Kanban Board

kanbanOver the past few years at the Evil Day Job, we’ve started using an “Agile” method of developing on certain key projects.  This involves taking a large project and breaking it down into individual pieces and hanging them on a board (physical or electronic) into three or more different columns. It could be something like “Ready,” “In Progress,” and “Complete.”  (Ours at work are more complex for testing, etc.)

The real goal is to keep only ONE thing in the “In Progress” section of the board so you can concentrate on it. Then we have daily – yes DAILY – stand-up meetings of about 15 mins to go over each person’s responsibilities on the board and make sure it’s up to date. If you can’t continue for some reason, then you mark the project as “blocked” and pull a new item from the ready board.  Then it’s management’s job to help you become unblocked and keep things moving into the Complete column.

The hardest part for me is keeping only one thing in the In Progress column, at least for work!  I’m always on 2-3 projects at once.  Even if I’m on a big several-thousand-hour project, they always still find ways to slip a maintenance or support item in that needs to be done.

I’ve tried the agile method for writing before and it just didn’t work, at least the way I had my board set up.  I’ve got so many ideas, and at the time, I had two publishers, plus the stories I wanted to write, plus all in various stages of writing, editing, production, promotion, etc.  It was impossible for me to keep track of everything that way, and certainly unrealistic to only have ONE task going at any one time.

However, someone recommended KanbanFlow to me a month or so ago (it’s free!) and this time, it’s working.  I think it’s part of the situation I’m in right now – sort of starting over fresh and trying to concentrate on one project, rather than keeping a bunch of pipes flowing at the same time.  I still have promotional, website, etc. updates to do, but I don’t keep them on my board.

I’ve been using one main board for only the fantasy romance. I broke out all the tasks, like worldbuilding, character development, etc and slowly moved them to the complete column. Then I took drafting the story and broke it down into small chunks, even writing the first draft.  I color-coded all the different tasks, which both makes it pretty and also easy to see what things go together.

What makes KanbanFlow work for me this time around is the built-in Pomodoro timer.  I can pick a task, set the timer for 25 mins, and work.  That’s honestly about all I can concentrate right now (and sometimes even that’s a challenge!)  Then the timer gives me 5 mins to take a break.  Usually I just do one session and quit, because it’s late at night when I’m finally opening up Scrivener.

Then I can look back at each completed task and see how long it took me – assuming I remembered to select the task and set the timer.  I figure I can do about anything for 20-25 mins, even make my brain pay attention!  And it’s working, for the most part.  I started with 500 word tasks. Then started bumping it up with weekly goals, which I’m still fine tuning. I really want to work up to 5K a week but that’s not happening yet.

I’m still fighting the “don’t wanna” camp, so anything’s a distraction.  Ooooh, a new game!  Oooh, I should research that!  I know, I’ll check Twitter…

When I finally open my file, it’s almost always after 11 PM.  Ugh.  But I am hitting 500 words most days, so I am making progress. I’d like to work up to 1K a day, but I’m going to have to figure out how to stop the time wasting.  I think once I get deeper into the flow and rhythm that I won’t have to fight the piddly things so much.

If electronic kanban boards doesn’t work for you, you can make one easily on your wall with Sticky notes or a piece of poster board. The visual “In Progress” column is a good reminder to keep working on that next task!

 

 

Still Swimming

Two-three weeks ago, I was seriously wondering if I was “all wrote out.”  I haven’t written significant words all year and that sly little voice started whispering deep in the back of my mind that maybe I was broken. I’d pushed too hard in 2015 and I was burnt out.  Done. Finiti.

Then the Samhain news hit.

And yeah, that did take some wind out of my sails.  But when that happens, it’s easier to change directions than when you’re full steam ahead.  I’ve known for a long time that I could probably be making more if I’d self published, but my sense of loyalty is strong.  Plus I had/have a great relationship with my editor, Tera, and it’s nice not to have to foot the expenses up front for cover art, editing, and formatting.  The lure of 70% royalties is strong though.  And now with Samhain closing their doors sometime this year, I have to make the jump.

