Back to Writing Gear Basics #amwriting

I have a regrettable tendency to over-complicate things. Mostly it happens due to impulsivity, made worse by ADHD. I’ve recently taken stock of my customary writing gear—in particular, the load I carry in my backpack. In order to make it practical to walk as much as possible to coffee shops and to the train stations to my part-time office in Chinatown, I’m doing a thorough overhaul and downsizing of what gear I choose to pack.

The upswing in gear started when I discovered Duet Display back in 2016. Not that Duet Display isn’t a fine, fine piece of software; it’s just that I decided I needed to have two displays all the time, so I needed to schlep my iPad and a cable along all the time, and I always needed to be able to plug the MacBook in, because—well, the MacBook assumes it’s supposed to charge the iPad, even when the iPad has more battery life left than said MacBook. So I had to take the MacBook power supply, and I might as well add another cable to charge my phone, and why not take my external hard drive? It only weighs a few ounces…

As of last week, for almost any writing expedition, I’d take:

  • MacBook Air 11
  • External hard drive for backups
  • Charger for the MacBook
  • Extension cord
  • iPhone with stand
  • iPad (mostly for use as a second screen) plus folding screen cover/stand
  • 2 Lightning cables for the iDevices
  • USB 3 hub so I can plug everything into the MacBook at once if needed
  • Bluetooth stylus
  • Charger for the stylus (just in case)
  • Non-electronic backup stylus (just in case)
  • 2 Bluetooth keyboards, one each for the iPad and iPhone (just in case I decided I wanted to work on the phone or the tablet—or both—instead of on the MacBook)
  • Mini USB cable to charge the keyboards (just in case)
  • Bluetooth mouse with extra batteries (see above)
  • Noise cancelling headphones with extra batteries (ditto)

When I got where I was going it would take me ten to fifteen minutes to set up and later the same to pack.

I started thinking about this when I realised that I almost never actually used the iPad any more as a second screen. I found a little-known feature of Scrivener, available even in version 2.x. This setting works in MacOS full-screen mode (as opposed to Composition Mode), and enables the Binder and the Inspector to slide in from the sides when I move my mouse to the left or right sides of the screen, respectively. This effectively increases the screen area available for Scrivener by nearly 40%. I wasn’t using my iPad because this feature is disabled if a second monitor is present. Also, I’ve become skilled at using a split full screen on the Mac, for those times when I’d like to have, say, Aeon Timeline on the screen at the same time as Scrivener. (Mostly though, I can’t do that because AT can’t sync a Scrivener project that’s open.)

Slide-in panels increase Scrivener’s apparent screen size.

I still need the mouse as it’s hard for me to touch-type on the MacBook without accidentally hitting the touch pad which moves the insertion cursor, with hilarious but irritating results. (I’ve set up the mouse to disable the touch pad.) When I’m at my part-time office, I can borrow a big monitor from the monitor pool, and then a BT keyboard comes in handy. But I’ve dropped the following from my list, and my pack feels a lot lighter.

Items dropped:

  • External hard drive for backups
  • stand for iPhone
  • iPad plus folding screen cover/stand
  • 1 Lightning cable
  • USB 3 hub
  • Charger for the stylus
  • 1 Bluetooth keyboard (keeping the one that has a built-in iPhone stand, thus avoiding duplication)

When I’m going to my office rather than to a coffee shop, I can also leave behind the extension cord. If I’m going to a coffee shop I can leave behind the second BT keyboard. If I’m only going for an hour or two, I’ve taken to just packing the iPhone, a keyboard, a couple of cables, a USB adapter—and the headphones. I might see if I can come up with a really lightweight and compact extension cord—alternatively I might carry a small external battery. But that’s it.

Where does this leave my poor lonely iPad? I’m not sure. I really like its bigger screen, but I can’t use it as a phone. 95% of what I can do with the iPad can be done on the iPhone 6s Plus’ large screen (for a phone) as well, and the rest can be worked around. And there are many things that I can do with the MacBook that absolutely cannot be done on iPad (or iPhone.) Sometimes I go days without opening the iPad’s cover. I suppose I should sell the silly hunk of aluminium and simplify my life, but as you can tell, I’m emotionally attached to it.

A problem for another day.

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Some Days Are Easy; Others Not So Much #amwriting

Some days—days like two days ago—are easy. The scale is cooperative, the blood ketones are high, the brain seems to focus easily the way other folks’ are reputed to do. This Keto Diet is easy! Why didn’t I do this years ago?

