Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Managing Deadlines: 5 Steps to Successful Project Management

Ever work with a project manager? The people whose primary responsibility is to ensure the project moves through the process from concept to customer? They're the ones who keep track of deadlines and deliverables. Communication is the crux of their job, followed very closely by organization. They are arguably the most well-connected people in a company. The bane of their existence is when somebody slips a date and doesn't tell them in advance. (Feature-creep is a wholly different PITA.)

I have had my ass schooled by learned from some of the most efficient project managers who mastered herding cats. I've carried those best practices into my author career. If you've followed this blog for a while, then this list will sound very familiar.

5 Steps to Successful Project Management 

  1. Prioritize
    • You are the only one who knows your workload. Don't expect others to intuit all that you've got going on. Your path to sanity is via prioritizing tasks and projects. Even the repetitious ones, like taking the kids to/from school. Anything that demands your time gets prioritized. Note the things that are flexible and those that aren't. You can reschedule a conference call. You can't reschedule the start of a public school day.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations...then add two weeks.
    • So you attracted the interest of a Big Publisher. Congrats! They want to sign you for three books. Awesome! They want those books delivered in six-month intervals. Uh...You only have the first one written and that took you three years to get into a query-ready state. Talk to your agent, be frank with them. It's better to decline an offer than to be in breach. 
    • Always add two weeks to big projects. That's wiggle room in case the flu strikes, equipment fails, or your brain goes on strike.
  3. Confirm Dates and Times
    • Seems logical, but it's amazing how many problems crop up because of ambiguous phrases like "30 days." Is that 30 business days or calendar days? "The end of the month." What if the end of the month falls on a Sunday? Is the deliverable due on the Friday before or the Monday after?  Even "COB " is suspect what with time zone differences, flexible hours, and people who never.stop.working. 
  4. Communicate as Soon as a Bump Appears
    • This is the one that a lot of people resist because they're afraid of the perceptions and the consequences. They think they can "power through" and "slide under the deadline." Worse, some folks stay quiet and hope an elf will magically fix everything for them. Peeps, don't do that to yourselves or your team. The ulcer isn't worth it. Tell your contact/team as soon as you know there's an issue because date slippage has a ripple effect. The sooner the team knows, the faster they can compensate. Missing your date might not be that big a deal...or it means they get someone else to do your piece of the project. Regardless, fess up fast. Don't work yourself into an oozing pustule of anxiety. 
    • See Jeffe's post from Sunday about Big Trouble vs Daily Shit
  5. Reassess & Reset
    • Whenever you complete a project, take a beat and assess the resources and time it took you to finish. Did your accurately estimate what was needed? Do you have similar projects in your schedule? Based on what you learned from the completed project, are there any adjustments you need to make to the future projects? Are there any people who need to be informed about the needed adjustments?
Adulting. Sometimes the hardest part is being honest with yourself. Once you are, it's a lot easier to be upfront with others...even about moving deadlines.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines....

There was a time when I never, ever missed a deadline.

I think it lasted roughly a month.

I try very, very hard to make sure I hit deadlines, but sometimes it simply isn't going to happen.

When I started out I would say "yes" to very nearly impossible deadlines regularly. Why? Because I wanted the work and I was willing to make the sacrifices.  Who needs sleep when you have coffee?

Now and then that philosophy backfired and life got in the way.  The day job required more time (Retail does that), or the family needed some help. Then you have to start weighing what is more important.

Know what else you have to do? You have to communicate. There is usually at least a little flex time in what you are told as a deadline. Maybe not much, but some.

Look on the right side of the screen and you'll see a cover for my Predator novel.  When I was writing that everything that could go wrong did. First, there were changes in the script, They made the movie better in my opinion, but they were there and that meant reevaluating all of the source material before I could start writing my novel. Heck, I had to rewrite my outline before we could proceed. That was a decent slow down, but not crippling.

No. What was crippling was falling the wrong way in ice and tearing two tendons in my shoulder and destroying my rotator cuff. I thought it was a sprain and tried to just power on through, but the pain was actually debilitating, I could not work for several weeks at the day job but I also could no write very much.  My beloved was wise enough to point out that Google Docs has a voice option. I employed it and things got better. But the voice option isn't flawless and a good deal of  clean up was required.

I was a little over a month late.

I did the unthinkable and told my editor the truth. We worked together to make it right. 

There are those situations where a book will be, by God, late. My mother going into hospice? No writing done while she left this world. My wife passing away? No work done while I tried to remember how to breathe, how to walk, how to go through the regular day without losing my mind. How bad was it I only recently pulled out and finished the novel I was writing when she passed away. It took me 8 years to get back to  even looking at that book. It took me a month to finish. but it was the book I worked on while my wife was on dialysis and dying by inches. I set it aside, I came back to it when I could.