I’m still going to pursue traditional/small press publications, e.g. with Carina, with the right books.  I love my editor, Alissa, there too, and they can do way more with distribution than I know how to take care of myself right now.  But it is harder to get certain books published there because they’re picky, which is a good thing.  They’re only going to take on books that meet their needs, that they know they can sell.  Doesn’t mean a book is bad or shouldn’t be published — it just doesn’t meet their niche they’re targeting.  So not everything I write will be right for them, but look for future Carina releases as I can.

I’m building some brand new ideas right now with the hope of getting some new things released, that can be making some money before I start getting Samhain titles back.  That way I’ll hopefully have enough in the tank to pay for new covers.  As those rights come back to me, I’ll be hopefully writing the last book in the series and repackaging everything for hopefully new/better sales.

I’m expecting the Lady Wyre series to come back to me first because it earns the poorest sales.  If so, I’ll be writing the last Lady Wyre book.  I have a short story/prequel I wrote for that series, so I’ll either get it packaged and out on sites separately as a permanent freebie, or I’ll include that material into Lady Doctor Wyre.  I’ll have to make that decision once I get everything back.

When I get the Connaghers back, I’ll write Mal’s story and finish that series.

I don’t have any further planned Billionaire books.  But if I get an idea for it, I’ll consider adding another.  However, I’m expecting these to be the last books I get back, since they’re the newest.

I had to use this time for some soul searching.  I’ve been writing so hard, concentrating on my brand and sales and business – that my artist withered a bit.  That’s why I’ve had a hard time getting back into just writing new words.  So the next new project is going to be all for ME.  Things that make me smile.  That make me happy.  That feed my artist.  If it ends up BDSM, fine, but I’m not going to force it.

I need something a bit lighter right now to bring back some of the magic.  So I’m returning to my first love:

Fantasy Romance!

A New Beginning

I’ve been down this path before when Drollerie closed, but this hurts way more. Endings are sad so I’ll concentrate on the possibilities ahead.

News broke this weekend that Samhain Publishing has decided to slowly wind down and close this year. The good news is that they’re doing this smartly–up front, above board, everybody paid, rights returned.  This isn’t going to be long silences, worry, and wondering if I’ve lost my books for good.  So don’t be afraid that your favorite authors won’t get their money if you buy books, even knowing Samhain is closing.  They’ve always treated me very well, and I’ve always been paid on time.

All my Samhain titles are still available and will continue to be for sale, until my rights revert to me.  I don’t know when that will be, but likely not for many months yet.  Unfortunately, they might be unavailable for awhile after that because I’ll have to pay for new covers and formatting.  That will take time.  Possibly a long time.  But I’ll cross that bridge when I must.

In the meantime, I’ll be re-evaluating my plan for the year.  I’d already been facing some tough decisions based on sales. It makes me feel a little better that low sales weren’t just troubling me, but across the board at Samhain.  I couldn’t see investing months into the third Lady Wyre book when Lord Regret’s Price hasn’t even sold 200 copies after being published in Dec. 2013. Yeah. Pretty depressing.  Crawl under the bed and die depressing. The numbers in the Connaghers series haven’t been much better.  I’d already decided not to write another Billionaire book.  The numbers just haven’t been there.

I worked really hard in 2015 but felt further behind than ever.  I’ve been bogged down in numbers, branding, stressing, trying to figure out what I could do to turn things around.  Now…  I need to come up with a new plan.

I’ve barely written since November.  I’d already decided to take off through the holidays, but it’s been hard to get back into it this year.  Here it is almost March and I’ve barely written a few thousand words on a story that just isn’t working.

So, it’s back to the drawing board.  I’m going to use this opportunity to really think about what I want to write for the foreseeable future.

I’m sure Gregar, Charlie, and Vincent will have some interesting ideas.

Not a Graphic Designer But…

Anytime I need to make an ad or one of those banners for a post, I have to hire it out. I just can’t make graphic manipulations the way I want, even after taking a PhotoShop class a few years ago. I can do basic scrapbook-type layouts, but that’s it, and nothing fancy at all. It’s embarrassingly amateur.

However, I might have found something I can do even with mediocre graphics skills.

I’ve written before how colors influence a story. Beautiful Death will always be indigo, blue, and black with a bit of silver. The Blood & Shadows series is white, black, and red.

When I’m building a story, I like to get out the magic purple pen and paper, but I’d really love to have folders or papers with the right colors for the story. Obviously that’s really hard to find. I don’t want just a plain paper folder – I want something artsy and cool. But when I do finally find one that’s really pretty, it’s not the right color or theme for the book I’m working on.

