Writing fiction is daunting. Sharing what you’ve written is freaking terrifying. More so if you’re a picky reader. Exponentially if you’re a picky reader and the sole editor of your own work.
On the 3rd of this month, I mentioned an editing and revision tool called ProWritingAid in a rambling post about things that definitely aren’t my resolutions. On the 11th, someone from ProWritingAid contacted me to ask if I’d like to write a review of the tool, and offering a free press copy to facilitate that writing.
Because I love ProWritingAid, and because acquiring a license for the app was among my rambly non-resolutions, I accepted the offer. Because ProWritingAid is such a complete tool for revision, it’s taken me this long to write it.
I started this post in Ulysses. In bed. On my iPhone. But a few paragraphs in, I moved to my iMac, copied what I had written, and pasted it into a new text file created in the ProWritingAid desktop app. I’m more inclined to use ProWritingAid for fiction revision—or even poetry—than for blogging, but I quickly found that some of my bad habits from the more imaginative realms carry over to my mundane prose, too.
ProWritingAid looks for and highlights a significant number of good and bad practices within your text. It looks for problems with readability, passive and hidden verbs, long subordinate clauses, adverbs used within and without dialogue, repeated sentence starts, emotion tells, spelling errors, overused words, clichés and redundancies, sticky sentences, diction problems, vague and abstract words, frequent words and phrases, sentence length and sentence length variance, pronoun usage (including a check specifically for initial pronouns), alliteration, transitions, and homonyms. A thesaurus is included to help solve issues with repeated words and diction problems, as is a “word explorer” which allows you access to not only the thesaurus, but also definitions, alliterative pairings, similar and related spellings, rhyming words, words with similar pronunciations, collocations, common phrases, anagrams, and usage examples for words you select within your text.
The software finds problems, then gives you the tools to fix them. That’s exactly how any good editing and revision tool should behave. And, if you’re willing to pay a bit more ($5/year), it’ll help you avoid being a big ol’ plagiarist, too.
Ultimately, I ended up writing the bulk of this post in WordPress. That’s how I write when I’m composing around images. But then there’s the matter of the side project I mentioned in that other, earlier post. I’ve used ProWritingAid extensively for revisions on the first two parts of that project, and it challenged me in ways I didn’t expect to be challenged. It took me from getting the story down, to realizing just how freaking horrible my writing actually was, to creating fiction that was at least well-tuned enough that I was willing to put it out for public consumption.
That’s a really big deal, kids. Sharing visual art is nothing compared to sharing larger works of fiction. Nothing. Art may be subjective, but writing? Good luck with that delusion!
(I’m still not ready to link to that side project. In case you missed the first paragraph, I’ll reiterate: Writing fiction is daunting! ProWritingAid makes it less so, and forces me to grow as a writer.
Maybe an entire year of it will force me to grow as a sharer, too.)
Desktop versions of ProWritingAid exist for both Windows and Mac, with licenses ranging from $40 for one year to $140 for a lifetime. There are discounts for bulk and academic licensing; and sometimes, ProWritingAid offers discounts via email, too. There’s also a 14-day trial of the premium, desktop version available at your request, and there’s a word-limited web version that you can use for the low, low price of registering for a free account.
If you write regularly—or if you write fiction or poetry, at all—I encourage you to take your blue pencil for a ProWritingAid spin.
They really, really aren’t. ‘Though I’ll have to admit, I’m not immune to seeing the start of a new calendar year as the perfect time to re-evaluate my goals as well as my plans for reaching them. My primary solo goals last year revolved around making my student loan payments and having enough money on hand to make sure my wife didn’t feel the need to re-evaluate our marriage when our anniversary, Christmas and her birthday rolled around. That’s it. In short: I aimed for quick money. Which isn’t difficult, if you don’t need much. But, unless you’ve found a way to make that quick money goal pay really well, reaching that sort of goal is very much a temporary accomplishment. Quick bucks don’t usually supply the sort of long income tail that all of us who’ve
passed reached a certain age should be thinking about.
With that in mind, I want to learn some new stuff this year, and most of what I want to learn revolves around software I already own and use. Some things that I want to learn are, for me, more marketable skills than others, but all of them are quality skills which will at least serve to make me a better-rounded, more-fulfilled human being; and, kids, that matters, too. Maybe not as much as food on the table, rent paid, and not living under the fear of the return of debtors’ prisons, but it matters.
