S. J. Kelley

Tag Archive: Toolbox

RSP #167: Diversifying Your Income with Rachael Herron

Great episode on RSP this week (so sad that Simon is only posting biweekly instead of weekly now; it’s my favourite show!) One thing I want to note for later is using WordPress’s Redirection plugin to have “evergreen links” in the front/back matter of books. Rachael makes a short URL on her blog and points the link in her book to it, and then just updates the link to tell it to redirect to different places. This is useful for lots of reasons:

  • You never have to update all the books, just the redirect on WordPress; this would save a lot of work as the number of books increases.
  • You can send everyone to the same newsletter sign-up page in the end, but have different links in the front/back of books so you’re able to segregate.
  • You can have a placeholder on your site for a book coming soon, then redirect to amazon or Kobo when it comes out (although I think I’d have to be careful about not using Amazon affiliate links; I remember reading somewhere that redirecting to affiliate links might be a no-go).

It’s essentially a service like bit.ly, but you own the whole process without having to go through a third party. I like it!

New host and website is live!

After reading on KBoards about some author blogs on the free services that got taken down for no apparent reason, I decided that I really wanted to have full control over my website, so I bought a 3-year hosting plan and switched from Blogger to WordPress. The transition wasn’t all that painful; there’s a great plugin to import posts from Blogger, and then it was just a matter of cleaning up a few things. I’m actually enjoying WordPress very much! I’m not sure if it differs from the free version on wordpress.com, but the install on my domain is fantastic. So flexible.

One thing I really like is how categories are displayed hierarchically and how I can use tags for SEO. Not sure if I’m doing it correctly or not, but I love classifying things, heh. I’ve gone through all of my old posts to try to make it easier to find posts on different topics.

In the course of setting everything up, I’ve added a few things that I’d like to note here in case I have to re-install, or in case you’re setting up your own WordPress blog! I’ve added:

  • A google analytics dashboard so I can see popular posts — Blogger had this but it was almost impossible to get it to stop tracking my own actions; here it’s easy peasy!
  • A breadcrumb trail to help with navigation
  • A plugin to allow me to put in custom CSS (you’ll see this in the works when I get my book review library page up and running)
  • A redirection plugin so that links won’t break if I change my post sorting rules
  • Updated permalink formatting

I still have to go through old posts that have internal links or pictures to fix them up, but other than that I’m back in business!

I’ve been busy

I haven’t posted in some time, but I’ve learned so much. I feel like I can take this writing business by the horns now. I stopped tracking my time, because tracking my time was taking too much time (oh the irony). I have to get over the strange feeling of not having metrics to track, and just accept that it’s for the better good. Not quite there yet.

I start my morning by reading The Passive Voice and the latest posts on KBoards; I check back in on them at lunch. In the evenings, I read books on craft and marketing. I’ve recently devoured several books by James Scott Bell, and have decided that I should really look at the iconic texts of storytelling craft: Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering” and “Story Physics”; Robert McKee’s “Story”; and Christopher Vogel’s, “The Hero’s Journey.” I also tracked down a copy of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat Goes to the Movies.” In terms of marketing, I’ve been enjoying Ryan Levesque’s “Ask” and Jeff Walker’s “Launch.” I’ll be reviewing all of these resources in the coming weeks hopefully (but with my track record of keeping this blog updated, who knows? Business comes first 🙂 ).

I also broke down and bought an AlphaSmart Dana; an antiquated piece of retrotech that runs off three AA batteries and can’t read SD cards over 1 GB in size. It’s an electronic word processor running on PalmOS and it does one thing well: typing. The keyboard is fantastic, and it’s a great distraction-free writing tool. Bought a whole set of them because shipping to Canada was so expensive I figured, why not? At least if one breaks I have a backup, and I also now have a dedicated machine for working on this new writing empire I’m building, heh. I’ll probably talk about it more in future.

I can’t believe another year is almost over… I started this blog in 2014; a few posts back I thought I’d publish my first episode around this time of year. Now, I’m realizing I really should have the complete series plotted before I get any further into my manuscript, even if it takes longer before I make a sale.

