Distraction and Apps…Where I went wrong

I love apps. There’s no getting away from it, I love apps. The reason for this is twofold; firstly I am a nerd (or is it geek?) and have totally bought in to all the tech associated with iphones, macs, and so on, so I love this stuff. Secondly, and more important, is that, for the aspiring author, they are a distraction. That is the key.

If I were to list the apps that have crossed my path, sheltered under the umbrella of ‘writing workflow’, it would be embarrassingly large. So here goes…

  • Scrivener
  • Byword
  • Ullyses
  • Storyist
  • Adobe Story
  • Textilus
  • Word
  • Google Docs
  • nValt

So that’s just *some* of the writing apps. Associated with those are the myriad note-taking apps…

  • Simplenote
  • nValt
  • OneNote
  • Evernote
  • Pocket

And in further association, there are the general apps that become wired into all the rest…

  • Dropbox
  • OneDrive
  • Google Drive
  • iCloud Drive
  • Box
  • Mindnode
  • Aeon Timeline
  • Photoshop CC
  • Illustrator CC
  • Lightoom CC
  • Workflow
  • duet

And these are the ones that I have currently. I have acquired and discarded about the same amount, though I struggle to remember them so I won’t bother listing them here.

So, a lot of distraction going on. You have to realise that most of these apps require some significant investigation to get used to, and I have put in the learning time on nearly all of them, under the misguided assumption that ‘It will help me be more productive’.

Hundreds of YouTube tutorials and a thousand ‘How To…’ websites later I can confirm…they did not. Don’t get me wrong, I still use a lot of these apps (such as Byword and markdown, with which this blog post is written) but–and here is the rub–I don’t really need to.

If I have a message to get across about all this, it is that there is too much emphasis on workflow and organisation. If you want to write, just WRITE and stop thinking you need a bundle of digital assistants to do so. If you feel the urge for an app, read a book.

Writing tools – a review of apps I use


After two years forging a fairly inaccurate furrow through the field of attempted writing, I thought it might be time for me to do a little review of the myriad ways in which a writer can avoid actual writing by playing around with apps. Or, if I want to be a little more constructive about this, a review of the apps that have helped me and that I use often in the pursuit of writing nirvana.

In no particular order (although Scrivener is definitely top!)…


1. Scrivener http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php – Around £28 from the App Store

Scrivener screengrab

This is the writing software I now use. It wasn’t always the case. I spent a while writing in MS Word, Open Office, even Googledocs, but when it came down to it Scrivener was , I found, everything I needed, or what I could ever expect to use. The blurb, from the website…

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

It cannot be understated; this software is AWESOME, and I use that word reservedly at best. The list of options is incredible, and the ways in which it can help organise a draft is mind-boggling. There are criticisms, but only a few, but I have tried any number of alternatives (Ulysses, rWriter etc) and they are all inferior in one or a number of ways, to Scrivener. I wholly recommend. One downside is there is no tablet/iphone version, though we are persistently assured it will one day arrive. However, you can get past this in other ways – dropbox etc, as you will see later…


2. Evernote https://evernote.com/ FREE

Evernote screengrab

Evernote is a free online notebook that syncs with your devices, has loads of great embedded tools for clipping notes while you browse the internet, and, like Scrivener, a whole heap of options. Plus – and this is the best bit – it’s free. FREE! You can purchase additional features and storage, but I have yet to find the need. It’s just great for organising your notes. For instance, I have notebooks for non-writing stuff, for research, for images and so on. I have found this invaluable, especially because you can add notes wherever you are – through my phone or iPad, and it all syncs up. I could even log onto my Evernote through any browser on any computer and find all my notes there. Love it. Nuff said.


3. Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/home FREE

Dropbox screengrab

Quite what I used to do before Dropbox I will never know, and I shouldn’t really have to tell you what it does, because everyone should know.

Most importantly I can sync my Scrivener files in Dropbox and edit them on my iPad/iPhone with Textilus (http://www.textilusapp.com/) – a simple yet powerful text editor – and then it syncs right back with Scrivener when I’m done.