Then I found Etsy.

I really had no idea there was such a thing as “printable paper.” That didn’t even make sense to me at first. Why would I want to print my paper? But when I find artists that can make stuff like Burning Love, it makes total sense. But I still wasn’t sure *how* to actually use it.

I’m currently using digital papers to build two different story bibles. I can’t do much in Gimp – so I’m making do with Word. I can do just enough to layer a few elements together and make a really cool template page. I can customize it to MY character questions and plot points. I control the colors. The text. How I lay it out. I can hole-punch the papers, clip together with a binder ring, and re-arrange or add to my heart’s desire.

I’m having a blast and the story ideas are really coming. The creative process is just enough “me” to keep the juices flowing, without requiring me to be a real artist with anything but words. And for a few bucks, I can buy new papers for any book I want to work on and print new pages!

Awesome fun!

NaNoWriMo – Probably No

I’m always tempted by NaNoWriMo. I love the energy, excitement, and especially the challenge.

However, I’ve had a tough few months. In fact, the year has been pretty jam packed. I’ve been pushing as hard as possible for quite awhile. Three billionaire books releasing June 2014, April 2015, and November 2015. Mama Connagher in Jan 2015. One Cut Deeper in May. Two Cuts Darker in Feb 2016.  So all that promo – as well as edits to keep the production pipe going – plus of course the new words. I had big deadlines in June and September, with constant edits on opposite works throughout. Plus I’ve written a short story <5K and a novella 33.5K since too.

Not to mention some other “fun” things just for me.

I’ve had at least 2-3 NaNoWriMo months since June.  So while I’d LOVE to do it again, and certainly have enough to work to do so…

The smart me says I need a break, even if the stupid me says sure, bring it on!

I’m neck deep in edits right now anyway through next week.  Hard, good, but deep edits requiring 10-15K new words by the time I’m done. Once I’m done with them, I have a feeling the initial excitement of NaNoWriMo will be over and I won’t be tempted to join.

We’ll see, though. You know I love a challenge.

And I have LOTS of books I want to write.

Reminiscing

I try to do this once a year, especially when my faith in what I’m doing feels strained and tattered. When the words are hard and I second guess everything. When the family is oblivious to how much I do. How little time I have to write. How little sleep I get as a result.

I do this… and it’s all worth it.

What’s my secret to refilling the Well? I take a little walk with Gregar, Shannari, and Rhaekhar.

The Rose of Shanhasson was the first book I ever finished. If you’re new around here, you may not know the whole saga. Those blog posts are long gone, lost in a domain transfer many years ago. But Rose is more than my first book. It’s my first love. It’s the first book that taught me to dream in rhyme. Where I learned to dream in words, rather than letting the movie play in my head.

It’s far from the first draft (I have sworn to permanently silence my sister if she even thinks about ever bringing that first awful draft out in public). It went through major revisions over several years.  Both my personal revisions after years of RWA contest circuits — and then my first editor’s revisions (that publisher long ago shut their doors). I was so thrilled when Dorchester requested a full, and agonized for YEARS waiting on an answer that never came. Another publisher closed their doors.

I still remember some of the things I had to change over the years with bittersweet fondness.  Like the sur’ami aspect (hello, budding bondage slave/Master writer) which I hacked out long before I submitted it to Drollerie. My editor at the time didn’t like me calling Varne “the Closest Blood” because she read it as Closet.  Though we changed it to Nearest, he’ll always be Closest in my head.

I know the characters so thoroughly that I could pick it up and write any of them today without having to refresh my memory on their voices or their backstory. They live in my dreams. They always will. There’s some indescribable magic that I find woven in those words. Maybe it’s the blood, sweat, and buckets of tears I shed on that story over the years, but I love it. So much.

The Shanhasson series is as close to my deepest darkest heart you’ll ever see without meeting me in person and getting me drunk. Laughs.

You might be surprised at the violence and darkness – mixed with the hope and love. There’s pain and death and agonizing loss. And the greatest love of all. Each book is not Romance (spoiler: characters die) but the trilogy ends on a huge happy ending reunion high note that I hope makes up for the hell I put you through to get there.

So much love. So much blood.

