The Messy Desk of Many Projects in Process

This was my desk about halfway through this morning.

My desk is not usually this buried in piles of stuff, (that would drive me insane) but yesterday I was in the middle of copy edits for LOTA which spread out everywhere. The arrangements of those papers would allow me to pick up where I left off. Then this morning we ordered some lapel pins, which poked the financial section of my brain and I could tell I was going to fret over the bill for those pins until I opened up the accounting and proved to my brain that yes, we really do have the money and this is a good idea. So you can see me mid-accounting on top of being mid-copy edits. You can also see a stack of Strength of Wild Horses art, a manila folder full of postage and invoices ready to be shipped from the warehouse, a returned package, the black binder with the rough cut of Massively Parallel, and lots of other reminder notes. I took this photo at the maximum messy point of the day. Within an hour all the financial stuff was cleared off. Within two, I’d taken care of the shipping things. The copy edits are still using most of the desk landscape because I’ll tackle them tomorrow.

Despite the messy desk, things are going very well. I don’t know if we’ve caught up after being sick, but I’m not really trying to keep score anymore. Mostly I’m just trying to make sure that each day contains the right mix of work, parenting, house stuff, writing time, and relaxing time. It’s been pretty effective the last couple of weeks, so I’ll continue.

Using My Design Skills

It was a very design-y day for me. I created a new iteration for LOTA, which meant putting margin art into place and scooting things around to make spaces for footnotes. Then I print out a new copy and hand it back to Howard who is working on filling up the remaining white spaces.

Howard made some critique notes for Strength of Wild Horses, so I applied those and created another iteration of that too. I really wanted to send it off to the printer tomorrow, but I think the earliest possible is Monday. I have to walk away from design projects and come back to them in order to see what I am missing. I also have to look at things both on paper and on screen. I see different issues in the different formats.

When my brain was worn out on SWH, I did some rough layout work for Massively Parallel. This pass is mostly to slap strips into place and come up with a page count. We’re hoping to have this book in print before the big summer conventions, so we have no time to dawdle. Howard needs the page count so he knows what space he has to work with for the bonus story.

Then it was time to pick up kids, help kids with homework, and provide dinner. Except I spent 90 minutes watching episodes of Community because my brain was too fried for focus. The good news is that when I re-emerged the kids settled into their homework and they were content with a frozen food dinner.

I had some time to spare while I was supervising homework, so I finished reading through the submissions for the challenge coin PDF. This also required my design brain because I have to figure out how to fit all of these different stories into a cohesive document that is readable. Fortunately I think I’ve got it figured out, now I just need to look up some examples of what I have in mind to make sure that I do it well. Some of the stories made me laugh, others brought me to tears. This is a worthy project and I feel honored to be part of it.

It was a long and thinky day. Now I need to go to bed so I can have another one like it tomorrow.

Scheduling for 2014

Howard just posted his appearance schedule for this year. Most notable: he will not be attending either LTUE or Worldcon because both have direct conflicts with other events. My schedule is much less populated than Howard’s. My currently scheduled public appearances are:

January 17-19 at Legendary ConFusion, Troy, Michigan. They’ve given me some fascinating programming and I’ll likely be spending the rest of my time hanging out where ever the writers are congregating. Though we’ll also spend some time in the Vendor’s room where our books will be on sale.

February 13-15 LTUE, Provo, UT. I hope that I’ll be teaching things there, but I’ve yet to see a schedule. I’ll be running a table in the dealer’s room where my books will be available. I’ll have Howard’s books too. Sharing the table with me will be Nancy Fulda, who is fun and writes things worth reading.

April 17-19 Salt Lake City Comic Con FanExperience, SLC, UT. I’ll likely be there, but I’ll be in full booth support mode rather than author/teacher mode. More details as we have them.

July 3-7 Westercon, SLC, UT. I’m not sure yet whether I’ll get to be on programming or if I’ll be playing support staff. But I’ll be there.

Sept 3-6 Salt Lake City Comic Con. More thoughts on this one after we see how the one in April goes.

Putting together an event schedule is only part of the organization that Howard and I have been doing in the past few days. Howard has come up with a system where he separates his work into creative chunks. The goal is for him to get at least two chunks done per week. This is pretty important because right now we have 102 chunks lined up for the year and more than half of them need to be done by June. Hopefully quantifying the insanity of our schedule will help us actually accomplish most of it. It may work because both Howard and I are motivated by lists.

