Nostalgia, Real or Imagined #amwriting

“Is it real, or is it Memorex?”

Do people really want to bring back this? (Image courtesy of Just2shutter at

So ran an advertisement for blank magnetic tape cassettes a few decades back (and now even mag tapes are a memory.) What’s prompted my bemusement is a recent [thread on the Mac Scrivener forum] asking for Scrivener to, of all things, provide a realistic typewriter key strike sound when a letter is added to a Scrivener document—the loud mechanical thunk of a typebar or type wheel hitting paper over rubber platen. One poster has already bought a utility that can cause their Mac to do this. All. The. Time.

I have to ask, do these people even know what that sounds like for real? When there is no volume control? No soundproofing? (At least one of them does. I can’t imagine why he wants to revisit it, but de gustibus non est disputandem. But even he admits to wanting to turn it off after a while.)

I spent my early working life in a huge partition-less office, with typewriters, phones with real bells, keypunch machines making those old computer punch cards, printing calculators, and people shouting to converse over the din. I was under constant auditory assault.

I’m grateful every day for non-impact printers, silent keyboards, and phones that can be set to vibrate. It’s no longer necessary to work in a painfully loud and distracting environment. Even when I choose to do so (coffee shop) it’s now socially acceptable to use serious hearing protection (my gaming headset.) I’m certainly not going to bring the old noisy environment back on purpose.

I’ve seen an argument (on the key strike utility website) that says that the old key strike sounds can make faster typing possible. Auditory feedback, slightly different sounds for different keys, etc. can make a positive difference in a touch typist’s speed. Maybe so, but I’m not a fast enough typist for it to be worth the noise. If you are, enjoy—but please put your headphones on when you’re in a shared office.

Some things used to be better than they are now. Hearing a loud noise whenever a character is added to a document is not one of them.


The Short Story Rolls Forward! #amwriting

The words are rolling.

I’d forgotten how good it feels to have the words flowing.

Oh, not fast enough to suit me. Never that! but a heck of a lot faster than they have been in the recent past. The short story I’ll be submitting for that anthology (positive! Think positive!) has a title now, “Fire Prevention” (which may change; who knows?) and the beginnings of a discernible structure—faint, but definite.

And I’d like to give some credit to Brandon Sanderson. Not that I’ve had the privilege of meeting the man, nor have I read his “How to Write a Good Book” tome—because he hasn’t written one. No, I’ve been slogging though the videos of his novel writing course at BYU.

Anyone who knows me face-to-face knows how much I loathe trying to learn from videos. It’s worse than having to sit through lectures. No lecture has ever gone fast enough for me, not even at MIT. No more does any video. My attitude is, “Just write it down, dude, and print your #$%^# lecture notes.” But I’ve gotten enough gems from the seven (of twelve) Sanderson lectures I’ve listened to so far that I (almost) don’t mind having to sit still for an hour and (try to) listen. At least I can rewind if (when) my ADHD kicks in. Problem is, it doesn’t go any faster on the second hearing…

But still. The most valuable stuff I’ve gotten from Sanderson’s lectures are a) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of outlining, b) what are the strong points v. the drawbacks of “discovery writing” (AKA “pantsing”), and c) specific strategies to compensate for discovery writing weaknesses.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am such a hard-core discovery writer that for formal technical writing I discovery-wrote and created the outline after. It’s part of the ADHD thing, I suspect, and attempts to force outlining upon my workflow have not worked to date. The dead bodies of numerous “How to Outline for Hard-Core Pantser” books litter my e-reader app, and various portions of outline anatomy likewise litter my Scrivener projects. (This is not to put down those outlining book authors. I’m sure it works for them, and seems to work for others.) Really, it doesn’t take much outline at all for my brain to start saying, “Wow, this is boring. I already wrote this story/technical paper/blog article; why do I have to write it again?”

But thanks to Sanderson’s lectures, I’m not saying that about “Fire Prevention.” I highly recommend them.

February Blues Update #amwriting

The February blues are getting better, slowly.

