Month: December 2016

Three Things, 2017

Last time I said I would be doing the three things approach to planning goals for 2017 rather than my previous over-elaborate planning structures.

Three Things At Different Scales

The point of this approach is to set long term goals and then to set shorter term goals which support those longer term goals while also getting the near tern stuff done that always needs to be done. I heard about it from Scott Hanselman when I heard him speak earlier this year, but it’s derived from David Allen’s ideas in Getting Things Done and Stephen Covey’s “seven habits”.

So, you set annual goals, then monthly goals, then weekly goals, then daily goals – you don’t have to work on a longer term goal in each shorter segment, but at the end of each day, week, or month you review what you have done both against the goals you set at the beginning of the period and against the goals you have chosen for the longer term. These goals come in sets of three because three is an easy number to keep track of, but I think of it as three plus or minus one (especially for the shorter term goals), so two to four goals for each period.

I like this system because it’s small enough to be manageable but it stacks many small things into bigger things – the essence of divide and conquer approaches to problem solving. It also has the feeling of an agile process, which I have found to be an effective approach to project management at the day job.

Three Things In My Practice

This is how I am going to use Three Things:

  • I will set annual goals (see below)
  • I will do monthly check-in posts where I will set monthly goals and check back against the previous month
  • I will set weekly and daily goals privately, although I might well talk about how those smaller scale goal structures have worked in monthly posts

Three Things for 2017

Things I want to do in 2017:

  1. finish Shapes of Chance
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation
  3. investigate publishing A New Dawn

The first goal should be no surprise since I spent most of 2015 working on that. The second was also a 2015 goal that fell by the wayside. The third is a bit out of left field, but I’ve been really enjoying running A New Dawn and I’d like to share it more widely.

Three Things for December

December 2016 is half gone, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have some goals for the remainder of the month.

  1. gift shopping – between Christmas and birthdays, I need to arrange some gifts. Obviously I have some things already sorted out, but need to finish this all off.
  2. finish a short story – that is, finish editing one I already have a draft of.
  3. read a drawer manuscript – leaving Paragons until the new year, but I have two other unread manuscripts to read.

Check back here at the beginning of January for the first official monthly check-in.

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Finding Process

November has been over for ten days now, and I stopped writing Paragons two weeks ago. That was my fourteenth run at generating a manuscript during NaNoWriMo. I’m not going to assert that what I write during November is necessarily good, but it is written — I am going to claim that I have the word generation game* down.


What I am still searching for is a reliable method to convert those rough manuscripts into readable books.

My usual process so far has been:

  1. write the roughest of rough drafts in November
  2. stick it in a drawer for six weeks (pace Stephen King’s advice in On Writing
  3. read it (usually)
  4. do a typo and consistency edit
  5. flail around on a second draft
  6. return to step (1) for a new story idea the following year

Clearly, something must be done.


One of last year’s books, of course, was the exception. Livia and the Corpuscles (available now! Makes a great gift!) followed a different arc:

  • I read the book immediately
  • I drove it through a second and third draft where I was tracking errors and improvements in a structured way
  • I designed the cover
  • I got a friend to copy edit it
  • I put it out into the world

I am proud of Livia but it also felt hasty. There are things I would have added with more time, and another revision pass wouldn’t have hurt. What it is is good, but it could have been better.

I have also tried other editing processes:

  • I have redrafted several books
  • I did a detailed outline breakdown of one book (including a prototype of the detailed tracking I used to push Livia‘s editing)
  • in previous Novembers I’ve completed drafts and generated new material for others (“injecting plot” as I termed it at the time)

… but so far these have all run into the sand, or the weeds, or the snaggly barbed wire. I’ve lost my way on the changes I was making, or the next November rolled round to disrupt the work, or I simply ran out of steam. Or, in certain cases, the book simply collapsed under its own weight.

So, I am still looking for a process and I keep looking where I have already been because that’s what I know.

Something must be done, but not this.


I abandoned my regular goal posts last year fundamentally because it required too much energy to update them. Those posts were rather a victim of their own success – some goals worked, so more goals must be better, right? Well, not exactly. I liked the traffic lights and the performance metrics, but writing those posts was onerous.

What I am going to try for 2017 is the “three things” approach – set three things to do for each day, week, month and year. I’ve been using this at the day job for a few months now, and it’s been quite useful. It’s simple enough to be sustainable, but with the different ranges of the goals you can instil quite a lot of nuance into the things you’re trying to achieve.

So, look for a 2017 goals post coming up soon in which I will discuss a bit more about what process I am going to synthesise from one that produced results, and the ones I have used before that produced material I liked better.

It’s going to be an exciting year.

[*] starring Bruce Forsythe!

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Magic on the Cheap: Part 3 – Cube

Previously I have written about why Magic the Gathering is expensive and how to control the cost of play in constructed formats.

Constructed play is great, but one of the things Magic is best for is the social aspect of drafting.

The last strategy I have for controlling costs is to build a cube.

Part 3: Cubes

A cube is a curated collection of cards, usually a multiple of 45, from which players draw random packs of fifteen and then draft using those packs. A basic cube for an eight person draft pod would have 8 x 3 x 15 = 360 cards. The draftable cards may include non-basic lands. Alongside the cube will be basic land cards in the same sleeves to build decks with. Once the draft is done, players put all the cards back in the box at the end of play. It is, in effect, turning Magic into a board game.

The benefits of a cube should be clear: you play with the same cards repeatedly so you only have to buy them once, and you only have to buy one set of sleeves (assuming you sleeve, which for cards you are playing with multiple times you really should).

My first cube is a Shadows Over Innistrad set cube. It contains one of each rare or mythic, two of each uncommon, and three of each common – a total of 582 cards. I found that I had about about three quarters of those already in my collection, and I decided to make proxies for the rares I did not already have. The remaining commons and uncommons I just bought, since they amounted to a total of about $10. I’ll buy the rest of the cards when the prices drop after rotation, if I decide to maintain this cube.

The biggest expense was actually the sleeves. With nearly 600 cards and needing to sleeve up about 30 of each land colour (I have used the matching lands too, since I had those) I needed nearly 800 matching sleeves.

So, a cube is good value once it’s made and for each game thereafter, but there is a significant initial cost. The good news is that that investment doesn’t degrade, and I have a lot of matching sleeves for the next cube I build .

Next Time

The next Magic post I write will probably be on deck building, specifically focussed on the way I built my decks for the Standard Pauper league a couple of seasons ago.

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