Secret entry

Dear Diary,

Why is it I sometimes freeze when it comes to writing, even on this blog where I have repeatedly demonstrated I have no issue sharing half-baked thoughts, ill-formed ideas and otherwise questionable content. Is it because I know the internet can supply me with an endless stream of cat gifs to substitute for that content?

I think that’s it, actually. I don’t have a solution for this, only a vow to try harder the next time the freeze happens, and to resist posting cat gifs in place of my own words, doodlings or videos of interpretive dance.

Sincerely,

Me

P.S. That said, here’s one more cat gif because why the hell not at this point:

Holy cats, Scrivener 3 for Windows is out!

I have opined before on the travails of getting the Windows version of Scrivener caught up to the Mac version. Then I found out that version 3 for Windows was released six days ago (March 23, 2021 to be exact). I am not even sure how to react.

Since I qualified for a discount on upgrading, I decided to spend the $34, even though I don’t use Scrivener anymore, to check it out.

I had used the beta off and on through its years of development (the original release date was projected to be 2018–see here for more), so I was broadly familiar with the update (and have used version 3 on the Mac). The upgrade and installation processes were both quick and painless, and the program looked much as it did when I used the last beta.

And it remains as inscrutable as ever. To be fair, the UI has been tidied up a bit, but large parts of it are unchanged and it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t utterly ignore the conventions of standard Windows software–or any other software, for that matter.

Unlike other writing programs like iA Writer or Ulysses or, uh, Notepad, Scrivener is more like Microsoft Word in that it presents a WYSIWYG environment. As such, you can adjust indentation, font sizes and all of that, making the document look as pretty as you’d like. In the end this doesn’t matter as much, as you can specify different options when actually exporting your project to PDF, ePub or some other format.

To adjust how the text will look when writing, you go to File > Options. Pretty clear so far. The keyboard shortcut is cheekily CTRL, (CTRL and the comma), which is the same combo used to invoke Preferences on a Mac. You then choose the Editing tab from the vast array of options presented. OK, this mostly makes sense, as you are changing what the editor will look like. Here you have three more tabs: Options (er), Formatting and Revisions. Formatting is what you want. Here you will finally see where you can adjust the settings. Strangely, the sample text is highlighted–it turns out the preview will not actually show your changes unless the text is highlighted when the changes are applied, so it has pre-highlights the text for you.

You will also see a strip of formatting options, much like you’d see in a typical word processor. You can change font, size and style, paragraph type, indentation and more. It does pretty much what you’d expect. Now when you create a new project, it will use these settings. Yay, all done!

But what if you want to change the look of a current document? Well, you can do that by going to the Documents menu, choosing Convert and then Text to default formatting. You get to choose a few options, but strangely (see a trend here), if you had somehow selected bold for the text in some scenes (maybe your fingers slipped and hit CTRL-B), there is no way to change this across multiple scenes (that I have found). You have to go into each individual scene, hit CTRL-A, then uncheck Bold from the formatting bar.

There is, still, no way to select an entire document/project at once and apply settings globally, apart from the Convert method above, which doesn’t actually convert everything. It is odd. It’s not even wrong, per se, but Scrivener continues to chart its own course when it comes to interface.

I’m not sure how much I’ll use it, but the upgrade costs less than a single year of subscription to Ulysses, so I’ll at least tinker with it for a bit.

National Novel Writing Month 2019: I could still win

Yes, I could still win NaNoWriMo this year, with just four days left. Let me use this handy computer calculator to see what my daily word count would need to be to pull off the feat:

12,500 words per day.

This is due to having written no words at all this month.

On the one hand, there is a perverse sort of temptation in trying the impossible to see how far I’d get (my guess is maybe 10,000+ words, though the last day is a Saturday, which would lend itself to binging, were I so inclined). On the other hand, the only thing of value I’d get would be to simply exercise the ol’ writing muscles.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Words are words, after all. Not to be confused with “Deeds, not words,” the credo adopted by Ace Hunter and his elite group of freedom fighters as featured in the all-time classic Megaforce, of course.

But on the third imaginary hand, if I was going to do something like that, it would probably be a better use of time to revisit one of my existing stories, or work on something new that wouldn’t be subjected to NaNoWriMo’s hellbent-for-metal approach of write now, edit later (maybe never, after looking over what the NaNo method produced).

Realistically, I’m probably not going to writer much over the next four days, but life is full of surprises and one of those surprises could be me writing stuff over the next four days. Who doesn’t love a surprise, except for maybe someone with a heart condition standing next to a giant fireworks display, not knowing it was about to suddenly explode?

The Big Writing Decision, 2019 Edition

See this post for details.

Today is the day I make the decision on what software to use for my writing and the hardware platform for said software. Below is a partial list of the options.