I’ve just been through our first crazy crunch time at work, and some serious burn-out. Now I’m heading head-long into another that won’t let up until February. Somehow, this year, I have to keep my head above water and keep working toward my business goals. This is despite the fact that I have taken on a part-time teaching job (yet again), as well as additional part-time consulting work.

Wish me luck.

Week of May 4, 2015: Cannot find simple floor plan software to help me visualize my world

Stat summary for the last two weeks can be found here.

I think it’s good that I’m starting to track how much time I spend on the business side of indie publishing and how much I spend on actual writing. For the week of April 27, 2015 I spent a total of 13:25 on the author career, and 9:41 of that was used on business related things (learning the business, trends, advice, etc). This is not an acceptable ratio!

I got my butt in gear the next week but came to a point in the novel where my Main character is exploring the school, and I realized I needed a clear picture of the school in my mind. I tried program after program to draw a “simple” floor plan of the school so I could orient myself. It was a major block; I couldn’t keep going unless I knew where I was. Going through the motions made me realize that the space I had envisioned was physically impossible because I had huge rooms next to ones that were very small, but for the plot they had to be similar in size. It was a mess.

I spent 26:07 last week on this career, and used 15:17 for trying to come up with a good map. I’m still not there. That said, the exercise was not entirely fruitless. I added more groups inside the school, and came up with their past histories, which groups conflict on a number of different controversial topics, and how the groups work together. Lots of this will be important to the plot, and I feel I have a much better grip on who these people are. I started an excel sheet to lay out what the different groups think about various things (I’m being intentionally vague).

That said, I still do want to make a floor plan. I tried several software programs. I just want one that lets me edit the walls with a snap feature, and let’s me copy floors for multi-level buildings, and maybe see the floor beneath. Just something simple to let me draw boxes and stick windows and furniture in them! Here’s a quick summary of the software that fell short:

  • Sweet Home 3D was nice, and let me see the floor beneath, but the interface wasn’t great, and it was slow. Amazingly, they had no pan ability in the 3D view. The only way to get around it was to do a “virtual tour” and make the person 20 feet tall. The walls wouldn’t line up well, but at least I could copy them.
  • Room Arranger was the best I think; it had a nice guide feature, but you had to edit the walls separately from the contents of the room (including windows and doors), and there was no easy way to copy a bunch of walls to make multiple storeys. I did the most work in this program, but in the end it took almost a whole day to plan out the first floor of a dorm and the bathrooms. o_O’
  • I tried Home Designer but it wouldn’t run under my Windows XP Virtual Machine.
  • EZBluePrint 3D seemed ok, but lacked a grid and the interface was just plan odd, but the snapping feature was one of the best.
  • I even watched some video tutorials on Google SketchUp, but you have to make things like windows and doors from basic shapes and that’s way too time consuming.
There seemed to be quite a selection of online options, but I have to make a massive building and grounds, and don’t trust that my information won’t go piff. I like having things as files that I can put on Dropbox and my external hard drive.
I don’t yet have an answer to this issue, except maybe drawing everything by hand. I think it would go faster that way, but my space perception is about as good as a one-eyed newborn kitten’s. Software programs let you add furniture to the room so you I can say things like, “gee, when I put everything I need in that room I only ill 20% of the space… it must be the size of a football field!” To draw it by hand I’d have to lookup the normal sizes of things for scale, and I couldn’t just drag a wall smaller to get it to fit.
Next week I’ll probably come in here with my head between my legs and say I drew the damn thing by hand, and spent the whole week doing it… at least it gets me thinking about the world.
Oh I just thought of something! I’ll ask the folks on KBoards! Stay tuned…

Headset for Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5

I’ve been dictating for the past few weeks, and while I like it, I’m still getting used to it. One thing I know for certain is that I’ll need to upgrade from the headset supplied with the software. It’s killing my ears! I went on the Dragon website and looked at all the headsets rated at 6 Dragons (the top compatibility rating) and decided on the Andrea NC-250V Circumaural Stereo PC Headset. Buying it is on my to-do list. Right after new glasses 🙂

Modeling my world

I met the point in my book were my main character is exploring the “New World,” which in this case is a school complex. I realized I couldn’t write about what he was seeing unless I had a good understanding of the space myself. I started off drawing the school grounds free hand, but my skills and proportion are extremely lacking. Then I tried redrawing everything on graph paper, but I kept making mistakes, a racing lines over and over, and then having to start over from the beginning.