Other days, like yesterday, are just meh. Yes, I had fun and I got some work done, but I over-exerted myself. My feet and knees were aching by the end of the day, and I pushed the limit of the carbs I can eat and not leave ketosis.

Fortunately, my body only cares about being in ketosis.

Days like today just suck. Old injuries and accumulated arthritic joint damage make it excruciating to move. That means I don’t get out of the house and the lack of light (our house gets very little natural light inside) starts my depressive cycle. And an unmoving scale doesn’t help keep my brain from starting the old self-sabotage.

I didn’t want to write, or move, or eat what I intellectually knew was healthy, sustaining, and darned tasty today. I just wanted to lie around the house playing video/phone/computer games, and nothing I had in the house to eat was appetising.

I had days like this when I was recovering from alcoholism, too. Those were the days when I had to move, even if I didn’t want to move, and get myself away from a dangerous environment. Because my life depended on it.

So at last, today, I got up. I packed a small bag with my minimum writing electronics—phone, Bluetooth keyboard, chargers. I rubbed liniment on all the aches, and took some aspirin. I trudged out the door and walked the mile to my local Starbucks, before the sun completely disappeared from the sky. I exercised. I got some sun. Because my life depends on it.

And here I am, in Starbucks, not eating the goodies but instead nursing a decaf Americano. I’m writing a freaking blog post, and I’m shortly going to leave, walk that same mile back home, and prepare a delicious low-carb meal of salmon patties made with coconut flour and eggs, plus a green salad with tomato and guacamole. Then I’m going to get a good night’s sleep.

Because my life depends on it.

Camp NaNoWriMo July Recap, or the Joy of Healing #amwriting #campnanowrimo

I started July 2018 Camp NaNoWriMo full of hope, and with a goal of 50,000 words. Sadly, I did not start Camp NaNoWriMo full of carbohydrates—instead 1 July 2018 was the day I started a ketogenic diet. Carb withdrawal kicked the [CENSORED] out of my plans.

In the past, I might have given up and had a donut. (Wait, who am I kidding? It would have been lots of donuts. Many, many donuts. I would have moved into the nice all-night donut shop with all the power outlets so as to finish my 50K words…) But this time I decided my health was more important.

(Oh, yes, in the middle of this was my birthday.)

As the month moved on, two things happened:

  • Carb withdrawal is not forever, it just seems like it while you’re in it. It was over in two and a half weeks.
  • The final two rounds of editing for my short story arrived with very tight deadlines.

I needed a boost to get me writing, and hey! Camp NaNoWriMo kept sending these nice emails saying it wasn’t too late. I could still start and revise my goal. So I went back to Camp, revised my goal downwards, and counted both my editing time (at 1,000 words per hour) and actual words added to my novel. And I won. More importantly, I met my editor’s deadline.

Yes, I won. I damn well deserve it.

(Oh, yes, my birthday celebration was wonderful without cake.)

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself last month. I didn’t get to finish my original goal. My birthday candles were stuck onto a banana, and I didn’t even get to eat the banana. Some of my other goals were derailed. It’s this stupid keto diet’s fault. Poor me! Poor me! Pour me a double chocolate malted.

I didn’t go that way, though. What’s that about?

What it’s about is actually taking care of myself. Treating myself with the care and affection and gentle discipline I would lavish on a dog. Treating myself with the kindness I would happily show a sick friend. Would I insist that a friend abandon a food plan that might save her life for the sake of a 50K word count? Or a birthday party?

If I would, I would be one crappy friend.

This is not the first time I have been through substance withdrawal. The first time was withdrawal from alcohol addiction—I got sober in June, 1978. I haven’t had a drink since. Thanks to my forty years of sobriety, I have a few harsh words for those who need to use a ketogenic diet—who are facing the very real and life-threatening conditions which a keto diet can treat or aid in treating—but find it just too hard.

Learn to hurt, baby.

Learn that your life is more important than whether your Mom takes your refusal to eat her famous pasta dish personally. Yes, it hurts when she gets ticked off or bursts into tears. Learn to hurt.

Learn that your life is more important than the “treats” in the office break room. Yes, it hurts when you see others eating what you’d like to, and doing so with no apparent ill-effects. You’re comparing your insides to their outsides. Learn to hurt.

Learn that your life is more important than a freaking piece of birthday cake. That it’s more important that the latest dessert at your favourite restaurant. That’s it’s more important that eating what everyone else is eating. That it’s more important than what other people think of you.

Yes, having that refined carbohydrate goodie would ease the pain, take away the social disapproval, satisfy your curiosity, mollify your mom. It would also mean that you would be refunded ALL the misery that you started the ketogenic diet to avoid.

