Writing Tools and Technology

In my position as a faculty tech consultant for our College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, I write an occasional email for colleagues on technology and teaching issues. This is a bit from this week’s missive about writing apps and tools (edited and expanded from what went to my hapless colleagues who received it, unbidden, this morning). 

Writing, often, involves technology. Now, when I’ve written stuff, the people I send it to want it in Microsoft Word format. This, often, involves me having to use MS Word. There are, however, other apps I use for writing that allow me to organize ideas, citations, images, and snippets of quickly conceived draft text.
 
Yes, I’m going to say Evernote. Honestly, I’m not getting money from them (opposite, in fact). Every digital thing I need to store somewhere goes into Evernote.
 
Do you engage in mind mapping? I usually don’t. But there are times when mind mapping and visual diagrams are the only way to make something make sense before I put pen to paper. Scapple is a great, easy to use app for Windows and Mac that makes mind mapping easy.
 
I would be (and have been) lost without Dropbox for making sure whatever I need is there whenever I need it; including and especially the actually MS Word files I write in and will send to whoever I’m sending stuff.
 
An iPad (or other largeish tablet) with some sort of physical keyboard makes a good writing tool when a laptop is impractical. I use a Zagg/Logitech keyboard case for my unfortunately sausage-like fingers and usually simply type straight into Evernote and copy the text into the master document at a later time. There are reasons I do it this way, but they are even more boring than the rest of this email.
 
Finally, there is the tech that rarely fails–pen and paper. I use Sharpie Fine Point pens, Field Notes pocket sized notebooks and larger Moleskines. While I obviously spend stupid amounts of money on paper it’s cheaper and healthier than many habits I could have.
 
The most important thing to remember about writing and technology is, as Warren Ellis has wisely pointed out, that there is no fancy pen, pricey hipster notebook, magic application or nifty gadget that will make you write better. The best way to improve your writing is to write more.
 
As a side note, Ellis’s writing about writing process (as in the link above) is one of those things that made me think about my writing more. He writes comics and novels and screenplays so it’s a different sort of thing from what I do but until I read some of his thoughts about it, I never thought to think about it, if that makes sense.
 
More travel this weekend, but writing on SLINGSHOT is nearing completion (which is good, because the deadline is nearing as well!) and as for BLACK SCREWDRIVER, I just finished the chapter that had been giving me fits for about two months now. I feel like I’m over the hump on that one (yes, I probably just jinxed myself). EIGHTH WRENCH is just about fully formed in my brain and in detailed outline form and will just need to be gotten down on paper (“just”?).
 
The new project, CROSSROAD, is the one that will need the mind mapping software or, at least, some sort of flowcharting. It’s slightly terrifying.

Down One of Many Rabbit Holes…

Just got done doing a very fun interview with Greg Bishop of Radio Misterioso. Unfortunately, the live stream at killradio was malfunctioning so it’s unclear how many—if any!—people heard it. Greg should have the downloadable version up sooner rather than later.

Along with talking about The Chaos Conundrum and Extraterrestrials and the American Zeitgeist we discussed the nature of the paranormal, the hassles of writing (and the hassles of getting people to publish said writing), and thousands of other topics.

One thing, which i brought up when I was briefly on the other week was the Boxcar Willie as Lizard Person meme. It’s out there, in various places. Here is an un-retouched shot of a Google search I just undertook:

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So the idea is out there. One of the search results is a good interview of David Icke in the Guardian by Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare at Goats, Them, and others. Ronson writes

Indeed, every individual accused of reptilian paedophilia by David Icke had so far failed to sue, including Bob Hope, George Bush, George Bush Jr, Ted Heath, the Rothschild family, Boxcar Willie, the Queen of England, the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Kris Kristofferson, Al Gore and the steering committee of the Bilderberg Group.  

This was from early 2001, so the Boxcar-Willie-as-LIzard-person notion has been around for a while. On RM, with Greg, I posited that it emerged as a conflation of Icke’s reptilian stuff with the mind control/pedophilia/cocaine/country music industry conspiracy promoted by Cathy O’Brien in Trance-Formation of America, a troubling and strange book. 

While tracking down the origins of the various slanders against BCW is just plain fun, it also is part of a new project I’m working on (that will be finished sometime in 2015). Speaking of work, here’s some word-accountability:



Post PCA/ACA Debrief: More Secret Codewords…

I’m back from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference for this year, held in relatively close-by Chicago. It was—as usual—a good conference. In particular, this year, I was able to attend some great Civil War/Reconstruction culture panels with some great papers on guerrilla warfare in North Carolina, Texas, and other places.

