Flex Time

I finish another book and prepare to take the summer off.

One of the best things about being a relatively successful writer is the flexibility of my time. Sure, when I’m working on a book with a tight deadline, I’m working 10-hour days, sometimes 7 days a week. But when there’s nothing pressing on my plate, my time is flexible.

Last Friday, I finished a revision to one of my Windows books. (I’m not at liberty to say which one.) Although this is usually one of my least favorite book projects, this year things went very smoothly. I think it’s because of the way I “attacked” the project. Instead of starting early, using an early beta that was bound to change, requiring all kinds of rewrites, I waited until a more finalized beta was available. This, of course, forced me to produce very quickly. The 500-page book has 20 chapters and 2 appendixes; the deadline gave me 10 days (including one weekend) to get it all done. I wound up taking that weekend off, due to a nasty cough and cold, but still finished in the 10 days I originally planned, just two days past the deadline. The project went by in a blur, not giving me any time for frustration. By the time I was starting to feel really burned out, I was finished.

The book is in editing and production now. The copy editor sends me, via e-mail, 2 to 4 chapters a day with her changes marked using Word’s revision feature. I go through her edits, reject the ones I don’t like (which are very few of them), add any requested text (normally section titles for cross references), and answer questions. Then I send them back to her. She cleans them up and sends them to the layout people. I get 2-3 page proof chapters a day via DHL and I go through those, checking for illustration cross-references and other glaring problems. I use e-mail to send back my comments to the copy editor. She (I assume) passes the info on to the production folks, who fix the problems.

(I got to meet the DHL guy the other day for the first time. What a nice guy! Reminds me a little of Larry, our old FedEx guy, who retired last year. Friendly and a real pleasure to talk to.)

All this finishing up stuff takes about 1-2 hours a day. I normally go over the proofs at breakfast, while I’m having my coffee. And since I can pick up e-mail with my laptop at home, I don’t even need to go into the office. But I usually do, for a few hours a day, because I prefer working on my G5 desktop machine when I’m working. I like to keep the laptop for personal stuff.

So after two weeks of long days in the office, I now have an extremely flexible schedule that allows me to…well, goof off. I’ve been doing helicopter flights (had to say No to an extremely lucrative one down in Scottsdale while I was working), hanging out at Stan’s Latte Cafe, and — if you can believe this — taking naps in the middle of the day. (The naps seem to be required these days, since the rather oppressive heat is sucking the life out of me every day.)

Although I have a few articles lined up for the next few weeks, there are no books on my plate until October. I did that on purpose, setting myself up for a summer off. Financially, I can handle it; the second installment of the advance on my Quicken book should take me right through the summer and I’m expecting a Peachpit royalty check any day now which should help things out. And payment for four articles is in the pipeline. So I’ll have enough money to pay my bills — including the rather large ones related to the helicopter — and cover my living expenses without working through the summer.

The plan, of course, is to go up to Howard Mesa. I’m flying up on Saturday. Mike will be coming up with the bird and the dog and the horses. We’ll do some work on our shed over the weekend and then I’ll fly Mike back. I’ll return to Howard Mesa to continue work on the shed during the day and work on a novel I’ve been wanting to write during the afternoons. I’m looking forward to spending a summer up there that doesn’t require me to be away all day long, flying at the Grand Canyon. I’ll actually get to enjoy my place during daylight hours and I’ll have Alex the Bird and the rest of the menagerie up there to keep me company.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be working at all. As I get article ideas, I’ll bounce them off my editor at Informit and, if she bites, I’ll write them. And I’ll try to write more regularly in these blogs. Of course, since there’s no Internet connection on Howard Mesa, it may take some time to get the entries on the Web. I was told that the Williams library is a wireless hotspot, so I’ll probably go down there two times a week to scoop up e-mail and publish blogs.

I’m looking forward to this summer off. If everything works well, I hope to do it every year.

What do you think?