Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going Indie - Day 10: Limping Along

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Ugh! So it turns out my neck pain is a little worse than I had thought. I was forced to take it easy today, scaling back my productivity, and performing a series of 'light jobs.' Thankfully I was able to get my last mini collection out the door, the Portuguese language version of Bedtime Story 2-Pack. It wasn't a lot of work (just a couple hours), but I felt terrible doing it. I persevered, and hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow.

I did do some actual writing, though. Not mind-blowing output, just a couple thousand words. Although I was supposed to take the day off, I found myself tinkering all day. There’s no rest for indie authors, just active rest.

My scattered efforts reminded me of how important it is to focus, and to have some light work lined up for when I get sick or play too much with social media. Sometimes the most difficult task is identifying the next step. The true power of productivity involves moving seamlessly from one task to another. It’s easy to get sidetracked when you don’t know what the next step is.

Staying disciplined and not allowing oneself to jump right in is an art form all in itself. Even 5 minutes of planning can be an invaluable investment. When I sat down to work on Alphabet All-Stars: Funny Flashcards, I identified a number of obstacles that threatened to delay the project. I told myself that I wasn't going to allow myself to do the major work until all of those issues were resolved. After acquiring the additional assets I needed and fixing a few flashcards, I realized that I had created the 'easy path' (also called the happy path) to get the project done. Predictably, the project went smoothly once I cleared the hurdles (it also helps that I've done this before).

This got me thinking. Why don’t I set up the happy path every time? Why don’t I invest more time into planning so that I make it easier for myself? When I don't do this, projects tend to wear me out. As I come across issues, I have to switch hats and become a graphical artist or an editor. It would better if I eliminated all of the jumping back and forth. (It would go a long way towards preserving my sanity.) And if I always aimed for the happy path, projects would come together more easily, rather than being forced to fruition.

Keep in mind, I'm not planner/plotter; I tend to jump right in. I love the thrill of discovery and don't mind letting the project define itself as I get my hands dirty.

Guinness World Record Holder Ryoki Inoue creates a detailed outline that covers just about everything before beginning a manuscript. After he fills in the necessary information, he writes the book from start to finish. At his height of his productivity, he’d write a 30,000-word manuscript in about 6-8 hours. Insane!

How is that humanly possible? Because of his superior organization and discipline. He's taken the time to study himself and pinpoint his flaws. A little practice also doesn't hurt (he's written about 1,100 books). In one of his interviews, he mentioned that he doesn't suffer from writers block because he works to an outline and always knows what happens next. Still it’s impressive that he can execute so flawlessly.

This isn't the only approach, however. Georges Simenon, a prolific French author known for his Detective Maigret novels, wrote largely by free association. He’d spend days beforehand digging through old newspapers and phonebooks until ideas began crystallizing in his head. Still there were scant notes, often scribbled on the front of the same envelope that he would mail his manuscript in. Even he admitted that he did not know where the story would take him. He had a profound sense of his story; the real magic happened on the page.

Of the two approaches, I gravitate more towards Simenon's approach (which I'll call the discovery approach). I prefer not to know too much about what I'm writing (I hate knowing too much, actually). But it does become a problem as I get deeper into the manuscript, typically after the first 10,000 words.

A powerful combination would be to combine the raw energy and excitement of the discovery approach with the precision of Inoue's plot-based outline. It's the best of both worlds, eliminating drafts and taking full advantage of ideas that are born on the page. I am currently seeking this balance, but haven't perfected it yet.

The truth is, everyone wants to be more productive. If we simplify our commitment by setting small, repeatable goals, and genuinely try to start and finish projects (give yourself a deadline!), there's no limit to what we can achieve.

Scott Gordon
Proud Indie Author

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