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.

Collecting World Views So I Don’t Have To Leave The House

Collecting World Views So I Don’t Have To Leave The House

Just got done watching the fantastic “Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts” for the second time in two days. It’s the kind of documentary that makes you realize that we are all connected on this spinning rock and life is much more interesting than it was ever advertised.

For those a bit thick, it’s a biography about the comics writer Warren Ellis. If you haven’t read him, the guy’s amazing and he is responsible for my favorite comic of all time, Transmetropolitan. And of course, he’s one of those crazy, bad ass writer types that get’s guys like me into writing.

But something kind of struck me as I was watching this today. There’s a lot of creators that I like: Warren Ellis, Hunter S. Thompson, Cory Doctrow, Adam Savage, etc. It’s a long list, and it really does feel like I’m collecting these people. However, I used to think that I was collecting their bodies of work when, in fact, I’m collecting world views.

I like seeing the world through the eyes of other people because I’m not ever going to get to see it all and if some crazy bastard can go out in to the aether and bring back Tales of The Beyond then it’s one less thing I have to do

I’m practical like that.

A creator’s work should always stand on it’s own but it should do so by saying something interesting about humanity and our interconnected lives. Even if that just that the bunch of us are as weird as we had hoped.

The Crusade For The Grail Diary

The Crusade For The Grail Diary

In 1989, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released.  While it is my favorite of the three – and only three – Indiana Jones movies, it stands out in my mind not for its plot or the acting, but for one very specific prop.

In the film, Indiana’s dad has a notebook that he keeps all of his information about his grail quest.  It’s a little palm size book that he calls his Grail Diary.  This prop seemed so magical to me when I was kid.  I’d been surrounded by books my entire life but there was something wonderful about the idea of a one-off book that only you, the creator of the book, understood.  Something that was half reference material and half art project.

“Look at this epic fucking thing, Junior.”

I’ve alway wanted something like the Grail Diary, but I didn’t want that notebook.  I love movies but I don’t really have the prop obsession that some people have to go out and create a replica of a movie prop.  I wish I did, but that requires way more patients than I currently have.

However, the grail quest like obsession that the Last Crusade did give me was for notebooks.  I wanted to have my own Grail Diary about a subject that I thought was cool.  This lead me to lots of spiral notebooks filled with story ideas and pen and paper RPG notes.  Alas, they do not have the same presence as something that was create by a movie’s art director.

Like everyone who went to college for English, I started collecting Moleskin notebooks.  When I was first getting into them, they were just palm size, hard cover books.  I still have my first one kicking round here somewhere, still waiting for me to finish filling its pages.

And that’s my major problem: I never finish any of the notebooks that I have.  Sometimes it’s because I pick a topic that I’m only going to write about in that notebook.  Of course, I then lose interest in said topic and don’t want to take notes about it anymore. Sometimes I create one that’s just going to be a journal.  I can’t lose interest in the notebook when I’m the subject right? Wrong.  Not only am I not the most interesting person in the world – I know, it was a surprise to me too – but writing journal style entries kills my hand.  It’s just easier for me to write long form on a computer.  I’m faster and I have more stamina.  However, I lose out on the tactile joy of analog materials.

About a year ago I stumbled upon Bullet Journaling.  Which is a productivity system where you write down everything you want to do or are thinking about as a running series of one line notes.  It’s pretty elegant system and I ran with it for a few months, filling up a new Moleskin, graph paper notebook.  This system was creating something the most like the Grail Diary.  It was non-linear, yet it yielded a useful book upon rereading.

The problem with Bullet Journaling is that it is a productivity system which means that if you’re not using it every day it’s really easy to lose interest and then you kind of build up a negative streak.  “I haven’t looked at my journal for three days, why look at it today.” I stopped using my bullet journal towards the end of last year.

I’ve created a new one with the start of this year but I haven’t put a lot of effort into it.

That isn’t to say, however, that I’ve given up on creating my Grail Diary.  I still love the idea of journals and notebooks.  I love that people create these ad-hoc systems for recording information that’s only important to them.  I research new ways to write notes and new systems to keep track of them. I look up what other people have made journals and notebooks about.  When there’s someone on a train writing in a notebook, I’m always shoulder surfing them.  Not because I want to see what they’re writing, but because I want to see them creating an artifact that is unique, and only useful to, themselves.

The act of journaling is something so personal, yet I don’t think we talk about it enough.  I don’t think we share enough information about this habit that creates these bespoke, handicraft books.

For the most part most of my note-taking and journaling is done digitally.  Making my computer my Grail Diary of sorts, but I’m still looking for ways to journal in an analog way that will create something truly unique at the end of it.  But like the true quest for the Holy Grail, it’s not the Grail that’s important, it’s the search.

Main Image – via flickr

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Rewatch

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas Rewatch

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hunter S. Thompson lately.  We’re coming up on the anniversary of his death and that always gets me thinking about artists, art, and writing.  So I had a couple beers and watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again.  I was actually going to do a review of drunk, in true Gonzo style, but I didn’t because… well… I was drunk.

The movie still holds up and is a great love letter to the book.  I still don’t know how the hell that thing got made.  I mean, can you actually tell me the plot of that Fear and Loathing?  Two guys get high and trash a hotel room, and then get high and trash another hotel room.  I know I’m not being fair to the book but this did get green lit for a movie that’s about all the more action is in the flick.  You could make the argument that Duke tweaks to the fact that their bender – and by extension their lives – has gone too far, but I think he had a pretty strong suspicion that was going to happen even before they got to Vegas.

