2014-08-31

Time Management

Most writers have day jobs and that means a writer must struggle to find time to write. Time management is a primary requisite for being a successful writer. I get up for work at 0500 and I typically begin my workday at just before 0600. I sit in front of a computer and write code, attend meetings, read programming books, and sometimes just sit and think about how I'm going to solve a particular problem. I have no time for writing while at work. I am home anywhere between 1500 (that's 3:00 PM for you non-military time fans) and 1600. If my wife is not home, I write until she arrives. Often, she is over visiting her mom or out of town seeing a movie or spending time with a friend. If she's home, I spend time with her. My wife is usually home in the evening and that's family time - the writing computer remains closed.

Weekends and vacations are when I get most of my writing done. I always get up before my wife and the 2 to 3 hours in the morning before she get's up is when I do the majority of my writing - this blog included. I continue to write while she goes through her morning routine. Most Saturdays, we drive to the Barnes & Noble store (about a 30 minute drive) where I get more writing done. I usually go with her to visit her mom (she's in a nursing home across the street) and sometimes I will walk back to the house to either write or do household chores (mowing, cleaning, fixing, etc).

If I'm working on a new project, I think about the upcoming scenes pretty much any time I have a free moment. I think while driving to work, showering, mowing the lawn, and almost any time I have a few free moments. Putting those words into the computer happens whenever I can find the time. I have a laptop that is synchronized to my desktop via Dropbox. If I happen to find myself with 15 minutes of free time I pull out the laptop and start writing.

When you add up all the little times available throughout the week I probably manage to log about 10 to 15 hours of writing each week. This has allowed me to write one book every 8 to 11 months. So, when you hear an aspiring writer say "I just don't have the time to write", tell them they're wrong. I do not watch hardly any television other than in the evenings with my wife. I do watch Falling Skys. My computer records this show and I watch it when I am eating or 10 to 15 minutes at a time while my wife is out doing something else. She is not a fan of science fiction. Reading is often done in the bathroom (isn't that the favorite secondary activity that takes place in that room?). The books I read are on my cell phone and I read when I have a few minutes (waiting in line, bathroom, etc.).

The bottom line in all this is that there is time available to do things -- you just need to know how to properly manage your time. I am rarely idle. Even when someone might think I'm just sitting around my brain is working on the next scene of my current book. I don't spend hours on the internet, I get my news on the way to and from work. I read my Twitter while eating breakfast and then catch up in bits and pieces during 2 and 3 minute breaks throughout the day. I don't check my Facebook page and Google+ is pretty much for outgoing stuff only.

I will be out of town in a couple of weeks for work-related training. Instead of joining the rest of the group at the bar in the evening I will be spending my time in my hotel room working on my writing. You have to set your priorities. If you want to be a writer, you're going to have to give up something to make that dream come true. Find the time to write. Find the time to read (because reading helps a writer become better). Manage your time.

And now I'm going to manage mine by closing out this entry and getting back to editing Peacekeeper 2. I have about 100 pages of 1.5 spaced type left. My wife is making a dent in her portion of our editing process. The book is nearing completion. I'm still waiting on a decent cover from the person who does my artwork. I will keep you all informed of the progress.

2014-08-24

Peacekeeper 2 - 50% mark

Final editing of Peacekeeper 2 has passed the 50% point. My wife is trying to move through the proofing as fast as she can but family events are interfering. This is the point in all my novels she hates the most because I am so focused on finishing the book I tend to exclude everything else. Her time has also been limited due to her mother's health issues (in and out of the hospital in recent days). But good progress is being made.

Last week, I received an email from an 11th grade student in Australia asking if I would mind being interviewed for a school project she was doing. Of course I agreed. The questions were about science fiction and how it relates to religious beliefs. I found them to be very eye-opening and many of them I had to pause and think before I answered. She seemed pleased with the answers. I hope she receives a good grade.

