Tools of the Trade

Like most writers I know, I have spent a lot of time evaluating the “tools of the trade”. These range from pencils, pens, inks, paper (of all sizes), desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, Windows, Mac, writing software, blah, blah, blah. It’s endless, isn’t it?

I wanted to take a few minutes today to talk about the tools that I have come to use on a regular basis.

Pencils – I don’t use them.

Pens – I’m a bit of a pen nut. I have a collection, albeit modest, of fountain pens. My “go-to” pens for writing (when I know I’m going to be doing it for a while) are equipped with fine nibs. The pens I lean on the most are:

  1. Pilot Vanishing Point
  2. Lamy 2000
  3. TWSBI Mini, and sometimes the 580 model

Inks – I’ve been a fan of the Noodler’s line of inks for quite a while now. I prefer the fast drying varieties. I’ve also managed to get my hands on a few Pilot Iroshizuku inks (Kon-Peki is my favorite).

Paper – I prefer A5 sized notebooks, but have a few of the standard “Composition” notebooks that I’m working on filling. I’m a BIG fan of the Field Notes small pocket notebooks, because they’re easy to carry and I’ve used them many times to jot down quick character notes or overheard bits of dialogue that I want to use. I stay clear of the Moleskine notebooks because their paper isn’t very good, even with regular pens and inks.

Desktop – I used to have desktop PCs that ran various flavors of Linux over the years (Red Hat, Linux-Mandrake, Debian, SuSE, and Ubuntu). I moved away from all of that because I got tired of trying to stay up on the latest in tech and hacking around with the OS and machines.

Laptop – I have a Macbook Pro that is my machine of choice. I like the fact that I turn it on and it just works, allowing me to get to my work without having to fuss over anything else (e.g. updates, anti-virus, Adobe Flash, etc.).

Tablet – I have an old iPad 2 that has served me well for a very long time now.  It doesn’t weigh much and finds its way into my bag when the Macbook decides to stay at home.

Windows/Mac – Really? You still feel the need to ask? I use Windows at work, and that is under protest.

Writing Software – This is a big one, because we all have our likes and dislikes about one product or another. I’ve tried a lot of them and have come to the conclusion that Scrivener is the tool for me. It helps that there is an iOS version, which allows me to start/continue work on my iPad (or iPhone), which will sync to my Macbook version of Scrivener the next time I open it up. I have also come to appreciate Google Docs, and use it as the starting point for all of my blog posts.

Blah, Blah, Blah – This is a fun category, and not just because I’m a Rush fan (if you are, you’ll get it). It’s the one where I get to play a bit more. This category includes the stuff I use to enhance my writing experiences.

  • Music – typical writing “playlists” include a variety of progressive rock (Rush, Saga, Devin Townsend), 80’s pop and rock (because the 80’s totally ruled. Totally.), and electronic or trance (Jean Michel Jarre, Deamau5, Kraftwerk)
  • Other Sound – I have an app called Noizio, which has a nice variety of sounds that I can use individually, or in combination, to build a sort of sonic wall of noise to help me block out the world, without having to get caught up in bass line or drum groove. My favorite combination is a mix of October Rain, Coffee House, and Thunderstorm.
  • Tardis – that’s right. I said it. And I’ll say it again: Tardis. I’ve got one of those little Tardis toys that lights up and it sits on my desk at home. When I sit to write, on goes the light. It’s a little visual cue (outside of the glowing screen in front of me) that I’m there to write and nothing else.
  • Fender, Squier, Gibson when I need to boost my energy, or if the words just aren’t coming to me, I’ll pick up a guitar or bass and play a few songs. I’ve been focused more on the bass lately, since it’s my favorite instrument I’ve ever learned to play.

I don’t really have much of a workflow. Any notes that I collect in my Field Notes notebook (or whichever notebook I happen to be using that day) are transferred into a Scrivener file (or Google Docs file if it’s a blog thing) and then it’s off to the races.

I would be interested to hear what tools you use. Does Microsoft Word give you everything you need? Do you dig the Open Source community and therefore gravitate to something like Open Office? Are you straight-up Google for everything, or are you one of those Mac freaks who actually uses Pages?

Death by Hot Brown (or, What I did in Louisville Last Weekend)

I have returned from the Imaginarium convention and thought I would share a few things about the experience.