- The software I think I’m most excited to learn is Affinity Designer. I just worked through my first ever Affinity Designer tutorial this morning, and—’though the tutorial I worked through admittedly emphasized simple shapes and concepts—I was blown away by how easy this app is to do really neat stuff with! The ability to easily switch back and forth between vector and raster modes is awesome, and not having to figure out either Inkscape or The GIMP is pretty damned nifty, too! I may even dip into some of this year’s quick money (because who can walk away completely?) to get myself a copy of the Affinity Designer Workbook. But that’s a bit further down the line, when I’m sure that working through tutorials doesn’t try my patience to the point of killing my enthusiasm.
- I already know how to use Ulysses for writing, but I’d like to learn to use it better. For example, I forgot to fire it up when I sat down to write this blog post. I hope to make opening Ulysses my first impulse, when it comes to blogging, and to take the time to learn the app’s shortcuts so that I’m not constantly having to find references for the things that I want to do.
- While I’m changing the way that I write via Ulysses, it’s also important to me to change the way that I write. Yeah, that’s a totally different thing (hence the emphasis), and it doesn’t involve learning software so much as it does learning through software. The software, in this case, is ProWritingAid, and I just started using it in October of last year, and only had access to a two-week trial. I’ve used it as an impartial editor on a side project I’m just not ready to link from here, yet, and using it that first time or two was really an eye-opener in terms of things I need to do to improve my writing. My goal for this app is to, again, use some of 2017’s quick money (this time, for a one-year license), then to use the app so much that those revisionary techniques start working their way into my first-draft instincts.
- I want to improve my GarageBand skills. I’m not a musician. I play badly, at best, with lots of stops, starts, and mishits, and I don’t have the voice to make up for it, either. But I enjoy playing. And I enjoy composing even more. I enjoy it enough that, at some point, I may toss an mp3 up on this blog, for those brave enough to sacrifice, if not their ears, then their musical sensibilities. I’m going to refrain from saying I’m doing this one for fun. It’s not on my list in connection with any sort of ambition beyond the personal, but that personal ambition is strong enough to be important to me.
- Last, I’d like to get a little better and a little quicker with Atom. The funny thing is that I don’t want to have to learn any more than I have about coding PHP, or CSS, or any other sort of thing that might be useful in making or editing a WordPress theme, but I’d like to be able to use what I know a little more quickly than my current skill set allows.
My secondary set of goals is the opposite of the list above. These are things I want to get other people to learn and for me, then explain it really simply because—come on!—I ain’t got time for that.
- Fix my development environment. Everything was peachy keen, than BAM! MacOS Sierra! Then everything stopped working. Then, I managed to get it partially working again, but I think that the PHP bit of my Apache/MySQL/PHP environment is still all petered out. And I don’t remember if I tinkered with the php.ini under El Capitan, and frankly, comparing versions of that file via Terminal in a pain in the ass. So, yeah, thank the gods for the new CSS editor in WordPress! (But I’d still rather be theming locally.)
- Update my Let’s Encrypt thingamabobby on this site from the old version recommended by NearlyFreeSpeech to the new, “dehydrated” version. For some reason, swapping the thingamajig strikes me as a lot more complicated than setting the thing up in the first place, and damnit, look at that top list! I’m too busy for this!
And my last, really important personal goal is to not let the frustration of those two secondary goals (or that of the day-to-day things I won’t talk about here) interfere with my enthusiasm for my primary five. If I manage only this part, 2017 will be a banner year for me, in terms of positive personal growth. And really, I’d settle for that.
And, now, my iMac is, too!
I certainly didn’t want a monitor stand for Christmas. It was nowhere near being on my radar. It was stealth bomber. Probably one made with that new(-ish), super-black paint that only one guy is allowed to use.
But man, am I glad I got one!
I’ve never consistently played the iRig Keys you see in the picture above, because I simply didn’t have a good way to switch between having my Apple keyboard on my desk in front of me and having my musical keyboard take its place. Switching between the QWERTY and the Wacom was inconvenient enough. But switching letter keys for note keys really wasn’t worth the hassle.
Now, I’m playing that iRig every day. And, while my wife, dog, and neighbors should consider themselves fortunate that I both have and use earphones, I’m a happier person because I’m playing.
