Where the inane meets the mundane

Category: Writing (page 1 of 129)

Thoughts on writing, both general thoughts and relevant to anything I might be hacking away at, or thinking of thinking of hacking away at…

Scrivener on Linux, for real, almost.

Back in my heavy Linux days, there was a software package known as WINE. Self referentially, it was an acronym for WINE INot an Emulator.  And yet, that’s what it did – it let you emulate just enough of a Windows environment to run windows software on Linux.

And it sucked.

It was nascent back then, prone to crashing if you could even get it to launch an application. Some core Windows software worked fine, but mostly, it was a crapshoot for functionality. I remember it mostly for its position in the gaming on Linux debates. There was one camp that thought games (and by extension, game manufacturers) should make Linux compatible games. The other camp thought that that was a waste of effort, if we could just get WINE working there wouldn’t need to be any extra development.

For a long time, I admit, I was in that first camp. A few companies produced native Linux games, and I played them as much as I could, and it was awesome. The whole point to being on Linux back then was to avoid tainting your world with the likes of Microsoft and their Evil Empire Monopoly.

But times and people change. I am still a big advocate of Linux, preferring it as my desktop when possible. “But you own some Macs!” is a valid argument to throw in my face. In my defense, after moving to the BSD kernel, Mac’s have largely become *NIX boxes with great eye candy. The fact that they all run on the same exact hardware universally means software developed on one doesn’t have to be adapted for another.

In the last year or so, I’ve strayed back to a Linux desktop though. The major moving factor these days isn’t the purity of the OS, but costs. As pretty and shiny as Macs are, they cost a lot. And the slightly used and old hardware I bought five years ago is really starting to show its age now. My iMac is manic these days; either “everything is spiffy, awesome, let’s run some more apps!” or, just as often, it will take ten or more minutes of chugging to do something before giving up and just throwing errors. I know the root cause – the hard drive is starting to fail – but since it’s a sealed case iMac, my only option for fixing it is to take it into a Mac repair shop and pay almost as much as the thing is worth to have it fixed. On top of that, the 8 gigs of RAM that were speedy when it was new just don’t stand up to the pressure of multitasking these days. My 2011 Macbook Air, bought from a company as part of a payout when I left, is still my go to for easy, mobile computing. But it’s also only running with 4 gigs of memory and a ticking time bomb on how many recharges are left on the battery before it’s just a paperweight.

So looking at cheaper hardware running Linux just makes sense. Except for one, seemingly fatal flaw:

I am addicted to Scrivener.

I have tried any variation of alternative approaches. Google docs would be awesome if they worked for me – I have a cheap Chromebook I bought with proceeds from a short story sale last year, after all. But the truth is that when you start working on a novel length document in Google docs, the average Chromebook drags. Opening a 50k novel on the Chromebook (ASUS, average hardware, 4 gigs of RAM) chugs, and there is a visible and dangerous delay between what you type and it actually appearing in your document. IF it even appears as typed.

I’ve tried variations of Markdown text files and complicated folder structures to keep it organized. That works better – plain text will always be king for mobility in this regard – but that’s when I realized what it was about Scrivener that I missed.

Scrivener gives me flexibility. I can keep scenes as discreet objects, move them around, enable or disable them at will from inclusion. I can type a story in any font and look that I want, because Scrivener’s compile options let me manipulate the final product without making any changes to my documents.  I don’t use more than 10% of the features of Scrivener, but that 10% is the bulk of my writing workflow.

There used to be a port of Scrivener for Linux. It was admirable, it was awesome, but (understandably) it became a bear to maintain. Like the camp of gamers that wanted Linux ports of popular games, the biggest issue with making software written for other platforms work on Linux is that there is no consistency. You can make a version that works on vanilla Ubuntu, Debian, or Red Hat, but those are just three of a multitude of options. And with each Linux distro, there are ever so slight variances in kernels, libraries, and compile options that make producing a universally running binary close to impossible. The only way to accomplish that is to be able to run it inside a virtual environment. Docker, a hypervisor, something that can emulate the libraries needed to make a version of the software work.

