Writing nonfiction is a pain in the ass

I don’t know if it’s because of the way I think or something else, but I always struggle when I try to write anything meaningful for this blog.

With fiction, I do spend a lot of time rereading my sentences, paragraphs, and scenes as I write so that I don’t confuse myself, but I can string a story along well enough. I manage to earn my living so I do okay.

Not so for nonfiction.

That’s why I mostly ramble here on this site. Anytime I try to put together a more complete post, it usually starts to fall apart about halfway through and veers into something else entirely.

Or I run out of steam and just don’t want to finish what I started. That happens too.

All that was just to say that I suck at writing nonfiction and essays and I never did well with school papers. I can write a review but only if I stick to how I feel and don’t start trying to do any kind of critical analysis of the thing.

I’d blame my teachers but that wouldn’t be honest. They tried to teach me. I just couldn’t seem to learn it. Which is pretty ironic looking back, because I tested out of Comp I in college, so I didn’t even have to take that class. I probably really needed it. :-)

I think it’s a common misconception that all writers must be able to write all things. But that’s certainly not true for me. I absolutely despise trying to write anything nonfiction that isn’t pure rambling. Even this piece seems to have lost its way.

On that note, I’ll end this to go work on my book.

I’m actually getting started on it again, after having a lot of trouble getting myself back to it, and I’m up to chapter three in an editing read-through meant to get me back on track with the story. I’m reading it as an HTML file on my phone after using my little batch file to convert it with pandoc and save it in Dropbox. :-)

I’ve discovered pandoc

I have discovered pandoc. Oh dear.

It has garnered an immediate place in my backup routine and has filled a gap that my switch from Microsoft Word to LibreOffice Writer created in my editing and proofreading routine.

And I’ve discovered that I like reading the HTML version of my document better than the EPUB when I’m proofreading because paragraphs are spaced automatically instead of appearing in book form and that makes for really easy reading to pick out mistakes.

It’s also super easy to open an HTML file from Dropbox on my phone and tablets.

So, here’s how I made it work for me, in my routine. Maybe you’ll get a few ideas from this that’ll work for you.

First I installed pandoc. It is a command line tool so that’s a big deal for me. I don’t do command line work. I can, if I have to, but only if I’m looking at a cheat sheet. I have no advanced knowledge of command line stuff so what I present here is what I found in the pandoc documentation that worked for me.

One thing I do know how to do is create a .bat file for windows. I know only a few things about that, though, too.

That said, I know just enough to know it would be possible to do the thing I wanted to do once I realized how cool pandoc was.

So, let me start again: I installed pandoc. https://pandoc.org/

I followed the super easy installation method. I downloaded the windows installation file and ran it. :-)

The pandoc website is super easy to browse and I browsed right through the About, Installing, and Getting started pages. I skimmed the Demos and searched a bit of the Documenation at points too, but pandoc is really easy to use if you can just get the command line stuff right.

So here’s a cheat sheet. :D

It’s nothing special, but maybe seeing it will give you ideas.

I store my working files in a structure like this:

\users\myusername\files\publishing\works\series-name\01-book-title\

I do it that way so all my book folders are in the order I wrote them and not in some other random order.

I don’t even bother with the command line / terminal. I put my stuff in a .bat file that I created in notepad. Seriously.

I knew about .bat files and have used them for backing up files in the past. So I combined that with the stuff I discovered about pandoc and made a file that will generate a format for me and save it somewhere just by me clicking the file and “opening” it. .bat files don’t really open so much as they “run” so that’s what’s actually happening.

I click the file to open it and it runs. :D

Oh, and just to note, I’m using Windows 7. I don’t use Windows 10 so I have no idea if this stuff is just as easy there or not.

Once pandoc is installed, just right click in the folder where you store your book file and choose New Text Document from the context menu.

Here are supporting pictures to show me walking through what I did last night but in a dummy folder this time.

I made a new text file.

I named it “formats.bat”.

The file tries to default to “formats.bat.txt,” but I just deleted .txt so that the file is a .bat file. You’ll get a warning. Tell it you know what you’re doing and to rename the file extension.

Since I didn’t want to have to type up a crazy long file path, I had to make sure my file was actually in the directory where I put the .bat file.

If I’d been using one of my real book files like I did last night, this wouldn’t have been necessary because the file would have already been there. But that’s the problem wtih dummy folders. You’ve got to fill them with dummy files. :-)

Now I edit the file and put the pandoc command line stuff in it so that it’ll generate a couple of alternate formats and spit them out.

