Still technically writing every day

I have not found my groove yet early in this new year when it comes to writing, but I am writing something every day, as I had vowed to do. So yay for sticking to it for nearly a whole week so far! Only 51 more to go.

Part of the problem is my mind feels cluttered by negative thingamabobs, mainly but not exclusively related to a growing professional dissatisfaction. Maybe all those years of not working in a field I am passionate about is finally having an effect. I’m not saying there is something I am passionate about–clearly I struggle with writing, no matter how many books I read on the subject, and how diligently I follow all the little tricks and things to keep you going–but I can’t help but think there might be something I’d be generally more satisfied in doing in my work life.

But every time I take one of those “This is the work you SHOULD be doing!” tests, the results are always somewhat dubious. So I’m not sure how to go about investigating a possible career side-step. I’m also aware that I’m not exactly a 20-something that can freely experiment with a bunch of different jobs to see what sticks (or maybe I could, who knows?)

Anyway, the important thing is I wrote something today and maybe I’ll hit the treadmill again tomorrow. Also, only two more months until we are back on Daylight Saving Time, hooray. All right, this concluding paragraph was a little random. Maybe I accidentally lapsed into free writing. There are worse things that could happen. Like scurvy or the return of parachute pants.

Write something every day

That was one of my resolutions and these words are proof that I am sticking to it, if only technically. But give me a little time and the words will soon flow like some big flowing thing, like lava, but faster and less likely to incinerate you.

In the meantime, here is a kitten:

2018 kind of sucked

I started my 21-day “complaint free” experience in January of this year and after a couple of tries, I managed to go the full 21 days without verbalizing a complaint to another person. I became much more aware of how often others complained–often, I suspect, without them even being conscious of it–and I became very aware of what came out of my own mouth. Since I have a preference to not prattle on unless prodded (prodding me can lead to excessive prattling), the transition from “complain about the weather along with everyone else” to “just smile and not say anything” was easier than expected.

But it didn’t last.

I tried again. I even got the official purple Complaint Free World bracelet. It’s the child size, as I have strangely thin wrists. I could blame my lapsing back into a semi-complaint-filled experience because of the weather–not that it’s bad, but that when it gets cold I’m wearing long-sleeve shirts and jackets, so the bracelet isn’t visible most of the time to remind me not to complain about stuff.

But that’s an excuse, because I did get through the exercise successfully when the weather was cold and wet. It was January, after all, as I mentioned in the first paragraph.

So what happened? Well, a few things. The problem is they were spaced just far enough apart that it felt like, as the old saying goes, “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

My health was kicked in the junk this year. Speaking of my junk, I did not have a testicular cancer scare like last year, so that was good.

Instead, I got a tooth infection in a tooth that had been broken for years. That it hadn’t gotten infected much earlier was pretty much dumb luck. Once it did get infected, it had to be dealt with immediately, so I had to pretend to overcome my existential fear of dentists and get what remained of the tooth yoinked.

It actually didn’t go that bad, though keeping stuff out of the resultant gap while it healed was tricky.

But just as I recovered from that I experienced an odd “too hot/too cold” sensation at work. This was May, so neither condition really made sense. I would shiver for ten minutes, then sweat like I was in a sauna for the next ten. I looked up the symptoms and found they could apply to almost anything, but I know my body and its sordid history, and this smacked of YAI. Yet Another Infection. I was right!

I guessed bladder, but it was my kidney. They’re pretty close, so it was a good guess. I waited a couple of days to see a doctor, because I slipped into Guy Mode (don’t need doctors, don’t need maps, don’t need instructions–you know, basically DUMB). I spent a night running a high fever, felt utterly delirious, and was so weak that when I did go to the nearby clinic it took my hours to work up the energy to make the three block trip.

On the plus side, the antibiotics killed the fever amazingly quickly, and I recovered fairly quickly after. The kidney has been a (literal) pain a few times since, but the most recent blood work (which took two arms to obtain successfully as my left arm apparently contains no blood) indicates it is on the mend.

