Tracking Nonlinear Work

Writing a novel is something with many phases to it. Some of those phases are short and atomic and don’t need to be broken down into smaller pieces…

Ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one.

No parts of a novel are like that.

It’s All About the Words

Writing is an activity that is most often measured in words or pages: “I wrote 500 words today.”

I use this metric myself during National Novel Writing Month, an approach which is largely required by the goals of the challenge: write 50,000 draft words in a month. Indeed, whenever I am making a rough draft I will use the raw word count as a measure of my progress.

Word count is simple, objective, and linear. It’s very clear how many words you have made at the end of the writing session.

… Except When It Isn’t

How good are those words, though? Are you going to use all of them?

One of the most common objections to the NaNoWriMo process is that the words written are the roughest of the rough. I accept that in my work: a NaNovel is a zeroth draft. It will be filled with inconsistency and bad writing.

Many authors, when they talk about their 500 words for the day, are talking about 500 finished words. My NaNoWriMo word count is raw.

Another metric that I use during NaNoWriMo is chapter count. This also acts as a proxy for plot consumption rate. The way I develop outlines makes this a practical measure for how quickly I am moving through the story I have planned out, and it’s a helpful indicator of how likely I am to finish the narrative arc during the month.

Nonlinear Processes Need Metrics Too

Word generation is, at least for me, a linear process. I don’t delete anything during drafting (my Rule #2 of NaNoWriMo) and so the word count for the book is monotonic.

Revision is much slipperier. Some parts of it are straightforward (copy edits, consistency checks, etc) whereas other parts are iterative processes that require going over the same text multiple times.

What this reveals is that revision is not one process but several. Some of those processes have very clear metrics that can be applied (chapters per day) but others are fractal discovery bug hunts that are as long as a piece of string and twice as knotty.

How should you track non-linear revision progress in a linearly-focussed world?

Track the Work, Not the Goal

My approach is to track the work done rather than progress towards an end point.

Such a tactic is not especially unusual. Events like NaNoEdMo use an hours-of-work goal for the editing you do, and in the past I’ve applied a conversion factor of a thousand words to the hour to make that time look like word counts. This way you’re mapping the time to the words you would have written in that time.

This requires time tracking though, and I am not always consistent enough with that. I like a more objective counter.

What I did for Camp NaNoWriMo this year was to track words using two different strategies:

  1. revision plan — I was finishing my revision plan before I started on the revision itself, so I counted the new words I wrote in that plan.
  2. revision — once I started the editing itself, I counted the words I had revised in a session. So when I finished a chapter I would count the words in that chapter.

    This method has risks, in particular inflation of the work and double-counting.

    • inflation — revising words is arguably not as hard as generating them in the first place, but in revising something you are immersing yourself in the text. Going through a chapter for a particular point, I find I end up reading every sentence, often multiple times. I think it’s fair to count all those reviewed words.
    • double-counting — my current revision plan consists of nine sections for different thematic and textual components: a particular character’s story, a certain plot element that needs to change. When I am working on a chapter, I can’t hold all of those in my head at once, so I work on one or two components at a time, trying to finish a particular section for all chapters.

      This means that I will come back to some chapters multiple times, and that I will count that chapter each time I revise it. Hence I am double-counting.

      I’m fine with this.

      Firstly, I think this accurately reflects the effort put into a revision pass. If I’m working for two or three months on something like this then I want my word count to reflect two or three months of output.

      Secondly, I don’t revise every chapter for every plan section. If a chapter doesn’t feature a particular character then I don’t need to revise it for the character’s back story, for example. In other words, there are critical chapters that will be touched several times, but there are others that might only get a single pass.

I like this approach because it represents pretty clearly the effort put into a revision effort. It didn’t produce outstanding results for Camp NaNoWriMo this April, but then April wasn’t an especially outstanding month so that’s alright.

I’m going to carry on doing this. I think it’s useful.

