Three line bedtime story

It’s late and I need to get to bed, but wanted to post something, so, being 2023, I asked AI to do it for me!

Here’s ChatGPT’s three-line bedtime story:

Once upon a time, in a far-off land,
Lived a tiny snail with a shell so grand,
Every night, she would dream of being a butterfly, soaring over the sand.

It’s more a poem than a story, but what does it know? Thanks, AI!

I don’t know what to write, send help!

Actually, it’s probably more than I can’t focus long enough to sit down and write something. In any case, I intend to start cranking up the old writing machine in the next few days, seeing if I can hit a goal of an average of two posts per day for the month (62 total). As of right now, I am 10 posts behind. That’s a lot of McTopics. I need to get cracking.

Here’s a haiku to start. I even wrote it myself instead of outsourcing it to ChatGPT!

Time to Write

Time to get writing
Put fingers on the keyboard
Magic gushes out

Er, maybe I’ll try another haiku tomorrow.

In which AI gets sued by Disney

silhouette of person standing near a doorway with bright light
This is apparently a parallel dimension. OK! Photo by Mo Eid on

Years ago, I wrote an (unfinished) novel for National Novel Writing Month that involved a parallel dimension. I never had a good title for it, and used the clunky working title “Start of the World”, which sounds a bit like a bad translation. Then I thought, why use my brain to come up with a title when I can ask an AI chat program to do the mental lifting for me?

It turns out the answer is because it comes up with incredibly banal titles. Or maybe my prompts suck. In any case, I asked ChatGPT for 10 titles and #10 would likely to result in a call from Disney’s legal department1Actually, tittles can’t be trademarked, but try telling that to Disney less than a year after the second Dr. Strange movie..

Give me 10 titles for horror novels that involve alternate dimensions

  1. “The Shadow Realm”
  2. “Parallel Terrors”
  3. “Through the Void”
  4. “Twisted Realities”
  5. “The Other Side”
  6. “Gateway to Horror”
  7. “The Fourth Dimension of Fear”
  8. “Infinite Nightmares”
  9. “Beyond the Veil”
  10. “The Multiverse of Madness”

These are all so bland, I wouldn’t use any of them. Yes, even the one Disney actually used. Undaunted, I asked ChatGPT to give me 10 more:

  1. “Dimensional Descent”
  2. “The Darker Side”
  3. “Alternate Realms of Horror”
  4. “The Otherworldly Terror”
  5. “Twilight Dimensions”
  6. “The Doppelgänger Effect”
  7. “The Abyssal Gate”
  8. “The Haunted Multiverse”
  9. “The Sinister Parallel”
  10. “Terror from Beyond”

A few of these are not horrible, but they’re all still incredibly generic. I especially like the on-the-nose “Alternate Realms of Horror.” That’s a novel name that is very much “what it says on the tin.” Maybe the prompt itself was too generic. I tweaked it a little. Probably too little.

Give me 10 titles for a modern horror novel featuring parallel dimensions

  1. “Interdimensional Nightmare”
  2. “The Multiverse Horror”
  3. “Parallel Panic”
  4. “Beyond Our World”
  5. “The Alternate Abyss”
  6. “Dread Dimensions”
  7. “The Parallel Paradox”
  8. “The Multidimensional Menace”
  9. “The Terrifying Twinverse”
  10. “Portals of Horror”

These are also pretty uninspired, but I like the alliteration it leaned into, especially for “Parallel Panic” and “Dread Dimensions”. “The Terrifying Twinverse” made me laugh, so there’s that.

I’ll try this again at some point when I can think of a prompt that will at least produce bizarre results, if nothing else.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing More

close up photo of gray typewriter
Photo by Leah Kelley on

Here it is, after years of research and planning, my guide to overcoming writer’s block and writing more.

Are you ready? It’s just a few steps!

Ultimate Guide to Writing More

  1. Acquire a writing tool. This could be:
    • A laptop or desktop computer
    • A tablet
    • An old-timey typewriter
    • A notepad with pen or pencil
    • A stone tablet with chisel
    • Chalk and a chalkboard
    • Dry-erase marker and a whiteboard
    • A voice memo app on a smartphone
    • A digital recording device
    • Your amazing photographic memory
  2. Sit down. Or stand, if you prefer.
  3. Write something using your preferred writing tool.
  4. Repeat until writing is done.

This post brought to you by coming across yet another article on writer’s block/boosting your writing productivity by stating the obvious, which is to be disciplined (write) and consistent (write regularly).

I mean, I get it, it’s really what you should do. But how do you achieve that discipline if you don’t have any? How do you find out if maybe writing just isn’t for you, and maybe you should sew adorable stuffed animals instead?