Here’s what’s in that file for easy copying and pasting:

pandoc book-title.odt -s -o book-title-draft.epub --metadata title="Book Title draft" --metadata author="Your Name"
pandoc book-title.odt -s -o book-title-draft.html --metadata title="Book Title draft" --metadata author="Your Name"

It won’t ask about overwriting files. So BE SURE you don’t mess up those file names and that you don’t mind having the files overwritten.

Just swap out “book-title.odt” for your file name.

Pandoc does handle .docx files too so you could start from that rather than an .odt file like I do. Also swap out the “book-title-draft.epub” (and .html) file for whatever name you’d like. Finally, the –metadata stuff is only relevant to certain file types so it isn’t needed for all conversions, say book-title.odt to book-title.txt. :-)

I use this to generate backup formats for my book, including a plain .txt file, and I actually have the EPUB and HTML files saved to my Dropbox folder instead of the directory it’s in so that I can open that file on my phone and do my editing read-through there or on a tablet.

These will be basic files, nothing fancy, but they are perfect for me to do my editing read-throughs that I do as I go, or as backup formats.

If you’re the type that prefers to start with something other than a blank document, you can take the EPUB or HTML into Sigil or Jutoh and tweak it there at the end if need be. I prefer to import my formatted word processing file for that into Jutoh, but it’s something I might look at just to see about when I get that far with my current book. :-)

It’s a one-click document generation and backup solution.

It is so easy. I love it. :D

The problem of publishers pretending to be authors

The fact of the matter is, if it weren’t for the stolen content, the plagiarism, the stealing of rights from (some) people (ghostwriters) too inexperienced to realize what’s actually happening and how many rights they actually have under copyright law, those publishers putting out frequent releases and burying everybody else’s books under their deluge of releases wouldn’t be news.

Well, except for the fact that they’re also unethical enough—or so ignorant of accepted publishing industry practice—to think that pretending to be an individual author instead of being the publisher they really are is a good idea.

I’ve made it clear in the past what I think about author personas. They’re not pen names and they are an outgrowth of get-rich-quick schemers entering the indie publishing industry as the barriers to entry fell away. They’re often unethical attempts to have it both ways: keep everything about oneself private while connecting and commiserating with others about things that matter in their lives by lying about what’s real in one’s own.

It has been a thing in the industry for longer than I’ve been alive to have a publishing house put out books that are written by various people under the pen name of one author. But in almost all cases it is a very easy thing to find actual evidence that this “author” is a house name and not a real person. Publishers haven’t generally tried to convince readers that these house names are authors in the sense we’re all used to.

The new breed of publishers that’ve grown up out of the indie author self-publishing industry spends a lot of time trying to convince us that they’re not publishers—but are in fact individual authors just trying to get by.

Yeah. I don’t think so.

They’re going to great lengths to keep the fact that they’re publishing instead of authoring a secret.

They are lying. They are deceiving. And they are jerks.

And the darkest part of the underbelly of this is that some of them aren’t even depending on real readers to make them money. They’re paying for reads at a cheaper rate than they’re being paid for them in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited system.

What a crock.

It’s not that I haven’t known about this for a very long time, because I have. But a long time ago, I realized there was nothing much I can do about it at all, except write my own books, refuse to compromise because of what other people are doing, and be my own person.

I’m an author, a writer, and a publisher. And when I publish a book with my name on it, you can bet your ass that I wrote every damn word of it. I don’t publish books for other people and can’t imagine that I ever will. I don’t want to be a publisher. I’m my own publisher because it’s necessary if I want to sell books.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about what publishers publish. But publishers faking it as authors and lying to people is the one subject that just really pisses me off. And those committing plagiarism to get ahead aren’t even publishers; they’re scammers.

Copyright infringement is against the damn law. People doing that are criminals and no sob story changes that. It is wrong, and our society has codified that in the law.

(I toyed with the idea of linking to bunches of articles and blog posts but the fact is I have a book to write and this stuff takes me way too much time to put together. I’m not a speedy blogger, that’s for sure. If you want more info on all this stuff, just do a few internet searches and you’ll find more than you ever wanted to know about all this garbage.)

The following are just a few of the things I’ve read, to get you started down that rabbit hole.

http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2019/02/18/cristiane-serruya-is-a-copyright-infringer-a-plagiarist-and-an-idiot/

https://kriswrites.com/2019/02/20/business-musings-ghostwriting-plagiarism-and-the-latest-scandal/

https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2019/02/20/the-cristiane-serruya-plagiarism-scandal/

http://fallintothestory.com/plagiarism-then-and-now/

https://www.shilohwalker.com/website/2019/02/hot-takes-part-oh-honey-you-went-and-pissed-me-off/

https://jamigold.com/2019/02/what-can-authors-and-readers-learn-from-copypastecris/

Pencil, paper, and a few questions answered

I’m trying to get back into a writing groove but nothing has been working to reignite my interest in this story. I make plans every day (and sometimes the day before) and I keep not following through.