The only story that even comes close….

Charlie’s One Cut Deeper. And maybe that’s why I love him and Ranay so much too. Yes, there’s a Master/slave relationship too. Maybe my muse was trying to get back to that original vision of long long ago. Ranay reminds me of my early Shannari, before I wounded her heart. Literally. Before she had to learn to kill to protect herself. I don’t think Ranay will ever have to go that far. Charlie is more than eager to do any killing needed to keep his heart safe.

I thought of Gregar often while working on Two Cuts Darker. He’s still the first, the most honored, the deadliest of all. But his gift lives on in Charlie and his brother, Vince. The Shadowed Blood will always ride in my dreams, and when I’m especially lucky, he shows up in my stories too.

She pointed her sword at Gregar. “Back off.”

The Blood took a step closer, pressing the sword tip into his body. Her jaw tightened with determination and she pushed a little harder, puncturing his chest. Smiling with anticipation, Gregar pushed back. A little closer, a little more steel pressing into his body.

She shifted her grip on the hilt, fully prepared to skewer him. A coldness settled on her features that told Rhaekhar she’d killed before and often. Very impressive. He liked a hint of danger in a woman. Evidently, so did Gregar.

“Go ahead,” he taunted, his low voice echoing with amusement and his trademark wickedness. Shannari shivered and her eyes widened. “Run me through. I shall greatly enjoy it.”

Her gaze flickered to the smaller wound she dealt to Rhaekhar’s neck earlier. “Are you all crazy?”

“Gregar is… special. He used to be a Death Rider.” At the blank look on her face, Rhaekhar added, “An assassin. Death Riders delight in sacrificing blood to the Great Wind Stallion. Blood sacrifice is a very great honor among us.”

She jerked her sword away. Gregar wiped his hand across his chest and licked the blood from his fingers. “Would you like a taste?”

 

I Survived!

August and September were rough, but I made it. I turned Two Cuts Darker in on time, though it did come in a tad shorter than I expected.

I had some problems with this book that just made it harder to work my way through. The mind is a tricky thing sometimes and if my mind isn’t in the right place, the words are slow to come. I’ve been putting mental work into this book since May or even earlier–but the words were like pulling teeth. I had it plotted. I knew the characters. But I kept second-guessing my decisions.

Partly because I let reader expectations get into my head. It’s much easier to write a book when I’m writing it FOR ME. I don’t care if so-and-so won’t like it then. All that matters is that I’m happy with it. But the first book did well enough that I read many positive reviews, which is fantastic. But then you start worrying if the next book will match up to the expectations of the readers who enjoyed the first one. I joked with Molly that in some ways it’s much easier to deal with bad reviews. Then I can say, “HA, I’LL WRITE A KILLER STORY TO SHOW YOU!!”

Good reviews are harder to deal with sometimes, as crazy as that sounds. Will they like this as much? Did I make the right decision? Should I do xyz instead to make so-and-so happy?

YOU CAN’T WRITE THAT WAY. I know that, but it took me awhile to silence the voices that didn’t matter, and concentrate on the ones that did.

When I pitched book 2 to my editor, I didn’t expect Charlie and Ranay to be major characters. They’d show up, sure, but I just didn’t see a lot of carryover between those characters and the new ones I intended to introduce. But so many readers wanted more about Charlie, and I had enough time in between books, to start thinking, huh. Maybe I should plan more scenes for him.

Which meant a different plot than I’d originally sketched out.

Which made it more difficult to weave two separate story lines together.

Which made something as easy as POV a difficult decision. Because One Cut Deeper was first-person in Ranay’s POV.  I needed to stick with that for her voice. But Vince didn’t want to talk in first-person, so his story line was in third. That can make for messy story mechanics.

I wanted to include Charlie’s POV at least a little, but he wouldn’t cooperate for so long that I finally gave up and skipped him entirely. Only after I turned the book in and told Alissa I wanted to try, did he open up a little. Worse, he wanted to talk in first-person PRESENT.

Those scenes may not stay in the book. They may make it even messier. If we cut them, I’ll offer them as extras here on the blog.  Charlie’s head isn’t an easy place to be. He knows what he is and there’s no softening of those instincts and needs. It can make for a very dark place to be. So those scenes are short, and not nearly as crucial to the story as Ranay and Vince.

