Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

44

April 17, 2013

Tradition continues…

40

April 17, 2009

Happy birthday to me. Variation on last year.

“Sing this with me…this is 40.”

The talking bits before presenting the Oscars were weird…

February 22, 2009

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flickr photo: xero79

Hi. We turned on the Acadamy Awards just as they were announcing the Best Supporting Actress. The five grand dames of film, past Best Supporting Actress winners, on stage presenting the nominees. Paired, as it were, past winner lauding present nominee. For some, it may have been touching. For me, it was stilted and awkward. Later, for the Best Actor, Adrian Brody presented that actor you’d recognize, but couldn’t name. And Anthony Hopkins appeared awkward, intoxicated (and not by the moment) while presenting Brad Pitt. Very strange; appropriately Micky Rourke -ish.

I missed the recap of the performance. I hope they bring that back next year.

Goodnight.

The joys of Evernote – user review

February 22, 2009

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If you’re like me, you appreciate an independent third-party review of a product or service before making a purchase. And if you’re like me, migrating from Google Notebook, rest easy knowing that once you’ve deciphered the Google Notebook Atom import process – even available with the free version – you’re going to be pretty stinking happy.

This is my second go with Evernote. I dabbled with the application three or four years ago, prior to it’s ability to synchronize across multiple workstations. It was a pretty cool little note taking app back then, easy to learn and use, but I abandoned it in favor of Google Notebook. Google Notebook offered the one feature the old Evernote lacked, a centralized repository for notes. Now, with the new cloud synchronization, Evernote is everything I wanted. I have five computers synchronized, and you can access your information from anywhere with an internet connection by logging into the Evernote website.

I’ve got to admit, I’m a pretty basic Evernote user. I don’t synchronize with a mobile device. My guess is if I were a mobile device fanatic, there is a whole world of Evernote features I would have another bundle of praise. Maybe someday.

evernote_notebook_list

As for the migration from Google Notebook to Evernote, there is a handy little walkthrough that takes you step by step from Google Notebook export to Evernote import. One of the terriffic shortcomings I discovered with Google Notebook was the inability to easily access early entries.

With Google Notebook, tagging items or entries was – for me – not second nature. I had thousands of notes that were not indexed. With Evernote, I was very diligent right from the start. And here’s the bummer. When I imported all my Google Notebooks, they are just as unindexed as they were before. So, I’m back in the tagging hole. That was a disappointment, and I’ve noticed that my tagging since has not been as diligent. I hope to regain my form.

evernote_popupEvernote makes tagging easy. With every note entered, a tag dialogue pop up appears. It’s not terribly conspicuous, nor does it linger until you act.

If you don’t tag, you can always add tags later (which is the process I’m staggering through in the evenings while the television is on). Be careful with your taxonomy, it can get away from you. One tip: if you are tagging at a time after adding the entry to your overall index, use the pop up dialogue box, rather than the comma separated entry field. The comma separated field doesn’t auto-complete tags – so you can have a very similar tag , for instance “list” and “lists” without any indication of the duplication. It’s not a big whoop, but a bit of annoyance. So when tagging, use the “ctrl+shift+t” key combination to open the tag dialogue box.

At this point, Evernote does not have a spellchecker, so if you’re whipping off a quick note for later, such as a note for a blog post, be sure to check the spelling independently to save yourself any undue misspelling embarrassment.

One last thing, and this may be user-error, but I have not found (and to be fair I haven’t really looked), the setting for requiring login at startup. Why is this important to me? Well, I love me the Evernote so much, I have installed it on my machine at the Day Job. I’d really like to set Evernote to keep non-Pete eyes from digging through my notes if they fired up my machine. I’ll check into that.

After using Evernote for four months, I made the switch to the paid version. I upgraded when I imported my Google Notebooks to be sure I had enough space. For $45 a year, I think it’s a great deal for a terriffic app – even if I never come close to using my monthly alotment.