This was Imaginarium’s third year of operation and, was my second. It was well attended, and I didn’t overhear anyone complaining about the programming or even the vendor hall (a common source of ire among con-goers). Well, that’s my experience, anyway. As always, your mileage may vary. I bought a few books, ate some good food (go to Louisville, try a Hot Brown), and enjoyed several panels and a couple of workshops (thank you Michael Knost!).

I attended Imaginarium 2015 and returned motivated – ready to hunker down and get to the work of writing. What I soon learned was that my motivation was actually a bit weak (unlike my Kung Fu), and that it was all too easy to fall back into my old routine (which is a very simple algorithm, really):

  1. Think about writing
  2. IF IDEA=Yes, THEN GOTO 3, ELSE GOTO 1
  3. Sit down to write
  4. Surf the Internet
  5. Don’t write
  6. Jump headlong into pool of self-hatred and depression
  7. GOTO 1

My second foray into Imaginarium provided a little more than motivation. There was something different. There was a smell in the air (or maybe just in my head, but go with me here) – a hint of ozone. A spark had been thrown.

So what was different? Well, you tell me. Here’s a brief list of what was different:

  • Upgraded my room this year so I wasn’t stuck in a single queen tomb with free HBO – I went full on crypt with a sofa and mini-fridge
  • Approached people I didn’t know and I engaged them in conversation (far outside my normal comfort zone)
  • Sat in on a live recording of a podcast*
  • Got to know someone from my hometown writing group a little better over dinner. I dropped in on a room party (which was visited by hotel security due to noise complaints)
  • Watched the daughter of a friend receive a prize for her outstanding efforts in a costume contest (steampunk, female Geppetto with an equally steampunk marionette puppet)
  • Connected with an author whom I deeply respect and admire

It could have been any of these, or none of these. Hell, it could have been the epic splat of bird shit on my windshield that struck  not thirty seconds after pulling away from the gas station near the hotel. Although, I doubt it was that. Because, bird shit.

The point is that there was a difference. There was an ember that drifted on the wind. It landed near me, and has done at least two things so far:

  1. Lit the path before me (not the whole path, mind you, just the first few hundred feet or so – enough to keep me going and enough to keep me intrigued about what might lurk in the shadows beyond)
  2. Lit a fire under my ass to follow the advice I so readily hand out and actually allow myself to create without fear

So, thanks to the folks that helped make Imaginarium 2016 enjoyable and a special thanks the panelists and workshop leaders who were all more than happy to share their knowledge. I’ll gladly attend next year’s con.

* Also, if you dig podcasts about the craft of writing, I highly recommend that you subscribe to the Hypergraphia podcast, hosted by Jack Wallen and Jessica McHugh.

Plans (or “What the mice and I are doing”)

I’m a planner. I make a living by planning and executing IT projects. Life, however, is not an IT project, and is much more complicated. So plans don’t always work out as expected.

I have always had plans for things to do in life. Plans for life, the next year, quarter, week, and… hey, what am I doing for lunch today?

My plan for life after high school was to kick off a career in photography. I had a good amount of gear and access to a professional darkroom (thanks to an internship I completed with a wonderful photographer, Lance Parker). That plan was eventually tossed to the side as life took me in a completely different direction – the mice, apparently, had other plans for me.

I’m now at the point where a career in a creative field is unlikely. That doesn’t stop me, though, from learning craft, techniques, etc. when it comes to my creative interests. I’m always up for a workshop, class, or even a YouTube video that can teach me something useful. For example: I haven’t been in a darkroom in years (more than I feel comfortable announcing), but I’ve found some good videos online that have reminded me of equipment and techniques that I once knew intimately.

I’ve also used online videos to learn (and re-learn) technique for playing bass (who needs six strings when you only really need four?) and have a large collection of bookmarks to videos and web sites that shed light on how to improve my writing craft.

So, what are my plans? In order of precedence:

  1. Continue to strive to be the best husband and father I can be
  2. Continue to write and improve my craft – eventually publishing
  3. Playing music with some like-minded folks
  4. Work on becoming a better photographer

I’ll share things here from time to time about how I’m doing on these plans. Of course, that’s if the mice agree with my list.