Subscribe to find out!

Just kidding. I have no idea. Here are some random thoughts, though.

How to Achieve Writing Discipline (possibly for real)

  1. Determine if you’re a morning, afternoon or evening person
  2. Set aside time to write during the period that matches the type of person you are. It can be as little as five minutes.
  3. Write something at that time. Free write nonsense if nothing comes to mind, just write.
  4. Repeat this on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it should be often enough to be a regular thing.

This seems simple, because it really is. And if you make yourself sit down to do the writing, and you make yourself actually write (anything) and stick to it, you’ll develop a habit and start writing more and better stuff. Like magic! Or science. One or the other.

If you’re easily distracted by something (e.g. social media on your smartphone), then remove the distraction (throw your phone into the ocean, or maybe just put it into Do Not Disturb mode and leave it in another room). Then write!

I’m going to write more short short stories

Yeah, nearly every promise I’ve made about writing I’ve broken in some way or other, but every time I come across some goofy old story I’ve written (usually based on a prompt or ridiculous high concept) I’ve always found things that delight me. Perhaps I’m just excellent at delighting myself.

But I’m going to try to write more of these. Plus, I think writing is just a good way to keep my mind nimble, to constantly force myself to write “its” when the entire internet is writing “it’s.”

What made me think of this was recalling that I had written a short-short story about that classic concept: Going back in time and killing Hitler, but imaging it from the perspective of a not-incredibly bright barista.

The story is here in case you are time travel curious: Writing prompt 1: Inevitable time travel

When I finally also do that other thing I always promise to do but never quite pull off, namely the redesign of this very blog, I’m going to collect all these short stories and fiction bits (mmm, fiction bits) so they can be easily accessed and enjoyed and/or wept over. Stay tuned!

Two simple things I like about Scrivener and Ulysses

When it comes to writing fiction (and specifically fiction), there are two things I like that both Scrivener and Ulysses offer that, perhaps surprisingly, very few other writing apps do. One is nice to have, the other I consider more essential.

  1. A list of scenes that can be re-ordered. Both programs show a list of scenes to the left of the main writing window, acting as containers for scenes/chapters. You can move them around in any order that you want. I rarely move scenes around, but having them visually laid out next to the main editing window helps me get a visual overview of a novel, a case where technology really does offer something you can’t easily replicate going old school with pen and paper (or typewriter).
  2. Indents on paragraphs. This might seem trivial, but hear me out! When I write blog posts like this one, I hit Enter (or Return, for Mac purists) and a new paragraph begins. This can work in fiction, too, though you’ll never see a book printed this way (it would add many more pages and drive up costs on paper books, for one). In paper books and their digital brethren, the first line of each paragraph is indented to distinguish it from the one before. If you use a typical markdown editor, hitting Enter will only start a new line, it won’t add a blank line (WordPress does not use Markdown and is coded to add the blank line automatically). You need to hit Enter twice for that. In fiction, you can have a lot of short paragraphs, such as when there is a back-and-forth dialog between characters. This means you are constantly having to hit Enter twice to properly separate paragraphs and avoid getting what looks like a wall of text. Ulysses cheats by using a modified version of Markdown that allows indents on the first line of a paragraph. Scrivener avoids this entirely by adopting a Word-like WYSIWYG approach.

I could, for example, use Obsidian, a free Markdown editor I am using for notes, to write a novel. There’s even a community plugin called Longform made just for this purpose. But there’s no support for indents, so I’d be doing the double Enter thing, and in my experience it breaks flow just enough to be consistently annoying. Maybe I’ll try again as an experiment on a short story or something, because there are aspects of both Scrivener and Ulysses I don’t like, so finding an alternative to both would be nice.

And for the extra-curious, here are some of the things I don’t like about each:


  • Does not handle cloud saves well at all
  • Cumbersome, ugly and unconventional interface (yes, even on the Mac)


  • No Windows version
  • Requires subscription (I think it’s a great example of how a subscription is great for developers while being a poor value for the user)

Again, both of these things may seem relatively small, but together they add a lot to make the experience of writing fiction a better one for me. And I really can’t think of other writing apps that offer both, which is kind of weird!

My own private NaNoWriMo

I came to a final decision regarding National Novel Writing Month 2022: I won’t be taking part.

BUT! I have also decided to go ahead and revive my incomplete NaNoWriMo project, Road Closed. It currently stands at over 70,000 words, many of which will no doubt be excised from the final draft (not to be confused with the software of the same name. Not that it’s not totally confusing to use a common term as the name of your software).