Howard’s chunk system doesn’t quite work for me, at least not in a straight port across. What I’ve done instead is portion out the hours of my days. I’ll spare you all the hourly details. The part which most closely matches Howard’s creative chunks is that I have two blocks of time per day which I’m declaring to be Project Time. That is ten work blocks per week. At first I’m going to devote 3 of them to warehouse/shipping tasks. I’ll assign the others based on what I’ve got going on. This week I’ve got design blocks and editing blocks. I may discover that I don’t need quite so many warehouse blocks, but I’m still sorting out and setting up over there. Spending some extra time now will have benefits for the rest of the year. Some of those project blocks are going to be given to writing or to doing things which fill my brain with writing thoughts.

At the end of January Howard and I will re-evaluate. This is an important part of setting up new systems and goals, there need to be check points where we decide what is working and what needs to change. Right now, on the first full work day of the new year, things feel good. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. I’ve often found that days 2-5 are more difficult than day one.

Finding My Work Brain

I found my business brain this morning, which was a relief, because I haven’t been able to access focused business thoughts since some time before Christmas. I think the holidays exude a brain fog and encourage me to step outside of all my usual patterns. Which is a good thing. Breaks generally are, however it is a relief to find my rhythm again. I pretty much only have today before I hit weekend, more family visits, and taking Kiki back to school. January 6 our normal schedule begins in earnest.

I’ve spent lots of time with family in the past few weeks. Far more than I have for a long time. It was lovely to discover that seeing my extended family was relaxing and enjoyable rather than adding stress. This makes clear exactly how stressed I was for the prior eighteen months when visitors always added stress. I’m ready to engage socially again. Just in time, since I’m headed out to ConFusion in only two weeks. They’ve given me programming that I’m excited to be part of. I’ll detail that in a different post.

For today I plowed through accounting work and shipping work. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to find my design brain for a while and make progress on Strength of Wild Horses and on preparatory work for Massively Parallel. After that I need to find my editing brain and get to work on the challenge coin pdf. Huh, it sounds like I’ve got all sorts of brains buried in the clutter around my house, which creates an amusing mental picture and accurately describes how things feel.

Warehouse Day

I knew that having a warehouse would change my shipping system. I did not know exactly how. I’m still figuring that out. I thought I would shift all the postage printing over there right away, but right now the invoices and postage printing are still happening downstairs at my desk. Then I go to the warehouse to do the shipping. This means I can’t just do a little packaging in the 30 minutes between homework and dinner. I have to plan ahead. Which in turn means that I can plan ahead to take the kids with me.

Gleek and Patch had never been to the warehouse before. They are small enough that they could not help with the heavy lifting. The were very impressed with the space we had. Then we set up four work stations. Gleek and Link worked on shrink wrapping boxed sets. Patch put calendars into envelopes. I did a little bit of everything. At first they squabbled a bit over who got to do which job, but then we all settled in to working. Ninety minutes later we had a stack of neatly wrapped sets and about a hundred packages. It all went much faster than I could have done by myself.

As I worked, I listened to Link and Gleek working and laughing. Those two do not naturally gravitate to playing together and often when they do, it ends with arguments. Yet once we got going, they worked together pretty well. In the car on the way home they all talked with each other and I realized that they need more chances to work together. My kids need more chances to do work that they know contributes to our family income. I can picture myself taking various kids over to the warehouse to help with jobs an hour at a time. It could be a really good thing.

The fire marshall came by the warehouse and gave his approval. I’m expecting a city inspector on Wednesday and then it can be an official place of business. I even installed blinds in the window. Poorly. But they’re hung. I emptied the storage units and set up a bed for Kiki. I think I may finally be completing some of the projects at last. That would be good. Because I am very tired.

The Busy Season

Tis the season when I could use an auxiliary brain or two in order to keep track of all my things. This season is always heralded by the opening of calendar pre-orders which usher in the holiday shipping season in our store. I’ve got as stack of 300 invoice sitting on my desk waiting for calendars to arrive so that I can ship them. I’ve got twenty more orders which can be shipped now, the top task for tomorrow morning.