Which is where WINE comes back to the rescue. Because in the years since I first tried it, it has matured and improved considerably. And with projects like PlayOnLinux, a gui wrapper for WINE, it’s possible to configure and manage applications with amazing control. And that’s how I’m finally getting the best of both worlds. Sure, the Windows version of Scrivener is lacking a few of the bells and whistles of the Mac counterpart – but it is a functional, working, legitimate product. Running it inside of WINE works perfectly.

If you are interested in giving it a try, you can download the Windows trial version of Scrivener and follow the instructions in this video on youtube – . While a little dated (you can use newer versions of WINE than the video suggests), the steps for setting it up worked perfectly. Me, I’ve got some work to do so I can get back to writing this afternoon.

Where have all the posts gone? A brief interlude.

It seems to me that there is plenty enough for us to read about in the world these last few months. I don’t want to make this political, and I don’t know about you, but following the US election this past November, I’ve had a lot to think about.

It’s been pretty distracting to be frank.

In addition to all of that, there has been real life. Nothing sad, nothing overly dramatic, but real life will always win when pitted against less critical activities (which, in the scope of things, writing is at the moment). But more on at least one of those real life interruptions a little further down. First, let’s talk about writing some more.

I see there are still people out there reading what I write, which is a crazy concept to me. Somehow, I’m still getting nibbles on A Scent of Roses. I don’t check in on the book as obsessively as I did when I first put it out there, so imagine my surprise when I found a decent review of the book on Amazon. (By the by, if you’ve read the book, even if you didn’t like it, please consider leaving a review. Even bad reviews are better than no reviews. Thanks!). Every month, I get a small sales report – not quite Happy Meal buying sales, but a few bucks never hurts. And I’m still pushing out short stories, even though I haven’t done more than draft out a few new ones in a while.

So, what am I working on? Well, I still have a couple of almost completed manuscripts sitting here, waiting for their final words to make their first drafts complete. I’ve pulled A Mountain Fell From Heaven out and am trying to give it a proper ending before I go through and rewrite part of it (there’s a scene at the beginning that was all about me trying to be grim and edgy and adult and it just grates on my nerves every time I think about it, so I’m tossing it). I have a sequel to Chrysalis going through the early stages of the first draft (about 30k written, with a rough flow chart of where it’s going), and if I ever find the time I’d like to get back to my YA novel, A Fool’s Gold.

All of that is TBD, though. While this is all actively on my writing road map for the year, and I even get a chance to work on some of it a few times a week, it’s still a long ways off from being submission worthy. I’m still trying to get eyes on Chrysalis, though my hopes of finding a publisher for it are dwindling. I think if I make it to May without even a hint of a bite, I’m going to publish it myself, using what I learned with ASR to do it better.

Later this spring, I’d also like to re-release ASR. The decision to publish on Amazon, and the actual publication, all happened in the span of a weekend last summer. While I still can’t afford to get the book properly copyedited, and I’ve already lost sales for the people who have tried it and dismissed it because of typos, I feel like it would be a good move to re-release it, this time with some better spell checking and common/easy typographical mistakes corrected. I don’t want to change the content – that feels like it would be a cheat, even if I’m aware of at least one continuity flaw now that I missed when hitting publish. But I would like to take an opportunity to clean up the prose a little bit (drop that’s, etc., fix obviously mistaken spelling mistakes, etc.). I’d also like to add some front material (namely to explain what this revision changed), and some end material to encourage people to leave reviews and how to find me online. I think one of the newbie mistakes I made when I published was in not including a way of keeping in touch and giving feedback.

With my writing roadmap for the year pretty much determined (revise ASR, release Chrysalis myself if I can’t find a publisher, and at least finish two other novels), why am I waiting so long to do something about it? Why am I waiting until May, over two months, when I have everything at hand now?

When we moved out to California just under two years ago, we knew this wasn’t to be a permanent home. We didn’t know how long we would stay, but we were pretty sure we weren’t going to stay in the Bay area forever. While on a family vacation this past fall, we took some time to visit Portland, Oregon, and fell in love. While still on the West Coast, there are seasons, which (shocking everyone) we missed. Plus, there is an atmosphere in Portland that just fits our groove. After a lot of talk, and then a lot more talk at the office, I got permission to be a remote employee again. I have my lessons learned from the last time I was remote, so I’m not doing this blindly.

