Roots Pushing Through

July 4th, 2017essays, operation: awesome

I think I’m starting to understand the concept of putting down roots. Staying in a place for a while. Staying at a job, a company for a long time. It’s…weird for me.

I never felt a connection to my hometown. And I always dreamt of having what is a rather impractical career.

When I was younger, I bounced around a variety of jobs that I hoped were never gonna turn into my career. So leaving when things got hard or tiring often felt like my best option. I didn’t want to work at those jobs forever so why put up when things weren’t great?

When my wife and I moved closer to Cleveland for her job, it was no big deal for me. The move meant closer proximity to cool things and I could continue to work on being a writer as I went from job to job.

Moving to Madison was harder–because of proximity to family–but it was a shot at working on something I truly love so we took it.

My need to move forward in my career outweighed pretty much every other factor.

And Madison is a great town. It’s my favorite town out of all the places I’ve lived. (London is my favorite town I’ve ever visited.)

Years later, I left that job for another job in the same area. And then that shop closed down. And I had no other opportunities.

This is the time when I launched a new edition of Little Fears and kicked off Operation: Awesome which were my attempts to hone my abilities and get practical, real product out there.

This led to some very welcome freelance gigs but it meant I was in constant pitching, constant working. I did anything and everything not just to scrape together taco money but to work my craft.

I wrote numerous bits and pieces for tabletop games (some of which paid, some of which got published, something that did both, some that did neither) and started doing article writing for

Once a year, I’d land a whale: a multi-month video game gig that helped us get through the leaner periods.

I was in panic mode this whole time. Every offer was short-term and I needed to find real stable full-time work. So I could catch my breath if nothing else.

I spent many years chasing a full-time opportunity. Any full-time opportunity. None of the work I got lasted all that long so I needed to be constantly looking for the next gig.

2012 is when everything changed. When I got an amazing offer–but had to walk away. When I won second prize at two different studios.

And then I landed the job at Volition.

But now, five years later, I am still always looking over my shoulder for the next thing. When things get too hard, my instinct is to look for another job.

I’ve developed a lot of bad habits–some necessary, some not–and they’re hard to shake.

All of this has prevented me from being comfortable putting down roots.

Why should I when I’m just gonna bounce, right?

But the truth is I’m in my chosen career, doing a job I love on amazingly “me” projects, working with amazing people–many of whom have become good friends. But I’ve never shaken off this perpetual fight or flight sensation.

It’s become something that nags at me. My obsessive tendencies likely exacerbate this.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I’ve spent all this time at home due to my dying leg/recent hip replacement. And I think about my kids and their friendships. And my house and how I’ve just started having movie nights with family and friends. And how Champaign doesn’t have all the amenities on my wishlist but I have access to a lot of great parks and shops and restaurants.

I’ve been here five years. Not just in Champaign but at Volition. This is my longest stint at a job in my life–by some magnitude.

And I wonder if I can set down roots here. If I can put away the paranoia and fear and just relax. Just enjoy life and the area and, yeah, some times will be harder than others but maybe it’s worth pushing through.

I wonder. And I think maybe I can.

It might be time for me to catch my breath.

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Interview at Escapist Magazine

January 16th, 2015interviews, operation: awesome, rpg

So this was unexpected.


Late in December, Adam Gauntlett—one of the folks behind the tabletop section of wildly popular gaming/geek site The Escapist—contacted me to see if I was interested in doing an interview about Little Fears. Of course, I jumped on it. I’m very happy to say that the interview is now up and I don’t sound nearly as dumb as I usually do.

Check it out here!

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Here’s the Thing About Dreams

January 2nd, 2015comics, fiction, operation: awesome, video games

Another year has ended (and I’ll write about that soon) and another one has started. All comments about arbitrary date changes aside, the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any other for reflection and declaration.

I’m not one for resolutions—no slight against them—but I am one for goals and dreams. It’s no secret that I love my day job. Writing video games is amazing and Volition is an aces place to work. I love coming into the office every day so much that I’ve become horrible at taking breaks from it. But, as do most creatives, I have ambitions beyond a single outlet. I want to create all the things—and I continue to strive to do so.

