoping to nail all that down here soon. You’ll know as soon as I do.

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29 Jan

Why I Log

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. Others have tried a similar diet, though perhaps for other reasons. Advocating for one particular weight-loss diet isn’t my point. My message is this: your weight is in large measure about your psychology. It’s about the hunger mood. Obesity is a crippling social problem, but to our detriment the research has almost uniformly ignored this aspect of the situation. Consider this to be a call to science to focus a great deal more on the psychology of the hunger mood.

In some ways, the hunger system is like the breathing system. The brain has an unconscious mechanism that regulates breathing. Suppose that system got shut down so that it was up to you to consciously control your own breath, adjusting its rate and depth depending on factors such as blood oxygen, carbon dioxide level, physical exertion, and so on. What would happen? You’d die in about 10 minutes.

(Via Hunger is psychological – and dieting only makes it ….)

I thought this was a fascinating article that Cory Doctorow pointed out on twitter.

https://t.co/vlAosXgvju

I have some thoughts about it as I’m coming out of a long year of focusing on deadlines more than my health and trying to reverse a year of self neglect. By last October I’d gained twenty pounds free-basing skittles while sitting all day trying to make various deadlines. I wrote two novels, heavily revised a third, wrote two short stories in a year. I also doubled my freelance work in anticipation of Emily leaving her job.

I spent a lot of time in a chair last year.

And since I have a heart defect I couldn’t go run, or use high intensity interval training, or anything other than a mile or so of walking a day and diet. And I threw diet out the window as I ate my stress.

I’m a quantified self sort of person, and I’ve read a bunch about nutrition, so this was a cool article. One, I have some quibbles with it. But in general, I think it’s awesome because anyone who gives the advice ‘you shouldn’t be hungry all the time on a diet’ is giving fantastic advice.

I think the monkish self-hating of the body is super spread out in our modern world. Dieting becomes a form of self-scarification and exercise in self control in modern culture. I hate so many of its manifestations, as it leaves people who don’t succeed thinking of themselves as failures at a goal instead of on a particular journey.

I knew I was going to have to spend November and December restyling my life when I started down the path I did earlier this year.

And I have. I’ll blog about it some time. I’ve twittered a wee bit about it.

But, back to this article. You shouldn’t be hungry. Yes.

The author’s impression of ‘calorie counting’ is a bit off though:

But the most insidious attack on the hunger mechanism might be the chronic diet. The calorie-counting trap. The more you try to micromanage your automatic hunger control mechanism, the more you mess with its dynamics. Skip breakfast, cut calories at lunch, eat a small dinner, be constantly mindful of the calorie count, and you poke the hunger tiger.

This is where I’m like ‘no no no.’

Calorie tracking. Just track. Not after the day (where he says ‘most people don’t remember what they ate enough to track) but before it goes in my mouth.

Why?

Mindfulness.

But also, to manage hunger and eat the things I adore.

Because here’s the thing. Go on a low carb diet, it’s one of the coolest hacks for lost weight I’ve ever seen (and the article does link to something that dispels the whole ‘ketones’ and ‘chemistry’ and low-carb=magic chemistry woo woo bullshit I hate). I learned low carb first from a weightlifter who said to me ‘two weeks to supercharge weight loss at the start of a program and psyche yourself up and then the last two weeks before you’re on a stage, but the rest of the time, you need simple carbs.’

But the thing is, after that magic period…

Chocolate cake and Lil Debbie Nutty Bars still exist. And they’re manna. And you know it. Those are my favorites.

So you either have to become religious about it, cycle up and down and on and off low carb. Or you have to figure out how to eat the things you do love that aren’t protein and veggies.

Low carb works, as far as I can tell from years logging data, not because of magic chemistry, but because it takes a ton of protein to match the calories in bread. When tracking calories, when I eat mostly protein, I almost struggle to eat above my base metabolic rate. So when I see that I’m eating too much, I strip out the carbs for the next few meals to feel full and dispel hunger.

And I do this so that I can do things like eat donuts and Lil Debbie Nutty Bars every day (cheesecake with dinner).

Yum.

But no matter what approach, starving one’s self is horrible. Everyone has a Base Metabolic Rate (BMR). I use the scale and a rough calculation. It means I make sure to never eat less than a certain amount. One of the things we talked about on a panel recently about apps is how they can push negative things, and most logging apps don’t set a minimum you should not go below, so I am hacking them to focus on tracking and positivity and mindfulness. But a lot of the apps need to refocus how they educate and encourage folks.

There’s such a simple correlation between my health and when I’m mindful through logging before I pick up the food that I am directly regretting the 9 month lapse last year. That was a bad decision on my part LOL.

But I agree starving one’s self is always a horrible proposition, and enjoyed the article.