All in all, this was one of the hardest stories for me to write. I ended up very happy with it, but man, I really sweat bullets and blood through this book. I didn’t write it like any other book. Because I had two story lines, I had two separate folders in Scrivener and I wrote them like two separate stories, even after the lines merged near the last third.

I worried that I wouldn’t have enough sex to keep it in the same level of heat as One Cut Deeper… and then I couldn’t get the guys out of the bedroom.  I had two couples to keep up with after all.

I even ended the book with two separate sex scenes for two couples. I think that’s a first for me.

I pulled some very late nights. I used up almost all of my vacation except for the already-scheduled days off around the holidays. Dark & Early did NOT work this time. I relied on the 10PM-1AM or later window, while still getting up at 5:45 AM to get the kids up for school. I start the Evil Day Job at 6:45 AM. Some days I was exhausted by 2 PM and I fell asleep after dinner for a nap several times. Keeping up with the kids’ busy schedule with marching band season in full swing and basketball tryouts right around the corner was rough. Keeping food on the table each night, ditto.  I literally can’t remember what I regularly cook for dinner. Toward the end, we did more frozen pizzas, tortellini, bottled sauces, sandwiches, soup, etc. Easy stuff or quick things in the freezer.

Of course I also had edits on The Billionaire’s Christmas Bargain to pull off these last two months too.

All in all, I’m exhausted and ready for some pleasure reading, crochet, and cross-stitching. I have one more task to complete for this month (other than edits on Darker when they come):  Finishing a cute magic-themed novella. I have until 10/30 to get it finished and edited.

Otherwise, the rest of this month is going to be about rest, relaxation.

And planning what I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo.

Soooooo Busy

The next 6 weeks are going to be balls to the wall all the way.

With school back in session, I’m only getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I have to get up by 5:45 to start the to-school routine, so D&E would be 4 ish and I just don’t think I can do it right now. I’ve been staying up late and hitting bed more around midnight. We’ll see how long I can keep that up. The Evil Day Job is not full-on stress right now at least. I’m busy, but it’s not OMG we’re so far behind!  Whew, so good timing there.

Since my last update, I’ve done two rounds of edits on The Billionaire’s Christmas Bargain (final title!), finished a short story for the BDSM GoodReads group, fully plotted Two Cuts Darker and grinding away on it, and flying by the seat of my pants (mostly) on a fun wizard story for a Here Be Magic anthology.

The wizard story needs to be done 9/1 – 9/15 at the latest. I’m about halfway done, maybe a third done (wince) depending on how long this sex scene goes on, targeting 20-30K at the most.

I have a ton to do for Two Cuts Darker yet, but the story is clear in my head. It’s just slow going at the moment. I know eventually if I keep hammering away, I’ll look up and be ready to just fly through the final scenes.  Right now, that finish line still looks a long ways away. I’ve been editing as I go to keep in the story all the time, as much as possible, so that will help. It needs to be done by 9/30, though, and I don’t have much vacation left (unplanned, at least). If I get in a bind, I can steal a few days from the week I’ve got slated for Thanksgiving.

I’m hoping to share a newsletter soon with the cover reveal for the Billionaire story. I’ve also seen the cover for Two Cuts Darker and it’s AWESOME. Different – yet very cohesive with One Cut Deeper. I can’t wait to share them both with you!

I’m looking for help naming a fantasy land in the wizard story, so stop by Here Be Magic tomorrow for a chance to win a gift certificate and be named in the acknowledgements for your help!

Deadline AND Promo Mode

This month’s going to be pretty tricky. I have the following irons in the fire:

  • still promoting The Billionaire’s Ink Mistress from April.
  • Preparing for One Cut Deeper’s release on May 18th.
  • Which means Carina promo (done) and extra blog posts for other sites (I’ve done 2 so far). One of them is really fun – KoKoKoNa helped me!
  • AND on top of all that fun, I have a deadline for The Billionaire Grinch!  I promised it to Tera by mid-May.

AND the kids are SUPER busy with school out this month.  Basketball practices and games for two kids (at least Littlest quit softball so we don’t have entire weekends devoted to tournaments). It’s band and choir concert season (which means 4 performances – the pain of having musically inclined children) and a parade next week. So extra rehearsals after school…

Not to mention Princess’s job and upcoming trip to Hawaii end of this month.