I thought there must be a way to do this electronically, but I didn’t want to waste a lot of time learning specialty floor plan software. It turns out that there is a free software program available that is very intuitive to use. It’s called Sweet Home 3D and it runs in Java, which means it will work on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I’ve installed it and I have to say, it’s impressive. It even lets you do a 3D mock-up and walk through the room. All this in less than ten minutes. Needless to say, I’m laying out the whole school so that I always have consistency in what my characters are seeing.

Finding time to write: Blocking internet access at certain times of day in linux (and making it a recurring task)

Yet another productivity post. My switch to 3 days/week at the full-time job happened this week, but I had to use Tues/Thurs to do lecture prep as I was hired as a last-minute emergency replacement (teaching is my part-time job). My writing time will be less than optimal for the next 2 weeks until I finish all the lectures (or at least catch up a bit), but I did find myself with some spare time tonight around 9pm when the kids were in bed. I figured I’d get in a good 1.5 hours or so, but I wasted the time. Sigh. Warning: the rest of this post might be boring for Windows/Mac users, but if you run Linux, it may be helpful:

I run Linux Mint on my desktop and laptop, and for the last few months I used a modified hosts file to prevent myself from accessing distracting sites on my desktop computer. This is fairly simple. Just type:
sudo gedit /etc/hosts
Then add the following to the end of the file: www.facebook.com www.upworthy.com
Etc. When you try to access the site, it won’t be able to connect. This worked fine for awhile, but then I would do google searches and just get lost on other sites (like I did tonight). Sure, I’m reading and learning, but I really didn’t need to learn tonight; I needed to write. 
Ideally I wanted a script to turn off all internet traffic at certain times of day (like between 7:30pm and 11:30pm, after the kids are in bed but before I am!), but only on my computer. I found a script by zengargoyle that can do this. First you’ll need to install the “at” command (it’s not installed by default on Mint):
sudo apt-get install at
Then make a file:
sudo gedit /usr/bin/SelControl
Copy the following into the file:
#from http://ask.metafilter.com/160649/Block-internet-on-ubuntu
PORTS=”80″ # OR enter PORTS=”80 443″ for https as well

for p in $PORTS
  iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport $p -j DROP
  UNDO=”$UNDO iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport $p -j DROP;”

echo $UNDO | at now + 1 min # <– change to time you want internet off for
I chose not to block port 443, because I still wanted Google Drive to sync my files in the background. This means that secure websites (those starting with https) still work, so I can still go a simple google search to get a quick definition, but the results are duds 🙂 Once you save the file, you have to make it executable:
sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/SelfControl
And then you just run it whenever you want to block internet access:
sudo ./SelfControl
Now this was all well and good in principle, but what often gets me is that I’ll “just check one little thing” before writing… and that ends up being quite a lot of things; a whole writing block of time of things. I needed something I could set and forget. For that, I had to set up a cron job (as root, so I could change IPTABLES).
sudo gedit /etc/crontab
Then at the end of the file add:
# added by [your name] to shut off internet at certain times
30 19 * * * root iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
30 23 * * * root iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
The first number refers to minutes, the second to hours on a 24 hour clock, and the last 3 *s refer to day, month, and day of the week, so * for all three means every day (learn more here). The above turns off access to port 80 (http internet sites) from 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm daily. If you’re between your start time and end time on the first day you set this up, just type in:
sudo iptables -I OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
to turn off access, and the cron job will turn it back on again at the time you set. If there’s an emergency and you ABSOLUTELY NEED to access a website (that isn’t https), you can type:
sudo iptables -D OUTPUT -p tcp –dport 80 -j DROP
So my hope is that this will force some productivity on me by the sheer lack of anything else to do. That said, blogger is https, so I can still post during writing time, haha. If you’d rather turn off everything (at the risk of not syncing files in the background) just add port 443 to the above. I’m not quite there yet!