Playing a Big Game

January 1, 2011

This time last year I discussed successes & failures from 2009, and began to create goals for 2010. Met some of them, didn’t meet others. As I begin to create a strategic plan for 2011, it’s time to complete on my plan from 2010, to see what worked and what didn’t, to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished and create a new one for next year.

For 2010:

  • What I said I’d do: “I’d like to continue my existence/time management structures. The goal is to have my time measured every day, without gaps. Realistically, I will get upset with myself some day for not doing something I was supposed to do, will make myself wrong, and won’t do it. But I will be back on track within a week, because I have enough people holding me to account for doing it. If I can go the entire year having missed, 30 days, I get a bronze star, 20 days a silver star, and 10 days a gold star.”
    What I did: I actually went quite a bit further with this, and began to train myself in Mission Control, a well known time-management system. As soon as I implemented it I got super-productive, so then I took on more to do, and immediately got confronted again by how much I had to do. Ratfarts. Anyway, I am now pretty reliable for tracking billable hours and scheduling my time.
  • What I said I’d do: “Finish the novel I’m working on with my dad, a short story/novella I started right before my dad’s and my scheduled start date, and Charisma.”
    What I did: I did finish that short story, although we ended up quitting on the novel pretty quickly because it wasn’t very good. And I still haven’t finished Charisma – Barely worked on it last year. I have, however, been working on some other projects, and I just finished the bible and first three episodes for a Web series, which I’m going to begin shopping around.
  • What I said I’d do: “Exceed this year’s 64 blog posts and 407 4th-quarter visits, without being one of those annoying people who posts what color shoes they’re wearing every day.”
    What I did: 55 blog posts, which was a little bit less but still respectable. But my big win, I blasted through my 4th quarter visits goal with over 1,000 4th-quarter visits.
  • What I said I’d do: Attend, in some capacity, the 2010 Writer’s League of Texas Agent’s Conference, the Austin Film Festival, San Diego Comic-Con, two comic book conventions closer to home, and two more authors/publishers conferences/conventions.
    What I did: Attended WLT Agent’s Conference and AFF, but not the others. AFF in particular proved to be extremely valuable for me this year.
  • What I said I’d do: Continue reading every day and log every book I finish.
    What I did: Don’t think I read every day, but I did log the books I finished, ending the year at 21. Perhaps not a lot for a professional writer, but I’m continuing to develop the habit.
  • What I said I’d do: Come up with a marketing plan for Ups & Downs that gets the two stacks of books out of my office as a result of sales.
    What I did: Um. No.

Other accomplishments not reflected in the above:

  • Closed my first ghostwriting contract, developed my website in such a way that it’s proactively driving customers to me, started leading workshops on how to write a nonfiction book, and performed stand-up comedy–doing very well at it.

Goals for 2011

  • 55 blog posts and  average 500 visits a month for the 4th quarter.
  • Finish three screenplays, one in time to submit to AFF, Nicholl, and several other screenplay competitions.
  • Attend San Diego Comic-Con, Austin Film Festival, WLT Agents’ Conference, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, and the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, as time allows (some of those my be on conflicting dates).
  • Start acting again. And get paid for it. God I miss acting. And getting paid for it.
  • Edit 12 books.
  • Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
  • I want to produce $25,000 in revenue in the month of January. This will require, rather than just surviving at the game of being a professional writer, growing a pair of balls and creating something completely new. It’ll mean finding clients who  really recognize what good content is worth, and who recognize that I can provide it.

Here’s to 2011.


The Jack of All Trades Is a Master of Trading

November 6, 2010

They say that a jack of all trades is a master of none.

But I don’t think that’s true. I think that a jack of all trades becomes a master of trading.

Over the last 5 years, I’ve been calling myself a professional writer and editor. In that time, I’ve gotten written or edited an animated sitcom, my book, other people’s books or book chapters, a few white papers and technical manuals, hundreds of magazine articles, a bunch of Websites, an annual report, academic papers, some 130 blog posts, about 10 minutes worth of a stand-up comedy routine, a four-hour writing workshop, and many other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

If any one person comes to me and asks, “How much experience do you have doing x,” the chances are good that the actual, hard and fast answer comes down to, “Not a lot.” Which may occur as a disadvantage. The jack of all trades is the master of none. But in truth, my experience goes way beyond that answer. Because really, what I’ve become a master in, is the ability to do anything. What I’ve mastered is the process for figuring out how to deliver an amazing writing project. What I’ve mastered is the ability to be a chameleon to your needs, fitting any and every tone, because a travel memoir sounds different than an article on how to upgrade your landscape equipment.

The jack of all trades is the master of trading.


10.10 – The Sex Lives of Cannibals

July 20, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference talking to an agent about my book, Ups & Downs, and she chastised me for not being familiar with J. Maarten Troost. “You have to do your homework,” she said. I mentioned that we’ve been comparing our book to Bill Bryson, to which she replied that Troost is “like a younger, hipper Bill Bryson.”

