Tag Archives: time

Writing Routines

I’ve blogged from time to time about my writing schedule, the routines I try to set for myself, and my attempts at self-imposed deadlines. I try to get myself into a regular habit, where I work on my writing every day, making continuous progress. The problem is, my schedule with work, school, and life in general lately has been very erratic. It makes it hard to get settled into a regular writing routine.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize how much time has passed until I look at my calendar. I use a system I adopted from other writers online, where I earn a sticker every day that I write. According to my calendar, I’ve only written five blog posts and only revised four chapters of Contamination during the month of June. That’s only nine stickers. This is unacceptable. But every time I try to get myself into a more regular schedule, something falls apart.

It’s possible that I need to try some new habit-forming techniques. My daily to-do lists and my calendar aren’t quite cutting it. But one way or the other, I need to get myself into a regular routine. One where I make steady progress at getting these revisions done. I’ve got what I think is a pretty good story here, but none of you get to read it until I finish the revisions.

If anyone has any suggestions on ways to develop a more regular writing habit, please let me know. What works for you?


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My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 9: #10k1day

As a freelance writer, one of the issues I have to deal with is deadlines. I’ve written a bit earlier in the blog about time management and dealing with deadlines, but what I don’t think I’ve touched on is crunch time. The problem of catching up on an assignment when the clock is ticking and you don’t have enough time left.

I have very little free time right now. To give you an idea of how little, here’s an example of what I’ve done this week (from last Friday to today). Assuming I sleep eight hours a night, I get 112 hours of active time in a week. Here’s a breakdown of how I spend those hours:

112
-14 hours of time (about an hour each morning and another at night) spent getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and getting ready for work/school each day, driving there, then driving home, and taking care of mundane things when I get home like checking the mail, changing out of work clothes, paying bills, etc.
= 98 hours left
-33 hours a week at my day job delivering pizzas (a job which I now consider to be supplementing my writing job, even though it is still technically my primary source of income).
= 65 hours left
-15 hours a week working for my Graduate Assistantship job and my blog writing job at Rowan University.
= 50 hours left
-10 hours a week in classes at Rowan (four nights a week) and another -10 hours or so doing homework for those classes.
= 30 hours left
-15 hours a week doing work for my self-publishing career, such as working on advertisements for “Radiance,” working on writing or revisions for anything I’m working on in the “Arcana Revived” series.
= 15 hours left
-3 hours a week writing blog posts on here.
= 12 hours left.
That leaves me about an hour and forty-five minutes left each day to eat, shower, run errands, and do anything else around the house, or (God forbid) do something fun. Sometimes I manage to squeeze out a bit more time (such as by eating while I write), and maybe get an hour or something to play a video game. For the most part, however, I have no time.

I’m sure that a lot of you have similarly packed schedules (likely replacing time spent on school and homework with time spent taking care of your kids, etc) and know what it’s like to have no free time. So what do you do when you get down to crunch time?

I have a freelancing project due tomorrow. It’s 15,000 words, and I had written about 5000 of it over the past two weekends (I cheat by squeezing in time to write at work, writing on my smartphone in between pizza deliveries). I tried to find time throughout the week to continue working on it, but things kept getting in the way. Fatigue made it hard to make progress on some nights, and some times a homework assignment that should have only taken me an hour took me two hours because I was too tired to focus.

As a result, I woke up this morning with 10,000 words left to write, and one day to do it. So I started writing with a #10k1day goal in mind (those of you who follow me on Twitter @cantrelljason saw this, and cheered me on, for which I was grateful).

Writing 10k in 1 day is hard. It takes focus. I do some of it by doing #wordsprints, and I average about 800 words in a 30 minute sprint. I keep the TV off, I only pop on Twitter every half hour for some encouragement, then get back to the task.

A common question I get when doing #10k1day is “How do you do it?” 10,000 words seems like a lot, and people find it intimidating. But really, it’s easy if you focus on the small steps. Most people I see posting word counts on sprints can easily do 600-700 words in a 30 minute sprint. By that count, 10,000 words takes about eight hours. It’s like clocking in for a full day of work at an office job. Is that a lot of writing? Hell yes. But it’s doable, if you stay at it.