Over on Twitter, I posted the following:

Then, a little later, I added this:

Now, for the top tweet, those aren’t all crazy ideas. I’ve finished three novels in my life so far and though none have connected enough to move forward to publication, I’ve learned something with each. I am currently working with an artist on doing our own comic series and we’ll see what grows from that. And I endeavor every day to be a better human being in all relations, especially my familial ones.

But that second tweet, well, that’s a bit harder.

Some folks think because I write for a living (in video games no less!) that I have some sort of power and pull when it comes to getting Big Ideas made. Maybe, inside the confines of a Volition meeting room, there’s some truth to that (though video games are all about collaboration and any “win” I have is balanced by the wins of other people) but not-so in the bigger world.

Truth is, hardly anybody knows who I am. This isn’t a cry for pity or validation; it’s simple fact. My co-workers do, for the most part, and both my tabletop and digital games have fans (who are amazing!) but on the big creative scale, where the movers and shakers do their moving and shaking, I’m just another guy with ambition. Sure, maybe some credits too, but not so many big ones that they have to take notice.

I’m trying for that by making the things I can make and meeting the people I can meet but I’m not there yet. I’m not someone who enters a room and draws attention (outside of usually being the tallest person in the room). So, I’m just another anonymous person emailing a plea for connection and fives minutes of their time. When one of my emails hits an inbox, it’s shoved into the same Will-Get-To-Later-Maybe-Or-Maybe-Not pile as the emails of anyone else who doesn’t have some real clout behind their name.

And it doesn’t help that, frankly, the creative fields are tight, crowded areas. There are SO MANY people vying for the same thing that those who swim in the big pond can’t spend their time combing through all those emails looking for brilliance without a good reason. That good reason being name recognition or a referral from a friend or something that shines a light. I can only imagine being in the position the heads of studios are in when it comes to sorting through the in-flood of Folks Who Want Work.

I followed up the above tweets with the following two:

I wrote a comic, oh, about eight years ago (as I’ve talked about before) and I would love to get back in the field. And I’m doing that small comics project I mentioned earlier but there are some really cool established characters I’d love to take a crack at. I spent a good month putting together ideas for a Josie + the Pussycats reboot that I’d love to work on. Same for Cloak and Dagger. Zatanna’s one of my favorite characters of all time and telling one of her tales would be oh-woah-amazing. I would give blood to work on any of these titles. (And Power Pack too, as my friend Doug Snook reminded me.)

But so would a lot of people. Including folks working in comics right now. So, it’s a long shot. A really long shot. A Hail Mary pass into gale force winds. But it’s a goal. And it’s a dream. And I’m a big believer in having goals and working toward dreams. Once upon a time, working in video games was a long shot for me too.

I see myself as a creative who lives somewhere in the middle of this whole artsy mess. I write for a living but, I hope, I’m not at the top of my potential just yet. I’m just a writer trying to make it. I have my ups and downs, my successes and setbacks, but, mostly, I’m a guy with ambition. A guy who’s trying to do more and be more.

Maybe 2015 will give life to some of these dreams. Time will tell. But I’ll still be here working, no matter what the Fates have in store.

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Back in the Saddle of the One-Year Plan

March 15th, 2013fiction, news, operation: awesome

February was a bad month as far as getting any of my own writing done. All my energy was spent on work for the day job (which is awesome) but it left little time for finishing Five-Story Drop (the upcoming supplement for Streets of Bedlam) or getting words down on these six novels I’m writing this year.

As a result, that counter in the left column hasn’t budged a millimeter. (And none of you called me on it. FOR SHAME.) I hit a point where I simply couldn’t abide that. Yes, I was writing. I was writing five days at week at the job. But that’s no excuse. That’s not the point of the One-Year Plan. The One-Year Plan is about doing my own stuff. And I shouldn’t allow myself to make excuses or get distracted. Back in the saddle with me.

As it’s the middle of March now, I’ve revised my second novel from the YA Superhero book to this Middle Grade science fiction tale I’ve bandied about for a bit. It’s half the word count of the YA Superhero book, and maybe that’s a bit of a cheat, but I’m still learning and adapting to this whole process. The goal for me remains producing work that can be revised and pitched and hopefully sold. If the details change, I’m okay with that. And this book I’m working on currently is a lot of fun so there’s that. Half the joy of working on spec is the ability to do what you want to do.

So! Book 2: MG Sci-Fi has launched. Back to 1K a Day on it (in addition to 1K a Day on Five-Story Drop). Onward!

