Chucking Rocks at the Universe - Serialised

Chucking Rocks Kindle - version 1.jpg

By Clarke Ching

Want updates?  http://www.rolls.rocks/throwing-rocks-blook/

Latest: 3000 words added on 26 June: (chapters 3, 4 and 5). Scroll down to them.

1. Confession

Wednesday, June 15, 20016 - 219 days remaining.

It is no accident I confess while we are in public.

'You’ve done what?’, says Winnie.

Winnie is my wife. We’re eating in a fabulous seafood restaurant in South Queensferry, in Scotland, looking across at the Forth Rail Bridge. Today is one of those miracle days that only comes around once a century, in Scotland. First, both of our workplaces are closed, so we’re off work on the same day. Second, our kids schools are open so they’re both at school. Third - somehow it’s not only not raining, it’s actually really, really sunny. We’ve just been for a nice long walk along the shore; we’ve just finished our delicious seafood starters and - in that lull, while we wait for our mains to arrive - I decide it’s a good time to confess.

I repeat myself, though I know she heard me clearly the first time. 'I’ve just announced, on Twitter and Facebook and Linked In, that I’m publishing my next book, on January the 20th, next year.’

She smiles. ‘Great! Which book is it?’

Which book indeed. In the last year, ever since I published my business novel, Rolling Rocks Downhill, I’ve started writing 6 small books, but not finished any of them. Why small books? Because, provided you’ve got something to say, writing small books is not only easier but also so, so, so much faster to write. And, given that a lot of 300 page business books are 50 pages of good stuff followed by 250 pages of fluff, smaller books are not only a far faster read, they’re also a far bigger bang-for-the-buck for most readers. Benefits not features, as the marketers say.

I figured all that out about 6 years into the 10 it eventually took me to write “Rolling Rocks Downhill”. That is, fundamentally, what agile is: delivering benefits incrementally, often. That is, kinda, what this new book is about, though I’m getting ahead of myself …

I smile, nervously. ‘Oh, It’s not one of the books I’ve been working. It’s a new one. I’m going to start writing it today.’

Winnie raises an eyebrow. ‘Let me check this: you’ve been having trouble finishing those books, so rather than knuckle down and finish one of them, your solution is to start a new one.’

‘Yup.’

‘Okay … What makes you think you can actually finish this one?’

I smile. ‘Well .. This time I have a plan.’

She smiles back, dubiously, I‘m sure, coz, to be fair, she’s heard this before. ‘Ah, a plan! I guess that makes perfect sense … to an ideas man.’

An ideas man. We both grew up on farms - albeit at opposite ends of the world, she Ireland, me New Zealand - and we both know that being called an “ideas man”, on a farm, is not a compliment. Ideas men are dreamers. They start stuff, but don’t finish it. They’re neither pragmatic, nor realistic. They don’t know how to milk a cow and they’re always leaving gates open so animals can escape and they’d rather go to the beach while the sun shines, than make hay, like that old saying advises. And stuff like that.

‘I prefer to think of myself as professionally curious.’

‘Ah ha.’

‘Actually, you will like my plan since, originally, it was your idea. I'm going to Serialize this book. I’ll publish it on a blog, one small installment at a time, then I’ll compile it, get it properly edited, and publish it as a proper, complete book.’

‘Like Dickens did with his books, but on the Internet!’

‘Ah ha.’

A few years earlier, when I first got my head around the agile way of working, I got all excited and told Winnie all about it. She listened, nodded in all the right places, then told me that’s exactly how Charles Dickens wrote most of his novels. I did a bit of googling and it turns out he wrote each series as a bunch of 32-page installments. They sold for a (very affordable) shilling, and when he’d finished them all, he batched them up and published them as a complete book. These days TV and radio shows follow the same model today - they’ll start with a high-level plan for the entire series/season, then they write, film, edit and broadcast one episode at a time, and then, when the season is finished, it’s box-set time.

