Work

Thinking About Work and Being In Between

Being self employed gets inside your head. It pervades your thoughts and decisions. There is this constant awareness of time, that time not spent on business tasks equals income that won’t arrive. The correlation is not one to one, hours are not created equal. Some hours and tasks are more profitable than others. Unfortunately which hours and tasks are the profitable ones can often only be seen in retrospect. Work is survival, and that gets repeatedly pressed upon the mind of a self employed person.

I’m thinking about this as Howard and I are currently living an in-between space. We’ve left home for a two week trip, which puts us outside our regular business and leisure activities, and we’ve not yet fully entered the conference or recording sessions, both of which are another set of familiar business and leisure activities. We found ourselves with five hours to fill and nothing routine to put into them. It is in such spaces that we unfold our thoughts and have conversations we otherwise would not have. Those conversations are part of why taking trips together is so valuable. We have to remember who we are when we aren’t working, and sometimes the only way for us to not be working is to enter a space where work isn’t possible. Even though being unable to work is inherently anxious for us.

The other reason I’m thinking about the pervasiveness of work, is that the our websites are down this morning. (I’m actually typing this offline and will only be able to post it once the sites are back up.) It is no doubt a small problem, easily fixed once our web guy (who lives in New Zealand) wakes up and checks his email. Outage used to send us into panic. Lack of update felt like imminent doom, the inevitable death of our business. Back then we weren’t able to interrogate our anxieties as well as we do now. Also, we now have years of evidence that an outage blip isn’t going to do long term damage. We aren’t panicked and yet there is still anxiety, this ambient sense that if we don’t properly serve our audience, that audience will vanish and all our resources along with it. Our most common antidote to anxiety is to get back to work…which is difficult when we reside in the between space where we’ve deliberately made work hard to do.

In the between spaces, I ask myself questions about why I’m doing the work that I do and whether I like doing it. I ponder what work I would choose to do if money were not an issue. Where would I spend my efforts if I knew that the bills would always be paid. These are useful questions, not to make me dissatisfied with the life I have now, but to remember what small adjustment I should make in my daily efforts so that at future times when I enter an in between space, I can be glad about the changes I see.

An Accounting of My Past Week

A week ago Monday: Travel day for the first half, followed by unpacking, house assessing, business task triage, and hugging children. Had to do all the triaging, assessing, and unpacking while I still had a bit of momentum. Experience tells me that if I don’t get them done before I burn through the last of the convention energy, I will not get them done for a week.

A week ago Today (Tuesday): Crash day. Only not completely crash, because I had to go over to the school and talk to the counselor about my two teens’ schedules. On one hand it is really nice that she instantly knew me an was super ready to set things up for my senior girl. On the other hand, it might be nice to not have the school counselor know my kids because they didn’t need any extra attention. I also got to sit down and say “Now let me tell you about my kid whom you haven’t met yet.” I happened to be there at the time when the new school principal was also in her office. The same principal who used to be over the Junior High and who sat through meetings about my son. So when I asked for accommodations requiring administrative approval, he granted them instantly. Nice to be known and listened to. Maybe someday we won’t need that anymore and that would also be nice.

So super important meeting followed by brain sludge. I did manage to mail store orders that had been waiting a week for me to return from GenCon. I also began transcribing some of my GenCon notes. Or maybe I did that on Wednesday.

Wednesday: Had a business meeting with a friend I don’t see often enough. Then I printed out packing lists for shirt orders and sorted them. I think there might have been grocery shopping, but that might have been Tuesday. These days blur together a bit.

Thursday: Had a social event for much of the day. Spent the afternoon/evening printing postage for shirt orders.

Friday: Shipping day. Me and my helper went through about 100 packages. Currently the average temperature in the warehouse is around 80 degrees, so I always end up hot, sweaty, and tired by the time I’m done.

Saturday: 80 more packages into the mail. Then I came home to administrative tasks. I was still working through my post-GenCon to do assignments. I feel like I did some other admin tasks.