Did I mention that the antibiotics I got for the tooth infection turned out to be another I’m allergic to? Another all-body rash and this weird sensation that my face was glowing (it was, as confirmed by co-workers).

Then my knees gave out. For years they have been getting worse when I crouch or kneel, but I don’t crouch or kneel a whole lot, and running (and walking) was unaffected, so I really didn’t pay much attention.

This spring I paid attention because suddenly my knees really didn’t like it when I went jogging. And when I say suddenly, that is not hyperbole. It just happened, like a tipping point was reached and now my knees were Sore Knees. I watched my running pace get worse and worse. It was discouraging and depressing. I thought I might have to stop running, which has become my go-to Zen relaxation thing since I started back in 2009.

But then the knees…well, they didn’t exactly improve, but they did seem to hurt less. Was I just getting used to it? Whatever it was, my pace began to improve and by summer’s end I was pretty much back to normal, speed-wise. The knees still get sore, but they recover, and it’s never so bad I need to stop. So thumbs sideways there.

My weight loss has been more like weight maintenance. The problem is I’m maintaining at about 15 pounds higher than I want to be. My partner and I are going to suffer diet together for the new year, so I’m hoping there’s more progress there.

Work has been a bit of a trial for various reasons. It’s not terrible or anything, and I don’t want to go into detail on a public blog, but suffice to say it has had its share of frustrations. I don’t see it improving much, unfortunately, but you never know.

I only made it 22,222 words into my 2018 National Novel Writing Month novel. On the plus side, I am committed to continuing it, and did an actual outline, a major change for me. Other than the blog and NaNo, my writing has been pretty quiet this year. This was not my plan.

BC voters voted by over 60% to keep the first-past-the-post system for provincial elections. The referendum ballot was a muddled mess, so I think people probably would have voted for whatever was listed first, no matter what it was.

But 2018 has not been all bad. On the positive side:

  • I have developed (ho ho) an interest in photography and now take all kinds of photos with my smartphone. I don’t know if I will graduate to a dedicated camera again, but it’s already changed how I view the world. I’m always looking for a good shot. You can see some of them here. Looking for shots has the side effect of making me see (and appreciate) detail than I skipped over before. The world is a richer place now.
  • It hasn’t snowed this winter and none is in the forecast. (Technically I think we got a little wet snow while I was in bed a few nights ago, but it was gone by the time I woke up, therefore NO SNOW).
  • After buying a bunch of mechanical keyboards, I finally found one I really like, the CTRL from Massdrop, with Halo switches that are clicky, but not clacky, if you know what I mean.
  • I started baking bread.
  • I finally learned to love the treadmill. Well, maybe not love. More…not hate. (Also, the treadmill is now way easier on my knees than the elliptical.)
  • I remained donut-free after renewing my vow.
  • Um. The world didn’t end?

I may add more positive things later. While the year mostly sucked, I continue to be more optimist than pessimist, so I do not dread 2019. Next up: my New Year resolutions list, because everyone needs a good laugh.

I am again defeated by Scrivener

I love Scrivener, or rather, the platonic ideal that Scrivener can represent.

The actual program inspires something less than love in me. I long ago adapted to its complicated, cumbersome interface and learned to ignore the long list of features I would never use. I write simple stories, I don’t need a lot of sophisticated tools for that.

I came to appreciate the Scrivener features I did use–easily dividing chapters into discrete blocks that could be moved around or removed, being able to set goals and see my progress (especially handy for NaNoWriMo), the corkboard for keeping track of scenes, and being able to set up my editing environment and have it complete separate from the compiling of the document. I realized I did not need the WYSIWYG approach of Microsoft Word and it was nice.

I’ve been thinking of doing a proper outline of Road Closed, then going back and properly finishing the first draft. I’d written the novel using WriteMonkey and earlier this year I took the time to convert it over to Scrivener. This is a somewhat time-consuming process as Scrivener would  import the novel’s entire text and place it into a single scene, from which I would then copy and paste the different chapters into their own Scrivener folders.