So I decided to do my homework, stopping by BookPeople to pick up this one – the best of Troost’s three books according to consumer reviews on Amazon.com – to bring with me on a trip to Calgary for a cousin’s wedding.

I have to admit, I was more than a little hesitant to bring this book along for the ride. Although I was fairly certain that the title was just a clever attention-grabber – that in fact the book would talk about sex for at most a chapter or two – I wasn’t certain it was a great idea to bring on a trip with my in-laws a book that says “Sex” in big bold lettering on the cover.

I was right, by the way. In fact, I was a little disappointed at the lack of sex discussed in the book, although upon reflection I realize that the topic was probably discussed as much as necessary. Maybe I was just expecting some more lurid descriptions, rather than the uncomfortable discussions of how a  man, wanting a woman to marry him instead of her fiance, kidnapped and raped her for two weeks until her fiance wouldn’t marry her because of the shame. So she married her kidnapper, and was happy in her marriage, because he didn’t drink or beat her. There’s also the celibacy that precedes the independence day celebration and a discussion on the courting rituals of dogs, which, in case you were wondering, were really the only cannibals discussed in the book. Unless you count biting off someone’s nose, which is an accepted course course of action for a jealous spouse.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific is Troost’s recounting of his and his wife’s two years in Kiribati, a group of islands in the South Pacific whose landmass is roughly the size of Baltimore but is spread out in 33 pieces across a vast expanse of ocean roughly the size of the continental United States. Although he went expecting the proverbial tropical paradise, what he found instead on Tarawa, the capital island, was littered, disgusting, and disease ridden.

The agent’s assessment of Troost was overall pretty accurate. The book fits the “good-natured curmudgeon-style travel adventure” genre, with  a mixture of shocking, disgusting, and groan-worthy observations, much of which is gut-wrenchingly hilarious. As food and weather serve as recurring themes, I thought back to Ups & Downs, where we expressed similar tribulations though of an altogether different sort. I noted how he managed to repeat those portions without overdoing it, which is something we worked really hard on ourselves – letting the reader know just how the rain and our meals played to the forefront of our minds, without hammering you with it so much that you get sick of hearing it. I was also struck by how incredibly similar the books arcs are. Of course, we have two authors where Sex Lives has only the one, but he starts out recounting his prior adventures that led to this particular one, before immersing himself in the complete culture shock of the adventure that in many ways was completely unlike what he expected. We hear struggle after struggle, each chapter forming its own story with its own conflict, ending on a satisfying victory with an obstacle overcome. And then, at the end, the reverse culture shock of a reintegration for which we were not altogether prepared.

So if you, reading this post, liked Ups & Downs, you’ll no doubt like The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and the reverse is also true.

Our b0ok has more sex in it though.


Professional Coiner

February 2, 2010

Coinage – [KOI-nij] – n – the act or process of inventing words

I had this word on a vocab test once. It was a silly word to have on a high school vocab test, since it was just the noun form of a word all of us knew anyway, at a time when everyone thought it was hilariously funny to add “-age” to the end of every word. Foodage: that which could be considered to be food. Sexage: any act that approximates sex. Sufferage: the act of suffering (of course, an intentional – and we thought highly original – homonym for suffrage, which is the right to vote).

I still coin words now, except I’m much better at it and far, far more defensive. I think it’s the only reason I write my own stuff, because I know I can get away with it there. I’m approaching the end of my short story, “The Blinding Mirror,” which I’m writing in a Poe-esque style that gives me an excuse to dive into a thesaurus – one of my favorite past times. Still, I’ve found the thesaurus insufficient, and yesterday I created the word “iration,” which, to my knowledge, is not currently in the dictionary.

In context:

“He’d been in such sour spirits, on such regular occasions, now, that they rather expected it and simply placated him and his irations.”

My wife was able to define the word immediately: “angry ravings.” And thus, a word is born. When “The Blinding Mirror” takes the world by storm and is published in the next anthology of great works by up and coming writers, edited by Stephen King (’cause why not?), “irations” will trickle through the Internet and into common vernacular, and then Miriam-Webster will be forced to include it in the dictionary, just like they did with “ringtone” and “ollie” and “d’oh”.

When my father and I were writing Ups & Downs, he got mad at me once or twice for making up a word. But I responded to his irations with irations of my own, and insisted that as long as you know what it means, it is by definition a word, and it’s our prerogative as writers – our responsibility, even – to coin the words that will be used by the next generation.

This placified him somewhat. Which is a good thing, too, because otherwise I would have had to dislocute him.


The Key to Effective Technical Writing

January 7, 2010

Do you remember high school, when your teachers kept trying to get you to write more? Sometimes I think back to that and wonder whether they were just trying to exercise a muscle (like football players running through tires during practice), or whether there’s actually some sense that you need to be able to write lots in order to convey the message. Perhaps somewhere in between.