Sunday: Church, family gathering.

Monday: The morning was all about getting Howard and daughter out the door to attend Worldcon. They traveled over early because Howard has recording sessions for Writing Excuses. In the afternoon I prepared packing lists and postage for yet more shipping.

Tuesday: 90 packages into the mail. There are a few more lingering at the warehouse, but the remaining shirt packages are all ones that have problems of some sort. Mostly these problems are because the shirt company shorted me on shirts of several types. But some of them are error on my part. Others are a miss communication between me and the shirt company about which size/color combinations actually exist and which don’t. Sorting this all out is requiring a lot of organization and thinking on my part. I’ve reached the point where I have to physically set aside each order so that I can see what shirts I have left. That way I can work in batches and figure out which substitutions I can offer. For some of the shirts I’m waiting for the shirt company to give me their Fill Order which supposedly will give me all the shirts I’m missing. I still expect to have to do print on demand for some shirts in order to fulfill my promises to customers.

Thinking about shirts has filled my head up for more than a week. I’m hoping that by the end of this week I will not have to think about them as much, though I’m certain I’ll still have odds and ends that I’ll have to ship. I think it will be September before I’m done dealing with shirts.

What I want to be spending my brain on is new projects. I have things I’m supposed to be writing and things I want to be writing. I have Schlock books that I need to get complete and sent off to the printer. I’m not sorry to have done the shirts, but I will be glad when I can reclaim the brain space that they’ve been occupying. And I’ll be even more glad when we can set up Print on Demand shirts so that Schlock fans can have their shirts and I don’t have to touch them.

I guess an alternate title for the past week could be Post Convention Brain Mush Combined with Back-To-School, Convention Packing, and Shirts, Shirts, Shirts. An unwieldy title, but accurate.

Creating an Errata Document

A Roleplaying Game is an extremely complex thing to make. It is guaranteed that your finished product will have mistakes. Thus comes the necessity of creating of an errata document, which is a piece of paper that ships with the product and issues corrections for the mistakes that you’ve found. (Also guaranteed: you’ll find more after you’ve issued the errata document.) The process of creating this document means combing through questions and concerns that are submitted by customers who have read the book. It means I have to look closely at why my text confused them or feels broken to them. And, according to my anxiety, it shows all the ways I have completely and utterly failed as an RPG creator. (In my head, the failure is always mine despite the fact that Planet Mercenary is a hugely collaborative project.) Which, for a few people, the game may have. No single game is going to work for every person. But the balance of evidence is that the majority of our Kickstarter backers are pleased with what we’re delivering.

Hopefully once I’ve gotten the document complete, I’ll be able to step away from the errors and re-capture a feeling of accomplishment. I would really like to sit with a feeling of triumph and accomplishment for a while, instead of letting those emotions vanish into errata anxiety and shipping stress.

Books Arrived, Time to Do All the Things

The big shipment of Planet Mercenary books arrived today. That means it is time to switch gears and start sending packages out the door. My thoughts have been running a mile a minute since the moment I pulled up at Hypernode Headquarters and realized that I wasn’t going to have to sit around waiting for the truck, it was waiting for me. Cue flurry of me rapidly shifting the last few boxes so that pallets could take up that floor space. Thirty out-of-breath minutes later the delivery was done and the truck drove off.

Since then I’ve been making lists and scrambling to get things done. These are things I am tracking right now:

Preparations for the first shipping day: including finishing the errata document, getting 800 books triple signed, ordering the necessary shipping supplies, and mentally pre-organizing the backers into batches.

Preparations for ongoing shipping: I’m going to have to do many shipping days across several weeks. My kids are going to get tired of working and so I may need to hire neighborhood teens and organize that. I don’t know what will be needed. I’ll have to figure it out as I go.

Combining Deluxe Handbrain screen orders with Planet Mercenary orders: The first rush of emails is done, but responses are still coming in. At least now I have a practiced system for handling them so nothing gets lost. (Creating that system was a source of some stress as I used my brain as a bridge between three incompatible systems.)