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May Things, 2019

I had high hopes for April, but I forgot that I still had to finish the tax return and that ate far more energy and time than I had hoped. Then I was planning for my UK family visit, and actually travelling…

So, let’s see how bad things really were.

Three Things for March

  1. Song fourth draft — revision plan and actual revision.
    Finished the revision plan and did a good chunk of revision. I had signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, but managed about a third of what I had intended. Still, it’s moving along and I have a lot of good answers to questions so I am going to call this achieved.
  2. workshop application — this is going nowhere. I am abandoning the application for this year. Maybe in 2020?
  3. short stories — write another story for independent submission.
    No work.
    Well, that’s kind of true. During work on the revision plan I discovered a whole new setting I want to write in which will probably be a productive place to develop stories for, but it’s not a story or anything yet. Definitely doesn’t count as anything like done.

That’s 1/3.

However, I have made progress on the podcast format question, which I will talk about a bit more in the annual goals update.

Three Things for 2019

That’s a third of the year gone. Have I finished a third of my annual goals?

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year.
      I have a revision plan which I like, and I’ve started working through the points in the plan. I am unlikely to hit the end of second quarter with these changes, but it’s going to be a much better book.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — nothing more this month, although I need to get the next one under way soon.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such — no new stories being written.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I had intended to apply for an intensive workshop, but the application has not gone… anywhere, really, so I am abandoning this goal.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind.
      I think I have my format, though: an idea for a narrative fiction series set in Yorkshire and called “T’ Stars Are Reet”. More to come once it’s a bit closer to available.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do.
      I’m planning on going to WilWrite again this year.

April was better than March in terms of energy, but wasn’t massively more productive in terms of output. Still, I feel better about it and while one goal is abandoned, I have made unexpected progress on a goal I hadn’t really thought about.

Three Things for May

There’s not a lot of steam in the boiler yet, but at least it’s heating up.

  1. Song fourth draft — continue revision. I have metrics for this, but I need to see how fast I move before setting a specific goal.
  2. podcast — figure out the elements of “T’ Stars Are Reet”, including such basic things as how many words I speak at when reading this kind of thing.
  3. short stories — write another story for independent submission.

To the word mines!

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Problems in March

I mentioned the cat allergy in March’s things post, but I somehow didn’t realise that I was closer than I thought.

The problem is dust.

Cats are not the only thing I have allergic reactions to. I struggle with VOCs (which makes using any oil-based paints a risky proposition), and I don’t sleep well with dust around. Both cause massive congestion and drop my IQ about fifty points*.

VOCs are relatively easy to avoid, but dust accumulates silently over time, and I forget it’s an issue over the winter because dust reaction feels so much like a cold.

On top of this, I had been habitually running on about two hours less sleep a night than I need, and the time change in early March** made the mornings darker just when I needed light.

Things I’ve done to improve the situation:

  • get a daylight lamp. I probably should have got one of these years ago. It has helped me wake up more completely in the morning and given me energy to approach real work first thing.
  • go to sleep earlier. If I am getting up at five (and I am still trying to do this) then I need to be asleep around nine as a usual thing. Maybe I can shave half an hour, but ten is too late and eleven is going to just kill me the following day. I’ve been slacking on this the last week or so, but it helps me a lot.
  • dust more regularly. Dusting is something that I’ve always had as a low priority. I’ve never enjoyed it: moving things around in order to just put them back again has always struck as more annoying than necessary. Still, if I want to continue to function, it’s something I need to do a lot more regularly. I’ve set up a regular reminder to do this task.

The weird thing is that while my mental processes have been swimming in treacle, my running has been stronger. Shamrock this year was great (and I have already signed up for 2020) and I’ve been consistently hitting 8:30 miles on challenging routes. There are injury concerns, but it’s working pretty well.

Still, better sleep will help there too.

Here’s to staying on top of things.

[*] y’know, approximately.

[**] ask me why I loathe the stupidity of the time change adjustments under the Bush Jr administration!