Or it would be the top task, but I’m still putting the finishing touches on the warehouse move. I’ve got to clear out those storage units and buy fire extinguishers so that we can pass the safety inspection for the business license in the new location.

Only I’ve also got three guest posts that I’m excited to write and I really want a few hours of head space in which I can get them done. The host blogs have set me some really cool topics and I want to turn notes into writing.

Of course there is still all the kid stuff. Homework does not stop. I don’t have to do it, I end up helping the kids remember to do it, and making extra trips to the store for ingredients. Or groceries. The kids want to eat every single day.

It all adds up. At least this year I have zero involvement with the church Christmas party, for which I am very grateful. December is just not a good time for me to have more things to do.

This morning was glorious. I was at the top of my game, knocking down To Do items one after the other. I did all the things. Around 2pm my day abruptly shifted into serious annoyance and grouchiness. It is entirely possible that this was related to the fact that my “doing all the things” somehow failed to include adequate nutrition. Howard fed me and things got a bit better. But I’m still here at the end of the day and despite being super-human this morning, I still have an oppresively long list of things for tomorrow.

I miss having spaces in my day. I know from experience that I’ll have some during Thanksgiving weekend. The internet kind of goes to sleep for those days and my work load lightens. Then things won’t be calm again until around December 23 when people stop ordering because the things won’t arrive in time for gift giving. Deep breath. I can do this.

Life Shift: Moving Into the Warehouse

The night before the move I lay awake in bed cataloging the things I should have done to get ready, but didn’t. It was Schlock Warehouse moving day and I was not prepared. I know how to ship. I know how to run a shipping event. I know how to manage having inventory in storage units and the work station in my basement. But beyond broad strokes of knowing that I needed a truck and people, I didn’t really know how to proceed with moving. The truck was a source of stress, I’d never driven one before and the thought made me nervous. Once I survived driving the truck,I was going to have to provide instructions to a moving crew when I didn’t know the most efficient ways to work. I worried about these things the night before, or at least part of me did. The larger part was calm, because one thing that many shipping parties has taught me is that the Schlock volunteers are smart, helpful, and innovative. They solve problems when my brain is too tired to figure it out. This move was no exception.

These were the two storage units. They were thirty feet deep and each of those cardboard boxes represents 40lbs. We haven’t done the exact math because there are a lot of boxes and we were all pretty tired by the end, but our ballpark guess is that we schlepped 8-10 tons of things. Those are literal tons, meaning 16,000-20,000 pounds of stuff. On the first load we had to pull some boxes back off of the truck because it was riding too low. I wish we’d gotten a picture of that. Not a good thing when the wheel well is touching the top of the wheel.

This is the space we had to move into.

I measured it. It is larger than the combined space in both our storage units. The office space is larger than my office and shipping room in my basement. Yet at 1am the night before I was convinced that it was not all going to fit. That fear lingered through the day, mostly because all day long I had to make decisions about where things would be put. The decisions felt crucial and irrevocable because we were so tired that I could not picture rearranging things later. I felt like I had to get it right, which I didn’t really. I just had to get all the things into one place so that I could begin to see how it all works. This is one of the reason I’m so very grateful for the helpers we had. They were my auxiliary brains and thus able to tell me everything was just fine.

The first merchandise moved into the warehouse prior to moving day, thus demonstrating that we are able to receive deliveries.

This same truck driver has delivered to our house on more than one occasion. He was pleased to see our new facility and admired our giant roll up door.
I love the great big door. We could back the truck all the way inside.

The other reason I need helpers for these big Schlock events is because they make me laugh. We loaded the truck with the musical theme from Tetris playing on some speakers while making jokes about things fitting. Later there was the Angry Birds theme with matching jokes. My helpers are always glad to come and I always owe them far more than I ever feel able to pay back. They come, and because of them I can do work that I would never be able to accomplish by myself. They make what we do possible and they keep me sane when my brain wants to tell me that I’m ruining everything.

We emptied the storage units. There is left over garbage in them that I need to clean out.

Then I’ll need to sweep and go inform the office that they’re available again. It feels strange to see them empty like that. This morning I saw the matching padlocks sitting on my kitchen counter and I had a moment of panic “Oh no, I forgot to lock up the storage units!” But then realized that I would never lock up those units again. We’re done with that part and moved on to the next.

