Archive for July, 2020

Long Live Maps

Posted: July 30, 2020 in Uncategorized

I’ve always been a huge map nerd.

I love them in fantasy novels especially. In fact, one of my favorite things about reading fantasy novels are the maps. I could easily stare at them for a long time before even starting the book itself, and often, my impression of the book or series is informed by just how detailed the map is.

Weirdly enough, I love real maps, too, especially antiquated ones. It’s just fascinating to me how cartographers were able to draw them, despite lacking all the modern tools we have.

Unlike fantasy, space-based science fiction doesn’t seem to do as well with maps, or even world building. My biggest pet peeve are “monoworlds”. You see them all the time in sci-fi: planets that just have a single biome and temperature. There’s the Forest World, the Ice World, the Desert World, the Water World, with little no deviation in climate over an entire biosphere, if any at all.

I’m sure it’s possible for there to be worlds like that, maybe even probable, but I would think it would be more likely to have a world where it’s mostly desert, but also to have some wetter parts with a more Mediterranean type of climate. Or in the case of a world cooler than Earth but otherwise mostly the same, it wouldn’t all be necessarily ice and snow, but perhaps have a narrow band of temperate land on the equator where life was possible.

I’ve always known that if I wrote a series in space, I would avoid the sin of making only monoworlds. I want to go beyond that, to make my worlds feel unique and alive – if not to the level of detail as Frank Herbert (the creator of Dune), at least something a little less lazy that would make these places live in a reader’s imagination with some nuance that shows that these could be real places. Not to say I would never create a monoworld, but if I did, I would be sure to at least explain why the world was like that in the first place.

I used this really cool website called Fractal World Generator to make the map above, then sort of spiffed it up a bit in Photoshop. Nothing crazy, my Photoshop skills are nothing to write home about. It’s a bit crazy to think that a random world generator more or less inspired a lot of the content for the second novel in my new series, but that’s the case.

You set the parameters, and the site lets you play God and spit out entire worlds. This one I set to be 92% ocean coverage, and 33% ice cap coverage. A dozen clicks of the button until I found the map that looked just right. I opened it in Photoshop and started filling in the cities, making up names, imagining how its history might logically unfold, as well as what kind of native life populated it, and how it might interact with Earth life that would inevitably be introduced, and how that native life would respond to that, so on and so on…

Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, and might be my favorite thing to do as a writer. The most fun part about writing Xenoworld, to me, was imaging how a vastly different form of alien life might transform a planet.

Basically, I’m psyched that I discovered this Map Generator. At some point, assuming I have the money for it, I may even hire a professional illustrator to turn these maps into something more pleasing to the eye. In an ideal world (sorry), money wouldn’t be an object, and I’d probably include a ton of maps for the readers’ reference in each of my books.

Why we don’t see this more often with e-books is probably due to the fact that Amazon charges us poor authors delivery fees based on file size. Adding highly detailed maps inside an e-book increases the file size, increasing the delivery fee. A few cents here and there might not seem like a lot, but on the scale of possibly thousands of books sold, it most definitely adds up. I suppose you can charge a dollar more, but then that extra dollar might be enough to persuade many-a-new reader to look elsewhere.

So at best, maps must be limited, and adding something like ten maps to an e-book, as awesome as that might be in theory, is most likely unfeasible.

Long story short, long live maps.

To-Do Lists Are Overrated

Posted: July 28, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Being self-employed, or working from home, is extremely difficult. Without a plan, it’s incredibly easy to spend the day wandering the Internet or wasting time on whatever vice you’re into.

It’s not so much the work itself that’s hard, but the fact that there’s no big boss setting the agenda. You’re your own boss, and being left to our own devices is an easy path to self-destruction.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in over five years of being self-employed, you are your own worst enemy. Without a clear, concrete plan that takes out all the loopholes of wriggling out of responsibility, you will fall flat on your face and get nothing done, and feel very bad about it. It’s like you’re tripping yourself over and over and saying “Haha!” to yourself like Nelson Muntz, without realizing you’re just bullying yourself. Which of course, just sends you back to your distractions to get rid of the bad feelings.

It’s a vicious cycle, but thankfully, it’s completely avoidable.

That’s my main problem with to-do lists. They promise productivity, but deliver next to nothing. Sure, it’s better than no plan at all, but back when I used to do lists, I left half my tasks undone, and scratched my head as to why.

Then, I discovered schedules. More specifically, how to schedule correctly.

It was a complete game changer. Now, I am here to show you the way into the light.

Back in my days of darkness, I would wake up, look at my computer, blink, and it would be 3:00 already with nothing substantial having been done. I had told myself an insidious lie that there was plenty of time to crank out a couple of thousand words before bed. Those words were always true – until it got to be 9:00 and I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. On my worst days, I wouldn’t write anything at all.

I knew I was missing something, but just didn’t know what. I tried lists. They would work for a time – but I would end up committing the same sin as before. I’d leave half the tasks unfinished, get discouraged, and decide it wasn’t working.

What I lacked was motivation. Or so I thought.

A typical to do list for me might have looked something like this:

  1. Write 2,000 words
  2. Clean
  3. Work out
  4. Send/answer emails

That to me would have been a productive day indeed.

Last year, I wrote a blog post that specifically talked about how amazing to-do lists were. All I can say now is that I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve found a much better way.

Lists are just part of the answer. They have some inherent flaws that no one really considers:

  1. Lists don’t tell you how long it will take to complete the task. This sends your brain thinking, “What if this goes on forever?
  2. Tasks are often just thrown on a list with no regard to priority, and it can be easy to add too many things.
  3. Most importantly, and this is key: lists won’t tell you a thing about when tasks will actually happen.