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April Things, 2019

March felt less incompetent than February, but I still felt like I was struggling. I have come to understand some of the reasons for this, but these are things I should be noticing as they happen rather than finally figuring it out weeks or months into the bout of ineffectiveness.

Let’s have a look at what I got done in this struggle.

Three Things for March

There was mention of a train, last time? I think it barely left the station, although at least the wheels are in the right place.

  1. short stories — finish the BSQ story.Completed. I am quite happy with the story in the end.
  2. Song fourth draft — revision plan.Really didn’t touch this in March.
  3. workshop application — cover letter or sample chapters.Worked on sample chapters up to the suggested word limit, although I found that the story hadn’t started yet. So, I find myself wondering about using a different book for this, not because I think the book I first chose was bad but because the story gets going a lot faster in the one I’m thinking of.

    So, I am going to call this half done.

1.5/3 is pretty decent — better than I expected, certainly.

There’s another blog post on the way about my creative problems in March.

Three Things for 2019

Time Marches on. How does this substandard month look when compared to my broader goals?

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year — more helpful feedback from my crit group, but I didn’t start working on the revision plan proper in March.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — next story done and submitted.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such — I did not submit a story anywhere else in March, so this is a miss. 0/4 so far.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I’m going to apply for an intensive workshop. More on that once it’s in hand, which it isn’t yet.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind. This would be audio-only initially, although I am still searching for a good format.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do.

The better things I was looking for in March didn’t really happen. I got stuff done, but not as much as I had planned.

I really hope the energy level goes up in April.

Three Things for April

The train might be on the rails but it needs a bit more movement.

  1. Song fourth draft — revision plan and actual revision.
  2. workshop application — stick with the original plan or switch stories? Cover letter.
  3. short stories — write another story for independent submission.

Off we go.

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Shamrock Run 2019

It’s Been Too Long

Somehow, it has been four years since I last did the Shamrock Run.

The Portland Shamrock Run was the first organised run I participated in, all the way back in 2002. I’d done several bike events in Britain, and a few different walks around Portland, but that was the first run I did: 5K, very slowly. I’ve run around ten of these races, at four distances (5K, 8K, 15K, half marathon — 15K is my favourite).

I’ve always enjoyed Shamrock because it’s so well organised. There are tens of thousands of participants in the different races: multiple distances, sometimes multiple paces for very over-subscribed distances, and yet the whole thing works. There is the traditional beer afterwards (although I don’t like to drink that early myself), and the medals being handed out, all with a feeling of great good humour from the crowds and the organisers.

There are reasons to dislike the Shamrock: it’s often cold and wet in the middle of March, and since the spring time change was pulled forward this run is darker than it used to be. Also, I’m not Irish so my participation is in the event rather than the party. Call me a curmudgeon if you like; it’s certainly the right word.

But the energy is great, and they keep innovating around how to organise the event. The last time I ran was their first half marathon, and the routes and start management have continued to improve.

I was keen to run this year just because I am fitter than I have been in a long time, and this has always felt like a good race to set out your stall for the year (not that I have plans yet for races over the summer). The new route was interesting to me too. And honestly I wanted to see what I could do in a race now.

One of the things I liked a lot about this year’s race was the more humane start time. The 15K start was 08:55, easily an hour later than I have seen before, and a very pleasant time to run. This later start mitigates the time change issue very nicely. Conditions could not have been better, either: it was bright and clear, a bit chilly in the shade but a glorious spring day.

Portland is a runner-friendly city, and many events kick off in Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a block-wide grassy area that stretches for a mile between the road and the river. From the park, there are options to cross the river (such as for the Bridge Pedal/Run), to wind through downtown streets, head north alongside the river into the industrial area, or to go south into the hills. Shamrock heads into the hills, for the most part, and the routes I have run in previous years took in many blocks of city streets before launching up Broadway towards the Terwilliger hill and returning to the waterfront via Barbur Boulevard.

