I Hate It When Life Fouls Up My Plans #amwriting

Illness and injury—both minor in that no hospitalisation has been required—have plagued me for the last four weeks. As usual, I’m unwilling to admit that I’m not up to my own standards of performance.

Image courtesy of kdshutterman at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I haven’t been able to keep up the pace I’ve set myself on finishing my current novel—which makes me frantic. Being frantic leads me into a very slippery place with respect to food. And yes, I slipped with respect to food. So in addition to illness for 4 weeks and injury for a week and a half, I’ve been out of ketosis for a week until yesterday. As a result, I added wildly varying cognition due to blood sugar swings to the distractions of discomfort and general malaise. Thus, I’ve put myself even further behind my goals.

I wish I would stop shooting myself in the foot—that I could stop doing things that I know will make a somewhat bad situation worse. But I’m on the way back up. Antibiotics have done their job (at last), the injury has gotten to the “itchy” stage, and I’ve returned to a keto diet, hopefully to stay for a long while.


Update: Scrivener Special Abilities on New iPhones (XS, XS Max, & XR) @scrivenerapp

Today was the annual Apple announcement of shiny new iPhones. If you’re a Scrivener iOS user, and considering a new phone, you may wonder which of the new iPhone XS and XS models will display the Scrivener binder in landscape mode.

The plus-size iPhones display the Scrivener project binder in a small sidebar.

Literature and Latte have said that iOS Scrivener uses the iOS size classes to determine whether a device can display the Binder in landscape mode. The key to this is whether the device has “Regular” width in landscape mode. According to the size classes just published for the new iPhones, the following new models have landscape regular width and therefore will display the Binder in Scrivener:

  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR

Other models that display the Binder:

  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6S Plus
  • iPhone 6 Plus

Note that the new iPhone XS (not Max) will not display the Binder in the sidebar, just as the older iPhone X did not.

Update on GTD v. ADHD #amwriting

A heavily modified version of Getting Things Done is still my go-to system, and I still have it tied to Habitica, the gamified to-do system I’ve been using for several years.

My calendar after GTD processing

GTD principles I ignore or simplify:

From my point of view many of GTD’s classifications are complications that I avoid or simplify lest I stop using the system. The ones I either don’t use or simplify greatly are related to categorisation and prioritisation, which ADHD folks are notoriously bad at (I am no exception):

  • Roles: Classifying things to do by the “role I play” while doing them. I don’t bother. The details of why I have to do a thing are things that are too nitpicky to record. Because I’m a writer? A wife? A housemate? Because I damn well please? It doesn’t matter.
  • Contexts:
 Classifying things to do by the location in which I do them. Again, I don’t bother.
  • Projects: Classifying things to do by the project of which they’re a part. If I have more than two projects going at once, I’m in trouble anyway. So I have essentially two projects: Writing-Related and Not Writing-Related. That’s fine enough categorisation for this ADHD person.
  • Priorities: GTD has four of these: Now, Next, Later, and Someday. For me, it’s either Now or Later. I can’t cut this any finer.
GTD principles I retain:

But there are things that are core to GTD that I’ve taken to heart and have heavily automated:

  • Collecting: I’ve set up automations via IFTTT and Zapier for this. Whether I add reminders in Evernote, in Siri, in the iOS Reminders app directly, in a (rarely-used) iOS app called Daily Notes, or by forwarding emails to Evernote as to-dos, they all get funnelled to a Google calendar I call “Unprocessed”, as all-day events due the next Monday after the events are added.
  • Processing: The hard part. I have it scheduled for every Monday; about half the time I actually do it. This is where having the tasks disguised as all-day events becomes useful. “Unprocessed”, “Processed”, “Scheduled” and “Appointments” are the four Google calendars I have on the same account—so that they all appear on my week’s calendar in neat little day-based columns.

How I process things to do:

I look at the unprocessed events, and delete those that I, upon reflection, don’t need to do. I then transfer the remainder to the Processed calendar.

On the Processed calendar, I start looking for places to put the most important to-dos on my calendar. My rule is that I never schedule more than five items on a single day. Writing is always scheduled, as is exercise. Appointments count as items. As I schedule to-dos, I move them to the Scheduled calendar. Left over items get moved to the next Monday’s Processed calendar. (Or possibly deleted if I decide that Later has become Never.)

