Category Archives: Writing Process

Thoughts on process

I finally made it to Bad Grammar Theater!

I read from The Randy Scuffle Papers Friday night at Bad Grammar Theater. Thanks to Brendan, the other readers, and audience members for the warm welcome! This was my first time reading at this venue. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for months, but work, life and other annoyances kept popping up. But this time, everything aligned and it worked out beautifully. I will definitely be back with some new material. Or old. Whatever I have lying around.

Speaking of which, I still cannot find the story I wrote about 30 years ago. I know I have copies of it somewhere, and I will continue to search through the archives. The archives are really just a pile of boxes from when we moved here 14 years ago, and it’s a complete disaster since I cannot find anything. Something will show up, I’ll emit joy-sounds, and then I put it in a “safer place” where I know I will be able to find it in the future. Of course, it is once again missing; thankfully, the ocean currents are dependable, and in another 3 or 4 years, it will come my way again. I’m curious to find it since I suspect it really sucks.

In addition to the story I have misplaced, I am also looking for my old NRA medal I received when I was a kid at camp. We shot rifles at targets, learned weapons safety, and I got a “pro-marksman” medal for my efforts. I think I was about 8. Well, now if I could just find that damn thing so I can send it back to the NRA with a note describing my current feelings for their efforts to fuck this country up. It’s a small statement; I’d like to make it; but I lost the goddamn thing. I know it’s somewhere in the house and when I find it I will send it back. They probably melt down all the medals people send back and just say “fuck ’em.” I cannot believe the NRA gives a flying shit. It was fun when it was about gun safety, personal responsibility, and a right of passage into young adulthood. But now? Fuck me in the heart.

Watch for an upcoming episode of The Prehensile and Gretel Show; I’ll be reading from The Randy Scuffle Papers. This is hard for me. The self-promotion bit. I know some people love to get out there and say “buy my shit. I’m awesome!” But I have a hard time with that. So here’s my humble pitch: please check out the book. It’s on Amazon. I think you’ll like it. A lot. Bring a copy to a reading night and I’ll be happy to sign it for you. Someday, you never know…

I also plan to read this week at the No Shush Salon in Clarendon Hills. Michael Penkas will be the featured reader, with excerpts from Mistress Bunny and the Cancelled Client. It’s great!

-Phil Reebius


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Short Story Written, Submitted

I did take the time over vacation at the end of June to write a short story. It depicts an adventure I had a long time ago that involved trying to get out of Mexico after some misadventures with a friend from school. I entered it into a contest that is due to announce the winners sometime in late summer. If I snag a prize I’ll be happy and will blush with humility. If I lose I’ll lash out at the judges for their incompetence and inability to recognize genius. And then I’ll write some more, because I’m driven by failure and anger. I get lazy with success. So I deliberately fail in order to stay creative. Am I sick? I took an online quiz to see if I was insane. They said I was borderline. Not borderline personality, but borderline insane.

When I was in college I took a creative writing class that turned out to be mostly about how to get published in those fucking magazines that pay you two cents per word for crap poety and predictable fiction. It kind of sucked. The format of the class was that we’d all write something, make copies of it for everyone else to read, and then critique each other’s work. I’ll never forget the pride I felt when, after writing a story about a one-armed guy who wore a reindeer puppet as a mitten, half the class loved it and half the class hated it. I got a couple of comments in which people said I should be evaluated by a professional or put away. I loved this. Talk about people not understanding the difference between an author and the story. Sheesh!

I’m about due for a super short story on this site soon. Perhaps later this week. I should make a habit of it.

Rita and I have been making and eating a lot of Korean food lately. It is the new obsession. She is going to make a batch of kimchi this month. I bet it will be excellent!

– Phil Reebius

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Time and finding the right tools

Oh boy. Finding the time. Between work and things you must do to keep your life in order, it’s challenging to find the time to write. It’s challenging to make the time. My head gets jumbled full of ideas and I try to save them, but it’s impossible without writing them down. Trouble is, the ideas that seem most interesting come at 3:30 AM when I cannot sleep. Another voice asks: “How do I know these are good ideas? It’s 3:30 AM? What if this idea is a bad hallucination?” So nothing gets written down.