The new routes go the other direction, following Barbur before turning and climbing up to Terwilliger. These changes also mean that there is much less time spent poddling around downtown: most routes start heading south, but those distances that head north stick to waterfront roads. Races not using downtown roads also meant that I could park close to the race start and be able to get out again afterwards!

The Race

Shamrock is still a very well-organised race with clear announcements and a well-designed timetable. I also like the way they do the gapped race start. They have a few hundred runners go then hold for a minute, then a few hundred more and hold again. It helps to prevent congestion on the course, and your official time is from when you cross the start line rather than when the gun goes off so you are not losing anything from this slight delay.

They also have pace groups within the start lanes. I picked the 8-9 minute pace group this year based on my training times, which put me closer to the front than I have ever been: I crossed the start line only half a minute after the race began. Early running was clogged, as it always is in these things, but I quickly found space to hit a comfortable pace. I cleared my first mile in 8m27, which I felt was a good beginning.

In fact, all of my first four miles went pretty exactly on plan. My lovely family came out to cheer me on* and they waited for me at the four mile mark (by The Chart House, a restaurant overlooking south Portland) and I saw them almost exactly when I said I would — it is always satisfying when these predictions are borne out! Then it was the long trundle back down the hill.

Terwilliger, however, is not a steady gradient. There’s a downhill for half a mile then up again before the last crest just up from the VA hospital. On one of my usual running routes I would then follow Broadway to downtown, but this 15K route carried us back down to Barbur past the Duniway Park track then south to rejoin Naito Parkway.

For some reason, that gentle slope on Barbur from Duniway Park back up to the Naito junction just killed my legs. Up to that point I had been able to keep a respectable turn over to maintain my pace, but on that section my push muscles decided they were done. I managed a tiny tiny spurt of speed over the last two or three blocks to the finish, but my last couple of miles were pretty slow.

The Outcome

My watch told me I ran at 9m01 pace, but the official race time gave 8m58. I’ll take that.

It compares favourably with my ten miler a few weeks ago (which was 8m52 pace, but over a well understood route), and although I could probably go faster with better preparation, my over-tapered run-up to race day meant that I lost some of the pace I should have had. There again, I was also less injured than I would have been if I had pushed harder; I think I made the right trade-off.

One reason I know this is because although my muscles are sore, they are not as sore as they were after previous races and (critically) only my muscles are sore: there is no new joint pain, and stretching after my run today showed that my tendons are significantly less inflamed (eg IT band stretch didn’t hurt).

I’m not sure I will do the Shamrock again, but this is a very exciting return to form so I will joyfully do more races in the future.

[*] and they bought me baked goods for later, which was a delicious way to refuel!

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The Failings of Todo Lists

When I was writing the March things post, it occurred that there is an emotional component to todo lists that can be discouraging.

When I am writing a todo list, I often put something like “write todo list” on the list, so that when I have finished making the list I have something I can cross off immediately. This seems healthy to me, a way to get a quick win and boost your confidence about accomplishing the rest of the tasks.

Those kinds of daily todo lists are also healthy in that you can see the whole thing at once, usually. A daily todo for me will be a single small sheet of paper, not usually as small as a Post-It but maybe a 3″x5″ index card, or a quarter sheet of Letter or A4 paper.

But the weakness with the task lists I use in my writing is that they are either too big to apprehend in one go (eg revision plans) or they are too verbose to fit into the window I have for them on screen. That means that I cannot get a clear visual sense of what the state of the tasks is, which means I have no immediate feedback when I do make progress.

An added complication with Three Things as a methodology is that the Things themselves above the daily level tend to be fairly coarse: they will include discovery, design, implementation and verification of something, for example. If I were putting them through an Agile methodology I would break them down into smaller, more bounded tasks with definite completion criteria.

In my day job task lists, I have tried to to mitigate this by listing my sprint tasks (which are bounded and measurable) in a window which fits them. They are always visible, and they can be marked complete easily so I can see my progress.

