Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in review

With 2012 coming to a close, I've been thinking about how busy and challenging it has been for me.  The past year has seen a lot of changes to my life: I took an after-school nanny job at the end of 2011, which impacted my freelance work schedule, and then I worked even more hours over the summer when the kids were out of school.  The result has been more of a break from freelancing than I was counting on, as I've gradually switched my focus away from writing.

I didn't feel this way as much at first, but sometimes I really miss freelancing full time.  I miss it most when I have to decide between spending my morning at the barn riding my horses or at home working -- I used to be able to do both in a single day -- or when I get really wrapped up in a project, only to have to stop working abruptly and leave to go pick up the kids from school.

Don't get me wrong, I love the family I work for, and I don't plan on leaving them anytime soon.  They are warm, generous, and flexible -- working for them is the perfect compliment to freelancing part-time (not to mention their daughter is horse crazy too, which makes them an even more perfect match for me).

But I also am itching to pick up more writing work again, and to make more time for a few writing projects of my own.  And I know when it comes time to return to freelancing full-time, I'll be happy to have entire days for working once again.  I even miss the administrative tasks -- having the luxury of spending an hour or two at the beginning of every day checking email, combing job boards, and other such stuff.

Happy New Year to all my readers -- may 2013 be everything you are hoping for!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy holidays!

Believe it or not... I am still here!  And now that one of my regular clients is on hiatus -- for how long, I don't know, but let's just say I won't be surprised if I don't hear back, like, ever -- I am planning on spending some more time blogging.  My blogs -- my entire freelance identity, really -- have been rather ignored this past year, and it's starting to make me feel the least like a writer that I've felt since graduating college.

Some of you may know from reading my other blogs that we euthanized our dog Grace a couple of weeks ago.  Although we miss her terribly, it's also something of a relief, as we spent a lot of time giving her medicine, taking her to the vet and to physical therapy/acupuncture, helping her in and out the back door, coaxing her to eat, and just plain cleaning up after her.  Since I work from home in the mornings (or tried to), many of my mornings were taken up with this sort of thing -- and as sad as we have been to lose her, I am actually looking forward to having a little more uninterrupted work time in 2013.

But enough of sad stuff.  Today Michael and I are planning on doing nothing together all day -- that is to say, we will be reading, putting together a puzzle, and watching some TV, not to mention getting some Asian food later (our favorite local restaurant is open today).  My plans for the day also include straightening up my desk (particularly because our 4-month-old kitten has discovered that pushing papers off of it is lots of fun) and taking a hot bath.  We have a white Christmas this year, not to mention a very cold Christmas (right now it's only in the mid-teens), making it a perfect day to stay in and read!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chicago, NaNoWriMo, and write-ins -- oh my!

Last week, my husband and I went to Chicago.  It was a mix of both vacation and research for my novels, as I was beginning to feel that I shouldn't be writing about a city that I've never actually been to.  We were there for three nights (with an 18-hour train ride on either end, making it a week-long trip).  We did a few of the typical touristy things, such as riding the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier and going to the Field Museum, but quite a bit of what we did -- riding the el, walking around the city, taking a tour, and visiting several former speakeasies from the 20s -- were planned with my novels in mind.

The trip fueled not only my research efforts, but also my motivation, and while we were there I worked a bit on researching and outlining the second half of the second novel.  We came home Saturday, which was excellent timing, since NaNoWriMo starts tonight.  I've had a mild case of post-vacation laziness since we got back, helped along by the fact that I'm fighting off a cold and feeling somewhat under the weather as a result, but I have hope that the start of NaNoWriMo will reenergize me.

I am getting slightly more involved in NaNoWriMo this year than I have in the past.  I had actually thought of acting as an ML (municipal liaison, one of the official organizers for local events), but I didn't get my application in on time.  That's just as well, since I have been so busy, but I am still planning on being involved.  My biggest contribution is that I have organized a weekly Friday night write-in at a local Perkins restaurant.  It will be the first write-in that I've ever organized myself, so I am excited!  I'll be looking for other ways to help out, too, and if all goes well, perhaps next year I will join the ML team.

Who else is participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Discovering Scrivener

I wasn't blogging or freelancing much over the summer, but I was working on my novels -- revising the first one in the series I'm working on, which I finished during NaNoWriMo last November, and starting the next book.

Before the August session of Camp NaNoWriMo started, while I was still working on revisions to the first novel, I decided to try Scrivener, a word processing software for writers that is supposed to be far superior to Word when it comes to outlining, keeping track of research, and other tasks that Word isn't really set up for.  Since I'd won NaNo in November, I had a coupon code for 50 percent off, which meant that it only cost me $20.