That third point especially is the biggest strike against to-do lists. Lack of specificity in how and when something is going to happen ultimately leads to it not happening. When tasks aren’t tied to a specific time, in relation to other tasks, our brains just lazily think, “I can do that later.”

That was the missing ingredient. That was why I left so many tasks undone.

The missing element of to-do lists is knowing when, and for how long, tasks will happen.

The cure, I realized, was scheduling . Specifically, learning how to schedule correctly.

The bombshell for me came when I read something that stuck with me, paraphrased thus: Most people use schedules incorrectly. We schedule interruptions instead of scheduling work. It should be the opposite.

When I read that, something just clicked. I had the missing puzzle piece.

I transitioned to Google calendars and scheduled every minute of my work day. I know when I’m waking up. I know when I’m stopping work for the day. I know when I start writing, and when I stop. I know what time lunch is. And all those short tasks that take 15-30 minutes or even less to complete? They’re all grouped together so I can knock them out one after another, without fearing they will interrupt my writing time.

Instead of a vague list, I now have a concrete battle plan, and know exactly, when, and for how long each of my tasks will be.

Instead of robbing me of freedom and creativity, scheduling has given me more freedom than ever. Freedom from guilt from not having done enough, or not using my precious time efficiently. Freedom of scrambling at the beginning of the day wondering what exactly I’m going to do, and no longer being overwhelmed. I feel light as a feather, knowing I’ve spent my time as effectively as I possibly could. Even factoring in short breaks, I’ve been far more productive using this system than when I used a list.

We have way too many things to do in the day, and specific schedules are the missing ingredient to wrangle all those tasks and make them feel manageable, and even easy. Using google calendars, my phone reminds me when a new task is about to start.

Best of all, tasks can be rearranged or edited as needed, and you never lose your sense of time. Sometimes, life happens, but the calendar can be edited to accommodate that. It allows you to adapt and have a new plan of action.

Another advantage of schedules over to-do lists: it makes “batching” easier. If you haven’t heard of batching, it means separating out harder tasks that require a lot of mental energy from smaller tasks that can be done without much thinking.

For me, this means my hard stuff, like editing, I do in the morning first thing. It gets 100% of my attention. All those things I know I have to do later aren’t hanging over my head, because I know they’ll get done at the appointed time.

I know nothing I’m writing here is groundbreaking. I’m sure tons of people already do this, but for me, it’s like a superpower because I’m discovering it for the first time.

By the way – I’m done with the first draft of the second book, and I’ve come up with titles for up to twelve books in this series. I don’t know if it’ll actually be that long, but it would be amazing if it were! I’m now doing a hardcore edit of the first one, mainly to update it and make it consistent with the second, as well as provide more details. After that, it’s on to book 3.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post about this for a while, but just now set aside the time get down my thoughts. Maybe some other procrastinator out there will read this and get some use from it. I hope so. Being self-employed is harder than most people give it credit for, but the productivity pitfalls can be avoided with a specific, concrete schedule.

It’s been a minute since an update. Blogging is always something I mean to do, and it’s probably something I should do a lot more. Yet it’s one of those things I let slip through the cracks when really I need to do it.

Space Fantasy Series: I’m nearing the end of Book 2. I’m probably a couple of scenes shy before finishing it off and starting edits, before going back to change Book 1 based off things I added in Book 2. By the time Book 2 is done, it should be as much as 100,000 words, which makes it significantly longer than Book 1 as it stands.

What I can say is, I found myself lost a lot while writing it. But then the answer sort of came to me today – I’ve found the crux, the call to action that will inspire the rest of the series. I’m afraid it’s not terribly original, but at the same time, I hope to put my own spin on an idea that’s been done to death.

Needless to say, because I’ve found this spark, I’m pretty excited about how the rest of this series to come. It should be a grand adventure, and not your typical “good vs. evil” story even if that is the main theme in the end. Or maybe I’m just overselling it.

Either way, I cannot wait until this is done and out, as it’s been too long since I’ve released something.

Another Prequel? The madman! I’ve been toying with a new idea. A novella focusing on Anna’s early life, from her humble origins in Last Town, to her survival in the Wasteland, followed by her becoming Char’s bodyguard in Raider Bluff. If this is done, it will not be as long as Lost Angel – I just don’t think the content is there, and I want to keep the characters fewer – but I think it will make for a nice novella length piece of perhaps 30,000 words. That means it would feel quite short, but hopefully it would be exciting.

Other news: As I’m sure a lot of you know, I live in Florida. Have lived here since June 2017. It’s a bit amazing to me that it’s been three whole years here in the Sunshine State, because it has literally passed in a flash. My wife and I have had lots of adventures in that time – from getting engaged, to getting married, multiple trips to Disney, and now, having a baby boy (still trying to convince the Missus that Alexander Keener West is the most superior name). He’s due in late September.

Life has been pretty busy trying to prepare for him. The main wall of our living room has become a mountain of boxes ordered from Amazon for all the baby stuff. Much to the consternation of our two cats, we went through most of those boxes by now.

The prospect of becoming a father is a bit scary, especially in such uncertain times when the last thing a lot of people want to read is a post-apocalyptic series (I guess the subject hits too close to home). All the same, I’m excited to get a brand new series up and running which should hopefully help with all the diapers and such.

Anyway, I rarely share stuff from my personal life on here, and rarely share on here at all in fact, but it’s something I want to rectify and that only starts by me actually writing something on here (funny how that works). Hopefully the next update does not take as long.