I also received the highest compliment possible from one of my readers yesterday. He compared me to E.E. 'Doc' Smith, an author from my youth who wrote stories back in the 50s. I consider him the master of the space opera and I periodically reread his Lensman series. Although I have a style of my own, it is heavily influenced by Smith. I could not have been happier.

I attended a different writer's group yesterday. This one has a much longer format running about 5 hours. I enjoyed the feedback they provided to the others in the group (I did not bring anything this first time) and I will go at least one more time. It's farther away and it does take up another Saturday so I may not continue to attend. If, for some reason, I miss my normal meeting, attending this one would be a good option.

I said last post that I had wanted to write something about my programming activities. My new job entails writing a lot of code in Microsoft's Access database program. I'm a heavy user of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and quite good at building complex solutions. I would prefer to build my programs in a better language such as C# but there would be nobody around who could maintain the code after I leave. At least by using VBA there is a chance someone else can take over. My company does not support non-IT people writing code and installing a C# compiler would require so much paperwork as to be nearly impossible.

What I really wanted to mention is being efficient. There is a project I will have to tackle in the next few months that boggles my mind. Our work is divided up into weeks with 13 weeks to a period and 4 periods to a year. We have a website where people can go to look at past or future work for almost an entire year. Each of these weekly reporting periods has 6 types of reports. The current way of generating this data involves 6 x 13 x 4 = 312 separate reports. Maintaining this collection is a nightmare. If a change is needed to one report a minimum of 52 reports have to be changed. My plan is to use programming code to reduce the number of reports down to 6. The reports don't change, just the data they work with. Proper coding can simplify generating this grid of reports making maintenance far easier. This is what computer are for and this is how they should be used.

I did a similar thing on a project I just finished. This one generates charts - 8 to be exact. But the charts all look the same - just with different data. I created a single function that can feed the correct data to a single Excel spreadsheet which generates the chart and then exports that chart as an image (JPG). It is those images that become part of the final report. One routine and some code to feed it the correct data was all that was required. These charts used to be done manually taking 3 to 4 hours a day. The program spits out the report in about 30 seconds.

That's efficiency.

Now it's time to get back to editing.

2014-08-17

PK2 - Editing continues

I was so focused on continuing to edit Peacekeeper 2 this morning that I nearly forgot it was time to put out a new post. This one will be relatively short as I'm anxious to get back to editing.

The initial draft used a large number of scene separators within chapters, especially to indicate a switch to another location. The switches were so dramatic I decided to make them into chapters instead. So, my chapter count is changing. Instead of removing material (which is common during editing) I've been adding large chunks of stuff. Word count is now over 82,000 and climbing. Feedback from my fan turned copy-editor is that the book is greatly improved following editing. My proof reader (my wife and grammarian) also agrees. I'm getting a very good feeling about the quality of this book.

I will not rush getting this out for publication. If it takes another 2 months then so be it. I'm a self-published author and I don't have to rush to meet a deadline. But I know people are waiting for this book so I am going to continue editing as often as I can. I am over 1/4 of the way through and moving along at a good pace.

I received a question from a reader in Germany the other day (yes I'm talking about you Ekkehard). He's an engineer and asked a very relevant question. I mention that Tom's new cybernetic limbs are significantly heavier than his original biological limbs. This leads to a question of whether or not the limbs would pose a problem at the connection site until the full cybernetic conversion process is complete. He suggested cybernetic 'training limbs' made of lighter components. That's the level of detail that science fiction readers are capable of and known for. This is also the kind of feedback I love! He's right too - if I ever go back and make some changes to Peacekeeper I will address this problem. Thanks and great job Ekkehard!

Oh, that wasn't the only question he had either. We had a nice back and forth discussion concerning his other questions as well. If you feel inclined to write me about something in one of my books, I will write you back. I will keep this practice as long as I can. Some authors have had to stop doing personal feedbacks because their inbox becomes too overwhelming. I'm not even close to that yet.