I find 30 minute word sprints is the best way to handle it. Write for awhile, then take a short break. Get a drink, go to the bathroom, have a snack. Then come back and stick with it.

But the biggest tool that I find helps me out is posting my wordcount goals on Twitter and getting support from others. When I’m at 1200/10000 I feel like there’s a long way to go. But when I hit 6400/10000, everyone starts shouting “YOU CAN DO IT!” By then, I’m in the home stretch, and realizing that I can do it if I just stick with it. And if I tried to give up, I’d have a hundred people screaming at me that I’m not allowed to give up.

I don’t recommend doing a #10k1day often. I reserve it for when I have deadlines. Days I don’t have deadlines, I think 2000-5000 words tops is plenty. Otherwise you end up brain-fried and wanting nothing more than a nap. But if you’re up against the wall and HAVE to get it done, you can do it. Just get a squad of Twitter cheerleaders and post your progress every 30 minutes. Make it a challenge. I always make myself succeed at challenges because I’m a stubborn mofo. So if I tell myself I’m going to do it, I do it.

Time Management: Getting Caught Up

I’ve written in the past about time, and how to manage it. Some of that has been about understanding how long a project takes. For example, in one post I wrote about measuring how long freelance writing assignments take, and how to account for that time in price negotiations. Lately, I’ve been dealing with another type of time management: balancing school, work, and personal writing.

I have a huge pile of notes around my desk right now. The main surface area of the desk is covered with notes about “Manifestation,” and the revisions I need to work on. Next to the desk, I have a portable podium desk, which is covered with notes about the sequel novel, “Contamination,” and about several of the short stories that I need to revise. On the floor next to that are notes about critique partners, publication plans, and freelance work. Behind me, the floor is covered with notes about various school projects, including a transcription I’m working on for my Graduate Assistant job. Then there are notes about the final finishing touches I need to make for the “Radiance” short story (which is mostly just waiting on one final person to contact me about the Special Thanks section). Beyond that are piles of books to be read for my grad classes.

If that sounds confusing, it is. Sometimes I feel like John Nash. I stand there, rotating in a circle, pointing at each pile and mentally going over what is in the notes (I don’t actually stop to read them; I know the contents of each note pile just by looking at it). I review deadlines, goals, and how much time each item will take. I sort things in my mind and decide which task I have time to complete. Today, it was working on the transcription. Tomorrow, it’ll likely be working on the “Radiance” publication. Little by little, I eliminate notes from the piles. Each note I eliminate is a certain quantity of time I’m done with and don’t need to manage anymore.

I only budgeted 15 minutes for this blog post, and I’m closing in on that mark now. But that’s one more item off my to do list: write a scheduled blog post. Now it’s time to go to school, and in the fifteen to twenty spare minutes I’ll have between arriving on campus and the start of class, I’ll be devoting my time to reading the next chapter of a book for my Creative Nonfiction Workshop. I’m looking forward to finishing that book, not because it’s good (even though it is), but because I need to cross it off my list. Maybe I’ll manage some free time later this week and I can relax for a change.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 6: Self-Publishing

It’s been awhile since the last time I wrote a post about my writing career. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. The last month of blog posts have mostly been about my Kickstarter campaign, which is very much a part of my writing career. But those posts were focused on the specifics of the campaign itself; this one is about me, what I’ve learned, and where I’m going from here.

Working a Kickstarter campaign had ups and downs. The ups were amazing moments where people I know–or in some cases strangers–pledged their support and made the drive a success (and if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the cover that was made as a result of the drive). There were moments I was fighting tears at seeing how wonderful and generous some people can be.

The downs, however, were there throughout the drive. One issue, which is something most writers I know deal with, is the doubt. There would be days where I wondered whether any more support would come in, and whether I would meet my goals. There would also be days when I would wonder about the scale of establishing a self-publishing career. Once the ebook is out, will it sell? How will I spread the word and market it? Will people be interested in buying an ebook of a short story as a stand-alone tale? These kinds of doubts are similar to any writer’s doubts about whether they will find an agent, whether their book will be picked up by a publisher, and whether they will ever make decent sales on the book they worked so long and hard on.