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The One-Year Plan: Goal One – Met!

February 6th, 2013fiction, operation: awesome

I finished a novel last night. I’m still a bit stunned by it honestly. It’s a Middle Grade novel, sure, so it’s 1/3 the size of a standard adult novel (what most folks think of when they think of a novel) but I hit the writing goal I was aiming for and the threshold for the market. (I even went over the goal as you can see by the bar to the left.)

I wrote my first novel (a 50k word YA book) back in 2007. That was almost six years ago and I can now finally say that wasn’t an isolated incident.

I’ve now finished two novels and each one was a learning process. Each proved I could do it. Each proved that failure stems not from my inability but from not being dedicated to getting it done. Each taught me a lot about the novel-writing process from the inside, the stuff you simply do not learn theoretically. Each one highlighted certain shortcomings of mine but also shined a light on some of my strengths. I came through each one with a list of things that worked and areas I needed to focus on both during the editing process and when approaching the next story. The process of each has been invaluable.

I look forward to starting my next novel in a couple days.

Before I move on to that next novel though, I thought I’d look back over the past month, talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what I aim to do now.

First off, I have a confession.

I Did a Bad Thing
I wrote without an outline. I know, I know. I wasn’t going to. Truth be told, this wasn’t even an existing idea from the Big List. It’s still Middle Grade horror, so it fit the slot, but I started with a premise and an opening scene then went from there. I didn’t know what was going to happen next most of the time. A lot of my daily word counts began and ended a single chapter. I made sure to curve each chapter into a cliffhanger or similar attachment point which made sure I had a launching pad for the next day’s writing.

This worked surprisingly well. I’d sometimes stop in the middle of a chapter and think about how to steer the story but having that cliffhanger goal gave me focus. It taught me about making sure each chapter bends, rises and falls—hitting the pavement with enough force to bounce back up right before you cut, insert page break, and follow that momentum into the next chapter.

That which moves the writer to write moves the reader to read.

Still, for my next book, I’m doing the outline. I’m taking some days to map out the big beats and do up some character sheets before I start.

I Learned Oh So Very Much
A bunch of writing advice I had read over the past few years suddenly made sense. What were previously good ideas gained a new sense of relevance and meaning when put into practice. The one that hit me in the face hardest was “The protagonist drives the story.” The hard truth is I’ve suffered from passive protagonist syndrome for a long time, loving the idea of the person who has to react to the situations in their life, but that’s just not a good idea. Your character is John Henry and the story is that mound of solid rock. You need to give your protagonist a hammer or they’re never going to tunnel their way through it. (We’ll ignore that whole “dying at the end” part.) Every single time I wondered why my story felt like it was dragging or falling flat, it was because I hadn’t given my protagonist an obstacle or some motivation or a reason to be where they are. I could sing that from the mountaintops, folks.

All Day Every Day Except the Days I Didn’t
I aimed for 1k every day. Most days, I hit that. A lot of days, especially in the beginning, I exceeded that considerably. A couple days, I did half that. A few days, I didn’t get any writing done at all. Some nights, I was done with my 1000 words in half an hour. Other nights, it took 90 minutes or more. But I stayed in front of the computer and wrote.

A lot of days, I didn’t feel like writing anything at all. As I said above, I missed some days. All but one was due to exhaustion. Two of the nights, I fell asleep before the kids did. My day job went through being auctioned and purchased by a new company during all this and that was distracting—but I still made count almost every single day. “Not feeling like writing” isn’t good enough. Being physically unable to focus, fine. I’d skip or let myself only do 500 words or so on those days. But I’m not idly wondering if maybe I’d like to write a book here. I decided I was writing novels this year. That meant committing to the work.

When I initially started 1k a Day, I worked mostly as a freelancer so I would often have time during the morning or afternoon to fit in the words. This time around, I work a day job—which is also as a writer—and almost all my writing happened in the evening. The exceptions to that are the weekends where I wrote during the mornings but finding the time usually meant not watching that show, not playing that video game, not getting that extra sleep. Carving out the time meant sacrifice. But, sitting here with a draft in my hand, I don’t miss the sleep, don’t care I’m behind on my shows, and I don’t regret not playing that game. The sacrifices were worth it.