Writing this way had a lot of advantages for Dickens and for his readers.

First, back then books were shockingly expensive, so this was, in some ways, a way for readers to “pay in instalments”, like we sometimes do these days with cars, houses, couches, electronics and other bigger purchases.

Second, although Dickens most likely wrote a plan and outline before publishing his first instalment, he wrote each instalment “just in time”, which allowed him to pull revenue in early and react to his readers feedback, adapting the coming story if need be.

And, third, just like today’s soap operas and other tv and radio series, he could write in a way where each instalment ended on a small cliffhanger, leaving a gap in his audience’s heads which they could only fill by buying the next instalment.

It was a clever business model - iterative, incremental, delivering value often, with great cash flow.

I tell Winnie that although I couldn’t find any details on the Internet about how Dickens wrote his serials in that iterative and incremental way, I figured that, I could write my “Chucking Rocks at the Universe” serially, provided I chose the content carefully and wrote a loose outline upfront.

I say, ‘I am, actually, going to practice what I preach to others. I’ve fixed my date; I will flex my scope, and I’ll work in a way that helps me deliver good quality product day-after-day-after-day.

A party of 4 well-dressed, retirees arrives at the top of the steps leading into the restaurant. Inside or outside? They eye the empty table next to us, but, thankfully, decide to eat inside. It’s sunny, but the sea breeze is cool.

Winnie says, ‘Two questions. First, how will you stop yourself abandoning this book and starting another?’

‘I’ve just gone public with the release date.’

She tilts her head to one side, thinks a moment. ‘A public commitment. You hope you’ll feel compelled to keep the date, to avoid embarrassment.’

‘Yes. The date is a promise, not wishful thinking.’

‘January, next year?’

‘January 20th, 2017. It’s the 25th anniversary of the first day I started my first job working as a programmer.’

‘I didn’t know that!’

‘I’m older than I look.’

The waitress arrives and clears away our plates. We say thank you, but don’t talk until she’s gone.

‘Okay, Mr Ideas Man. Second question: What’s the book about then?’

‘I don’t know.’

2. Confession continued

Winnie pushes back in her chair and folds her arms. ‘You’ve announced the book and the date you’re going to publish, but you don’t know what it’s about? Isn’t that all a bit cart-before-horse and arse-before-elbow?’

I shake my head. ‘Not really. That’s a very common way of doing Agile projects: you fix the date, but keep the scope variable. Apple do it all the time: they plan their announcement shows, but, apart from a few deliberate leaks, they’re extremely secretive about what they’re actually announcing. That gives them a lot of flexibility, because if things go wrong, no one knows.’

‘But you’re going to be writing your book in public! It’s not the same at all!’

I scrunch up my face. ‘It’s not entirely different either. I will name some of my content up front, but I’ve got a lot of flexibility with how much time I spend writing each bit of it, and I’ll be keeping a few of my rabbits up my sleeve. I know you’re only hearing this now, but I have been thinking about this for a few weeks.’

‘Okay… What’s going on in your head just now?’’

I hold my hand out in front of me and fold the fingers down as I list things. ‘‘One, I’ve got a few themes running through my head. Two, I’ve got a tentative title. Three, I’ve got a cover. Four, I’ve got an idea of some of the content. Five, I know I’m going to write it as creative non-fiction. I know …’

‘Creative non-fiction?’

‘That’s writerly talk for non-fiction that’s written using story-telling techniques that’re more commonly used by fiction writers.’

‘Okay. I like reading that kinda stuff. I didn’t know it had a name.’

I carry on with my list. ‘Six, I know I’ll try very hard to publish on the 20th of January. Seven, I know I’ll need to be flexible with the content. And, eight, I know I’ll Serialize it. True, I still need to figure out how to write serially without painting myself into a corner and I need to figure out if I can deliver something clarke-worthy on the 20th.

Winnie says, ‘You’re better looking a little embarrassed because you miss the date than a lot embarrassed because you write an embarrassing book.’