But here’s what I think about those doubts: everyone has to start somewhere, and I think this short story is a pretty strong start. The readers who’ve critiqued and commented on it so far all had high praise. I think the plot is intriguing, and offers a good glimpse into the world I’m creating for the novel “Manifestation.” And, since the ebook will be selling for just 99 cents, it’s a low-risk venture for customers. I’ve done a lot of research into ebook price trends, and I’ve come to believe this is a good move. When “Manifestation” comes out, the ebook will probably be priced low, since that’s one of the ways self-publishers work to compete with the higher-priced publications from traditional publishers. In addition to a competitively low ebook price for the novel, readers who want to see what my writing is like will be able to read a short story at an even lower price. If they like my writing (and I certainly hope they will), then maybe they’ll buy the novel as well. If they don’t like it, well, it was only 99 cents, right?

I’m also planning on publishing many more short stories in the future. “Radiance” is just the first one. The short stories are part of the reason I decided to go with self-publishing to begin with. Traditional publishers aren’t likely to publish individual short stories by an unknown author. The only way most writers I know of publish short stories is by selling them to magazines, but the vast majority of those magazines focus on “literary” stories, not urban fantasy. Because of this, the number of places I could publish “Radiance” would be very slim, and if I DID manage to get it published in a magazine, it would be a single, flat payment for publication in one issue. After that one printing, it’d likely never be heard from again.

Instead of publishing a story in a single magazine where it appears in one issue then gets buried in the back of a doctor’s office waiting room, I’m publishing it online. It will be available forever (I hope), with more stories to follow in the series. I have more than half a dozen stories already written, so one day there will be a huge collection published in this series. “Arcana Revived” will be comprised of a minimum of three novels and a dozen short stories, and probably a lot more than that, as I add to it over the years.

This is one of the ways I feel I can overcome the writer’s doubt. This project may only be my first, small start, but I have a business plan. One I’ve researched extensively, with plans for marketing, advertising, and branding. I think that’s going to be the difference between good versus bad self-publishing. Self-pub gets a bad rep a lot of the time, because frankly, the self-publishing world is filled with as many crappy ebooks as there are crappy videos on YouTube. Every once in awhile, however, you see a YouTube video with millions of hits, and a self-published author who winds up on the New York Times bestseller list. The difference between the unknown author and the successful one, in my opinion, is based on how hard you work and how much you learn about the industry. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m working to learn it. I’m not just throwing an ebook out there and waiting for a magic fairy to sprinkle pixie dust on it to make it sell. This is my job. I clock in every day and work hard to make sure it will succeed.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 5: Negotiations

Recently, I blogged about time and making decisions about how to use it. I also blogged about time management and freelancing fees. These ideas have been with me ever since, and I think about them daily.

This became important when I was recently contacted by a client for a repeat job. I won’t discuss the specifics of what the job was, because I promise my clients confidentiality. What I do want to discuss, however, is negotiations.

The first few freelancing jobs I took, I didn’t really know what was a fair price to charge. As I explained in the post on time management, I’ve only recently started thinking about how long it takes me to write a certain document, and how much that time is worth. I’ve done a lot of research online, and found that freelance writing rates, depending on the subject matter, can run anywhere from $20 to $40 per hour. As a recent college graduate, I certainly expect to be earning on the lower end of that range. I should certainly be earning more than what I make delivering pizzas, however.

Because I didn’t know all of this at first, I took on my first few freelancing jobs at prices that, today, I would turn down. I’ve learned a lot more about how to manage my time and estimate the time it will take to work on a project. I can use these estimations to determine what is a fair price. I might go a little lower if I really need the job, but if the price is too low, I’ll decline a job and seek something else.

However, when working with a repeat client, I’m writing for someone who already expects a certain low price, because I’ve already done a job for them at that price. This leads to an awkward need for negotiations. If I suddenly ask for a much higher fee than the original job, the client may think they are being ripped off. If, on the other hand, I work for the lower price, I may be making less than minimum wage. When I first bid on jobs at lower prices, I didn’t know any better, since I was bad at estimating the time a job would take. Therefore with those early jobs, if I got paid less than I should have, it was only my own fault. On future jobs, however, I need to make sure I only accept jobs that have a price that is worth my time, considering that I’m a college-educated writer with more experience and skill than some others who might be willing to work cheap.