I’ve been alcohol-free, one day at a time, for forty years. I’ve been refined carbohydrate-free thirty days, one day at a time.

I can do anything for one day. Anything. I’ll bet you can, too. Learn to live through today’s hurt to find the joy of healing.

How I Learned to Stop Fighting and Love Ketosis #amwriting


A year ago I got a diagnosis of pre-diabetes and obesity. No problem, I thought; I can just go back on a strict Paleo diet and all those troublesome blood test results, and the blood pressure that is stubbornly on the edge of low-grade hypertension will wind back down as they did the last time I cleaned up my food.

Starting a ketogenic diet was a good thing.
Withdrawal from carbohydrates was a bad thing for my blog.

Fast-forward to June (last month). I was having blurred vision, and phantom pain in my feet. My rheumatoid arthritis was out of control. I was afraid to check my blood pressure because I knew damned well what I would find. And the scale was not my friend.

Obviously, what I was doing wasn’t working. And I wasn’t on a Paleo (or more correctly, an ancestral) food regime. I’d start, but I’d find some trivial excuse to have “just one serving” of rice. Or cake. Or French fries. Or donuts… (Yes, plural. There is no such thing as one donut. It’s a complete myth.)

I refuse to take up the crown of the Queen of Denial (that was my mother), but I certainly deserve the title Silver Dragon, Princess of Denial.

Toward the end of last month, Younger Son told me that he was starting a ketogenic diet. He and I had not been diet buddies, really, since we had both gradually abandoned ancestral eating. (I had tried to be diet buddies with Hubby, but… it’s weird. He’s lost more than 100 pounds, but he can have a cookie. Singular. I’ve seen him do it. I’m convinced that trying to be diet buddies with Hubby is a Bad Move.)

So at the end of June I started a ketogenic diet, based on the guidelines I found at Nerdfitness. The idea is to deliberately put your body into ketosis, a state in which it runs using fat rather than glucose as its primary fuel. 30 net grams of carbohydrate (carbs), tops. 70+ grams of protein a day, add fats to reach target calories per day. I eliminated gluten. I eliminated grains. No starchy stuff, not even yams. No fruit—the carbs are all veggies. The one thing that keeps my current food from being ancestral is cow milk products, and I’m working on getting those out of my foods as well.

Objective Results after one month:

  • 9.4 pounds lost
  • Blood pressure normal (checked at the doctor’s office today)
  • Coffee down from an entire 12-cup-pot per day habit to one cup in the morning—without trying
  • Average sleep per night increased from 6 to 7 hours per night
  • Arthritis is noticeably less painful—I no longer need NSAIDs for pain control

This came at a cost; for the first two days I was sick with diarrhea, and I spent the subsequent two weeks in the notorious Keto Brain Fog, also known as carbohydrate withdrawal. Yes, it’s a thing. Blogging under those conditions proved impractical; I have two half-finished posts in the queue. They will remain half-finished, because they are as foggy as my brain was.

But not only do I now have the above objective benefits, I also have these…

Subjective Benefits After One Month:

  • Blurred vision and phantom extremity pain gone
  • Lots of energy, especially in the mornings. Only late at night do I now feel dragged out (which, when you think about it, is a good thing.)
  • I am almost never hungry. (Many days I have to force myself to meet my carb and protein goals, and eat enough fats to meet the MyFitnessPal minimum calorie goal.)
  • My ADHD is noticeably less troublesome. (Despite two weeks lost to brain fog, I completed two rounds of editing for my short story, corrected significant structural problems in my novel-in-progress, and started making the word count go up again.)

Conclusion:

I’ve accepted that it’s likely that I will be on a ketogenic Paleo diet indefinitely. This is not a hardship. Going back to the symptoms above—that would be a hardship. Further, moderation and I do not seem to get along. Once I start expanding what I can eat, I don’t seem to be able to stop. I can live with that.

Your Mileage May Vary.

I don’t want to get into religious wars about this. Not everyone wants to even try a ketogenic diet. Others will be convinced that I (or they) would be better off with a less-restrictive food plan. I’m certainly not trying to convert anyone! It’s just my experience. Apply it to yourself at your own risk.

Useful Ketogenic Diet Texts and Tools

(N.B.: I am not in any affiliate program. I receive no financial benefit should you purchase any item or service I mention in my blog, other than from my own writing.)

  • The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

    The original text I used to switch to an ancestral way of eating four years ago. Details of how to eat ancestrally without being dogmatic, and a lot of nutrition research references.
  • Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf.

