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My Year as an Indie

Autumn Trees And Threatening Clouds by David Wagner
Autumn Trees And Threatening Clouds by David Wagner

It’s been an eventful few days. At least inside my head.

From the outside? I’ve been sitting in my RV a lot. Doing some writing, doing a lot of failing to write much of anything. Getting frustrated, because I knew I was sabotaging myself, but not sure how to fix it. Last night I packed stuff up and got ready to drive back to be with my family, on the theory that it was at least a change…even though I knew I was trying to make the two-hour drive into a stand-in for actual progress. I’m sneaky like that.

I suppose it sounds sort of awful (in a “first world problem” sort of way). It was and it wasn’t. I think I needed to go through it to get to the other side, and I think I may need to keep going through it for a bit longer.

Let me back up and start again. Not too long ago, having noticed that I wasn’t making reasonable progress on The Secret, I decided to try attacking the question of motivation straight on. In the past I’ve used Lawrence Block’s “Affirmations for Writers” mp3 files, and they’ve helped. (Okay, it’s goofy and hippie-dippie and all, but I like stuff that works.) But…they weren’t quite cutting it this time.

So I paid some money to get access to Dean Wesley Smith’s online videos on motivation for writers. I’d summarize ’em here, but they really worked and I don’t want to remove other people’s motivation to pay him for them…really, they’re quite cool.

The videos inspired me to come up with my Weekly Challenge. Well, here’s a secret: this particular challenge doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to me. It doesn’t take all that long to write a short story once I get going (yesterday’s freebie took about half a day). But if that’s true, why don’t I have lots more written? Hmm?

Simple: because I haven’t (previously) built the sort of scaffolding I need. For instance: I have no idea what next week’s story will be. But I know I’ll do it, because I don’t want to make myself more of an idiot than I need to in front of you guys. So…how do I do that for novels too?

Well…my wife and I agreed: I’ll send her a first draft of next week’s story tonight, even if it’s really really rough. And then I’ll stay here in the RV until I actually complete a first draft of The Secret. Since I miss my family…I’d say it’ll be a few more days, but not longer.

After that, I’ll make a new cover for Shiver on the Sky (because I know a lot more about covers than I used to), and I’ll update the book’s Afterword to tell readers exactly when to expect its sequel. Then I’ll do a promotion for it that’ll get the thing into some people’s hands…and I’ll have built some scaffolding in which I can actually work. Along with the published arrival date? I’ll tell everybody: if I don’t hit my target, the book will be free.

That’ll get me going. I’m pretty sure.

See, I love writing. But sometimes it can be a long slog, with gratification seeming to be infinitely delayed. Because, duh, it’s work. And I’m often a lazy bastard. So…imagine a long walk through the woods, way past the point when you’re tired, when you have plenty of available campsites and all the gear you need to be comfortable. And maybe a nice book to read. Now compare that to: a long walk through the woods, rainclouds coming, it’s getting cold, you’re worried about what happens if you can’t get to your destination in time–but when you do get there you’ll be comfortable and maybe get a cookie. The point is obvious.

I need the drama to make myself actually care about a work schedule. I need scaffolding. My wife and I agreed: I will never again take on a book-length project without putting something in place to help me get to the finish line. It’s just too damn easy to drift. (And also to mix metaphors.)

So…I could make some sort of grandiose claim about a series of novels here, in conjunction with my Weekly Challenge for short stories. But frankly? It wouldn’t have any teeth. Novels take too long, and people easily excuse a writer for taking a while to complete them. Hell, they think a book might be better if it takes longer to write (though I very much doubt this notion is valid).

Specificity. Scaffolding. I should come up with another word that starts with an ‘S’ here. (You’ll never know how many rude comments I just deleted. Feel free to make up your own.)

Okay. That said, what’s up with the title of this post? Just this: I have a bunch of ideas about the next year. Some I’m ready to talk about, some I’m not. I’ll have to take a lot of time away from my family to do all the things I plan to do, or even most of them. And, you know, I’m a writer. So…there’s this: I’m planning a nonfiction book about it all. My goals, semi-secret and otherwise. Strategies. What worked and what didn’t, what my expectations were along the way and how they were or weren’t met. What problems arose, what problems I built up in my head but in reality turned out to be paper tigers. (I just like the idea of stuffing paper tigers into my head for some reason, so that last bit’s gonna stay.)

Sounds like fun to me. And maybe it’ll be a little bit of extra scaffolding/motivation for me when I get to the tough parts. We’ll see.

Meanwhile I’ve got a story to write. Have fun out there!

Published inPersonalPublishingRandom Rants


  1. ABE

    You CAN do this – once you realize it’s what you want.

    I’ve been working on the novel-in-progress for over thirteen years, am nowhere near done, and wouldn’t dream of stopping.

    If you could do something else, you would be doing it.

    Courage, mon ami.