Since I am not reviving this as an actual NaNoWriMo project, I’ll be working on it at my own pace, which is really for the best, anyway. There’s going to be a lot of revision, and NaNoWriMo is definitely not built around revising your work.

I’ll have more on this sometime soonish.

NaNoWriMo 2022 sponsors: Pay now, pay later, pay forever

While looking over the list of sponsor offers for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, I noticed a similarity among them: Subscriptions are dominant. Pay up, writer! And keep paying, forever! [evil laughter here]

Here’s a look at the sponsors that are offering novel-writing editors (ie. a text editor, but tailored for writing fiction):

World AnvilSubscription or Lifetime purchase ($650 U.S.)
First Draft ProSubscription
Campfire WriteSubscription or Lifetime purchase (by module)
StoryistOne time purchase
ScrivenerOne time purchase

Monthly pricing starts at $4 at the low end and the high end varies quite a bit, but seems to be mostly in the $15-20 range. Interestingly, Novlr (apparently not a sponsor this year) sent out an email today noting that its pricing is changing, going from $10 a month to $18. Yikes. But you can now also write one full novel for free, so if you think you only have one book in you, you’re set! Otherwise, that’s a serious case of inflation.

Conversely, I got an email recently from Ulysses announcing a drop in price, from $49 per year to $39. They claim research showed it was their “sweet spot.” What does it mean that one company is jacking up their prices while another drops theirs? It may mean the same thing–both are underperforming and they’ve each taken different approaches to shoring up revenue. I don’t know how successful Novlr will be (I think even $10 a month is too much), but their new pricing puts them more in line with most of the subscription software out there (again, Ulysses and a few others being exceptions).

Now, I have previously established that I’m no fan of software as a service (SaaS), so I’m not going to rant about it yet again, just note that it’s a little depressing to see so many developers turn to it. Subscription fatigue is real, not to mention there are plenty of good one-time purchase options that will work just fine. Two of them are in the above list! Also, you don’t need to go full Harlan Ellison and write out your novel longhand on a legal pad, but Macs come with Pages, Windows comes with WordPad and both will allow you to write an entire novel. Want to go minimalist? Try TextEdit and Notepad instead. Notepad even has dark mode now!

The main thing is while these tools may offer nice-looking interfaces and handy tools, Steven Erikson didn’t use any of them, and he’s written like two tonnes of novels, at least. Stephen King has written probably a billion pages, only half of them being the uncut version of The Stand. Don’t pay these people a monthly fee, just write. Write write write. Spend the money on important things, like muffins and a really nice mouse pad.

Contemplating National Novel Writing Month 2022

Since 2009 I have participated in most NaNoWriMo outings, with a success rate of something less than 50 percent. It has been enjoyable at times, maddening at others, and has proven to me that one cannot wait for inspiration to arrive (not that I ever really believed that).

My last effort produced very little of note (and while I did enjoy my re-read of what I wrote on The Journal, I moved almost all of my creative energy back to drawing, rather than writing, so it remains unfinished, neglected but not unloved).

So here’s a list of pros and cons on participating this year:


  • Could be zany fun
  • If I finish, I have an entire novel I can brag about to people, maybe even real people
  • It would get the creative juices flowing like a mighty river after a huge storm
  • My typing might improve slightly


  • Would occupy a big chunk of time that could be used for other things that might yield more results, like:
    • Brushing my teeth
    • Reading other, already completed novels
    • Walking around
  • Maddening lack of progress would be maddening and also make me a little sad
  • Writing a novel in 30 days would probably produce a lousy novel
  • Seriously, I have no idea what I’d write. The pressure would cause an ulcer, or anxiety, or maybe some kind of rash

The outlook doesn’t look good, but you never know. We’ll find out for sure in just 31 days!

What’s the deal with note-taking apps?

DISCLAIMER: Technically, I am talking about personal knowledge management (PKM) tools, which act like your own little personal Wikipedias, and not just plain note-taking apps. My main purpose for using a PKM is note-taking, though, and I make the rules here! Am I using a hammer instead of a screwdriver? Probably. Read on, anyway!

I love fiddling around with new stuff. It’s why I have three mice sitting on my desk (computer mice, not the living kind) and a bunch more stored away. It’s why I have more keyboards than I could ever need in five lifetimes, stuffed into drawers and scattered about my place.

And it’s why I’m a sucker for a shiny piece of new software, which leads to this post’s topic: note-taking apps.

Even if you have absolutely no interesting in note-taking apps, you probably still have one, anyway, whether it’s Notepad on Windows, the Notes app on Macs, or some built-in app on your iPhone (Notes again) or Android device. They are ubiquitous. And now, with the whole second brain1Go ahead, try looking up what a “second brain” is. Your actual brain will explode. thing being the new hotness, note-taking apps have started popping up like bunnies. Note-taking bunnies.

