Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I'm Crap at Deadlines

It's August. Well, for me, it's still July, but it's August by the time this is being posted.

If you're reading this, then I've missed at least one (but probably 7) deadlines and not released what I wanted to release in July.

This is a good thing I promise you, because I have been working my ass off to get these to you and if I am not ready to release them, then well, it's because they're not ready, not because they haven't had hundreds of hours of work put into the lot of them this month.

I'd really not rather go the route of Blizzard and CONSTANTLY have delays on EVERYTHING, but I'm also not going to release something before it's ready. Personally, I have a lot of things that affect me that cause me to be late, but let's go through some of these and explain why they're not a factor anymore.

In the last month, I estimate that I've written around 90,000 words. The problem is, they're not the right 90 thousand words. I've written about 30K each for Zero Angel's Mathematics #2 and The Warrior's Way (and these were both projects started months ago), and anywhere from 2-15K each for the various other stories planned this month.

So with this sort of productivity level, why are these projects not getting finished?

Maybe you've already guessed that it's because I'm juggling so many different projects. Sorry, that's not it. In fact, I NEED this many projects because of how I work. If I were to just have one project, for instance, The Warrior's Way, then I would have written about 30K words in it this month and had nothing else to show for my time. When I add more to my plate, I don't take away from the other dishes, I just add more.

It's kind of like eating a pound of spaghetti. Yes, I have at certain points in my life eaten an entire pound of spaghetti, but generally, I eat 1/4-1/2 of a pound of spaghetti and supplement this with meatballs, breadsticks, salad, milk, Parmesan cheese, etc. It's not because I can't eat an entire pound of spaghetti, it's because I get bored eating the same thing and chewing that much too. In other words, I have ADHD.

I used to always blame my ADHD when I would miss a deadline, but that was before I came to understand how to work around it. It's still annoying and the steps I have to take (which I will briefly describe for you) are probably not the healthiest or cheapest ways to go about life.
Ways I Manage ADHD
  1. The aforementioned dozen projects at once.

    ...not to mention taking breaks for this blog, reviews, my day jobs, the WotA Wiki and world building, ApocalypseDesigns.com, the Facebook author page, etc. Basically, I've found that the best way to combat ADHD is to have so much going on that I literally have no time to do anything other than what I need to do.

  2. Caffeine. Lots and lots of caffeine.

    If you don't know, the normal way to treat ADHD is by prescribing Ritalin or Adderall, the generic of Adderall is "mixed amphetamines", so basically speed. For those of us that live outside the "has health insurance" bubble, legal stimulants are a not-quite-effective-but-better-than-nothing alternative.

    When I am working for more than 20 minutes or more than a single "attempt" (i.e. a scene, a chapter, anything that carries me away counts as one attempt, but as soon as I have to step back from a work, then it becomes multiple attempts), then I drink about 1/2 cup of coffee every 30 minutes or so. In a normal workday, that comes out to ~1 pot of coffee. Sometimes an "attempt" can last for an hour or even two if the muses are calling to me, but sometimes I drink 3-4 cups of coffee at a time too.

  3. Nicotine.

    This is not something I do everyday, but especially if I pull an all-nighter (which is much more common in the fall and spring when I am juggling more jobs) or I am approaching the end of a coffee build-up cycle (after which I try to go off coffee for a week or so, so that it is effective again), nicotine is enough of a stimulant that it helps me focus and prevents me from suffering the deleterious effects of ADHD.

  4. Food.

    Again, especially after an all-nighter or if I am consuming vast quantities of coffee, I increase my calories when I need more energy or need to balance out more coffee.

    Honorable Mention: Gatorade/Water.

    Not so much to combat ADHD, but to balance out the coffee. Obviously, a small amount of Gatorade can match a much larger quantity of water (sorry Waterboy), but Gatorade also has the negative that it's not free.

