Tag Archives: writing

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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A Short History: “The Randy Scuffle Papers”

I have always imagined writers of serious books to be the kind of people who sit down at the computer (or typewriter, back in the day) and just start writing. The book flows out as a nourishing gift to the world, someone does all the hard work of the printing and marketing, and the author starts on the next book. And every time I have ever tried to write anything remotely serious, I get bored with my own ideas long before it becomes anything beyond a quick essay. I have also found that I cannot write anything without being tempted to address the absurdities within the idea, or that come along as my mind wanders about, looking for the next important thing to say. So I end up, almost always, writing from an angle that I find amusing. Hopefully funny.

The Randy Scuffle Papers has, at its root, characters that go back a long way. One thing I used to do to fend off boredom at work was to write letters to my own company, complaining about something I saw in one of their publications. I thought it was hilarious to send a letter to the editor of a sister publication, knowing that the editor, who sat right next to me, would be reading it and wondering how to respond, if at all. Frequently, I’d use the name “Phyllis Scuffle” as the signatory, and it was her voice, sent through letters, that would form the basis of what eventually became The Randy Scuffle Papers. Of course, it evolved into more than that, as the primary character (and her son) Randy, began to communicate using that medium.

Over the years, I started writing these more for myself, and started keeping a collection. I think that the letters used in The Randy Scuffle Papers were written over at least a 10-year period. Actually, probably more like 12 or 13 years. At some point I thought these may be worth putting together as some sort of book, but I never made the time to do it. Then I had an opportunity to participate in open mic readings at The Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series. I thought “what the hell” and started showing up with the letters. While my wife has always encouraged me to do something more serious with the stuff I write, I had always hesitated because, well, quite frankly, there’s a lot of stupid ideas in my writing. It’s just my style! Well, people did seem to enjoy them, and after a few readings, I was asked if I intended to publish any of my work. Here’s the thing: once you say “Yeah, I’ve thought about it…I really should do something…” you’re committed.

That “something” ended up as The Randy Scuffle Papers. I won’t lie to you. It took a couple of years to edit, format and finally publish the thing through CreateSpace, but I did it. More about that another time. – Phil Reebius


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Top Writing Challenges

Here’s my list of top challenges, at least as of today:

1) Finding / making the time
2) Mentally rewriting in the middle of the night
3) Indecision about future plot points
4) One word causes havoc with breaks, alignment, illustrations
5) Typos, typos, typos
6) Fonts that disappear with Apple upgrades (too bad for you!)
7) Selling and marketing
8) Remembering to write for myself
9) Having a real job (see #1)

What are yours?

Phil Reebius

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