2012-09-28

Backup plan saves the day


About a week ago my wife’s hard drive began reporting eminent failure from the drive's SMART system.  I've been working 12-hour nights and I let it go, hoping it would last.  I did, however, create a system image just in case it didn't last much longer.

The other day, it began sporadically rebooting. I pulled her failing HD out and replaced it with an identical one from a system I had retired a year ago but kept around in case I needed it.  I fired the computer up with the Windows Recovery CD and restored her entire system in about an hour. Twenty-four hours went by and then I got a call at work telling me that the Quicken file we use to track our money was out of date. Oops! I had totally forgotten that Quicken was the ONLY program that stored data on the C: drive!

I was not worried though. Because of how I had set up our backups everything was easily fixed. I use I-Drive to back up our financial stuff. Quicken makes a backup copy after every 5th time it is closed. I also have a batch file that runs daily to copy the Quicken master file and backups over to the I-Drive which is cloud storage. You might be thinking that I was still out of luck since the daily backup would have already overwritten the cloud version with the older version – and it did. But, I-Drive maintains a history of previous versions. It was a simple matter to go find the version that existed prior to the HD replacement and restore it. All my wife had to do is reenter the changes from a day ago – a piece of cake since I told her to keep the receipts set aside until I fixed the issue.

The above situation simply proves a point I’ve been trying to impress upon others for a long time – hard drives can and do fail and having a good backup system in place can prevent data loss. I use I-Drive to backup my financial data and Dropbox to synchronize my book files between the various computers I might be using. I also have a large 2 TB network drive (Seagate GoFlex Home if you're curious) that is used to back up all of the other data I have laying around.  I periodically make system images which are stored on external drives.  I keep my data (well most of it anyway) separate from the operating system drive.  For the REALLY important stuff I have a small portable drive that either sits in our firebox or in the bank's safe deposit box.  

I have always been a fanatic about backing things up – and now I know why.  Now it's time to write!

2012-09-24

Writer's block and how I overcame it

It happens to every writer-the dreaded blank mind-writer's block.  It might last 60 seconds, an hour, all day, or for much, much longer.  This happened to me while working on Peacekeeper.  I had just finished writing a scene and was about to begin chapter 15.  Nothing, nada, a blank mind.  Crap!  I have a rare opportunity to spend 4 hours writing and I've got nothing. Crap!

Writer's block can be devastating to a writer who thinks they must write a certain number of words each day.  I write what I can, when I can and when writer's block hits I have to put writing aside and let my subconscious mind work its magic.  I close down Scrivener, get up, and walk away.  But, I don't stop thinking about the problem.  I do other things to help take my mind off the novel.  I read, mow the lawn, get things done around the house, watch TV, or surf the web.  The trick for me is to get my mind on something else allowing the subconscious to work.  I will periodically check back with the problem, reminding my hidden self that there's something that needs resolved.  I think about the problem driving to work, while taking a shower, and as I'm trying to go to sleep.  The last seems to work best.

This time the block lasted 3 days.  The solution, as it normally does, came to me seemingly out of the blue.  I was sitting on the couch with my wife watching TV when my subconscious alerted me to the fact that it had solved the problem.  An entire scene suddenly popped into my head.  Being a good husband, I didn't just get up and run to the computer room.  I will admit that my interest in the program playing on the set was now close to zero.  I ran the scene over in my head, told my wife about the epiphany, and then proceeded to fill in the details.  By the time my wife had to go to bed, the scene was clear with words on standby to be typed.

I was working my way into a night-shift schedule and after my wife hit the hay I hit the keyboard.  I managed to hammer out quite a bit before sleep started to interfere.  I was forced to go to bed with more words ready to write.  The next day I continued writing and as I did the next scene unfolded without any problems.

If writer's block strikes, perhaps simply walking away for awhile will help break it.  The subconscious mind is a wonderful, incredible, tool.  Let it do it's job and keep prodding it until it produces an answer.  Peacekeeper is now at 29,300 words.  Hopefully, I will have time from 0300 until 0630 (I work from 1830 till 0630 but the second-shift crew doesn't leave until 0300) for the next 3 days while I'm on night shift to add to that count.

Just finished "Beginnings, Middles & Ends" by Nancy Kress.  You can read my review on GoodReads at: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68317.Beginnings_Middles_Ends.  I'm now starting a rather thick book titled "Philosophical Explanations".

2012-09-16

Time management

Jake Kerr, a fellow Launchpad 12 attendee, posted an interesting tweet the other day: "My recent promotion at work has been the absolutely worst thing to happen to my writing.  Need more hours in day."  I feel his pain!  I have a job that demands a lot of my time.  I also try to give my wife head of the line privileges in the list of things I must do.  Writing is often item 3 or 4.  But, proper time management can allow me to squeeze a little bit of writing time out of a busy schedule.  The key to proper time management is to get your priorities straight.

I cannot write when there are people talking around me, especially if the conversation involves anything I might be interested in.  I can, however, read during those times.  To write, I need to concentrate and think about the scene I'm trying to develop and how I'm going to put that scene into words.  I can't do that when there are distractions.  When I read, I am taking in information and I have developed the ability to tune out the rest of the world.  What that means for me is when I have some time but I can't concentrate on writing I can read.  That allows more time later to write.  At the moment, I'm reading books on how to write which are important to me and therefore have a fairly high priority.