I noticed that after expressing some interest in technology on Medium (via my preferences), it started offering me stories on note-taking apps. I believe there are roughly a trillion of these articles on Medium, which nearly matches the number of note-taking apps themselves.

I thought to myself, “Self, you need to be more organized, somehow. For some reason. You need a note-taking app that will let you consolidate all your notes in one place, so you never need to figure out where your notes are. This future of unparalleled organization will be awesome.”

It’s a good theory. My notes were previously scattered all over. I used:

  • Paper. Actual paper, like cave people used to do
  • Drafts. An app on my iPhone that can send to other apps.
  • OneNote. I kind of stopped using it a few years ago and I’m not sure why.
  • Microsoft Word. Because I had it, so why not?
  • Apple’s Notes app on various Apple platforms. Because it’s there.
  • iA Writer. Not really built for notes, but…
  • Ulysses. See above, plus a subscription. Ew.

There’s more I’m forgetting, and this was all before the current explosion of note-taking apps. Since then I’ve tried:

  • Craft
  • Notion
  • Obsidian

And contemplated a million others, while absolutely only positively ruling out a few, like Evernote, usually due to what I deem excessive pricing.

For a time I thought I had settled on Obsidian. It supports markdown, is free, can work between Mac, PC and (somewhat) with iOS (it really wants you to use iCloud for your “vault”). On (virtual) paper, it provides everything I’d need in a note-taking app and also has all the second brain stuff, like backlinks and things.

I feel like I’m grossly under-utilizing it by not making proper use of links (back, forward or any other direction), tags and other means of keeping things organized. I mean, look at this guy wax poetic about how useful Obsidian is. It makes me want to install it again right now!

While I’m clearly not tapping into Obsidian’s potential, I am big on bullet lists, because I love lists. So now, as I think about whether to stick with Obsidian or not, I wonder: Why do I take notes? The answer is in a list. Right below!

  • Track ideas. These can be ideas for:
    • stories
    • blog posts
    • game design
    • comics
    • drawings
  • General reminders (I have moved these to actual to-do apps)
  • WIP stuff on my newsletter (five issues so far, published very intermittently)
  • Book and movie reviews (that get posted to my blog, Goodreads or elsewhere)
  • Random tips and tricks, usually associated with tech
  • Everything that doesn’t fit into the above

And Obsidian has worked reasonably well here. I’ve added plugins to expand on what it can do. Look how organized everything appears to be (I have redacted a few items, but it’s nothing scandalous, like panda porn or something, just stuff regarding the condo or other personal yet banal items):

And yet I feel like:

  • I am underutilizing Obsidian to the point where I probably could just use Notepad, for all the difference it would make
  • Maybe I don’t have the kind of personality to connect the dots, or in this case, the notes?
  • Maybe I actually don’t have a compelling reason to use backlinks and I’m overthinking things, as is my way

But it all seems so useful. There are so many articles! I want to do more! Yet I am not feeling there is a yawning chasm in my life because I have only clicked a backlink maybe once in Obsidian, and that was just to see if it worked (it did).

Anyway, have a look, there’s plenty to choose from!

Labor Day 2022, or Labour Day 2022

A long time ago I had a dream to become a published author and I read somewhere that the biggest English-speaking book market is the good ol’ U.S. of A (this was before TikTok ruined everyone’s attention span and reading became quaint and/or gauche), so when it came to writing, the advice was to make your work as publication-ready as possible for the U.S. market, in anticipation of possible publication.

This led me to shunning my Canadian spelling heritage and switching the dictionary/language in various applications like Microsoft Word to U.S. English. I felt dirty, but also efficient and professional.

I had one story published in a (Canadian) Moose Lodge newsletter when I was 12. This was an actual newsletter, printed on actual paper. It was pretty thrilling when I was 12. This was the sum of all my publication efforts, and it was because the man who ran the newsletter was nice and wanted to encourage me.

But thanks to inertia and a weird need to be efficient, I have kept using the American spelling of words, even though I had long given up the idea of seeing my work formally published. Heck, I skipped National Novel Writing Month in 2020 and didn’t even feel guilty about it!

I am starting to lean back to switching to Canadian spelling. Sure, “labour” has one more letter than “labor” and with my typing speed, it makes a difference, but “labour” has character and flavor flavour. “Labor” has the blood ruthlessly drained from it.

Perhaps I am overthinking this.

I’ll ponder some more on this Labour Day, then make a decision, because I think that may have been one of my New Year resolutions–to be more decisive. Maybe?