Stuff I Did in 2017

I usually look forward to writing these posts: a nice bow, bright and neat, wrapping up my accomplishments into a tiny package that I can pull out later as evidence that I do in fact do things sometimes, and that everything is not always horrible. They are not something I procrastinate on; rather, they’re the thing I write when I’m procrastinating on something less pleasant but more important.

But this year, in the quiet spaces between one tab and the next, between rounds of Gardenscapes, at stoplights and in checkout lines, a thought keeps popping into my head: I am not OK. It’s not that there’s anything in particular wrong with me, exactly. In every objective measure my life is pretty great, and in just about every subjective one, too. I’m not unhappy.

But there is an incredible emotional weight to discovering that the bedrock foundations of the world have shifted. The things I thought I could rely upon cannot be relied upon anymore. Like all of us, I carry that burden with me, everywhere I go. So: huzzah, I published a story! (But the world is still on fire.) Hot diggity, I got to visit Zurich! (But the world is still on fire.) Sah-weeeeet, I got to play Horizon Zero Dawn! (But... the world is still on fire.)

It’s not that I’m not OK, as such. It’s that the aggregate of all of the things going on are not OK.  I can’t hold the foundations of the world in place, but still I strain against the weight of them, trying to keep back the uncertain horrors that would emerge from their absence.

But I am nothing if not an optimist. No, truly! And so I am going to determinedly look back on the year and see how bright the bright side is, exactly.

What I Shipped in 2017

Novelettes

The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike (Fireside)

 Hard Bargain, Bookburners Season 3 (Serial Box)

Into the Woods, Bookburners Season 3 (Serial Box)

Patch Job, ReMade Season 2 (Serial Box)

Chosen One, ReMade Season 2 (Serial Box, out December 29) 

Short Stories

Three Laws (Fireside) 

 TeleTravel™ Release Notes (Patreon)

 Informational Survey for Benefit of Profit (Patreon)

Games

Waking Titan (No Man’s Sky ARG with Alice & Smith)

Kiss of the Revenant (The Secret World ARG with Alice & Smith) 

Spy Virtual Race (Macmillan Cancer Support and Six to Start) 

Zombies, Run! Season 6 Radio Mode (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman) 

 Zombies, Run! The Board Game, Guest Mission (Six to Start and Naomi Alderman)

Podcasting

The Cultures (with Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon) 

 

There’s also one more ReMade episode I’ve written that won’t be out until late January. I will also have written two more episodes of Bookburners by the New Year, but since they won’t be published for some time, those go on next year’s ledger.

Aside from all that, I’ve written a number of essays and articles that I frankly haven’t kept track of; two more sets of scripts for other audio dramas; an all-new short story, written and sold but not yet announced; I’ve almost given up on selling another short, which I love desperately but cannot seem to place in a market; and I very noticeably have not written a novel, which fact I felt a lot worse about before I realized I’d written well over 80,000 words in various other forms as well as designing and writing for an old-school, work-hours-heavy alternate reality game this year. Plus, you know, parenting school-age children with heavy extracurricular schedules.

Wow. I guess this is why I do this end-of-year recap, huh? No wonder I’m feeling so burned out lately.

Of all of these pieces, I suspect The Revolution, Brought to You By Nike is the most significant and impactful thing I’ve done this year, and will not doubt be one of the highlights of my entire career. It is extremely political, and simultaneously the most personal thing I have ever written. And it was published in February, which has led to a curious hangover the rest of the year, a certainty that my most important work is behind me, and that none of the rest of it counts as much. I realize this is ridiculous, but there it is.

So that’s work. What about everything else, though?

Punditing, Travel, and Activism

After a lengthy hiatus, I started taking speaking engagements about transmedia storytelling again this year. And I found I quite enjoyed it, after my break! I even had conversations with a couple of universities about teaching at various games programs over the last year, but ultimately discovered that they couldn’t pay me enough to justify the opportunity cost — I would love to teach, but not as an adjunct. The math just didn’t work.

On the other hand, I took a year mostly away from science fiction conventions, which turned out to be for the best given how hard I was working, especially over the conference-heavy summer months. So I went to Confusion in January, and then spoke only at C2 in Montreal in May and CILECT in Zurich in October. (I also traveled to London for business in late June, and my family took a glorious trip to Disney World in August.)

