Task Management the RPG way: HabitRPG

So you’re probably noticed that the Cafe has been seeing more business as of late. It’s true, I have been posting more…if not every week, then at least every other week or so.  That’s because I found something to keep me on task, and so far it’s been successful.

I play HabitRPG. And I am getting so Much. DONE.

Pairing task management with a role playing game has been done before. I was interested in EpicWin, but they never released it for Android (plus, I don’t think it’s updating anymore). I tried the Android app Task Hammer, but grew bored with it. None of the characters were customizable, and there was no real incentive, other than a pretty sound once I completed a level. I use Outlook to keep track of my submissions, which usually keeps me on track. The problem with Outlook tasks is that it’s easy to ignore, and it’s a plain ole task list. I can put tasks on, and make tasks from email, but once the overdue time passes, it’s still easy to ignore. I’m good with keeping track of my submissions, but any other task, I don’t do so well on.

HabitRPG is a website that pairs task management with the incentive of role playing games. But it’s much more than just a task list. It helps you to develop daily habits.

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As a character, you get an experience bar and a health bar. You do a task, you get points and money. But if you don’t do some tasks, your health goes down. Lose too much health, you die. Luckily, get enough experience points to level up, and your health bar resets to full again. You can even form parties with several people to keep everyone accountable.

There are three columns (well, four, but ignore the last column for a moment). Habits are things you want to do overall. You get points for doing them or in some cases, your health suffers. So for instance, I have a plus/minus by use the standing desk. If I do that once a day, I can click the plus button and get experience points. However, if I found I’ve been sitting all day and I ache all over, I click the minus button and my health goes down (and for reals–if I sit all day, I feel incredibly sore).

Dailies are tasks you want to do every day. This is good if you have big projects that you want to focus a certain amount of time on each day (the days can be also customized so you can do it on workdays or weekends, or two days a week, etc).  Dailies are renewed each day–if you have valid ones left over from the previous day, your health takes a hit. If you don’t do a certain daily for a while, it turns red. The redder it gets, the more health it takes off. Conversely, if you check off the red one, you get more experience points and more money.

Todos is a regular task list. You won’t get penalized if you don’t do them in the day. However, they do age–the older they get, the redder they become. Again, the incentive is to get you to do those tasks you neglect, so if you get around to checking off the red todos, you get more experience points and money.

What do you do with those points and money? Buy stuff, of course! The fourth column lists all the weapons and gear you can get–usually to help slow down the health you lose or to increase how much experience points you get. You can also buy pets, although they’ve implemented a new feature so that you can randomly find eggs and hatching potions by checking off tasks.

What really impressed me about HabitRPG, though, is the community. there’s an active blog and forum, and, if you’re into geekery and programming, you can go on GitHub and suggest features, as well as go on Trello and see what projects are being worked on. I know for instance, they’re working on a Android mobile app—Trello shows me where they are in the process (Plus, it’s fascinating to see the programming process it.)

HabitRPG has really been good for me. I like the incentives.  I like dressing up my little avatar (which is dark-skinned like me and doesn’t have armored boobs getting in my way. I mean, seriously, TaskHammer so ticked me off). And seeing what they plan to put it in, I love to stay with it for the long haul. And once this goes live, it’ll be so satisfying about checking off a Blog: HabitRPG box and seeing how much I can get for it.

Maybe I’ll get a tiger egg this time!

(Okay so tigers don’t really come from eggs, but hey, it’s an RPG. Anything can happen)

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m familiar with Saladin’s short fiction and been wanting to read this for a while.

This book really appealed to my spiritual self. I loved how Adoulla and Raseed had different views of their faith. Raseed being more the literal, by the book conservative while Adoulla was more relaxed and liberal. And it was so cool to see Adoulla using God’s name to fight the ghuls. Also, Saladin is the best blasphemer ever. The insults in this book had me in tears.

I also liked the depiction of the different relationships, particularly the tension between Adoulla and Miri. The book did slow down in the middle, where I found myself skipping a lot of talking scenes. But the story itself was good, and the action scenes, particularly towards the end of the book, had me riveted. It has me all psyched up for the next book. Four cardamon teas out of five.

View all my reviews

Outlining and Using [insert placeholder here] to write faster

Last year around this time (was it really last year?) I was spazzing out on my writing. It felt like it was taking me forever to do things. And then, I got the revelation to trust my words. I decided to hold off on any new short story writing while I worked on Willow. It’s been a year, and I’m now halfway through. I’ve been workshopping Willow to a new writer’s group I’ve been attending, and that has been super effective.

Well, a couple of months ago, I was asked to submit a short story to an anthology that had the deadline of April 1. It just so happened that I had a story idea I thought would fit perfectly with the anthology’s theme. The only thing was, it wasn’t written out. All I had was a scene and a vague idea of the format I wanted to use, and that was it.

Usually, when I do a story, I write it out first, sit on it a bit while I research, write a second draft, sit on it while I do more research, then fine tune fine tune fine tune until I reach a point where I get sick enough of the story to stop working on it and send it to beta readers. This time,I decided to try something new.

Instead of writing out the story and figuring out what needed to be done, I would outline, research and finally write the story. In that order.

