An unscheduled vacation

My husband took last week off from work.  We weren't planning on going anywhere, and in fact it was a fairly last-minute decision — he asked for the time off about a week beforehand.  He was getting stressed out at work and needed a little break.

I was planning on working while he was off.  I had a light week scheduled, so I figured I would work some short days and spend the rest of my time with him.  Ha.  I ended up getting very little done — my resolve to work fell apart by about Tuesday.

It was a great week.  We shopped together and got some things for the house, and did some upgrades to the bathroom that we have been talking about doing for ages.  How many husbands want to spend their time at an antique mall on their vacation?  And now you see why my will power to work failed me!  Who can resist temptation like that?

Luckily I'd only had a light workload last week, so I was able to more or less get away with it.  I have some catching up to do this week, on client work as well as getting ready for NaNoWriMo, but nothing I can't handle.

What about you?  Have you ever taken an unscheduled vacation?  How did it turn out?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, October 27, 2010 At 11:07 AM 0 comments

Asus Eee replacement battery review

Recently my battery in my Asus Eee died, and I had to get a replacement.  I was really nervous about getting an aftermarket replacement, but after using it for a couple of weeks, I have to say I'm really pleased with it!

Here is the battery I got: Asus Eee 1000 battery

First of all, I was really impressed with how quickly the battery came.  I had it within a few days of ordering, despite the estimated delivery time.

The battery is also more powerful than the one my computer came with.  Because I bought the netbook from Best Buy, it only came with the 4400 battery, instead of the 6600.  When it was new, I typically got about 3 hours at the full processor speed and with the wireless on (the Eee I have allows you to turn down the processor speed to get more out of the battery).  Shortly before it quit working, I was only getting about two hours out of it at best, maybe a little more with the wireless off.

The new battery is much better.  After running it down fully and charging it up fully a few times to condition it, I timed the battery life at a little over four hours — and that's at maximum processor speed, with the wireless on.  I haven't yet tried turning down the processor and turning the wireless off, but I think I'd probably get well over five hours out of the battery if I did.

It occurred to me the other day that with NaNoWriMo starting in a little over a week, this is a perfect time to have a brand-new, long life battery.  I'll be able to easily last through all the write-ins on battery power — I won't have to worry at all about bringing my cord!

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, October 22, 2010 At 12:00 PM 0 comments

What NaNoWriMo events do you participate in?

Two weeks until the start of NaNoWriMo 2010!  I'm getting really excited.  One of the things I'm looking forward to the most is attending the events — I love going to the local write-ins and social meet-ups.  I'm usually the only professional writer, but I try to put that all aside and just have fun.

It occurred to me the other day, though, that a lot of the people who read my blog have probably never even been to any of the events.  If you want to check it out, sign in on NaNoWriMo.org and go to the forums.  You should have a forum category dedicated to your area, determined by what you set in your profile.

There are two basic types of events throughout the month, most of them on a weekly basis: social meet-ups, and write-ins.  Don't plan on getting much writing done at the social meet-ups, as they are more so that you can get to know the other writers in your area, talk about your novels, and sometimes even read from your novel.  These meet-ups can also be good for getting help if you get stuck, but mostly they are just for fun and for getting to know one another.

Write-ins are more serious.  Generally the idea is to shut up and write, although a little bit of socialization is sometimes allowed, depending on how anal the members of your group are.  It's a good way to get a couple of solid hours of writing in, though, especially if you've been struggling with motivation.  And then you have one of my personal favorite, the word wars — someone sets a timer, and everyone writes like the dickens for ten minutes or so.  When the timer goes off, you see who has the highest word count.

Once during the month, usually toward the end for those desperate folk who have gotten behind, there is an all-day write in, called a write-a-thon.  The area leaders usually plan this, and there are various prizes for word wars throughout the day.  I attended one in 2008, and it was a lot of fun, though we were all spazzed out on caffeine by the end of the day (the write-a-thon was held in a tea shop).

This year will be my first year attending the kickoff party.  Usually this one is held at someone's house, since it is held Halloween night, and everyone starts writing at midnight local time — not many places are open late enough for something like that.  But this year, we have a wonderful 24-hour bookstore and coffee shop that opened up near me, so that's where the kickoff party is being held.  I'm so excited!

Do you participate in any local events during NaNoWriMo, and if so, which ones?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, October 20, 2010 At 10:30 AM 0 comments

The mathematics of a perfect day

Last Thursday, I had one of those rare perfect days.  Well, close enough — it took me a little while to get warmed up, but in the end I was able to achieve my ideal working pace.  Everything seems to be taking me up to twice as long lately, so this was a really big deal!