So I sat down today with a pencil and cheap spiral tablet and asked myself some questions about my current book and realized—

Maybe the real problem is that I took a wrong turn in the story and my subconscious mind doesn’t want me to continue.

If that’s possible, where might I have made the wrong turn?

The answer to that was me writing down a few options, working my way backward. I wrote down three possible turning points worth taking a look at.

A little while later, I turned to my manuscript to see if I could pinpoint a good spot to shift directions, and found—

[START HERE – not sure I even like this. Why does xxxxxxx jump to this conclusion? Or mention it, at any rate?]

This note to myself was buried about 1,500 words from where I left off.

So now I think my subconscious has probably been trying to tell me something for a while.

I haven’t deleted anything yet, but I’m ready to go back to the book and see what needs to be done.

I guess I’ll figure that out when I start.

But it feels like progress, so I’ll take it and run.

Using a catch-all journal and journaling the way I think

First, this is a little all over the place, because I tried three different times to write it, and between the start of it and the finish, I searched for and found a way to get what I wanted from my journaling. I also learned a little self-acceptance along the way.

At the start of the year, I decided to change the way I used my journals. I wanted to find a way to organize them, to group stuff together, and to make all my little notes much easier to find in the long run.

So I spent a few weeks jotting down ideas but I couldn’t come up with anything that might actually work for me.

My original idea was to use separate journals for the different parts of my life. That really didn’t work. Although the parts of my life can be organized into categories (writing, publishing, reading, hobbies, family, etc), the way I think about those things is pretty messy. I never seemed to be able to settle on which journal to use for which thing and all my messy thoughts kept bleeding over from one journal / notebook to another.

I wanted to fill separate books with separate things, but every time I tried, my mind started reminding me how I really think.

I have seven eight journals / notebooks on my desk right now that are in various stages of being filled. What’s inside is a mishmash of thoughts, lists, and ideas. There is no rhyme or reason for what goes in one or the other even though I intended for there to be when I started filling each one of them.

One such journal was meant for my goals. It now has notes on edits inside it, along with a Do Not Watch list for TV shows that keep drawing me back even though I’m disappointed every time I return to give them another try. It contains a few quotes from a book I was reading at one point (never finished reading that one), a list of things to remember, some longish journal entries, and a list of things I want to learn. And about fourteen different ink colors and even a few things written in pencil. (About a third of one of those pages is a color test for the ink that looks best on the pages that are a darker cream paper than I’m used to.)

In other words, it’s a mess. And that’s just twenty pages of a two-hundred page journal. The rest of the pages are still blank.

But when a thought needs capturing, I need to write it down—and in a hurry, too. I can be remarkably forgetful about some things while other things stay stubbornly in place inside my brain (like the fact that Shawn Spencer in Psych is played by James Roday whose actual last name is/was Rodriguez and he played Chad in the episode “Lights, Camera… Homicidio” in which Detective Lassiter doesn’t know how to say anything in Spanish except “I like cheese”). On the other hand, I don’t remember my grandmother’s birthday. It’s a day in August. That’s all I remember. Every time I check, I remember it for a few minutes, a day, and then poof!, it’s gone again.

I do not journal in well-separated chunks of ideas and topics, that’s for sure. It’s not even in somewhat independent topics. Writing about one thing inevitably leads me into something else and before I know it, I’m scratching out a to-do list beside my earnest attempt to work out why I hate my current book and what I ate for breakfast (and possibly why I never want to eat it again).

On the day I started this post, I had just run across a few articles about journaling (I searched for them, okay) and was skim reading one of them when the word catch-all jumped out at me and snagged my attention.

“After all, there’s a long tradition of writers and artists treating the journal as a glorious catch-all.”

Catch-all. Now there’s a glorious word for someone like me. ;-)

The link in that article led me to an article about Janice Lowry’s illustrated diaries. It is there that I discovered something that ultimately changed my entire view of how to approach getting what I want out of my journals.

Screenshot from Smithsonian Magazine of Janice Lowry's journals
Screenshot from Smithsonian Magazine of a page spread from Janice Lowry’s illustrated diaries.

I’m not a visual artist—most of my journaling is very long-form, with some lists and a very few drawings—but I didn’t see Lowry’s journals as something to try to copy. What I saw was a way to treasure the disorganization of my thoughts—a way to create something beautiful despite them.

