Ben Wilson, Author

3 January 2022

Heartbeat: January 2022

This article is my first attempt to provide structured periodic updates. Basecamp’s Heartbeat method provides updates across the company and inspires me to do the same. I scheduled updates on my calendar set for every sixth Thursday. As I write this, the first snow of the season falls outside my window.

The idea of the Postal Marines has dwelt in my mind for 15 years now. I roughly plotted sixteen novels, drafted four, and published two. I will spare you the history lesson of how, from 2014 to the present, nothing much has happened. The idea of a heartbeat is a status. My prior post on the hiatus gives the catch-up.

20 Books Vegas 2021 was seven weeks ago. Since then, I have made more progress despite my distractions. Chief among those distractions is my full-time career. Not that I’m counting (I have an app for that), I have 346 weeks until I can retire. Given I write and plan in weeks, it made sense to measure it thusly. I also like to program and dabble with toolchains. This has burned a considerable amount of my writing time in the past.

Goal for 2022

I stated in the hiatus post that I would like to get the first four books of the Postal Marines series finished and released by November 2022. This entails two full rewrites, two substantial edits, and a new set of covers.

Yak Shaving

This problem persists. I will spend a morning dabbling with a script that will theoretically save many mornings. This is akin to Lincoln’s maxim that if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he would spend four hours sharpening his axe. The term for working on tangential and perhaps non-productive work is yak shaving. (Yak shaving refers to a task that leads you to perform another related task and so on, and so on — all distracting you from your original goal. This is sometimes called “going down the rabbit hole.”

I feel like this is front-loading the excuses. Perhaps it is. My coding in December 2021 focused on worldbuilding and consistency. These are the four scripts that I worked on:

  • Terradoma Map: Ensures consistent navigation between systems. This uses work from 2011 and 2013 to support Terradoma. It includes a Terradoma-specific lookup of specific systems, and a scrollable map.

  • Travel Calculator: Ensures consistent time estimates when travelling distances.

  • UWP Translator: I created this years ago and had to fix it because there were people in the Traveller RPG user base who had relied upon it.

  • Writing Progress: This shows my weekly writing progress. I give daily updates that it summarizes weekly.

I also heavily worked on my website, moving it to a minimal and responsive theme. Let me know how I did.

The impact of these tools should not be trivial. I am shifting away from my early worldbuilding decisions that relied on vague terms for distance (miles & paces to gigameters & jumps). This shift requires more precision with distance calculations. This has caused rewrites in my published books.


Now that the yak is well groomed, what do I have to show for it?

Baselining. Returning to the Postal Marines required literary archeology. Each book had several drafts in different toolchains. Postal Armada (nee Bellicose) and Clinate Defense (nee Scintilla) were hardest because they were published. Imbroglio was the most interesting, since I started on that in 2006. I had to agree that the version I settled on was canon. This used much of November and December.

Drafting & Revising. I ran Postal Armada and Clinate Defense through ProWritingAid (PWA), and found plenty of editorial oversights—even in the professionally edited version of Bellicose. And, as I work on Maltuseblon Gambit, I applied PWA to each chapter as I finished it. As of 2 January 2022, I added 14,056 words to Gambit, bringing the draft to 38,522. This is 45 percent of my target length of 85,000. My ambition is to finish Gambit by 28 February. I said 31 January before, but my actual progress suggests that was too ambitious. In practical terms, I drafted two chapters in six weeks. (Update: 4 January, finished Chapter 4 at 39,655 words.)

Process. For Gambit, I had a four-page synopsis I had problems with. I think the characters hated me trying to force them. As I work on the revision, I am plotting by chapter with a plan of eight chapters in the novel. As each chapter finishes, I am running them through ProWritingAid. I’ve forced myself to commit to using Scrivener because it is good enough.

Business. I cleaned up cobwebs for my old business documentation and created a double-entry spreadsheet in Google Sheets so I could track my expenses in 2022. I engaged a cover artist who can start my covers in Summer.

Six-Week Plan

As a project manager, it feels good to have a plan. But I realize plans are themselves fiction.

  • Finish five chapters in Gambit. This includes plotting, drafting and running through ProWritingAid. There should be some clean up leftover.

  • Spend time on developing a series for 2023. I have an alternative history series that has development. I’m thinking of a more comedic time travel or portal fantasy bent.

  • I would love to get to 10,000 words per week of writing output.