‘Indeed. Also, I still need to figure out the WIIFY. And, I need …’

She pinches her nose. ‘What’s Wiffy? Do you want your book to stink?’.

Two waitresses arrive, one carrying a large platter of seafood and a large bowl of thinly-cut fries, the other carrys a finger bowl with water for cleaning your fingers and an empty bowl, for the finished mussel shells. They place them on the table and, as soon as they’re gone, we start eating. I help myself to a couple of mussels and Winnie devours a shrimp.

I don’t want to talk all over the food, so I wait a couple of minutes before I say, ‘The WIIFY is the What’s-In-It-For-You. That’s marketing-speak for the reasons why anyone would bother their arse reading the book. There’re a lot of books out there and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time writing something they don’t find useful.’

She says, ‘You don’t want to ruin your reputation, either.’

‘No.’

She nods, thoughtfully, I think, as she processes my plans. We continue munching away on the chips and fish. We watch as a small, white tourist boat circles around one of the giant red bases of the Forth Rail bridge. We did the trip years ago, when the kids were smaller. We agree that we must take the kids on it one day over the summer.

Eventually, Winnie pulls her iPhone from her handbag. A moment and a few taps later she nods. “Nice looking cover.”

Phew. I nod, relieved, since I knew she’d have told me if it looked too crap. The last time I made a cover was for Rolling Rocks Downhill and it took a couple of weeks and cost me £500. This new cover cost me 30 minutes of my time and a dollar, for the image. I thought it looked … okay. It was unlikely to be the final cover but it was good enough to help get things started.

I say, ‘I might change it.’

She nods.

‘The title might change too.’

She nods again. ‘Chucking Rocks at the Universe. What’s that mean?’

‘It might sound a bit dorky if I explain it.’

‘You’re safe with me - I’ve always thought you’re a dork.’

‘Well, you know Steve Jobs, right? He said we’re here to put a dent in the universe. So this is, kinda, like, my story of how I’ve tried to put my little dent in the universe.’

‘By throwing rocks at it?’

‘Yeah. It didn’t work very well. Whenever I threw rocks, someone just threw bigger rocks back at me.’

‘You’re an ideas man, but for a long time you didn’t know how to sell your ideas. You do now, though.’

‘Yeah - I guess. You know, I chat with a lot of ideas people - people like me - and most of them are really frustrated because, no matter how clever they are, no matter how good their ideas are, they often don’t get listened too. I’m wondering if I can share some of the things I’ve figured out.’

‘Storytelling? Reframing? Strategic Compromise. Skeuomorphs? Stuff like that?’

‘Yeah. Though, I’m not sure how well I can write that stuff. I’m only figuring it out as I go. Maybe it’ll just be a theme that runs through the book, rather than the core idea.’

‘Okay.’

‘So, what else is the book about then?’

‘Ummmmmm …. Well … It’s … It’s a bit like my life story, about how I discovered TOC and Agile, and, why, these days, I tend to approach Agile a little different to most people.’

‘Your life story!’

‘Sort of. My life story - but with the boring bits taken out.’

She grinned, in a friendly, cheeky way. ‘So. It will be a really short book then?’

I stick my tongue out at her.

We agree to leave the “work” topics alone for a while and, instead, just enjoy our lunch.

3. Plotters and Pantsers

Winnie waits outside the restaurant, in the sun, while I go in and pay for lunch. I’m surprised to find the restaurant full inside, especially when there were seats free outside in the sun - each to their own, I guess. I’m even more surprised when I get the bill: it was pricey, but - when I think about it - very good value considering how much we enjoyed the food and the experience. As I step back out into the courtyard, Winnie stands and we both take a moment to look out onto the Firth of Forth.

(The name, Firth of Forth, has always confused me, so I looked it up: “Firth” is the Scottish word for estuary and has a common linguistic history with the norse word “Fjord”; the “Forth” refers to the River Forth - the river that flows through the estuary).