Storage is upgradeable (like with Evernote) but I’ve not even nearly got close to my limits, so all is good in this world. Ah…life in da cloud…

The alternative to this is google drive (like you’d bother) or iCloud (which is looking threateningly good), but in the meantime Dropbox has the answers to my needs. Now, if only it could get me to actually write…


4. Pixelmator http://www.pixelmator.com/ FREE

Pixelmator screengrab

In the perfect world I would buy Photoshop. But the world isn’t perfect and I refuse to spend that much on software, no matter how ace it is (and it is…I’m slap bang in the middle of a 30 day Photoshop trial and it’s flamin’ brilliant), so I turn to cheaper alternatives for my image needs. I have tried quite a few (Gimp, Artrage et al) and they all have their good an bad points, mostly that they don’t have the features of Photoshop, and although Pixelmator has this problem too, it seems the best of a free bunch. I managed to make a map of sorts, for the first time working out how to do it thanks to youtube tutorials.

It really helps in worldbuilding to be able to visualise your setting, and Pixelmator has allowed me to do this. It is a good app, especially because it is free.


5. Aeon Timeline http://www.scribblecode.com/ Around £28

Aeon Timeline screengrab

I think the best way to describe this is to let the blurb tell you all…

Aeon Timeline is more than a series of events on a never ending line. With Aeon, you can divide your timeline into logical groups, projects, or concurrent arcs. You can model the relationships between events and people, places and ideas. Aeon calculates people’s ages for you. And you can link your events with research material such as external files or images that can be displayed inside the application.

Worldbuilding is difficult. Organisation is required (and I am not good at that). Aeon Timeline allows me to make a timeline that fits with my own calendar, own rules (want fifteen days in a month, three months in a year? You can do it here). When it comes to wasting time, this is the king of all. It can also sync with Scrivener and organise your chapters into a visual representation of events. It is very handy. That said, it is not going to be for everybody, but it works for me.

There you have it. Some software that I use in my everyday avoidance of actual writing. That said, I’ve written over a million words in the two-plus years I’ve been writing seriously, so they aren’t as good as all that for avoiding work.

Happy writing, people!

Navel-gazing comeback post of doom

It has been a while since I posted on this illustrious and rather ‘meh’ blog of mine, but be assured it was not the blogosphere I was ignoring, but the entire world… So with that in mind I thought I would ease back into it all with a gentle summation of my recent scribblings…

navelgazingLet’s see…. Well since I last mentioned anything I have done fifty thousand words of a contemporary thriller-type story set in Yorkshire in the real world/present day. That was fun, but, as usual I lost focus, and the story kind of drifted into uncertainty. C’est la vie.

And then I started another fantasy effort, which is ongoing – sixty-five thousand words so far. But I have reached that same problem that I have always had in all these projects… indecision and doubt. Lots of it. Enough to railroad it all, I fear. But I am working on it…

Not so damned easy, this writing malarky, I have decided. You may quote me on that…

Hopefully this missive will get me back into communicating with the outside world – I have been neglectful of correspondence and contact because of some stuff going on in my life at the moment. But I a trying to resolve this and get my head back on straight.

Do you know what? I hate reading navel-gazing blog posts like these, so I’ll stop now and maybe post a bit of whimsy at a later date, if I can spare the creative oomph required. In the meantime, as the great man said…Stay shiny!

Ten things I’ve learned (serious post)


Well, enough of the whimsy (though I do like it) because occasionally this blog has to at least touch on my writing once in a while – it is the reason it exists after all. I do this on the auspicious occasion of my hitting the 200,000 word milestone. Actually, it’s 199,837, but I know that if I set to it, this blog’ll not get posted on today, such is the extent of my ability to get distracted.

So, what ten things have I learned since I started doing this, some ten or so months back? Let me list the ways and means…

  1. Don’t be an arse and set off on something without at least a modicum of planning. It’s all very cavalier and exciting to write by the seat of one’s pants, but it makes for a meandering tale that lacks focus. Have an ending at least superficially scratched into the meaty grey mass of your brain. You may be lucky and find one on the way and change it, but it’s better to start with one and change than just hope a plot will present itself. That way lies madness and 200,000 words of dubious worth. 
  2. Find someone who is willing to read your stuff, and will unflinchingly support you and tell you how fantastic you are. It makes for good productivity. Saying that, also find someone who will criticise the arse out of it. For balance…
  3. Even if you can’t be bothered, try to write something everyday. Yeah, it may be rubbish, half-hearted, and eminently delete-able, but it becomes almost second nature, and words start to fly.
  4. Last thing at night, as you lay with your head on the pillow, just think about where you’ve left the plot. Imagine where it goes next. I swear, if you grant some brain-time to it, the ideas come. Write em down if you think you’ll forget. I don’t need to, I remember everything, as I’m sure I pointed out at the start of this post…
  5. You will doubt yourself. You will read what you have written and think, “That is utter shash”. This is normal. But dont stop. Re-write. The next point will help…
  6. Be brave. If you are assailed by the winged tyrants of doubt, then don’t hesitate to cut that whole thirty thousand words. If I was on a deadline I would perhaps think twice, but if, like me, you are just writing to get your story done, then don’t hesitate to chop the last three weeks work. I have found the discarded stuff still contributes to the whole, even if only in background or in clarifying the best way forward.
  7.  Read. A lot. I often find that while I am reading I get a sudden idea for my own work, usually utterly unrelated. I think it must be down to the imagination part of my mind being stimulated. It works for me, anyway…
  8. Have a rest from it once in a while, but don’t stop writing. Go off and start on something fresh – a new story in a whole new world, if that’s your bag. In doing so you will find, when you go back to your original work, you will have some new ideas. You will find yourself in a rut, probably because you are thinking so much about the story, and a change can give you that freshness when you go back.
  9. Have milestones. Mine have all been word counts. The trap to avoid is the not wallowing in your successes. I found myself at 50k words and just stopped, a bit dismayed over the distance to the next milestone, and inordinately proud that I actually got there. But then next thing you know…100k words, and so on.
  10. Get someone to proof read. Your eyes will just skip over the errors in your own work, no matter how careful you are.

Wow, that was harder to do than I expected. I should have done a top three. I’m sure I’ve duplicated some entries, too.

I think this is one of my rare moments of serious reflection. You should cherish it. Not even the barest iota of whimsy. It feels wrong. Like watching a monkey masturbate. You know it’s wrong, but the damn thing has such a funny look on its face.

Until next time…

A misanthrope is not just for Christmas…

All you out there full of the joys of Christmas take heed. For all the good cheer and mindless commercial excesses there are a load of folk whose preference is for cynical, misanthropic griping. I like to think I am one of those. Cheerily grumpy, is how I like to put it. We deserve respect!

Christmas is a difficult time of year for those with a contrariness bent. Be kind to us by not sending us cards. Please don’t ram the fact that you are as excited as a toddler by the whole dreary regularity of a festival that is way too excessive. Don’t get me wrong, I like excess – it’s what I’m good at – but come on now people, give it a rest.

humbug-scroogeIt’s not enough that I have to listen to f*****g carols from November onwards. Even in my local coffee shop I’ve been Bing Crosby’d to death for weeks now. I’ve even taken to walking in there with my own dirgeful music in my ears just so I don’t have to witness the excess of saccharine. If I wanted saccharine with my coffee I’d go for that sweet and low shit.

They do say that Christmas is for kids. Well if it is can they not do it quietly and at home? I am graceful enough to concede that inside the walls of a person’s house you can celebrate Christmas with all the abandon and carefree jollity of a rabid elf on ecstasy. But in the workplace? It spanks of too much desperation. Stop it, I say. Stop it right now.

And another thing, while I am embarking upon this rant, if someone doesn’t find Christmas a thrilling sherry-fuelled joy then stop calling us miserable. Let’s celebrate our diversity here, folks. I think you will find that the miserable bastards of this world (and I am one) at least have the temerity to be grumpy all year round. We don’t spend eleven months of the year in one mood and the last month ‘ho-ho-ho’ing like we have some sort of seasonal bi-polar thing going on. We are quietly and undemonstratively level-headedly misanthropic ALL YEAR ROUND. You’d have thought the regularity of that would have pleased people. But, oh no, we’re miserable bastards for not wanting to put on a paper fucking hat.

That said, have a great Christmas!


PS, done 100,000 words now, if any of you b*****s are interested…

The product of the third nipple

I’m not one for heartfelt feel-good posts. I seek neither to pander nor motivate, to gee-up nor inspire. If you read my post do not expect any of those things. Indeed, expect nothing less than a bitter diatribe or two chased down with a whinge. If you’re lucky (and I have become complacent in my role as embodiment of misanthropy) then I may unintentionally make you feel better because you are not as downright grumpy as me. But know it is a lie, like the supposed ‘fact’ that people still believe Marmite is a ‘like it or love it’ thing. It’s not. It’s just a fucking spread. I am apathetic to the point of inadequacy on the subject. Meh.

The path this blog has taken through the gentle tundra of my irascibility has been a surprising one.

See, that’s what I’m talking about. The line above. What a load of tosh. Why is it that my mind churns out such flange-muffery when asked to write a post? If I can’t rely on my barely conscious mind to adequately post something meaningful and sparkly on request, then what is the point? Why have the thing? Right now my mind is a third nipple – all very impressive but unlikely to write a good post that won’t drive you to sack it all off and light a joss stick.

But I let it splurge precisely because one must vent. Like a cheap and inadequately maintained steam-engine. Precisely like that. And you read it because it exists, even though it’s entire existence is owed to the selfish necessity for a bloody valve. All pointless to the point of blunt. And that makes you a voyeur, or at the very least a person-that’s-reading-my-post….

Honestly? Nah, I haven’t a clue what the point of this post is, other than to prove I can write one without wanting to and with minimal effort. If you wanted clarity you may have been disappointed.

Saying all that, be nice to everyone, polite and pleasantly engaging in all circumstances, then trust in humanity to hold up its end. That way lies the future. Peace!

The most self-indulgent post in my world

One day I sat trying to write a blog post, wondering why I bothered. Then I said to myself “John,” for my internal monologue refers to me in the third person in private, “I know you enjoy your relative anonymity, but hell and damn-wise, man, the world deserves to hear your inner-most thoughts. It’s a duty you have for the sake of our children.”

At that point I stopped, having inadvertently caused a paradox by inferring me and my third-person internal monologue could reproduce.

But is this really the case? Do I have a duty to share my inner-most thoughts with the world? Or should I presume that what I think has been thought before and that I should stop clogging up the internet?

I know what you, my avid reader, is thinking. You are thinking, “But John,” for your thoughts are all ways addressed to me, er, itself, in this manner…hang on….I’m confused now, ” We each have our own little world with it’s own little crises and victories. The texture of our being is woven incrementally and the result is utterly unique. That should be shared, yes, to enrich all that we are?”.

Being argumentatively and tautologically contrary I respond in kind. “But, dear reader, we are a bag of water and salts. We’re all the same. And we all experience ourselves in isolation. Sharing it is impossible. There are no words.”

There is a third person hiding behind a conveniently placed doubt. They say, “You are both wrong,” obviously referring to me and my internal monologue, “It is the act of sharing that enriches the individual. The people out there cannot judge, they can only consume the words, the essence. Or not. The consumption does not refer to the creation, It is not a feedback loop.”

Both I and my internal monologue shift uneasily at that point. The bastard behind the doubt has just effectively destroyed us by invalidating our actions. Another bloody feedback loop. We head for cover, spending the coming months in a cabin in Switzerland. To pass the time the internal monologue lets me blog.

The result is are what you see (if you exist). The most self-indulgent blog of my life. The result of boredom.

Get thee hence, draft…

Well. That’s that then. Another 23,000 words consigned to the ever-increasing pile marked ‘Put down to experience’. Yes, it’s another writing blog post big on introspection, flimsy on entertainment. I could not blame you for being bored already, but hold on, young and easily strung-along readers, there’s more…

Having enjoyed a period of relative productivity (I have low standards) I have ground to an almighty halt. I have bored myself with my characters and story, which can only mean one thing…it’s crap. I was listening to Fantasy Faction’s podcast interview with Joe Abercrombie, that giant of modern fantasy. He said something that resonated with me;

“…if you don’t read what you write and think, actually that’s quite exciting, you’d never get past the first page.”

Characterisation is becoming distinctly problematic. I don’t have confidence in my own hodgepodge half-arsed approach and I may have to actually go and do some bloody learning on how to do it – a course or some such huge annoyance. This is not to say I will stop. The world-building is coming along. I have places I can visualise, and a general awareness of the layout and set-up. I have got an idea about the magic system that is pretty much nailed on. SO there are positives…I shall contemplate further.

Meanwhile I will start again. Surprisingly, this whole tortuous process has revealed a more refined plot and structure, though the ‘how’ to address it remains elusive.

Women, know your place!*

*This post title is a reference to Harry Enfield sketches that parodied the nineteen-fifties attitude to women, and NOT my personal opinion. I thought I’d better say that first rather than suffer the wrath of female-kind. I also thought it might send a rocket up some bums. That’s not a euphemism. Oh dear…

That said, the reason behind this post lies in a quick looksee at the Amazon top lists of Kindle Fantasy books, and how it showed that there were far more female fantasy authors than male (on the list at least), and that I had just finished reading some Trudi Canavan books.

Every pore of my being is teling me to just let it go and that whatever I say will be put down to misogynistic generalisation, but I am so bereft of inspiration for this blog that I am desperate and willing to court controversy to ease the blockage.

The books in question, by Ms Canavan, were her Traitor spy trilogy. To be honest, I forged through them only because I’d been foolish enough to fork out hard-earned cash for ’em, but I was perpetually annoyed by the tone throughout. I’ll concede it was well-written, but where I would normally get lost in the story – the characters, the scene-setting, world-building – this time I was constantly being reminded that the author was female. Whether it was the perspectives, the emotionally texture, the relentless FEELINGS, or the overt female-centric nature of the protagonists/plot, I just kept feeling that ‘gender’ was hovering over it like a big, lovely lady cloud, and that is not a feeling I get from male authors. That’s probably because I am a man, or maybe the title tricked me into not realising this was a romance…

I am not saying that there shouldn’t be love, romance and frissons aplenty (that’s part of the genre), I just don’t like it being overt and in yer face.

What that says about me as a reader (aside from I probably wouldn’t like 50 shades) I cannot tell. Maybe it infers that I am, on a fantasy novel basis, a misogynist? A fantamisogynist, if you will (dammit, that word is now MINE). It is certainly true that some of my favourite fantasy books have been by women, but I found myself scanning that Amazon list looking for male authors to look into, which surprised me somewhat. It may also say that I am repressed, emotionally, but I cried at Lassie films as a child, a fact which scotches that misconception sure enough.

It may come down to the nature of the beast. It would infer that writing in the fantasy genre is much more popular to women than men, or that female fantasy writers are just more successful, but I think it is certainly the case that fantasy is not a purely masculine vice as it might have seemed to have been in the past. I think that this is a damn good thing, but it is a shame that Trudi Canavan’s work (and it is a very well crafted bunch of books) and a number of other works by women, has made me yearn for male authors. Perhaps that is not a criticism of the books, as much as evidence of my own intransigence.

Saying that, I am very willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Blank Holiday

Argh. I cannot overstate that expression of frustration. Maybe an exclamation point will help. Ahem, let me try again.


I have been reading a lot of blogs recently. This wordpressy thing is new to me and I am trying to get into the swing of things by trawling the blogs offered, which is turning into a discouraging process.

I don’t know what I expected, but I know what I hoped for. I hoped for enlightened, intriguing discourse, or wit and those special, beautifully phrased, pithy little phrases that make reading a thoroughly wholesome pleasure. I wanted crafted posts, lighting the fire of my turgid imagination.

What I got was the complete opposite. Bland, self-obsessed, regurgitated shash, mostly. And about as much wit as can be summoned up by a wounded antelope hurtling across the savannah being pursued by a pride of hungry lions.

Of course, this is a MASSIVE exaggeration, purely for effect. There are some blogs out there that have genuinely delighted me and, to those bloggers, I offer my insignificant and pointless thanks, but to the rest of you I would like to say thanks for wasting my time. Insert your own sarcastic tone here.

This whole post obviously stinks of hypocrisy. I rail against the forces of self-obsession while perpetrating my own navel-staring, but the difference is that I AM NO DIFFERENT (ha! – no, I don’t get it either), which is why this post exists. I am as bad as all of you.

So here is my offering, written in the full knowledge that nobody is really interested in what I have to say and that I will be dismissed by others as I, myself, dismiss others. This self-obsessed,  ego-centric, strangely self-aware post doesn’t care, which is probably how it should be.

If you think you are one of that small amount of bloggers that can entice me with wares they TRULY believe are worthwhile, then let me know and I’ll have a looksee, and if I like I will, er, ‘like’ or even ‘follow’, so best of luck with that.

If not you can shove it up your arse. Happy blogging!