Sunrise image courtesy of Teerapun at

Yes, I am getting better. I’m even getting work done. Getting outside really helps with the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and days when I don’t—well, it hits me the next day, really. I find myself trying to hibernate—sitting on the couch, falling asleep with or without television, and eating far too much high-carbohydrate food. Gotta store up that fat against winter! Jeez.

But I’m trying not to blame myself, and Just Get Out the next day.

I’ve started a new short story that I would like to submit to an anthology—submission deadline is March 23. I’ll keep you posted.

Scrivener v. Ulysses for Novel Writing #amwriting @scrivenerapp

I’ve had a few inquiries about Ulysses v. Scrivener. One reader wanted to know if I’m switching over to Ulysses for novel writing (I’m not!)

Scrivener and Ulysses: Tools with Different Strengths

Here’s the thing: De gustibus non est disputandem. Or, there’s no accounting for taste. And I have strong preferences for my writing tools.

Ulysses is… stark, with very little overlap among its different features. I like Ulysses for blog writing. I can see my recent blog posts’ titles and opening sentences, and get a good idea of what I’ve been covering lately. I can search for my prior posts on a single subject. And of course I have all my blog posts in a single place that isn’t on, thus secure from any WordPress corporate decisions or WordPress server disaster. Also, should I decide to go with a non-Wordpress website framework, I’m ready.

With the exception of starkness, all of the above are virtues that Scrivener also possesses. But Ulysses is based on a dialect of Markdown, and displays its text based on Markdown. I can publish from Ulysses directly to my blog. These are virtues that Scrivener lacks, and which its developer has no present intention of providing.

On the other hand, Scrivener is baroque. It has many different ways to accomplish the same result. I like Scrivener for long form writing. I can write formal outlines and synopses of chapters, separately from the text itself. I can have keywords, other metadata such as dates, colour-coding labels… in fact, Scrivener provides a plethora of different ways to organise and examine my writing. I can keep research documents in Scrivener with my text if I so choose. And if I think of another way that I’d like to structure that massive pile of words that I hope will be a novel, I can probably do that with Scrivener too.

Scrivener, as a rich-text application, has a great deal more flexibility of formatting than Ulysses, which is limited to Markdown. I can change how I use Scrivener based on the needs of my differing projects. Scrivener’s Compile feature is adequate in itself for formatting “simple” long works, such as novels without illustrations, while Ulysses will require post-processing to get a decent format for, say, a CreateSpace PDF interior.

Of course, your experience may differ, and I don’t mean to disagree with anyone who uses Ulysses to write novels, and Scrivener to write their blog! I truly believe that it’s a matter of taste—but if I’m writing about Scrivener, I’m using it for novelling and if I’m writing about Ulysses, I’m using it for blogging.

Happy writing!

Thursdays in Santa Clarita, Or the Importance of Technology #amwriting

Today, like every Thursday, I’m spending the day in Santa Clarita, California. It’s not the most exciting place in the world, and it’s thirty miles from my home in the San Fernando Valley. But my husband works here, and every Thursday evening we have a date here. So I usually come up early.

I spend most of my time in one of the older sections of the community, Newhall. The Old Town Newhall library is lovely and a good place to do some writing. But until I had my February Blues SAD wake–up call, I ignored William S. Hart Park.

The highest tech movie star’s home in 1920s Los Angeles County—the William S. Hart ranch.

The park offers light hiking, wildlife, and lots of sunshine. I’ve even taken the ranch house tour. I found myself identifying with the old actor—Mr. Hart really liked his tech. In the 1920’s, he spared no expense to electrify everything in his domain—a radio in every room. An electric record player. A projection room. An electric buzzer to summon the next course from the kitchen in his dining room. A for-Gosh-sake intercom. Yes, an electric refrigerator. They didn’t have electric food warmers, so he had a lower-tech food warmer installed in his dining room (a fireplace with a very small firebox underneath a huge stone slab, called a French food warmer.)

My, my. Now I don’t feel quite so bad with my MacBook Air, iPad, Fitbit, and iPhone. And our own home intercom. And our smart thermostat. And every other member of the family also having a laptop and iPhone, and tablet if desired. And our cable TV and internet and HD screen and Apple TV (Mind you, all this while the plumbing needs… oh, a lot of work. And my wardrobe is… challenged. Tech comes before shoes or more than one working shower. Seriously.)