In January, we flew up to Portland again, but this time we were on a mission. We scoped out and started paperwork on a house. Occupying my time this spring, then, will be our move from the Bay area up to Portland. We’re excited (more than the kids, I admit, who see it as just another disruption after only a few years since the last one), with a four bedroom house and an actual yard to look forward to.

Which brings me back to my writing. While I am still working hard (sometimes), I am making no plans to finish or publish anything new before the move is over. But maybe I can get away with a few more blog posts. I’d forgotten how cathartic they could be.

Resetting my writing expectations for myself, Asimov style

Writing has been hard these last few months. The interest is there, the stories continue to bubble and steam in my head, but the effort to take that next step and actually write has been lagging. The last week has seen a dramatic improvement – about 10k words so far this month – but it has been a struggle.

When I was younger (all of a year ago), time was easily manipulated. Balancing work, family, interests, and writing seemed trivial. Then I went from being able to write one to two thousand words a day to the struggle of writing any words. Despite the fact that I’ve had two sales in the last 12 months (and that’s two more than ever), I find my own self doubts creeping in and taking hold. It’s a self defeating cycle, I realize – I don’t feel like I’m writing enough or well enough, which causes me to not write, making the original statement true.

But I remember when it wasn’t always this way. I remember years where I wrote novels and short stories as if they were being transmitted from some future repository, to be deposited in my chicken scratch handwriting and poorly pecked typing. A writer I considered a big influence back then was Isaac Asimov, who wrote both some great (classic) science fiction as well as an overwhelming number of nonfiction books. Looking at how prolific he was, I could only assume he spent his entire writing career producing words.

I mention Asimov in particular because he’s shown up in a variety of places in my feeds lately. First, an older Zen Pencils popped up, drawn around a quote from Asimov about always being a learner. The same day, a Medium article by Charles Chu about “How to Never Run Out of Ideas Again” appeared in my feed. Wow, two Asimov quotes in a day? And then Alvaro Zinos-Amaro – who I was introduced to because of a blog post I made about Asimov’s reading habits – popped up with a link back to my blog on in his “Asimov Reads Again,” a more thoroughly researched and well written version of my notion.

Referenced a few times in the above was Asimov’s posthumously published It’s Been A Good Life. I tried reading this title once before, but at the time found it to be a weak compilation of snippets from other sources and said as much in my Goodreads review. Now older and wiser (I guess?), I recognize that most of my issues with the book are formatting. To put it simply, it was poorly digitized, and it shows. Sentences that in the print edition were bridged for space with –‘s are in the e-book smooshed back together again, with the — intact. Ack. The book itslef was intended as a collection of letters and commentary/quotes from Asimov, grouped together in chapters by subject. But what in the print edition would have been smooth breaks between fragments in each chapter are lost, making each chapter look like one continuous passage. That in turn makes the reading disjointed, since it’s hard to tell where one fragment ends and the next begins visually.

Mechanics aside, though, I have found there to be some good advice distilled in these fragments. Indeed, most of my previous assumptions have all been proven wrong. Asimov struggled to write, just like the rest of us. During the early part of his career, not only was rejection as often as success, but there are surprising gaps between stories. As I read this, I learned that he would go as long as a year between writing stories. I also found it reassuring that if he got stuck on a piece, he would set it aside and work on something else. His goal (at least later) was to always be writing, but not to let himself get stuck on a story he couldn’t write at that moment.

Lightbulbs went off. Not because I feel the need to model myself after Asimov, but because it was reassuring to see that even a giant went through the same pains. He didn’t give up, he just set it aside and came back later.

Now I find myself taking some of the same lessons I use at work and considering how to apply them to my writing. At work, if a problem is insurmountable, and I have no way of tackling it, I take a step back. I tackle something smaller and trivial, something I can manage without any effort. Partly to get it off my list, and partly because it lets my brain brood over the larger problem while my hands are busy typing at the mundane.

So too should my writing be, I think. If a story, or these days novel, is giving me trouble, don’t box the whole thing up and call it lost. Set it aside and work on something else while the brain does its magic. That brain has gotten me this far, I bet it can get me a little bit further if I let it.

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