I also tried to volunteer with the NYCLU, but I don’t think my skills and availability suit their needs, alas. If I’m going to serve the world, then perhaps my best path is imagining my way to a better future. (I’m working on that.) Meanwhile, there’s always more calling my congresspeople to do. And voting. Always voting. (I registered as a Democrat for the first time this year, after staying as an Independent since I was 18. It felt like it was about time.)

One thing is abundantly clear, in any event. The overall volume of work I’ve put out this year is unsustainably high, and I’m going to need to think some hard thoughts about how to more efficiently direct my efforts going forward. Especially because...

Health and Wellness

This was not a super great health year for me. I took a tumble down the stairs at Confusion early in 2017. Inauguration weekend, in fact. Two sprained ankles and a bruise turned into an antibiotic-resistant infection, and it seems the antibiotic that finally killed it may have also killed my Achilles’ tendons, which did not become apparent until I sharply increased my swimming length dramatically in June. (Magnesium supplements are apparently a miracle cure for me where five weeks of physical therapy was not.)

On top of that, I burned both ends of the candle very hard over the summer and through October to hit a cascading series of deadlines and other commitments, the net result of which was losing several weeks to a series of respiratory infections ultimately followed by several more weeks of asthma in which I could not so much as walk across the room at a normal pace without causing a sharp spike in my heart rate.

I have learned a lesson from that, and the lesson is that sleep is important, and I am no longer 24, and I need to be more cautious with my body if I want it, and ergo me, to stick around for the long haul.

What’s On Deck in 2018? 

Wow, I’m not sure. This is the first time in a long time I’ve stared at a new year without a long list of things I want to accomplish. I’m just... really tired, friends. Really, really tired.  Trying to hold up the foundations of the world takes a lot out of you, I guess. Plus, uh, all the work.

I want to write a novel for real in 2018, and I’ve made some thousands of words of progress in that direction. I want to do another season of Lucy Smokeheart, very, very much, and I think a lot of you want me to do that, too. I’m going to Confusion again in January, and then after that... ???

Aside from all that, I genuinely don’t know what I want or where I should go. Do I want to try to break into VR? Or put together a team to make some indie games? Do I want to start building a full-on transmedia franchise? Break into film? Should I just focus on prose writing? Build a direct-to-Kindle erotica empire? Should I quietly shut down all of my digital presences and take up a more serene life as a yoga instructor instead? Ha ha ha just kidding. Probably.

Well, I guess we’ll all find out together. Hit me, 2018. I’ll be ready for you.


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Patreon Changed the Game

Hey, friends! I’m cross-posting this from Patreon for the sake of posterity, and my apologies if you wind up getting this message more than once.

I’ve never been good at Patreon. I’ve written about how uncomfortable it makes me before, but a lot of that comes down to cognitive dissonance on my end. There’s a mismatch between how patrons approach their funding and my perception that I need to provide value for the money that people give me.

But in reality, a lot of people who back a Patreon never actually read or listen to the content they’re allegedly buying; I know I don’t even do that myself. I just like the creators I support, and I want them to have money so they can keep doing good in the world. That’s probably the same for a lot of you. You’re not very interested in whether I write a story for the Patreon this month, or ever. You just like me, or at least my work, and want me to keep doing the things I’m doing. (OMG!) And all of us who pledge based on that philosophy are doing what Patreon started out to facilitate: provide a way for creators with teeny-tiny audiences to get enough support and encouragement to keep going. It’s a foundation to build on, so that maybe one day we might become another John Green or Amanda Palmer.

The conversation going on right now about Patreon’s changing fee structure has made it clear to me that their direction as a company is pivoting dramatically. They’re not interested in helping creators with teeny-tiny audiences anymore. They want to focus on the people who are John Green and Amanda Palmer right now... and that’s for sure not me.

I personally think this is an incredibly short-sighted business strategy, because the internet is made for the long tail. Amazon didn’t become Amazon by selling only the fifty most popular best-sellers; you go there because you can get anything, no matter how obscure. And more to the point, Amanda Palmer wasn’t born Amanda Palmer — she had to hustle hard to get to the point where a VC-backed business like Patreon is interested in skimming their percentage from her.