Make No Mistake: The Book is Rough
It’s not good. I’m not being immodest here. The book has problems with tone, pacing, structure, and character/event contradictions and inconsistencies but that’s okay. This is a first draft. I wasn’t aiming for perfection; I was aiming for done. I can’t edit a blank page but I can edit this. I can revise this. I can make it better. Will it ever be a book worth shopping around? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I finished a Middle Grade novel. Which means I met my goal. Which means I can finish another one. That is what’s important for now.

What’s Next
I’m shifting things up a bit. I have a real itch to write that YA Superhero book so I’m going to do that next. I don’t mind that I’m shifting things around a bit. As long as they’re not impeding my forward momentum, I’m willing to ride the wave a bit. I’ve already started the wordometer on the left. Since February’s a short month, and I already missed some days finishing the first book, and the YA goal is 50k, I’ll probably do a midpoint check-in rather than wait until the end of March to update.

Until then, I’ll be writing. Doing that 1k every day I can. By the end of March, I should have a finished draft of a YA book. That’s exciting.

Talk to you later.

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The One-Year Plan Begins Now

January 1st, 2013fiction, operation: awesome

The grand odometer of life has flipped another digit, and I’m staring across a field of 365 chances to fulfill some dreams until it does so again.

As I talked about back in September, I aim to become an honest-to-goodness novelist this year. My current plan is two Middle Grade books, two Young Adult books, and two Adult books. Though I’ve swapped the order of the MG books from what I detailed back then, that’s still the basic layout I’m sticking to.

Because failing in public sucks, and the shroud of anonymity allows for too many excuses, I’m posting my word counts in the sidebar, starting with Book 1: MG Horror (um, not official title), so you all can keep me honest. I’m going to incorporate updating the word counter as part of my daily writing routine so I should be able to keep it current.

The goal is 1,000 words every day. Only takes 30-60 minutes to do that much so I have the time. The trick is making use of it.

If you’re so inclined, I invite each and every one of you to call me on it when I don’t update that counter. I’m sure I’ll have some excuse but you have full license to call me on my crap. Email, Twitter, Facebook, IM, even by phone or text if you have my info. Harass me. Keep me honest. I’d sure appreciate it if you did.


Operation: Awesome – The One-Year Plan

September 25th, 2012fiction, operation: awesome

About a month ago, I talked about how I needed to add new direction in my life (“A Metaphorical Haircut“) and that, even though I was sitting pretty with a great job at a great company, I was left partially unfulfilled because I very much still wanted to break into the fiction market. At the end of that post, I declared that I was going to write a novel.

Well, I’m going to retract that.

Next year, I’m writing six novels.

Now, before you think I’ve gone Forbeckian in my madness, these are not all full-length adult novels. I will be writing two Middle-Grade novels, two Young Adult novels, and two Adult novels. Word count-wise, that’s two 30k books, two 50k books, and two 90k books for a total of 340k words. Totally doable inside twelve months.

I’ve long maintained a list of potential projects for the day I acquire infinite monkeys to make use of all these typewriters I have laying around. I revisit the list periodically to cull the bad ideas, add new (hopefully not bad) ideas, and lay out a sort of priority. It’s an intimidating thing to stare at such a list and realize all these babies may never be born. I faced the same situation over a decade ago when I was trying to sort out which of my many game ideas I was going to work on (the winner being the game that turned into the original Little Fears).

Ultimately, back then, I had to pick one of the better ideas and just run with it. Because if I didn’t start on any of them then none would ever get done. So yesterday, I went through the list and added up, in an ideal world, how long it would take me to bring the better ideas to form.

Turns out, it’d take about five years.

I went through the list again and pulled out the best ideas—the strongest ideas, the most marketable ideas—and it turns out, at 1k words a day, I could get them all to first-draft format inside a year.

The fact that two books stood out from each category was coincidental. But it works nicely. I get to ramp up word count every two projects and also use some non-writing time the first half of the year to research and plan out the adult novels (one of which is quite intimidating plot-wise).

The goal here is first-draft quality. If I can revisit any during that time, great!, but I’m aiming only for a solid draft.

As for schedule, here’s how that looks:

Book 1: MG Drama – January 2013
Book 2: MG Horror – February 2013
Book 3: YA Superhero – March & April 2013
Book 4: YA Sci-Fi – May & June 2013
Book 5: Adult Drama – July, August, & September 2013
Book 6: Adult Thriller – October, November, & December 2013

Something I really like, seeing it laid out like this, is the diversity of not only the market but the genres as well. I get to scratch a lot of different itches here. And autumn is the perfect season to write the last book which is a nice coincidence.

