Feb. 9th, 2007

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Finally starting to feel much better. So much so, in fact, that I have sifted through my office book shelves, set three boxes worth aside to be purged in some manner, and boxed up another four boxes worth to be put on additional shelves once they are purchased. This made enough room to put the piles of books on my worktable and floor on four newly-empty shelves in categories thusly: library books; fiction to be read; research - crafts (ie knitting, etc.), househunting, writing; research - cards (as in playing cards, card cheating etc.), swordplay/dueling, pirates. It's amazing how much clearer one's head can seem when one's space is clear. The surface of my desk having been cleared off a couple of weeks ago (and miracle of miracles, I've managed to keep it that way) and rearranged and one set of file organizers reorganized and purged, that just leaves the second set of file organizers to go through, my filing cabinets to purge and clean out, my office supply cupboard thingy to purge and clean out, and the closet to reorganize. Then my office shall be completely cleaned out and reorganized and I shall rightfully sing "We Are the Champions" at the top of my lungs. All the remaining stuff, though, is stuff that hides behind closed doors, so it isn't bugging me as much as the books everywhere thing was. Nevertheless, I am intent on continuing to tackle one or two of these projects at least a week. Pretty much all the other cabinets in the house are in the queue as well. Eventually I might even start writing again, too!

We've started looking for a house, our first purchase of real estate. Three real estate agents, all of whom come highly recommended by friends, are coming over on Monday to try to convince us that we should use them. We've gotten preapproval for a mortgage, far more mortgage than we actually want, in fact. Now the trick is finding a house big enough that we can afford in the approximately 30 square block area that we love.

Something highly amusing: the Voco clock, which awakes you with Stephen Fry's voice doing his perfect valet routine. It says fifty different things, all highly encouraging and yet vaguely (or not so vaguely) sarcastic. For example, "I feel sure that you have slept soundly, feel thoroughly refreshed, and await the day with the anticipation of an energetic gazelle. Good heavens, sir! I saw a pig flying past the window." This is much funnier when you actually hear Fry's voice of course; there are lots and lots of sample recordings at the site.

Also of interest: the bodybugg. This sounds like some kind of scary, space-going parasite (and who knows, perhaps it is) but it claims to be an electronic device you wear on your arm that measures exactly how many calories you've burned in the course of the day. You upload the data from the device to a website, where you can also input a daily record of your caloric intake. If you're not keen on keeping track of your caloric input, however, it can approximate a daily average intake from changes in body mass over weekly weigh-ins. Eventually, no doubt they'll have a device that keeps track of both inputs and outputs automatically and scolds you before you have a chance to put that bite of cake in your mouth. Trying to keep track of what I was burning when I was doing Weight Watchers and the gym both was always a major problem, and always necessarily very approximate, so this device is really interesting to me. There's a sweet spot with input/output calorie ratios, where if you don't take enough food in your metabolism shuts off and you stop losing weight, so it was always tricky, especially when I was hitting the gym a lot and never sure of how much exactly I was burning, to make sure that I was eating enough but not too much. I might look into this more seriously when I am ready to start hitting the gym again.
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I had this idea several months ago that I should try to keep track of the books I read in this space, thinking that it would be considerably more interesting than nearly anything else I might have to say about myself. So, I'm going to give that another try.

Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger. I found this book very helpful. It nudged me to negotiate a higher hourly rate on some editing work I'm going to be doing for the next couple of months, and gave me a lot of good food for thought about payment per word vs. payment per hour of work done. I'm going to try to keep closer track of the amount of time I'm spending on projects so that eventually I can start making smarter decisions about work I take and work I turn away. The payment per hour of work calculation put the capper on my decision not to teach this semester and to try to earn all my money with freelancing, but I hadn't really thought clearly enough about applying it to the freelancing work itself. Lots of good anecdotes, too, from lots of different freelancers talking about how they specialize and focus their business, etc.

Violin Dreams by Arnold Steinhardt. Anecdotes from the first violinist in the Guarneri String Quartet. Short and very conversational. Good research material for a gut feeling of how a professional violinist lives. Probably only interesting to those who have a specific interest in the topic, but I do.

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I was looking at this book as possible fodder for a novel writing class I might eventually teach, in addition to hoping to pick up some tips for myself on plotting. Nothing earth shatteringly unusual here. Some good basic exercises for beginners, and a fairly straightforward, practical way of looking at structure. Reading this and the other couple of books on plot I've been looking over lately has helped me to solidify some possible solutions to problems that I'm having with the end of Blackheart Fleet, but it's less that that books have had something specific to offer and more that they've focused my attention in a slightly different way. But I don't think I'll be using anything from this book in my theoretical class.

20 Master Plots and How To Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias. A good roundup of plot patterns, that I'll probably use at least in an abbreviated version for my novel class. I think it's good to think about what traditions one's book falls into, not only in terms of plot, but also in structure, genre and writing style. I could sit down and make a list of plot templates of my own, of course, but why bother, when someone else has already done it? (Blackheart Fleet is an Underdog story, by the way.)

If You Tame Me by Leslie Irvine . A discussion of animal companions and their place in humans' lives. Part of my ongoing reading on living with and "training" dogs, in advance of our having a house with a yard so we can get a dog. An enjoyable read, again if you have an interest.

Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell. More dog reading. This book isn't a training manual, but it deals in more concrete terms with specific techniques than If You Tame Me. Some good information about thinking about the training process from the dog's point of view.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr. A book about the search for a lost Caravaggio that was found in an Irish rectory. Not highly technical or detailed, but some good anecdotal stuff about how the art world works and how a painting can be lost and then found.

First Draft in 30 Days by Karen Wiesner. This should be titled Very Detailed Outline in 30 Days, but it provides some good tools for producing detailed outlines, which I think will be particularly helpful to novice novelists. Her approach to handling plot is similar to my own, and once again not particularly earth shattering (breaking the structure into main and sub plots, then looking at each arc individually to solve problems before weaving it all together). What's nice is that she breaks the process down into a specific number of days for doing each part. I think if you could stick to this schedule and then do a NaNoWriMo-like 30 day draft, you could have a solid first draft from which to revise in two months time. I really liked working so fast the year I did NaNo, even though I did 2/3 of the 50,000 words in the last 10 days and was about to die by the end. It taught me a lot about how much time I waste revising and revising early on, and about just how fast I really could write if I'd just get out of my own way. But if I'd had an outline to start, I think I would have produced a first draft of Blackheart Fleet then, instead of getting what amounted to very detailed notes and something like a zero draft. I'm planning on using this book as the basis of the first four weeks of my imagined 12 week novel writing class, with some additional exercises from other sources and my very own brain thrown in as well.

So that's what I remember of the last two weeks of reading or so. Since the beginning of January I've read a whole bunch of dog training books, reread two books on buying a house in Canada, and some other random things as well. Almost all of this is non-fiction, which I find easy to pick up and put down, and read in snatches while waiting in doctors' offices or during my acupuncture treatments, etc. Fiction is a major investment of time for me, because I can't pick it up and put it down. Once I've opened the cover, I have to sit down and finish the thing straight through. I still read dozens of novels every year, but usually in fits and starts of two or three books over a weekend while traveling or so forth.  (In case you wondered why someone who would like to think of herself as a novelist doesn't have any novels on her list.)

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