Deadlines are flexible. If they weren't there would be no publishing industry.

I had a few deadlines after my wife passed what were delayed because I got lost in grief. I don't torture myself over those. I merely accept them and try to move on. I made it a point to explain to my editors. They were usually understanding. Sometimes I know it was inconvenient for them, but we worked it out.

 I'm a writer. I used my words.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Big Trouble and Daily Sh*t: Knowing the Difference

Kitty bookends for breakfast!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Deadline mania. How to keep the deadlines in times of trouble.

It's kind of amusing because I started this blog post around 10am this morning, then spent over four hours with Microsoft Office 365 help trying to find out why I'm suddenly getting prompts to log in, when until yesterday I've been able to work in the Office 365 programs without being constantly logged in. Even though I asked right off if something changed, it took four hours for them to tell me that new "security" was implemented yesterday to "protect my files." I don't use One Drive because frankly I don't trust Microsoft with my documents. Now I trust them even less. And I'm cancelling my subscription to 365.

I'm probably going to Office 2016 or 2019 (if it's available soon), but all suggestions for an alternative are welcome!

(Though don't tell me Scrivener. It gives me hives.)

So, while I don't have an actual hard and fast deadline for this blog post - and a Sunday of housework is an arguably decent time to deal with extended shite like that - I'm feeling super behind.

So here's the thing. There's two kinds of trouble. Okay, maybe there's a spectrum of trouble, but it all falls under one of two major categories: Big Trouble and Daily Shit.

Big Trouble is anything where people could die, or become very ill, or something equally as bad in your world.

Everything else is Daily Shit.

And like all things, the trick is knowing the difference.

I've you've got Big Trouble, then deadlines don't matter. A famous author with a long and productive career said that she has a profoundly autistic adult child. Compared to dealing with those issues, things like losing an editor pale in comparison. Deadlines can move, if you have Big Trouble. The most important aspect there is not to let Daily Shit derail your deadlines. Then you build up a karma bank so if you have to move a deadline because of Big Trouble, everyone knows that it must be important, because you wouldn't let them down because of Daily Shit.

Me dealing with the dorkwads at Microsoft Office 365? Daily Shit. I'd never do that on a writing day because my word count takes precedence over Daily Shit.

If you're committed to being a writer, then word count and meeting deadlines should ALWAYS take precedence over dealing with Daily Shit. If it doesn't, then you're elevating Daily Shit to Big Trouble, which means that a whole lot of Daily Shit will want to be that important, and pretty soon you have a whole lot of Big Trouble and no time to write.

I can't really tell you what should qualify as Big Trouble in your life, but I can promise that you need to know. Find that line, and draw it big, bright and bold. And stick to it.

Keep that Daily Shit where it belongs - out of the way of the important stuff.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My Freeform Post Today

DepositPhoto

Our topic this week is freeform – anything on our mind.

Okay.

Squirrel.

As in, I’m thinking about lots of things all the time, but nothing I want to write a post about, or which adds up to a post on its own.

I’m driving hard to finish my next Badari Warriors novel, TIMTUR, so maybe that’s part of why I’m coming up empty of BIG ISSUES I want to discuss in this space today. My brain is off into the far future, with my imperiled hero and heroine, fighting the alien scientists.

My toddler grandson has discovered a love for multisyllable words and gives them his all. Helicopter. Watermelon. Butterfly. He also loves his Gramma and has taken to asking for me. Fortunately I live literally at the other end of the same apartment complex and so I can walk down for frequent visits. There’s nothing as restorative as a hug from a little one. His favorite books are by Neil Gaiman (the 'Chu' series) and Sandra Boynton. Plus of course, the SPOT books...all of which I read for him with gusto and sound effects.

There are a plethora of things happening in the world on my mind. I tweeted last week that I’d realized the last time I knew so many members of Congress (from both parties) by sight who were not my own representatives was…during Watergate. I even recognize the Cabinet members and I don’t think that’s ever happened. Someone else agreed and said we both must watch too much MSNBC. Quite possible! But it’s not my nature and not my purpose in being on social media to discuss current events, with rare exceptions. Sit in my living room and we’ll hash it all out. Not here. Shrug. Your mileage may vary. I vote, I donate and I let my elected representatives know what I think.