The best thing I learned though, was the existence of the 19th century Bible prophecy writings of one Samuel Baldwin, a Tennessee preacher. Excellent fodder for my early US class the next time I teach it.

My presentation (slides here!) was well-recieved. The topic is, generally, the basic direction of my under-way book project (BLACK SCREWDRIVER) and I’m not entirely comfortable posting the text of the talk since it’s very much part of an in-progress thing (and it was very much a note/outline/thing to talk from rather than a polished paper, mostly due to constant editing that just didn’t stop until I finally delivered the thing).

Other updates, met my editor on BLACK SCREWDRIVER in the real-world rather than just email and got to see my editors on some other projects (EIGHTH WRENCH and the newly christened SLINGSHOT) as well as other cool people I generally only see at this conference.

The epic sabbatical project is is rounding the last corner this week, finishing up next week, then tweaking and student-road-testing during the spring session.

More later, I hope. I recorded my author talk from last week and there may be some excerpts here if I have time.

They tell me it’s April…

That’s where I am right now on BLACK SCREWDRIVER. SLEDGEHAMMER GOLDEN, the conference presentation on roughly similar topics is currently sitting the “to be done” soon pile, as that needs be ready to go in a week or two.

Lots of traveling this month—just got back from Chicago for a thing that didn’t have anything to do with history, flying saucers, television, or education. It was strange. Below is evidence that I worked on this trip (that’s my low-end, road warrior Thinkpad on the Amtrak Blue Water line).

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I’m in Indiana on family and friend business from tomorrow, back to Chicago for the aforementioned conference the week after that. Blessedly I get to avoid aircraft and their attendant hassles for the foreseeable future, as all my personal and business travel is achievable with cars and rail.

The sabbatical project (ENDLESS WEATHER) is entering the final push to completion (or at least complete enough to inflict on students when I start teaching again next month). It will be good to have that completed. On top of that is the administrative stuff involved with getting back to work on campus. April will be busy.

This is coming up as well, on campus in a week or so. It will be fun, and I will have copies of The Chaos Conundrum to sell and sign. Light refreshments as well!

Aaron handouts pub

I should get back to work now.

Podcasts, Doctor Who, Writing

Another quick podcast appearance to note, this time on Reality Bomb, a very well-produced magazine-style Doctor Who show. My role was as part of the “Gallery of the Underrated” segment, where I defended the 1983 story “Terminus” which featured the best 1980s Doctor, Peter Davison. It’s a great story and my defense of it garnered me a brief Twitter mention from its writer, the prolific Stephen Gallagher:

If you’re interested in writing and/or the ins and outs of television production, his account and website are worth keeping an eye on.

Gallagher is also a novelist. His The Kingdom of Bones is very good and I’m currently reading the sequel, The Bedlam Detective and enjoying it.


Despite it being the weekend, I’ve managed to get some work done on the new book. I’m currently slogging through the opening chapters while outlining some of the later ones and simultaneously doing some quick fact checking on the ins and outs of the American TV industry in the 90s. Also, this new convention of one space after a period is really difficult to cope with.

And I’ve still got this lot to get through in a bit:

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That’s not even all of it—there are the second two excellent seasons of Millennium as well as old episodes of Kolchak and In Search Of… as background viewing.

Project ENDLESS WEATHER continues apace—due to weather and illness my initial timeline for completion has had to be completely reworked but I’m still in good shape.

EIGHTH WRENCH is in the early planning phases. Unless procrastination or disaster strikes I should have that project taken care off long before its September deadline (which would make the people who need it very, very happy).

Sabbatical time is winding down and I’ll be back in front of students in a bit over a month, so I have to add syllabi creation and class prep to the task lists.

