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Archive for June, 2009

Help! I can’t connect to the Internet. I logged into my computer this morning only to discover that my cable was out. I wonder if we’re at the mercy of our electronic toys. What will I do if I can’t “communicate” with the world? What if I could write without the distractions of email, click this, click that…?

Falcon01

Well, I never have to boot up my fountain pen when I want to write. I’ll just uncap my Namiki, with a nib like the beak of it’s Falcon namesake, pull out a fresh sheet of paper and get to it. Speaking of paper, I had been using Ampad Gold Fiber pads for my writing. Nice paper but pricey at $15 for a half dozen pads. I was in Staples last week to stock up and discovered my new favorite paper.

My Falcon loves my new pads. They’re simply called “eco-friendly writing pads” and they’re made from 80% sugarcane waste aka “bagasse.” I endorse Staples’ claim that “the quality is just as good as traditional tree-based paper…” In fact I like this paper better. And the best part is the pads are cheap. I spent $2 for two pads.

I’m writing this post with pyroom, my latest simple electronic tool. Writing with only the words on a simple screen is liberating. The temptation to respond to an email alert is gone. The screen clutter of menus and other doodads is gone. Writing this way is the electronic version of a fountain pen and a clean sheet of paper. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

I finally got my Internet connection back. Instead of sitting in front of my computer wringing my hands in despair waiting for Comcast to get their act together, I went for a ride on my bicycle. Riding my bicycle on a warm June morning is more fun than surfing the Internet anyway.

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Of course flowers can’t really have bad hair days, but an image can suggest much — when we take the time to look and use our imagination. If you passed the “pink spiky” in your yard you might not even notice an individual blossom. I can’t even remember the name of this guy. No matter how many times I ask my wife and she tells me, I forget again.

pink spiky 1

Something drew me to this flower so I set up my Nikon on my tripod, screwed on my closeup lens and took a much closer look. I’m captivated. The image of a bad hair day popped into my head while I was looking at my photos, thinking about what I would write for my Monday Musings and what photo I would use.

Well maybe I just think this photo is cool and I cooked up an excuse to use it. Macro photography is fun because you see things you can’t see with a casual look. When you look through the viewfinder at the isolated, magnified image, an entire new world opens.

How often do we look at the world around us without seeing?
We name a thing and claim to know it, but we haven’t seen it. I can’t name “Pink Spiky” but I’ve seen it and that’s the important thing. Each time I look at the image I see deeper.

I don’t suppose flowers have souls but all things have an essence. True seeing is discovering that essence. Life is a delicious, creative journey when we take the time to see, to imagine and to photograph or write about the stops we make along the way.

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The hardest thing about cutting the grass is deciding to do it. The easiest part is putting the lawn mower away when you’ve finished. You have a choice. You can either look out your window at the grass that won’t stop growing or you can just cut it, then sit back and enjoy the view later.

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View from My Window

Writing is the same way. Why do we find so many excuses not to write? We’re not ready. I need another cup of coffee. I don’t know where to begin. The list is endless. All writers are creative when it comes to making excuses not to write.

Writing is hard work. And the hardest thing of all is getting started. What’s the answer? Begin anyway. Just start writing even if you have nothing to say. The sweat may soak your T-shirt, you may get out of breath, but just keep that lawn mower moving.

Focus on what you’re thinking now. Keep on writing and don’t look back. You can clean up your spelling and grammar later. Keep at it and you’ll find your rhythm, unexpected ideas will pop into your head. Go with them to see where they take you.

When you finish. Rake up and toss the debris. You’ll be surprised at the gems you’ve discovered. Sit back and admire the view. Think about where you’ll go from here and keep writing. You can put your lawnmower away later.

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The first post I wrote for The Aware Writer was Google Docs Secrets For Distraction Free Writing.  I still like Google Docs but I like working on my own system with my own tools. Looking for a new writing environment is like shopping for new shoes. I hate shopping for new shoes. My old sneakers are comfortable and they still work, so why buy new ones?

OldDesktop

My Favorite Desktop Background Image


I thought I solved my distraction free writing environment yesterday
when I changed my desktop background to the moonscape. The more I looked at it the more I missed my old background. So I changed my mind and put the old one back. Here’s a screenshot. I love the picture.

So what did I do instead? I found new sneaks that fit almost as well as the old ones. When I used windows, I had a neat, full screen, leave me alone and let me write in peace without the dodads program and it’s a freebie. If you’re a windows user, Q10 gives you a very nice, uncluttered writing environment and it even makes typewriter noises. Sounds like the old typewriter carriage return when you press enter. Give it a try. The author just released a new version this month.

