December 7th, 2006


Why track productivity?

I was thinking this morning about why I track productivity. In my case, I track first draft word count on novels and first draft finishes on short fiction, and indirectly through that recordkeeping, I also track writing days.

It isn't for the edification of anyone reading here. If my reports serve that purpose, great, but, hey...this is all about me, innit? It isn't even for the usual purpose of managing reporting metrics, which is to provide an executive dashboard of leading and trailing indicators utilized for continuous process improvement. (Sorry, that sentence leaked over from the day job.)

It's to keep me honest.

Writing is all about excuses. It's almost always easier to do something else. Laundry, dishes, shopping, childcare, lots of things which are quite legitimate and don't even qualify as cat waxing. Not to mention writing-related program activities, such as reading, research, send-outs, outlines, reading LJ and other sites, writing and reading email, making long-winded blog posts, etc. At some point the professional sloughs away the excuses and writes.

And that's why I track productivity. Not to impress anyone, not even myself. Not to micromanage my processes. But simply to keep myself honest, so that at the end of the day, the week, the month, I don't have one of those uncomfortable conversations with myself that go something like: "I'm sure I spent time on this, and I know I meant to, but I only have four pages of a short story done, my goodness, what happened to all the time?"

From that perspective, it doesn't matter what I, or you, or anyone else, tracks. It only matters that the tracking be consistent across time, and meaningful to the one doing the tracking. I know a writer who keeps a stopwatch by his computer. Whenever he goes to the bathroom or gets a drink, he stops it, then restarts it when he's back at his desk. He measure "hands on keyboard" time. Other people measure "butt in chair time", which is a slightly looser version of the same. Pages per day/week, wordcount per day/week, finished product per day/week/month -- there's lots of ways to do it. What they all have in common is giving the writer a structured framework in which to manage their productivity.

If you're wondering why you never get anything done, or why some writers (me, possibly, from your viewpoint) seem to have superhuman productivity, it's that simple. Because once you start measuring, then you understand costs. Want to go to that cool concert Thursday night? You won't be putting in your measurable productivity that day. Friends having neat parties Friday and Saturday night? Promised to help your brother move on Sunday? Come Monday morning, you'll have nothing to show for your weekend, writing-wise. Which is fine, if you choose to do it. But letting it slip away from you, then feeling frustrated and angry because you didn't get anything done, that's counterproductive and self-destructive.

So if you're not tracking yourself, find a way to do so. If you want to try an experiment, add this to the mix: track the number of hours you spend with the television on, the number of hours you spend surfing the Web, the number of hours you spend gaming, and/or the number of hours you spend out of your house going to parties, clubs, concerts and bars. Do that for a week or two, then look at how those things balance out. That will tell you how much of a priority writing really is for you. It doesn't matter what the answer is, I've got no judgments here, but you might be quite surprised.

Me, I track because it keeps me honest. If I don't write, I have no excuses. I just decided not to write. If I do write, I can measure my success by the level of my effort. It's all good.

Conference date

I have been invited back to the North Coast Redwood Writers' Conference as an instructor for 2007. After a recent embarassing calendar snafu on my part in connection with A Writers' Weekend, I triple-checked my travel commitments before accepting, but I will be there 9/14-9/15 of next year.

Considering last minute auctionlet item

I am going to be mounting the LJ-comment auction items later today. I'm considering putting one of the two Mainspring dust jackets I got in the mail from TOR into the benefit auction. These would be more or less fresh off the press, and I think if I do so that I'll handwrite a piece of Mainspring flash fiction on the back of the dust jacket, just for the auction winner's edification. It would be a unique piece of Jay Lake ephemera in that case.

Is there interest in such an item?

Various items which did not make it into eBay for various reasons

The benefit auctionlet for the Neighbor is cooking along nicely, thank you very much.

For sundry reasons there's several items which did not make it into eBay. I'm featuring a gallery under the cut below, with links to separate posts for a bidding thread for each item. We're keeping this on the honor system, so bid over whatever the last bid on the thread is, by timestamp. I'll close these auctions at 6 pm Monday, Pacific time -- the last bid with a timestamp prior to 18:00 PDT will be the winning bid. Any additional items which turn up in the next day or so will be added to this grouping.

Donated by mizkit Collapse )

Opening bid: $15.00, please bid here.

Donated by ramurphy Collapse )

Opening bid: $15.00, please bid here.

Donated by the_child Collapse )

Opening bid: $15.00, please bid here.

Donated by mme_publisher Collapse )

Opening bid: $15.00, please bid here.

Donated by the Neighbor's younger granddaughter, Collapse )

Opening bid: $25.00, please bid here.

Donated by Tobias Buckell Collapse )

Opening bid: $20.00, final two bidders will each win one copy, please bid here.

Donated by jaylake Collapse )

Opening bid: $15.00, please bid here.

Idiots to the left of me, assholes to the right

I was thinking more about my recent snide remark regarding Orson Scott Card considering himself a political moderate. I suppose it all depends on where you stand. It reminds me of the old joke, where the kid in the back seat asks his dad why everyone who's driving slower than his dad is an idiot, while everyone who's driving faster is an asshole.

I think it's human nature to assume your position is the majority, or at least the median. I've read (sorry, no attribution) that when polled, Sunnis believe they are the majority in Iraq, when in fact by the numbers they represent less than 40% of the population, and are neither a majority nor a plurality. In this country, Evangelical Christians make up perhaps 15% of the voting population, but many consider their own views mainstream -- which goes a long way toward explaining their continued sense of frustration and victimization. If you remember the Montana Freemen and their long FBI standoff, those guys, who were the fringe of the fringe politically and socially, seemed quite surprised that the American people were not rising up in the streets against the government in support of their "heroic resistance."

Most people spend time with other people of like mind and habits, and most people consider themselves reasonable. It's the other guy who's an extremist, who's unreasonable, whose views are out of whack. Idiots and assholes, in other words. Perhaps only self-identified radicals, or people who are particularly aware of demographics and trends, are able to intuit that their position is not the 'natural' one. For whatever it's worth, I like to think I can include myself in the latter group. As with everyone, my politics are a function of where I'm standing. In Nebraska, I'm a flaming liberal-socialist whacko. In a room full of Trotskyites and anarchists, I'm a hidebound conservative tool of the capitalist state. I don't consider myself a radical, I do consider myself reasonable.

I don't suppose I have an answer for this, or a really profound point to make even, just the thought that I'm struck by how easy it is to convince oneself that one is not only correct, but also reasonable and mainstream. Hence Card considering himself a moderate, for example, which couldn't possibly be true outside of a conclave of particularly reactionary Mormon elders. Where this concerns any of us as thoughtful citizens, regardless of our personal politics, is that misunderstanding one's position with respect to society is the first step away from being able to achieve reasonable consensus on any topic. If we don't start by understanding one another's assumptions, we're never going to wind up in a place that makes sense.

And that, right there, goes a long way toward explaining contemporary American politics. We're all idiots and assholes, from each other's perspective.

Making with the plug

I was recently turned on to girliejones' project called New Ceres. I read through the entire Issue 1 the other day with an eye toward possibly writing something for a future issue. While shared world fiction is hardly a novel conceit, girliejones and her co-conspirators have put together a neat idea with some interesting potential. It's especially fun because it's different from most of what I've seen lately. I enjoyed the short fiction in the first issue, in particular "She Walks in Beauty" by Dirk Flinthart.

Check it out.