The rest of this year, I aim to clear my extracurricular plate in preparation for The One-Year Plan. That includes all the projects remaining on the Streets of Bedlam docket and a potential short story.

Throughout The One-Year Plan, I’ll run word count trackers and post updates on this site so you all can help keep me honest and on track. I’m sure I’ll be looking for first readers as I finalize each draft and I’ll use this as a means of getting some volunteers if you folks might be interested.

So. Onward. Come 2013, I stop wanting to be a novelist and I finally become one.


A Metaphorical Haircut

August 28th, 2012fiction, operation: awesome

It’s not that I get bored easily. But when I do tire of something, I have to change it.

Mostly this means shaving my head or growing a ridiculous mustache but sometimes this means bigger things. I launched Operation: Awesome because I was tired of not being the writer I knew I could be.

Thing is, these years later, I’m still not.

I’m better, certainly. I’m more disciplined, have a much firmer grasp of the craft and of story, and have even achieved a position where I write for a living. But I’m not where I want to be yet.

When I was freelancing, I was also a stay-at-home dad which meant, if I wasn’t taking care of my kids, then I had to focus on writing that was paid for. If not upfront, then it had to be writing I could sell.

Even after landing some big gigs, I continued along that path. Only writing the stuff I could sell immediately. This is how Little Fears happened, how Streets of Bedlam happened.

“Writing what I can sell” meant, mostly, tabletop game material. Or short fiction for the occasional collection. It left no time for spec work such as screenplays or novels.

But now I have a (blessed blessed) day job that fills that gap. I write at work. What I write outside the office doesn’t have to be stuff I can sell right away. Course, now I have a backlog that needs written. Stuff I’ve promised, and even some stuff folks have already paid for.

I decided a few weeks ago, I was going to make a big change. I was going to finish all the stuff I needed to finish, take a break, and then do some spec writing. The type of writing I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.

I’m going to write a novel. One I’ve been mulling over for years. One that goes into a lot of new areas and challenges me like no work has in ages. I’m excited for it.

Before I can focus on it though, I have to clear my plate. Namely, I’m capping off my Little Fears work, finishing up what’s due for Streets of Bedlam, and then taking a break. After that break, I’m focusing my out-of-office efforts on my novel.

I hope to have a draft wrapped up four months after I start. So, say, maybe six months or so out from now. That’s my goal.

I need to focus on something new, try for something new. Whenever I stay put, nothing moves around me. Nothing moves for me. I can’t let the fact I have a dream job let me get soft. Time to reach a new level.

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Two Years of Awesome

December 29th, 2011operation: awesome

I first wrote about Operation: Awesome back in June 2010 but I put the plan laid out in that post into practice much earlier. A lot of 2010 was focused on redefining myself, pushing myself, and changing my entire creative process. I realized how toxic it had become, how little was actually getting done, and I knew I had to do things differently in order to survive in the creative field.

Operation: Awesome was put to test in summer 2010 when I was brought in to work on High Voltage Software‘s Conduit 2. They put a lot of power in my hands and I did not want to disappoint. I worked hard on that game and had a lot of fun doing it. When it came out earlier this year, I was thrilled. I had a video game on the shelf that I could point to and go, “See that? I wrote that.” What an amazing feeling.

That gig was a big test of Operation: Awesome but it was just the beginning. I was still shuffling off a lot of bad habits and baggage. I decided to do some small projects to establish a better writing habit. I launched the Campfire Tales line for Little Fears Nightmare Edition. I originally intended for that series to run twelve straight episodes but had to stall it at three. I can say the reason was at least somewhat noble: I was busy working on the first full-sized supplement for LFNE, Book 2: Among the Missing. I was also doing some freelance work in that time, including fiction for an upcoming tabletop game line, some development work on a (sadly) cancelled project, and contributed to Chuck Wendig and Lance Weiler’s Sundance Film Festival transmedia project Pandemic 1.0/Hope is Missing. I launched Book 2: Among the Missing in March 2011. A ten-year retrospective of the original corebook from 2001 saw release as Happy Birthday, Little Fears over the summer. Also over the summer, I signed a contract with Human Head Studios to work on Prey 2. I was brought on as the Narrative Designer and Writer for the project. In that time, not only did I wrangle the story for Prey 2 but I lent some insight and ideas to a variety of projects.