All I really want from my journals is a way to keep up with the thoughts I’m afraid I’ll lose, a place where I can work through things that are bothering me, a place of discovery.

I’ve always been one to write down my thoughts to help me comb through them and find what matters. My journals have also given me a place for a lot of random things (that maybe only matter in the moment, but they matter then): to-do lists, work logs, random realizations, personal reflections, daily records, goals, or even a picture or two that I don’t know what to do with because I stopped keeping photo albums years and years ago and yet I keep finding myself with photographs that need putting away.

And yes, I really wanted to keep all those things in some central place because that’s just the way my mind works. I don’t have structured days and I most definitely do not have structured thoughts. I backed off the idea of organizing my journals and decided a catch-all journal was the way to go.

But again, unfortunately, when I tried it, I had problems. Finding things later isn’t easy when you use a catch-all system like this. I couldn’t remember what stuff was in what journal. And hoo-boy, I am really one with that out of sight, out of mind disorder. :D

Then I read “Why You Should Keep a Journal (But NOT Every Day)” and realized I had a big hang-up that was holding me back and I hadn’t even realized it! For years I’ve been trying to make journaling a habit, but really, it’s already more than a habit for me—it’s a way of life. After reading that article, I became suddenly very aware of just how much of a box I was trying to put myself into.

Daily journaling isn’t sitting down and writing an essay in a pristine little book full of nothing but other daily entries. It’s exactly what I’ve already been doing for almost my entire life, for at least as long as I’ve been able to string a few words together on paper and make them make sense.

I journal plenty! I’m writing things down—my thoughts, my dreams, my lists, my ideas—all the time! I’m recording things, tracking things, thinking things through on paper and in digital form day after day, and whether that makes it into a long-form essay-like journal entry matters not one little bit.

After that realization, the only thing I really wanted to do differently than I was already doing was to put more of those thoughts and lists and ideas onto paper. Because again, out of sight, out of mind, and the one important thing I’ve discovered from flipping through some of my older journals, is that I need to flip through my journals on occasion to revisit some of those thoughts and ideas and I want to do that away from my computer or phone or tablet (practically speaking, I also want notes that will exist outside my computer for other reasons too).

So I started carrying around a tiny little journal that’s mostly a hardback notebook the size of my hand (one of these little ones, in fact). I’ve been writing everything in it; it is without a doubt my catch-all journal of choice, and then—here’s where it all comes together for me—then I move what needs to be moved into another journal when I have the time. Touching things twice, sometimes three times, really helps me remember it.

Seeing my notes, flipping through them all, and then expanding some when I transfer them into other journals, makes a world of difference.

Having this catch-all journal as a layover between my thoughts and my permanent journals is just the thing I needed to bring it all together.

I now have a journal that contains ONLY my list of fiction readings for 2019. (I’ll probably use it for 2020 forward too.

I have a journal for annotations and quotes: basically just somewhere I write down quotes from nonfiction books and articles I’m reading and thoughts I might be having about them.

Then I have a journal for simple, long-form entries where I talk about things that I want to write about, and I’m no longer worried that sometimes I go weeks or months without writing one of those, and then maybe write three in a row. That’s where the photos will end up, because some things don’t change.

I have a journal for my story notes—any story I happen to be working on.

And then I have two more general notebooks and journals that I write all those notes to self into and expand on them, or make plans that I’ve touched on in the small notebook.

Finally, there are some things that won’t ever get transferred from the small notebook to a more permanent home, because those thoughts or lists were ephemeral and they served their purpose.

It’s been about two weeks since I started doing things this way, but this has the feeling of something that’s going to stick.

Four months without visiting any writer/author forums

Back on September 30, 2018, I posted about burning bridges in some writer forums (well, Kboards to be specific) and my decision that forum culture wasn’t for me.

Since that day, I haven’t returned.

A few days after that, on October 1, I also left the only other author forum I was participating on, and I’m a much happier person because of that decision.

  1. I do not regret it in the least.
  2. I haven’t had any trouble staying informed about the important stuff in the indie publishing industry.

Suffice to say, I’m pretty happy about my decision to stay away. I don’t foresee myself returning, ever. And there are plenty of side-benefits to that decision, too.

  1. I have more time to write.
  2. I have more time to read (and watch TV). :D
  3. I have more time to chat one-on-one with friendly writers. (Thus reminding me that no, not all writers are assholes!)

Life is good. It’s more clear than ever that I was just using those places as a form of social connection and entertainment. The forums had no practical value in my life. They were, however, a huge source of stress and strife and conflict and I’m a better person for not having to deal with the anxieties those things cause.