But Patreon can’t know which of their teeny-tiny creators are going to become the next big thing. I may yet become John Green one day — but now, if and when I get to that point, I’m not going to be interested in Patreon, because they weren’t there for me when I really needed it.

This Patreon was already dormant, but now you shouldn’t expect it to ever come back to life, because I don’t mean for it to. Please feel free to delete your pledge to me, and I’ll know it’s nothing personal. I’ll be looking into deleting the account entirely in the days to come. And may we all find each other again one day in a better, wiser place.  


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The Mirage of Free Time

I’ve had a pretty intense year, and I’ll be working up my year-in-review post to tell you about it pretty soon. (Probably next week, since I can’t imagine I’ll publish or ship anything new between now and the New Year.) The one thought that’s pulled me through the most trying spells is a vision, like an oasis on the horizon, of what I will do and how I will structure my day when I finally get a pause to catch my breath. 

Surely, the logic goes, at some point the avalanche of deadlines and publicity and appointments will slow down, and I’ll have a few weeks to rejuvenate myself, or a month, or even two. When that happens, I can spend a week reading. I can focus exclusively on my novel. I can fold all of the laundry. I can make healthy dinners and swim three hours a week (and yoga twice!)

I can do all that. I can get everything under control soon. After this week, I’ve got nothing else coming down the pike. I just need to finish these edits, and pull together that draft. It’s happening. It’s going to be glorious. I just need to get through the next week. The next month. It’s only six weeks away, and then—

It’s inevitable. What happens is that a new set of deadlines pops up, and that beautiful, illusory break never arrives. Or it does, but it’s only a few days and then I’m back to the churn as hard as ever. And in that brief time, I’m so tired, so burned out, that I don’t write a word of my novel, I don’t read any books, nothing. Often I find that week consumed by illness or appointments I’ve been putting off. 

This is a high-quality problem, in that it means I’ve built a robust enough pipeline for work that it doesn’t run completely dry even when I really kind of wish it would. But it points to the challenge I’ve wrestled with for as long as I’ve been a freelancer. How do you balance the long-term big-picture stuff against the short-term requirements of your existing commitments?

You’d think a decade would be long enough to solve that problem. 

It’s easy to say “Silly girl, you should be working on your big-picture items little by little, some every day, as you go along.” But that assumes that you have extra time and creative power that you’re squandering right now; and the truth is, sometimes putting energy into spinning a new plate, even slowly, means letting another one fall down. 

And so here I am, staring at a week where I’m somehow planning to get through three distinct sets of edits, two promo pieces, an AMA, a Bookburners draft, three two-hour appointments, and all of my holiday shopping, cleaning, and wrapping.

It’s going to be tough, but I think maybe I can get through it all. And then next week, my plate will be completely clear, and then I can focus on my novel. Or maybe read a book. Or... 


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90 Days No Laptop: Switching to the iPad Pro

In mid-August, faced with an increasingly crashy Macbook Air, I started looking at my upgrade options. My findings were eyebrow-raising, to say the least. The hardware available now is only an incremental improvement over my top-of-the-line mid-2013 device, and I’d still be running the same software that was causing me grief. 

So I decided to try switching to an iPad Pro as my main work and leisure device. Here, reader, is a complete accounting of how that’s worked out for me so far. 

The Problem Space

For those of you who are new here: I’m an author and freelance game designer, so my life is completely wrapped up in my keyboard and digital presence — but I don’t need to run any specialty software or write code, so your needs may vary from mine right there.

I was betting on three main benefits to the switch. 

1. Less physical pain. Mice wrecked my wrists decades ago. But even trackpads create pain for me; the spot where my palm rests next to the trackpad becomes agonizing and even disabling, particularly on long strings of days when I do a LOT of writing. Apple’s Smart Keyboard doesn’t have a trackpad extension, and so there’s nothing to press against my wrist and injure me.

2. Less logistical pain. In the course of my regular work, I do a fair amount of puzzle design, story boarding, and sketching out pieces of ideas. Historically that takes the form of doodles on paper, that I would then photograph or scan and send to my team. Or, worse, doodles on paper I would show to my webcam in the middle of a video call. Sketching in a digital-native place to begin with seemed like a big win.