Fulfilling on the last Planet Mercenary Kickstarter items: The Planet Mercenary backers will be getting their packages soon, which only leaves the Game Chief Secrets PDF which we promised. So I’ll be trying to squeeze in writing and editing time around the shipments. If anything slides it will be finishing up this, but I’d really like to end July with having delivered everything. I want August to be fully focused on the big events scheduled there. And in September I’d really like to shift gears into doing something new.

Fulfilling on the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter: The pressing of the screens themselves has been scheduled. I’ll need to approve them, pay the bill, and then wait for a truck. Then a second wave of shipping hits. Also there is the Adventure PDF that needs to be written and sent out.

Preparing for GenCon: This one is made so much easier by the crew I have in Indianapolis. They’re such amazing people and make running the booth possible. However much of my work for GenCon happens before we even get to the event. I’ve already done the hotel booking, flight purchasing, insurance purchasing, and arranged for electricity at the booth. Our official convention schedules are done thanks to the amazing folks at the GenCon writer’s symposium. Yet to do: make a new banner that features Planet Mercenary, ship Planet Mercenary books so we can sell them at the booth, double check on-site inventory and ship to fill any gaps, prep the cash register with new products, get the GenCon adventure ready for players, assist in lining up GCs to run games at GenCon, communicate with booth partners to make sure they have everything they need, prepare two solo presentations to give at the convention, and make up flyers and other promotional materials for the show. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. There is always something.

Preparing for the Writing Excuses Cruise:
It is in Europe this year. I’ve never been to Europe. There are packing preparations to make, power adapters to buy, flights to fret over, and planning for the adult kids who will be staying with the teen kids. The actual planning for this is not that hard, but the emotional footprint is big. Particularly since it has to be squeezed in between all of the other things.

Completing the next Schlock Mercenary book:
It can’t fall through the cracks. I really want to send it to print by early September so that I can have books on sale for Christmas. This means I have to finish writing the bonus story ASAP. I have to work with an artist to get the bonus story drawn. I have to get an introduction written. And Howard needs to do the cover and marginalia. Howard also needs to get way ahead on the buffer because of the upcoming travel.

Household stuff:
Apparently we’re out of groceries and this is a problem.

Thing I am really looking forward to: being able to complete things in the list above and not have to worry about them anymore. I’ve been pre-planning the Planet Mercenary shipping for the last eighteen months and I finally get to do the thing.

Planet Mercenary Advance Copies

Howard Tweets:
Three copies of the @PlanetMercenary RPG book arrived just now. It’s now officially a real thing.

The package was delivered while @SandraTayler was out running an errand. I opened it because I couldn’t NOT open it. Then I took pictures.

When she got back, I said “there’s a package for you on the counter.” Her reaction, which I only saw from behind, was fascinating.

I can only describe it as “There is a giant spider poised to pounce, and I’m in range, and it’s exactly the spider I always wanted.”

So I guess I’m glad I did the box opening because her having that reaction while holding a knife would have been scary for me.

Howard’s spider description was right on the nose. I was looking straight at the book for a moment before I realized what it was. We hadn’t gotten a shipment notification, so I wasn’t expecting them today. Then I froze and for a moment I was afraid to touch them, while simultaneously wanting to snatch it up and hug it. Because, what if it hurt me? What if I picked it up and found that there were huge errors that made the book unsellable and instead of being a triumph the whole thing was a massive failure? (Anxiety is not logical.) So it took an act of will to pick the book up. And to flip through the pages, but then I could breathe again. Because the books are beautiful both visually and to the touch.

I tweeted some replies to Howard’s spider tweet:

This is almost exactly what it felt like from the inside.

Brain wouldn’t parse and when it did I was almost afraid to touch the book, because what if it wasn’t right?

But then it was right, so I cried a little bit. And I’ve been carrying around the book ever since.