From here my automation takes over. Via Zapier, all the Scheduled calendar items and the Appointments calendar items get inserted into my Habitica to-do list on the appropriate date. I either do them, or my fellow Habitica party members will chew me out.

Finally, a GTD user is to regularly review whether a thing-to-do is needful, and if the categorisation and prioritisation is appropriate. I don’t do this regularly; instead I do this when I feel like chucking it all. Usually this means either I need to prune my daily checklist (which isn’t tracked through GTD) or I’ve over-complicated my GTD variant. Again.

But still, the GTD paradigm remains useful so long as my automations still work—heaven help me if IFTTT or Zapier goes out of business!

Thoughts on Bullet Journalling #amwriting

Bullet journalling is a popular concept now. Be creative with your personal information system! Free yourself from the tyranny of electronics! My ADHD brain said, “Oooh! Something new and shiny!” So I bought myself a beautiful journal and expensive pens, and started in.

Fortunately, the experiment didn’t last too long.

An example bullet journal index, from BulletJournal.com. The problem with this is that I have to find the index page that contains the pointer to the information I want…

Bullet journalling works on the same principles as the old Franklin-Covey paper system I was taught in the 80’s—and the principles have probably been around a lot longer than that. Write things down on they day they happen, or are supposed to happen. Write an index for them every month. Refer back to related things as you write. They work for many people—but not for me.

Paper doesn’t beep, you see.

Paper is cool, it’s sensuous, and I can spend lots of time and money finding just the right journal and the perfect set of pens for my stuff. I’d love to handwrite all my organisational notes free-form on paper, but… I have to have an alarm set to remind me to update them or look at them. And I can’t find things that I need as reference, because I can’t remember what category I filed them under or when they happened, so I have to search all the index pages, and then all the other pages, too. I can scan them into Evernote to make them searchable, which begs the question: Why bother with paper at all?

If I want the benefits of handwriting and a free-form personal info system (with elaborately decorated F-bombs in) I can use an electronic free-form notetaking app such as my favourite, Noteshelf, which is searchable online (when connected to Evernote) and can be tied in to various automatic cattle-prod-zap systems I’ve already set up so as I won’t neglect it. And Evernote’s search functions mean that I don’t ever have to try to write indexes, or try to find something via a handwritten index. (Yuck.) Seriously, categorisation is difficult for me, as it is for many with ADHD. Remembering when something happened is also difficult. The beauty of Evernote is that I can search by anything I remember about a note, without having to wonder what category I put it in, what tags I stuck on it, or when I added it. (I found some writing notes under “Recipes” recently. No, they weren’t about food. I don’t know how they got there.)

I do better with creating a structure that’s both external and automated, so that once I decide to do a thing and get it into my system, it periodically punches me in the face. Eventually, it will get done, or I decide not do to it, and delete it. Meanwhile I have rewards (via Habitica) and punishments (via Beeminder) built-in to help me keep on track.

So no, no elaborate paper tracking systems for me—at least not until they make paper that beeps.

Update on Keto Diet

I continue to be amazed by my progress at losing weight, my body composition improvement, and at cognition improvement. Setbacks (and there are some; you’ll see them in the graph) are short, and (thinking back on it) triggered by poorer-than-usual sleep.

The longest sustained weight loss I’ve experienced (as measured by the slope of the EMA being continuously negative) since before 2014. Maybe since ever.

Not that I haven’t had an excellent excuse for poor sleep over the past two weeks—we’re having two bathrooms remodelled. I need to be up, dressed, and out of my room at an ungodly hour (0730), as mine is one of the bathrooms under construction. There is no access to it except through my bedroom.

The good news is that all should be finished by tomorrow evening, and I can return to my night-owl habits.

KETO TIP: Believe it or not, it IS possible to have a Keto lunch at Starbucks, without paying for carbs you’ll throw away. Options to consider: the avocado spread, a packet of plain almonds, string cheese, and the Felino cheese and salami snacks. Moon cheese is good, too—though at 4.5 servings per package, it’s a challenge for me to limit myself to 1 serving v. 1 package. But even if I eat the whole package, I’ll stay in ketosis.