So, feel comfortable using Evernote. The free version is wildly feature rich and offers a remarkable amount of space to collect your thoughts, ideas, inspirations, annoyances, and just about anything else you want to keep nearby.

A inaugral event: the family meeting

February 15, 2009

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flikr photo: sara.atkins

As you may have assertained, we tried something new tonight, the family meeting. It’s something J had known about from her teaching days in Seattle. I was introduced to the concept during my Alfie Kohn parent-license classes. It goes a little something like this: After dinner we each got a little Haagan Daas vanilla ice cream cup – perfect size for our son, 3, and daughter, 5 – just enough enticement to get ’em to/keep ’em at the table. We introduced the concept to the kids, and lickety split we were off to the family meeting races. They did great. J even better. She mind-mapped the brief meeting. It was a last minute addition, and I think it was a really good idea. The mind-map becomes the minutes from our meeting that even our kids, F & R, can comprehend. Family meeting minutes? Seriously? It sounds way more regimented than it should or than it is. It was neat to document the conversation, calling ’em minutes was my label.

The whole thing lasted about 5-7 minutes; a solid first family meeting. I’ll scan the mind-map and post it for reference.

Good night.

Inevitable Detours: Life and the Pursuit of Happiness

February 14, 2009

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flickr photo: alisdair

Hi. Welcome back.

Hopefully, the past year has been good to you and yours. In light of the recent emotional-political-economic roller coaster, I offer a toast: May there be more good days than bad days ahead, and may we learn at least a little something from both.

Yup, I haven’t worked on Strain in a year. About the time the first draft trickled to an end, I got caught up in some new research. It’s Alfie Kohn’s fault. See, I identified some crossover between my attempt to be a better, less-overwhelmed, more-understanding dad and the underlying motivations found in neuroeconomic/behavioral economic marketing. There are some striking similarities between the two approaches towards understanding behavior and influence. But that’s an ENTIRELY different blog. Let’s leave it by saying I was consumed; still am, but now that I’m out of the immersion, I’m ready to get back to a balanced post-office hours evening filled with kids, darling wife, a little Strain, and a little of the new gig.

The New Gig

While we’ve been able to get by on my income alone, it sure would be nice to have a second source of income. For a while now, J’s been talking about going back to teaching. She loves teaching and helping students, but the idea of returning to a school setting was less than motivational: classroom management, school politics, and hours and hours of paperwork at home.

J is passionate about teaching kids. And big on one-one-one, or individualized, instruction being a key to a student’s education and growth. We talked about her working as a tutor and kicked around some other ideas, but nothing really sang the sweet song she wanted to hear. Then it occurred to me: I write interactive tutorials, demonstrations, web seminars, speeches, you name it. I’ve written close to 600 of ’em for our clients over the last four years…(Is this beginning to sound like her elevator speech? Because if it is, and it’s good, she’ll start using it.)…why not write interactive tutorials for students?

And her little business was born. I’m part of her little team of bootstrappers.

The idea is this: the fundamentals of education are still the same: 2+2, i before e, except after c, etc. Common technological advances make available alternative (supplemental) methods of delivery. So, she’s developing a dynamic learning environment that helps students identify their individual learning style, create multidisciplinary (science, math, reading comprehension) lessons, and adapts the content delivery to the student’s learning style. The dynamic environment monitors the student’s progress and adapts to their skill level, while providing a setting that encourages students to take chances without the fear of failure or embarrassment of being ‘wrong’ in front of their peers. (Notice a subtle crossover with neuroeconomics/behavioral economics? I certainly did.)

J leads the enormous task of developing the curriculum, I’m the typing monkey, and we’ll gather together her team of smart designers, animators, and developers to help us build the thing.

We’re working nights and weekends. It’s exhausting and exciting, and we’re flying by the seats of our pants. We’ve been having a wonderful time working together. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

So, I’m starting this new phase of the book nice and clean. We’ll talk about that next time.

Espouse, expectorate, expound…you know what I mean

February 27, 2008

O.K.