    Robb adjusts his recommendations (!) based on ten years of new research in the nutrition field. He has an entirely new chapter on why, how, and whether to start a ketogenic ancestral diet. Again, research references abound.
  • Nerdfitness.

    Site owner Steve Kamb provides a lot of information on diet and exercise. He also discusses ancestral and ketogenic diets (which are NOT mutually exclusive) in an easy-to-understand and humorous way.
  • MyFitnessPal.

    I don’t know about you, but none of this works for me without actually keeping track of what I eat. All of it. You can do it with pencil and paper, but why? MFP, despite the obnoxious ads, is the service that will connect with the most other services, has apps on all the devices, and a huge nutritional database. My warning: be careful which version of, oh, onions (for example) you log. Some have fiber grams listed and some don’t. In order to know your net carbs, you have to know the fiber content.

Aeon Timeline & Scrivener #amwriting #Scrivener #AeonTimeline


Aeon Timeline provides event duration management that Scrivener lacks

One of my readers asked:

Hello. I’ve never heard of aeon timeline! What is it? How do you use it alongside scrivener? How does it benefit your writing?

Excellent questions, all.

What is Aeon Timeline?

Aeon Timeline is an application available for Mac, Windows, and iOS. The blurb from the developers’ website reads:

VISUAL TIMELINE SOFTWARE
> The timeline tool for creative writing, project & case management
Writers
> Designed for writers from its very inception, Aeon Timeline helps you plan, write and edit your story
> …

It goes on to describe benefits to project managers and lawyers. To an extent, a writer (particularly a self-published writer) is also a project manager, and certainly lawyers can be writers, too! But I’ll focus on my use with Scrivener to write fiction.

How do you use it alongside Scrivener?

Aeon Timeline events can sync to a Scrivener project. In particular, “tags” in Aeon Timeline are “Keywords” in Scrivener documents, and Aeon Timeline colours are Scrivener document labels. Event names sync with Scrivener document titles, and event summaries sync with Scrivener synopses. For other event properties in Aeon Timeline, you have the option to create custom metadata in your Scrivener project, and sync those properties as well. These include start date, end date, event arc, and participants. (These are the event properties from the default Aeon Timeline fiction template that I use. There are more that I ignore.)

You can do it one of either two ways:

If you’re a pre-planner:

Start in Aeon Timeline. Develop your characters, set up story arcs, and work out your outline as timed events. Then, when you’re ready to start writing,

  1. Create your new project in Scrivener, save and close it.
  2. Go back to Aeon Timeline, and select “Scrivener project” from its Sync menu.
  3. In the Sync pane that appears, under Warnings, right-click the events you want to have in Scrivener and add to Scrivener.
If you do minimal advance planning:

Start in Scrivener and build your structure in the way you’re most comfortable. If (or when) the timing of events begins to get confused in your mind, or you believe you’d benefit from seeing things laid out linearly with durations,

  1. Creat a new timeline in Aeon Timeline.
  2. Select “Scrivener project” from its Sync menu.

How does it benefit your writing?

It depends on your working style. I know some people use it instead of outlining in order to see a graphic representation of their novel in chronological order as they plan, before they ever write a word of body text. Myself, well, as I’ve discussed, I’m not so much a detailed planner. But in general, it allows you to create characters, story arcs, and events (which can be imported from, and thereafter synced to, Scrivener.) I myself will use it once I get into the nitty gritty of writing, to keep track of such things as “OK, if this all started in early November, how long would this have taken? How about this next thing, here? No, wait… that’s a Sunday. That venue wouldn’t be open on a Sunday… so when did this have to start? What day will this next thing start?”

And so forth. Since at one level the stories I write are mysteries, timing of events becomes important. So here’s a timeline of a novella I’ve published:

A portion of my massive timeline for my Fraser and Spencer series

It takes place over two weeks in June of 1880, in London. This image only includes the main storyline, with backstory and villain actions “offscreen” displayed in different arcs. I personally use labels in Scrivener for status (and don’t use the status metadata at all. But if you use it, it’s pretty easy to add an event property and sync it with Status in Scrivener.)

I had to think about such things as:

  • How long would it take someone to cross a portion of London on foot in 1880?
  • How about in a cab? (Often slower, due to traffic. Los Angeles is nothing new under the sun.)
  • What time would servants be returning from their Sunday half-holiday?