I did sort of want to talk about my programming job (another passion of mine) but I will leave that for a later day. Now - it's back to editing.

2014-08-10

PK 2 - Editing

After receiving some very good feedback from my new copy-editor as well as some from my writers group, I've decided to go back to chapter 1 and revise. This will mean another delay but I think you will be pleased with the results once the book is released. I will be working hard at finding at least an hour each day for editing to speed the process up.

My big problem with the Galactic Alliance series - especially PK2 - is my familiarity with the GA universe. I've been living with GA technology (in my head of course) since the early '70s. It's so familiar with me that I just let some things pass in the books without describing them. Now, many writer books say that in science fiction the tech should just be there. The books should show the tech without having to explain it. The reason they say is because explaining the technology detracts from the story you're trying to tell. This might be okay for some things and for some types of science fiction, but I have to disagree when it comes to the GA series.

There are some things that will never be explained, like how a shield works. But other things need some explanation or at least some further details added. For instance, the Peacekeeper's biolink is a marvel of engineering but it has its limitations. It cannot allow a PK to control his entire ship by his mind alone. The biolink can sense thoughts and it can--on a simple level--send them, as well. But it cannot immerse the PK into a virtual reality world. If you've read Peacekeeper then you know I've used a total virtual reality world before. This is easy for a PK because the ship's AI simply has to take over control of the PKs cybernetic systems and use the existing connections from these devices to trick the PK into thinking he's in a virtual world. Did I explain this in sufficient detail in Peacekeeper? I'm not sure.

The point is - PK2 is going to be delayed by a few weeks and it's going to be a far better product for it. I will be sending my wife individual chapters to proof as I finish them so the re-write/editing/proofing process will continue in parallel.

Thank you for your patience. I'll let you know how I'm doing with this blog.

2014-08-03

Peacekeeper 2 editing

The editing of Peacekeeper 2 is continuing and will move even further along as soon as I post this blog entry. Right now, I am on page 59 of 151 pages. Lee Dilkie (fan turned copy-editor) suggests I write a prologue. After talking around with others, I've decided he's right. That means I will need to write a short introduction to Peacekeeper 2. The ebook version will include a hyperlink to skip the prologue if the reader is familiar with the series.

I've usually had a couple of people read my novels before publication and in recent years I've had my wife check out the book for grammatical mistakes. Most of the comments I get back are similar to: "good book", "I liked it", and "great job". These are 'feel good' comments and are not what I'm looking for from a beta reader. The reviews I get on Amazon and other sites also fall short. If someone reads one of my books I like to hear suggestions for improvement. When I collect enough of these I will even go back and revise previously published works.

What Lee is doing for me is far different and it's the sort of feedback I've needed for some time. A copy-editor does much more than read a manuscript and generate a short review. A copy-editor looks for inconsistencies, identifies sections where improvements can be made, and ensures the overall story structure is intact and holds the reader's interest. A copy-editor is usually not concerned with grammar although there's no reason why that level of detail can't be done at the same time. I told Lee he was working off a second draft and not to worry about grammar - that's my wife's territory.

The result was a document with helpful comments and suggestions. I began Peacekeeper 2 with one goal in mind - to write a novel that allowed a reader to learn about an alien culture. I've found that's not such an easy task. It is very difficult to create an alien culture because we humans know only our own and it's a very narrow slice of what exists elsewhere on our own planet. There are cultural differences between different areas of the United States as well as different countries. Many people are completely unaware of these differences and even subtle nuances can create friction between two people. If we have this sort of problem among humans, imagine what it's going to be like when we encounter an alien species.

I would like to add a polite reminder. If you know of anyone who would be interested in reading this blog please ask them to sign up for my mailing list. The sign-up form can be accessed by clicking here.

I hope to have Peacekeeper 2 ready for publication in about a month. A lot of it rests on finding the time to do my final editing as well as my wife's grammatical checks. Her mom is currently in the hospital and time to proof my book will be hard to find. I will keep you informed through this blog.