The Short Story is Away! #amwriting

Remember that short story I told you about, back in March? (The Short Story Rolls Forward)? The one that was accepted to the NaNo Los Angeles anthology in April? (Short Story Accepted!) The anthology is named Shadowed Doorways, my story “Fire Assurance” just passed final proofread, and it and the anthology should be actually in print Real Soon Now!

What’s that I hear you asking? Four months? Why did it take four months?

Mostly, the editorial staff at NaNo Los Angeles are all volunteers. They have day jobs. People left. People became ill. And my story went through four different editors: a story editor, a copy editor, a proofreader, and the chief editor herself.

In many ways, my story is much better than it was when I submitted it. But I would be lying if I said the process wasn’t at times frustrating in the extreme.

The first thing I had to realise is that if I had to explain that what they read is not what I meant, I was at fault. I did not convey what I meant to convey with my words. The second thing I had to accept is that subplots do not fit into a 4,000 word story. Subplots are for longer works.

I had to learn when it’s acceptable to push back, when and how to offer an alternative to their suggested edits, and how to simply refuse some of the edits.

I learned the frustration of dealing with “publishing conventions.” Self-publishers such as myself can ignore certain things that books meant to be published conventionally must toe the line on. Some of them were news to me. Others—well, I just had no idea that things were so inflexible.

One thing was very nice: I absolutely was held to deadlines. That’s an external discipline that I wish I could duplicate in my other work. And my chief editor, Elisabeth Ashlin, was a sweetheart with a bullwhip—one of the best people to work with under a tight deadline I’ve ever encountered.

So—when Shadowed Doorways is Really Published, I’ll let you know! Real Soon Now, for sure!

My Brain on Ketones #amwriting

For anyone new to this blog, I am diagnosed with adult ADHD. Though it’s called “attention deficit,” it’s more like “attention excess.” I either can’t stop paying attention to everything, (“Oh, look! A lizard! And there’s a hummingbird! Your hat’s on crooked…”) or I can’t stop paying attention to something. (Passerby in a parking lot: “Hey, lady! LADY! STOP READING YOUR DAMNED BOOK! YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE! LADY!…”) The first is a distracted state, the second is hyperfocused. I seldom experience any state in between.

The gears may be crude, but on ketones they mesh. (Image courtesy of Master isolated images at http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I once took biofeedback treatments for ADHD. It worked—sort of. But as it is always a conscious decision to use my hard-won discipline, I rarely remember to invoke it, until the situation in which I really needed it is past. And rather by definition, if I’ve become hyperfocused I won’t remember to use it to get out of hyperfocus…

The internet and a smartphone are godsends for me. I never miss a payment any more because they’re all set up automatically. I seldom miss an appointment, because alerts will go off—loudly and repeatedly—until I turn them off because I’m on my way.

But it’s not foolproof. As in the example above, I literally do not hear things if I am hyperfocused. So I have flashy things on my devices. My Fitbit wristband may vibrate. And there are situations that aren’t covered. I go out of my way to make sure that each of the things I might normally choose to carry my stuff on an outing (wallet, backpack, travelling purse, the mid-sized bag I use when I want to write with my iPad, etc.) contains at least a pen, a cheap capacitative stylus, a (tiny) pad of paper, etc. I described the absurdly long list of electronics in my backpack in my post “Back to Basics Writing Gear,” but part of the reason for that long list is the very real fear that I may get to my destination and be unable to write because I’ve forgotten some tool.

I’ve been afraid to start a writing session if there was anything on my calendar for afterwards. Either I’d be coping with distractedness and my pace would be snail-like, requiring a long time block to achieve any goal (such as the daily word count for NaNoWriMo), or I’d become hyperfocused and any obligation besides writing would slip off my brain. (“WHAT anniversary dinner?”)

What does all this have to do with a ketogenic diet?
Since my brain started running on ketones, my track record on remembering stuff is much better. I can get chores done in only twice the amount of time I think I ought to take, instead of four times the amount of time. I can start working on whatever writing project I’m on without fear, as breaking hyperfocus comes easier, and I seem at last to be able to pick up my writing within… well, within an hour of when I intend to start writing. Believe me, this is an improvement.