Aeon Timeline is designed to make it easer to keep things like that straight. Afterwards, as I described above, the dates and times I decide on can be saved with the Scrivener documents to which they refer. So when I’m writing, I don’t make mistakes like having folks set out across the city in the morning, when it’s already afternoon…

It’s not for everyone—-I understand that. But if you think visually and want the duration of things clearly displayed, it’s a godsend.

One other thing I do is import the timeline into Scrivener’s research folder as an alias. That way I can view the timeline’s QuickLook in Scrivener, and click on the Edit button to launch it in Aeon Timeline.

Musings of a Half-Pantsed Writer #amwriting

I have come to the conclusion that if there is anything about the writing process, anything at all, that is different between two writers, they will start a war over it. Since there are no two writers who have exactly the same process, that means our profession—er, craft—um, art—whatever the freak you want to call it—(not taking sides here) is at war with itself all the time.

To pants or not to pants?

I just became aware that there is a faction of fiction writers, far more comfortable than I with planning their novels extensively in advance, who think that those of us who are less comfortable with plotting, are snobs. Well, okay, elitists. I—writing urban fantasy mysteries and hard science fiction—am an elitist, because I am reputed to think that I am more literary and creative than they, because I write by the seat of my pants rather than planning my story in advance. I wander all over the page at great and confusing length, exasperating readers, and yet expect critical praise and commercial success for my maunderings.

Wow. I thought it meant that I am easily distracted (true), quickly bored (also true), and unable to organise my way out of a wet paper bag (too damned true).

I am full of envy and admiration for those who can plan a story in advance, in detail, write it quickly, and find an eager readership. But not so a fellow pantser, who in fact does look down on plotters as producing predictable (or even boring) work that nevertheless sells.

Well, yes, that’s kind of the point. Like it or not, humans are wired to respond to stories in a certain way. Write a story that hits those response points, and you stand a chance of getting some sales. There is nothing wrong or bad about that.

Let’s go back to Sturgeon’s Law, here. Theodore Sturgeon, popular science fiction writer of the 1960’s, famously said, “90% of everything is crud.”

90% of all fiction is crud, whether plotted, pantsed, or dictated by divine intervention straight to the writer’s keyboard. Whether mine, yours, or Barack Obama’s. Of the remaining 10%, 9% is merely adequate. Only about 1% has a chance of standing the test of time and being relevant to our great-grandchildren.

If I can write fiction that beguiles a reader’s mind for a few hours, of such quality that he does not regret having paid the price of a latte for it, I’ve passed into the top 10%. Whether it’s too predictable for some or it wanders too much for others, it serves the purpose of fiction. Not crud.

Sure, I’d like to write enough of it, and have enough readers, that the cumulative latte-equivalents mount up to some decent cash. And if I want to do that, I’m going to need a bit a crapload more organisation and plotting.

That’s fine. Right now, my fiction is half-pantsed—neither thoroughly planned nor completely unplanned. But I’m working on it.

Outlining—I Think I’ve Got It #amwriting

Occasionally I’ve blogged about @#$%@# outlining my novel. I’ve cursed. I’ve touted the latest book I’ve picked up telling me “how to outline your novel” or “how to write a good novel fast.” I haven’t spoken to the failures, the dead bodies, the frustration of being three-quarters of the way through 90k words and having NO idea how I’m going to END this sucker.

Outlining process… evolved to utility. At freaking last.

I talked a little about how Brandon Sanderson’s lectures helped out in The Short Story Rolls Forward! Now it’s time to reveal my… system. It worked for my short story; it’s working for my Novel In Progress. Let’s see if this process for directed seat-of-the-pants writing can stand the light of day.

The key idea that both Story Genius (Genius) and Save the Cat (STC) emphasised was that a story is about a lesson that is learned. A Deep Life Lesson. The protagonist is usually the one who learns it, but it can be another character. And the character in question can either a) learn it (drama or comedy) or b) not learn it and endure dreadful consequences (tragedy or tragicomedy.)

My story ideas almost always start with a character. This is where I can get stuck—I put my wonderful character through all sorts of situations but if I don’t have a lesson in mind, it means zilch. Hello, 70k words and no ending in sight.

I’ve learned that for me, that’s OK. Since I start with a character, as long as those cool scenes don’t run to more than about 20% of my eventual intended word count, I let ’em rip. It gives me a feel for my character, my situations, and my story world that I can’t get by top-down character construction and world building. It especially gives me a feel for what this character is good at—and where her weaknesses are. This stuff comes fast; it really doesn’t take that long to pound out about 10K words if I don’t have to direct it.1 This happens right in Scrivener, in my project.