I need to find a way to do that with my writing tasks too.

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March Things, 2019

It was about ten years ago when I started to realise how much more allergic to cats I was becoming. I had good days but they were the exception rather than the rule: I felt like I was swimming through congestion most of the time. Whole days and weeks would pass without a clear sense of having accomplished anything*.

Honestly, February felt a bit like that again.

I am in a much better place than I was when we still had cats roaming over our bed, or even last winter when I had the cold that never went away, but I have still felt rather loose and weak all month, even as I have been exercising more efficiently than ever.

So, as we go through this monthly things post (which only really covers a couple of weeks anyway), I expect a lot of “no work” remarks, because I feel like I consumed time rather than produced meaningful writing.

Three Things for February

I made this a short goal list because the post came so late in February. What of even those goals did I manage?

  1. Song fourth draft — prep for crit group feedback session. Completed. The feedback I got was very helpful and enthusiastic, and honestly that might be the thing that helps me most: I have been struggling to find my enthusiasm about anything, even Song. Hanging out with crit group folks brought it back.
  2. short stories — two things:
    1. finish draft of next BSQ story
    2. plan story for submission this quarter

    Neither of these saw any work.

  3. workshop application — write draft of cover letter. Didn’t do this, but did clean up a sample chapter.

Score 1.5/3 — that’s actually better than I expected.

… which was another hallmark of the Bad Cat Fuzz Time — I was always surprised when I looked at what I had got done. It was never “all of it”, but at least it was more than I had imagined.

Three Things for 2019

February was not productive, so obviously my 2019 goals won’t have moved on much. Let’s take an unflinching look.

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year. I have collected more feedback which will help here, but I don’t have a revision plan yet.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — the first one is begun, but I Need to finish it.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I’m going to apply for an intensive workshop. More on that once it’s in hand, which it isn’t yet.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind. This would be audio-only initially, although I am still searching for a good format.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do.

Minor incremental progress only. Looking for better things in March.

Three Things for March

Time to get the train back on the rails.

  1. short stories — finish the BSQ story that is due in a few weeks. Hard deadline.
  2. Song fourth draft — revision plan is needed. Build that.
  3. workshop application — cover letter or sample chapters.

Trying to to keep things a bit punchier this month.

Now to punch harder.

[*] I was accomplishing things, really, but it was reactive rather than effective and I really had no clear awareness of how much I was getting done.

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Long Term Goals

Most of my recent health goals have been centred around eating, or at least my weight. But those are not the only health goals that I have, so I wanted to write a little bit about them.

Wait, Weight?

I should address my weight goals first, though.

I’ve been at or below my goal weight for over three months now, despite Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many other opportunities to launch myself off the wagon in that period.

I am getting used to how I feel.

I have also been weighing daily during that time so that I can get a clear sense of how my weight fluctuates during a week. There can easily be a two pound swing from one of the week to the next, and lots of factors affect it on any given day but those factors mostly lag pretty heavily. Obviously eating a lot of food the previous day makes a difference, but I haven’t seen that weight sticking — it mostly seems to be the weight of the food itself, rather than fat that that food turns into.

The biggest thing is just getting used to new eating routines. I am maintaining now rather than trying to shed, so Weight Watchers gives me more points. They also encourage you to adjust your points allowance if there is a change in weight, and I landed on a pretty effective daily budget within a few weeks. You also get weekly points, although I rarely dip into those — I prefer to have my fit points instead.

Getting Credit

Even the first time I was using a WW programme, fit points were my silver bullet.

My requirement for exercise has always been that it be vigorous and intense. “Going for a walk” rarely feels like exercise, although hiking certainly can if the route is hilly enough or far enough.

With this iteration of WW, I have connected my fitness tracker to my WW account so that WW can pull in my step counts without my even having to type them in. It’s great, and for most of the trundling around I do it captures my activity pretty accurately.