    LET yourself instead of FORCE yourself.

    • David

      Thanks! I sort of agree. Forcing myself does eventually work, but it’s a pain. And makes writing feel a lot like going to the gym or dieting.

      However…going limp and letting myself do what I want means I’ll just read a book. Or wander around and talk to people. It’s what I do. So I need the scaffolding in place, or getting the work done is just too hard. Some strategy is required here.

      Silly, since it’s fun to write, but still true for me. In the software world we talk about “shipping”…and very little else matters if you don’t ship. I always did–in thirty years of writing code I never left a project uncompleted, at least when it was my decision to make (though I did shift direction as real-world input came in, ’cause that’s the job). I’m not comfortable with moseying along, writing only when the mood strikes me. Maybe I should be…but I’m just not.

      • Heather

        David, you sed:

        “I’ll just read a book. Or wander around and talk to people. It’s what I do.”

        Then, maybe, it’s what you SHOULD be doing. What i mean is wander around and read people a book. Maybe vlogging on the spot would get results.

        And personally? As I notice David Gaughran seemed to fall into that “How I make/sell a story” groove and he still seems to be there–maybe do a vlog off the cuff of YOUR version. Instead of focusing on writing it down. (You could always do it later, drawing from your vlog)

        The world is FILLED with a lot of teachers teaching Writing 101. I wonder about that sometimes. *grin*

        And. I’m, again, thinking of Harlan. I feel a LOT of what made him “work” was having the arena of an audience–I’m gonna be brief. But more on this later.

        Also, one of the most busy artist I know just walked in here. I’d recalled connecting with him upon hearing him tell a class the most IMPORTANT thing you do is finish…the work. And he’s so right.

        What HE said–and even he is struggling with this–is to find people around you that ‘support’ that idea. Of finishing.

        Having friends that take years to write a book is not gonna get you writing. Having associates who give you deadlines or objectives is what will make this happen. You have been given OUTCOMES.

        Even Lawrence Block–who is incredibly prolific but DOES do formula (and I can say this cos I’ve read a lot of Block–he and Ellison are good friends) had, at the start of his life (just like Harlan) the dilemma of deadlines. Magazine deadlines. And he made it a priority to follow it through.

        Harlan is bad on deadlines. But usually, he’s just missing by moments–it’s not like he hasn’t started; not at all. But when the sun shines, he loves going out. And doing people. And his vibe, to me, is ’emotion’. Another reason, I think (besides having COME from a pulp/short story generation which, hey, maybe we in the digital age are entering and yes a story a week is that easy–FOR YOU._), Harlan is about short and very emotive.

        A long book was never his forte. And he excepted that. And did thousands, thousands of short intelligent, imaginative fiction.

        Which, I think YOU could do.

        Just my view.

        That’s why being the programmer worked. You, essentially, knew how the story would end, because someone asked you for a two headed beast with eyes that twirled to the left–and you CODED them that.

        And, like Sherlock, (I am reading an annotated version of four of his novels; looking at technique), you are always ready to receive new data–which is good, like, BE real, make the object based on what you’re being asked, even if it’s YOU that’s doing the asking–but you have that ‘objective’ in mind, whatever it may be.

        I still feel that Stephen King is my best ‘technique’ type. He often sees or imagines ONE image and uses his story to EXPLAIN what is happening in the image.

        So, also, probably, a real good reason for you to ‘create’ a cover before you start.

        And King was definitely influenced by Conan Doyle (as he was influenced by Harlan Ellison, which is why I found Ellison, reading King’s “Danse Macabre”) and I am finding Doyle SO clean, so easy to read.

        And also, one thing King seems to do is create a situation, a what-if? and then solves the puzzle. Something, I sense, for you, as a programmer, that you’d be good at using too.

        But just my view.


  2. William Ockham


    How similar is the motivation for writers problem to the motivation for software developers problem? Asking for a friend…
    /laughs uncomfortably
    More importantly, how similar are the solutions? Most devs (including me) struggle with perfectionism and the whole “minimal viable product” thing can be powerfully liberating, but most writers know nothing but the waterfall method of writing. Without a common vocabulary, I have a hard time trying to discussing this with writers. I could be wrong, but the storytelling profession looks a lot like software development did before any of us had ever used the word “agile” (yeah, I am that old).

    Back in my day (crusty old man voice), there were only sloppy cowboy coders and by the book, coat and tie wearing “professionals”. Sounds a lot like the unedited “Tsunami of Swill” producing self-pubber and NYC-approved, agented “real author”. Or, maybe my pattern-recognition wetware has malfunctioned.