    P.S. You might wonder what I did in high school (secondary school) since many people back then didn't drink coffee in high school and I definitely couldn't purchase cigars or pipe tobacco back then. Well, high school is nothing. Really, a bachelor's degree is nothing as well. If you show up to classes and do the work you're not going to run into much trouble. Not until my upper division classes in college did I realize that I needed coffee to stay on task and not until my master's degree did I really have to start managing my ADHD. Miraculously (that's sarcasm), I went from planning a novel and doing crap work for it for 9 years to finishing my novel and multiple revisions in one year after really starting to manage my ADHD. I also went from a student that got Cs in classes I found particularly boring to maintaining a perfect 4.0, so I'd say that my methods work fairly well (at least for me). 
 Oh, and there's another pretty major thing that affects my motivation in ways I never thought it could. If I am particularly unmotivated and don't feel like doing anything, I would always just veg out or distract myself with good art of some sort (video, visual, interactive, musical, whatever), but then I started to question this as it happened more and more until I realized that one of the biggest demotivators in my life is pain. Not the "why me?" BS or the "F*** that really hurts!" explosions of pain, but just the general achy, I'm-getting-too-old-for-this-crap pain that sneaks up on you and you don't even realize it's bothering you until you're asking yourself if you really need to climb all those stairs to go to the restroom right now or if you'll be alright until you need to go up there. My solutions for that? Ibuprofen mainly. 2 if it's wet out and really bad, 1-2 if I've done something particularly strenuous (such as running, fighting, driving long periods), and 1 low-dosage baseline per day no matter what for general anti-inflammatory purposes (which supposedly helps prevent cancer too, so that's nice).

Disclaimer: Do not do anything I do unless recommended by a doctor or if you're not going to hold me accountable. This stuff works for me. You're not me, so I'm not recommending it for you. In fact, most of the things I've mentioned are bad for you, so don't do that. K? Thanks.

Anyway, so why do I keep giving so many deadlines? Well, I need them. If I didn't have them, I probably would have written somewhere around 500 words this month. Obviously not counting this blog or explanations to students on how to solve problems (since this single post alone is already 500+ words). Hell, I've tweeted more than 500 words this month. And it's not enough to have the deadlines be privately made and privately failed. I need that desperation that comes from having promised people something in order to deliver on that promise. Having real deadlines that matter should probably be #1 in that list above, and this was the ONLY way I accomplished school work (or anything else) that took more than 10 minutes before I knew about coffee.

That said, I'm definitely going to scale back release dates and only post dates for things that are already finished with the exception of art/press/etc. I obviously have no idea how long it takes to create something even if I have an idea of my current productivity levels and figured they were going to be good enough, and, as was the case with ZAM #2 this month, sometimes the project morphs and lengthens itself. Also, there are just some things that interject themselves on your time (like having your house torn apart and try to put it back together to be able to live in it)

I mean, I'm sure I could put together a crap math book that revolutionizes the way algebra is taught in a week or so (in fact, I already have, first draft; I trashed it, not good enough), but in order to put together a worthwhile math book that lays the basis for the way algebra should be taught while simultaneously being approachable to more than just math educators with a background in math, well, it takes a little while longer.

Similarly, short stories tend to oscillate between shorts, novellettes, novellas and sometimes even full-length novels depending on the draft, and then there's the despair.

No, I'm not an emo kid (well, not anymore anyway), and I'm really not depressed at all when it comes to life and such (thank you my future wife). But I don't know any way to describe the blackness that wells up at the thought of my fiction works; there's no coincidence that I've only released two fictional stories in the last year in spite of having written over a dozen stories that I was happy with. I get marketing and I get that most writers don't make it and then not until they have a bunch out blah blah blah, etc etc etc, but I do believe that there is a baseline that most people can expect with their work and well, I haven't met that baseline for my fictional works.

One of the reasons I've been pushing all of these deadlines so strongly this month is because I want to rework my platform and having a higher quantity of good quality stories is imperative for any non-blockbuster writer in order to begin to make a living, but then there's just that blackness.

No matter that when I start reading these stories it is like I am reading someone else's work that I greatly enjoy and I devour them in a single sitting (by the way kids, I do not recommend reading "The Throne of Ao" aloud. I don't know about you, but it gets way too intense and you start raising your voice and have to stand up and you really, really, really need to take breaks every chapter or you'll have a heart attack). Once I start reading them, I fall in love with them again even if I've forgotten writing them, but the blackness is there before I start reading them.