However, when we started doing a spin class it became apparent that the steps I got from my tracker (which is tucked into my sock when I ride) didn’t match the amount of effort I was putting in*. Similarly, for the kind of push running I do I wasn’t getting full credit, which matters a lot when you want to go and get a bun to satisfy your bone hungriness.

Putting in the activity double counts my steps, though: I don’t want 20 points for an hour of spinning as well as 7 points for my spin steps; that’s cheating!

So I pro rate the activity time to discount it by the steps. For spinning and running, this comes down to about two thirds of the time. This way I get credit for the intense exercise, but I also don’t have to abandon my step counter while I’m doing it.

Being Fit

Stephen Fry once wrote that he was fit: fit for the life that he led of cerebral contemplation and creative work.

My criteria for being fit are a bit more specific. I have had these fitness goals for a solid fifteen years, all of these being things I would like to be able to do with regularity and without thinking about it too much before hand:

  1. run an eight minute mile
  2. run ten miles
  3. cycle fifty miles

The one I hit first was the ten mile run: I had this down for about six months at one time, when I was planning a maintenance schedule which included a regular ten. I am not there yet this time around, though: I ran ten today, but it took special effort and it was a particular strain.

The goal I expected to take longest was the eight minute mile, but that is actually the one I have in hand now. I am regularly posting runs in the 8:05-8:15 range on a variety of terrains, and I have had a couple of sub-8 runs. Even on longer and tougher runs my times are coming in much lower: only the most challenging hill runs are posting over nine minutes a mile, and today’s ten — the longest run I have done in some years — came in at 8:52 a mile. That wasn’t flat, either.

Which just leaves the fifty mile bike ride. This seems more than plausible at this point.

I hope you are engaging with your health goals. It’s better to confront them than to ignore them, and I am glad I have finally done so over the last year.

[*] in fairness, I had been suspicious of the mismatch between step count and perceived effort while cycling for some time, but when eating was on the line it suddenly seemed more urgent.

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A Commander Toolkit

Most of the Magic I play is Commander, originally known as EDH: Elder Dragon Highlander. The concept is simple — you build a 100 card deck made up single copies of cards, one of which is a legendary creature called the commander. The first commanders were the original Elder Dragons, and there can only be one of each card*. The cards must be in the same colour identity as the commander, that is any mana symbols on the cards must also appear on the commander. The commander is an always-available creature to cast, and often hints at the theme for the deck.

Maybe it’s not that simple.

What I like about Commander is that anything can happen, and you only need one copy of each card. This comes back to my need to clear out cards: if I only need to keep one of each card, then there is no need to hang on to twenty copies of that draft chaff common from five sets ago.

But if I only need one copy of any one card, how come I still don’t have enough Sol Rings?

Build It Now

The answer to that question is that I have kept too many decks built at once.

In my years of playing Commander I have collected a large pile of decks with different themes. Then there are the preconstructed decks (which truly are one of the best products that Wizards of the Coast sells, even after the disappointing 2018 set) which I have tended to hang onto in their original form.

My current choice of which deck to play in my group is in the form of a farewell tour: I have been giving decks I no longer want to keep intact one last outing before I dismantle them. I am retaining the deck lists, but my intention henceforth is to keep decks together for a lot less time and to keep things more fluid.

The decks I am releasing cards from are either boring (too good, like my life gain deck, or not good enough, like the modified cat deck) or no longer funny (because sometimes I build decks for a thematic joke; the Hammer of Purphoros deck falls into that unfortunate group, but Djinn Palace is another one that wasn’t half as funny as I hoped it would be). There are several decks I plan to maintain in good order, because they are strong but not boring, or continue to be funny.

Build It Later

As I pull apart decks, the cards will either go back into my sorted collection or be put into a toolkit that I can use as the basis of commander decks of the future.