Software:

  • Ulysses (Mac, iOS)
  • Scrivener (Mac, iOS, Windows)
  • WriteMonkey (Windows, Mac [beta only])
  • FocusWriter (Mac, Windows)

Hardware/OS:

  • macOS on a genuine Mac, either a Mac mini, iMac or MacBook
  • macOS running on a Hackintosh (PC built to run macOS on the sly)
  • Windows 10 on current PC or shiny new PC
  • Windows 10 on a new NUC PC (separated out from the above because it would not be used for any gaming)
  • Amiga 500 bought from eBay running WordPerfect 4.2

And the winner is…

mumble mumble mumble

No, really. The winner is:

Nothing. Nada. I am plagued with doubts at every turn and am still undecided. However, I said I would make a decision today and I’m sticking to that, so here is my decision of sorts:

I will resume Road Closed in Ulysses (Olde Version) on the MacBook Pro and when I work on it at home I will use the power of The Dongle to connect the MBP to the 24″ monitor and a keyboard that clacks in a pleasant way.

So this is decision deferred. I’m not sure I’m ready for a Hackintosh experiment, I still want to get an actual new PC, and none of the current Mac offerings are very appealing. If the $1399 Mac mini option was the $999 entry-level offering, I’d probably go for that, but it’s not, so YOU LOSE TIM COOK LOL. Seriously, I hope the blatant moves to extract as much money from buyers as possible (while getting increasingly shoddy with quality) bites Apple in its metaphorical ass. I don’t expect or event want Apple products to become cheap, just reasonable. They are not reasonable now.

And so, quasi-decision made, the writing journey continues. I will report on my success on that front next Friday, February 1st. Excelsior!

A haiku on writing little and writing late

Late and sleep beckons
Inspiration eludes me
Time for crazy dreams

Once again I have waited too late to get any kind of real writing done (it’s post-11 p.m. as I type this), and I frittered away another non-hour session by listening to the gripes and concerns of co-workers. Plus some chat about Diablo 3 because IT is, let’s face it, full of gaming nerds.

I promise to do better tomorrow. Promise!

The long way to not doing something (Writing Edition)

At least I didn’t wait until 11:56 p.m. to start writing tonight (it’s 8:26 as I type these words). I have been re-reading parts of Road Closed, my still-unfinished 2014 National Novel Writing Month novel. And I have to say, I rather like the parts that I’ve read. The story, told from the perspective of Christian Warren, a 20-year old alcoholic college student trying to right his life, is engaging, he’s appropriately self-deprecating and never comes off as “woe is me.” He feels like someone you could sit down and listen to tell stories. Which is good, because the whole novel hinges on him telling his story.

Road Closed has mutated a fair bit from its inception as a writing exercise based on a photo prompt. By the time it became a NaNo novel, I was writing it using WriteMonkey on a Surface Pro 3 (and on my home PC). After getting a MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar in late 2016, I found Ulysses and switched to writing the story using that. As Ulysses is Mac (and iOS) only, this meant I could only write on the MacBook, which was maybe not the best idea, given I still had my home PC at, well, home.

Then Ulysses switched to a subscription model and I’ve made it well clear what I think of that.

After that I moved the story over to Scrivener, which has the bonus of being available on Mac, Windows and iOS. Problem solved, novel finished, royalties and accolades flooding in.

Well, not quite. There were two remaining wrinkles:

  • My fear of Scrivener eating my work based on past experience where Scrivener ate my work
  • Disparity between the Mac and Windows versions. I upgraded to version 3.0 on the Mac in November 2017. At the time the 3.0 PC version had just released as a free beta, with the final release due “soon.” Now, in January 2018, version 3.0 for Windows is…still unreleased (they are now pretty sure it will ship sometime between April and June of this year). While the Windows 3.0 beta continues to be available to use, I am hesitant to put anything other than test material in it, mainly due to the bullet point above, with the bonus of seeing how much more likely beta software will eat my work.

So although the story is in Scrivener, I haven’t really done much with it. In theory this could change in a few months when the Windows version finally catches up.

But then I actually dusted off Ulysses on the MacBook (the earlier non-subscription version still works) and was entranced by its simple, clean interface all over again.

But as I mentioned, it’s now subscription-only and Mac-only.

And I started mulling over various scenarios:

  • Get a dock for my MacBook Pro to hook it up to my PC monitor and peripherals so I could use it to write on a larger screen (and with a keyboard that won’t jam up from motes of dust)
  • Get an actual desktop Mac. The choice here is simple: the Mac mini, because Apple literally has no other model that isn’t an all-in-one like the iMac, or horribly outdated, like the 2013 Mac Pro.
  • Build a Hackintosh, either using an Intel NUC (advantage: very tiny and can sit unobtrusively on the desk while my PC remains under it) or with something full-size that could also serve as a replacement for my current PC (probably not a great option for a host of reasons)

After this mulling, I realized what I had actually done was concoct a grand series of excuses that all led to one thing: Not working on the actual novel itself. Whatever software I use is just a tool. I had become the equivalent of a person tasked with hammering nails into a board and could not choose between three slightly different hammers, so the board remained nail-free and perhaps something sad or awful transpired as a result. Maybe a dollhouse collapsed. I don’t know. But dithering over what piece of software to use is not going to accomplish anything useful that I can see, unless the future completion of my novel somehow starts a chain of events that accelerates global warming or something, and the world is better off if I never finish it.