Negotiating can be difficult, since a client generally has their own standards of what they can afford to pay. Just as I need to make sure I’m earning enough to pay my bills, a client needs to make sure they aren’t overpaying and ruining their budget. Since I do ghostwriting, I generally assume my clients will be publishing the documents I write for them under their own names. They’re most likely doing so with the intent of earning money for themselves. If they have to pay too high of a fee for the document before they publish it, it could seriously hurt their ability to make money off the publication.

Somewhere between what I need to make and what a client can afford to pay is the middle ground where the price should land. Where this middle ground is might vary from one client to another. If it’s too low, I always have the option of declining a job and deciding to seek out some other kind of work. It would be the same thing if I were seeking a full time job and turned it down because the pay wasn’t enough. Of course, since I’m fairly new at this, it’s still hard for me to know the best way to negotiate and to determine what price is fair for both me and my clients. I can’t afford to undercharge, but I don’t want to overcharge and end up with an unhappy client.

It’s a complicated process, and one I’m still figuring out. In the long run, I’ll likely come up with a set pricing plan that I’ll stick to all the time. Until then, I’ll take on what jobs I can, and do the best I can to figure out what’s fair.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 4: Time Management

One of the first lessons I learned when I began doing freelance writing is to keep careful track of my time. The first few jobs I took on, I didn’t really anticipate how long they would take me. I was used to only three previous types of writing: personal fiction writing, blog writing, and school essays and assignments. These types of writing are very different from a “time management” perspective.

With my personal fiction writing, I never really need to pay attention to how long a project takes. I know from doing word sprints on Twitter that I can write anywhere from 1000-2000 words per hour when I’m focused (and I tend to write a lot more when I’m really inspired and in the zone). I don’t really “track” that kind of writing, though. When I wrote “Manifestation,” I didn’t really have a specific word count in mind. It ended up over 140,000 words, and it took me about three months to write, but that was in between work, school, and other parts of life getting in the way. I don’t really know exactly how many hours I put into it (though somewhere around 140 hours on the first draft sounds about right).

Blog writing also isn’t something I really track too much. An average blog post might take me between 30-60 minutes, depending on the length. But since I write blog posts on my own time, and I don’t get paid for them, they aren’t worth tracking too specifically.

School papers are probably the only type of writing I was used to writing on a deadline. Like many students, I often wrote a paper the night before, and often this led to being up until all hours of the night because I hadn’t managed my time very well. Looking back, I think it would have been valuable for me to learn more back then about how long a piece of writing takes. In general, though, I estimate a rate of 500 words per hour on academic assignments, since they take more research and that slows down the writing speed.

Now that I’m taking on freelance writing assignments, the length of time a project takes is very important. If I take on a job for a certain fixed price, I need to be able to accurately estimate how many hours the project will take to complete. If I accept a job at a price of, say, $100, but the project takes me 20 hours to complete, I’m earning less than minimum wage. As a college educated writer, I know I should be making a lot more than that.

In order to help with future estimations, I’ve started tracking the specific lengths of time I take on each job. I downloaded a free time clock application to my computer, and I clock myself in and out when I’m working on a job. The hours spent are tracked for my own purposes only; most of the jobs I take on are for a fixed price that won’t change regardless of how much or how little time I spend on the project. Keeping track of my hours helps me better understand how long each project takes, and helps me know the hourly rate my pay equates to.

Since I’m trying to build up enough of a writing career to quit my pizza delivery job and write full time, it’s important for me to know how much time each project takes compared to the pay rate. I can’t support myself writing full time if a full 40 hour work week doesn’t provide enough pay to cover my living expenses. A job that takes 40 hours to complete but pays less than a weekly paycheck at a restaurant isn’t worth it. That’s why time management has become so important to me; I need to be able to judge how long each project will take me in order to decide which projects to take, and which to pass on.

I’ve only been freelancing for a few months now, but this has been an important lesson for me. If you’re also a freelance writer, or thinking of becoming one, the best advice I can offer is to always consider the value of your time. Otherwise, you’ll end up working 60 hours a week or more just to get by, and that’s no way to make a living.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 1: Time

I’m now a professional writer. I say “now” because I’ve only recently started thinking of myself as one, even though I’ve been getting paid to write for several months now. Before this recent shift in my perceptions, I thought of myself as an “aspiring writer” or a “pizza delivery guy who writes on the side.”