3. Lost in tabs. A lot of my workload was relying on an increasingly unreliable web browser: email, Google Docs, calendars, Hangouts, various social streams and pieces of research. I lost a lot of time looking for stuff among my tabs and getting distracted. And I’d find myself with four Gmail tabs open because I couldn’t find any and kept opening new ones. I had a theory that the iOS paradigm of apps rather than websites would take enough strain off the hardware to make everything smooth and peachy again.

Everything is Awesome

Here’s what I bought: a 10.5-inch iPad Pro with 512 GB of storage space, along with the Apple Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. (It turns out I didn’t need all that storage space, though.)

Let’s get right to the point. I’ve been really happy with my switch. Everything I expected was accurate. My wrist hasn’t bothered me in months — not even after days where I’ve written 5,000 words in one shot. Ironically, I haven’t had any need to sketch for other people lately, but the Apple Pencil has been genuinely game-changing. And as I hinted earlier in the week, my levels of distraction are way, way down. 

That Smart Keyboard

I want to talk about the Apple Smart Keyboard in a little more detail, first. It took a little getting used to the action, but when I have to go back to a regular keyboard now, they feel hopelessly clunky and cheap. The materials of the cover feel really gorgeous to the touch, and I, uh, stroke the faux-leather while I stare into space thinking about things now. And I don’t have to worry about spilling my drink or crumbs and making sticky keys, since the whole thing is one piece.

As a stand, it’s not quite as stable as a laptop is, but I’ve found it fine for propping up on a pillow or my lap and typing away. I rarely work at a desk or table, and I haven’t suffered for it. I haven’t missed not being able to adjust screen angles, either; it turns out that’s not really something I did, anyway.

Sometimes I’ll bounce up from the sofa a little too hard and the keyboard and iPad will flop down one way or the other. I don’t find this a dealbreaking issue to struggle with, especially not stacked up against the extra decade of typing I’m going to get from losing the trackpad and its associated injury. 

It took me a little while to work out how to fold the cover as a stand without the keyboard, because it doesn’t come with instructions and it’s not... super intuitive. But YouTube can hook you right up and you’ll be a champ in no time. 

And it turns out that iOS respects a lot of the keyboard shortcuts I’m used to using. In particular, I use cmd-tab a lot to switch from app to app — and that still works. And cmd-H take you to the home screen. In many applications, just holding down the cmd button will display a list of keyboard shortcuts you can use. At the same time, the touch screen is always there, and I’ve found switching from keyboard to touch goes so smoothly that I hardly notice I’m doing it. It really is the best of both worlds.

Apple Pencil OMG

I’m also really in love with the Apple Pencil. Oh my god, where WAS this all my life.

IMG_0075.JPG

I was hoping I’d be able to do a little more art with it than the watercolors I’d started with a year or two ago, but the sheer amount of doodling I’ve done has been surprising. 

I tried Adobe Sketch for a while, but I’ve settled on ProCreate as my drawing app of choice. (Your needs may vary!) I’ve even used ProCreate and the Pencil to throw together a quick slide I needed for a presentation, and I expect more quick one-shot fixes like that going forward.

The Pencil always needs charging, so it seems; but it charges so quickly that it hardly matters — I can plug it in, go get myself a drink, and by the time I’m settled into my seat, the Pencil is charged more than enough for whatever I’m planning to do that day.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Perhaps most surprising: I’ve taken to doing bullet journal-style pages in Notes. Digital tasking has never worked for me, and now, for the first time, I can do paper-style tasking in a digital format. It is glorious. The main problem with that is the overwhelming guilt I feel about not using the kazillion blank notebooks I have stacked up in my office... 

A lot of these uses emerge solely due to the sheer portability of the device. I can tuck it into a regular handbag on my way out the door to dinner, or to go shopping for shoes with my kids, or wherever. It feels like less of a production to pull out an iPad than a laptop; more worth it for two minutes. So I bring it with me most of the time, and then I can, say, sketch my margarita while I’m waiting for dinner to be served. Easy-peasy.

