Episode 8

Episode 8 – When setting expectations sets you up to fail


Intro

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Welcome to the In All Jest podcast.

I'm Darryl, your host, and each week I take you on a hero's journey.

I leave my safe, normal world and face many obstacles on my quest to publish not just one but six epic fantasy novels. .

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

You can find out more information at kingdarryl.com/podcast.

Episode eight August the 21st, 2020. I should have known that setting expectations would lead to disappointment. A week of setbacks and struggles.

Since Last Time

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Hell no, I hear you cry. What went wrong? What happened? It didn't start so well, my weekend I had planned, as I mentioned in last week's episode - to go all in, to power through a heap of chapters and try and get ahead on my timelines, did not work out well at all. I. Salvage something from it. But Saturday felt like a complete loss.

Looking back on the numbers, I did get three or four chapters sort of knocked over, but the weekend all up, I ended up with seven, which was not the start I wanted. And a lot of that was finishing off late on Sunday. I spent the whole weekend buried in it. I didn't do anything else. And while I did get those seven chapters done to start the week off, I gave up everything to get there and it was hard, hard work.

So what did it end up like? Well, for the week, 19,557 words, give or take a couple of bad typos. 10 and a half chapters, including six that I deleted. So that was good. I think there's two less chapters overall. So that was a net win I brought my count down just by two. I kind of liked that.

When I did the numbers in preparation for the podcast today, this was exactly the reason for doing the podcast in the first place. Because to me, the week felt like a complete abject disaster, but the reality is it was only one and a half chapters, less than the week before. So from a consistency standpoint, I was still getting through chapters and I did make some really critical progress.

And I'll talk a little bit about why I think I had the setback, in a minute. But overall, that wasn't too bad. So doing the numbers is really helpful because I've carried a lot of baggage in my brain all week, had a conversation this morning with Pam, , a colleague and someone listening to the podcast who kind of reminded me, you know, I was feeling a bit like I was having a pity party last weekend. And part of that was because I damaged my back in the gym and that was right at the beginning of Saturday,  , everything seemed to cascade from there. The truth of it was it wasn't that bad.

It was actually kind of okay. . So I'm pleased that there was good from doing the podcast and helping me cut through the noise in my head and the judgments and all of that. With the adjusted figures there's 2.7 weeks to my deadline day to have the book finished, ready to go to the proofreader, 54 and a half chapters to go 2.8 chapters a day, which has climbed a little bit. 20 and a half chapters per week.

So we're up three chapters a week overall from last time. Not ideal, but who knows? Will this weekend be just as difficult or will I make progress? I'm not setting any expectations out there. I'm just going to go and try and make progress. So what was the cause of my problems? It wasn't that I got blocked.

It wasn't that I wasn't sitting in front of the manuscript and going through it. I think the key thing was I was right there in the middle build, Act 2, where the decisions I made previously were going to have the biggest impact. I've spoken about how the changes have a domino effect. I think I did that in last week's episode.

I talked about a lot of them can be little, but some of them are not little. One of the big decisions I made with my editor, right at the beginning of this final edit, was to remove a character from the book, completely. The characters name was Sinder, and I took all of the chapters of Sinder out of the book. Sinder will probably be back later, but he wasn't necessary in the book, and he was one I'd kept in there. He was one of my darlings and I needed to kill my darling.

I hit a couple of sequences here where he was dead center in delivering some information, dead center in chapters and events that happened, which I had to remove. And I did. But the consequence of that is I had to have an answer to how I was going to deal with some of these things.

And I had made notes around the fringes. I had critical stuff decided what I found was I had little things that I just wasn't across. And it's a lesson that I'll use this week, next week, the week after, and in book two.  what ended up solving the week for me was that when I sat down to address these chapters, instead of just trying to go writing and fix it, I made sure that all of the notes I had in my spreadsheet of all the fixes were written down alongside the chapter notes.

I've got them printed out. I've got the manuscript printed out with the edits on it. And just listed them and brought my brain right back into that moment. What had I decided? And it helped highlight, Oh, you haven't done this or you need an answer to that. Or what about this? And so I was just circling a few things, let that creativity stew in my head for five, 10 minutes while I was going through everything, and the answers just popped up for me. And at that point, then I was able to just sit down and write it. It took me all of Saturday and most of Sunday to get that flow happening and to recognize what was holding me back. Some of it was quite tricky to do, some of it was a significant shift in the pacing of that chapter or scene, in the way that the characters were interacting or in some information delivery.