Now come the hard part; taking a look at this hot mess and coming up with a lesson for my character to learn. This is the logline, theme and pitch building part of STC; the “What if?” portion of Genius. But for this, and much of the rest, I use STC, mostly because its practical language speaks to my engineer’s brain.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to “get this right.” Yes, my theme (the actual lesson) the logline, and the pitch (the blunt tool I’m going to use to bludgeon my lesson into my character’s head) can evolve. My first cut at this will be crude; I’ll know, for example, that the theme has something to do with the character’s relationship to her mom. I’ll take a good guess, but it doesn’t have to be right on. In practice, I evolve the theme more than I do the logline and pitch. I work these out on a whiteboard, scan them to Evernote, and transcribe them into a mind-map app. Alternatively, I can use a free-drawing note taking app (thence to Evernote and mind-map) instead of a whiteboard, but I strongly prefer a whiteboard.

Now, with the theme and logline in mind, I give my character(s) a past. What old ideas do my character(s) need to chuck? (Genius: Misbelief.) They must have them, or they wouldn’t need to learn anything, and I wouldn’t have a story. And how did they come by those ideas? (Genius: Worldview) Yeah, I go through the whole Genius “misbelief origin scene” and “reinforcing scenes” for my protagonist, and at least an origin scene for important sidekicks and villains. The only problem with this is keeping the theme in mind; but I find I can let these rip almost as fast as the original exploratory writing. This happens directly in Scrivener.

Finally, I fill out the fifteen “beats” from STC. I start with my bookends (my “Opening Image” and “Closing Image”) and fill in the rest of the pieces as they come to me. For this, I use a whiteboard, and I pace and talk to myself a lot. This is where I do classic brainstorming, which I can’t do while I’m sitting in a chair. This gets cleaned up, scanned into Evernote, and transcribed to that mind-map, which finally gets imported into Scrivener, both as documents and as a link to the original map.

It sounds a lot more structured than it is. Really.

What I don’t do is plan individual scenes / chapters. I know that STC and Genius both insist on planning scenes / chapters. All of them. In advance.

Other “how to outline” books and “how to write a novel fast” books do too; if not in advance, then just before writing the scene or chapter.

Sheesh. Every time I try this I get blocked for weeks.

Instead, I estimate the number of words between beats based on where I’d like the overall word count to be.2 I then draft a path of words from one “beat” to the next. If I get stuck I do a very loose mind map of a few things that have to happen between the beats. Once I make it to the next beat (I think of them as “islands”), I’ll do a preliminary trim to my beat’s target word count, as well as a quick “fit” to what’s gone before. If I need to adjust theme, logline or pitch, now’s the time. Then it’s typing a path of words to the next beat. Repeat until done.

I structure my Scrivener draft into folders based on beats (NOT acts) so that I can check the word counts on the fly.3 This keeps me from spinning off into the weeds writing forever on a cool side-plot. I write in documents inside the folder, breaking them into scenes as I go (based on change of location or time.)

This is working structure. When I’m ready to give output to someone else, I group the scenes into real chapters… about 3-5K words each that end on a natural cliffhanger. But I no longer work with chapters while I’m writing a draft. As far as I’m concerned, a chapter is a construct for readers, to give them a natural stopping point that nonetheless keeps them coming back to finish. I now first structure my draft so it’s easy for me to write, and add reader-friendly things like chapter breaks later.

So that’s it—my outlining “system”, such as it is. It’s designed evolved to give me maximum seat-of-the-pants room to wander around while herding me upstream towards my goal of a finished draft.


  1. A word about research: I research continuously. I write something that seems real-world based; I look it up, save the research to Evernote (no, I don’t use Scrivener for this) and modify the writing (or not.) I do the same thing for fantasy settings and science fiction settings, except using spreadsheets, typed documents, and drawn diagrams, scanned from whiteboards or created in a freeform note taking app. Certainly a lot of my research tends to happen towards the start of writing because that’s when things are still fluid, but I don’t research extensively in advance. It’s that seat-of-the-pants thing again. 
  2. I wrote a word count milestones estimator spreadsheet based on the pages in a script that STC suggests a certain beat be accomplished within. OK, I used to write apps for a living. Setting up an spreadsheet to do that is not hard for me. 
  3. A STC beat for a 90k-word novel runs anywhere from 3k to about 12k words. 

Aeon Timeline on iOS—Thoughts on Scrivener Workflows #amwriting

A moment has arrived that many of us who use both Scrivener and Aeon Timeline have long awaited: Aeon Timeline is available on iOS!