No longer. Now, at the very least, I’m a “professional writer who delivers pizza on the side.”

(Even though I’m still earning a higher percentage of my income from the pizza place than I am from my writing jobs.)

Because I am now seeing myself as a professional writer, first and foremost, I’ve decided I need to make some adjustments. I’ve already been changing many things in my life to focus more on writing than ever before, but most of the changes have been things I didn’t necessarily plan or decide consciously. From now on, the changes will be more deliberate.

Which brings me to this blog post.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that it is fairly random and disorganized. I started the blog as the first draft of “Manifestation,” before I even knew that story would grow into a full novel. I later started posting “Storytime Mondays” stories as free fiction, but I’ve more-or-less run out of “good” fiction to post (the other old stories on my computer I’m too embarrassed to share with anyone). I also post blog posts, but at random and with no real focus or purpose.

I need focus and purpose, if I’m going to succeed as a professional writer. As such, I’ve decided to set a blog schedule and force myself to stick to it. The schedule will be Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, primarily because those are the days I have the most time available to devote to this. I’m even going to set up a nifty reminder in Google calendar so I don’t forget (and you can feel free to nag me if I miss a day).

In addition to a schedule, I think the blog needs a bit more focus and a focused topic. This part is easy: the blog has already been focused on writing, from the stories I write to the posts about my revision process. But to keep it even more focused, I’m going to assign myself more specific topics. “My Journey as a Professional Writer” is one such topic. Any posts with that title are going to be my attempts to share what I’ve learned. I know a lot about writing. I’m no master, and there are tons out there who know more, but I know a lot. I have a degree in the Writing Arts from Rowan University, I’ve had poems and short stories published, and I’ve learned a lot through professional ghostwriting (even though I haven’t been at that last one long and I know I have a LOT to learn still). I don’t by any means think my advice is more valuable than that of published authors and professionals who have been doing this twenty years or more, but I know that I’ve learned a lot by age 33 and through my years in college.

So I’m going to share what I learn, by posting here about lessons I’ve been through, troubles I’ve had, successes and how I achieved them, and failures and what they taught me. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, I can help others find new ways to think about their own writing and their careers. I’m also hoping to learn from others; I have a lot left to learn, and any comments and suggestions people post here will help me, hopefully in the same way I can help others. With any luck, I’ll keep learning more as I continue my new career path, and maybe I’ll learn things that others will benefit by hearing.

So with that in mind, here is the first big lesson I’ve learned about being a professional writer: Time.

I don’t have a lot of free time. I never hang out with friends (literally every friendship I have right now is on Twitter, even counting people I know in real life since I haven’t seen them face to face in months). I work long hours, then I come home and work more jobs from home, and somewhere in there I find time to continue revising my novel. All of that takes time, and I’m learning more and more that time is a decision.

There was a time in my life when I’d come home, watch TV for an hour or two, play some video games, and write “when I found the time.” I always KNEW I should “make time” to write every day, but knowing I need to make time is like knowing I need to watch what I eat; knowing is only half the battle (G. I. Joeeeeeee!).

Notice i said “only” half the battle. Flint and Duke never told us what the other half was. I had to figure that out on my own.

It’s “decisions.”

Every decision I make is a decision not to do something else. Turning on the TV is a decision not to write. Playing a video game is a decision not to work on something that pays. Even writing this blog post is a decision not to revise my novel (though I’ve already decided, I AM doing that right after this). I have to make these decisions every day, and I’ve only recently started thinking about them in a more deliberate manner.

Am I saying “Don’t waste time with TV, video games, and going out?” NO! I’m saying, doing such things is a decision.

Getting out to see friends, relaxing, playing games, and having fun are ALL important things in life. If you’ve ever played “The Sims”, you know that the “Fun” and “Social” meters are just as important as everything else. But you CAN make deliberate decisions about how you’ll manage such things so they don’t interfere in your writing or your career.

Last night I played a video game, Civilization V, for about an hour. I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t slacking off. I wasn’t neglecting my revisions. I was tired, stressed, and grumpy after working a ten hour shift delivering pizza. I decided, deliberately, that I needed a fun, distracting activity to help me relax and get into a better mood. I worked on revisions after the game, and the work was better because I was in a better frame of mind.