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09 Dec

The Transformers/Gobots Christmas Surprise

For his 12 blogs of Christmas Paul Cornell asks:

Have you, in your life, a mishearing that you’ve persisted with, from
a song or a movie or anything, that you prefer to the original, or
that has special meaning for you?

So it’s the 80s, I’m a little boy growing up in Grenada, WI and money is tight. Some of my friends are super into Transformers. I live on a boat, so I don’t get TV, I’ve never seen the cartoon. I’ve seen some of the toys being played with.

In a move rare for me, I do fall for brand marketing and talk up Transformers to my mom. And so, one Christmas, I pick up a package and remove the paper, and then another layer of paper, and then more tape (this was my mom’s things, heavily wrapped gifts that took a while to get to the bottom of) and lo and behold I got…

…a Gobot!

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See that little blue-legged one with the big wheels on the shoulder? That was my Gobot.

They were off-brand Transformers, basically. I was pretty devastated. Mainly because the Gobots were hard as fuck to transform, the wheel on the shoulder came right off in no time, and I remember the joints being rubbery and imprecise.

So, I don’t remember if I was charitable or gracious. I do remember that I knew mom had done her best. I wasn’t angry at her, per se. I was angry because in my mind, if I couldn’t have the Transformer, I wouldn’t have minded the money just going towards more Legos instead of a Gobot. It was a one two punch, see? We didn’t have much money, so I knew that the Gobot had sucked resources away.

Then there were the kids. “What is that?”

“A Gobot?”

“So, not a Transformer?”

“Apparently not.”

“It can be a bad guy that we melt on the stove. Hold its hand over the flame and make it confess.”

Eventually the Gobot, after taking some abuse, faded away. As we couldn’t afford Transformers I developed a reflexive avoidance of all things Transformers and Gobots as a form of psychological self defense. So again, I didn’t own any, didn’t have any marketing material, had never seen the show.

As a result, I’d never actually *seen* the phrase Transformers: Robots in Disguise (the tagline for them).

But I was living in the Islands. I was *hearing* a lot of friends playing with Transformers and singing the line “Transformers: Robots in Disguise.”

But linguistically, a lot of my friends had accents that blurred the TH and D sounds. So it’s not as simplistic as saying they said ‘Da Skies’ but when sung quickly ‘The Skies’ in a Caribbean accent and ‘Disguise’ sounded awfully damn close and so I thought, honestly, that the tagline was:

“Transformers: Robots in the Skies!”

Remember, if I was singing that out loud, I would also have a little bit of an accent with many friends, so they had no reason usually to correct me.

Until one fateful day when I was with someone who had the unholy combination of a) having Transformers b) my saying I didn’t want to play Transformers because I didn’t like them made no sense at all to him and c) he was a white kid.

So imagine us playing Transformers. He’s flying them through the air. I have no reason NOT to think that Transformers DON’T fly through the skies.

He sings “Transformers: Robots in Disguise” and I’m like, yeah, cool, and in a very formal English: “Transformers: Robots in the Skies!” And I’m all Received Pronunciation on ‘THE.’ You can fucking tell it’s a TH.

And he pauses and looks at me. “What did you just say?”

Me, trying to rewind what he just sang. “Transformers: Robots in the Skies?”

Him. “What?”

Me, hesitantly, like walking along the abyss and realizing something horrible is about to happen. “Transformers… Robots…” yeah, okay, so far so good. So they ARE indeed robots, I’ve inferred correctly there. “in?” Yep, they’re definitely *in* something. “the…” awww fuck, it’s going all wrong… “skies?”

“Robots in Disguise.”

“Yeah, man. Robots in the Skies. Totally.”

“No. Disguise.”

Understanding dawns. It’s out. It’s clear I haven’t watched the show. I don’t really know what the fuck Transformers are. I’m a fraud. I’m ignorant. There’s only one way out of this, a Hail Mary pass that will let us move past this and forward. “Fuck Transformers. They’re dumb anyway. Let’s play Legos.”

My antipathy toward all things Transformers and Gobots lasted for many years, and were not improved by the Michael Bay films in any way.

And if I sing the tagline out loud, to this day, in my head, it’s still ‘Transformers: Robots in the Skies!’

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23 Oct

Hurricane Patricia needs a new category definition, it’s so strong

In Hurricane Fever one of the big parts of the triptych of storms that hit the Caribbean was my suggestion that higher category hurricanes would appear.

Devastating to see this happen, now, with Patricia, my thoughts are for Mexico:

https://mobile.twitter.com/RyanMaue/status/657526655691395072?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

Thanks to Karen Lord for the heads up. I’ve heard this was a big one, I didn’t realize how powerful.

Sustained 200 MPH winds. I hope there isn’t too much loss of life.