I'm sure I have yet to experience all of the features Scrivener has to offer, but so far I LOVE IT.  Every scene is a separate "documents," essentially, but you can drag and drop in order to reorganize and reorder.  Creating folders for chapters and documents for individual scenes also makes it very easy to do a rough outline.  If you like more detailed outlines, the folders and documents also allow you to include a synopsis and notes (none of which is counted in the word count).

Scrivener also allows you to keep track of all your research in the same file: You can import web pages and documents such as PDFs, and also create documents to type up your notes.  I imported a Word document full of notes into my novel, for example, and also imported a few web pages.  You can also keep virtual note cards with character and setting information.

Since you have so much in this one file, the split screen feature is very helpful.  I like to keep research on the top and whatever scene I am currently working on at the bottom.

Another nice feature: snapshots.  This allows you to take a snapshot of a document before you start making changes to it, so that you can quickly and easily go back to the way it was if you decide you don't like the changes.

And after I nearly lost a whole lot of data when my hard drive died earlier this summer, I am really pleased with Scrivener's auto save and auto backup features.  You don't have to ever hit save, for starters -- it saves your changes automatically every time you pause in your typing.  And you can set up the software to automatically back up every time you close the file.  I have Dropbox installed on my computer, so it backs up into the Dropbox folder, which then automatically syncs to my online account.  I'll never, ever have to worry about losing my work again!

When summer ended, and I went back to freelancing part-time, I decided to try the software out for client work, too.  I had a few articles to write that were fairly long and detailed, and required some research, and I found that Scrivener worked just as well for those as it does for novels.  I set it up so that the different sections of the novels were separate documents (just like the scenes in the novel), and imported all of the web pages I used for research.

I'm sure I'm missing a whole bunch of great features in this little review, so please, if you use this software, feel free to add anything I'm missing in the comments.  Perhaps I'll even learn a new feature that I wasn't aware of before!  Also, if you're interested in trying out the software, in the past NaNoWriMo participants have gotten 20 percent off just for being registered for NaNo, so it might be worth signing up this year, if only for the coupon code.

Monday, September 17, 2012

And life returns to normal (mostly)

After a busy summer taking care of the kids I nanny for, they are back in school and I am (finally) back to my pre-summer schedule.  Granted, I didn't always manage to keep up on my blogs even when the kids were in school, but during the summer, when I was working twice (sometimes more) the hours, it was totally impossible.  What little time I had left, I split between my novel, my horses, and my home life, and as a result freelancing and blogging both fell by the wayside.

Now that the kids are back in school, I feel like I've been gifted with several more hours every day (not to mention more sleep, since I can now sleep in again -- finally!).  Some of that time has already gone to the horses, and some to freelancing, which is why I'm writing this post after the kids have already been back in school for several weeks.

Just to get everyone up to speed, over the summer I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNo's summer edition.  In June I didn't actually write, just worked on revising last year's novel, the last 50k of which I wrote for NaNo.  I finished the majority of revisions a couple days into August (all I have left is the major rewriting, i.e., a couple of scenes that need to be overhauled and several that need to be written from scratch and added in), so in August I started the second novel of the series.  I got to 50k -- albeit just barely -- and emerged a winner, despite my slow start.

I've been meaning to continue working on the novel, with the intention of finishing it before November so that I can start a new one for the regular session of NaNoWriMo, but I only worked on it for the first few days after Camp NaNo ended.  Part of the problem is that I'm not entirely sure where to go next -- I know what has to happen, but I haven't figured out yet how to get there.  So I'm thinking I need to spend this time between sessions with planning and finishing revisions to the first novel, and then finish book 2 in November.

And freelancing.  I'm picking up some more freelancing work, which I had completely abandoned over the summer, and it feels good to earn at least part of my living from my keyboard again.

How was everyone else's summers?

Saturday, June 09, 2012

A tale of two computers

My Averatec 1020, my Nook Tablet, and my Asus Eee 1000HD


Since my netbook's hard drive quit a couple weeks ago, I've been using my old Averatec more.  It's my backup computer, so I used it while the Asus was getting the hard drive replaced, but I also used it for several days after I got the Asus back.  It was having quite a few problems when I retired it ages ago, but part of that was that Outlook was freezing -- and since I haven't been using Outlook on it (just webmail), I haven't had any problems.

