James Floyd Kelly

Writer and Swashbuckler-for-Hire

Making it up as I go…

Not really.  But sorta.

Even though I know the major plot points and actions and scenes, it’s all still in outline form.  So that means filling in the details.  If Chapter 3’s outline is “Hero enters burning building and rescues dog” I still have to write the pages and fill in the detail of the actions… so I do make it up as I go… in a sense.

Today I started Chapter 3 – it’s definitely going to be longer than 5 pages, and I know I need to get a couple of major plot points explained by the end of this chapter… but I hate explanations, so I have to fit in these points in a discussion between major characters without having it sound like an essay.  That means the chapter is likely to push 8-10 pages.  I got 4 pages written today, so I’m feeling pretty good – the main character is halfway where he needs to be by end of Chapter 3, so I’m well on schedule.

And, given that I’m not editing as I go, it might turn out durign rewrite (months from now) that I scrap entire chapters or sections… but, for now, I’m cranking out the story.  I’m a bit biased, so it’s difficult to tell if the story is engaging or even remotely interesting… I’ve provided the first two chapters to two friends, so hopefully I’ll get some good feedback from them and fine-tune future chapters.

This morning I was able to get three chapters for the NXT-G book through the author review process – this is the process that comes after second draft but before copyedit.  I send in draft 1… editor sends back changes/fixes, I make those changes, send back as draft 2… editor gets one more pass at errors, etc and sends back for final Author Review… then copyeditor/tech editor get their look, I make fixes and then send back fixed… then the doc is converted to PDF for the PDF review.  If it sounds like a lot of work, it is… some chapters go faster than others, but if a lot of tech errors are found in a document (it happens), it can really slow me down.  Fortunately, the 3 chapters this morning went fast.

I also started on the revision (draft 1) of chapter 20… but got stuck on a technical problem… so I’ll try and finish ch20 tomorrow.  I’ve been trying to get one chapter revised per day, but that’s pushing it… today was a break from that stuff.

I am happy to report that I’m finding getting my daily chapter writing done (5 pages is my goal per day) not so bad… once I get to writing, the story starts to flow and the pages develop.  I hope I can keep this up for the next 27+ chapters that i’tll take to tell this story.
Word’s today: 942
Words total: 3289
Current Chapter: 3
Pages written today: 4
Pages total: 13
Chapters completed: 2

March 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two days in a row! I’m getting good at this!

Yesterday on Lifehacker.com I read an article about how we should take our most dreaded and/or hated tasks for the day and make them our first priority.  I thought everyone did this!  I don’t always tackle the hardest or most aggravating task first, but I try to do it.  Today, for example… I like writing but I don’t like revisions or rewrites… so I tackled Chapter 19 of the NXT-G book.  I got it done which freed me up to do 6 PDF reviews (not too bad, but I’d still rather be writing…).

After the PDF reviews, it was lunchtime, which was perfect… a little goofing off while cooking lunch allowed me to think about today’s goal – chapter 2 of my fiction book.  As I wrote about in an earlier post, I’ve got the story completely outlined and know which scene comes next… and next… so I know where Chapter 1 left off and where Chapter 2 begins… but I wasn’t certain about where to end Chapter 2.

And that’s where the creative element comes in – I could choose to extend the action in Chapter 2 to Chapter 3… it just lengthens my chapter count… no big deal because the story’s end WILL get there, right?  So, I looked back at my spreadsheet and realized that I needed to break up my original chapter 2 content into 2 shorter chapters… this would allow for a sort-of cliffhanger ending.  And I love cliffhanger endings.

So, I just finished writing Chapter 2.  I’m not going to say that all my chapters are going to run between 4 and 5 pages, but it just so happened again this time that I got what I needed done in almost 4.5 pages.  And it’s got a great cliffhanger… or at least I think it does.