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20 Oct

Yes, I’m psyched Star Wars has a diverse cast up front! Here’s why

Great post by Chuck about the Star Wars boycott:

Apparently people are mad because blah blah black dude protagonist with a lightsaber, or girl protagonist, or Latino X-Wing pilot protagonist, and not enough straight white dudes. And folks are mad enough to join in on the hashtag and — nngh. Bleh. Meh. Gnarrgh. I mean, what version of Star Wars did you watch? The one where Luke Skywalker is a racist hick shitbird? The one where the Empire are the good guys because yay oppression and fascism and totalitarian chic?

(Via About That Dumb Star Wars Boycott « terribleminds: chuck wendig.)

One of the things I predict is that some people will be shocked, shocked, to see this.

When I arrived in the US in 1995, almost 40% of the US population alive disapproved of my very existence:

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As of 2007, some 18% of the US population still basically disapproved of my very existence.

Here we are 8 years later, and a lot of that 18% or whatever that’s left over: they’re online. They’re on twitter.

Whenever these explosions happen, SF/F people are like ‘no, what, things were so nice and quiet before’ but it’s always been thus. Take it from someone who came out with a novel that had A LOT of black people in outer space doing cool shit in 2006.

That 18% gets *pissed* when you do something like that.

Now they’re more visible.

So, yeah, I’m hoping Star Wars is well written. I hope it’s fun. I hope that an SF/F film with a black lead and a woman lead rake in tons of fucking dough and kill it at the box office. (And I hope it’s more than just two token characters, yes, this could still go bad, I understand, but I’m talking about my hopes here).

Not just because I hope it’ll get that argument that SF with diversity can’t sell, a lie that even allies and so forth buy into all too often, but because I just want to see more of it.

And so that its success is louder than those other, hateful voices.

-Signed: some dude who writes action adventure pew pew laser science fiction adventures that features a diverse cast.

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05 Oct

Process neepery: my all new morning schedule for writing (did he say morning?)

I’m somewhat known for being a night owl. In the past my productive hours have been from 11pm or thereabouts until 3am. No one bothers me, nothing interesting is happening, I just put my head down and write.

Well, now I’m a morning writer.

Welp.

This doesn’t mean I get up with birds chirping and wide eyes and enthusiastically tackle what I’m up to with a grin and a cup of coffee.

First off, I’m not allowed to have any stimulants due to my heart. It’s a drag, but my last bottle of caffeine happened in November 2008. I’ve been clean since then. It kinda sucks.

Secondly, I still hate mornings. This morning while eating breakfast outside the local coffeeshop Emily looked at me and laughed. “You’re not enjoying the beautiful morning at all, are you?”

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Okay, so let’s back it up. A year ago I started tracking my sleep patterns with an app on the phone, and then when I got a new FitBit Charge HR, it started giving me intel automatically.

At the time, Emily was teaching at a school that was a fifteen to twenty minute drive away and had a very early start time. The twins were going to Kindergarten. So I was writing from roughly midnight to three, then they were getting up at five thirty or sixish. I would wake up at noon. But I was struggling with being tired a lot still.

What I found out after studying my sleep was that the whole family getting ready for an hour would wake me up just enough to disrupt sleep patterns for an hour or two, then I’d fall back asleep after everyone was out of the house. I was actually losing 1-2 hours a day to this. So I was getting 7 hours a day, maybe less if I stayed up later to really jam on writing. My app and FitBit were guessing that I was averaging 5.6 hours a night.

I would crash on weekends and basically sleep all day.

Emily recently changed careers to come join me running the various things I do. I guess I haven’t mentioned it before. But so far, six weeks in, it’s been great to have her pitching in. There are so many projects I could use her help on. This means that we were able to enroll the twins locally, to the school just a couple blocks away. A germ of an idea occurred to me over the summer: a whole new schedule change.

Knowing that I was losing a couple hours a day had been bugging me. So I decided to pivot everything into a morning schedule. I’d tried on in the first few months of 2014. I went to bed at 12-1am, I got up at 9-9:30 and I wrote until noon. It had been very effective until it fell apart due to exhaustion. I now know that’s due to those ghost 2 hours of little sleep.

I decided to wake up with everyone.

So, starting on the first day of school I set my alarm to get up with the kids. Because, walking them to school on the first day, how could I not? We got ready, shared the bathroom, ate breakfast, all together.

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They were excited to be able to hoof it.

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Like an alcoholic taking a last drink before their first AA meeting, I’d stayed up late the night before.

After walking the twins to school, Emily and I took the poodle out for a continuing walk, swinging through town near the local coffee shop and then back home for a full mile’s walk.

Once home I sat down at the computer and got to business. I worked until noon, then took a break for lunch and touching base with Emily about the day. After lunch, I turned to my freelance work.

My first day of that was August 31st. It’s been rather effective.