Scrivener and Aeon Timeline Meet on iOS

The iOS version of Aeon Timeline seems robust and full-featured; I can do almost anything with Aeon Timeline on iOS that I can on the Mac, with a few exceptions:

  • Screen real estate is cramped on iOS screens, so it might take several screens of information to display what’s available on one screen on the Mac. Don’t get me wrong; the display’s neither crowded nor sparse, and there’s nothing missing, but you might have to tap a couple of times more to see all three of your story arcs, for example.
  • Import and export options on iOS are limited—I suspect in large part due to iOS sandboxing.
  • I can’t sync with Scrivener.1 For that, I have to get back to my Mac.

Nonetheless, since I do use Scrivener on both platforms, and have built a timeline for my Scrivener project in Mac Aeon Timeline, having Aeon Timeline on iOS is wonderful.

  • On the iPad, at least, I can split my screen between Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. Thus, I can see all the information (dates, keywords, arcs, locations, tension) for my Scrivener docs that iOS doesn’t know about—while I’m looking at my Scrivener project. Even on iPhone, that data is now available even if I can’t have Scrivener on the screen at the same time.
  • On iPad or iPhone, I can now actually edit that data, and it will get incorporated when I get back to my Mac, sync Scrivener with iOS Scrivener, and then sync Scrivener with Aeon Timeline.
  • If you’re an iOS-only user, only titles, labels, and synopses would be synced anyway since you don’t have keywords or custom metadata. I’d suggest creating a timeline in Aeon from scratch, copying and pasting titles. You could still set up your dates, locations, arcs and tension in Aeon.

Thank you, Matt at Aeon Timeline, for this great little iOS app!


  1. Not syncing with Scrivener on iOS makes sense. Scrivener keeps the desktop project version largely unchanged on iOS, sequestering mobile changes in a special mobile area inside the project. If iOS Aeon Timeline starts messing with it, there’s a real possibility that it might create Scrivener sync conflicts. No one wants that. 

Colorado Bound—The Great Road Trip Post-Mortem

We spent the first three weeks of April in a Great Road Trip of the Southwest, in hopes of finding a place wherein Hubby, Younger Son, and I would all agree on settling after Hubby’s retirement.

Flag of Colorado

This was our itinerary:

City State # of Nights Cities Checked
Santa Fe NM 1 None
Pueblo CO 4 Pueblo, Cañon City
Lubbock TX 1 None
Canyon Lake TX 6 Austin, San Antonio, Seguin, New Braunfels, San Marcos
Houston TX 2 Houston, Galveston
El Paso TX 2 Las Cruces, NM
Prescott AZ 2 Prescott and nearby

As you can see, we devoted a great deal of time to central and southern Texas. We were all convinced that it was the most likely place: Hubby’s relations have moved there. It has a warm climate. Cost of living is low. I’m Texan.

Wrong.

I could have been happy on the Texas Gulf Coast, and Younger Son agreed; yet I vetoed it myself. Why? Global warming. Those beautiful cities are under siege, and I don’t want to spend the next twenty years fighting off the Gulf of Mexico with a beach pail.

It nearly broke my heart.

As for central Texas—we might as well move to Palmdale, California and set up a massive outdoor humidifier. The climate is horrid, the suburban sprawl breathtaking in its contempt for the land.

Besides, Austin is filled with immigrants who are desperately trying to pretend they’re not in Texas. The rest of the area is filled with…Texans.

I’m more or less cool with Texans—I am one, though forty-five years away have given me a certain perspective that folks who never moved away often lack. But…well, let’s just say the indications were that culture shock would hit Hubby hard.

Not for us.

As for the rest, New Mexico had its charm, but Las Cruces, at least, has a very strange development pattern—and the real estate is comparatively expensive. Prescott, Arizona’s population is 60% over retirement age and getting older—what would Younger Son do for company? Real estate is expensive there, too.

But Colorado…

Pueblo and Cañon City have beautiful old Edwardian houses in good repair for cheap. The climate is not too hot, nor too cold, nor too wet. Pueblo, despite its (to Angelenos) small population, has excellent city services. Both communities are thriving. We really liked what we saw of them. They may have low rainfall, but both are on the banks of the Arkansas River, so it’s unlikely that municipal water supplies will dry up. If we’d like to build instead, there are custom home sites with views of the Rockies…

So yeah. If and when we leave California (may it not be for a few more years!) Colorado looks like our destination.

In the meantime, I have a lot of beaches to visit.

Choosing The Perfect Writing Font? #amwriting

Not too long ago, iA Writer added a new font to its app, iA Writer Duospace font. Their introduction post is here, In Search of the Perfect Writing Font. Is Duospace perfect?