I made a decision to write this blog post tonight. I knew I’d be trading time I could be revising, but I decided it’s worth it. I want to start a more structured dialogue on this blog, give people more reason to come back, give people more reason to leave comments, and increase my traffic. Short term, this has the benefit of sharing information and hopefully learning from others. Long term, I increase my readership and gain a bigger potential customer base for my book, once it’s published.

Looked at in that way, the time spent working on this blog post is an investment.

I make other investments. I write part time for the Rowan University Admissions Blog. This writing is for a paycheck, though it’s not (and never will be) enough to sustain me full time. It is, however, helping me a LOT with paying my grad school tuition. Thus, time spent writing there, while giving me less time to write elsewhere, is an investment in my future.

I freelance, including proofreading, editing, and ghostwriting work. I’m not currently making enough there to let me quit my pizza delivery job, and I’m actually making a deliberate choice not to pursue certain high-paying jobs because they take more time than I’m willing to invest. If I take on a job that eats up most of my free time for a week, I’ve traded that time (which I could have spent on revisions) for the pay that helps me cover the costs of tuition and student loans. I’m willing to trade that time, but there are limits. Some job offers that I could pursue involve taking 1-3 months to ghostwrite a novel. I’m not willing to put my own novel on hold for up to three months while I get paid to write someone else’s. So I choose the jobs I’ll pursue based on the balance between the pay I’ll earn, and the time it will cost me, time I know I could otherwise be devoting to “Manifestation.”

Lots of factors will influence how you spend your time. There are things I’m willing to sacrifice to get time to work on my novel. Sometimes I don’t go out to the movies because that’s three hours I could be revising. Sometimes I turn down a shift at work because I have writing I need to do. Sometimes the pay is more important, but other times the investment in “Manifestation” and its future have to come first.

Because I’m not just writing for fun anymore. I’m writing for success.

No Time

I’ve mostly given up on making any decent progress with anything until the end of the semester. Every time I start to get caught up on school work, something else gets added on. I am just treading water to stay on top of it all now.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, though, for a few reasons:

1. Of the 12 textbooks I’m supposed to read this semester, 7 are done, finished, over with, an 8th is optional for an assignment I’ve found out I won’t have to do (basically it was extra credit I do NOT need), and the 9th and 10th I’m halfway through. That leaves only two more to read front to back, and one of them is short.
2. One of my classes was only half the semester long. It’s done now. I have two TINY things to finish for that class and submit online to have my obligations met. If I can do those over spring break, that’s over.
3. Another “class” is a single assignment in the form of a semester-long project that I haven’t started yet. BUT if I just get some free time, I can bang it out uber fast and easy cause it’s nothing I consider complicated. It’s just been one of those, “Nope, don’t have time for this” type of things.
4. Once these things are all done, there shouldn’t be anything ELSE to interfere with my revisions. 

So… Here’s hoping?

Adapting to a New Schedule

So, I haven’t revised in a good week and a half.

Part of that (just part) should be blamed on A Memory of Light (which, by the way, was TOTALLY worth the 16 year wait).  Another part is that I’ve been doing some work on the sequel to “Manifestation.” (Currently, the sequel is untitled, but the theme will be development, building, etc.  The third book is expected to be titled “Collapse.” I just need to figure out the right thing in between: “Manifestation,” “______,” “Collapse.”)  The sequel is currently up to 13,000 words.  I have an outline of all the expected chapters and major events to take place in it (much of which I already knew before I started the first book, since it’s all a continuation of the same plot).

But revisions have been lagging.  And now, as if this week, I’m back in school at Rowan University for my last semester before graduation.  Though I’m also going back in the fall for my master’s.

I tried to get to revisions last night.  I really did.  Except that I had to read one chapter of one book, three chapters of another, six PDF readings, build a course blog for one class, and schedule an appointment to meet with my adviser.  All in all, it’s a rough start to the first week of the semester.  I need to figure out how to rearrange my schedule in order to accommodate revisions into my work and school week.

Hopefully, I’ll figure that out soon.  I’m itching to get some more work done.