End of that experiment: I don’t like excerpts on the home page

I edited my theme for this site and tried out showing only excerpts on the home page, tag and category pages, and other archive pages. (Actually, I think I got rid of the date archive pages with a plug-in.*)

I did all of this to prepare for an eventual shift from WordPress to some other platform, preferably one that is based on generating static HTML files that I can upload to my host. I’d like to be able to go 100% static if I so choose once the conversion is done, because I like making pages by hand and updating links.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t have time for this now.

It was a surprise to realize that I don’t like the excerpts instead of the full posts—especially because I’m happy with the excerpts-only view on a few other sites I have. I think it has to do with the way this theme is set up and the way the excerpts use up so much space on a page. (See the screenshot.)

On my other sites, the excerpts occupy a reasonable portion of screen real estate. Here, one short excerpt pretty much takes up the entire screen on my desktop.

What I really want is custom pages with links or text that I link out to my archived content (in place of the tag and category pages), and an archive list of posts by date the way I have now.

Since I can’t have that without too much work or changing themes, I’m just going to go back to full posts.

Easy! :)

*I put the date archive pages back when I realized the links on my calendar widget don’t work without them. I don’t know what that’ll mean for my shift to a static site someday, or if I’m even still planning one. I’ll leave that decision for later.

Good news for the pre-order averse from Barnes & Noble Press

From the latest Barnes & Noble Press email I received:

eBook Pre-Order no longer requires a placeholder interior file, so you’ll never have to worry that readers will receive anything less than your finished project once it’s ready for release.

This is good news. One reason I’ve personally avoided pre-orders has been the need to provide an interior file. I haven’t felt that the risk of a distributor sending out a file not meant for distribution is offset by the benefits of having a pre-order available. But I also haven’t wanted to tie up a ready-to-publish book in a pre-order, so I haven’t used pre-orders at all.

Smashwords has allowed an asset-less pre-order for a while (as of 2015, in fact), but I just haven’t felt it was worth putting up a pre-order in only one venue. Now here’s another.

This might be the year I finally do some experimenting with pre-orders.

Site updates

I’ve deleted tags and renamed categories many times over the years. I realize it’s not great for search engines that I do that, but I don’t really care. This is my site and I do what I want. :)

That said, I’m always looking for ways to make my tags or categories more meaningful and I have yet to figure out the best way to interlink the 1,300+ posts on this site. Most are rambling, some are meant to be helpful, and the rest are just posts about my day of writing.

The thing is, I’m still considering a move to static HTML for this blog, and if that happens, I don’t want four bazillion gillion tag pages to deal with. I’d mostly like the tag and archive pages to be a list of links with the post title and one short line of text under it, but that’s going to mean some coding in the WP theme. Those pages will have to be generated with a template of some kind because I’m sure not doing that by hand for 1,300+ links.

All that to say there could be changes coming to the site. You’ll know they’re here when you see them.

I’ve already started with a bit of it by adding a plugin that lists all the posts on the site by year. They’re in reverse order, pretty much just like my reading logs. That’s pretty nifty and I like it. I guarantee I’ll keep that even if I go static with the site. :)

 

That didn’t last

I made plans before I finished my last book not to start the next in that series until I’d written the book that I already have in progress. I’m attempting to keep my enthusiasm for my projects high by managing them better. It’s easy to lose enthusiasm when I write a few thousand words and then move to something else for months at a time before I get back to it.

The last book I finished? I wrote about that delay. I also wrote about how much more of a chore writing is when I have delays like that because I get bored and lose interest in what I started and have difficulties getting that interest back.

To be technical about it, writing that last book took me from March 2017 to November 2018. That’s more than a year, and that’s a long time to try to keep up interest in writing one story.

That said, my plans to avoid doing that again aren’t working out—which is a total bummer. :-|

I got an awesome idea this morning for the direction I want to go in the series I finished that last book for. At the same time, I’ve had no ideas for the series and book I’m currently supposed to be writing. I haven’t had much interest at all in finishing this book—the same one I was flying through just months ago while still trying to finish the other book.

I wrote down the idea for the series and my thoughts about it, or some of them anyway, and I went ahead and started the document for the next book in that series. I haven’t gone so far as to write words for that book yet, but it is calling to me something fierce. The idea for the opening scene is right there in my brain and it wouldn’t take any effort at all to just let myself explore it a little.

It doesn’t pay to ignore the muse, but I’m trying.

It’s a conundrum. Miss out on harnessing the enthusiasm I have for the one series to struggle with the other book instead? Or write what I want while the little bit of enthusiasm I still have for the other book continues to wane?

The only right choice seems to be to let go and allow myself to work on two books at a time again. Or to make myself. Call it what you will.