The grandmother of all computer input & display devices, the Teletype A33. (By Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) – Scan of the original photograph (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)
I suggest that there is no such thing as a perfect writing font. I find iA’s “Papa knows best” attitude towards writing fonts…irritating. For my own purposes, I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best (free) writing font available. But let’s examine iA’s claims.

iA’s arguments are first, that a monospaced (or nearly monospaced) writing font says that “this text is work in progress,” as opposed to a proportional font, which says “this is almost done.” Second, they argue that their new Duospace font (which has 1.5 times the monospaced width for the characters “m”, “M”, “w”, and “W”) maintains that “raw text feel” while avoiding the “artificial mechanical constraints” of the old typewriters. They further argue that a monospaced(ish) font slows down reading speed thus forcing a more appropriate writing speed. Finally, they bring up the fact that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious.

First, I absolutely agree that a monospaced(ish) font makes typos more obvious, and this is important to me.

Further, I agree that a monospaced font communicates “work in progress”—but then, I grew up with typewriters. I suspect that to younger people a monospaced font just says “old-fashioned.”

The Duospace font isn’t as aesthetically pleasing to me as iA suggest—I find it mildly annoying that letters don’t line up as in a true monospaced font. It also suffers from indistinct typographic quotes—though it manages to do dashes well. (More on this later.)

As for slowing down reading to a “writing pace”…this is a point I’m unwilling to stipulate. Do monospaced fonts slow reading speed? Are there studies? If so, is this really a good thing for writing? Again, are there studies?

I have questions other than the subjective “raw text feel” or the possible “writing pace” issues that are more important to me. Does the font I’m using for writing do everything possible to make errors stand out? Do I have to squint to see errors? Are errors obvious when the print is on the page or the spell checker is off? Since I’m my own publisher, the answers to these have to be “yes,” “no,” and “hell yes,” respectively.

This is why I use Teletype-derived writing fonts—of which I find Ubuntu Mono to be the best.

Not every monospaced font traces its lineage back to typewriters. The programmer’s (or code) fonts (Monaco, Source Code Pro, even Duospace, et. al.) trace their lineage back to the Teletype A33.

Cheap typewriters had as few separate characters as possible. Many didn’t have a separate key for zero, for numeral one, or even for an equals symbol. Instead, you used a capital oh, a lowercase el, and backspaced to put an underscore beneath your hyphen to fake an equals symbol. If you succeeded in selling your work, people called “type setters” would retype it, making it look beautiful with distinct characters for typographic quotes and other glyphs that a typewriter couldn’t produce. That’s why typewriter-derived fonts often have hard-to-distinguish glyphs. In the bad old days, they were faked, so why distinguish them now?

Teletypes, on the other hand, were the first devices that gave humans the ability to interact directly with computers. There were no lowercase letters on the early models (part of why many programming languages are case-insensitive.) But you bet there were distinct numerals versus letters. You would never mistake a Teletype zero for a capital oh. You wouldn’t catch it expecting you to back up and underline your hyphen to fake an equals symbol.

Modern code fonts are derived from Teletypes. Zeros are slashed or dotted. Numeral ones and capital eyes are distinct. Lowercase el can’t be mistaken for anything else.

Sadly, typographic quotes (English “smart” or “curly” quotes) and dashes (en dash and em dash) are afterthoughts in most monospaced fonts, whatever their derivation. They weren’t on Teletypes; they weren’t on typewriters; they were added for the first graphical computer UIs in the early 1980s. It shows. I usually can’t tell whether a quote in a monospaced font is an open or a close quote. Often the dashes and hyphens are identical or one pixel different.

Ubuntu Mono is an exception. It’s easy to distinguish English typographic quotes from each other in Ubuntu. It’s obvious whether you’ve used a hyphen or a dash, and if a dash, which. And it retains all the letter v. numeral v. symbol distinguishability of a proper code font.

Therefore, for me, by my own priorities, Ubuntu Mono is the best free writing font available.

But all this is aside from questions such as: what font would be best for a dyslexic writer? A partially sighted writer? A writer with any of many other challenges that mean the iA paradigm or mine must yield to other considerations? A writer who simply finds monospaced fonts irritating?

A font that looks handwritten might convey that “not done yet” feel even better than monospaced. A dyslexic writer would choose that font which triggers her disability the least. I suggest that “best” is dependent on individual priorities. Mine aren’t yours.

So I believe the “perfect” writing font is a myth. I hope this article helps you on your way to choosing a writing font that helps you write more easily.