I'm remembering the things I liked so much about this computer, such as the nicer screen (larger, better pixel density, and just in general nicer to look at), and I've been thinking about reinstalling the operating system so that I can start using it more again.  I went ahead and ordered a new battery, too, which came yesterday (the old battery wouldn't hold a charge at all).  The new battery is telling me that I'll have close to 5 hours of battery power with it fully charged up, which is far more than the netbook -- another point in its favor.  The biggest disadvantage right now is the smaller hard drive (though I have a USB hard drive to put pictures on, so it really doesn't matter) and the fact that it runs a little hotter than the Asus -- not a good thing in summer, but since I'm not really at home anymore during the hottest part of the day, that's probably not a problem.

I have been so busy this week that I haven't had much of a chance to do anything with the computers.  Both have been sitting on the coffee table in the living room, the last place I was working on them (partly because there isn't room on my desk for both until I clean it).  Today I'm working on getting the most recent copies of all files onto each of the computers.  I also need to finish reinstalling some of my software onto the netbook -- I haven't yet done that since getting it back -- and I want to test the Averatec's battery to see how much time I really get out of it.  Once I've done that, I'll reinstall the operating system.

In order to solve the problem of which computer to use, I intend to clean my desk and keep both of them there, with one out of the way at all times so that I can work on the other, but easily change them out if I want to.  And then we will just see which one I end up liking best over the long run!

Monday, June 04, 2012

How do you revise?

With the June session of Camp NaNoWriMo under way, I've been working on revising last year's novel.  I decided that in June, my goal will be to go through the entire manuscript and mark up the changes I want to make.  Then in July, I will make the changes.  I'll also be working on some remaining research during both months, though I think that might fall more into July's to-do list.

Revising a novel is infinitely different than revising an article or a blog post.  For the shorter things, I tend to revise a bit as I go, and then give it one last read-through on the computer when I'm done.  With the novel, though, I'm starting out by doing it the way Stephen King suggests in On Writing -- reading through the manuscript, marking changes, and then making the changes once I'm done.  The only difference is that since I want to be able to work on it on the go, I am marking up the manuscript in a PDF reader on my Nook.  It's much easier than hauling around a 300-page manuscript!

I'm not sure yet how much I like the method, though, and I am still in the process of figuring out what works best for me.  Therefore I am interested in hearing from other writers: How do you go about doing revisions on a longer piece, such as a novel?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Two computers and a lesson in backing up

I had a good scare the other day: I went to turn on my netbook, which had shut down the previous night with no apparent problems, and it wouldn't boot up.

At all.

I barely restrained myself from having a complete and total meltdown: I hadn't backed up in months.  I was halfway through a big magazine article, and had some novel notes and research I didn't want to lose, plus (eek) all of our tax files for our 2011 returns.  (I do have hard copies of those, since I believe in redundancy on important things, but still!)  Then there were the months' worth of work emails, the spreadsheets with all my work income and expenses, tons of photos...

In retrospect, it's amazing I didn't lose my sanity once the full gravity of the situation hit me.

Of course, as these things tend to work, it was an evening, so I had to worry all night long about whether I'd be able to recover all my data.  The next day, we took the netbook to a repair place in town, and they took a look.

The verdict: hard drive failure.

That was what worried me the most, but it turned out they were able to recover all my data.  They even cut me a deal because I brought my own external hard drive to recover it to.  Turns out it was cheaper to install a new hard drive than to buy a new netbook (especially since I'd have to pay even more to upgrade all my software, as I still run Office 2000).  They even offered to let me buy a hard drive at Microcenter and install that one, since theirs were more expensive.  Not a bad deal at all.

So I went home and resurrected my old Averatec laptop in the meantime.  Long-time readers of my blog will remember how much I loved that thing.  It's the same size as the netbook, the same weight, but it has a full-size screen (1280 x 768 instead of the 1024 x 600 of the Asus Eee) and a CD/DVD drive.  It was starting to freeze and crash all the time, though, which was why I got the Asus three years ago.

It got me started thinking, though -- why not do the same thing with the Averatec, replace the hard drive and start using it again?  Even better, why not look into replacing the hard drive with a solid state drive and upgrading the memory?

So during one of my trips to the repair shop, I asked them about it.  They tested the Averatec's hard drive, and amazingly enough, it was fine -- so the issue is with the operating system, not the hardware.  If I can find the CDs that came with it, I can install a fresh copy of Windows, buy a new battery (this one is toast), and start using it again.

Two computers... Whatever will I do with myself?