Now, my first mistake was using the Scrivener for Windows 3.0 beta. In November 2017 Scrivener 3.0 for the Mac was released, and at the same time the first beta of Scrivener 3.0 for Windows was made available. A final release date was never offered beyond “2018” and that, too, ended up not coming to pass, though it seems a release in early 2019 is possible.

All the caveats of using a beta apply, of course. And I already had the novel safely backed up and ready to go in WriteMonkey in the case of disaster striking.

Last night I updated to the latest Scrivener 3.0 beta,. with the intention of loading Road Closed so I could export it to the older Scrivener 1.9 format, allowing me to keep writing in a safer, more stable environment.

Except when I loaded Road Closed, all of the text was gone. The chapter and scene structure was preserved in the binder, but the actual story had vanished. I thought about why this might have happened for a minute or two. It’s quite possible–even likely–I had done something wrong. I considered my options.

And then I did nothing. Because I had a current version of the story intact and ready in WriteMonkey. I am not going to spend any time playing my own personal technical support. I’ll just wait until version 3.0 comes out of beta, then consider then if I want to invest in the upgrade.

This is not the first time Scrivener has gone sideways on me, losing or corrupting data, and if I keep using it, I would fully expect it would eventually happen again. And I emphasize once more, this may be my fault entirely. Maybe I just don’t get it.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I can’t trust Scrivener, or perhaps I can’t trust myself to use it, so I won’t. For now, anyway.

This irks me in another way, too, because last year I had what was close to the perfect setup, using Ulysses on my MacBook Pro. There were a few problems, though:

  • I came to strongly dislike the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard. Some people (tech writers especially, weirdly) love the shallow, clicky keys, but I ultimately did not. I ended up going to the other extreme on laptop keyboards by getting a Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1. This has one of the deepest keyboards you can get on a laptop. I very much like it. This is an issue for Ulysses because the program is Mac-only and Apple’s entire line-up of MacBooks now use the butterfly mechanism in their keyboards (my 2016 MacBook Pro is helpfully still eligible for free keyboard repairs for another two years, a testament to the issues that have plagued the design, even if you do love the keyboard).
  • The other issue was the decision by the developer to switch to a subscription model, which I have ranted about before. As much as I like the app, I don’t think it’s worth paying what amounts to the full purchase price every year in perpetuity.

But there is really nothing else like Ulysses out there. There are dozens of markdown and minimalist writing apps available on every platform and I’ve tried a bunch of them, but they all fall short in some way. The biggest issue for me is failing to support indents, something I consider crucial for writing fiction.

FocusWriter is lean and generally nice to use, but it’s almost a little too basic and its organizational structure is pretty bare.

The WriteMonkey 3.0 beta looks promising, but indents are still only a “might include” feature and the beta is moving so slowly I may be 110 by the time it hits official release. It’s a one-man project, so I’m not knocking the dev, just saying.

iA Writer has a wonderful minimalist interface, but it lacks indents and the Windows version lags behind the Mac version of features (even though the Mac version itself is not exactly feature-rich).

And on it goes, with other programs either getting abandoned, lacking features, not working well with cloud-saving (like Atomic Scribbler–though really, how can you develop and launch a writing app in 2018 and not plan for people wanting to save their work to cloud-based storage?) or just somehow not being the right fit.

It’s also possible I may be too fussy. Very possible.

For now I’m sticking to WriteMonkey 2.7. It’s getting old, but it still works and it’s pretty solid. It only saves text files, so the possibly of data corruption is pretty low (insert GIF of Jeff Goldblum saying, “Nature finds a way” here).

Now I just need to get back to the actual writing. One of my resolutions for the new year. Let’s hope it pans out better than my attempts to get my weight down.

That other time travel story idea, Part 77

I am a sucker for time travel stories. Every time I’ve sworn off writing them, I write another. It’s almost to the point where stating I won’t write any is the actual trigger for writing one.

I’m definitely not writing any more time travel stories.

With that out of the way, why am I such a sucker for them? A list!