And I had to interrogate some of my prior thinking. And as I recollect now on Saturday, one of the biggest stumbling blocks  was an element to do with the magic system in the world. There was a thread of cotton hanging off the side that needed to be pulled and cut, and I needed to unravel that and answer what exactly was happening with it and how.

There was a whole summary of what was going to be done, but it just didn't quite resonate with me. It felt wrong. It felt too soft. And that was one of the things that needed to change. We felt that some of the magic system had just, you drifted into an area of being far too soft and it was a bit convenient, the way that I was using it.

And I needed to tighten that down to make it what I actually wanted to happen. I got some help. My wife and daughter helped me brainstorm what was concerning me, a couple of great little solutions bubbled up and it just allowed me to move past it. But I think I lost half of Saturday struggling in my brain, on that because it affected a couple of chapters in how I was trying to resolve them.

So we moved past that, and that was really cool.

I'm looking at , what exactly did I do?  , I had to add , a complication for Lani, my protagonist. I ended up with a double-barrelled complication for her that I really enjoyed. I then took it too far. I had to bring it back and just find the balance in it.

And that conflict that she faced was. Very good, because what it did do was help me introduce an extension of one of the  plot threads. One of the key plot threads in book one, that needed to be a little enhanced, potentially. It wasn't critical that it did, but this just allowed me to  polish that a little bit.

And the next level of it, will be better for it  through the rest of the story. So I'm very happy about that. I effectively removed one character from part of the journey, which meant a critical piece of information delivery had to change. I resolved how that was all going to change, and that was simplified by the decision made with the magic system.

Taking some things out meant it had to be done in a different way, which was great. And it all flowed on from there.  Didn't feel great saturday, sunday, monday. I really was in my pity party Pam. There you go. Three P's. I was deep in my pity party until about Tuesday. And then I think I had a good writing session, cleared everything out, understood what had happened and where I'd got hung up and moved forward from there.

It's going to be interesting now, the next chapters, particularly this weekend coming up, I can see there's probably another three or four in my immediate view. At least two of those are going to get deleted, I can see that. . I can see how I added them originally, how I thought they made the story better, but really they didn't add anything. And in a journey,  like this. I think one thing I'm learning is, and I think I thought I had it clear in my head, and that is that you don't have to explain the whole journey. I think the reader can quite clearly make leaps along the path, down the road.

They don't need to sit there with you in the car, looking at every blade of grass that you go by. Not that theres car's in this book. I think you'd get what I mean. Understanding too little and too much is very hard, as a first time author, I thought I'd pulled lots of things out and I hadn't over explained it.

But as I reflect back on these at a more macro level, how they're helping the story, I can see some of them just aren't necessary, which is great. If I can get rid of a couple without thinking too much about it, it's gonna make my targets easier. Not that that's the motivation to do it, but making that story tighter, making it a better story, making more engaging.

That's the goal of what I'm trying to do. I started poorly, ended okay. Let's see what happens next.

Some Back Story

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This week's backstory is probably more backstory to my thinking, the process, than it is to the book. Why set a deadline in the first place? Why am I putting myself under the stress to get the book out the door, when I could just pace it and just, you know, just get it done when it's done. There's a lot of background to why I set my particular day, but there isn't element of understanding the concept of shipping it.

It's a very tech industry term.  Seth Godin has a book called just ship it. And the principle is, , get the software out the door, get your product out the door, refine it as you go. And particularly with software, you can alter it, you can tweak it, you can get feedback, just get it out there and then adapt it on the feedback.

I'm not sure that that concept would be great as a story. Obviously, using beta readers and people like that is kind of similar to that. But putting it out in the marketplace as an unpolished work, isn't great, unless maybe you were doing it as a blog, getting feedback. And the finished product , was a published book.

I could see that working, but the principle is important and I've been to a few conferences and seminars and training courses and read and listened to people. And I see lots of people that don't have a finished product published, and I can understand that. And I think there's many people on the spectrum.

There are some people that write because they love to write and they don't really want to publish. So they'd write the large part of their manuscript and then they put it away and it's for them to read and maybe some close friends, but they don't worry about the full completion of it. They do it because of their love of writing.

There are other people that just don't seem to be able to get there for whatever reasons. Or they don't have the mechanics to be able to get it there because I decided to self publish when I chose how I was going to go about these books, I think I kind of circumvented part of the process, in that I knew I had to get it and learn things with the book because otherwise I'd never get to the end.