I’ve done so many pit-of-despair moments over this book, pushed so hard, gave up so many other things, and now it is real.

The bulk shipment can’t come fast enough. I want to send this out to the backers.

Naturally one of the first things we did was reach out to Alan Bahr and tell him to come get his copy. Until the bulk shipment arrives, we only have three. One for Howard, one for me, one for Alan. He came right over and we sat and talked for a couple of hours. Some was about the book we were finally getting to hold. Some was about GenCon coming soon. Some was about splatbooks and expansions that we’ll want to put out for the game in the next couple of years. And some about other stuff. As Howard tweeted afterward:
I’m not sure whether or not @AlanBahr enjoys coming over to my house because each time he leaves he has at least three new games to write.

Me & Alan: Alan: “Ugh, now I’m going to have to write that.” Me: “No, the point is that—” A: “Stop talking you’re just making more work.”

*Alan flees* Me: “Wait, there’s more!” *Car won’t start* Me: “Ahem.” *waves distributor cap* Alan: “aaaaauuuughh” *dies*

Okay, those last two were comedic storytelling for effect, but Alan really does end up with more games to write. However I think that a trip to the grocery store might give Alan more games to write. His brain just works that way. Alan has been fantastic to work with. As were our artists, our graphic designer, and editors. It takes a lot of people to make a book like this.

I’m still carrying around the book and petting it occasionally. But as soon as I finish up this post, I need to find my focus and get back to work. There is still much to be done to bring this project to final completion.

Warehouse Day at Hypernode Headquarters


I showed you this photo the other day. It is how the warehouse looked before we put in hours of work today. Here is what it looked like after:

It is a little hard to see, but from the floor the difference is significant. I now have space for up to ten pallets of books. Or I will once I haul off that stack of old pallets. With the shifting done, we got to work bagging components:

One of the secrets to an efficient shipping is to bundle things in advance. Every single order at the Company Commander and Commodore levels get a little white bag containing 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 set of dice, and 1 deck of cards. They also get a padded envelope containing their Seventy Maxims book and Game chief screen. So when time comes to box orders, instead of needing to grab ten different things for each package, we only have to grab three: book, padded envelope, little white bag. Additionally, the bundling also provides some useful padding making it less likely that things will get damaged in transit. Today we assembled almost 800 little bags. We need to assemble 1200 more exactly like these. Then we’ll assemble a pile of bags for the backers who included RiPP tokens in their order. The RiPP tokens fit into the little bag too. The bag itself is a bonus that we didn’t tell backers they are getting. It is a small thank you from us for supporting the project and being patient while we got everything done.

Lots of work still remains. I’ve only got a few weeks until the books arrive.

Preparing for a Big Shipping


Today I walked the warehouse planning the work for our “warehouse day” next week when I haul my four kids over and pay them to help me reorganize. There are boxes of books to re-stack, garbage to haul to the dump, recycling to haul out, and various other related chores. All of this is preparatory to receiving the Planet Mercenary books in a few weeks. I have to physically make space on the floor for an as yet unknown number of pallets. I’ve paced it off and I’m confident I can make space for up to 10 pallets, which should be sufficient. I always have pre-delivery anxiety about not having enough space.

Another task which needs doing is pre-bundling components that will go into packages. Many of the packages have the same contents. It is much easier to grab a single bag that contains 4 pins, 1 coin, 1 dice set, and a deck of cards than it is to grab each of those things individually for each package. However it does mean that we have to sit down and make up the bags containing all the things. That work needs to happen before we can begin shipping in earnest, and I hope to get it done before the books arrive.

A related pair of tasks: The GC screens arrived flat and they need to be folded in order to fit into the shipping boxes. The Deluxe Handbrain screens will arrive as individual units and will need to be assembled into 3 screen sets with matching pins.