But hey, it worked for the last book.

Sort of.

I finally finished it, at any rate, and I enjoyed doing it, and I broke through to a 6,000 word day. I didn’t push myself to do it, either. It just happened.

All that Pocket reading added up to a lot of reading

Screenshot of notification telling me how much reading I did in Pocket
Third year in a row I’ve gotten this little notice about the Five Percent Club from Pocket. Time to change. I don’t want a fourth. :D

There was a time when I thought Pocket was the second best option for all the articles I was used to clipping into Evernote to read later. I do not think that anymore.

I’ve found that over the last three years I’ve read more of the stuff I’ve saved in Pocket and it is easier to keep up with too. Most of the things I read, I discard after the fact. What I don’t discard, I archive in Pocket. My archive in Pocket is very small.

Overall, Pocket has been the best thing to come out of my switch from Evernote to OneNote. Pocket has become my first choice for reading saved articles.

OneNote isn’t optimized for reading, and I never have been able to use it the same way I used Evernote. But that’s okay.

Pocket is compatible with every device I have, still–even the oldest–beating out both OneNote and Evernote. (Joplin has a very nice interface for reading articles, but I haven’t installed the web clipper extension and I’m not sure I want to). Pocket has been the perfect tool for collecting reading material to read in my spare time.

And that brings me to my 2019 goal to read fewer articles in Pocket.

:D Yes, it’s weird. But I’ve gotten this little notice three years running now, and I don’t want to get it again. Let me explain.

1. I read too many random articles I find on the web.

2. I’m wasting a lot of good reading time doing it.

3. I’m cluttering my brain with repetitive information I don’t need, and what happens when you repeat things? You remember them, they become habits, and you get stuck in a rut. No joke.

For example, I might send ten articles about, oh, I don’t know, procrastination to Pocket, and then read them all, even knowing the chance of me discovering or realizing anything new from them is infinitesimal.

It all comes down to this: I am wasting good brain power going over the same things time and again, when I should be reserving that time for deeper, longer, more meaningful learning on topics I haven’t already studied to death.

So that’s my number one reading goal for 2019.

Easing away from OneNote to Joplin for notes

I went from Evernote to OneNote and now I’m considering a move to Joplin. I’m taking the move slowly, but the more I use Joplin, the more I like it.

1. I’m testing it out still and getting a feel for the program.
2. I need to know it’s reliable.
3. I’m syncing between my laptop, phone, and a tablet, and haven’t come across any issues yet, but that definitely needs thorough testing before I commit.

Joplin has the ability to sync notes from device to device in several ways, and notes are written, edited, and stored in Markdown. It’s more like Evernote than OneNote in how it’s organized. There are notebooks, tags, and notes instead of notebooks, sections, and pages. But that’s not a problem to deal with. Notebooks can be nested, so sub-notebooks feel like sections to me.

The layout is a little busy when all the sidebars are open, but it’s really well proportioned on my desktop and the sidebars can be toggled on and off and you can even choose to show only the editor window or the note window. I didn’t get a screenshot of that layout, but it’s an option.

Joplin’s syncing process sounds more complicated to set up than it actually is, and it turns out Markdown is pretty sweet. I like writing blog posts and notes in text only, because the files are simple and small and go anywhere and can be read and edited on every device I have.

Markdown is easy, and that’s pretty sweet too. Apparently some of the text formatting shortcuts in WordPress’s classic visual editor are based on Markdown.

Joplin doesn’t have an entire domain devoted to it yet, don’t know if it will ever have, to be honest, but it doesn’t need it because all the syncing you do for your notes is through your own accounts or cloud setup. I use the default Dropbox, because my notes repository isn’t huge and probably won’t be even if I add in all the notes I have in OneNote. I don’t attach files often, because I prefer to have them stored independently.

Joplin is open source and the associated forum and project seems to have plenty of development going on. There’s also a decent amount of documentation for the program. It looks and works great on my phone and tablet, too.

All in all, I really like it, and I think this might be the open source alternative to OneNote and Evernote I’ve been hoping for.

ETA: I forgot to mention a very important feature of Joplin and that’s that it will export an entire notebook of notes into individual .md text files (Markdown text files). (A text editor like Notetab or Notepad++ can open them just fine, although Windows Notepad doesn’t recognize the line breaks.) There’s also the option to export individual notes as PDFs.

All Joplin needs for me to be even happier is an option to export entire notebooks to PDF for archiving, and an export option to create HTML, .doc(x) or .odt files and I would be very happy indeed.

