Thursday, September 21, 2017

Phil's Writing: Current Projects and Activities


I announced that I was starting a new book some time ago. I started it and have done very little about it since. This is not because of total laziness, although I have to admit it has been a factor! The short answer is that my "day job" has kept me very busy with sometimes more than full-time hours plus as much as 3 hours' driving on top. I also do volunteer work proof-reading for the International Meteor Organisation and I'm also an active amateur astronomer. I also have a family who I like to spend time with. To see a list of books I've had published so far, click here.

Updates are listed most recent first. PAGE DOWN to view.

Being an Astronomer

This has been in the pipeline for nearly two years. Although I have added a few words lately, it is still at a very early stage and I have not included any photographs and diagrams, both of which I will eventually need. Despite the slow progress, I consider it will be a great beginner book when finished, even if it is after I retire! The idea is to really get to grips with what being an astronomer is about without re-hashing a load of data that is readily available on the internet or a public library. I am of the honest opinion that there are some excellent beginner books around but most fall into the trap of trying to do too much. Yes, the Big Bang is terribly interesting and important but it won't help you to find Mars in the night sky.

Phil's Scribblings

Not many astronomy writers would admit this BUT ... most astronomy books become out of date very quickly. Amateur astronomy is changing very quickly and all of the time. Many of us are actively trying out new equipment and new ideas. At the time of writing, I was experimenting with leaving a DSLR camera unattended while it takes repeated photos of the sky to capture meteors "on film". Yes, publishers can produce new editions but this is an expensive business. What I have done instead is to provide supplementary material for free on my website. This material is in the form of articles and booklets and can be read alone or can be read with my published works for updated information. Yes, this promotes my books but also makes them more useful for those who have bought and read them. For details, click here.

As an example, DSLR cameras were prohibitively expensive for most amateur astronomers but this is no longer the case. I have written a booklet about using a DSLR on its own and have updated it recently with information about photographing meteors.


Dec 27th Well that's it

I'm starting a new thread for 2018. As 2017 was drawing to a close, writing was on the back burner, as I was busy with Christmas. In many ways, 2017 had been a bad year, worse than the bad 2016 but nowhere near as bad as the truly awful 2004 or the evil 1985. The only silver lining was that I had started writing again. Despite some commercial success in the past, I am now writing for writing's sake, a bit like the pop musician who decided to go serious. "Being an Astronomer" was well on its way but I was expecting a few twists and turns before it was finished. Meanwhile, I was planning to resurrect a couple of old projects and make then into a new one.

Dec 19th Being an Astronomer

Being well into the second draft, I feel I am over half-way. I am adding diagrams and photos, which are both bringing the book to life. I will also include an index and glossary. Of course, life outside of writing goes on, with work, family and Christmas, not to mention the odd astronomy photograph.

Dec 11th

I reached a major milestone today by finishing the first draft of "Being an Astronomer".

Dec 6th

In line with my original idea, I have decided to write a chapter about how to follow on from being a beginner. I've used some ideas from a previous attempt at a beginner book but not kept any content. Really, the amateur astronomy world has changed, especially with astrophotography becoming more affordable.

Dec 2nd

Strange thing this writing. I finished my first draft of the original content and feel in somewhat of a quandary. Even with photos, it will result in a very small book. Now do I leave it as is and just revise it and add the photos or do I add some extra content that might make it not really quite a beginner book anymore?

Nov 30th

I added a new article on the star cluster in Gemini, M35:

Apart from that, I'm doing my normal end of month stuff, so expect the full report, summary and video soon:

Nov 29th

Work and life got a bit busy, so no progress on "Being an Astronomer". I updated my article on the Pleaides: and my one on the Beehive:

Nov 23rd

I made a lot of progress on my Deep Sky chapter on 22nd. I have finished with stars and am now writing about star clusters. I also expanded the introductory section. The size of the book seems rather small but I'm thinking the later sections will end up being large when I move to more intermediate topics.

One of the most difficult aspects of being a writer is when you have more than one idea at the same time. This is one of the reasons why we all have more unfinished, abandoned books than finished ones. On the other hand, not all abandoned projects are wasted. I had started writing beginner books long before I started "Being an Astronomer". The reason I did not get far was because publishers were not interested. Now self-publishing is now a viable option, I started again but found that the amateur astronomical landscape has changed so much that I needed to start again.

With one possible personal future severely restricting the time I have available to write, I need to finish "Being an Astronomer" as far as possible. Having a few minutes to tweak sections and add photos is much easier than having a spare hour or so to complete a book section.

Nov 18th

I have started on my Deep Sky chapter and have written about being able to view and photograph objects from suburbia.

Nov 15th

Work had taken over, so progress had been slow. I had just finished small objects and thought I'd finished the Solar System chapter when I realised that I needed to add a new section on aurorae, rainbows, etc.

Nov 2nd

As work was quiet, I finished the planetary section of "Being an Astronomer". The Sun is next. I must be careful not to over-blow the section as it is the area I know most about.

Nov 1st

Being an Astronomer is progressing steadily. I added the piece about focussing in the Basics chapter and am now writing about Venus, having finished Jupiter and Saturn.

I have written the October summary but cannot upload it yet, as there are problems with my hosting service.

Oct 26th

I was going great guns on my Jupiter section then realised I needed to include some further information in an earlier section! That's writing for you.

Oct 23rd

I have just written the introduction to the planets and am now writing about Jupiter.

Oct 20th

Well, I finished my section on the Moon. It was a bit tricky debunking the "supermoon" myth and explaining libration.

Oct 15th

I am now on the Moon section of the Solar System chapter. It is tricky because I need to give enough information to make the section helpful, without repeating a lot of stuff that is readily available on the internet and in other books I have written.

Oct 7th

First draft of "The Basics" now complete. I felt tempted to start writing an article about choosing a telescope but, yes, it would take ages to do and would just be like every other "expert's" attempt to do the same thing. Well on with the book this week, I guess.

Oct 1st

I was working on my full write-up for September that would end up under an update to my 2017 retrospective. I was finishing processing and was planning to produce my video.

As I was starting a new job, I was expecting slow progress on writing for a while.

Sep 27th

I re-visited my most recent chapter, entitled "The Basics". To be honest something was missing. As I've described above, I did not want to re-hash a lot of information about the constellations that is in the public domain and is free. Yet, on the other hand, I needed to do something to address what was missing. I went back to revise my summary and plan two new sections. I'm going to describe how to use star charts and describe just some of the more interesting constellations. This balances the need to provide enough information without making the book too large and not well focussed.

Unfortunately, yes, the book WILL take longer to complete but, at this stage of my writing, I'd prefer to write a book that really addresses the needs of the audience that they cannot readily address elsewhere.

Well I've done something that most writers tell you NOT to do. I made a few tweaks to a chapter. I felt that there was the question of asterisms that I just did not address. Yes, I also changed a bit of grammar while doing it. Conventional wisdom says you should write it all and THEN tweak it but I find it better to include ideas when I have them before I forget them!

Sep 27th

I finished my proof-reading for the International Meteor Organisation.

Sep 25th

Now just over halfway through proof-reading the latest issue of the IMO newsletter. To be honest, some of it is a bit over my head but there's a load of interesting findings. For example, there are significant variations in annual meteor counts.

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