We start walking towards our car, which is parked quarter of a mile away, behind the local curry shop.

Barely a moment passes before Winnie says, 'Seriously, what makes you think you can safely deliver a full-blown book on the 20th January? I mean, you haven't even figured out your bare-minimum content yet, so that means you can't have a plan. Please tell me it's more than just a leap of faith?'

Fair question. I explain that I picked the date because it felt aggressive, which meant I'd have a low chance of delivering on-time or early, without changing the way I work. Since I'm treating the date as a promise, I feel compelled to speed up in order to make the date safe.'

'What do you mean by safe?'

'By safe, I mean that I am very likely to ship on, or before, January 20th, although there is a small chance I'll miss that date.'

'How's that work?'

I say, 'I know I'm not nearly as productive as I can be just now, but I know I can write much faster, by putting myself under a little pressure and adopting a few new routines and habits. I don't know what they are, but it might involve less Twitter and less Facebook and waking up earlier most mornings.'

She nods, a couple of times, then she turns to me and scowls. 'I get that, but you still haven't answered my question: what makes you think you can hit the date? What evidence have you got?'

'Well, I know I can write a lot faster than I have been. And, I know that a lot of self-published authors - the guys who make a living from it - succeed because they've figured out how to knuckle down, get focused, and just write. Their word counts are astronomical. I'll copy some of their techniques and I'll manage my work in an agile way.'

She shakes her head. 'That's not evidence.'

'Okay, My evidence is that I did a gut check: I asked myself if knuckled-down could I deliver a book in 3 months? and my gut said No way so I asked myself could I deliver a book in a year? and that made me nervous for a whole different reason - my gut said that was way too long, with way too much wiggle room, and my brain said I'd just fritter away all that extra time. So I split the difference, and my gut said that 7 months felt just right.'

'"Just right"? Your gut used the Goldilocks method?'

I say, 'Huh?', because I haven't heard of that method, but then I think about it - too cold; too hot; just right - and say, 'Yeah. Exactly. The Goldilocks method.'

She says nothing for a moment then lowers her voice so I can barely hear her. 'Well, that's nice but your gut also told me you could write your Rolling Rocks Downhill in eighteen months! It actually took you ten years! I'm not sure I trust your gut ... '

'Umm ...'. I wave my hand in front of me. 'I was naive back then. I've published a book people like since then ... Umm.'

She slows and turns to face me as we walk, 'I'm not trying to squash your enthusiasm. You know that?'

'Yeah.'

'I just don't want you embarrassing yourself in public when you miss this date and finally publish this new book in 5 years time, on your 30th work anniversary, not your 25th.'

I say, 'Me neither ... Look, perhaps I should've delayed my announcement until I'd done a little more homework, but ... honestly, you know what? It felt so good putting the date out there, declaring my intentions to the world. It made it ... real?'

Actually, you know what? Truthfully, it felt a whole lot better than good. I can't deny it: I crave action, I crave feedback. And, above all, I crave movement and momentumm. Those sensible things like outlining and planning don't give me that buzz but I do them because I know from experience that, if I don't, I know I won't succeed.

Writing experts talk a lot about two types of writers: "pantsers", the people who don't outline or plan, preferring to dive in and write by the seat of their pants, and see where their finger tips take the story, and "plotters", the sensible folk who figure out what's going to happen, in what order, long before they start writing. A lot of amateur writers who "pants" it make a lot of initial progress but then end up writing a mess and then either abandon their book, rework it for years (that's me), or start again using an outline (that's me too). Not every pantser fails, though: Stephen King and Lee Child are both pantsers but they still manage to churn out bestseller after bestseller.

In my day job, I find that most programmers are like pantsers. They crave action, and hate all the sensible stuff like planning. I don't fault them for that. When I was a programmer, that's how I was. It wasn't until I was made a project manager, one day, when no one else wanted the job, that I learned that Project Managers do want action and they do want progress - of course they do - but they also need to be reliable and to get that they need to ensure their projects are in control.