The fact of the matter is that I can handle constructive criticism and I can even handle destructive criticism, but having next to no feedback on these works makes me feel like I'm suspended over a great chasm with those dissolving Mario blocks beneath me and not with the amazing jumping ability of that fabled plumber.

Even with these blog posts, the majority of the views I get are just spam. I'm starting to get others commenting on them, to which I assume that there are probably x10 people reading the post even if they don't comment, but in the 2300 some blog views I've had in the last few months writing this, I imagine that ~1800 are spam views.

A free preview of the next novella didn't encourage anyone to join the mailing list, and offering to make two never-before-offered-free books free didn't encourage more than a handful of people to "like" my Facebook page. It's all quite underwhelming.

A lot of writers say that they write for themselves, but although I love my works and I get entertainment and enjoyment out of them, I am writing them for others. Summarizing how I teach math and going beyond the classes that I teach with my math books probably helps organize my thoughts and such, but I am hoping to make a difference with the way math is taught with those books. Writing entertaining fiction is enjoyable to imagine and create and figure out the end of the story, but I KNOW HOW IT ENDS. I'VE ALREADY FIGURED IT OUT! I've already got that enjoyment! I want to share it with others now. I want to inspire people and give them the "feels" like how I got as a kid and still get today from the media I try to consume. If it wasn't for fiction, I wouldn't be the person I am. If I didn't have these fictional heroes to love as a child, I would have fallen astray in my real life more than I did.

I'm not looking for advice here. I'm trying to explain why I'm crap at deadlines. I said earlier that I needed public deadlines because without them I wouldn't be motivated. That's the thing, if it's shared with everyone and no one cares, does it make a tweet? Not at all. So the promise made is made to no one. So although I have regret and I wish I could keep promises to myself, I can't; I need others to keep promises to.

And there are the actual promises. When finishing The Throne of Ao, there were literally dozens of people that were really excited about reading it. I even had a publication drive and made hundreds of dollars to help me finish it. There were strangers excited, friends excited, associates excited, and family excited—seemingly genuinely so. Fast-forward to releasing it and even people that pre-ordered it lost all excitement (with some few exceptions). Many people had forgotten they pre-ordered it, and some that were excited about getting the book said they would probably never read it after they had gotten it. (Note: I appreciated the support, but it still felt like unexpectedly being slapped in the face).

It would have been nice to just hear what people thought about it, you know? And the idea that I have all of these other stories ready to launch only for them to be swallowed up in this black hole of nothingness, well, yeah, I'd say that is a good definition of despair. Also see: lack of hope.

So that is a pretty major reason why I'm crap at deadlines even after having learned how to manage all of my issues with ADHD and arthritis, the fact that I'm putting forth hundreds of hours of work to maybe only hear from a handful of people what their thoughts on my books are, well, it's...

...annoying is what it is. Have I really been bitching this much about not being done yet? God, I need to get back to work. Sorry for the diversion, must have forgot my coffee this hour.

Meta Addendum: Why post?
If I disagree with writing all this (or at least the last bit), why post it at all? Well, (1) then I really would have been wasting my time, (2) I'm not going to take more time to edit out the undesirable aspects because well, it is an aspect of me I suppose and I don't have a problem sharing the frustrations of being a fledgling writer, maybe someone else out there is thinking of giving up and they'll read this and they'll need that sense of someone-in-the-same-position-going-through-this to keep going (or maybe that's just that arrogant want-to-inspire aspiration of mine for my writing speaking), (3) if I had read something like this in high school I may have known what I could do to "fix myself" in regards to ADHD—didn't have arthritis as bad back then ^_~ and then I could have gotten my first published novel written and been 9 years ahead of the game.

And (4) I really am very sorry that I missed my deadlines this month and especially sorry to the maybe-not-nonexistant people that were looking forward to them and actually read this. I will try harder, and as I mentioned earlier, I won't put out deadlines any more unless the works are practically complete.

That said, I'm not going to end this blog with a publication goals list and definitely not with any expected publication dates. You'll know more once I do.

Again, I'm very sorry, and thank you for sticking with me. Even if I don't hear from people, I am still going to keep trying and will work on that private deadlines deficiency as well. Thank you for reading.