Other Surprise Upsides

That increased portability has a lot of other implications for how much use you get out of a device. It’s easier to bring through airport security. Or... anywhere, really, and no dedicated laptop bag needed. Thanks to the lightning cable, I can charge with the same charger I bring along for my phone — but the battery life is so long that it’s hardly necessary. I didn’t get an iPad with cellular, but tethering to my iPhone in an emergency has been a snap in the couple of instances where that’s been necessary.

You know that thing where the person in the airplane seat in front of you suddenly reclines and almost cracks your laptop screen? Smaller screen, smaller problem. Huge relief. 

Microsoft Word for iOS has been a revelation. On a desktop, Word has become the worst kind of bloatware — loaded with specialty features, and prone to crashing and losing your work. Especially in a document with a lot of comments in it. Like, say, notes back and forth between you and your editor. 

The iOS version of MS Word has a totally different interface; it’s cleaner and much, much simpler. And I haven’t had a single issue with crashing for comments (or anything else!) yet so far. It seems as stable as a rock. Given how much of a writer’s life happens in Word, this is a huge, unexpected improvement. 

And I can’t overstate how much clarity the app paradigm has brought to my life. It turns out all of that stuff I thought I liked — apps bouncing in the Dock for my attention, alt-tabbing between the fifteen programs running, keeping fifty tabs open to remember to look at them later — were all time killers for me. I just work... better, now.

The Downsides

I won’t lie and say there have been no bumps in this transition. But I’ve only had to actually go back to a laptop for three things in ninety days: one, appearing as a guest on a podcast that uses Zencastr. Zencastr doesn’t support iOS. I’ve also had to grab a laptop to make design changes to my site in Squarespace; their drag-and-drop design tool is close to nonfunctional in mobile Safari. And when I needed to change an old Photoshop file, I picked up the laptop again, not because I didn’t think I could do it on the iPad, but because I didn’t want to invest two hours of research into apps and pricing just to solve a two-minute problem.

I can’t do anything about Zencastr or Squarespace, though fingers crossed that Squarespace is making improvements. I’m writing this on their blogging app and it’s... actually a lot better than their browser interface was. And more stable, too. So you never know.

All right, let’s get into my laundry list of minor friction points and complaints. 

iOS Copy/Paste is Still Garbage

This is probably my biggest ongoing complaint. Writers need to rearrange text sometimes! And when I’m blogging I need to highlight to make links, etc. etc. But selecting text in iOS is fiddly on a good day, and certainly less smooth than mouse-select ever was.

This seems like a great use case for Force Touch, and I am perpetually annoyed that it hasn’t happened yet. It’s likely that my writing process will streamline to require less rearranging over time, which is a more disciplined way of working. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it. 

Shout out here to Autocorrect, which I have a love/hate relationship with. It’s made some things much, much better for me. It’s made other things much, much worse.  I haven’t decided yet which way the balance goes.

Some Websites And Apps Are Super Broken

...Or at least a little broken, or at least not integrated the way I wish they were.

Google is one of the biggest offenders, here. For example: I can’t change my profile photo for my Google account... because the “confirm/save” button is literally off the screen, and there’s no way to scroll to it. Worse: in a Google Hangouts video call, the iOS version doesn’t have access to the same instant messaging/chat window that desktop users see, so if other people in your group are trading links, or someone’s got audio problems and is just typing in, you’re screwed.

Worst of all: Google Inbox doesn’t integrate with Dropbox. At. All. Or the iOS 11 Files system, either. That means attaching your work and sending it out is... well, it’s impossible, frankly.  I’ve tried other email applications, but all of them fail me in a variety of ways, and some of those ways are even worse.  So I’ve become real handy at creating Dropbox links and pasting them into an email.

It’s not great.  

And some apps aren’t optimized for the iPad, or don’t have a landscape view like you need with a keyboard. Amaroq, the Mastodon client, is one of those, but there are dozens more. Maybe hundreds.

And of course I gave up on my complete Steam library to do this. Alas. Well, I was always more of a PlayStation girl anyway. And the iOS games ecosystem gets better every day.

Ugh, Subscription Software

Shifting to software-as-a-service is tough on the budget, and for good or ill, there’s a lot of that in the iOS ecosystem.