Time to go back to writing fiction on my tech. And yes, I have been writing fiction. I haven’t reached the daily word counts I’d like to see, but something is better than nothing. Heigh-ho!

February Blues. Again. #amwriting

I’ve been porting my old blog posts to Ulysses, and I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern. Every February I post about how discouraged and hopeless I feel.

Every. Single. Freaking. February. For the last four years, at least.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

Not only that, but my productivity and mood pick up by April. Every year.

Well, 2018 is no different. Or at least, it wasn’t until last week. I felt like giving up. Again.

I look to blame someone or something when I feel down, usually me. I start thinking I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not focused enough, I’m ADHD so why should I bother trying…

But look at the pattern, Dragon. After November your productivity starts falling. You blame the holidays. Yet it continues to fall, and you become alarmed as the end of January passes and your words aren’t flowing. By mid-February, you’re crying and desperate. And you start yet another revision of your productivity system, you change something about your work situation, and by April things are turning around… again.

It’s not my attitude. It’s seasonal affective disorder. Again. And if it’s this bad in so-called Sunny Southern California, no wonder that I loathed the Massachusetts weather while I was at university, even as I was delighted with Boston culture. I always struggled during the spring semester, falling behind in February and playing catch-up for the rest of the term. Duh. And I was able to catch up usually by April or May. Also duh. Mumble years ago, the pattern was already there.

So this time, I’m doing something different, unrelated to ADHD or productivity. For the last week, I’ve gotten outdoors during daylight hours for at least half an hour a day, and it’s been helping. I no longer feel as angry with myself (or others.) I’m keeping up my family responsibilities. My writing productivity hasn’t quite turned around yet, but I’m no longer thinking, “What’s the use?” every time I look at my word count.

I’ve tried the light boxes and the light visors in the past, and they haven’t done a lot of good. So it’s about time I tried good old California sunshine. Every day. I’ll keep in touch.

Okay, I Changed My Mind re: Setapp #amwriting

107 Mac apps for $9.99/month. A good value.

I’ve gone ahead and gotten a Setapp subscription. All it took to push me over the edge was two more apps.

I’m already paying a subscription for a password management app–and one is now included with Setapp. And then there’s the remote desktop app, for which I used to also pay a subscription. I’ve done without rather than keep paying for an app I seldom use–but as a remote desktop app is included in SetApp, well…

Bottom line, the Setapp subscription is now paid for with the subscriptions I formerly bought for Ulysses, password management (now covered by Setapp’s Secrets app), and remote desktop service (now covered by Setapp’s Jump Desktop.) Future paid upgrades for apps I already own (Aeon Timeline 2 and iThoughtsX) are gravy. And there are many special-purpose apps included that I no longer need to worry about. Project management? If I need it, I’m covered. SQL? Heaven forbid I should ever need it again, but if I do I’m covered.

And as for all those itty bitty utilities included in Setapp–there is a new one among them, Bartender, which provides a unique service. The Mac, of course, has exactly one menu bar, which starts getting cluttered with utilities rather quickly if you collect them at all. Bartender hides those menu bar utilities until you need them, so they’re no longer hidden behind the app menus in an app with tons of menus like Scrivener. I love using my iPad as a second monitor, and now I can both put Scrivener there and use all my menu bar utilities there. Woot!

The Demise of Dictation #amwriting

The first flush of dictation enthusiasm! How little I knew….

Yeah, dictation didn’t work for me.

I still have the gaming headset and I’m glad I got it. But I wish I had the money back for Dragon Professional for Mac.

This venture into dictation… it sucked another six weeks of production time, and I have almost nothing to show for it.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Fool Proof Dictation method included 55+ minutes of warm-ups every single dictation session. Hello! ADHD here. I never made it all the way through. Not one. Single. Time. Without. Distraction. I don’t know why I thought I could.

It was mind-numbingly boring to read aloud ten minutes from a “best-seller in my genre” with punctuation in. Then dictate five minutes of “session goals.” Then do forty minutes of fiction dictation exercises (with punctuation in) not including five minute breaks in between.