 

Work Updates- NOT BORING AT ALL, NO

The depressing, but motivating, word count bar is back. It’s going to be slow going while I finish up the sabbatical project over the next few weeks, but then I expect this little word count bar to EXPLODE.
Yeah.
So writing on the new book is stuck in the dull, but necessary, background and theory stuff.  I get to do the TV stuff in a bit which is the whole point of the thing after all.  I’ve finally acquired all three seasons of the underrated Millennium and I’m looking forward to revisiting that, as well as some other short-lived classics like Nowhere Man and Dark Skies.
I’m very pleased that OMNI, the awesome science/fringe-science mag from the 80s and 90s is now available in its entirety through the Internet Archive.  This will be a big help, as they had some good coverage and analysis of the earliest seasons of The X-Files.
I’ve spent some of my time refining my working setup in anticipation of some upcoming travel.  I should say I’ve been wasting my time with this, but it’s kind of sort of necessary, if I squint.  I picked up a new, lightweight, laptop bag from Ikea, which will probably carry my reclaimed-from-wife Thinkpad Edge E420s onto which I’ve loaded Ubuntu (If I can’t have OSX, Linux is fine.  Anything but Windows 8!).
I’ll be back teaching in May, both on campus and online and I’ve been thinking about new stuff to do with that.  Mixlr looks like an interesting tool, allowing free and fairly simple online broadcast.  Not sure what I’d do with it, but a possibly useful resource.
Finally, for now, if you’ve read The Chaos Conundrum, you’ll know that I’m interested in archaeoacoustics.  This story appeared yesterday and it’s great to see Paul Devereaux and his work getting wider attention.  This is a fascinating emerging field.

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Speaking of The Chaos Conundrum, it’s now available as a Kobo ebook in the US from the Kobo Store and in Canada from Chapters/Indigo.  I’ll be on the next episode of Binnall of America audio talking about the book with Tim Binnall—I’ll have a link up when the episode drops.
That’s it for now. I’m off to watch the snow melt…

Sabbatical, book project updates

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A cold morning here in Michigan, as it looks like they all will be for the foreseeable.  I’ve just about gotten used to it.

Of course, that means I’ve no excuse not to stay indoors and get work done.  So, for the purposes of enlightening all of you (and, more importantly, as an entry in what will hopefully be a good work diary of 2014 that I can look back on fondly when I forget what I spent the year doing), here’s what’s happening.

ENDLESS WEATHER, the history/education focused sabbatical project that has no actual name at this point is coming along well.  I’ve just about finished with the Early US course content, very nearly by my self-imposed deadline.  I anticipate that this will be the section where things take the longest—I’ve had a lot of instances where I’ve had to stop and admit that my initial ideas were not that great.  For example, there are some documents that are just too long for practical classroom use among students in a 100-level survey.  Thus, there’s some editing that I wasn’t anticipating.  I’m also rethinking the “document + assessment = done” model as there are a lot of sources across time and space that would work well together.  So, I think the early US section is going to take the most time and hopefully the lessons learned will make the rest go more smoothly.  The web-side of things is still up in the air, which is good, otherwise I’d be tinkering with website stuff and procrastinating on the content.

BLACK SCREWDRIVER–the book project for Rowman & Littlefield, Publishers—is in the massive research and outliningIMG 0510 stages.  I’m spending much more time on the outlining with this project than I have with previous ones (because it’s a lot bigger—at least it feels that way).  After looking around at outlining tools, I settled on Cloud Outliner because it’s cheap and it does what I need it to.  I’m also dedicated (at this point anyway) to doing the writing in Scrivener.  Niftily, Cloud Outliner will export outlines in OPML format readable by Scrivener, so that should save a step or two.  I’m currently doing paragraph-level outlines of chapters, which hopefully will pay off when the drafting commences in a bit.  The outline for the first chapter is actually at about 20% of my target word count, which is far more detail than I usually indulge in.   

Of course, the fun part of this project is getting to watch (and re-watch) a huge amount of 1990s SF television. 

It’s also allowing me to spend some quality time with the paranoid fringes of the Internet (and some of the older, non-Internet computer networks and BBS’s) as well as pondering on the significance of Omni magazine, which was a mainstay of my reading in high school.  Wonderfully, Omni is available in its entirety in PDF format from the Internet Archive.

I also need to finish up SIENNA SMOKE, which I now feel comfortable mentioning (since the program for the conference is up and I’m actually on it!).  it’s a brief (10 minute) lightning talk on storytelling and teaching for the LAND Conference, coming up next month in Bay City.  Usually I don’t write out talks, but since there’s a strict time limit, I should probably make sure whatever I’m saying comes in under the wire.

Quick reminder, I’ll be on Where Did The Road Go? this Saturday from 11:00 PM to Midnight, Eastern time.

Okay—this has gotten my typing fingers warmed up. Time to go to work.