Do not think for one second I’m bagging on that book or the movie.  The novel is probably my second favorite book of all time.  It’s just not something that would lend itself to being made into a movie, which I guess is why they made it.  And good for them.  Filming the unfilmable movie is Punk Rock filmmaking at its finest.

Plus, there is something really magical about Johnny Depp reading Hunters word’s out loud. I’m so glad there are so many moments in the film where it’s really just you, Depp, and the words.

Not many people can write like Hunter when he’s on top of his game.  There’s just something about the words he chooses to use and have such a presence and voracity.  I’ve always wanted to be that deft with wordplay, but I’ve always felt my vocabulary to be a little thin.  It’s something that happens when you are such a crap speller like I am.  You stick to the nine words you know.

But hey, I’m writing a lot more now so maybe I’ll add a tenth word.

Edit: totally misspelled Vegas every time I used it in this post. But I’ve corrected it and you’ll never know I screwed up unless I write something on here about it.  But what are the chances of that happening?

Why I Still Blog

Why I Still Blog

Yesterday was my eight year anniversary on WordPress.com.  They gave me a badge for it, so that’s pretty cool.  It makes sense that my anniversary is around this time.  I always get antsy for new projects around this time of year.

I couldn’t tell you what kind of site I was trying to make back then.  Probably some sort of Boing Boing rip off.  I do remember liking the fact that I could have more than one page, which was a leg up on Blogger at the time.

I’ve started and abandoned a lot of sites on WordPress in those eight years, but this one has been the one that I’ve kept up with the most.  That’s probably because I post just about anything I want on here and don’t do a lot of link dumps.  I have Tumblr for that, which I do need to whip into more shape but that’s a project for another day.

As I said earlier, I was on Blogger before WordPress.  I signed up around the summer of 2003. Before that, I didn’t know what blogging was.  It had been around since 99, but I really wasn’t that savvy of net trends at the time. To me it was just building a web site, which I knew how to do but had never hosted anything online.  That cost money, which I didn’t have when I was in college. The idea of quickly posting things online, for free, without having to mark up the post was really appealing. It still is.  The fact that apps like WordPress, and Blogger exist is truly amazing to me and I don’t think people take the time to acknowledge it.

We are constantly connected now – that’s painfully clear – but I don’t think most of us are aware of the fact that we can express ourselves in more that just a tweet.  That’s why I still blog after 11 years.  Even though the form is now seen as quant by some. I like that fact that there are still places where people can craft long form content about whatever they care about.

Looking back on it, that’s why my other sites failed.  I was either making their topics too constricting or I was making their posts a quick write up of a link I found.  The “anything goes” nature of the form is what attracted me to blogging and net in general and it’s what I’m finally trying to do with the Electric Abacus.  This is my place on the web to try out things.  Some of them will be successes, most will be failures.  But that’s what I like about personal blogging: the site can change as you change.

Featured Image – via Flickr

Disapointed with my Desk

With Christmas quickly approaching, the Mac App Store has been pimping a bunch of new programs.  One of them, Desk is the word processor that I’m writing this post on.  It’s a very mainmast editor that has a lot of power under the hood.  

It’s basically just a box that you can write into, which is exactly what I need from a word processor: for the thing to get the hell out of my way so that I can focus on what I’m doing.  But when you mouse into the box, it reveals a lot of extra features, like blog integration and WYSIWYG post editing.  

There in lies the current problem.  Desk is currently having issues with integrating with WordPress.com, which is my current blog host.  So all the features that make it great, and better than Byword, my old editor, I can’t currently use.  It’s frustrating, that I spend three times the cost of Byword to get this, and I can’t really kick the tires of it.  

In fact, when I go to post this, I’m probably going to use Byword to do or copy and past it into WordPress.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know that Desk is developed by one guy and he’s working has hard as he can to get this resolved, and it’s just a waiting game until this app can talk to WordPress.com. 

Once he get’s things figured out a little better, I’ll give you all more of a review.  Until then, if you are looking for a super stripped down editor, or you want to connect something very feature filled to your Not WordPress blog, I’d say give Desk a try.

Writer’s block is a Massive Pain in the Ass

Writer’s block is a massive pain in the ass, and I don’t normally get it with fiction. Figuring out things to write has never really been the problem for me. The ideas are always just there and if they’re not, the simple act of writing usually brings them out very quickly.

This has not been the case with this blog. I would love to write on this blog all the time. I have total blog envy for what Wil Wheaton does over at his blog. He posts regularly and each post has this great, personal voice to it. It’s journalistic or distant like a lot of blogs – including this one at times – can be.

But I haven’t posted on here in months. Some of the reason is that life’s just got in the way, but mostly it’s been freaking writer’s block. I have no idea what to say on here. Sure, I have ideas but when I sit down to post, everything just sounds like crap to me.

To make matters worse, I build up this negative pressure when I haven’t posted in while. It’s like the longer I go without posting, the more I feel I have to have a really good post to break my not writing streak.

This is probably my problem. I’m building up what I good blog should be so much in my mind that I’m forgetting to actually post on the fucking thing. They say, “perfection is the enemy of good,” which I think has plagued me in writing for a while.

That’s why I’m putting out this quick post: just to break my streak and get back to posting. Because I like who I am when I’m blogging. I like the form and I like that posting on here makes me a writer again. I’ve been obsessing with the tech side of my life for a little too long and I’ve been letting this part of me go fallow.

Well that’s enough of that. No more being fallow and no more blaming myself for not posting. It’s time to try some new stuff and get back to basics.

It’s time to resume our broadcast day.