So consider this an addendum to my New Year Resolutions:

  • Pick a program and hardware platform to use for my writing, then continue to work on–and finally finish–Road Closed. My self-imposed deadline for this decision is Friday, January 25, 2019. Writers work better with deadlines, right? I predict great success!

We’ll find out in six days.

Addendum: This post was written on the MacBook Pro, hooked up to my 24″ monitor, using the CTRL keyboard and a Logitech Marathon 705 mouse. To get this working, I needed:

  • The Apple HDMI dongle. This includes:
    • HDMI port to connect to the monitor
    • USB 3.0 Type-A port to connect the receiver for the mouse
    • USB Type-C port for the power cable so the laptop isn’t running off battery
  • To plug in the USB-C cable for the keyboard directly into the other USB-C port on the MacBook, as it would not work on the USB-C port on the HDMI dongle

It’s not pretty, but it works and almost makes me forget how terrible the keyboard on the MacBook is. The setup looks like this:

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:

A certain irony

A recent email from Zinio–a digital magazine store–arrived and the enticement in the subject line rather suggests the person dispatching their mass emails might want to subscribe to Grammar Weekly*.

* It’s entirely possible there really is a Grammar Weekly magazine. I didn’t check, though.

This time I’ll really do it! (write, take photos, draw)

Or not. We’ll see.

What will I do? Parade through downtown in the nude? Don a wingsuit and glide down to English Bay from Grouse Mountain? Attempt to lift five times my own body weight? Pull a fire truck with my teeth?

In a word, no. I will do none of these things, for the following reasons:

  • likely arrest and fine
  • probably not physically possible, likely to result in devastating injury or death or both before possibility can be verified
  • would result in arms popping out of sockets or other less entertaining permanent injury
  • teeth would be really sore, fire truck would remain unmoved

But what I am going to try to do is at least one of the following on a daily basis:

  • write something
  • take a photo of something
  • draw something

The “write something” I’ve been pretty good with for the last few years on this blog, though the daily part slips occasionally and the quality varies wildly. I am in no danger of writing a Pulitzer-nominated essay is what I’m saying. But This one I’ve mostly got down. (We won’t mention my fiction writing. That is a separate and semi-tragic discussion.)

Since my kidney infection–which is admittedly a curious trigger–I’ve been more interested in taking photos of flowers and things and often catch myself observing angles and shots, even when I’m not actually taking pictures. I find it relaxing, engaging and possibly a tiny bit therapeutic, though I’m a ways from writing the book How Taking Photos of Simple Things Changed My Life and Made Me A Better Person. Since I don’t always have a ready subject, I can’t rely on a photo a day, but this will encourage me to look for more opportunities. I now also want a phone with some kind of optical zoom. That costs less than a thousand dollars. Make my dream come true, Apple (ho ho, as if).

For the drawing, I’ve wanted to do this for awhile but never seem to find the inclination to just sit down and draw. Part of it is fear of mediocrity–I was never especially great at drawing, though not awful, either. But to improve would take the kind of dedicated practice I’m unlikely to engage in, so I may have to content myself with artfully arranged stick men or something. Still, I do not lack for media–I have pens, pencils, paint (sort of–some dried-up watercolors tucked away in a drawer), sketchpads, plus technology like a Surface Pro 3 with pen, an iPad Pro with pencil and also my own uncoordinated fingers and smartphone (which I used to produce an apple).

In the end I’ll mostly keep writing, but I’ll try to mix in some photos and drawings, something every day. And maybe I’ll post these things to some social media, though I generally think all social media is awful and truly one of current society’s ills. Facebook is terrible. Instagram is owned by Facebook. Twitter is largely a dumpster fire of hate and misinformation. Maybe I could lead a revival of Myspace. Or local BBSes. A man can dream.

The first result will come tomorrow. What will it be? I have no idea!

I have a very large microphone, would you like to see it?

I decided to give voice dictation/speech recognition a serious try for my writing, to see if it actually works as well as its advocates suggest.

I didn’t want to use my gaming headset because I didn’t really want to wear a headset at all, if possible, so I looked into desktop mics.

I picked up a Blue Yeti USB microphone during Amazon’s Prime sale, both due to its sale price and its generally stellar reputation. I can use it for dictation, podcasts (if I had anything to talk about) and karaoke (if I want to annoy others and embarrass myself, or perhaps become the next Justin Bieber, except older, with better legs and fewer run-ins with the law).

This thing is gigantic. And it’s heavy enough to use as a weapon. A lethal weapon. But set up is dead (ho ho) simple and initial testing confirms it’s working just dandy. If I get some quality alone time this weekend (voice dictation is not something you want to do with others around, because it’s likely to bug them and make you look a little weird, to boot) I intend to give this thing a shot, probably starting off with Google Docs, as it has integrated speech. If I am convinced of its worth, I may move onto getting some flavor of Dragon Naturally Speaking (and how naturally does a dragon speak, anyway?)

From there I would also consider an app for the phone to record when I am out and aboot, or even get a digital voice recorder, which could later be played back into the appropriate software in order to transcribe my recordings.

It’s kind of exciting because it’s an approach I’ve never done before, but it could always be one of those crazy things that just doesn’t work for me, like touch typing, swimming or programming. I’ll find out soon.