My high school gym teacher passed away last week. She was a force of nature, kinda scary to an introverted-non-athletic-girl like me but inspirational in her way. And I’ll never forget the rousing, somewhat puzzling sex ed talks she delivered (“Gals, y’all gotta pump the BRAKES and it’s y’alls job to slow down those boys and their accelerators when they git you parkin’ on that dark mountain lookout some night after prom…” Slightly exaggerated for effect – I AM a romance novelist – but not much.)  I left home at the age of 19 to get married to my high school sweetie and live the entire continent away from the location of my high school, and only in the last year reconnected with my high school community on FB, so it’s still a little disconcerting to me when that part of the past reaches out and grabs my attention. That was a lonngggg time ago but they’re all locked in my head as they were when we roamed the school together, so it’s a surprise every time I realize hey, we’ve all gotten older. Kinda like the cast of “Grease”. Revelation: No one from our class is 17 anymore.

I baked banana bread this morning for my son-in-law, father of the aforementioned delightful toddler. Used my late mother’s recipe, which is older than I am, has probably too much sugar and butter but tastes great of course as a result. I’d written the recipe in what used to be my good handwriting on an index card and put it in the wooden recipe box my Dad gave me when I left home to be married.

There were various kerfluffles in the author world last week, some more hurtful to people than others. I usually miss hearing about these until they’re over and I almost never weigh in on them because most of the time I have no direct involvement. My eyes open wide and I blink a lot in disbelief as the tweets and posts go by in the social media stream and I might discuss aspects of it all privately with close author friends but that’s about it.

I watched a really unintentionally amusing scifi movie last night where at the one hour mark exactly the alien spaceship crashed in Laos (the first hour occurred in LA) and for the rest of the movie the hero and heroine battled it out against the aliens side by side with a group of Laotian drug smugglers who seemed to have dropped in from a kung fu movie of years past, on a set that looked like Angkor Wat but wasn’t. Turns out it was a direct sequel to another one I’d seen years ago which had ended with that movie's hero changed into one of the aliens and his pregnant girlfriend stuck on the spaceship high above LA.  The production values were actually pretty good, the hero was mildly hunky (terrific biceps) and I kept watching till the end, partly in disbelief and partly because the story moved along briskly.

I read two great scifi novels in the last week or so – Contagion by Erin Bowman and Planetside by Michael Mammay, and interviewed both authors for AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE blog. I did a long post for USA Today/HEA on mermaids, interviewing ten authors.

We’re in the middle of a series of 100 degree days (global warming anyone?) and although there are no brush fires near us this year, at least not right now, I’m keeping my eye on the news just in case.

So, ok there you go, my stream of consciousness “this is what’s on my mind today” post and now I have to get back to my characters and their dilemma. Have a great weekend!
Not the Author although I do have blue eyes.
DepositPhoto




Friday, August 10, 2018

All or Nothing

I took a class from someone who specializes in teaching writers to play to their strengths. Which meant identifying those strengths. That work was done and those of us in the class listened to lectures, chatted amongst ourselves and with our instructor, mostly trying to grasp how far of course each of us had drifted when it came to core personality traits and/or our wiring.

Think of it like vehicles with internal combustion engines. Some of us are motorcycles - lean, agile, able to zip around obstacles that stymy others, but side swipe us with a truck, and it's game over. Some of us are econoboxes - no frills workhorses who won't set any speed records, but we get where we're headed. Some are sporty models - high output engines, speed, flashy good looks and a tendency to end up sitting in repair shops because, man, those engines are fiddly. Or maybe a rusted, dented pickup truck with a lawnmower hanging out the back and one wheel that wobbles and a top speed on the freeway for 40.

At their core, all of these vehicles are the same, right? Wheels and internal combustion engines. But after that, they are all built entirely differently.

So are writers.

And yet, we tell ourselves that if THAT author is doing were-hamster/were-guinea pig mash up romances at the blistering clip of 16 new novels a year, then by all the gods, WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THAT TOO. If plotting is THE way to make writing easier and faster, then let's all learn to plot! So what if the only way we discover story is literally in the writing of it? We can learn anything! Well. Yes. As a matter of fact, we can learn anything. Yay, reading, right? But then we start applying everything we've taught ourselves and over time, we bog down. So we learn more things, trying to get unstuck. It rarely works. We've loaded waaay too much stuff into the sports car and completely ignored that vehicle's great strength - drama. I may stretching the analogy far too thin.

Back to the class I took. It was a series of epiphanies centered around figuring out how we as writers (and human beings) are wired to work. No two of us in the class were the same. But our instructor did a fabulous job of explaining what drives each of the different personalities. Interesting stuff trying to peel back layers of expectation to get at the core of your writing drive. Then, in the final class, the instructor began talking about people who are what she called 'the 0-100 percenters'. When these people do a thing, they DO the thing - no one and nothing else exists for them. That's the 100%. The rest of the time, these people are 0%. They might even deny they're writers during a 0% phase. She kept talking, mostly about the challenges versus the advantages of the type and how to structure your life to take advantage of it. I kept listening, my heart sinking.