PLUS: Huge Evil Day Job project stresses that I feel like I’m constantly behind on, because things keep getting added to my neverending list.

I’ve really been struggling this year with motivation and energy. Spending more time in front of the computer (whether Evil Day Job or writing) just wasn’t helping. In fact, it was slowly killing me (Sitting is the New Smoking).

My calves and knees are aching more. My wrists are killing me (even though I don’t have that many words to brag about). My overall energy has been really low in all aspects and I’m struggling to get things done, like I’m walking in quicksand.

I had to get a grip on things. My stress level has been through the roof, which isn’t good for my blood pressure. I’m sitting all the time, frantically spinning my wheels but not getting anywhere fast. I actually started to have some anxiety symptoms (tight chest) and my mouth is full of fever blisters.

Something had to change. I didn’t want a heart attack for my birthday this month!

So I’ve started a new program that’s really helped. My trusty old timer. I’ve been setting it for 20 min increments. Then as often as I can, I get UP out of my chair and do something. Like pick an upbeat song and walk around my office for a few minutes. Stretch. Do a few squats or pushups (though with KoKoKoNa in my office, getting down on the floor is an invitation for play time, not exercise).

I don’t have time for a huge workout program – and I don’t have the mental willpower to tackle Power 90 again. But I CAN do the same moves in three-to-five minute increments.

I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this. I’ve already “worked out” 15 mins today just by taking 5 min breaks as often as I can throughout my work day. I’ve done lots of stretches, marching in place and general steps from cardio programs, a little kick-boxing, some light dumbbells. I mean, I work from home, so no one can see me dancing in my cubicle. I might as well take advantage of it!

On the writing front, this is helping tremendously. I do the same thing: set the timer and write for 20 mins. During that time, I can’t check email or Twitter or open a browser at all. Just words. Then I can get up and take a break. The first couple of sessions, I’d only get 200-300 words. But now, I can get 500, 600, even 800 words in 20 mins. Crazy, right?

That’s 2000 words an hour. I couldn’t BUY 2000 words a DAY before this.

Without sitting and struggling for hours at a time.

The other thing I made myself do last night: I took my “outline” – which was really a couple of sentences in a loose 3-act structure and a few candybar scenes sketched out – and filled it out with much more detail. It took an hour, but I jotted down everything I could think of that I wanted to cover so far. It could use more work as I go (especially near the end), but having a better outline (than a note that says “the hero does the despicable” because I had NO IDEA what I meant by that….) has enabled the higher WPH counts.

So May’s a crazy busy month. I’ll post when I can – definitely when I finish BIllionaire #3. If anyone wants to beta read it before I send it to my editor, I’ll probably only have a day or two before I need to send it in, so it’ll be a quick turnaround. Comment or email me if interested.

Slow and Steady

I have a surprise coming for you tomorrow:  the re-release of Beautiful Death!  If you pop over to the book’s page, you’ll see the pretty cover that Angela Campbell made for me.

I’ve been hitting Dark & Early a couple of times a week and working on Billionaire #3.  I usually do pretty well Monday and Tuesday, but then I get lazier–and sleepier–and find myself staying in bed toward the end of the week. But I’m getting about 500 words a morning, and then trying to match that at night.

The nights are still difficult for me to concentrate. I might have to start going back into my office for a bit each night until I can get the minimum words in. I want a really solid draft finished by April 30th and I’ve scheduled two days of vacation that last week of April for a big push.

Usually, if I keep chiseling away at the story, everything will eventually click and the last 10-20K will come in a rush. That’s what I’m hoping. I still have a lot of story to go and it’s only loosely plotted after a tarot card session.  I have the ending, though, and sometimes that’s the most important scene to know.

The Evil Day Job has been pretty stressful this month so far, though quarter-end went okay after the scary production issue the day before. I have a lot of stuff that’s supposed to get crossed off my list tomorrow, but it’s going to be TIGHT. Some of the requirements changed, which means rework. And I’m waiting on people to get back to me on questions, which means I can’t go much further on various steps for fear of wasting time. That I don’t have.

Then there’s that project that’s waiting on me to get done with project A, that’s due by the end of the month…. when I want that vacation.  Sigh.  So this week is going to be packed.