That word "control" freaks some people out, so, let me clarify: I don't mean "in control" like they're control freaks (though some are), I mean it in the same sense as when you're driving a car and you're in control - because if you're driving and out of control, you're going to crash.

In software development, the programming and the managing are usually done by different people. In writing, editors often act as project managers for their writers, setting them deadlines and trying to motivate them. And, in my case now, this scenario where I am writing and self-publishing, I'm both doing the work and managing the work and I'm gonna need to fight the pull of the keyboard, and do enough planning up front, and tracking as I go, that my book project is in control and I deliver on time.

I'm lucky I've got Winnie there - she's like my steering committee, nudging me along and making sure I do the stuff I don't enjoy so much.

She, btw, says, 'Okay ...'.

We walk in silence for a minute then Winnie says, ‘I did some googling while you were in the restaurant paying.’

'Googling?'

4. The Pickwick Project

Winnie says, ‘I google Charles Dickens and did you know his first book, The Pickwick Papers, was something like 300,000 words long?'

'That's enormous!' My book was 72,000 words.

'He published it serially as 20 monthly instalments? By my calculations, assuming they were all about the same size, then each installment was 15,000 words long.’

She pauses, giving me time to do the math.

'Wow! He wrote three-and-a-half-thousand words a week.'

She nods. 'And they weren't just draft words - words that still need to be rewritten and edited - they were published words.'

I say, 'And he was writing by hand.'

She says, ‘That got me thinking. How many words will be in each of your instalments, given you're blogging?'

I say, ‘Clearly, fifteen-thousand words is waayyyyy too big for one blog post - people just don't read blog posts that big. I expect my posts will be between 500 and 1,500 words long.'

'That'll be easier for your readers.'

'Yes, but it makes it a little harder for me. Unlike normal blogs, my posts don't stand alone - they're not independent of each other and the order matters - so I'll need to prepare an outline up front. And then I'll need to write in a rolling wave - always drafting at least the next three or four posts, and then, every few days, dedicate a little time to polishing, then publishing, the first one.'

I check her face and she looks happy with that.

She stops and we pop into one of South Queen's Ferry's touristy craft shop, full of nice looking stuff - paintings, jewellery, post-cards, loads of locally made craft. It's not my sorta place but I soon find gold in the shop’s back room - comedy gold, not real gold.

There's a window in the back wall. It looks straight out on to the Firth and, if you stretch your neck, you can make out the red rail bridge in the distance. The staff have hung a Star Wars themed t-shirt beside it. It has a hand drawn mockup of the forth rail bridge on it, with it’s three red arches transformed into 3 Star Wars Imperial Walkers. The caption reads, “MAY THE FORTH BE WITH YOU.”

Here’s my version:

You can see & buy the original here.

We leave the shop, empty-handed, and continued on to our car.

We’ve only gone a few yards when Winnie says, ’Next question: How long will the final book be on the 20th of January?

‘That depends on how fast I write!’

‘Yeah, but there’s gotta be minimum word count, otherwise it’s not worth writing, don’t ya think?’

‘Fair enough.' I think a moment. 'The minimum is probably around 30,000 words. That’s a reasonable size, these days, for a smallish kindle book.’

‘And the maximum word count?’

‘About 70,000 words? Rolling Rocks Downhill is 72,000 words. I could write more than that … but more words doesn’t necessarily make it better, it just makes it longer.’

‘Of course. It’s the overall quality that counts.’

'Oh yes.' I nod, recalling how I spent the last 9 months of my 10 year writing saga, chopping Rolling Rocks Downhill from about 130,000 words to 80,000, before handing it over to my editor, who - some how - magic, maybe? - chopped another 8,000 words out. The smaller the book got, the easier and clearer it was to read -and the more enjoyable too.