When I went over to the other side and bought my Linux box last year, I couldn’t take Q10 with me. I finally found a decent replacement last night. It’s called pyroom. The program is written in the python programming language (that’s why the py prefix) and is inspired by WriteRoom, the granddaddy of the the full screen writing programs. WriteRoom is a Mac only program and the only thing I know about the Mac is that I can’t afford one.

pyroom

pyroom with the Soft Letter Paper Theme

Here’s a screenshot of pyroom. I wrote this post as my first real test drive of pyroom. I like the black screen with green letters theme, but it turns my monitor into a mirror. I don’t need my face in the place. Nothing on the screen but words. What a concept. No bells, whistles, menus, windows, emails clamoring for attention — just me and the words. If you haven’t tried the full screen experience, give it a go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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I’ve been looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I like to use a powerful text editor for my writing instead of a bloated word processor. I have a good one that does everything I need (almost). I wanted an editor that takes up the entire screen but keeps the text in the middle just like WriteRoom for the Mac. I wanted a distraction free writing environment.

Desktop

Smack my forehead! I finally figured it out this morning.
The editor isn’t the bad guy, it’s the desktop that’s the problem. I had a nice peaceful background image. Peaceful or not, it was a distraction, so I got rid of the distraction.

I’ve never liked eye candy on my desktop. When I got my new ubuntu Linux system last year, I vowed to keep an uncluttered desktop. I’ll put the occasional file on my desktop, but only temporarily. I only wish I had the discipline to keep my real desktop clean.

A totally black desktop with no image at all is much too drastic so I found a nice moonscape instead. I tweaked my upper and lower menu panels so they disappear. Now, when I open my editor in a window centered on the screen, I have my distraction free environment and I didn’t need to give up my editor.

I’ve taught it how to look up words in the thesaurus or dictionary. It checks my spelling, counts my words and does everything I need it to do. I didn’t need a new text editor at all. I turned the telescope around instead.

When you’re writing and get stuck for ideas, try looking through the other end of the telescope. The perspective change can be enough to break through the logjam.

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I’m not even going to try to express the image of Megan in words. I really like this photo. It’s a high key image that captures the moment and peeks into Megan’s world. What is she doing that has her so enthralled? I know but I won’t tell you. You might have an idea, but you’ll always wonder.

Megan's World

Wonder engages the imagination. Wonder involves the viewer. Maybe the image brings back a memory, maybe we’re simply drawn into Megan’s world for a moment. I’m at a loss for words to describe the moment but I don’t need words because I have this image instead.

Last week I wondered how you measure a baby’s smile. You can’t of course. Here goes. I’m going to use that Gestalt word again. A powerful photo grabs your emotions in the instant and sticks like velcro. No two people will see this photo in the same way. Each person will come away with a different emotional experience.

As writers, if our words don’t invite people to stick their fingers in the emotional pudding for a taste then we’ve not done our jobs.
When someone reads our words they build an emotional picture in their minds. If the words are powerful, they can’t help it. Our job is to help them see our passion, but their way and their passion — not ours.

Enjoy the moment with Megan. I know why she’s wearing the hat but I’m not telling you. Wonder — it’s part of the magic.

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Writing an E-Book has me thinking a lot a about format. PDF files are based on printed paper sizes first and viewing with a computer second. I got to wondering about standards, where they come from and why we use them. Did you know that the standard gauge for American railroads (the 4 ft. – 8 1/2 in. distance between the rails) is the same spacing used by Imperial Roman war chariots?

490px-Thor_in_his_chariot

Thor in his war chariot

Of course we didn’t base our railroad design on the Roman chariot. The Romans built their roads in Britain (among other places) to accommodate their chariots. When horse drawn wagons gave way to the first “iron horses” in Britain, it was only natural they use the same roads with the same ruts. The Americans borrowed from the British in the early days of railroading and the standard simply evolved out of circumstances.

So does a paper standard for E-Books make any sense in a digital world? Paper comes in sheets of definite size while the computer excels at scrolling. Traditional printed books give the reader clues in the form of the table of contents, page numbers, formatting, etc. The PDF version of turning the analog pages of a book are hyperlinks in the text and an index or thumbnails alongside the text.

Readers need to find their way around inside a book.
They need visual clues no matter what the medium. Electronic reading devices are springing up like weeds after a rainstorm and each has it’s own screen size and format. There are no standards yet. If you format for all possible conditions, you can’t format at all because the device itself will wrap text depending on screen size and the font size choices the user makes. You lose all the visual clues with a plain text file.

I’m sticking with PDF for now. Does that limit me? Yes, but I think it’s worth the limitations because I can provide the visual clues that a reader needs. I struggled with the page size but settled on 8 1/2 X 11 inches. Why? Because this format is easy to read on a typical computer monitor and can be printed on demand. Yes, I know my E-Book won’t work on a small screen, but I’ll worry about that tomorrow, when we have standards.

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