I’ve already made peace with shelling out money every month for services like Dropbox that I get amazing and ongoing value from. And I can grudgingly see the sense in paying a monthly fee for MS Office 365, another real workhorse of productivity.  If I were a working artist, I’d be happy to pay for Adobe’s software every month, too, but as a dabbler it’s a lot harder to justify, so I’ve gone elsewhere.

The subscription paradigm is a lot less reasonable for pieces of software that I use lightly and infrequently.  One of the biggest problems I’ve run into is a dearth of good invoicing software for iOS, at a price point that I could live with. See, invoicing software tends to run a monthly fee of between $7 and $20 a month, which sounds perfectly reasonable for a small business that might be sending out dozens of invoices every month. But I’ll sometimes need to send out three in a month, and then nothing for three or four months, due to the feast-or-famine nature of my business. And paying $7 per invoice seems, ah, a bit steep. 

I’ve defaulted for now to making invoices in Pages, of all things, since I have found literally nothing better. But if any of you out there are an app developer looking for a project, listen, iOS invoicing software for the creative freelancer is an unmet market need. Multiple clients and multiple currencies necessary. Hook me up? 

Scrivener for iOS

Since I’m a writer, I feel like I should give a little more detail on Scrivener for iOS in particular before we wrap up here. 

I do a lot of different kinds of writing: prose fiction of every possible length, scripting for video and audio drama, nonfiction essays, you name it, I write it. Scrivener was a revelation for me when I first discovered it, and it quickly became the cornerstone of my writing life.

I haven’t been ideally pleased with relying mainly on Scrivener for iOS. But it’s not because the iOS version is BAD, it’s just that the desktop version is BETTER.  What I’m missing are features that I used to have, and don’t now.

I wish I could edit two scenes side-by-side, for example, but in iOS you can only bring up a reference doc in the side panel. You can’t adjust how much real estate each pane gets, and you can’t edit the reference doc at all. You also can’t expand and collapse folders in the binder to see a whole structure at once; you have to go into each folder, one by one.

There’s a real problem for me in not being able to see a page view for length, too. For scripts in particular, knowing how far down the page you are is an important visual cue for how much time the scene takes up, and very often a script needs to stick to some very tight timing. 

But the biggest thing I miss is the integrated word count calculator — wherein you can tell Scrivener how long a piece needs to be and when it’s due, and it calculates a daily word goal for you. iOS Scrivener can’t math up a goal for you, you have to do that yourself. And you have to manually tell it when you’re beginning a “session,” too, instead of it resetting at midnight all on its own. 

None of these things make it impossible to work. It just puts a little more friction back into my environment, and these tiny snags over time can add up to real frustrations. 

Wrapping Up

In all, this hasn’t been a perfect experience. But it’s been pretty great, and I have no regrets. I got what I wanted out of the change, and for me, the problems I’ve found are more than worth the trade-off in benefits I’ve received.

But your needs aren’t mine, and it’s possible you have questions I haven’t addressed here. If so, feel free to pop into the comments (or onto my social media) and ask me about it. I’ll do my best to help you figure out if the iPad Pro life is meant for you, too.  

Gotta warn you, though. Once you’ve made the switch, a regular laptop feels like it may as well have been made in the 1990s. There’s no going back. 


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Launch Day for ReMade Season 2!

It’s here, it’s here! Today I am tickled to announce the launch of ReMade Season 2. Just to catch you up, ReMade is the sci-fi YA post-apocalyptic serial I’ve been working on over at Serial Box, along with Matt Cody, E.C. Myers, Gwenda Bond, and Amy Rose Capetti (plus season one’s emeritus writers, Kiersten White and Carrie Harris!) It’s like a season of TV — short ebooks or audio books that come out each Wednesday. Starting... today!

I have the tremendous honor and anxiety of getting the very first episode of the season, and it’s a pretty big shift in gears from where we left off — you’ll see what I mean. But all of the things I love about ReMade are even bigger this season: the characters, the relationships, the murderbots, the SF setting.

Episode 1, Patch Job, is available for 100% free right now, to read or to listen, so you should definitely hop on that. And you can still catch up on all of Season 1 on podcast, too. Let me know what you think!


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