Quick lesson in humility and reasons not to speed post: Wrong word choice.

Now a more polished blog writer could or would simply edit the post to correct the misused word. Since I’m not a polished blogger (what’s more I believe the format is more approachable because it shows its warts and all), I’ll just make this an example of what not to do when your children are in the tub and your wife would really appreciate your help putting them to bed before her head explodes. DO NOT post off-handed commentary about a bit of political buffoonery unless you are using words you are certain of their definition.

Expound. Couldn’t think of the word. I had a brief internal debate, “it starts with an ‘e.’ Expectorate? Espouse? Yes, I’m on my way. Espouse. Good enough.” Then I hit ‘Publish.’

I was in my son’s room, tucking him in and I straightened up, “espouse?! ”

Geez.

The Lapel: Extra suit coat fabric or political battleground?

February 27, 2008

NOTE: Please pardon this writer-focused environment for a brief political observation.

I’m not big on espousing politics, but this guy isn’t doing the Republican party any favors. Case in point, if you’re going to go on Live with Dan Abrams to rip another member of Congress for refusing to wearing a lapel pin, make sure you’re WEARING YOUR LAPEL PIN.

C’mon.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 3

February 25, 2008

While I have on my hindsight goggles, I might as well take a look at the what I would do differently going forward.

Stay focused:

For the most part I focused on Strain. But last year about this time, I had a breakthrough on a story idea I’d been chewing on for years. And I mean YEARS. It was a hypnogogic experience. (Appropriate because the story is called The Strangest Dream.) I followed the trail for a couple of weeks. Really dug into the main character and was just about to jump in with both feet, when my wife asked, ‘what about the book you’re working on?’

Damn. Writus Interruptus.

She was right and she called me on it. I needed to focus and finish one before jumping into another. Otherwise, who’s to say I wouldn’t have run out on that story.

Fortunately, The Strangest Dream will still be there when I’m done with Strain (I suppose it will be good therapy/distraction during the querying process). Of course, Structure of Shadows is all outlined…there I go again.

Speaking of outlines

Outline :

I’ve never been one to outline a story. I’ve never written a book. At 90,000 words, the story is much bigger – physically – than I ever could have imagined. Keeping track of notes and ideas needs some sort of system. Perhaps an outline is the method, perhaps it’s mindmapping.

Mind the creative cycle
This could also be called ‘Don’t get pissy or give up so easily when it ain’t happening’

I’d like to map or plot my creative cycle; the creative ebb and flow of writing, work, and family. I’ve kept a word count for every night I’ve written along with a the individual version. In fact, I have over 175 versions of the first draft on my little thumb drive. Each night I start by saving off a copy with the day’s date. At the end of each draft I enter the total word count. One of these days, I’ll pull all the dates and counts into a spreadsheet or some more effective form of visually expressing the data to plot out my creative cycles.

If I had one regret it would be that I didn’t attempt a book earlier. It would have saved me years of fumbling around in my twenties and into my early thirties trying to find my ass with both hands, a map and a flashlight. (Tip of the hat to Barry. I’d never thought to use the flashlight).

Stay focused: a reprise

In the foreword to Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb, Dennis Lehane talks about the Ticking-Clock Syndrome writers need to overcome to break the chains of daydreaming and return to the task of writing the best sentence you are able followed by another and another. I’ll admit there are days when I do let myself daydream. Typically on the ride to work or just after I receive a client’s second round edits that contradict the first round.

But there was one Lehane anecdote that I truly appreciated. In the forward he describes the three words he wrote on a piece of paper and taped to his wall, ‘No One Cares.’ In my case, the phrase is a little longer: ‘The story ain’t going to write itself.’

It occurred to me during the process that I couldn’t have accomplished this before now. I believe many of my old college classmates would be keen to tell you that I was late to mature. Very late. I think if you were to ask my wife, she’d tell you October 10, 2005. Just after dinner.

