You Can Go Home Again: On Returning to Word

One of the things that I’m obsessed with is the tools
artists use to create their art. I’ve
always been a process guy. It’s not
enough for me to know that an artist created their art. I’ve got to know how they did it. What was the physical process they used to
pull this abstract concept – their idea – into being – finished product?

So to that end, I’ve always tired to be very fluid with what tools that I use to create my writing. Once I made the jump from Windows to Mac a few years ago, it was really important to find a writing program that I could write effortlessly in. Because if I was going to give up Windows, I should probably give up Word as well. I wanted to be Minimalist Writer Guy and only have a small blank box that I could write into and a finished manuscript would pop out. I started with Pages. It was much more simple that Word and you can remove almost all of its interface and just have a blank screen to write into. I found that worked okay but I had to reorganize everything for each document. At the time, I was writing a lot of blog posts and I didn’t want to have to set up the program every day so that it’s just how I like it. It was only about three button presses to do it, but I’m so twitchy when I first sit down to write that I don’t want any kind of barrier to entry. So I moved onto and application called Desk.PM. I’m writing this post in it now, and I’ve found that it’s amazing to write blog posts in. It connects to every CMS you can think of and it’s interface gets out of your way until you move the mouse and then what you need is just one click away.

However, the way the application formats text is great for the web but not good for fiction. That is to say, it doesn’t like to use paragraphs indents and it auto-spaces between paragraphs.

I was trying to write most of my fiction in Scrivener, which is bills itself as a writer’s word processor. It has all sorts of tools to help you organize a large project. It was fun to use but most of it’s tools got in my way. I was using them because I felt like I should be using them not because I needed them to solve a problem I have. Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much how I feel about Scrivener itself. It probably does have a place in my work flow, just not for first drafts.

There were a lot of other applications I looked at, but I’m not going to go over all of them. The Mac is not lacking for writing tools. However, just about a month ago, I broke down and got an Office 365 subscription and brought Word back into my life. I got the subscription because my girlfriend was going to need the office apps for work, and I was willing to try anything to find a good text editor for fiction. My quests to find something had been eating up and taking away from the actual act of writing. I was using it as an excuse. “Why should I even writing anything today if I’m just going to have to move my document to another tool with a different file format.”

Sometimes when you’re a writer, you look for any excuse to not write.

So I downloaded the Office apps and fired up Word. I started to write some fiction and guess what? It felt great. Word was the application I first used when I was getting into writing. I’ve tried many times to be a pen and paper guy, but I have to work digitally because of my bad spelling and the fact that I can type faster than I can handwrite. (Although I love the act of actually writing things down.)

And I held on to Word for years even after all the hate on it started. I even defended it during the dreaded Clipy years. The argument I would always use was that it had a really good spell checker and that’s what I needed most.

It wasn’t until I tried to remove it from my life and then come back to it that I actually realized what the real reason I was defending it was. Word just feels like writing to me. It’s not rational and it’s hard to encapsulate. Like most feelings are. But it’s what I’m used to and all of the presets work the way that I like. I like that Word will auto capitalize sentences for me and put in paragraph indents. Those two presets had become such a part of my work flow that using other programs are really hard.

And I like it’s tight integration with OneDrive. I’ve been keeping all of my writing in the cloud for years now with DropBox and I like that my writing tool has a native sync client built in.

But all the features in the world don’t mean anything if I’m not writing. And I’ve found that I’m writing more. I know the tool I’m using and I like using it, so I’ve found that I’ve been writing more in the last month or so that I’ve had it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Word has a lot of issues with feature bloat and there are a lot of people that don’t like it’s existence. I’m just saying that it works for me and I know that for a fact because I tried to stop using it and I lost – I’m not joking here – years of writing to my search for something I’d already found.

Art is actually a lot like math: there’s more than one way to solve a problem. Unlike math, not every solution is going to work for everyone. My tools work for me. I’m going to be trying new things because I think there’s always a better way, but for now I’m going back to basics and sticking with what works.

Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is in fact an Arnold Schwarzenegger themed metal band called Austrian Death Machine. That kind of shit gives me hope for the future.

Here you have a group of people who decided that not only where they going to go through all the shit it takes just to be in a band, but that they were going to do it to speak to that 80’s action movie/heavy metal cross over set that you just know is out there and untapped. And these people have three albums.

After the 70’s, the DYI movement had clearly made it’s home in the music scene and you had people not just forming their own bands, but their own labels, clubs, and distribution networks. The effect this had was groups of music fans were giving the green light to themselves. That’s why you had Punk, which gave way to Goth, then Metal.

There are hundreds of sub-genres of just Metal (Speed Metal, Doom Metal, Math Metal, Grindcore…) This is because, while Metal does have some rules that make it a genre, it creates a framework for creative decision making that pairs well with a “why not” attitude.

This is why I find the current state of the web so frustrating. I’ve talked about that recently, so I’m not going to labor the point, but I haven’t been seeing a lot of the rapid fire experimentation that makes the underground music scenes so interesting and worth a damn. There’s been some on WordPress and Tumblr, but these kind of feel like the exceptions and not the rules.

I’m probably just taking a short sighted view of the web. The creation of the internet has changed the world fundamentally like the invention of writing and printing press did before. In fact, most people don’t consider human history to have officially “started” until after the invention of the written word. If you take that kind of perspective on it, then the 40+ years we’ve had the internet isn’t that long at all. In fact, we probably aren’t finished inventing the Internet and Web. Everything is still in flux.

For the last few years, it feels like there are a lot of gatekeepers out there and it feels like there a lot of people watching every move you make online. It feels like there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to express yourself on the web. This is a crock because that’s a social contract. Which is to say, something we are telling ourselves. The cost of doing things online is almost free, so the only gatekeepers are us.