Although this incident had a happy ending, it did remind me of how important it is to always back up.  From now on, I think I'll hang my flash drive from the bulletin board above my desk as a reminder to back up every day after I'm finished working!

Monday, May 28, 2012

A week off means a week to write!

This week is my calm before the storm.  I'm actually working almost double the hours at my nanny job over the summer, so I will have less time to maintain my writing than in previous months (not that I've done such a good job of it then, either).  But I'm hoping that I'll manage, since I'm planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo in August (I'm only loosely participating in June, as I'm using the next two months to finish some research and a first round of revisions on last year's novel before I start the second book).

But this week the family I nanny for is out of town, so I (blessedly) have the week off before the summer schedule starts.  I'm planning on doing more of both writing and riding, although Michael took the week off too, which will cut into my plans somewhat -- we have lots of stuff planned that we want to do this week, too.

In other news, my broken finger is healing well enough, although I still can't use it to type -- it's good for a few keystrokes before it starts feeling a little sensitive, so I've stuck with my nine-fingered approach, even though the doc said a couple of weeks ago that I could start typing on it in a week or two.  I don't think it'll be much longer, but I just don't feel quite ready for it yet; and in any case, I've gotten quite fast at typing without it -- almost as fast as I was with it before the accident.

My plans for this week are to finish an article that got delayed after my accident, do a little blogging and blog upkeep, and start working a little more on my novel research and revisions again.  With any luck, I'll be able to accomplish most of that without getting distracted!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nine-fingered typing

Do you ever have those idiot moments that you would give anything to take back?  I had one last night.  I had my finger in the wrong place as I was setting my horse's hoof down, and before I had an opportunity to move it, he put his weight down.  OWWWWW.

You can read more about how it happened on my horse blog.  For the purposes of this blog, though, fast forward to this morning, when I started learning how to type with only 9 fingers.  It turns out the most common finger used in typing is your left-hand middle finger... the one I hurt, obviously.  (Not that I'm complaining -- I'm actually quite glad it was not my right hand, since I am right handed.)

Trying to blog on Percocet is also very interesting, by the way.  I wrote that post on my horse blog while feeling the lovely effects of that drug, and am doing so again now.

Of course, I have a due date looming, so my editor will have to be informed.  I wanted to wait, though, until I had an idea of how well I'd be able to type.  The verdict: I should be able to, just rather more slowly than usual.

I took today off from the nanny job, though I am going to try to go back to work tomorrow.  Next week, I have some plans for my blogs.  I've started slowly switching my blogs over to the new Blogger template designer, and I'm thinking of totally redoing this blog, as well.  I had planned to redo my website to expand on the services and portfolio sections a little, but since I've backed off that a little in order to focus on fiction a little more, that doesn't make sense anymore.  I think therefore that a new website might better reflect my new focuses in my freelancing.

I do plan on taking advantage of having a little extra time to work on my blogs, but I also want to make sure that I don't make any important decisions under the influence of Percocet, so I will probably wait until I'm not so dependent on it to make any major decisions!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Frame of mind

I've been terribly busy lately.  It seems that my mornings -- the time I've set aside for writing and blogging -- are never really mine anymore.  This year so far has been the year of pet expenses, as it has been one animal illness or injury after another since Christmas, but that also means lots of pet-related demands on my time: vet appointments, physical therapy, and time-consuming home care.  And what mornings aren't eaten up by our pets' needs, are quickly taken up by something else -- even if that something else is nothing more than a much-needed mental break, such as a nap or a morning at the barn.


In the last week or two, I've been able to reclaim a few mornings here and there -- anything beyond the last couple of weeks is, unfortunately, a big blur.  But on those mornings I've had to myself, I've come to appreciate something that I never even realized I had when I had it: frame of mind, or should I say, peace of mind.  I've learned that it takes a certain frame of mind to sit down at the computer and work, to feel able to write.  I had that frame of mind when I worked from home full-time, even if sometimes I wasn't very productive.  I even still had that frame of mind when my mornings were actually mine, after I started the afternoon nanny job.

But the last couple of months, when most mornings are spent busy with I don't even know what anymore, I have been able to just sit down and work, even on the mornings when I am home.  I'm so accustomed to running, running, running, all the time, that I can't sit down in front of the computer and make my mind focus on a blog post or an article or whatever I need to write.  Sometimes when I try I end up falling asleep.  Other times I get this feeling in my head like fingernails on a chalkboard, or like gears grinding -- like I'm trying to make myself do something that is, for the moment at least, physically impossible.  And even when I feel like I might, possibly, be able to pull it off, our dog Grace (the one with hip dysplasia, who has gotten increasingly more neurotic over the last year and, especially, the last few months) paces the house relentlessly, until I ready to boil over with irritation and frustration.