I’m unsure how to explain it more than to say, I just didn’t get it. I mean, for a very, very long time, I was waiting for something, maturity I suppose, to come ’round like a package delivered by the mail carrier. Until then, I’d be chasing staring off into space wondering why I wasn’t being an author, or important. I was thick-headed¬† and terribly self-absorbed. Yes, my old college friends would also be keen to agree with my self-centeredness. (On a side note to the youngsters out there who don’t get it yet, either: don’t spend your time chasing the ladies at the bar. Join a gym, take classes, anything. And don’t discuss your debt consolidation, skin conditions, or ex-lovers on the first date.)

Oh, I had glimpses inside the writer’s school of cool. When I first moved to Seattle from Ohio, I fell in with a bunch of blacksmiths and a couple of artists. I rented a room in the loft of the forge. It was my space just to write.

I furnished it with a couch, a desk, and a radio. I’d write and drink beers. The writing would start off great, but by the third beer, I’d need to take a leak. I’d stop writing, run to the restroom, and then go and hang around with artists actually producing art. It was very social. The small stuff I wrote back at that time was mostly broken hearted callow self-indulgence. I spent hours journaling my deep, smoldering angst.

My life was a bad ripoff of a Neil Diamond song. I had no clue what I was doing. No direction. Aimless. Ugh. I cringe just thinking back to it.

I think that’s enough self-exploration for one night.

Till next time.

Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 2

February 18, 2008

What didn’t work

Pinning down this list was more difficult. There are so many variables; when did a method slip from the ‘Worked’ category to the ‘Didn’t Work’?

For instance, NaNoWriMo 2005 was instrumental at the start. Our son was six-weeks old, we were exhausted; it was a stressful time. Our daughter was 2 years old and she didn’t give a whit if her brother was up all night. She’d slept her 10 hours and when morning came you better be ready for action. NaNoWriMo 2005 was an island in the storm. I wanted to complete the 50,000 like a dog begging to be let outside. It was a relief, but completing NaNoWriMo was a pipe dream. There was no way I could manage and not be a self-absorbed yahoo. My wife was all for it, but with a daughter and a newborn, we had no idea what we’d gotten ourselves into. So NaNoWriMo worked until it didn’t.

Since NaNoWriMo 2005, I haven’t felt the need to participate because I never quit the NoWri part.

So with that, let’s dig into the things that didn’t work:

The deadline: Wha…? I know, it’s not what I said previously, but by it’s nature, a deadline has to be met to be considered a success. Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. My very first deadline was to complete before my 20-year high school class reunion. Stupid idea – right motivation, wrong implementation. The second deadline was more plausible – four months – and I was close. Really close

Attempted assault: It was one encounter on a business trip, but it severed the continuity and momentum I’d built and sustained. I really, really hope those three boys got everything they wanted for the holidays and have since found more gainful employment and are giving back to the community in which they live. At the very least, picked a different form of after school entertainment.

Prime time television: It’s a crutch. Some days after work and getting the kids down, there is nothing better than a healthy dose of mind-numbing television to get you through.

Wine, wine, wine: This is not a cry for help. But if they could caffeinate it, I would’ve spent less time nodding off on the couch.

256MB of memory : I love, love, love my Dell C400 laptop. It weighs less than 4lbs, but until very recently (three cheers for profit sharing; hip, hip!) working in a document and opening the browser brought my little CPU to a 100% standstill. The new, additional memory has made a big difference. (Would it be irony or coincidence that the lack of computer power put the kibosh on browsing the Web instead of writing? Should this be considered a ‘Worked’ column item? Hmm.)

Self-(insert item): If there is one thing I learned, I have no control over the story; only the process. The only influence I have is putting my ass in a chair with a keyboard on my lap every night.¬† The story is outside of me. I’m recording the events. Events that are happening with or without me. Once I got me out of the way, things worked…better.

Trust the story. Be diligent and responsible and it will be just to you. Now, I’ve got to get back to work. Thanks for dropping in to take a look.