I spent those months ploughing through the book, paragraph by paragraph, chopping every extraneous word out, hacking out whole paragraphs if I thought the story could still work without them, and, once, I even replaced two entire chapters - about 4,000 words worth - with a single 200 word summary paragraph. Oh, wow, that hurt - it took me months to write those chapters, but that’s the writing process, you start small, grow, then chopback. Diverge, Converge, repeat.

Funny thing is: I can't remember what those chapters were about and no one has complained that they're missing ...

My writing books say you must “Kill your darlings”, which is great advice, though no one likes to kill their darlings. It hurts. My biggest “kill” happened a week before I handed the book over to my editor, when I suddenly realised, while walking down the hill towards work, that my book wasn’t structured right. I fixed that by removing the entire last Act, quickly tweaking 3 or 4 chapters, and then voila, 20,000 words had disappeared and my final draft was complete, ready for editing.

Often, less is more. It’s true in books. It’s true in software projects. That’s the good news - the pain is worth it. The bad news: Less is, often, a whole lot more work.

In fact, just now I'm looking up at this, and the four previous, paragraphs (starting from "I spent those months ...") and I'm wondering if I should chop them out. Do they add value? Are they interesting enough to keep? Would the book be better without them? What do you think? If I'm just chasing word count, then keep there’s roughly 300 words there and I should keep them in; if I'm chasing a quality read, maybe I should have chopped them out.

I’ve left those words in, to try and help you feel a little empathy for the writer - it’s more than just typing. Do me a favor, will you, and read back over those 4 paragraphs and see what you think? Imagine writing them, rewriting them, and then having to decide whether you kill them - or not. It's hard work writing books.

Winnie says, ’Let’s go with that: your final book will be between 30 and 70 thousand words.'

I say, 'Sold', and then, having heard those numbers my project suddenly felt a whole lot more real.

Just as suddenly, I see, in my minds eye, my bare minimum book: It starts with a 5,000 word introduction, followed by four 5,000 word chapters, followed by a 5,000 word close.

I smile to myself. Thirty-thousand words made up of 6 instalments, each published, initially, serially, as a handful of blog posts.

Coincidentally, I have 7 months ahead of me. If I write one instalment a month, that takes me through to December, and I can then use January to wrap up the book and publish it.

Viola! (I sometimes wish I'd studied French).

How hard could that be?

5. Jason

I explain my one-instalment a month theory to Winnie, then say, 'I think I'll call each instalment July, August, September, and so on.'

It occurrs to me that, by naming them like that, I'd just described a very high-level plan:

JASONDJ

(And then something else occurs to me: who is Jason? And who hid his name in our calendar? Spooky)

She nods. 'Okay ... so that means, to deliver your minimum, you need to write 5,000 good quality words a month. That's a little over 1,000 a week. Can you write that fast?’

'Honestly?' I shrug, then chuckled, nervously. 'I have no idea.'

'You must have some idea - other than gut feel.’

I say, ’Well ... if Dickens could write and publish 15,000 words a month, then, surely, given how much technology has come on since then, I must surely be able to easily write 5,000 words a month.’

‘Maybe … But, look, Dickens was one of history’s most skilled and prolific writers. No offence but you’re not Dickens.’ Ouch - true, but, still, ouch. ‘Plus, writing was his full time job and you’re writing in your spare time. And, seriously, there must be a better way to figure out how many words you can write a month, than dividing Dickens' number by 3.'

'Umm.'

We walk back to the car.

In silence.

I stop noticing what a lovely day it is as I get lost in my thoughts, wishing I’d maybe not made that public announcement after all, let alone confessed it to my lovely wife without doing a little more homework first. More than that: I'm miffed at myself that I haven't practiced what I preach, and gone and made a promise before I new I could keep it.

So, there I was faced with the fundamental question faced by pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on: How long will it take?

My mind wanders and I start thinking about an Agile software development project I'd helped out some time ago.