Word’s today:  1181

Words total:  2347

Pages written today:  4.5

Pages total:  9

March 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good start…

Got quite a bit done today… very happy about it.  I was able to get Chapter 18 revised for the NXT-G book… in addition to cleaning up the existing material I also had to add about 8 new pages of text because of a change in the software.  This is now the longest chapter in the book (pushing almost 30 pages) but it couldn’t be helped.  If I had devoted a new chapter to the material it would have forced me to renumber every chapter after that (a real pain) including all the figures (a bigger pain)… so I merged the new material with the chapter that fit best and this will hopefully be okay with my editors.

After that, I got to work on my fiction book.  Today’s the day I planned on starting it and I set a goal of 5 pages per day.  I’m happy to report that I got 4.5 pages written… there wasn’t more I could add to the chapter and I don’t feel like forcing the chapter to a full 5 pages.  Some chapters are likely to be longer, some maybe shorter…  but good luck allowed me to finish this first one and satisfy my daily writing quota.

I have to say that it’s very nice to know where a chapter starts and ends… the time I took to outline the story, develop the characters and scenes that will be required… it seems like it’s paying off.  Chapter 1 wasn’t really difficult to write because I knew what had to be accomplished in this first chapter… and I think I did it.  Editing will come much later… after the entire book is written in fact.  I don’t want to get into hard editing at this point… just write the thing and then go back later and fix problems.  So, tomorrow… another 5 pages (hopefully).

I’m debating asking friends to read chapter 1… I’ll let Ashley read it (if she wants) but I don’t want to have too many people reading over it yet… maybe I’ll open it up after the first draft is completed.  Anyone reading this who might want to take a read of Chapter 1… just let me know.  I may send you a copy to get your thoughts.

Word’s today:  1166

Words total:  1166

Pages written today:  4.5

Pages total:  4.5

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie Maker book is D-O-N-E!

So today I got the PDF files for Movie Maker for chapters 7 to 11… the rest of the book.  I was given a due date of next Thursday to get them done (1 per day) but PDF reviews are fairly easy… you just read over the chapter and look for spelling or grammar errors that you or your copyeditor missed.  If you’ve done your job right over the previous edit sessions (draft 2 and copy edit reviews) then you’re likely to find zero errors in the PDF…

I wanted this book off my plate, so I made an executive decision today to skip everything else and get these chapters done.  I just finished them (3 had small errors – things like a missing period or a space needed between two words) and “Getting StartED with Movie Maker” is DONE!  I’ll likely have to look over the text for the back of the book cover and maybe read over the dedication/acknowledgements pages but for all practical purposes this book is over.  And a good thing, too, because…

I got word today that my Apple iPad book proposal is heading to the desk of the decision maker – it’s passed through a few hands and gotten approved, so one more step until it turns into a contract and another book.  I’d really like to do this book – and not just because it will give me an excuse to purchase the iPad.  It’ll also open a door into the Apple department at my publisher… I’ve never written any Apple product books, so hopefully if I can do this one right it’ll turn into more books down the road.

And I hit a slight bump on the NXT-G Programming Guide 2nd edition book today – the software added a new feature that really needs to be added to Chapter 18… so rather than revising Chapter 18, there’ll be a new section added to the end that’ll likely take a few days to write.  I wanted to do this today, but the PDF reviews that came in became priority for the day.  And that means that all I’ve got left to work on now is the NXT-G book… if the iPad book gets approved, they’ll probably want me to start delivering first drafts in late April or early May.  Perfect timing as my next LEGO book isn’t likely to get started/approved until July or later.  (And I’m honestly a little burned out on writing LEGO robotics books, so a break will do me some good.)

As for the fiction book – I start writing on Monday.  I’m going to return to my 5-pages-per-day quota… at least until I determine if it’s easy or hard.  Easy – I’ll increase the quota.  Hard – I’ll decrease the daily quota.  But I’ve promised myself a nice gift (around $70 – a very cool laptop bag that I’ve been dying to order) when I finish the first draft of the book… that’s my carrot to start and finish the thing.