Moreover, it’s easier to decide to get some sleep, and I’m seldom hungry. I don’t experience carbohydrate cravings. (I’ve withdrawn from alcohol, and I’ve withdrawn from excess carbs. Craving carbs is somewhat less intense than craving booze, but it’s the same feeling.)

This falters if I’m short on sleep, or if I miscalculate and consume too many carbs in too short a time frame (more than 25 net grams of carbohydrates in 24 hours, for me). Even though I’m nominally in ketosis (about 0.2 to 0.5 mmol/L) the wild swings in focus start happening. Small objects start hiding from me. The excess focus on everything (or on somthing) makes it harder to get to sleep, and I start craving carbs again. Not to put too fine a point on it, this sucks.

I’m reluctant to say that I will never want to leave ketosis—having a bit of fruit now and then sounds good. But at what cost? Besides, given my reaction above, would I actually be able to have a bit of fruit without having to claw my way past cravings into ketosis again? I’m not at all sure that I want to experiment with my brain in order to find out. Certainly not today.

A Long, Cool Monitor in a Black Frame, or Game Tech Wins Again #amwriting

I was already convinced by gaming headsets. Who cares if they have LED decorations that pulsate in poisonous green? They are comparatively inexpensive, have excellent noise attenuation, great microphones, and decent sound, for far less than, say, a Bose noise-cancelling headset.

Well, I have been converted by LG’s UltraWide gaming monitors, specifically the LG 25UM58-P.

The LG 25UM58-P UltraWide monitor

When I first encountered one of these petite (25 inches diagonal) monsters I thought it looked so strange that I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want it. But it was part of the shared monitor pool at my co-working venue (Kleverdog), and I decided to borrow it one day. Then I started borrowing it every time I went to Kleverdog and someone else hadn’t checked it out first. Finally, I asked for one for a wedding anniversary present. (Yes, ok, other women ask for diamonds. I ask for computer hardware. Hubby is used to this by now. Every once in a while he asks if I’d like a nice diamond instead, but this time he simply, charmingly delivered.)

It is nothing short of amazing to work with a nominally standard HD resolution (1080p) monitor that is so crisp. Not only is it crisp, it’s crisp in CinemaScope. Seriously. This beast has an aspect ratio of 21:9. CinemaScope’s narrowest aspect ratio was 2.35:1—or 21.15:9, less than one percent wider.

Crisp is wonderful, and as for wide, it’s like this:

Evernote and Wikipedia share the screen. Each has all the horizontal space it can easily use.

Scrivener has a full-width editor pane, a full-width outliner pane, and still has room to display both the Binder and the Inspector wider than I ever displayed them on my old monitor.

All my communications apps share the screen. Again, each has all the horizontal space it can easily use.

Technical difficulties:

The older model 25-inch LG UltraWide I used at Kleverdog had a DisplayPort input, which worked perfectly with my MacBook Air 11’s Thunderbolt 2 port. But newer LG models only have HDMI input. With a proper cable, HDMI 4K to Thunderbolt 2 (rare, but they can be had), this would not be a problem. But I have only a 1k HDMI cable, which connects to my Mac via a Mini DisplayPort (not Thunderbolt) to DVI adapter, connected to a DVI to HDMI adapter, all of ancient enough vintage that 2560 x 1080 support at 60 Hz refresh rate is out of the question.

The solution: A little utility called SwitchResX. This tool is not for the faint of heart, because it asks permission to modify your MacOS system files, even if only the resolution store. Fortunately, I found a complete set of instructions, Running 2560×1080 on LG 29UM57-P on an old MacBook Pro OSX El Capitan. I had to follow each step exactly, but the happy result was a set of 53 Hz (down from 60 Hz, but really I can’t tell the difference) resolutions that I can use with my old cables. So now my desk at home is graced with a monitor that is physically smaller than my old 1920 x 1080 ViewSonic, but which is so much easier on the eyes and more versatile at displaying apps that every day I marvel. “Wow! I can read that! And that! And that! I can make my text smaller!”

OK, I’m easily amused. But still. A long, cool, monitor.

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.

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.