  • I am always intrigued by “What if?” scenarios and time travel is the perfect fit for this kind of speculative approach
  • Time travel is bonkers, so you can make up your own rules, then have fun playing around within those rules (bad time travel stories don’t set rules, or break them randomly, which is even worse)
  • It never gets old imagining how screwed-up things will get with time travel, because time travel always screws things up. Think about it–when did you last read a time travel story in which everything went exactly as hoped?
  • I like the Groundhog Day potential to keep repeating a scenario in hope of avoiding a big screw-up. What do you change? What changes will have an effect?
  • Many time travel stories are framed around a very fundamental question: Are you happy with your life? Quite often when the protagonist gets thrust into time travel they make decisions both affecting the world (“Do I try to stop the Kennedy assassination?) and decisions affecting themselves, usually in an attempt to right a wrong, or to otherwise change things they are not satisfied with, be it a failed relationship, a bad career move or something else.

The last point leads me to the time travel story I’ve been mulling over. I have the skeleton, but no real details yet. The skeleton is:

  • Person aged 40-50 (ie, with substantial life experience) gets the opportunity to go back in time, likely to just after they graduated from high school or shortly after, so age 18-20.
  • When they go back, they retain all of their current memories.
  • Once they go back, they cannot come forward again. (Or can they?)

I’m not sure what the rules of this particular universe would be, but I wanted to explore the chance to have a re-do on life decisions, while also examining how your life would feel when you already have knowledge of what’s ahead that spans entire decades. It’s fun to imagine you’d buy up Apple stock in the 80s when it was cheap and be a millionaire in 2015, but would you really do that when you had to live through those 30 years the same as anyone else? Would you grow tired of trying to take advantage of your “insider” knowledge? Would it backfire? How bendable is time?

Actually, I fibbed when I said I only had a skeleton, because one of the unused ideas for this year’s NaNo was based on this exact concept, but the hook was the person being able to travel through time has terminal cancer and tries to use the time travel to rid themselves of it. I never got further than that, idea-wise, and I’m unsure on whether having such a specific hook is a bad or good thing.

But I do want to tackle this particular flavor of time travel sometime. Then future me can read over the story and say, “Why’d you write that?” and I would wittily respond, “It was time.”

Do I need a hook?

There are 10 billion blogs on the internet. And another 200 trillion people who ignore blogs and only pay attention to social media sites, like Facebook or Twitter. These numbers are a rough estimate. I’m not a mathologist or stats guy or whover it is that counts things.

The point I’m making is that there is a lot of stuff to read on the web, and since everyone has a limited time to devote to reading web-based material, we all make choices about what to read and what not to.

Most blogs have a specific focus–that focus draws the reader in and keeps them coming back, assuming the author keeps the posts interesting and has an engaging style, or offers free coupons for beer or kittens. That focus can cover any of 500 quadrillion topics, ranging from writing to film reviews, to making wine to politics, to the question of whether most planets have a core made not of metal, but of delicious chocolate fudge.

My blog has no particular focus. A quick look at the posts per category illustrates this (I’ve excluded categories with a lower than three-digit count):

  • General: 897
  • Jogging: 661
  • Writing: 240
  • Health: 220
  • Book reviews: 191

Who reads a blog for general posts? No one, except for two people:

  • generals who think the posts are about the military rank
  • the author’s mom

General is not a good way to draw people in, unless you have a voice that is captivating beyond all measure, and then you could probably better utilize it than by posting on a blog, anyway.

Next up: Jogging. This could potentially be interesting to, say, joggers, except they’re just posts detailing my runs and are really only interesting to me, with the occasional odd exceptions for bear encounters or spectacular spills.

Writing? That’s something that could be legitimately interesting, but like jogging, I mostly chronicle my efforts (or lack thereof) to write, I don’t offer advice or anything of particular use to anyone not interested in me suffering in a mediocre way for my art. I do have 41 posts on writing prompts, though–but you probably shouldn’t use them.

Health is again like jogging. Do you want to read about me peeing into a cup or having sore knees? Even I don’t want to read about these things, but it hasn’t stopped me from making 220 posts about them.

Finally, we have book reviews. Amazingly (to me) I have posted 191 reviews, which seems like so many I wonder if a semi-evil twin secretly wrote a bunch of them. This could be a draw, the only issue is my tastes are all over the place and I read some pretty terrible, commercial fiction (not always intentionally), so the appeal here would be for someone with an insatiable appetite for any book reviews at all. A limited market, I suspect.