I also got Part 1 (of 3) written for the Make: Electronics blog that covers Experiment 23… it’s a long experiment, so I’m breaking it into parts – you can check it out at http://handsonelectronics.blogspot.com

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catching up… again…

My editors (two of them – two books) hit me at the same time yesterday with a bunch of chapters – Chapter 1 to 6 for the Movie Maker book are in PDF review (my last chance to find mistakes) and they want them, of course, all back by Monday.  I got Chapters 1, 2, and 4 for the NXT-G 2nd Edition book… no due date but I know they like them back within 2 to 3 days…

On top of all this I needed to revise Chapter 17 today for the NXT-G book.  To stay on schedule (April 23rd completion) I need to be turning in one revision about every 2 days.  I can do it, but it’s sometimes hard to switch mental gears and jump from book to book.

I got some semi-good news today – one of my editors is seriously considering a book proposal I’ve submitted for the new Apple iPad.  I don’t think I’d buy one if there wasn’t a book involved… but then again, I really REALLY like it.  Hopefully they won’t make me buy one without a book involved.  (Plus it’s easier to sell to the wife when it’s required to own one in order to write the book.)

I’ve managed to get a few edits done today, got ch17 revised and sent in, and now it’s started to rain.  I need to plot out the path my storyline takes on a real map.  Why a real map?  The story takes place in some areas I’m not too familiar with and since it’s a modern day storyline, I’d like to keep it as realistic as possible… no planets or spaceships to visit.  Just a solid chase across two states involving various dark and mysterious locations, some of them very critical to the storyline.

I’m still on schedule to get writing on the fiction story on Monday.  Yeah!

As for other stuff – I finally managed to get Experiments 20, 21, and 22 completed for the Make: Electronics book – I’m still blogging about my experiences over at handson.blogspot.com – got a nice group of people following along and reading about my successes and failures… hopefully they’ll avoid my mistakes.  36 experiments, so I’ve got 14 left until the book’s done.

If I get the Apple iPad book, the word is that they want it started ASAP… translated, that means probably mid to late April… better get back to work now…

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Generic Thought-Provoking Post Title…

One habit I’m definitely developing is getting my revision work done in the morning hours and finishing it up after lunch… I managed to get Chapter 16 revised today (for the NXT-G book) and there are no copyedit chapters waiting for me today… so I’ve been able to take some of my brainstorming ideas yesterday and roll them into my fiction story spreadsheet… I initially had 30 chapters planned, but today I got 6 scenes finished today and the story now seems to slide together… so I may cut it to 28 chapters.  I hate to add chapters just to try and meet an arbitrary number (30) but I’ll leave it open in case I find I need some breathing room with a chapter that’s going long.

At this point, my spreadsheet is developed enough for me to finalize all my Scene Cards and have the book in a very summarized and visual format.  I’ll likely take a day or two and go back over the entire story, card by card, and make sure that there’s nothing in there that’s boring or not relevant to the overall story… this may come back and bite me if a publisher wants more details, backstory, etc… but I’ve found in my research into YA fiction that the key is a fast-paced story that doesn’t dwell too long on minute details… we’ll see.

Since the new baby is arriving in June, I’ve got all of April and May and whatever’s left in March and whatever I can get in June to get this book written… Ashley will have 3 months off work, so that’ll help, but I really want to get the first draft done before the baby gets here (or at least before Ashley returns to work)… after first draft is done, I can take whatever time is necessary to polish it up and (hopefully) send out proposals to some agencies…

It’s also likely I’ll have one or two non-fiction books to write starting in May or June… when the NXT-G book is done (sometime in May) I’ll be looking for more writing work, and my editors have already been asking me about a few ideas I’ve proposed in the past… the last thing I want to do is get 3 books at once.  That happened last year and was miserable… very stressful.

So, tomorrow I’ll get Ch17 revised… probably a few chapters will come in tonight for copyediting, and then I can get to my Scene Cards and try to summarize them into an outline format for the book.  My goal is to still start next Monday on the writing…

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Busy Day… Yay!