Commander is a singleton format, but the trick with it is to build redundancy into the deck by including multiple cards with similar effects. There are many spells that search your deck for land, or counter an opponent’s spell, or destroy a single target creature. I want to build a toolkit which gathers cards for a particular function and sorts them by colour. The categories I am going to start with are:

  • ramp: mana rocks and land ramp. Also, discount effects
  • card draw
  • removal: destroy a single thing
  • board wipe: destroy everything
  • recursion: bringing things back from the graveyard
  • counter spell
  • tutor: general or specific card search
  • lands: utility lands, multicolour lands, land tutors
  • tribal: things that support decks built around a common creature type

Other categories exist, of course, and if I am building a particular kind of deck then I will collect cards that fill those: life gain payoffs, for example, or stealing other people’s things, or chaotic effects. Those are much more specific and ephemeral classifications though, so they will just live in the collection. These toolkit categories will be used in many different decks so collecting them centrally makes a lot more sense.

End Game

As I said above, I am aiming for a single copy** of most cards in my collection. The commander staples in the toolkit categories will be duplicated more freely, and there are some things I want to keep playsets of for specific purposes, but I am expecting to be getting rid of some thousands of cards.

There will be more room in the storage boxes, at least.

[*] apart from basic lands, and cards which explicitly say you can have as many as you want in the deck.

[**] or at least a single copy of each art for a card.

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February Things, 2019

I don’t like burnout. The worst thing about it is that I don’t see it coming: I am diagnosing January’s burnout in retrospect. In the moment it just felt like I was overwhelmed and tired, but in hindsight it is pretty obvious that I had taken on too much and wasn’t getting any of it done.

So this is not going to be a positive Things post, as should be obvious from the way I am not getting it done until two thirds of the way into the month.

Let’s lift up the rock and see what’s underneath.

Three Things for January

With the understanding that I basically didn’t do anything, what did I complete?

  1. Cinnamon Harmonies — no work. I will come back to this later in the year, April at the soonest. The trick here is going to be closing it out. No points this time though.
  2. Song fourth draft — I need to develop a revision plan, but I didn’t do that. This is probably the second most important thing I need to do this quarter. Marking this incomplete.
  3. blog — obviously not, although I have done more blogging than anything else. Half a point.
  4. workshop application — I have done some work on this, with thoughts on the cover letter and the sample I want to send. Calling this half done, although that might be generous.

What I have done this last few weeks is some wildly overdue card sorting. The Konmari spirit is upon me still, and clearing out cards to make space for other things is still pretty important to me.

Still overall, I am going to rate that two halves out of four, or 1/4 once the fractions are simplified.

Three Things for 2019

This is not the vigorous start to 2019 that I had hoped for, but this has not been vigorous month so that’s just where I am.

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year. No progress on this first part yet.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — I have started in on the first of these.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I’m going to apply for an intensive workshop. More on that once it’s in hand, which it really isn’t yet.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind. This would be audio-only initially, although I am still searching for a good format. No work this month beyond some sorting to make space.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do. No progress on  doing so, however.

As I say, not a great start but I still think this is going to be a good year.

Three Things for February

Not that there’s much left of February, at this point, but…

These month goals are predicated on the truncated amount of time remaining in the month. That necessarily reduces the volume of work which can be completed, as well as the scope.

Still, there are real tasks that can still be accomplished towards my goals for the year.

  1. Song fourth draft — I’m expecting to receive more feedback on the 3rd draft from my crit group, so I need to prep some questions to help provide prompts for discussion.
  2. short stories — two things:
    1. finish draft of next BSQ story
    2. plan story for submission this quarter
  3. workshop application — write draft of cover letter.

Note that I am not putting in work on Cinnamon Harmonies this month. I plan to come back to that in April.

Alright*, let’s get back to it.

[*] US English convention is “all right” but I grew up with “alright”. For some reason I have suppressed that British usage for most of the time I have been writing seriously, even while I use other British usages without compunction or mercy: armoured trousers are are my speciality, for example.

I am reclaiming this part of my upbringing.

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