I was all set to be a rebel and then I realized I don’t have time

I wrote a long post about how I was abandoning WordPress a few days ago, and then I started the process by creating some HTML5 templates for one of my websites (the easiest to convert), but after two days of fiddling, it hit me hard that I don’t really have time for this. I am as much a perfectionist with the websites as I am with the writing and what should take one hour takes ten. Not my favorite confession. But—

1. I plan to finish a book this month. And by gosh I’m doing it.
2. The classic editor plugin isn’t going anywhere for a while, so for me nothing’s changed. If it changes suddenly, well, then, I can start moving on this project again (make no mistake, it’s a project for the future, because I am going to do it eventually)
3. The time will come, but maybe jumping right into it right now when I’m actively looking for things to tear me away from writing (but shouldn’t be!) isn’t what I need to do.
4. It feels like an obsession in the making. It took all day yesterday of doing other things and distracting myself to not think obsessively about it. I feel like I’m borderline this morning. A stray thought here or there could pull me right back in. So I’m going to have to do something this morning that is distracting in itself. Writing fits that bill. And since I need to write to finish that book this month, yep, that’s the one I’m going to aim for, right after I do a little morning reading (there’s a fan fiction story for Psych calling my name).

Replacing blank space at the beginning and end of paragraphs in LibreOffice Writer

So I figured out how to replace blank spaces at the beginning and end of paragraphs in LibreOffice Writer. In Word, it’s as simple as searching for ^P with spaces before or after the ^P and replacing them with whatever you want to replace them with. Not so with LibreOffice Writer, but also not as impossible as I thought it was either. :-)

You might not remember that a while back I wrote: “Writer can’t find and replace ^P paragraph marks. That matters to me because I sometimes mistakenly put a space as the first letter of a paragraph and a quick search and replace before I do my final spell check takes care of that in Word. (Microsoft Word or LibreOffice Writer?)

This common little task was one of the reasons I was having trouble getting used to using LibreOffice Writer after using Word 2007 for many years.

I found a solution a while back, and I thought I’d point it out in case anyone else needs to know.

The parenthetical comments are there to make it easier to see what actually needs to go into the search box because spaces don’t really show themselves as characters. :-)

Search Replace What it does
^ 
(^space)
blank Removes blank space at start of paragraph (LibreOffice) (search using regular expression)
 *$
(space*$)OR
\s+$
blank Removes blank space at end of paragraph (LibreOffice) (search using regular expression)

OR second option removes all whitespace characters including non-breaking spaces

Be sure to select the option to search using regular expression for these searches.

Is it better to use LibreOffice’s built-in styles or custom styles for body text?

I’m trying to figure out if it’s better to use (and modify) the basic styles LibreOffice Writer includes by default or use my own custom styles.

LibreOffice’s default template comes with a style called Text Body that seems to be meant as a default style for all text body (not hard to guess that). The sub-styles are a little trickier to figure out until you look at what they do. First Line Indent is an indented paragraph by default, while Text Body is a block paragraph by default. Text Body Indent (not shown in the screenshot) is an entire paragraph of indented text.

To be honest, this all seems a little backwards to me, because I write fiction and a fiction manuscript is rarely formatted into block paragraphs. So Text Body would have to be an indented paragraph for me, while First Line Indent would make a lot more sense as a paragraph with the first line indent set to zero (0″).

Basically, I would need to create a LibreOffice Writer template that does the opposite with body text as what the default template does. That could get confusing if I were to create new documents with these same style names based on the default template instead of my template.

So, instead, I’m using custom styles for the text body paragraphs in my manuscript, not as a sub-style of Text Body but as a sub-style of the default style.

Indent has a sub-style called First to allow for a flush first line at the start of chapters and scenes instead of an indented one, and a few other useful styles I want based on Indent.

My reasoning is that if I change the body style (Indent), I want the style for First, End, and Scene Break to change too.

Also, the custom style names make sense to me, and probably to any other self-publishing writer out there who knows anything about formatting fiction books.

However, the moment you manually apply “Autocorrect” in LibreOffice Writer with the default settings in place, it strips out all your custom styles. I have no idea what purpose this serves since it will destroy the formatting of a finished document—unless it’s really only meant to be applied to a document you’re trying to reformat and you want it stripped down to basics first.

I’ve been tempted to make Indent a sub-style of Text Body, but Indent would still be a custom style, so I don’t think that’s the way to go. And in the end, I want the cleanest style set possible when I export stuff as HTML, which will create CSS styles, or import the ODT file to Jutoh (how I’ll create my EPUBs). I want short, meaningful style names, and I don’t want dependencies or inheritances I’m not aware of to mess things up in some obscure ebook reader I can’t test with my formatted ebooks.