In the end, my blog is really best-suited for me. And I don’t think I could reshape it to focus on a topic that would lure readers in–and why would I want that, anyway? Sure, I like attention (when it’s positive, not “Your fly is down…again”) but I never started this blog way back in the olden days of 2005 with the intention of having an audience. No, for now and into the foreseeable future, I’ll just write for me, keeping this blog as an ersatz journal that happens to be available to all on the web (but usually gets 1-20 visits per day, 20 visits being equivalent to approximately 2.66666666667e-7% of the world’s population).

Oh yeah, writing

December is a strange month. You are forced to listen to Christmas music in every store you go to, the days are short so it feel like it’s dark all the time, everything is directed toward the end of the month and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. People take stock, buy presents, make resolutions. It’s a time to reflect, even though you can do that any time you’d like.

It’s also a bad time to lose weight because people are constantly plying you with sugary, fat-filled goodies. The short days, colder temperatures and general sogginess also discourage one from going out and exercising (hence the resolutions). In general, there is a sense of winding down, of biding time until the calendar flips over to the next year.

For me, it has always been a terrible time to write, for most of the things mentioned above. It’s like the spark that makes me write–a fragile thing most of the time–gets snuffed out all but good until the new year. It’s an excuse, really, just like any other. But it’s also very consistent.

This is a roundabout way of saying I have not yet picked up on my unfinished NaNoWriMo 2018 project. I think about it, I nibble at its edges, but I never fully commit to actually working on it again. And I even have an exciting scene next–a car crash! The only thing better would be a car chase. And dragons. But still, I balk.

I’ll work harder to get moving. If I can start even a modest amount of momentum this month, that will help all the more going into the new year. Excelsior, and all that.

NaNoWriMo 2018: The sad(ish) conclusion

I did not write 50,000 words.

I did not win.

But as mentioned in my previous NaNo post, I am still working on the novel and in a way I think it will be easier and the writing may be better without the pressure of the daily word count of NaNoWriMo hovering over everything I put down.

It is, then, both a time of regret–50,000 words would have been nice–but also a time of some hope, in that the writing will continue.

I’ll report back in a month to see how the current 22,222 word count has changed. (I make no predictions.)

NaNoWriMo 2018: Day 26 report

For a few days I had quite a head of steam and I felt I would actually hit 50,000 by month’s end. Now, with four days to go, I am at 22,222 words (yes, kind of weird), which is not quite half. While it is theoretically possible I could write enough in the next four days to pass the virtual finish line–at a pace of 6,944 words per day–it is rather unlikely.

But that’s okay. Why? A list!

  • Unlike so many other times, I have an outline. If I get stuck on a particular scene, I still know where the story is going
  • I’m invested in the story and will see it through, regardless of the arbitrary November 30th deadline
  • Without the deadline I may actually produce a higher quality first draft, as I’ll put a smidgen more thought and care into the writing instead of just trying to blaze through as quickly as possible

On the downside, I missed a day or two due to other issues coming up (I won’t make excuses–I still could have written something on those days) and it did exactly what I feared, derailing my momentum.

On the upside, I have started writing again, though not quite at the same feverish pace as before. I’ve also done my first real writing through voice dictation. My setup is as follows:

  • Dictation software: Dragon Professional Individual v. 15
  • Writing software: iA Write (Windows version). I chose this because it’s very lightweight.
  • Microphone: Blue Yeti, which I have previously described as big and heavy enough to murder an elephant with

The dictation was surprisingly accurate and as they say, no typos, though it sometimes get things wrong. For example, I wanted it to write:

William’s lane

But instead it wrote:

Williams Lane

It’s a natural assumption on the program’s part, and easy to catch and fix when editing. I’m wondering now if some of the weirder errors I’ve seen in some books are due to voice dictation best-guesses getting missed.