I am one of those people. How do I know? After that class, I took the weekend off. I read four novels in two days. This had been my childhood. Devouring books. Getting in trouble because I couldn't stop reading long enough to do the chores my parents assigned me.

I'd always been amazed by (and maybe deeply suspicious of) people who could just read a chapter in a book and then put it down. Then I graduated to wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't do that. It's because I'm just wired to be something different.

So where's the benefit? The day after finishing the fourth book, I wrote an insane number of words after having been stuck in the low triple digits for months. It was easy. It was fun. It's been a long time since I said that. That's the power of stripping way all the 'shoulds' around what we do and playing to your specific strengths. Now to fun something - anything - to completion.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

ArmadilloCon is the best con you aren't going to, and you need to change that

This past weekend was ArmadilloCon, which truly was an excellent whirlwind of a convention.  I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz and feedback from several corners, and the phrase "best ArmadilloCon ever" has been whispered here and there.  And I think, yeah, maybe so.  It's hard for me to gauge exactly, of course.  On the whole, each year is better for me, but each year has been marking my steady transition from hopeful-aspiring-writer to pro-with-a-stack-of-books, including the con treating me like a pro when I was "guy-with-an-agent-but-no-sales", which is an incredibly strange and frustrating stage in one's writing career.

But here is the thing about ArmadilloCon: it is probably the most friendly con for the aspiring-pro-writer out there.  The writer's workshop is a centerpiece for the con, and it's probably the most valuable one-day workshop out there.  I mean, most people can't afford the money or time to do something like Odyssey or Clarion, which are multiple weeks, but even if you don't live in Texas: you can probably swing a long weekend. 

More to the point, the con is geared toward being an extended hand to people who are striving to be a professional writer.  Panels on craft, panels on business of writing, and most of the pros who go there make a point of being open and welcome. 

I mean, I've seen several cons where the "pro" space and the "fan" space are very specifically segregated, either implicitly or explicitly, and that often leaves the hopeful pro feeling left a bit at sea.  But, many of our regular pros (including myself) came up through the workshop, and we all still have vivid memories of being there.  We know how hard it is.  We want to make it easier.

Also, the con is just filled with good energy.  There's been a lot of specific steps taken to make the con more open and welcoming to people from traditionally marginalized groups, and continuing to improve and expand on that that has been a real goal. 

We, the SFF Writing Community of Austin-- as well as the greater area of Texas as a whole-- are striving to give all of you: the established pro, the prospective hopeful, the eager fan-- the best con experience we can give you.  We'd love for you to join us down here.

Plus: Tacos.  And barbecue. And did I mention tacos? 

Really.  Come on down.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fear the thing, and make your character do it anyway

The thing on my mind is fear.

I'm staring out the wide balcony sliding doors at the summer-sleeping peak at Crested Butte. It knifes the sky, brittle-looking and sharp. An old avalanche or maybe erosion has created a soft bump on one side halfway up, and my guess is that this is where most winter skiiers get their thrills.

But then there are the others.

On the edge of knife's blade, a discernible path carves its way from sharp tip to hilt. It snakes through tall aspens and at times it looks to be almost completely vertical, a fierce, blinding drop through white with sudden death-fingers of hazards grasping at your skis.

I would never even ride the ski lift that scales that peak -- my kids went up the lift yesterday and report back that it was as harrowing as it looks. (Also way fun, they giggle, for they are crazy. I get a spine-shudder just thinking about them up there, even with Dad white-knuckle holding them onto the lift.)

But not even those fearless smallfolk would ski down the steep path. They aren't that crazy.

However, I would totally send a character down it. Face-chapped, sun-blinded, and chased by bears. Hell yeah I would. That scene would totally rock!

Stories are a writer's -- and reader's -- secret cheat, a way for a sometimes-scared-of-toast soccer mom to experience a visceral thrill like that ski path.

And that oft-heard wisdom about fearing a thing but doing it anyway? Is not my mantra. Instead I prefer this version: fear the thing, but make a character do it anyway.

Because authors may be just a touch evil.






Tuesday, August 7, 2018

On My Mind: Failed Marketing

"Gimme the damn cookie, woman."
On my mind this week is...marketing. Primarily boosting consumer awareness of my books and how to do it without being a nag while having some fun.

On the social networks, August has become #Dogust. As some dear readers may recall, earlier this year I had adopted a new-to-me hairy beastie. I hatched a silly little promo plan of having my dog pose as my protagonist in various recreated scenes from the books with the intention of uploading the photos alongside a book quote.

I ordered the wig, amassed the props, readied the backgrounds... I did not, however, consult the star of the ad campaign.

She is having none of my weird.

But she will take the many, many treats I've used trying to get her to wear the wig instead of eating it. 🙄

Best laid plans and whatnot. Alas. On to Plan B...

Hey, I wrote some books. Buy them?