Month: July 2018

Song Punch List 2: The Punchening

Last week I said that I had finished the punch list read on Song. Yesterday I finished collecting the comments.

“Collecting the comments” here means walking through the book looking for the remarks I made and doing one of three things:

  1. applying the comment — if it’s a typo or a bit of local rewriting which doesn’t require wide-ranging review of the text then I would just fix it in the text.
  2. recording the comment — larger thematic remarks, substantial new content, or things requiring review and change over several sections of the book were written in the punch list file.
  3. ignore the comment — not common, but sometimes I looked at a comment and thought “this is wrong”, in which case I ignored it.

There is a hidden zeroth step to this process which is to figure out what the comment means. The usual culprit here is autocorrect: I performing punch list reads on a tablet, so the comments are going into Kindle notes. Sometimes autocorrect decides that it knows better and renders the comment incomprehensible. And, sometimes, my comment is just weird and it takes me a bit to reconstruct the meaning.

Once a comment has been processed, I change its colour in the Kindle reader. The default colour is yellow, and I use blue for processed remarks. This is a change: I used to delete the comments entirely, but I’ve realised I am too paranoid about losing information if I destroy the comments.

After all of that, I have 93 comments in the punch list file. I will be working my way through those next.

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Weighty Matters

I used to go to Weight Watchers.

My weight was not, when I started, the heaviest I had ever been, but I was a stone over where I am now. We’d just had our first kid and I’d lost my day job at the time (not related, but the timing was pretty special) and there had been trouble obtaining non-employer health insurance1. Something had to be done.

I liked it. The programme fitted me pretty well and I had good results. Within a year, I was down almost four stone and I made lifetime member.

Even after that achievement, I continued to struggle with fitness and weight. It’s a bit like medicine: if you feel better, you stop taking it. With some medications that is as intended; with others you can make things worse by stopping too soon. For me, I probably should have continued to go to meetings but I wanted my Monday lunchtime back and I was feeling a little resentful towards the programme is it was then constituted.

And so my weight has crept up again — not yo-yoing, at least — to the point where, again, something had to be done because what I was trying to do wasn’t working.

Not Just A River In Egypt

The tenor of this post so far has been that I saw a problem and tried to solve it, but this doesn’t really capture the depths of denial I’ve been going through around this issue.

I like eating. As Matt Lucas said in an interview with The Guardian years ago, “Chocolate is nice2.” So I have been ignoring the signs, including anything which would suggest I not eat whatever the heck I want to eat, and although I had done a lot to stabilise my weight over the last three months (exercising regularly again, reducing snack intake) it wasn’t enough.

Something, I eventually understood, needed to be done. Again.

Why Bother?

Which is where I come to why I care.

I don’t like weight as a measure of fitness and I especially dislike the BMI (body mass index) metric since I have a lot of muscle on my legs that throws that metric off. But being heavier does make me feel worse: it is definitively harder on my joints, I run slower, and I am less flexible. There is also the small matter of fitting into airplane seats: when I travel it tends to be for long distances, and those tiny seats are miserable when I am heavier3.

So I have my reasons for wanting to shed some fat, which is why I’ve started going to Weight Watchers again.

It feels good.

The programme has moved on a bit, but the basic idea is the same: you have a number of points per day and the food you eat uses up those points. Food points are calculated based on calorific value, where added sugars count for more as do some fats. Protein calories count for less because your body has to work harder to extract them.

The biggest innovation since I last followed this programme is the expansion of the zero point foods: things you can eat to satisfaction without having to use any points at all. Last time, only vegetables and some fruit were zero point, but now eggs, beans and tofu are as well – I can eat lunch for zero points!

Anyway, I’m only a week or so in to this round and it’s been good and bad.

The good is that I am already down a bit, and my clothes are fitting better.

The bad is that I am still learning how to distribute my points through the day. I need to have a pretty substantial breakfast to get me through the morning and hence I tried to keep lunch to zero points, but if I do that then I get a hollow feeling: my belly is full, but I am missing something that means I still feel hungry.

So there’s learning to do, but results are encouraging so far.

Onward and downward.

[1] because US health care policy is insane.

[2] this is where I have an advantage over Mr Lucas, in that I no longer live in the UK and I do not enjoy a great deal of American chocolate. Baseline crappy chocolate in Britain is Cadbury’s, which is about 30,000 times nicer than Hershey’s.

[3] there is a specific story here about travelling to my grandfather’s funeral in 2006 and being deeply uncomfortable in the window seat next to another sturdy gentleman. That was a loooong flight.

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Taking Notes

As I embark on applying the comments I gleaned during the Song punch list read, I wanted to write a little about how I keep track of what I’ve done and need to do.

The problem, of course, is distraction. In common with most people, I have a lot of things competing for my attention: family, day job, relationships, games, writing, media… there are so many things to do with your time and so many of them are either urgent to the point of exclusivity or just shinier than The Work. I also have a cluster of ADD symptoms and behaviours which mean I will get entirely absorbed in one thing, or be easily pulled away from the necessary tasks by tastier ones.

And I am trying to write too many things at once.

Staying on track with all of this is not trivial. The Three Things approach has helped immeasurably in prioritising my time, but it doesn’t capture details of how that time should be employed.

My answer is to take notes. Lots of notes.