Invoices need to be printed and sorted as well. That process will begin first for the Handbrain Screen Kickstarter, because that is where I have the information about who might want to combine their orders. I have to collate that information before I can ship any of the orders. However I can’t get rolling on that quite yet. People need more time to fill out their surveys. I don’t know yet whether the Handbrain Screens or the books will arrive first. Ideally I’ll have a couple of weeks between the arrivals. Most likely they’ll arrive within a week of each other because those were the timelines I was given. Once both shipments arrive, all that remains is for me to ship things out.

I did preparatory accounting yesterday. I’ve got lots of shipping bills incoming, so the accounts need to be as prepared as the physical spaces. I’m tempted to run a sale to clear out some inventory and create more wiggle room in both the accounts and the warehouse. Yet running a big sale and triggering more shipping right in the middle of preparing for a massive shipping seems a bit crazy. The truth is that I have enough space in both places to get the job done, even if it will be a little tight for a while.

Time to get back to work.

Refocusing the Summer Schedule

School has only been out for a week and already my work schedule had been suffering. It isn’t that the kids cause any problems or distractions, at this point they’re self-sufficient. It is just that my brain knows I don’t actually have to get up when the alarm goes off. It knows that I can hit snooze multiple times without real consequences. So I do. And then it is 9am before I’m really moving on my day. Which means noon arrives before I’ve gotten much done. And then before I know it, I’m at 5pm. Focus is hard to maintain, the days have all gone ….mushy.

Howard is having the same problem. We have it every summer. I’m just getting a double dose because the urgent push to get a book off to print ended at about the same time that the kids got out of school. I’m cast adrift twice over, while simultaneously being very aware that if I don’t take care of non-urgent tasks during this space of time, they will become urgent right about the time when books and game screens arrive to subsume all my hours into shipping 3000 packages. I need focus. I need to make good use of my days so that I’m getting things done in advance of shipping.

So I’ve begun to schedule things on my calendar in new ways. During the school year the only things that go on my calendar are the fixed points: pick ups, drop offs, appointments, meetings. Then I let the other tasks flow around these fixed points. During the summer my calendar has almost no fixed points. So I have to take all those tasks which would usually flow and declare them to be appointments. Tomorrow at 8am I have an appointment with writing the bonus story. At 10am I have an appointment with the Planet Mercenary Game Chief secrets PDF. At noon there is an actual appointment with a child and an orthodontist. From 2-5pm I’m going to deep dive into improving our online store. By putting them on the calendar I’m trying to tell my brain what to focus on. Sometimes it works, other days I still get lost in the drift of the day.

The good news is that Howard and I had a conversation about all of this and we’re both going to be making a greater effort to help get each other up in the morning and to make sure that we have our morning business meeting where we talk about what we need to get done during the day. Hopefully that will help.

A Twelve Day Update

The short version of the past twelve days goes like this: Convention, convention, convention, visit with friend and drive her to airport, head cold with shipping, head cold with editing, head cold with editing, head cold with an array of neglected household and parent stuff, feeling a bit better with editing, mostly better with shipping, editing, and taking a child to buy her first snake pet, today.

The slightly more expanded version:

LTUE is our home convention. It is the one that feels like a family reunion because it is full of people that I like and I only get to see once per year. On top of that, I get to sit down with smart people and have discussions of interesting topics. These discussions happen both as part of public panels, but also in more casual groups. Writer people are my people.

Kiki didn’t come up this year. She needed a calm semester where she didn’t have to scramble to prepare for a convention where she needed to present herself professionally. I used her absence as an opportunity to do an art yard sale of her old work. (With her permission of course.) She had art left over from high school and early college which was no longer representative of her best work. Rather than let it continue to take up space in her life, we sold it at a big discount to turn art into grocery money. Almost everything we offered sold.

Usually Kiki is the one who helps me run the table, this year two women from my neighborhood volunteered to help. It was really fun. They were good company. They got free badges to attend and the three of us traded off who would be at the table and who would go to classes or events. I loved knowing that everybody got things they wanted out of the deal. Win win is the best kind of deal.