For me, a perfect day seems to be about 4 hours (give or take) of client work.  This gives me time to get warmed up in the morning, check email and Facebook, do a little blog reading, maintain my own blogs, and maybe do a little marketing.  It also gives me time to take short breaks throughout the day, which I can't seem to make myself forego.

I think my perfect day goes a little bit like this:

½ hour getting caught up on email (work and personal)
½ hour checking other blogs
1-2 hours working on my own blogs and/or marketing
5 or so hours spent on client work, usually in 1-2 hour blocks, with Facebook and email breaks in between (the extra hour "or so" is to account for breaks)

On Thursday I had a limited amount of time, so I cut out the blogging in favor of getting the work done earlier.  I was done for the day by 3:30, and I couldn't help but think how nice it would be if I could be that efficient all the time.  Then I could easily skip blogging and other marketing every other day, or move it to the evening, in order to make more time for horseback riding during the day.

What is your perfect workday like?
By Katharine Swan On Monday, October 18, 2010 At 2:29 PM 1 comments

International Freelancers Day video review: "Workday Nirvana"

I finally got around to watching the replay of the video I most wanted to watch in the International Freelancers Day video lineup: "Workday Nirvana: How to remain inspired and productive when you work alone."  I wanted to watch this one because it is so applicable to the productivity issues I'm struggling with right now.

The presenter, Mike McDerment, has some good points.  Here are a few of his main points, and my thoughts on each.

* Have a clean, dedicated, well-stocked workspace and a good chair.  This was really divided into two points.  One, you need a space that no one in your family is going to mess with, that you can close the door on after hours, but also where you can be undisturbed during work hours.  In addition, he talked about the importance of a comfortable chair, since you'll be spending so much time in it!

Well, first of all, my desk is NOT clean.  I clean it a couple of times a year, and the inbox gradually overflows until I clean it all again.  But more importantly, I find that I do better when I don't sit in the same place all day long, so having a dedicated workspace might actually hinder my productivity, in my case.  The comfortable chair I totally agree with, though — I replaced my first desk chair because I couldn't sit in it for very long without feeling uncomfortable.

* Plan your week Sunday night.  I've heard this one before.  The idea is to plan out your week Sunday night, so that you know what you have to do and can get right to work Monday morning.  I already do this in part, since I usually write out my to-do list for the next day the night before — perhaps I could benefit from planning more than one day at a time.

* Dress for the day.  McDerment is actually talking about dressing up.  I don't wear business clothes at home, but I do find that I generally work better if I change out of my pajamas when I wake up.  It doesn't matter if I just put on sweats — the act of changing my clothes seems to signal to my brain that it's time to work.

* Set a daily schedule.  He really advocates working the same hours every day, whether that is 9 to 5 or something different.  I think for some of us it might be more useful to simply set a schedule for the day and stick to it.  Most of us have variable schedules, and in fact, that may have something to do with why we freelance: the ability to choose our own hours.  But I get what he's saying: that having a routine can help you get into a productive mindset during work hours.

* Network.  Part of this tip seems to be that networking lunches get you out of the house.  I do find that getting out of the house helps me to focus with the rest of my day, whereas knowing I'm going to be sitting at home for the next 12 hours tends to make me procrastinate more.  However, my version of getting out of the house during the day is currently limited to going to the barn.  Perhaps I should look at some networking opportunities... though that might be tough, when most of the people I network with are online, rather than local!

* Don't work too hard.  This seems counter-intuitive, but I get what he's saying: If you work too hard, you are going to lose inspiration because you are going to burn out.  He advocates taking breaks, lunches, and working regular hours (no evenings or weekends).  Ha.  I know a couple of freelancers who never break this rule, but they are precious few.  I personally like being able to make the decision to work evenings so that I can spend the warmer, lighter daytime hours at the barn, or working harder some days so that I can take some time off another day.  Unfortunately, I also know what he's saying, that it's easy to let work engulf you, because there really is always something you need to do.  So if you have a more flexible schedule, I think you also need to have the ability to know when enough is enough.

I think I covered all his main points, but I do recommend watching the 20-minutes video if you're interested in finding out more.  You can sign up for free to watch the International Freelancers Day video replays, so why not?

What are your thoughts about his tips for achieving better workday inspiration and productivity?  My main reaction is that these kinds of self-help gurus never tell you how to be disciplined enough to follow their tips in the first place.  I may start out with the best intentions, but any trick I try only works the first few times.  Has anyone else found this to be true?