I write down:

  • what I am working on
  • how it’s going
  • why it’s not working
  • tickable lists of things that need to be addressed
  • hierarchical tickable lists of tasks that need to be decomposed
  • discussions of how I should approach problems and outcomes of the tasks
  • tables summarising work

I’ve described my common notes system and that is where long term records of outcomes live, but there are some specific files that keep me on track and which I have only described in passing elsewhere.

Goals

My goals file is at the core of my implementation of Three Things. It’s a file with the newest action at the top and with the following subsections in this order –

  • year – the three things for the year, usually copied from my Things post for January
  • month – three things for that month, at least one of which should relate to an annual goal
  • week – three things for the week commencing Monday
  • day – three things for the day, tickable to mark success

Each of these sections can have as many notes as are appropriate, but most of the discursive commentary goes into the daily notes. I write notes on progress here, with substantial notes on outcome in the appropriate project notes file.

Log

I have a file which contains one line per day in which I record the things I worked on. for example, the log line for Monday read:

09-Jul-2018 - Song PLR (100% - yay!); blog (PLR)

… because I finished the punch list read for Song and then wrote a blog post about it. This file is where I see daily progress most easily — previous days had smaller percentages for the PLR work, for example. I have used this file in the past as a source of metrics on how fast I work so that I can estimate when similar tasks will be finished.

Other Versions

That’s it: a pile of project files, a place to put goals, and a place to log work.

I have been using a related system at the day job for a long time, long before my use of Three Things, and I didn’t want to disrupt a system that was broadly working, so the same components appear in different places:

  • log – recorded in a weekly notes file that I create at the beginning of each new week. This is also where I record progress on tasks I am undertaking, so it incorporates that element of the goals file as well.
  • goals – my goals record is in a different file called “next” which I use to hold only the most recent set of things. It’s ordered as year, quarter, sprint since we use a scrum-like process to organise work on tasks.

So that’s how I make and stick to my plans. I occasionally use ancillary files during specific pushes (eg the third pass touchstones spreadsheet, or my NaNoWriMo goals spreadsheet) when the information is not best captured in a text file, but these are the core tools for my process.

Now, what was I doing again?

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Song Punch List

I’ve been working on the third draft revision of Song for a while now*, and it was wallowing a bit. My thematic revision pass had stalled, basically because I was doing a micro-edit about macro things, so a few weeks ago I decided to do a punch list read to see what was actually broken in the story.

punch list (n.): a document prepared near the end of a project listing work which must be completed to fulfill the contract.

“Punch list” is originally a term from construction, but I’m using it here as a marker for “things I need to fix before I can call the book done”.

One of the consistent problems I found with the thematic revision pass was that I had too many things to consider as I went through the text. I had 25 touchstones over 73 chapters; even with percentages and conditional format to turn things green when complete it was too overwhelming.

This punch list read used a much more tightly-focussed set of question that were much easier to keep in mind:

  1. is this a situation where an under-used character can be brought forward?
  2. why did the character say that?
  3. what does the character want?

These questions fit on the back of a business card I could keep in my wallet to review at will. I was also watching for pacing red flags, poor turns of phrase, and the kind of grammar nits that always jump up and stop me reading smoothly.

I just finished the read, and I’m pretty pleased with the state of the book. There are pacing issues (and there is a separate process I want to got through to address those specifically) but there are far fewer enormous plot holes than I had feared.

On to collating and addressing the comments.

[*] oh no, it’s been exactly a year… good job this isn’t all I’ve been doing!

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July Things, 2018

I haven’t written one of these in a few months — the last one was March — but it’s not that I haven’t been doing anything or keeping track of the things I’ve been working on. The main issue has been one of energy and brain space for blogging.

With that, let’s review the goings on over the last four months through the lens of the things I had planned for March.

Three Things for March, April, May, and June

  1. revise Song – the goals I had for March were to finish the prologue revision and revise two more chapters. I have since removed the prologue entirely, finished thematic revisions on two more themes, and begun a punch list read on the novel as a whole.

    In the alternate version of history where Song was all I was writing I would have finished this novel by now, but based on the read it is further along than I had feared.

  2. do actual crit work with the crit group – I provided feedback on a couple of pieces. My next thing is going to be to send the novel out to them.
  3. book some things for later in the year – did my retreat, booked WilWrite conference and the summer plans that needed to be made.

So if I had done all that in March, it would have been a solid 3/3. As it is, I would probably give it 1/3 for March, but 3/3 for the four month period because I also did the following:

  • read and cleaned up my 2016 NaNovel, Paragons – it’s got potential, certainly.
  • completed and submitted another short story for Boundary Shock Quarterly [link]
  • did some recording tests
  • visited my folks in Britain

… which has been a productive period, if not all that focussed.

Three Things for 2018

Half way through the year! Have I got half my annual goals completed?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – obviously the April target is entirely blown, but I am optimistic that it will be done this quarter.
  2. submit my work – a goal in two parts:
    1. submit Song once it is done
    2. complete and submit short stories

    Second short story is submitted. I have a third to write this year and more to come.

  3. produce Livia as an audiobook – the audio recording tests I did on my retreat were very useful. My voice is stronger than it was at the beginning of the year, so I will have to start doing some serious recordings soon.

This looks 2018 is more or less on track, but “half done” might be a stretch.

Three Things for July

July is the quietest of our summer months so I have some stuff to get done.

  1. revise Song – specifically:
    1. finish punch list read
    2. apply punch list comments
  2. draft next short story – I have a rough outline already.
  3. make some Livia recording tests

I think it’s going to be a good month.

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