But I think back to this and it seems so ironic, because today, I spend a majority of my “writing” time actually trying to figure out how to cut words out, and still convey the same information. In a sales call recently for a company needing some technical documentation, that was basically the takeaway: This document shouldn’t be 8 pages long, it should be 4 pages long, and most of that should be pictures. When I’m developing web content, my bullet points (bullet points are key in web content) usually start out about 15-20 words long, and a few minutes later they’re 8-10 words long. That 50% drop goes a long way: people get it quicker and it’s more visually appealing, meaning they like you more and they can spend more of their precious time filling out your contact page.

This isn’t new information. It’s the same thing that applies to essays, books, movies, newsletters, you name it – the more you can trim the fat, the better your product will be.

Tips for Concise Writing:

  • Think about your audience: Always know who your audience is and in what circumstances they’ll be reading this document. A successful product doesn’t exist for its own benefit, but to fill a need – so if you can keep the needs of your audience in mind, and always look from their point of view, then you’re already moving in the right direction.
  • Organization: The first thing I do when working with a client is to outline the project, and the few projects where I’ve failed to do that, the result has been a disaster of one kind or another. Most people don’t just get into a car and drive – they figure out where they’re going first, and if it’s somewhere they’ve never been before, they use a map and/or directions to lead the way.
  • Edit, edit, and edit again: When writing Ups & Downs, my co-author and I spent about a year (much to his frustration) editing it down. From first to final draft, we probably cut about 15 of the first 20 pages. It’s important to be ruthless, keep looking at it with a fresh perspective, and figure out if each sentence, each paragraph, each chapter can get the point across quicker than it does.

Ups & Downs at ColdTowne Stool Pigeon Tomorrow!

February 13, 2009

I know it’s short notice and I know it’s Valentine’s Day, but Ups & Downs was just given a slot at ColdTowne Theater‘s weekly Stool Pigeon event tomorrow (Saturday) night at 8:00 PM.

If you’re not familiar with it, Stool Pigeon is an improvised comedy format in which a featured guest (in this case, me!) tells stories from their life, (or in this case, reads excerpts from our awesomely hilarious travel adventure, Ups & Downs: The (Mis)Adventures of a Crusty Old Fart and his Bouncy Son as they Trek Through the Alps.  At appropriate intervals, the guest (me!) will step to the side and hilarious improv comedy will ensue, as the improvisers twist the stories into funny, unpredictable, and completely made-up-on-the-spot scenes.

After the show, I’ll be selling advance copies of the book at a discounted rate, so if you want to get it now, come on down!

Come to Ups & Downs Stool Pigeon at ColdTowne Theater.


Ups & Downs Now Available

December 4, 2008

Summer before last, my father and I spent two months hiking through the Alps.  And last autumn, I went to Colorado for several months while the two of us wrote a book about our experiences.

That book, Ups & Downs: The (Mis)Adventures of a Crusty Old Fart and his Bouncy Son as they Trek Through the Alps, is now available for purchase on Amazon.com.  You can find out more about the book at the Ups & Downs website (still under construction) or you can buy Ups & Downs at Amazon.com.  Our “official release date” is in March, with my father doing a book signing/release party in Colorado, and me doing one at BookPeople on March 9th.

It’s been a very interesting ride – not just the trip itself, but the book writing & publishing part of it as well.  We finished the first draft of the book back at the end of 2007.  In April we sent query letters to agents, got a few nibbles but no bites, and decided sometime this summer that we would go the self-publishing route.  Which meant editing it (again) ourselves, finding an illustrator, hiring a proofreader, designing the cover, typesetting it, and so on and so on.  Add to that me trying to actually pay my rent, dad started to become increasingly frustrated with me because things were moving rather slowly, and he wanted to be done with it.  I, quite honestly, was perfectly happy for this baby not to be born – it’s a whole lot safer if it just stays in the womb, where there are fewer opportunities for me, as a parent, to fail.

But it’s here now, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.  Two or three years ago my brother and I ran a marathon together, and it was a ton of work, but infinitely rewarding at the end – not for the marathon itself, but for the 200 miles my brother and I had spent on Town Lake Trail training for it, and for the closeness we’d shared throughout that process.

I had expected something similar when Dad and I hiked the Alps, but quite frankly, that when ended with more of a “Dad and I have spent more than enough time together, thank you very much” attitude.  I was ready to get back to the real world and live a normal life again.  But now I’m getting back to that feeling of gratitude and accomplishment – mixed in with abject terror and the fear of rejection – that will make this one of those great life accomplishments. Like the marathon with my brother, there’s no way I could’ve done this without Dad, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Angela and I had some friends over for dinner yesterday, and one of them said, “See, your kids aren’t even born yet, and they’re already living in your shadow.”  We can only hope.


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