Usually the Sunday after LTUE is a collapse and relax day. It sort of was this year. Only I did my collapsing and relaxing with a couple of friends who had also been at the show and were also collapse relaxing.

Monday I began to be sick. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all something of a fog. Mostly I camped on the couch looking pitiful and trying to get editing work done. The plan for the week had been to split my days between editing and shipping. I wasn’t well enough to be on my feet for shipping. Editing took longer than I wanted it to, but at least I could do it laying down. I couldn’t take days off because Planet Mercenary is on a crazy tight schedule. We need to go to print by April 1st. There has to be a month of time for indexing before going to print. And there is still layout to do. In an ideal world, all the writing would be complete before editing began. Then all the editing would be done before layout began. Then all the layout would be done before indexing began. Instead different sections of the book are in different parts of the process.

The good news is that I’ve finally finished the portions of the book which have lots of mechanics and numbers. The numbers are set. I only have a little bit of formatting to do before sending all of that to layout. The remainder of the book is all fun world building stuff. I won’t have to meticulously cross check everything to make sure it is good. I also won’t have to spend time worrying that I’ve accidentally created an item that is far more expensive (or cheap) than it should be for the benefit it provides. Approximating a functional economy is hard.

Once I was feeling enough better to be ambulatory, it was time to get back on track with shipping out Defaced Seventy Maxims books. I’d wanted all of them out the door by the end of February. Instead it is more likely to be by March 6 or 7. A week later than I want. Because I’ve been jumping between editing and shipping and planning new merchandise, I simply haven’t had the time or emotional energy to put together a big shipping event. Shipping is me grabbing 2-3 of my teenagers and spending 2-3 hours sending out 150-200 packages. I’ve got about 500 more US packages and about 200 international ones left. International takes longer to process and pack because of the necessary customs forms.

During LTUE I tweeted about my 16 year old who texted me to ask what chores she could do. She has been putting in 1-2 hours of work per day for the last month because she wanted to earn enough money to buy a snake and all the supplies to take care of it. The original plan had her and her brother cooperating to buy a snake. In the end only my daughter put in the hours and earned the money. She hit the money goal after helping me with shipping on Saturday. So we went to our local pet store (the small one, not the giant chain one) and came home with a little snowy corn snake. Now that the snake actually exists in the house, my son is far more motivated to earn money to buy his own snake. So we’re likely to end up with two of them. Which is fine. The snake is name Cecil and he’s adorable.

Today is Sunday wherein I theoretically rest. Tomorrow work begins anew.

Notes from the Editing Cave

I’m still here. I’ve just been head down on the Planet Mercenary project.
23 Sections in the book

Sections 1-4 completely laid out
Sections 5-6 in layout
Sections 7-10 need a final editing pass from me before layout
Sections 11-14 need a final pass from me before being handed off to our editor
Sections 15-19 Howard has some final writing to do in these chapters
Section 20 currently being edited
Section 21 needs some writing from Howard
Section 22 currently being edited.
Section 23 index, glossary, etc which will start when layout is done.

My goals: make sure that everyone always has something to be working on. I don’t want layout guy waiting on me. I don’t want editor waiting on me. I don’t want Howard waiting on me. This means task swapping a lot.

I’m also conferring with artists to fill the remaining art gaps. It is hours of intense focus work every day. But by next week my schedule should begin to open up. I will be done with the mechanics heavy portions of the book. The remainder is cool worldbuilding stuff upon which players can build fun adventures, or Schlock Mercenary fans can just have fun reading.

The whole thing is visibly closer to being done. Yet in the middle of each day it feels like I’ll never be able to do all I need to do. And sometimes fatigue whispers to me that I’ve done it all wrong, everything is ruined. So I take a breath and I dive back in, because ruined or not, I have promises to keep.

Oh, and the Defaced Seventy Maxims books arrived yesterday, so there are 1000 packages to ship. I have that in front of me too.