This morning hasn't been a good morning, so this blog post is probably coming across a little more colorfully illustrated than it would on a calmer day -- but really, how many of those do I have anymore?  In any case, this should give you a good idea of why it has been so long since I've blogged regularly.

There have been good things too, though, things I hope to blog about in the coming weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that all the pets will stay healthy for a while once this most recent infection has cleared up, and perhaps I will be able to take back my mornings -- or at least most of them!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Reclaiming my blogs

It's been a long time since I've blogged regularly.  Even a couple of my other blogs that were more regularly updated than this one have suffered.  One reason is that for the last few months, I've been writing a considerable number of blog posts for a client — mostly book-themed blogs, but a few others as well, and that has cut into my time and desire to work on my own blogs (especially once you figure in my part-time nanny job, which monopolizes my afternoons).

The client recently cut back on assignments, however, and while I am a bit disappointed about the lost income, on the whole I think this will be a good thing — even as ignored as they've been, the ad revenue from my blogs has picked up a bit recently, and I think with a little more nurturing it might really take off.  And, truthfully, which is more satisfying — getting paid for blog posts for someone else's websites, or seeing my own blogs turn a profit?

Anyway, the end result is that I should have some more time in the future to update my blogs regularly again, which I am really looking forward to!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blogging burnout?

I have struggled with keeping up on my blogs lately (as you probably have noticed).  The last day or two, I've actually started to wonder if I am a little burned out on blogging.

Part of it is probably that when I decided last year to shift my focus and start working on my fiction a little more, the client work I hung onto was primarily blogging projects.  As a result, I write a number of blog posts a week, and by the time I'm done writing the ones I get paid for, I don't much want to write any for my own blogs.

But part of it is also just that I've been busy, and that is contributing to my feeling of not wanting to blog even when I have time to do so.  I have, however, been doing some research for the second draft of my novel — there were things that weren't researched properly the first time around (no time to do that during NaNo), and some changes that I decided on for the second draft that require some additional research.

In fact, I've been working so much on the novel recently that I started wondering if I should cut back more of my freelance work, or perhaps reduce my blogging responsibilities by dropping one or two of my blogs.  Not any of those that are earning income from AdSense, obviously, and none that have other importance (such as this blog and my novel website), but maybe I'd feel less burnt out if I wasn't trying to force myself to do more blogging than I actually have time for!

Some things to think about.  In the meantime, stay tuned — I do have a post planned for later this week on something I discovered recently that makes organizing my research a lot easier!

Friday, January 06, 2012

New Years resolutions for 2012

I debated for a long while as to whether to set any New Years resolutions.  They don't usually turn out so well for me, and last year I don't believe I really set any, at least not any that were work-related.  But this year I think I'm going to try setting a few that are designed to be accomplished in the the next couple weeks or months, so that it's more likely that they'll be successful.

1) Establish a new daily schedule.

I was looking through my old files, and came across a couple of daily schedules I had made back when I first brought Panama to Denver.  I had blocked out time for horse stuff, and time for work stuff.  I don't remember how long I stuck to it, but it occurred to me that maybe I should do something similar to help me adjust to my new schedule and its limitations, now that I'm working a part-time nanny job.  It'll have to be a flexible schedule, to take into account things like our dog Grace's weekly physical therapy appointments, as well as less frequent appointments (vet and farrier for the horses, doctor for me, etc.), but I think it might help to see it laid out on paper how much time I have to work, and how much time I have for other things.  I also want to try to start getting out to the barn at least three times a week, twice on weekdays and once on the weekends, which a schedule should help me to do.

2) Clean my desk.

I think I usually start out the year by cleaning my desk, actually.  I'm hoping to do that, plus a bunch of filing to finish up 2011, this weekend.  My desk in particular has gotten a little out of control once again.

3) Revise my NaNo novel.

It's January now, which, if you'll remember, is when I said I was going to start work on the first round of revisions to my novel.  First I have some more research to do — I want to tie the planning of the second novel in with the revisions of the first, to make sure I keep everything straight.  Therefore revisions will have to be pushed back a few weeks, but hopefully not any longer.

4) Read a few classics.

Actually, I have a very specific list of classics I want to read in 2012.  I even created a shelf on my Nook for these books, so that I won't forget (since this is my only goal for the year that extends past the next couple of months).

What about you?  Any goals for 2012?