This was inspired by Writing Excuses podcast, specifically the episode where Mary Robinette Kowal showed her writing process, from Brainstorming to outlining to writing. This is similar to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, another style of outlining, but up to this point, I haven’t really tried it, mainly because I’m an organic writer, someone who likes to figure out the style of the story as I write. For the outlining style, basically, I wrote out the main idea of my story, then expanded it to a synopsis, then expanded that to a scene-by-scene outline. I used the outline to figure out what to research, then adjusted the outline to add in what I learned from my research. I then wrote the story, fine-tuned the outline from what I wrote, then used that to fine-tune the story, sent it to beta readers, got their feedback, did a final draft, then I was done.

I also tried another new writerly thing I’ve grown enamored over, which was mainly stepping up my use of placeholders. I’ve always been a writer who would sit and stare as I turn a phrase over and over in my head to get it just right. Thus, while I write really good stories, my writing tends to be very, very slow.

Within the past few months however, I’ve been using placeholders more and more, particularly while working on my novel. I find if I get stuck on something, if I don’t figure it out within a few minutes, it’s better to make a note about it and move on with editing. 9 times out of ten, when I come back to that note, I know what I want to say; sometimes, even in the process of making that note to myself.

I’m starting to use tricks, like for instance, instead of stopping my writing and searching for a character’s name, I type @@CHARACTER NAME HERE and continue writing the story. When I come back to it the next day, I search for all the @@ and plug the information in. It’s enough to get me back into the story. I also use the “Insert Annotation feature” in Word to write notes to myself, such as what feeling I want to invoke in a scene,  or “I want something that tastes like the color blue here. What tastes like blue?” If I’m not happy with a word, I highlight it in yellow. Then if a better word comes along, I can plug it in.

I know, I know, every writer knows about placeholders . Even I was using placeholders to a degree. But forcing myself to put them in if I was just diddling with a passage, in allowing myself to say, it’s okay to come back to it, just keep moving with the editing, it’s increased my writing speed. In some cases, in the course of rewriting, I may do away with the sentence altogether, which means that placeholder is no longer needed. I feel like suddenly, I have REVISION SUPERPOWERS!

I finished this short story in two months.  And I didn’t start the actual writing of the story until the second month.

I’m floored by how quickly I was able to churn this story out. Normally it would take me up to six months to do a short story. Granted, this was a 5000 word short story. I haven’t seen what would happen if I did this with a longer story. What I can say is that outlining gave me the ability to gauge what I could put into the story to approximate the world count. I’m going to try it again with another short story that has a word count of 7500 and see if I can get the same results.

I’m also trying to incorporate this into Willow. I already have an outline, and the book written. Bust instead of going back and rewriting previous chapters as I edit, I just make notes in them for me to come back to later. It makes me wince, knowing that I’ll have to do another revision pass, but at the same time, I’m making my notes more detailed, so that all I need to do is plug in those revisions in the next pass. I’m also having my book beta read, which means that those notes will tighten up the story enough that after that next revision pass, the book will be the best I could make it.

I don’t think I’ll do every story this way. I’ve got another story that I’ve written out the normal organic way, and I’m having just as much fun working on that. But I have to admit, outlining really works. I like to think it’s helping me grow as a writer. And if not [INSERT SOME METAPHOR HERE].

Edit: And whaddya know…the story sold! Look for more information soon about it.

RIP, Roger Ebert

Back when I wrote fanfiction on the FanFiction Mailing List (FFML), I used to critique fanfics by writing "R&R Reviews", which had the characters Ranma & Ryoga from the anime Ranma 1/2 giving reviews just like Siskel & Ebert’s "Sneak Previews", but with more fighting. I even ripped the opening theme to "Sneak Previews" as a sort of homage.

That’s how iconic Ebert was–his signature style was instantly recognizable, even in anime fanfic.

I don’t write fanfiction anymore. I don’t watch movies all that much anymore either. But Roger Ebert was a great influence in my life. I appreciated his reviews. I also appreciated his written works. His writing had a wonderful, clear, humorous, deep quality to it that made nonfiction fun to read. Even when I had moved on and only kept up with him off and on through the Internet, I enjoyed his wit, charisma and insight.

So, for old times sake:

(The familiar whistling music from the tv show ‘Sneak Previews’ begins to
play. Ranma is seen coming out of the Tendo Dojo and casually walking up
the street. Next, Ryoga crawls out of a tent, stretches, stuffs everything
into his backpack, and begins walking. Ranma is seen buying rice balls from a
stand. Ryoga is still walking on the street. Ranma walks in front of a
theater and looks about. Ryoga is looking bewildered as he stands in the
middle of a forest. Ranma looks at his watch and frowns. Ryoga is talking
to an eskimo who points in one direction, and Ryoga begins walking the
opposite way. Ranma shrugs, goes into the theater, runs up the stairs, and
takes his seat in the balcony. Cut to the theater’s front again. Ranma
begins eating his rice balls. Suddenly the wall caves in and Ryoga emerges,
looking pissed. Ranma begins shouting at Ryoga, who shouts back. They get
into a fight and fall over the balcony, and the camera pans away to the movie screen, which displays the words: R&R REVIEWS.)

(The lights go off except for a spotlight, highlighting LaShawn, standing on the balcony.)

LS: Mr. Ebert, thank you. Your words and reviews will remain, but you will be sorely missed.

(LaShawn leaves the balcony. The spotlight shines on the empty balcony for a period of time.)

(Then it shuts off.)