I’ve been playing around lately with Scrivener as a writing tool. It appears to have many of the features that would make it easier to get the thoughts out now and organize them later. I found Scrivener while looking for an alternative to Apple’s Pages program. I had used Pages to write The Randy Scuffle Papers, and it gave me just enough control. Once you have it figured out, it’s quite easy to use and there are plenty of adjustments you can make to your copy as you write. I was using the version that came with iWork 09; it worked just fine until…

Well, Apple keeps changing things. New operating systems, new versions and updates of everything. It’s nice until they stop supporting your version and your computer starts to slowly decay. I wonder when my personal operating system won’t be supported anymore; I know my hardware is starting to get a bit squeaky, especially in the knees. So I finally broke down and got a new Macbook Pro. I loved my old one. It served me well. If Apple has done one thing well, it is that they make great hardware. At least in my experience. So my old Macbook still works fine, it’s just that the operating system isn’t supported anymore and all the new versions of software won’t run on it. Ha ha. Too bad for you!

At any rate, I opened up some of my old files in the new version of Pages and immediately felt sick. Are you kidding me? No Garamond font? That’s what I used for The Randy Scuffle Papers, and for a good portion of the next book. Okay, I can use Palatino. That should work fine, and I can reformat where needed. But still, Garamond is such a classic it’s hard to see it go. I have used Palatino before professionally and it is a very serviceable font, so it’s not the end of the world. Then I started trying to write with the new version of Pages. Crap. I mean shit. What? Half of the functions that make the program decent have gone missing. I’m starting to get annoyed now. They’ve made it stupid. They’ve made it simple. They’ve made it so it works on a mobile device. Like I’m going to write books on a mobile device.

What really annoys the shit out of me is that I pay a premium for an Apple device. Human factors and usability experts have obviously been involved in many facets of their product development. The software, including the operating systems, is getting uglier and dumber with each iteration. But at least it’s not Microsoft Word, which I find completely frustrating to use. (Gee, where did they hide that function? Is it an icon? It it a menu item that uses words? Is it hidden in some mode I’ve not discovered?)

Sorry for the detour. Pages now looks like a cartoon version of a word processor that’s been designed for little kids, so I’m trying to find a substitute. Scrivener may be it, at least for doing books and such. I will update in another posting once I’ve played with it a bit more. The weirdest thing may be having to get used to not seeing your actual layout until you “print” it. If that turns out to be a PITA, I may keep looking, as I haven’t had a chance to really try it yet. I’ll have to make the time. -Phil Reebius


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Tip For Writers: Keep It Organized…

It sounds basic and simple and obvious and worth repeating until you have created the perfect definition of redundant, but one of the most frustrating parts of getting The Randy Scuffle Papers together had to do with the writing platform I used. Or should I say “platforms,” since that is the root cause of the agony. The book is a series of letters, and I wrote them over many years. For some, I used Microsoft Word, for others, I used Apple’s Pages. Many others were written as emails to myself or to my wife, a method I used when I had to get the idea out and saved without losing it in five layers of folders. I like folders and I like structure but sometimes I forget what I called it all.

When you write in Word or Pages exclusively, there are few problems with formatting. And when you open a Pages file using Word, it generally works, but you start to lose little formatting tidbits, or there will be a font incompatibility. Same is true the other way around. Both can be used to write, but underneath the words on your screen live proprietary methods that play together just enough to lure you into an ill-advised happy zone. I can live with most of it however. The real trouble came when I tried to recover and convert all the letters I had written using email. Over the years I’ve used Outlook, Apple, and Pegasus that I can recall. When you try to import email text into a word processor, you end up with a mess. Line feeds and returns are not always consistent. What looks like a tab is really five spaces (or more or less, depending), and words get mashed together.

It took a lot of work and patience to bring all that together into a usable format. Lesson learned: stay consistent, stay away from email as a source for your copy. Oh sure, it looks like you can copy and paste it into your document, and you can. It’s just that you’ll spend more time reformatting and trying to rid yourself of weird hidden character codes than you’ll ever want to endure. In my revised version of Inferno, I’ll reserve one circle of hell for a special group, and their task will be to reformat text from incompatible systems. Search and replace won’t solve all the problems I will throw at them. That circle will be adjacent to the one I reserve for the guys who invented clamshell and compact disc packaging. There will be an endless pile of CDs to open, and there will be no scissors available, because they will be trapped in a clamshell package that cannot be opened without its contents. – Phil Reebius

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Filed under Self-Publishing, Writing Process