It’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes that again. Then things are going to get really interesting. Your blog can be your indie band, so who gives a damn if you get on stage and post 500 pictures of cats or 500 unrelated posts. Who knows, you might find the next new thing for the Heavy Metal Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiasts.

Sometimes I Don’t Like The Heat Either

It’s a boiling night here in Salem. Normally, my thin-blooded, Florida constitution can handle such a creature, but now is not one of those times. I’ve packed myself into my little bedroom with the air conditioner on full tilt. It’s one of those nights that steals your will to live and you wish you could just sleep it away because that’s the closet thing to time travel we’re likely to ever see.

But all is not lost. I gots me a brand new Kindle Thing. It’s my first. I was a hold out for a long time from the ebook craze. I do like physical books but I also like having my entire collection with me and not being crushed to death under a mass of paper. I went full digital with my music collection years ago and haven’t looked back because the alternative is slow and stupid.

It ever occurred to me that maybe this could apply to my selection of reading materials. My detective skills are not where they should be.

The plan when I got home today was to get back to work on a writing project that I’ve been picking at off and on for a while now. Finally give it a serious go. But its sweaty and everything’s sticking together in this heat. I’m gong to hole up here next to my dying AC unit with a brand new little square that is both equal parts book collection and book store.

I may never be heard from again.

Updated the site

As the long weekend comes to a close, I’ve decided that I needed to update the look of the site.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  It’s not exactly what I want it to be.  This theme has some pretty annoying defaults, but without getting into the code it’s a good as I can make it for now.

One thing I did get done was adding a bunch of my friend’s sites to the links in the side bar.  They were always there, but my old theme hided them behind menus for some reason. I’d totally suggest checking some of them out, we are trying to make the web look more like us and not the corporate feed factories.

Tweeking WordPress settings can quickly turn into your job if you let it.  It’s something best done slowly so look for more updates.  Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Three Day Weekend: Day 1

It’s early morning on Saturday. I’m almost never up at this time if I can avoid it, but I went to bed uncharacteristically early last night, so there you go. I’m currently laying on the couch, reading John Scaliz’s blog and thinking about Web Stuff. My girlfriend is sitting on our high-end beanbag chair – yes, you can get those – and showing me funny pictures and cool articles from her phone.

Somedays I stress out. Somedays I have this.

Today is probably a good day from some writing/hacking. Stay tuned.

When Did The Internet Stop Being A Work Of Art?

When Did The Internet Stop Being A Work Of Art?

Is it just me or does the web feel much different than it did back in the late 90’s and early 00’s? Yes, I know I’m much older now, and no, I don’t mean in terms of graphics or what is technically capable now. I do not pine for two hour downloads of three minute videos or the return of the blink tag.

But I look at the state of the web now and it just looks like all the strip malls I had growing up. We used to create websites and build platforms so that anyone could have a presence online. People would go into chatrooms and feel a sense of community. Now I go on Facebook for hours and couldn’t tell what the hell my friends are doing.

It’s all just marketing posts either from the companies themselves or people you know reposting them. And if you do get some original content, it’s people just marketing themselves. “Look at this picture from that beach I went to six months back. I work a soul crushing job and desperately need someone to talk to. But look at the picture!”

The state of the web is there are either social media sites, professional news blogs, or start up apps. And that’s it. There seems like there’s nowhere for people to get together and express themselves.

Remember forums? What happened to those? Well sites like Facebook replaced them. Okay, but why? The only feature that really replicates it is Facebook Groups and it’s not as feature filled. You can’t, for instance, create a group that has rooms for different topics. You have to create a group for each topic, thus fractioning your user base.

So how is this a replacement? Because it’s better technology and better design. Forums are still around. Are you going to set one up? No of course not because the thing is going to look like it was an artifact from the 1900’s. No one’s updating the software or design concepts even though the core idea “people coming to a centralized space to talk about similar interests” is still a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and I think it has a place but if you’re on there, then you are have a conversations on a large company’s terms. Twitter limits you to 140 characters, Facebook organizes your incoming feed for you, Instagram pushes you to talk only in pictures, and Snapchat forces content impermanence.

They aren’t doing this to hurt or help you. They are doing this to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace. If you give them your content, it’s going to be to help them achieve their goals first, yours second. And that’s totally fine as long as you go into that with both eyes open.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Most people are adding their content to the web either because they want a voice or they want to see what the people they care around are up to. They end up either becoming a platform creator’s product or a small cog in company’s website/logo because the tools to do it themselves are either too difficult to use or have a steep learning curve. People what to express themselves, not worry about how to speak.

Here’s a perfect example: I recently read an article about Joss Whedon’s best tweets. If you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, he’s the writer/director behind Buffy, Firefly, and The Avengers. Nobody is going to argue that Joss doesn’t know how to write. But what was striking about his tweets was that he didn’t use punctuation, making what he was writing kind of hard to read. It wasn’t that he didn’t know to use those things or that this was his “normal writing style,” he simply couldn’t use them because they would eat up precious characters from Twitter’s arbitrary 140 character post limit.

You have arguably one of the best writers of his generation purposefully adding ambiguity to his own self-expression because he has something to say and is making the best choice of limited options.

There really aren’t any rules for the web so why does everything feel so consistent and homogeneous? Where are the people doing things their own way. It doesn’t feel like anyone is figuring anything out anymore. Where are all the experiments? Where are my art projects?

Don’t worry, Weary Traveler. Old Man Evans does have a few tricks up his sleeve, and yes, I am planning a few interesting web projects.

Stay tuned.

…or don’t. Start your own thing. I’m not the boss of you.

Image: Internet by James Cridland, CC-BY-2.0