The most difficult thing I’ve found so far is not remembering to speak punctuation out loud. I got used to that pretty quickly. Instead, it’s actually speaking your writing aloud. When I’m typing I’m moving slowly enough that my fingers never get ahead of my brain. With dictation I find it’s so easy to speak out sentence after sentence that I sometimes find myself pausing to figure out where to go next.

I’m going to try more transcribing from voice dictation from the phone again soon, too. I like the idea of being untethered, as I often think out loud and almost always do it while walking around, whether it’s pacing back and forth around the condo or just strolling down a path where I don’t have to be concerned that the crows might think I’m a lunatic babbling to himself.

I’m at a pivotal and exciting point in the story, but I’m unsure how to proceed, as there are a few options. I should just skip ahead and write later scenes, but I have a strong preference for writing the story in chronological order when possible. I don’t know if I’m concerned I’ll confuse myself, have too much of a mess to stitch together or what, but I should probably get over it.

In the meantime, here’s to 7,000 words per day! (Ho ho.)

National Novel Writing Month 2018: Actual writing has occurred

Finally past that horrible flu thing (with only a bit of a lingering glass-edged throat to endure), I have resumed writing my novel. In the last two days I’ve managed a weirdly precise 6,800 words. I don’t even need a calculator like I normally do to know that’s 3,400 words per day or double the daily average required. I’m at a total of 14,725 words, where I should be at 23,000+, but it’s not as bad as it looks, because I now require a pace of just over 2,000 words per day to finish by November 30, something I don’t see as a problem unless I get the flu again or are hit by a blimp.

I haven’t committed to a dictation session yet and will probably hold off until the weekend, where if it backfires horribly, I will still have time to fall back to the more conventional hunt-and-peck method.

Anyway, it’s nice to be writing again, and it’s nice to see that even after long dry spells I can still find and slip into the groove.

National Novel Writing Month 2018: The flu story

I came down with the flu right as this year’s NaNoWriMo started and the effect was predictable: I didn’t write.

Now, I have written, even if you don’t count the existing words from the third version of Weirdsmith I’m using (now with the working title of The Journal), but most days I have lacked either the physical energy, the mental energy or both. And this has been one of those horrible, lingering flu bugs, with that feeling of tiredness being the most persistent symptom (others have ranged from light fever, loss of appetite, head and lung congestion, pressure headaches, and the always fun dry, hacking cough).

Normally this would be a disaster. We are at November 11th and with a daily word count of 1,667 to keep on pace, I would need to be at 18,337 words. Instead I am at 7,925 words.

To finish on time I would need to write an average of 2,214 words per day, a boost of about 547 words above the regular pace. This is actually doable, so there’s no need to panic.

More to that point, I have now finished my voice dictation setup and my coughing has settled down enough that I should be able to do it fairly reliably. I am curious to see how this can boost my word count (and how accurate the results are. Initial testing was pretty good, with a few lapses, though I’m not sure yet if it was me being mush-mouthed or Dragon being weird or some combination thereof).

I’m also going to pick up a digital voice recorder and use that during walks to also get in more “writing” time.

The hardest part in resuming actually has nothing to do with the way I am feeling, but that I had left the story off at a rather dull point–something that may be expunged in a revision–so I need to look past that and dive back in to the “good” stuff.

Onward I go. I will report as warranted, through tears of joy or despair.

November, shmovember

I am starting the month with the flu, which is sub-optimal for my health and for National Novel Writing Month, which began yesterday.

Last night I attempted to write after revising the earlier work I’d done on what is now going by the bland working title of The Journal, but by 9 o’ clock I had written nothing, had no energy, then went to bed, where I burned up and had literal fever dreams.

Today–or tonight, to be more precise, I have a little more energy and a new thermometer confirmed I only have a mild fever, but I am still lacking the energy to really put out words. Tomorrow’s weather is The Rains, so I’m thinking I’ll have a good go then, especially if I’m over the hump of this latest beating to my health that is the year 2018. Not that I’m complaining! It’s been, uh, interesting. Yes. Interesting. Grist for the mill, fodder for my writing. Or something.

Anyway, on with November and the official start of the two month Christmas blitz. Ho ho ho.