Now that I’ve written it all out, it seems apparent that I want to stick with my custom styles the way they are. They make sense to me, and the reasons for keeping them independent of the built-in text body styles of Writer’s default style make sense too.

Is there anything I’m overlooking for this decision?

I’m really just getting to know LibreOffice Writer 6 and it’s entirely possible I don’t know something that could affect how this works out. If that’s the case, let me know.

Where’d the link options go in the new WordPress editor?

Unless I’m missing something (entirely possible), you can no longer select a post from a list of older content by using the link options when you create or edit a link in the new WordPress editor. You can only search for the content, and if you can’t find it, well, you’d better open another browser window and prepare to hunt it down and get the link that way.

What the hell, WordPress?

The old way to add a link

The new way to add a link

If you’ll notice, the options bring up only the option to open the link in a new tab. You no longer get that helpful list of recent posts.

Blah. Just another way WordPress has degraded on the usability front. I’m just so disappointed with this new version that I’m seriously considering a change back to static HTML websites for the first time in years.

Reviews and comments about the new WordPress block editor

I wrote what I thought about the WordPress 5.0 update and the new block editor in my own previous post.

I’m not satisfied to be unhappy about the change all by my lonesome. So here are some links to other people’s reviews and thoughts about the new editor.

Reviewing Gutenberg: Is WordPress’ New Editor Up to Scratch?

Thorough and to the point. It addresses the topic from a viewpoint I share, but I am totally biased. I don’t like the editor.

Welcoming WordPress 5.0 And The New Editor

Mostly a positive look at WP 5 and the new editor, with a bit of a take-back at the end.

WordPress Gutenberg will be the end of WordPress

This one was written by someone who appears to have had so many of the same feelings I have about WordPress’s new update, Gmail and Google Calendar and their regression to a mobile first interface to the detriment of the desktop environment, etc, that I got sucked into reading lots of stuff there. (Gotta say, the article about the three-foot long erection was probably the highlight of my reading that day.)

7 Reasons to Not Switch to the Gutenberg WordPress Editor

I have a few more links that I want to post but I’ll have to get back to it. They’re on a tablet somewhere and I’m supposed to be writing fiction. Also, I’m hungry and the new WP editor has stolen enough of my time! :)

Update: I’ve switched to the “Disable Gutenberg” plugin instead of the “Classic Editor” plugin.

Update again: I’ve switched back to the “Classic Editor” plugin after noticing a few glitches with the other one. It doesn’t matter in the long run because I’m abandoning WordPress on all my sites that use it. I just don’t like the direction WordPress seems to be headed in and I’ve got other options. :-)

December 1–12 progress

I sat down tonight to write something after another day of not writing anything. I haven’t so far. Instead, here I am writing this, after spending about forty minutes looking at reports, messing with Gmail (I had forgotten you can still access Gmail through the basic HTML link for slow connections, so that was entertaining) and my calendar, and a few other trivialities. Not my best decision, by far. That forty minutes was supposed to be spent writing something for my book.

As a reminder, I pulled up my June 1–15 progress post.

The fact is, I need to start finishing books again. I’ve had way too much time off on the whole over the last couple of years and it’s time for me to start pushing myself again to do more.

I’m worried that I’m falling into the same patterns I seem to fall into after every book I finish lately, where I don’t write, and I start feeling more and more disconnected from the desire to write.

That June progress post is relevant in other ways too, because just this week one of my kids returned from college for the winter break and my routines have been completely upended. The quiet, distraction free environment I seem to need to be able to write is gone. It’ll be three more weeks of in-house disarray before things go back to what passes for normal for me these days.

I’ve written only 1,009 words from December 1 to December 12.

I’d like to take that time off and just say forget it until after the new year but I can’t. I know what will happen, because I saw it happen last year after I released a book. I didn’t write more than a few hundred words for five months. I know it might not happen again, but I don’t want to risk that, and besides, I want new routines. I want to spend my time writing another book. I want to go from one book to the next and not get caught up in this morass of feelings I’m feeling about the struggle to write.

No more struggle.

It’s not real. It’s not worthy of the angst it causes me.

But right now, unfortunately, I’m tired after a couple of really bad nights of sleep, this morning’s interrupted by an earthquake of all things and I’m going to bed instead of write something for my book. That 1,009 words won’t change because of anything I did tonight.

(Yes, a real earthquake. Doors jiggled and stuff rattled downstairs but I didn’t hear much up in my room, just a kind of whoosh after a hard shake. I pulled up the USGS Earthquakes website and just as I did, the earthquake showed up on the list of latest earthquakes.)

I’m falling asleep here, so goodnight.