Writing Lethargy Due To Overwork

The past two years have been filled with heavy work hours, reducing my writing output to a trickle of my previous productivity. There was a time when I was able to produce a moderate-sized chapter every 3-4 days, consistently, for months. Including R&D time spent writing code, some of which I was not quite prepared for in advance.

It seems like the programming books I worked hardest on sold the fewest copies, while those that I wrote very quickly were bestsellers. For instance, Visual Basic Game Programming for Teens, first published in Jan, 2005, was based on Visual Basic 6.0 and the DirectX type library.

I wrote that book in one month flat, including all of the design work for the sample game, artwork, etc. (The artwork was done by an artist, but I had to convert character animations into sprite sheets). ONE MONTH! Four weeks. My editor at Cengage was a bit freaked out by that because I had promised her the book by October 31, and hadn’t turned anything in by the end of September! I told her I would meet the deadline…somehow. Reason for the delay: Sams’ Black Art of Xbox Mods, which I’d spent all summer working on (including soldering iron to install mod chips into several iterations of the Xbox). It was hard work. By the time I’d finished, I was ready for a straightforward software project, so VB Game Programming for Teens was a sort of “Build Your Own RPG in VB.”

The book I worked hardest on, most time consuming, was Multi-Threaded Game Engine Design. It received a range of review scores because of unrealistic expectations on the part of readers, which may be due to an unfortunate book title. It was a good idea but how can you explore game engine design with threading without building a game engine first? No one wants to read about an existing game engine, they want to build it. Well, readers of this book didn’t so much. I don’t know what they wanted, actually, but I delivered an engine that would let you explore threading in various sections of the game loop, such as the entity manager, 2D renderer, shader renderer, audio system, input system, collision detection system, and so on. But it wasn’t deep enough for the most outspoken readers. I almost had a nervous breakdown from that book. I was dismissed from teaching at UAT on bad terms in the middle of this book, and was finishing up the final chapters on a laptop while travelling. It’s a good book. I’ll never apologize for it. That engine was solid. I used it for a ton of stuff over the years.

The easiest book was probably Video Game Programming for Kids, which sold very, very well, and the VB for Teens book sold on par. For a programming book, it’s rare to sell more than 20,000 copies. Most of them sell in the < 5,000 range. Those two sold 20,000 each. The shortest writing times, the least amount of work and stress, for the biggest return. I don’t know what to make of that. But it causes me to ponder my approach to writing fiction.

I released The Mandate of Earth in early 2015 and it quickly made it into the bestseller ranks alongside authors like Greg Bear and Orson Scott Card. Not bad for an indie with no marketing budget. But, after six months, sales dropped off completely. I’ve learned that this is fairly normal for fiction, especially in a niche market like “hard science fiction,” when sci-fi is already extremely niche. At any rate, that novel was a very long project of mine and I released it more for my own enjoyment than to make money. (It did bring in a good sum, too, while the hype lasted). I’d started that novel in 2003 during my lunch breaks at a job in Phoenix writing code for a healthcare company. 12 years later, after countless hours of revising and formatting (and learning the Kindle and paperback formatting), it was finally out in the world. I probably earned a dollar an hour on that novel, but it wasn’t about the money. That was a bonus. It sold about 1,000 copies (which is either good or bad, depending on your expectations for the indie market). I was thrilled with the sales. I would have enjoyed it if I could have retired–that’s the wish of every indie–but wasn’t expecting even 1,000. So, that was an enjoyable life achievement.

Lately, though, over the past two years, I’ve not been writing code or fiction, I’ve been driving thousands of miles per week in the family business. During that time, I’ve been taking notes. Any idea that occurs to me. The result is a document with 100 pages of story ideas. As soon as I find the time and energy, I’ll get back to writing.

And just to prove to myself that I haven’t lost my mojo, I challenged myself to write a mini-micro-short in a single evening, and pulled it off! I think it’s a pretty cool story about a time traveler who goes back to witness the death of Jesus Christ. I was tempted to post it but I’ll hold off until I figure out what I’m doing with this site, first.

Thanks for stopping by and reading (if you got this far). I would enjoy your comments if you care to share any.

Web Redux (New Site)

What do you think of the new site? Too austere? I’m going through a phase where I just like to see writing, black scratch on white, and not a lot of other crap in the way. I’m a writer so I prefer text over media these days. This post is an attempt to explain recent events…

I don’t consider myself lazy, but when my web host raised the price of hosting in order to “encourage” me to upgrade my ancient Linux host to a modern server, I debated whether to back up the old site and plug it into the new one. I debated with myself for months, actually. On the one hand, that’s a lot of posts over the past 15 or so years, so surely I want to save them all? On the other hand, they aren’t very relevant anymore. I mean, who wants to read about book announcements from 10 years ago? I’m not writing programming books any more, although I know there are still fans and teachers who use my books for their classes.

So, I sat on my hands, and in the end, I let all of the old content fade away like dust in the wind on the old server, and now, as you can tell from this dreadfully empty new site, it’s time to start over!

If you’re here looking for source code files, and I don’t have the portfolio rebuilt in time, fire off an email and let me know what you need (see the Contact page). I’m always happy to help a reader with source code files (long after the publisher has flaked out).

First step around here is to figure out which theme I want to use. Yes, I’m literally at that stage now! I have no idea, really. I want it to be simple and writer-friendly, as I plan to post short stories here more often than meandering thoughts.

It’s an interesting time, 2018. There was a time when I was passionate about a great many things. Not so much any more. I don’t care about politics or the economy (as long as the world doesn’t look like Fallout 4, we’re doing okay). I still play a TON of video games (look for my Xbox Live ID and Steam ID on the Contact page). It’s not that I feel apathetic toward life now, it’s that life is simpler. I’ve left the high-stress jobs behind and now I am doing something that has allowed me to pursue my love of reading. I’m on the road 10 hours per day, 50-60 hours per week, and during most of that time I listen to audiobooks (look me up on Goodreads, I welcome friend requests, and check out my reading list). The reason this is significant for me is, I’ve never been a fast reader, but audiobooks (via Audible) allow me to simulate being a fast reader, and I do pay attention, and rewind often. I can listen just fine on long stretches, but when in heavy traffic, my concentration is on the road.

I mentioned simplifying my life. Part of that process involved deleting all of my social media accounts. Well, by “all”, I mean, Facebook and Twitter, though I’m still very active on Goodreads, which is the only social media site I’m interested in now. I get a lot of book recommendations and enjoy chatting (usually arguing) with friends about new novels. Due to this employment “perk”, I’ve read 160 books in the past two years, with a goal of 70 this year (and I’m right on track). I read a lot of short story collections, and while I review shorts (in order to keep track), I don’t count them toward my reading challenge. I enjoy it. Goodreads is my go-to site nowadays. I would much rather “Like” a book or a friend’s review than do the same with a stupid cat video on FB.

I’ll post more about my writing career but after finishing two novels recently, I haven’t written anything else. What I’ve been doing instead is taking notes of every great story idea that comes to me. Would you believe in the last year it’s come to 100 pages of notes? Dozens and dozens of stories waiting to be written. And since I read (e.g. “listen”) so much now, including collections, I’m up to date on what’s been done, for the most part, and the ideas that come to me are always unique, as far as I know. Unique and absolutely mind blowing, otherwise I don’t jot them down. (Oh yeah, while driving, I send myself an email with transcribed notes any time an idea comes to me! Thank you, “OK Google”).