So, I used up all the morning and part of the afternoon getting a couple of copyedit chapters returned to my editor as well as revising Chapter 15 for the NXT-G book – I did this to free up the rest of my afternoon to concentrate on filling in more blanks on the fiction story.  I like the Scene Cards but they make it difficult to work with when you’ve only got a small table to work on… (other customers are likely to give me ugly looks at Atlanta Bread Company if I start spreading them over the floor or taping them to the wall… )

So, I transferred some of my Scene Card concepts to a spreadsheet (see picture).  I have columns for Chapter number, name, major characters, location, and more… including notes.  I like this because it gives me a visual representation of the flow of the book.  For example, in the picture you can see a column of red/orange/yellow items – red indicates a Master scene – high action and critical story elements related to the overall plot – orange is Major scene and involves more action but does not contain critical information that will be required for a later chapter.  Minor (yellow) scenes are for filling in blanks and connecting action scenes… I’m trying to minimize them and go for a constant action storyline… difficult to do.  I’ve read novels that do this and they can sometimes be TOO much, too fast.  Still, for a kids book, the general concensus is that slower parts of the book need to be cut or kept to a minimum.

Along the right side of the image you’ll see items highlighted in green.  These indicate a matching Scene Card.  So I’ve now got 9 Scene Cards done (with a lot more detail than the spreadsheet contains)… and 13 scenes that need Scene Cards created… that leaves 8 more (for a total of 30 in a 30 chapter book).

What’s nice about the spreadsheet is I can move around items easily… making connecting Master Scenes easier, too.  I’ve got 10 chapters left to create and outline… I know a few key scenes that I haven’t created yet, but I need to come up with 1 or 2 more critical action scenes to fill out the book… then I can start writing.

In case you’re interested, this is how I often outline a non-fiction book (but not always).  I like to know the pagecount or expected chapter count and then I can fill in the spaces… I know that certain chapters will follow chapter X and that other chapters must come before Chapter Y… not sure why I’ve never considered using a spreadsheet before for a fiction story, but now that I’ve got it created, it’s much easier to see the entire novel developing when it’s all on a single screen.

I woke up today with a creative-level of HIGH (maybe it was because of the low-stress weekend) so I decided to take advantage of it and push through and try to get scenes created to get me up to 20 chapters.  Even though they’re not in sequential order, I managed to get 13 new scenes created… so that leaves me with 8 more.  Just 8 more scenes to create/outline and I’ll be ready to get this book started.  I’d really like to get those 8 done this week… hopefully I’ll have one or two more days this week with a HIGH creative level… not a MED or LOW setting.

Also, the summary document I’ve been writing to consolidate the storyline has hit 15 pages.  At this point, someone reading it would know how the story starts and ends and much of the middle stuff… including the key surprises and twists.  I’ll have to remember in the future to do this again… it’s been a huge help in keeping everything straight.  No more developing a book in my head… put it on paper.

March 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Weekends are a bust… usually…

I rarely try to get any work done on Saturday/Sunday – I’ve given some thought about whether I should try to do some writing on weekends or even editing… but I’ve always tried to treat my writing as a job.  Except when I’m behind schedule, which always seemed to be the case up until last year when I finally got myself organized and had a method for handling incoming and outgoing chapters and reviews.

Because I’m hoping to free up some time this week to work on getting my chapters outlined for the fiction story, today I managed to get 3 chapters reviewed for my NXT-G book – I had 5 but 2 of them had a few tech errors in them that I’ll have to clean up… but if I’d put off these 5 chapters to Monday, I’d likely get nothing done tomorrow… so I’m not too upset about having to do some edit work today.  (And the weather isn’t nice -rain and thunderstorms typically make people sleepy, but I’d rather work since I can’t go outside…)

I’m hoping this week to get at least 11 Scene Cards completed… that will put me at 20 chapters and set me up to finish the last 10 chapters the following week.  With the current 9 Scene Cards completed, I’m finding that I’m not dwelling on the material that will go into those chapters and I’m focusing on the ones I haven’t yet finalized in my head.  To keep everything straight, I’m also probably going to have to tape these up on a wall somewhere so I can see them all at once rather than hunting for a single card in the stack.