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By Katharine Swan On Saturday, October 16, 2010 At 2:28 PM 1 comments

Here's what I want

What I want is 28 hours in a day, instead of 24.  Is that too much to ask?

Seriously, though, I am having a hard time making time for everything I want to do, which has caused a lot of thought on why this is happening and how I can fix it.

The biggest problem is that I've realized I'm not riding enough.  I had this epiphany last Wednesday, when Panama played with — and wore out — two friends in consecutive playdates, and was still fired up after that.  I think that has something to do with why I've been having some problems with him lately, and why I've been falling so much.  I started out the summer riding nearly every day, and he was much better behaved then.

So I need to find a way to make that happen again, except without neglecting my work, as I was then.

This is what I want, but the problem is, I don't know how to make it happen.  I used to go to the barn nearly every day and have time for it, but in the past year or so I've noticed a change in my work habits.  I figure it is taking me about 1.5 times longer (on average) to finish client projects as it used to, so if I don't spend less time at the barn, it means less money earned at the keyboard.

Why the change?  I don't know, but I suspect it may have something to do with Facebook!  That's not the only time waster I've discovered in the past year, though, so perhaps Facebook is the symptom rather than the problem.  Whatever the cause, I'm going to have to figure out how to reclaim some of my lost productivity if I am going to get what I want — more free time — especially with NaNoWriMo coming up!  The first year I did NaNo, it served to increase my productivity — hopefully it will do the same this year, too.

Has anyone else gone through a period where you've lost productivity for whatever reason?  And if so, how did you get it back?

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By Katharine Swan On Tuesday, October 12, 2010 At 3:07 PM 0 comments

Recruiting writing buddies for NaNoWriMo

I've decided what I need this year is a couple of writing buddies to help me stay motivated during NaNoWriMo.  I've already pitched the idea to my mom, and she is considering participating this year.  I'm also trying (for the second year) to get an old high school friend to try it — due to circumstances in his personal life, I might actually have some luck this year.

Although this will be my fifth year doing NaNoWriMo, I've never been able to get anyone I know to do it with me.  I do have a few writing buddies I've met during NaNo, some of them dating back to the first year I did it, but it would be pretty cool if I could get friends and family to try it this year.

What about you?  Do you have any friends or family who do NaNoWriMo along with you, or are your writing buddies made up of those you've met through NaNo?  Or do you fly solo — no writing buddies at all?

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, October 11, 2010 At 11:39 AM 2 comments

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?

For those of you who don't already know, every November I participate in NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in one month.  I "won" (completed 50,000 words) the first year I did NaNo, in 2006, but I haven't since, for various reasons.  However, winner or not, I love participating in all the meet-ups, write-ins, forum discussions, and word count challenges that come with NaNoWriMo.

This year, for the second year in a row, I will be working on a novel that is already in progress.  This is against a strict interpretation of NaNoWriMo rules, but since I'm competing against myself, who cares?  Like last year, I will only count the words I add during NaNo 2010, so there's not really much of a difference.

If you haven't done NaNo before, I highly recommend it.  Whether or not you try to win, meeting other participants, doing write-ins, and talking about your novel can provide motivation.   Sign up, and then get on the forum for your area to see what local events you can attend!

This year the Denver kickoff party will be at Fireside, a 24-hour bookstore and coffee stop that opened up near my house earlier this year.  I love this bookstore, so I'm looking forward to the kickoff party very much, plus any write-ins we can set up there!

I'll blog a bit more about my novel as November approaches, but for now, I'd love to hear who else is planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year!

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, October 06, 2010 At 8:38 PM 4 comments

RIP, netbook battery

About a year and a half ago, I bought a netbook, the Asus Eee, to replace my aging Averatec laptop.  I've been using the Eee every day for work ever since, and still find it to be perfect for all my needs as a freelance writer.

Unfortunately, last week the battery quit.  It was fairly unexpected — although I'd been getting a little less battery life (even the smaller 4400mAh Asus Eee battery used to give me about 3 hours of Internet browsing), there was nothing to indicate that it would suddenly quit charging altogether.

My mom has the same computer, so before ordering a new battery, I tried her battery in my computer and found it worked fine.  Reassured it wasn't an operating system issue, I ordered the same battery my dad got her as an extra.  It's a little bigger, so I am looking forward to a little longer battery life!

I hate these unexpected freelancing expenses, but this one didn't turn out to be too painful.  The battery was fairly affordable, and it was a kick in the pants to do something I've been meaning to do: Buy the bigger battery for my netbook.

Have you been hit with any unexpected freelancing expenses lately?

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, October 04, 2010 At 12:48 PM 0 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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