We were reviewing the project plan, trying to figure out if the project could be delivered on the date that had already been promised. According to the Project Managers’ plan it could. We examined the plan and, you know what, it looked solid - they’d done a good job figuring out the tasks, getting estimates from the development teams, then designing the project so it would deliver quickly. Likewise, the development team had done just as solid a job, and knew how to build software up incrementally. And, most importantly, the senior managers had even sat down with the project's customers and they'd agreed a bare bones scope which - if they got lucky and finished buidling the bare-minimum sooner than expected, they’d keep growing the software until it was time to launch.

But here’s the problem. The plan looked good until I picked a random task and asked “just checking, but would anyone be surprised if this particular task took twice is long?" and no one said no or shook their head, so I asked the same question for another task, and another, and another, and got the same answer. Just like that, the whole plan - and the viability of the entire project - didn't look so good any more. Everyone had done a good job, but All of the task estimates were educated guesses and no one would have been suprised had they ran, say 20% faster than the plan indicated, or 50% slower.

Back to my serial book, I am in the same situation.

My writing “plan” currently, determined by working backwards, and dividing 30,000 by 6, looks like this:

JASONDJ.

If I write faster, it could look like this:

JASOND

Or, if I’m slower, it could look lik this:

JASONDJFMAMAMJJA

So, three possible plans, each of them plausible, none of them based on any evidence.

So, what do I know?

I’m positive I’ll write many times faster than my RRD run-rate of 600 words/m. I wrote my 8,000 word book, Rocks into Gold, sporadically, over 3 or 4 months - an easy 2,500 words a month. I’ve written over a dozen 1,000 word articles over the years and, although, they normally took me weeks, though I did write one in 2. Could I write one of them a week? Maybe, now I’ve much more experience writing, I could.

I don't want to sound like an investment banker, but I’m thinking that my past performance is not necessarily a good indicator of my future performance.

So taking those 3 examples, I make a bundle of assumptions, do some quick maths and come up with a range: from 600 words a month (RRD) to 10,000 a month (based on the 2 hour article).

Is that helpful?

In a way, no: It doesn't tell me whether I can keep my promised date or not. I might possibly be able to write 5,000 words a month, I might not. Can’t say.

In a way, yes: It tells me that there's too much uncertainty, just now, given my track record, to know whether I can deliver a 30,000 book by January.

So, what could I do? In the software project I mentioned above, the team decided they only had two options left open to them: they could either cross their fingers and go for it (which is what many projects do in that situation) or they could judiciously add a few extra staff. They chose the later, because it would have cost them a lot of more money in lost revenue, if they ran late, than it would cost to hire some contractors.

I don’t want to cross my fingers. I’m not going to get someone to ghost write for me.

So … hmmm … I’ll need to do something else.

But I don’t know what to do.

Winnie and I reach the car park, we get to the car, hop in, and buckle up.

I turn to Winnie and smile, though I actually feel quite glum. ‘Thanks for listening to me jabber on. And for helping.’

She smiles back. ‘You’re welcome.’

I reverse out of the car park, change into first gear and slowly manoeuvre out. I look at the car's clock. We’ve got time up our sleeves before the kids get home from school.

I say, ‘Do you think the kids would like a BBQ tonight?’

She turns to look at me, raises an eyebrow. ’Would you like a BBQ tonight?’

‘I’d LOVE a BBQ tonight. We go past the farm shop on the way home. We could get some sausages, and I could maybe butterfly grill a small chicken?’

She smiles and says, ‘Okay.’

I pull out of the car park, onto the main road, and start driving towards the farm shop. As I drive hear a voice in the back of my head. It’s the pantser part of my brain. I try to ignore him, but it’s hard, because he’s an insistant little bugger and, it seems, the more I ignore him, the louder he shouts.

Eventually, I give in, just for a moment, and listen.

He surprises me with a very good suggestion.

It wasn't what I'd planned.