On top of that, I had some fiction published, did some layout work for friends, and added to some really fun projects such as Clint and Cassie Krause’s Don’t Walk in Winter Wood. I even returned to the Campfire Tales line for three more episodes, putting out Season Two this past fall. No way I would have had the discipline to fit all this into my schedule prior to Operation: Awesome. While I certainly wasn’t a saint in my time management, I did far better than I ever did previously.

A lot of things started to fall into place this past year and I knew it was mine to fumble. I worked hard to make sure I didn’t do that. When my contract at Human Head ended, I began work on getting a new project up, running, and ready for public approval. I took the momentum of joy and satisfaction from working at Human Head and funneled it into new projects aimed at new goals. After launching the Kickstarter for a new Savage Worlds setting called Streets of Bedlam in November, my plan was rewarded almost immediately as generous backers fulfilled the initial goal in under three days. I am still in awe of that.

I’ve changed a lot as a creative and a person since starting Operation: Awesome and it really all came down to taking my ambitions seriously, investing in my dreams, doing the work, and no longer accepting excuses. One of the side effects of that, besides actually releasing product, was I started to expect more and better from others as well. I was fortunate enough this past year to find myself in a room with a half-dozen highly-creative people who were firing on all cylinders, demanding better from everyone else, and the sensation was exhilarating.

I still have a lot to do. I don’t think there is an endgame for Operation: Awesome, only a fail state. And I have no intention of failing.

2011 had a lot of ups and downs but it ended on some very high notes for me. I learned a ton, did some good work, got an award nomination from IGN, and have a lot more projects on my done list. I had some high ambitions for the year and, while I didn’t hit them all, I hit enough to mark the chalk in the win column.

Coming into 2012, I have even higher ambitions with much more at stake. As of this writing, over 150 people have put their money where my mouth is and backed Streets of Bedlam. My dance card for the first three months is almost fully booked with that one project. I’m leaving some wiggle room for a couple sweet pick-up gigs and plotting for the April project but Streets of Bedlam is my main focus for that time. I’m really excited for it.

I plan to spend April and May of next year writing a novel. I haven’t finished a novel since I completed my attempt at a Young Adult book for Little Fears back in 2007. I want published novels under my belt, both lit and genre. I plan to focus on Middle Grade but want to do some adult and YA as well. That may be the biggest test of Operation: Awesome yet. I look forward to it.

I have many other plans beyond as well. And I might even pick up some high-profile gigs, fates willing.

With Operation: Awesome, I took an honest assessment of myself and mapped out a battle plan to start changing who I was into who I wanted to be. For the above reason and beyond, I’m glad I did. Here’s looking forward to 2012 and even more awesome.


Operation: Awesome – The 1000-Word Plan

May 5th, 2011essays, operation: awesome

One thousand words. It’s not a lot. But neither is a single grain of sand.

Earlier this year, I hit a hard realization: Writing wasn’t working for me anymore. I was writing in spurts. Some days I’d hit 3000 words but most days I wasn’t writing anything. Operation: Awesome was stalling, and I needed to jumpstart the engine if it was going to survive.

Part of Operation: Awesome was collecting the tools I should’ve gathered a decade ago: the study, the concept of form and genre (Step One), the dedication to a path (Step Two), and reading regularly (Step Three). I was doing well at those. I obsessed over structure and story, knew the type of career I want to have, and have been reading stacks of books in my audience and genre. Operation: Awesome had fixed a lot of my flaws as a writer, or helped me work on fixing them anyway, but I was struggling with one very important thing. I lacked the discipline to write (Step Four) and with every day I became less motivated to work on that discipline.

I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to writing. Most of my time is spent raising my kids (and my dogs and cat and, well, the chinchilla pretty much takes care of himself). My wife and I don’t have the cash to put my son into daycare so, even though my daughter is at school, my attention is elsewhere throughout the day. When my wife gets home, I want to spend time with her and the kids. By the time bedtime rolls around, I’m out of juice. Sometimes she doesn’t get home until after 8 o’clock at night which leaves me even more exhausted (and is she too). After 13+ hours of always-on fathering, I just don’t have the word count in me. I sit and read or catch up on television or play games. Or, maybe, on rare occasion, hang out with friends.