The last was my downfall. A five minute break from one of the more boring things I’ve ever done? It was never five minutes, even if I remembered to start a timer. No, I didn’t start other apps, but so what? A half-hour of daydreaming later (or maybe an hour or more), I’d come back to this planet and realise that I’d lost momentum and I was no longer “warmed up.”

Sometimes I’d cheat and go ahead and dictate my scenes anyway. But there was a problem. I’m writing a historical-fantasy-mystery set in 19th century London. I want British spelling. My native accent is South Texan (perhaps it’s even a separate language.) Dragon Professional for Mac does not allow for the possibility that someone who speaks with a Texas accent might want to produce output with British spelling. It’s even worse with a speaker who inadvertently slips into bad British accents while dictating dialogue.

When it came time to transcribe the recordings I’d made (at last!) not even the simple exercises were transcribed correctly, not even to the level of typos I’d have made in typing it. I’d go back through the recordings, and yes my speech was clear. No background noise at all. But when I tried to train Dragon in transcription mode, it still made the same horrible transcription errors time after time.

I also had a problem with the lack of visual feedback using this method. I read very fast, so that reading is almost the only way for me to take in information without getting distracted. I really missed seeing my words appear on the screen. So, for about a week, I tried to dictate directly to screen.

In my favour, I’d largely gotten over the hesitation problem while dictating (the interminable reading from Conan Doyle did some good!) and Dragon is much more forgiving about pauses than the Mac’s built-in dictation. But the transcription errors persisted. I finally tossed in the towel last week.

Yes, it’s back to typing for me, or when the words are coming hard, back to a stylus and a handwriting keyboard. If I ever get carpal tunnel syndrome, I guess my writing career is over. Or I’ll use Mac dictation, because it’s too frustrating to use the best and get minimal traction.

Ulysses, Revisited #amwriting

I am finding some value in Ulysses after all…

Yes, I’m kind of beginning to like Ulysses.

The last time I picked up Ulysses, I rejected it because of its non-standard Markdown (Markdown ‘XL’), and the fact that it saves its iCloud Library in One Big File(TM), thus giving the lie to its vaunted “plain text” basis. But it’s getting a bit daunting to manage my blog on Dropbox with a true plain text editor (Editorial for iOS and TextWrangler plus Marked 2 for Mac.)

So I picked it up again, renting it for $5 for a month. And I am cautiously pleased. It looks like I’ll be able to keep tags and categories as Ulysses keywords, which will make searching for the last time I pontificated on a certain subject easier. Its WordPress publishing capability is very good. And I can even do tables (not that I’ve ever put tables in my blog, but hey, you never know) by using its “raw code” capability:

This is the source of a Markdown table:

| This  | is   | a  |
| :-    | :-   | :- |
| table | with | 3  |
| rows            |||

This is the result of putting that Markdown source into raw code blocks and uploading to WordPress:

This is a
table with 3

Not bad. The only thing the other Markdown editors do to make tables easier is put up that grid of pipes (the vertical bars) and alignment indicators (the colons and hyphens.) I can build a table in another of my numerous Markdown editors if I need one and paste it in.

I’m not going to switch to novel writing in Ulysses. There’s far too much that Scrivener includes that Ulysses doesn’t (compilation, index cards, folders that are also text files, the ability to split my writing into the tiniest possible increments, and so forth.) Where would I put my beats? My chapter cards? Oh, yes, now that Aeon Timeline 2 (AT) syncs with Ulysses, all that stuff can be kept in AT and will live in notes in my Ulysses project, but there’s no corkboard (!) in that workflow. Not OK. I’d be reduced to planning everything in advance, because I really can’t get that info into a place I can play with it during production.

And as for Ulysses being less distracting, bullpucky. There is not now nor will there ever be a piece of software that makes it the least bit difficult for me to become distracted.

So the question is: Does Ulysses have enough utility to me as a blogging tool, to keep renting it for $5 US per month (or $40 US per year)? That’s a question I haven’t answered yet. The answer depends, in part, on my investigation of the Setapp Mac software subscription service. I’ve started the 30-day free trial–and will report back soon.