Month: March 2016

Time and Tide

I have been using a system of log files for time planning and tracking for a while. It’s an established system, but I’m not sure I am getting as much done as I would like.

One of the YouTube channels I follow is Basic Filmmaker. He does lots of interesting and digestible videos on filmmaking, but he posted one yesterday about managing time –

Thinking about this while making my tea this morning, I wondered about whether I needed to apply a more scheduled form to my day plan. Having some kind of plan certainly seems to help me – would more plan be better?

While that seems initially attractive, I also remember that this is something I have tried before and it didn’t take.

There are two broad categories of tasks I work on: things that can be measurably finished, and things that can’t*. One of the reasons I think that the detailed planning approach didn’t take before is that much of my work is in the measurable completion category – the plans I make aren’t just setting aside slots for things to be worked on, they are encoding estimates of how long I think a task will take.

To take an example, I might be working on fixing a bug in some application code – the task isn’t done until the bug is fixed. Or I might be adding a feature to a script, and the task isn’t done until the feature is operating. When a task like that takes longer than expected (and the time required to fix bugs in particular is something that can explode) then the whole plan for the day is blown.

The other side of this is that many of the open-ended things I work on should probably be declared done before I stop working on them. I mentioned shims last time – I’m trying to make the book better, but so much of what I’m learning in writing Livia is that “good enough” can be enough.

Still, it’s something to think about, and I am going to try a more structured approach since there are a lot of things that need to happen in the next few weeks.

[*] there is also a third category of maintenance tasks, but I’m treating those as completable but repeating.

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A few weeks ago I was working on a house project – replacing slides on a couple of drawers in the kitchen. This was the second time I was replacing these slides since these are heavy drawers – they’re the bin drawers (one with general recycling and the other for glass and general rubbish*) and they’re made from fibre board. Each drawer weighs something like 40-50 lb (20 kg-ish). The two-part drawer slides just weren’t up to the job, and I should have installed something beefier last time.

Anyway, I procured some heavier duty slides this time, rated up to 150 lb and with a lovely smooth sliding action. The only problem was that the slides on either side needed to be exactly parallel to each other to function.

The first drawer I did was fine – the cabinet sides were indeed parallel, and the slides worked perfectly. The second one… the cabinet sides flared by a tiny amount, 1/8″ / 3mm over the length of the slide. Nothing to worry about with the old slides, but enough to jam the drawer with still a quarter of its travel to go with these newer and more exacting pieces.

So I made a shim. I measured the thickness of some card I had to hand, then built a stepped shim that went from flat to 1/8″ over the length of the slide, one sheet thickness at a time. I stuck that in between the slide and the cabinet on one side, and the drawer went straight back.

This building of shims is what I feel like I am doing with Livia at the moment – inserting slivers of dialogue and description to make sure the plot runs straight and the characters behave in rational, or at least self-consistent, ways. I’m trying to bridge the gap between the book I have and the book it could be. Some of this is just wordsmithing to improve the way the story reads, and some of it is the hard work of ensuring the things the characters say agree the next time they talk about a subject.

It’s a good thing to be doing. I’m excited to see what this book turns into.

[*] separate bins for these. We’re not monsters.

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I’ve been working on the second draft of Livia and the Corpuscles.

The second pass edits in January went smoothly enough, and I received feedback from readers which helped identify the good bits and the bits that needed work. I wrote up a revision plan a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing through that at a consistent, if not exactly rapid, pace. The target originally was to have a version of this book ready to go into the company library for the end of January, but the book just wasn’t in a state where I could do that.

The goal now is to have the revisions largely done by the end of this week. This is a slightly arbitrary deadline, but I also don’t want this story to languish: the book should be good as I can make it, but the main the book needs to be is finished. And the situational review I did this morning (ie going over the outstanding items in the revision plan to see if it really, cosmically speaking, mattered) show that I am rather more than halfway through the plan with a clear path to completion for most of it.

I also had a lot of fun making a cover layout and signature image. A little more needs to be done, but I can’t finalise the cover until I know how long the book actually is.

Anyway, that’s where I am. Not much more to write here when I should be over in the neighbouring text window, writing words.

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