Based on the calendar, I’m hoping to get started writing on April 5 – and because I’ll know what each chapter is supposed to accomplish, I’m hoping that writing the story will be a little easier since I’m not really making it up as I go…

March 21, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Meeting Jack…

One of my favorite scifi authors is Jack McDevitt – if you like scifi and are not familiar with him, I can highly recommend his books.  (Email me if you want specific titles… as with all authors, some of his stuff is better than others.)

He was invited to speak at the Atlanta Writer’s Club today and I got a chance to sit down with him for about 20 minutes prior to his talk and visit with him and his wife, Maureen.  I’ve emailed Jack questions about writing in the past and he’s always responded with good answers and encouragement.  His talk lasted about 30 minutes and it was funny… he’s got a great sense of humor.  He also took some questions and answered one of mine related to how he plots his books.

I took along a copy of two of my non-fiction books – Don’t Spend a Dime and Ubuntu on a Dime – and gave them to him as a thank you for his correspondence.  He asked me to sign them (which was nice) and I got him to sign my copy of Time Travelers Never Die.

I’ve never made the effort to track down my favorite writers when they speak but I couldn’t pass this chance up.  He did mention he has a new book coming out in late 2010 and another in 2011.  They’re books in the Alex Benedict series… his best series in my opinion (Talent for War, Seeker, Polaris, and Devil’s Eye are the current books in the series).

A good day… and very motivating.

March 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reboot…

I told myself that I was going to finish my first fiction book idea before starting the next… I should have known I was lying to myself because I cannot get the new story I’ve developed out of my head… I spent the last few days writing up a 9 page summary of most (not all) of the major action scenes, the characters, and the major plotline.  I knew if I didn’t write some of this down, I’d lose it… so for the past few days, every time a great idea jumped into my head, I ran off and added it to my summary document… finally, I had the beginning, middle and end to the story.  I cannot say that about my first fiction book, so…

I’ve made an executive decision that I’m going to shelve that book for a bit, let it stew a while, and start working on this new idea that is, honestly, much more fine-tuned and developed.

For anyone who is interested, I’m running my plays based on a great book by James V. Smith, Jr. titled You Can Write a Novel – I’ve read quite a few books about novel writing over the years and this one I’ve always come back to as THE book I would use when I finally decided to try my hand at fiction writing.  It is VERY different than writing non-fiction/computer books, and the methodology suits me – I like to know where I’m going and this book has a more methodical approach to writing – I know a lot of writers prefer to write as their subconscious leads them, but I’m not one of them… as with non-fiction, I want to know where the story will start and where it will end.  The book provides the format for worksheets and notecards to help a writer get organized… and if you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see that I’ve created 9 Scene Cards (corresponding to 9 chapters of the book)… I was able to get these 9 cards created in a single afternoon after reviewing my summary document and following some instructions in the book.

I’m not following every bit of advice offered by Smith… some of the stuff I just feel isn’t as necessary as others (such as Character Sheets for each major character) – my summary document has enough background material for me to understand my characters and know where they’re going, etc…

So, roughly 21 Scene Cards left to create… that’s assuming a 30 chapter book and that obviously can change depending on how the story plays out.  Again, I know the start, middle, and end, but now I’ve got to organize the chapters and put the various action sequences into play by linking them together… I’ve already seen the value of the cards because at one point I readjusted a scene to come a bit later… all that required was scratching out the chapter # and writing in a new one.

Now, once I have the 30 or so Scene Cards created, I’ll have a solid outline for the structure of the story and THEN I can start writing, knowing where the story is going versus “winging it” as I’ve been doing with fiction story 1.  So… Fiction Story 1 – shelved (for now).  Fiction Story 2 – in development – I’m hoping to have all Scene Cards written and outlined by late next week or the following… then I’ll revisit how my daily quota – will it be a set # of pages?  A chapter per day?  Half a chapter per day?  Not sure, but I’m feeling much better now that I know the structure.

If anyone wants the Scene Card file template, let me know – it’s not pretty at all – I typed it up from a small picture in the Smith book and it’s grainy and ugly, but it works.  Of course, the Scene Card file won’t do you any good without the book because so much of the Card’s content requires your understanding the process described.

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment