Writing to think

For years I failed at becoming a regular journaler. My longest stint was a couple months with Day One, years ago. It was fun, and I liked reviewing the pretty graphs over time. But it didn’t stick, it didn’t have any real value for me.

Since December I’ve been journaling almost nonstop. Before that I was writing fiction, and loving it. Over the past eight months, because of a few factors and partially related to my creative energy, I’ve just been journaling.

The effect has been a good one. I can’t say yet that it’s had a profound effect on who I am, but it forces me to take a few minutes out my day and write. In that time I force myself to write a thousand words.

Because I type fast, that often doesn’t take long, especially since I do zero editing. I just type whatever comes to mind.

A funny thing happens when you write for a thousand words. In order to keep going I have to dig deep and start to think while typing. It’s a function that feels meditative. It’s like going on a walk without any devices and just having time to think. Only, it’s more active than that. I’m putting my fingers to the page and pushing out ideas. Most of it is complete rubbish, not worthy of reprint. But occasionally, and more often than I’d have thought, I am able to generate clarity in my typing. Ideas crystalize as I type and help me decide what I should do next.

Writing has changed how I think, it’s altered my brain in profound ways. The journaling has helped. A daily habit such as this has become a way of life for me, three years later. I love it, and I would have a hard time without this form of processing at the start or end of my day.

Now, as I’ve shared before, I want to do more than just journaling, I love to create and share ideas; and that will take more than just a few minutes of smashing out letters on a keyboard. It’s a start though, and

I’m thankful for that. I’ve kept up the habit and found that it’s much easier these days to push out my thoughts without self-editing along the way.

If you’re curious to try this I recommend a number of words that’s a little higher than you’re immediately comfortable with. A hundred words a day is too little for me, and would allow me to cheat, so to speak. The longer word count, lets me take a bit more time, and encourages digging deeper into my brain.

Sometimes I start with a retelling of what happened in my day, focusing on the emotions, the struggles, the big wins, and essentially going through a retro of the previous hours. Closing my eyes helps, and often I don’t bother with all the details, just enough to force my brain to concentrate for a moment. As Field Notes likes to say on each book, “I’m not writing it down to remember later, I’m writing it down to remember now.”

Back to writing

Yesterday I got a bug in me and sat down to write. I began the day like most other, with a journaling session. That normally takes me about 7-8 minutes to write a 1,000 words.

Most of these sessions are just a brain dump of the day’s activities, where I like to process how things went. It’s useful and I enjoy doing it.

Later I had another time slot where I could do so some more writing. In that time, I busted out another 2,000 words, half of which was fiction. It felt so good to be back, to work toward creative writing again. I resumed a novella from last year and added an intro chapter to it. 

Today I was excited to continue and thought about what I’d written, looking forward to seeing if I could start a streak again. 

I sat down to write this evening and pulled up Ulysses. Now, in the past I’ve had some issues with syncing between Mac and iPad; namely that it is effectively a no go. Something happens between the two where it seems to just keep re-syncing forever. That’s a waste of time, so I leaned into just writing on the Mac. 

When I pulled up Ulysses again to write, I had a moment of shock. The 1,000 words from the previous day disappeared. After nearly a half hour of searching, and going through all my options, the words are just gone. That has shaken my confidence in the app. I’m now considering other options, IA Writer and Scrivener are top of the list. To have finally to back into creative writing, and run into a snafu on the first day, is a bit of a bummer.

I didn’t let that stop me, though. I channeled that frustration into a short story of a writer being frustrated that his fiction writing got lost. Yes, meta, I know. 

We’ll see how tomorrow goes, if I’m able to keep the streak going. Hopefully, I can recover those thousand words, but if not, I’ll try to just learn from it. 

Update: I put the note in the trash in Ulysses. All is well!

Finding a great author

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed jumping around between enjoyable works of fiction. I like finding a great book, then spending time reading other books from the same author. For a few years it was Stephen King. So far I’ve read about ten of his books. He’s such a talented author, and I hope someday to be able to understand his ability to make characters interact with the proper tension and meaning. Other amazing authors have included J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Jeff VanderMeer, Max Brooks, Andy Weir, and a half dozen more.

I love falling into the world of these authors.

So it was with some interest that I picked up Brandon Sanderson a few months ago. I’d heard him mentioned for the past couple of years, highly recommended as one of the best fantasy authors writing today. At one point my barber sang his praises. On the recommendation of two friends I started out with his Mistborn series, all on Audible.

I was hooked immediately.

Within a short period of time I poured through the first three of those books. The world he created drew me in and filled my imagination. I often paused the books to contemplate the secrets I’d just learned, or to appreciate the literary genius of making a certain scene come together.

From Mistborne I started on The Stormlight Archive. This one took a bit longer to get into, but I enjoyed it even more than the Mistborne series.

Something I love about Sanderson, a bit in contrast to King, is his ability to handle mature topics without delving deeply into salacious details. The way characters interact with each other feels like more like Lord of the Rings fantasy, and less like Game of Thrones.

I’m excited by this, and wondering about the implications for my own writing, to tackle important themes while keeping the books available for a wider audience.

It’s so fun to find great books and to be inspired by other authors.

WWDC 2022 hot takes

I really enjoy watching Apple events. It’s been a joy of mine to tune in and catch up on what’s new. I don’t have all the Apple hardware, but I have integrated quite a few different devices into my daily life over the years. A change in software across their various platforms can have a decent sized impact on my day to day productivity. I haven’t had a chance to watch the entire keynote yet, but I’ve skimmed through a few sections and caught up on a number of highlights.

Following are a few of my hot takes. The angle I’m taking for each of these is a mix of my personal time using Apple devices, as well as my time as a product designer working with a team on a mobile app.

Freeform

This is one of the most exciting announcements for me. While it won’t be out for months, and I haven’t had a chance to actually play with it, the general idea is fantastic. Live sketching and white boarding with others. Amazing.

I’ve used just about every iteration of iPad apps for sketching and collaboration. Each have their pros and cons, and I’ve written about them on a few occasions.

Having great collaboration for realtime users to sync across a network is key to my work. Figma has changed how I work as a designer, being able to work directly with other team members in a live environment. Its limited though, to hi-fidelity designs; when we’re further along in the design process. I’ve struggled to find an exact match for the more lo-fidelity aspect of my job, when I want to think through rough ideas.

The real-life counterpart is a whiteboard with markers (not chalk, I cannot stand the feel of chalk). A physical whiteboard is perfect in a room with others, but over the internet it just doesn’t work.

So I’m quite keen to test this out and see how it works with several of my team members. Currently we use a mix of Miro, Linea Sketch, and a few other things, but all are imperfect for live collaboration.

Continuity Camera

Amazing. I want to use this. Webcams on Apple desktop devices aren’t great. They’re passable, but not anything like the quality of camera on a recent iPhone. I’ve been thinking about some of the third party software to hook my iPhone, or even buying a digital camera or webcam, but all of that feels too complicated (and potentially expensive). Being able to use my iPhone in meetings for a great camera experience sounds perfect.

Stage Manager

This looks pretty sweet. I will have to try this first to see how it feels. Having this new window application tool across Mac and iPad OS could help to bridge the gap between the two operating systems.

Dictation

I haven’t looked into this enough yet, but having dictation on device with improvements could help pull me back into my workflows. I’ve tried to dictate for writing, but working live doesn’t work because of the timer limitations set by Google and Apple. At the moment I record via voice memos, then pull into Otter.ai. I’ve even been thinking about re-using my physical Sony recorder. If on-device dictation has improved, and is without limits, it could be perfect for my writing use cases.

Making it personal

There’s so much more I want to talk about, but I’ll keep this short for the moment. I am struggling with a decision on how I’ll move forward. The new MacBook Air M2 is perfect; it’s exactly what I’ve been hoping for, and it’s within the budget I’ve saved for this year.

I’ve been planning to buy a second laptop for a while now, in hopes of separating my creative writing from my work life. After spending all day as a designer, I often want to close my laptop and not use it again until morning. However, I also really enjoy creative writing. If I had a second device, preferably one that looked and felt different, and only used that device for personal things; well that might help with my motivation for pushing my writing forward.

I thought the iPad could be that second device for me. But it just doesn’t handle multi windows the way I want, and the writing software I use isn’t as good as the Mac equivalents. Now, with the iPad getting some much needed window management, as well as true external monitor support; it’s looking more tempting.

However, the M2 is exactly what I wanted. I’m likely going to keep forward on my plan for the new laptop, but it’s exciting that the iPad has become interesting again.

Book sampling

Recently I’ve hit a weird spell where I’ve struggled to write fiction. There are a few factors for this, and I’m working through them in my mind. I might share more on that later.

During this time I’ve continued to journal daily, and continued to pour myself into books. Since my early twenties, I’ve noticed a pattern with my reading habits. If I stick too long in fiction, non-fiction, history, self-help, etc, I burn out. So, as a force of habit, and also following my own instincts, I shake things up a few times a year.

For several months, I poured myself into the Mistborne and Way of Kings series from Brandon Sanderson. These have been an amazing read, and kept the flame alive for my desire to build stories and fictional worlds. 

The important thing for me, though, when it comes to reading, is to not make it feel like a homework assignment. If a book starts to drag, I’ll pause it. If the topic meanders in the wrong direction, I’ll just stop. I don’t want this thing that I do to become a drudgery. It has value and helps me grow to become a better person. But that shouldn’t happen at the expense of the pure joy of reading. 

I’m trying to ensure that not every aspect of my life feels like it’s leading to something. Some things we do should be for the thing itself, and not for the hope that it will help us capitalize on it at a later time. 

So, after a multi-month fiction stint, I pivoted to a handful of books (and podcasts) on other topics. I’ll probably come back around to the fiction in a few weeks, especially since I’m excited to see where the next Brandon Sanderson book takes me. 

Note: Almost all of my reading is through audio. I still the wrong verb intentionally, as it rolls of the tongue better.