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"Alina’s Gambit" First Draft Completed

August 23, 2008

The first draft clocks in at 390 pages, 27 chapters, and just shy of 98,000 words.  What’s ironic is that the first draft has taken just under 13 months to complete, but only represents 769 KB of storage on my hard drive.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for so long for a file that small.

Now comes phase two: editing.  My wife and I have been reading the early chapters and making notes about things we wanted to change and add, but the vast majority of those haven’t been incorporated yet.  Additionally, while we’ve started the second draft already, there’s only about 2 chapters worth to show for it (the prologue, all of chapter 1, and part of chapter 2).  That should hopefully speed up in a couple of weeks.

We’re going to be going on a new schedule starting this fall where we work on the novel together in the mornings before our respective days really get going.  That will be an interesting change for me.  I have historically been a morning person, but the overwhelming majority of “Alina’s Gambit” was written in the evenings.

Our goal is to get the manuscript to the point where we can start sending it out by the end of the year.  We have just over four months.  I think it will be tight, but doable.  We’ll see.

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Nearing the finish line

August 15, 2008

Well, I managed to get roughly ten and a third pages done tonight – a new “single sitting” record for me.  I reached the climax of the story, culminating in the big chase scene and most of the cats being let out of their bags.  I couldn’t exactly stop in the middle, now could I?

The first draft now stands at just about 92,700 words.  It will probably be very close to 100,000 by the time all of the loose ends get tied up.

However, that will have to wait for tomorrow.  I’m off to bed.

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Home Office Reorganization – Future Tasks

August 6, 2008

The previous four posts in this series described what I was actually able to accomplish in my reorg-weekend.  This final post has a couple of things that I needed more time, or some money to get done, but are natural extensions of the reorganization.

My most glaring need is the pile of books that sits on the floor behind me.

Books on floor

A new thin bookshelf, would fit nicely there.  I have several of these around the house now, but they are (shockingly) covered in books already.   My wife and I have been on a steady household diet over the last few years, trying to fight back against the “save it for later because you never know when you’ll need it” instinct.  We are both voracious readers (her being an English teacher for 10 years hasn’t helped), and as a result have tended to collect a few books here and there.  Once we can prune that down a bit, and start relying on our local library for books-we-only-want-to-read-once-every-ten-years, at least one of those bookshelves should become available again.

The second thing that I still need to do isn’t nearly as obvious, but is many times more important – a good data backup system.

All of my work is stored on an external USB Hitachi hard drive.  It’s small, lightweight, whisper quiet, and has more than enough space (120GB) for everything that I do – both for software development and for fiction.

Hitachi HDD

I am paranoid about losing data, so I go to great lengths to make sure I have backups of everything.  As a result, I currently have two separate backup strategies in play.

The first uses SyncBack from 2BrightSparks to nightly copy my files (as well as the files off of my wife’s machine) to a file and print server that we have downstairs.  This provides a very quick and easy way to back up files, and makes retrieving them quite simple (just browse out to that server, and pull down the file you just accidentally overwrote).  I intended this process to get me back up and running in the event that my computer (or my hard drive) has a complete meltdown.

The second uses a combination of WinZip and Carbonite.  Using WinZip, and specifically the Command Line add-on for it, I created a batch file that compresses all of my files into a small number of encrypted ZIP files.  Then, I scheduled them for backup using Carbonite.  Carbonite backs the files up only when it notices that they’ve changed.  In this way, I have a secure off-site backup of all of my files in the event that the house burns down, taking my Hitachi hard drive and the backup server with it.

Carbonite is usually pretty reliable, although there have been a couple of times when the service isn’t available, and so I went days without a successful off-site backup.  Besides providing off-site storage, the advantage to Carbonite is that it will work as long as I have a broadband connection to the Internet.  That means even if I’m on the road in a hotel, I can back my files up.

The SyncBack method works well, so long as I’m home, and so long as I remember to keep the password up to date.  The scheduled tasks that I have running SyncBack rely on the username/password maintained by my company.  Their policy is to force me to change that every few weeks, which means I need to manually keep the passwords for the scheduled tasks in sync, otherwise they can’t connect to my file server.  I’ve gotten better at doing this over the last few months, but it’s still something I need to think about.

What I want is a reliable, don’t-have-to-think-about-it solution for backup.  I’m not sure such a solution exists, but I think I can move towards it if I can reduce the number of moving parts in the solution (thus making it simpler and less error-prone), and building in notifications when it fails (so I don’t go days or weeks without a successful backup before realizing it).

Oh well.  There’s always something to fix.  My N-T personality won’t let me see the world any other way.

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Home Office Reorganization – Wrapping Up

August 2, 2008

Now that my computer was organized and functional, it came time for all of the secondary tools: inbox, pens, paper, and whiteboards.

I found that the keyboard tray on the corner desk would work quite well as an inbox – someplace where I could throw paper and other items to sort into my organizational system (a modified version of David Allen’s method described in “Getting Things Done”).

Secondary Tools

The corner desk proved to also be very useful for holding things like my writing instrument tray, a pad of paper, a box facial tissue (you can never have this too close to you), and a clock.  After a few times working at the new desk I found that I also needed a small fan – while the temperature in the basement was usually comfortable, a current of moving air made it nicer when it got humid, and my arms started sticking to the desk as I typed.

The wall space to my right turned out to be perfect for my two whiteboards.

Whiteboards

It’s a little hard to see in the picture, but the left whiteboard has a series of paper strips, fastened to the board with magnets (the colored dots), describing the major plot points of my current WIP.  Previously I had laid out the story with the board in landscape, but it fit better on the wall with its twin in portrait, so after I had my office in order I reorganized it.

In the final post in this series, I’ll describe some things that I didn’t have time for over this reorg-weekend.