If you're trying to do as good a work as you can, and then send it off through the traditional publishing cycle, there's an element that you're still going to go through editors and other people anyway. And they'll dictate terms to you. For me, there is no one else. I am the publisher and I am the author.

And I went through a lot of education and learning to understand how I could edit the manuscript better, how I could get it to a certain point. Then I engaged a developmental editor/structural editor to get that all right. And the next stages of going through, getting the copy edits, and then the proofreading done is an all important part of it, but it could go on for forever.

I could not do the developmental stage or not do the next stage at my own timeframe. And that could push out to another year and that doesn't meet my overall goals. My overall goals are to get multiple books in the series published, hopefully one a year over the next five years. So that goal requires me to get book one out the door.

There's an element of, , conflict in that. And I kind of see this a little bit, like the principle of GMC, when you're looking at your book and your chapters and your scenes, , for the characters, what's the goal, motivation, what conflicts or challenges happen in that scene that stopped them getting towards their goal, help them get to their goal.

For me, as I explained, I want to complete and publish the novel, but I also want the novel to be one worth reading. Not for me, but for someone else and not someone in my immediate family or friend group, someone random that might pick up the book and go, I really enjoyed that story. I want to read more.

That's the goal for this book? I know that this book will never be as good as maybe book three or four or five. That just can't happen. The level of skill I have at the moment and the amount of practice I've done is just not high enough. And even with the feedback and the improvements that are happening right now, I still have so far to go.

It doesn't mean it's not a book worth reading, but the perfectionist part or the part of you that wants it to be really good, the criticizing part, the judgmental part goes, well, we should just do a bit more, we should just do a bit more and I've been struggling with it over the last week or so. Oh, am I rushing through these changes?

Do they need another run through with the editors? You know, just to make sure, sure. The story is absolutely correct. That could go on indefinitely. And I don't want it to go on indefinitely, becoming stuck in an endless cycle of editing to me, won't help me reach my goal. It won't help get more books out.

There is a point where I have to say, I've done the best I can at this level of writing and this level of investment. That needs to go out in the world. And from that I can move forward into the next book. And with book two already half written, there is an element of me that wants to get to that. I want to get there.

I don't want to short cut getting book one done well, but I am keen to get past it. So drawing that line in the sand was important. Publishing publicly a date when the book will be available was really important to help drive that. And many, many, many months ago I described it like this. If there's A, B and C level authors and as far as skill and delivery of their manuscript and,  , with A being the top, uh, famous publicly well known people, that craft wonderful, wonderful stories that just make us ecstatic to read.

Of course there's many levels of A, and there's many levels of B there's many levels of C defining C to me would be writing, publishing it without much time invested, putting the book out little bit of, you know, maybe proof-read and put the story out, but not making it that next level I wanted to make sure book one was in the B level somewhere.

It could be right at the bottom of the B's. I just wanted to make sure that I did invest in more than enough time and effort to make it a better story. And that's what my goal has been. I think if I try to be a B plus, or even just a straight B, there'll be three or four more years. And I don't know that that really suits what I'm doing the motivation to write was that I love story. I want to put my stories out in the world. The goal is to get one published, to do it well. I have a beautiful cover. I think the story is, is a really good starting point for the series. I'm happy with where it's ended up. And I think at the end of this editing sequence, I'll be, I'll be comfortably happy that I've reached that level that I wanted.

And I'll look forward to upping my game, each novel that I produce.  that's why I set the date. That's why October the 16th, 2020 is the date I'm going to publish the book. That's why I'm stressing. It's why I'm putting myself in this level of stress and conflict. Partly because when we have these levels of deadline and we have this conflict, I feel like it helps us lift our game as well.

It would be easy to say, Oh yeah, maybe you rushed through it, but I think you lift yourself to the level that you demand of yourself. I know when I was a competitive athlete,  you could do all these training events and there's a level that you get to. As soon as you put yourself against the competition into a race day environment, you just compete at a higher level.

It just happens not consistently every time. It's always better than training normally, but you might not always be able to maintain that same level, but the stress of the competition, the stress of the deadline, the need to achieve something within a set period, with certain expectations does drive you. Yes. It drives you mad as well, but it drives you.

And that's why I have a date.

Outro

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Thanks for listening to this chapter of the In All Jest podcast. For the show notes and more about this podcast, visit kingdarryl.com/podcast. You can contact me through that site and find me on Twitter @ireckon. If you enjoy the show please tell others, share my posts and review it on your favorite podcast platform. Till next time.