Even more strange was walking into my downstairs shipping room which is now half empty. We ran out of time with the truck before we completely cleared the shipping room. Which was fine, we were out of energy too. What is left are odds and ends that I can move at my leisure. Except it won’t be at my leisure, because I had a moment of panic standing in that half empty room.

I went to Howard and cried “I broke it. I broke the system I’ve used for shipping for the last seven years and I’m terrified that this will destroy everything.” Of course it won’t. The new set up will, obviously, create new problems especially at first, but it will be better in a hundred ways. The biggest is one that became clear after Howard commented.
“At least now the light will be off in that room. You always left the light on in your shipping room. I never understood that.”

It took a few moments of thought for me to figure out why I did that. On the occasions where I walked out of the room knowing I wouldn’t be back for awhile, I turned off the light. That was rare. Usually I stepped out for a moment, or got called away, or paused what I was doing and intended to come back. The light stayed on because I was always about to ship, in the middle of shipping, or not quite done shipping. That was the problem. I was never done and the shipping/convention prep work spilled all over the living spaces. It won’t be able to do that anymore. I’ll have to decide to go work and decide to lock up to come home. This is good. I am looking forward to it. However, it represents a fundamental shift in my life and a part of me is terrified that I’ve broken everything and we’re all doomed as a result. That part of my brain wanted me to jump in the car and drive to go check on the warehouse at 10pm last night. Just to make sure everything was okay.

Everything is fine.
All the merchandise fits.
I didn’t crash the truck.
The helpers were amazing.
And I’m not nearly as sore as I expected to be today.

That last part is good because I’ve really only begun working. There is still stuff to move out of my house and there is lots to organize over at the warehouse. Some of the organization need to happen pretty quickly because there are packages to mail.

Stuff in Our Warehouse

We are mostly moved into the warehouse. I am too tired for many words, so I give you a picture. More words on a different day.

Projects in Process

The trouble with a recorded interview is that I then have hours and weeks to think up better answers than the ones I gave. I do the same thing after conventions, important conversations, or presentations. This is one of the reasons I like writing, I can revise and tweak my words until I’m certain I have them correct. The podcast interview was one of several I worked on today in preparation for launching my Kickstarter next week. This weekend I’ll be writing up some guest posts as well. I’m finding this process fascinating as I talk about different aspects of the Strength of Wild Horses project and about how I’m running my Kickstarter.

But I can’t just focus on that, because tomorrow is the day we move into the warehouse. There are organizational things I was supposed to be doing at a steady pace over the past couple of days. Instead I’ll be doing them tonight if I can develop some forward momentum. It is a real challenge because Friday night is generally work-resistant. The good news is that after tomorrow the heavy lifting will be done (literally) for the warehouse project and I can start focusing on the next thing.

The next thing will be the launch of the Kickstarter and opening pre-orders for the 2014 calendar. Both of those will hit next week. Further out we’ve got the shipping of all the calendars and the final push to get LOTA ready for print. On the family front we’ll be prepping a space for Kiki to inhabit when she comes home for the holidays. I’m not going to run out of projects any time soon, which is fine. I like having projects.

Shooting Video

Video intimidates me, but I shot one anyway because Kickstarter projects do better with a video. The process went something like this: Wait until kids are gone at school and Howard is occupied so that no one else will witness nor tease me about my process (or lack thereof.) Fix hair and makeup. Set up tripod and camera. Shoot a test shot to make sure I know where to sit and am properly framed. Start recording. Sit down and begin talking, then realize I don’t know what comes next even though I thought through everything I want to say. Freeze up and flee from in front of the camera. Pace around the kitchen muttering to myself as I practice all the words. Record again. Mess up often. At each mess up, pause then start the sentence over because through the magic of editing maybe I’ll still be able to use the shot. Nope. Start over with a new take. Repeat until two takes feel acceptable. Watch the video and marvel at the number of times I roll my eyes because I’m trying to remember what to say next. I’ve learned not to Um, but my eyes were all over the place. Bundle everything up and hand it off to someone who has the magic power of editing.

There is a reason I do not video blog.