If I find myself with time at work, I think about my current project.  This allows me to start writing almost as soon as I sit in front of the keyboard.  I might only get a paragraph or two written before something interrupts but that's a paragraph I won't have to write later on.  Let me give you an example of how I manage my time.  Yesterday my wife went out with a friend leaving me to myself for most of the day.  I had a huge list of things to do.  I did 2 of them while she was in the shower.  While I was doing another I thought about what I was going to write.  Two other items needed concentration so I thought nothing of writing.  When everything was done I could do one of several things; Read, watch some TV and relax, surf the web, or write.  I grabbed the netbook, set myself up outside, and spent 2 hours writing.

This morning I had several things to do including updating this blog.  This blog is writing.  As soon as it's finished I will fire up Scrivener and keep working on Peacekeeper which I thought about this morning during breakfast as well as last night in the shower and while falling asleep.  I have words in my head ready to hit the keyboard.

I just finished reading "Characters and Viewpoint".  I give it 3 stars.  Good information but a bit heavy on the examples.  I think the examples could have been shorter as reading too much of an example detracts from the lessons the author is trying to give.  Overall though it was a good book.  I also finished reading "Spider Star" by Mike Brotherton, the person responsible for Launchpad 12.  I also give it 3 stars.  Good reading.  I am now reading "Beginnings, Middles, & Ends".

Peacekeeper has undergone some revisions since I last posted making the word count now 26K.  As Stephan King would say, 'The delete key is your friend'.  I ended up throwing out large chunks of stuff I had copied in from 'The Elite of the Alliance'.  I am now into completely new material as I have diverged too far from that ancient novel for me to use it anymore.

I have about an hour before my wife gets up.  Gee, what should I do?  Surf the web?  Tweet?  Watch a science fiction show I've been wanting to see?  I know - WRITE!

2012-09-07

Peacekeeper update

My short story was rejected by Lightspeed magazine.  There's no shame in that.  Many authors get rejections on good stories and I'm not upset at all.  I've submitted it to Analog magazine.  They have a 5 week wait before replying to submissions.  If Analog turns it down (very possible) then I will put it up on my website.  I will let you know what happens.

Looks like most of the Launchpad friends came back from Chicon-7 with some sort of flu - they're calling it the chicrud.  Appropriate.  Oddly enough, I've also come down with some type of sore throat that's been lingering for 4 days now.  It doesn't slow me down but at night it makes sleeping a bit difficult because that's when it decides to get dry and more sore.  Taking zinc and supplements to fight it.

Peacekeeper is coming along nicely with over 30,000 words now sitting inside the hard drive.  This book is a bit unique for me because I'm using chunks from another book to create this one.  I copy a chapter and then spend a couple days editing it, adding new material, and deleting huge pieces of it.  Now that I have 7 novels under my belt I can easily see why 'The Elite of the Alliance' could never have been published!  The storyline is about to diverge from that old novel and new material will soon be flowing.

I am constantly amazed as to how the subconscious mind works.  One of the scenes I copied had the main character save a passenger liner from pirates.  There are no pirates in the GA universe!  But I needed to do something to add some adventure and mystery at that point in the book.  I rewrote the scene adding a bit of mystery to the book.  Truthfully, I didn't have much more beyond that.  The other day, as I was thinking about stuff much farther along in the story I discovered that I needed that scene to help knit together the developing story line.  Same goes for the bit I decided to put at the beginning.  I did it to kick-start the book.  Now, it's going to play a pivotal roll in things.

Finally, I sat down and put together a list of cons I will be attending next year.  Not sure what I will do there, but I'm going.  Next year is going to be a busy one for me.  The nuke plant I work at is shutting down for refueling between 3/18 and 5/5.  That's 12 hour days, 6 days a week.  Writing might just be put on hold.  But I should manage to attend the following: Millennicon (3/15 - 3/17 in Cinncinatti, OH), Convergence (7/4 - 7/8 in Bloomington, MN), and Dragoncon (8/29 - 9/3 in Atlanta, GA).

2012-09-03

Short story renamed

After getting some very favorable feedback from an award-winning author concerning my first-ever short story I decided to take his advice and change the name.  What was once titled 'Obsessed with Life' is now 'Gift Giver'.  The story has been through final editing, converted into a manuscript format, and submitted to Lightspeed magazine.  If accepted, I will be locked out from publishing it anywhere else for 4 months - typical for such contracts.  After that, I will submit it to Analog magazine.

Work is progressing on Peacekeeper.  I think I've solved most of my problems with the plot and the few remaining ones should work themselves out as the words hit the hard drive.  I've been taking large chunks of 'The Elite of the Alliance' and dropping it into Scrivener for use in Peacekeeper.  The delete key has become my friend as 'The Elite of the Alliance' was written 25 years ago and is in need of some serious changes.  One thing I've got to watch out for though is to not let the action of the book drop off.  I have some ideas about how to keep things moving while my lead character is becoming a Peacekeeper but there are some small risks associated with the technique I plan on using.  I did it in 'Honor Thy Enemy' and it seemed to work out well.  I plan on bouncing between Wilks's time in the academy (which is important) and action that is happening all across Alliance space.  I hope it works.

About half of my friends from Launchpad are at the Worldcon in Chicago (Chicon 7).  I wish I could be there with them but the logistics just didn't allow it.  I hope to head to Dragoncon next year as well as a couple of smaller cons to get my feet wet before then.  I keep in touch with most of them via Twitter.

It's beginning to look like retirement won't be an option for me for at least another 5 years.  That means I will have to manage my time to balance family, working, writing, and social networking (listed in order of priority).  It's a juggling act that can often become frustrating.  Not having to work would free up a huge block of time allowing me to have more time to write and work on my social network.  Time management is very important for the working writer!  For instance, yesterday was spent doing quarterly taxes and a family cookout.  This morning was taken up by social networking (this blog for instance), updating my web site, and looking into advertising options.  You don't see writing in there do you?  That will be later - don't worry.