    • David

      Ha- you’re speaking my language here. I’ve had similar thoughts, and I still think Agile is largely hogwash in practice…not ’cause the ideas are horrible, but because it depends on customer interaction to a degree I’ve frankly never seen in the wild (excluding a few corporate cultures here, ’cause they had other issues). So when I started my own software company I offered to look for ways to solve problems for small businesses for free, with the proviso that I’d then sell my solutions elsewhere–which meant I started off with engaged customers who were willing to overlook MVP-style flaws (I think Lean Startup is very not-hogwash btw) and help me see the big picture. How do I do that for writing? I dunno. Working on it. I’m hoping the story-per-week thing will help to draw people in. IMHO storytelling is always collaborative on some level anyway, so the more I can make the process look like the goal the more I’ll believe in it.

      Not much of an answer for you there. I guess short stories can function as an MVP for a larger idea? Funny, b/c I just got back from deciding over lunch that the story I’m working on today might be the start of a series…or at least I’ll float it & see if folks bite.

      • Heather

        David, you sed:

        “I offered to look for ways to solve problems for small businesses for free.”

        Any thought that falls out of my mind is OBVIOUSLY mine (your reactions may vary), but I feel, since my recent adventures in ebookWorld, that this idea of ‘solving a story problem for an audience with a vested interest’, is you going to a place like Wattpad and climbing on and saying, “hey, kid, what do you want to read NEXT?”

        And ‘work’ the feedback animal, for all its worth.

        Something is ‘clicking’ for me here. When I first saw that Amazon was setting up a stream for Kindle Singles, I REALLY sensed that shortStoryWorld has re-arrived. But, to do it at Amazon? There, I still feel, it’s a process to help you get into their ‘trad publishing’ clique group, and just like I was reading on David Gaughran’s website, if you are ‘too busy’ to do it yourself, people like Amazon (and Authors Solutions and every bloodybody else that want your buck before you make it) are tres happy to do it for you.

        For a price.

        And as I think on it, and was in the book museum, er, library on Saturday, what will happen is what I’ve spent years see happen. You’ll end up ‘writing’ the same damn book. Every season. Great……

        And good to hear you speak of a story you are writing turning into a series.

        I worry when people set ‘objectives’ for themselves and then shoot the dog because the dog is growing extra limbs.

        I am in the middle of this myself. And I don’t know why it happens but I write something, it flows and then I stick it over there–I have a ‘something’ that I didn’t have five or twenty minutes ago.

        And yes, you CAN create good art that fast.

        If anything, I’ll relate how I started, on dA, as a poet. And it usually took me ten minutes to write a poem no edits.

        But forty or fifty YEARS to arrive there. And I don’t mean I was writing all that time; I mean, I was experiencing LIFE all that time.

        But being on dA, I got poo-poohed, a lot, because, “well, if it only took you ten minutes to write, how good could it be?”


        Hope that makes sense.


        • David

          Hmm. Lots of stuff here! {8’>

          I do like the idea of asking readers what they’d like to read next. Because, after all, I’m writing for them anyway. Your notion is sort of like the concept I suggested a while back of posting covers and asking people for ideas/blurbs/titles. I’m just not convinced a lot of folks would participate–or I’d probably be doing it right now. Also, though, I’m crazybusy at the moment, so I’ve put that on a back burner.

          It’s still on my mind…I could even put up a cover image each week, and give people a few days to make suggestions, and then write a corresponding story. It’d be a blast if folks wanted to play.

          I’m just not a big fan of Wattpad, though. I have nothing against it for other people–but I don’t want to invest a bunch of time and effort over there, because the site might go away without notice. Or change the rules on me at some point. Sort of like MySpace or Facebook…or, from way back, GeoCities. Just doesn’t make sense for me to get embroiled.

    • David

      I guess what I really ought to have said is: we need shorter feedback loops. This waterfall-style silo-development stuff just doesn’t cut it for the sort of semisocial apes we appear to be. It’s hard to do, it wastes a lot of time and resources, and we can do better if we’ll just look at the problem straight-on. My opinion, anyway, as of today. This goes to both motivation and quality/utility, which is handy.

    • Heather

      Pardon my intruding, but I dealt with software developers who wrote, the minute I breathed in this idea to write and came to the internet. I found some of THE best fiction writing come out of some of these guys.

      But what I also found–ie. my particular friend–was people who agonized over perfection; agonized over typos and grammar; and, pretty much, talked themselves OUT of writing very much. A two edged sword here, apparently. And it jibes with what you suggest.

      To add to the analogy, Harlan Ellison was a sloppy cowboy coder, no?


  3. David, you might like George Leonard’s short book “Mastery”. Not the current, overpromoted book by that name, but Leonard’s. It addresses those plateaus between gains on the neverending road to mastering a thing.

    • David

      I might. I looked at Amazon and there’s no ebook listed. The “Look Inside” thing did seem interesting, though, so I stuck it in my cart to think about for the next time I want to deal with physical delivery. Thanks for the suggestion!

  4. It’s good to know even spambots have struggles!

    • David

      Curses! My secret identity has been revealed! But thanks for coming by. {8’>

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