For one, I begin every day with a one mile walk. So I’m getting my exercise in right away and getting the cobwebs out of my head. No matter what else happens, I’ve seen my kids off to school, gotten a hug, gotten a walk. There are worse ways to start a day.

Secondly, by writing when I get home right away I get the other really important part of my day out of the way: writing fiction. Usually by 10am, I feel like if the rest of the day exploded into uselessness, I’d still have walked and written. Thus: I win.

Combined with my social media break and GTD approach to email I’ve been more productive than I ever have been. And importantly, consistency productive.

But is it sustainable?

I don’t know. I’ve been aiming for 7 hours 20 minutes of sleep a night minimum. I’ve been failing that here and there, but last week I had a string of 8 days in a row of 7.5 hours of sleep minimum, which is really good. I’ve been getting into bed between 11-midnight. I have fallen down a few times. Twice when company was over (I’m social, I can talk all night), one of those times I stayed up until 3am. I was a mess the next day and felt hungover for 48 hours after. My FitBit helps, it vibrates on my arm at 11, reminding me I need to turn in. If it wasn’t for that, I’d never realize. I do feel very tired around midnight now, which is new, but I’ll still accidentally power through that easily if I don’t have alarms to remind me to go to bed.

The hardest thing has been to fight my desire to ‘stay up and push on getting things caught up on.’ I’m juggling more work in my professional life than I ever have. Fitting it all in has been challenging. But with this schedule, I feel like I’m starting to get caught up (I’m certainly right on track for this current novel deadline) finally. But I still, each night, have this old instinct to want to just stay up and power on.

But I am forcing myself to leave things undone and just trust that the schedule will catch me up.

The morning schedule also solved a problem I’ve always had in the past: working while traveling. While in Baltimore I was up each morning before eight and getting my writing done before I was scheduled to be speaking. If I keep protecting my mornings I expect a boost there. I’m also getting up early on the weekends and not sleeping in, then working on projects for a couple hours.

This is week 6 of the new schedule.

In the past, I was never able to make mornings work at all. I spent six years trying to make this happen when at a day job. I spent my mornings unable to get my brain to speed, and I scheduled all important work and focused on getting things accomplished in the afternoons knowing that I’d barely be able to answer emails.

But we change sometimes. I often experiment with changes and track the results just to make sure I don’t follow old habits blindly. In this case, my morning routine seems to be lending itself toward better results, while my productivity in the late hours was falling off (I have records and charts that show this). How productive? A 60% boost in daily average word count and a 40% boost in rewrites and copy edits.

I still find the late hours conducive to creativity and take notes and drum up ideas in the hours just before bed.

So, crossing fingers this holds for the whole year…

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28 Sep

Baltimore Book Festival Recap

I got back late last night from Baltimore where I was the SFWA Guest of Honor. This year Sarah Pinsker took over running what I’m told is a constantly growing tent with what I saw was a great list of running panels and interviews.

Fran Wilde, the author the recently launched and great read Updraft, interviewed me about writing, sailing in fiction and much more.

The panels were a great deal of fun. I got to meet YA author Justina Ireland and catch up with Rosarium’s Bill Campbell, who’ll be turning Arctic Rising into a graphic novel series.

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Bill and I also snuck off next door to Baltimore Comic Con which was going down to walk around and check stuff out, as well as catch up on what was going on.

One of the panels I was really impressed by was Mike Underwood and Sarah Pinsker’s show ‘Dangerous Voices Variety Hour’ where they gave away prizes for audience members who guessed the right answer to science fictional and fantasy trivia, let the guest authors read some quick fragments of their work, and also got the authors to try and guess answers to win the audience members prizes. It was fun.

Double fun because I got to do the panel with Diana Peterfreund who is a great writer I’ve followed online for a while and enjoy reading. I wish we’d had more time to catch up, but the panel was fun.

Another fun moment was sneaking out with Scott Edelman Saturday night to go to Vacarro’s Italian Pastry Shop in Little Italy, where we caught up with each other. Scott was the editor guest instructor at Clarion in 1999 when I attended.

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I got to meet a number of new folks like Emmie Mears, Anna Kashina, KM Szpara, catch up with others like Keffy, Annalee Flower Horne, Bud Sparhawk Michael Underwood, Tom Doyle, Karen Burnham and Anne Gray. Met Anatoly Belilovsky again, who I met at Nebula but had forgotten (so sorry, man). I grabbed some interesting dinners, and hopefully didn’t say anything too silly.

John Appel gifted me with some locally made dark rum for the trip home, and helped me get to the airport after I was only able to spend 15 minutes at the last panel:

My thanks to Sarah Pinsker for all her organizational work and making sure I got to where I need to, Summer Cullen of the festival for travel arrangements, and all the sponsors and organizers of the Baltimore Book Festival for bringing me in.

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