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TheNovel Turns 1

July 22, 2008

It was one year ago today that I started writing TheNovel (“Alina’s Gambit” as my wife and I have started to call it in recent months).  In that year my wife and I have written over 80,000 words, which by our reckoning puts us past the 2/3 point in the story.

It has definitely been an extremely busy, fast year – not just for TheNovel, but life in general: I started a new job, my wife completed her first year of teaching math (she had been teaching English for the previous nine years), our daughter completed her kindergarten year, and I took on greater responsibility at our church.  The rest of 2008 promises more of the same, and I have another project starting in early 2009 which will consume much of my “free” time.  As a result there is some urgency now to get TheNovel finished and revised (at least once).

Probably the most pleasant surprise in the last year has been my attitude toward the writing.  For the first few months, I really wanted to see progress on TheNovel, and forced myself to sit down and write.  I was interested in the writing, but only so far as it could be used to generate progress.

In the last couple of months, however, I’ve found myself just wanting to write, and TheNovel has provided a convenient outlet.  When it’s my time in the evenings (after the chores are done and my daughter is in bed), I usually have half a dozen or more things that I need to do.  These last couple of months I’ve found myself pushing all of those things off until I have my pages done for the day.  I’ve found that if I don’t get started on this before 9pm, the pages just don’t get done.  If I can start writing about 8:30 or so, I can usually get my pages done by 10pm, and that leaves some time for the other things.

TheNovel has become a priority and one that isn’t a chore anymore.  I think of everything I’ve learned in the last year about writing, that has been my biggest accomplishment.

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Home Office Reorganization – New Layout

July 20, 2008

Now that I had the proverbial blank slate to work with, I could start adding furniture back.  Before I did that, however, I needed to figure out which pieces of furniture would be selected.  I found an ergonomics calculator provided by Ergotron that started with my height and calculated how tall the table should be, the chair, etc..  Once I had those numbers, I started measuring.

I found that the Rubbermaid desks had the right height, and the chair I was using could be adjusted to be at the right height.  That was a good start.  I turned them around to face the majority of the basement, and temporarily set up the lights:

NewLayout

The next step was to figure out where the major computer components would go.  I normally type with a full-size keyboard when at my desk, and I prefer to have my arms resting on the desk.  That meant I needed a fair amount of empty space in front of me.  Additionally, based on the Ergotron calculations, the monitor needed to be at least two feet away from my head.  All of this meant I needed a good amount of depth to the main desk.  I had two options here – the corner piece, or the straight piece.

The corner desk (shown in the picture above on the right) had the depth needed, but I hated the keyboard tray.  It was too squishy and set too far forward to be comfortable.  The straight desk (shown with the darker-gray top) would work better, but I needed to get the monitor far enough away from me to leave room for the keyboard.  I solved the problem by “extending” the desktop using a two-drawer file cabinet placed immediately behind the desk (both are shown in the picture above).  Once I had these pieces in place, I quickly dropped in the major pieces to see how things would work:

CoreComponents

Now I was on a roll.  Unfortunately in my zeal to get things hooked up and tested, I had the beginnings of cable-spaghetti behind the desk.  This would interfere with me getting into the filing cabinet:

Spaghetti

The Rubbermaid desks have a built in tray for cable management, and between that and some zip ties I got the cables up and out of my way.  Since I regularly transported my mouse and external hard drive between my home office and work, I had to be careful not to zip-tie those cables down.  You’d think that would be simple to avoid, but you know, if I don’t consciously tell myself to avoid it, I’d do it and then be grumbling as I cut the ties away and try again:

Less Spaghetti

The desk was moving along nicely.  I had my core setup complete, and it was relatively comfortable.

I didn’t care for the monitor or the keyboard I had on hand.  While I didn’t have the funds to buy a new flat-panel, I could pick up another MS Comfort Curve 2000, the best overall keyboard I have ever used.

I am very finicky about my peripherals, and hunted around for several years looking for a decent keyboard that felt good, was decently priced, and had all of the keys in the RIGHT spots (you know, little things like an inverted-T layout for the arrow keys instead of the stupid diamond layout).  The Comfort Curve isn’t a true “natural” keyboard, but it does have a slight curve to it.  The keys are fairly low-profile, so it feels more like a laptop-keyboard (which I like) and the keypress action is soft and smooth.  I also can’t argue with the price – $20.

In the next post I’ll start putting up some of the secondary tools like my whiteboards and so on.

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Home Office Reorganization – Digging Out

July 9, 2008

I decided that the first thing I need to do was completely clean out the corner so I would have the room to start fresh.  As I started to do that, I had a pleasant flashback to the first time I implemented the “Getting Things Done” process that David Allen expounds.  I came in one Saturday when it would be quiet, took everyone off of my desk and began to put the pieces back one by one until everything was in its new correct place, or it had been throw out.  Today would be no different.

I decided that before I started with the disassembly I would carve out a small “notes” area – a place where I could keep notes of my progress, and put a few tools (like a measuring tape).

Next, I pulled out the three computers that have been slated for the recycling center for a while, and moved them to my work room.  (I set a reminder in my calendar to actually take them to the recycling center so that they would be out of the house for good.)  I also found a more permanent home for the several boxes of financial records.  These two steps moved the big “easy” stuff out of my way, and actually created a nice path for me to move even more stuff out.

I then swept around the desks and tables that made up my old office, and systematically sorted or removed everything.  I ended up keeping a series of piles on the floor with notes nearby like “To File”, “To Investigate”, “Knick-Knacks”, and so on.  Anything that really belonged elsewhere was shipped to elsewhere.  What was left was for me to reorganize.

EmptyLeft     EmptyRight

Once I had taken some measurements (which I’ll cover in the next post), the last step was to move the desks and tables out of the corner so I could start over.