In recent months, that routine had worn me to a nub. I was stressed to my limit, and I started to resent writing. I felt too much pressure to cram all my week’s writing into two days. Any other time I wasn’t writing, when I was spending time with family or catching up on books/games/shows, I felt like I was wasting time I should be writing. I was stymied.

My work and my life were too muddled and I wasn’t dedicating the time and attention I should to either. I had hit a wall, and I had to make a choice: Write or find something else to do.

In order to make sense of this, I did what my pretentious teenaged self should have done, I turned to the professionals for advice. I read somewhere that Cory Doctorow (of BoingBoing and Little Brother fame) has (or maybe had) a writing goal of 250 words a day. Stephen King, one of the most popular American novelists of all time, writes 2000 words a day.

That blew my mind. These guys weren’t nose-first in their work from dawn to dusk as I imagined. A lot of aspiring authors I know huddle in front of their screens day-in and day-out and, hey, if I could, I would probably do the exact same thing. But I can’t. I have other, bigger responsibilities, but I knew I could find a sweet spot between Doctorow and King, something that worked for me.

I looked at my schedule and contracts and realized to hit my deliverables, I only needed to write 1000 words a day. That’s it. About an hour’s worth of work. While I can’t park my son in front of the television for six hours every day, I can set him in front of Sesame Street or a couple episodes of Dora (or, his favorite, Dino Dan) and crank out 1000 words.

I decided that was my plan. I would write 1000 words a day, every day. But, I added some rules to make that more meaningful:

A Thousand Words of Fiction or Other Paid Work. Not blog posts, Twitter, emails, updates, or even the work I do for The thousand words had to be on projects I was selling (or hoping to sell) or paid gigs. All that other stuff had to be done outside the goal, at night or during the extra work hours my wife’s days off allowed me.

No Making Up Missed Days. I couldn’t push one day’s work onto another. Meaning: I couldn’t skip Tuesday but promise myself I’d write 2000 Wednesday. If I didn’t hit my goal on a day, I had to accept that as failure even if I did write 2000 words the next day. (I take this from something attributed to Jerry Seinfeld: When you hit your day’s writing goal, mark it on a calendar. As the chain of marked days grows, you become more motivated not to break the chain.)

I Couldn’t Write Ahead. Same idea as above. I couldn’t buy a half-day Tuesday by writing 1500 words on Monday. Each day’s goal was separate.

I Could Go Over. If I felt inspired, I could do 1500 or 2000 or more. But I didn’t have to. 1000 was the goal.

That was a couple months ago. Overall, I’ve done well. I’ve missed days but not enough to beat myself up. On the positive side, I’ve noticed some big changes beyond the increase in productivity:

I’m Happier. Writing is working for me again. I get my 1000 done and the writing stress is gone. I’m not up late berating myself for watching Supernatural or playing games instead of writing.

I Have Gained Control of My Schedule. Since I know my output, I can better gauge my workload. This means I know at a glance if I can take on other work or if I have to turn something down. This is new to me (and is a big reason I was not good at freelancing for so long). But now I know my schedule and I don’t overload it.

I Jump Into Writing More Easily. Another great piece of writing advice, attributed to multiple sources, is to stop writing in mid-idea so you know where to pick up the next day. Writing only 1000 words puts me mid-idea almost every time so I come back to a project knowing where to start. The words flow from there.

I Have More Writing Energy. Because I’m not squeezing 5000 words out of my day’s imagination reservoir, I come into the daily goal refreshed, with a full day’s creative rest between rather small bursts of output.

So, after a long time struggling with my goals as a writer, I have found a system that is working for me. I’ve already handed in a bunch of contract work and am almost done with a new book for Little Fears Nightmare Edition.

A side effect of the new plan saw my last bit of contract work line up with May 31st, meaning I was free to start new projects on June 1st. After some noodling, I put down designs for the Big Summer Project, which I’ve codenamed Operation: Last Chance. This is something that terrifies and excites me in almost equal measure. See, there’s more to this new phase than I have said, more at stake than simply hitting a daily goal, but I can’t talk about it just now. I’ll leave the details of that for another time.

© 2010-2013 Jason L Blair except, y'know, stuff that belongs to other folks.