If my neck gets less stiff, cramped, and poppy…
Well, that’s just a bonus.
If you have trouble with the Royal Wood Craft links above, but would like to check out the monitor stand (or RWC’s other products) a bit further, I suggest visiting Royal Craft Wood’s Facebook page or just going straight to the product page on Amazon.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Or, put more succinctly: Pick your battles. It’s not all worth fighting for.
This is just a blurb. And it’s mostly intended for a few people I know from Twitter.
Those people are Xena fans, but not necessarily fans of comic books. And that’s OK. The former doesn’t imply the latter.
But as Xena fans, you should check out this comic book! It’s the first in a short run of six issues, and I can’t speak for issues #2 through #6, but issue #1 reads like some of the funnier Xena eps. I even LOL’d for real once, reading this issue on a break between doing things on Zazzle and Mechanical Turk!
And having read it means that I may be done working for the day, because now I’m tempted to just sit on the couch and watch “A Day in the Life” and “Fins, Femmes and Gems”1 back-to-back, because Hey! What a great way to spend a couple of hours!
By the gods, people! Check out this book! You can pick it up at your local comic shop! You can also buy either the real world or the digital version directly from Dynamite! Either way, this scroll should be in your collection!
- Yes, I’m aware that these episodes are Autolycus-free. Ash is OK with that.↩
My birthday was in June. I’d just like to make sure we’re clear about that.
If you’re a regular reader (ha, ha; just kidding), you’ll recall that I got the main part of this year’s birthday present from my wife in August, even though part of the gift was delivered on my actual birthday.
Well, apparently, before Linda had discovered that Cabaret would be playing at the Segerstrom, she had already order a different birthday present for me, scheduled to arrive just before October.
Then she forgot to cancel it.
And it arrived today. And I’m delighted. Because, timing aside (and seriously, what the hell, babe?), my wife knows how to pick a gift!
This is my first ArtSnacks box, and I’m impressed enough that I’m now taking orders from stickers. See: #ArtSnacks
I’m also posting lots if pictures, so this article may be a little less wordy than my usual, but all that orange screams to be seen!
That right there is an exciting box! And not just because of the color!
If you’re a blogger, and you blog about curated boxes, you know that the contents sheet is your friend. This one lists Kuretake and Copic among its other brands. If you own a Kuretake brush pen or a Copic marker, you know that the inclusion of either of those brands bodes well for a bodacious box!
If you can’t make it out in the image, there’s a part of that calendar insert which reads:
Your Challenge: Create a drawing everyday for 31 days, using only the supplies in your ArtSnacks InkTober Collection. For inspiration, use the theme that is in the corresponding day on the calendar.
The bolding is mine. That stipulation will make this InkTober a bit more challenging than last year’s!
I guess I could put this nifty InkTober sticker on whatever sketchbook I use for all my InkTober drawings… But nope! Someone beat me to it:
I didn’t actually notice the damage to the upper left corner of the sketchbook until I uploaded the photo to this blog post. As my mom always said:
If it’d been a snake, it would’ve bit you!
Sure would have, Mom!
That imprint is snake-subtle, too! Maybe it deserves a closer look:
Nice! But let’s get to the tools!
As you can tell by the caption, this is a Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I already have one of these, but I’m quite happy to have another. These are great for when you want the expressiveness of a brush, but also want to work on the go, or even just with a little less mess than a brush and open ink can cause. Easy to use and easy to refill, no one who enjoys ink would criticize the inclusion of this brush pen in this collection. (And, if they did, they’d be wrong.)
I’ve tried a wide-body Copic marker before, but never a Multiliner pen. This pen has an aluminum body and a nice bit of heft to it. It’s a bit thick, but otherwise feels great in my hand. It comes pre-filled with permanent ink that’s labeled as “water & Copic proof”, and it’s refillable. If it performs as well as some of my disposable drawing pens, this could become my go-to tool for detailed drawings.
Ink is nice, but I don’t think I should use this particular ink with the Multiliner. What in this box can I use it with?
I am probably going to use this brush. I wouldn’t have bought it, and I won’t knowingly buy another, but the weasel whose hair this brush is made from won’t benefit from the brush lying unopened on my shelf. When/if my conscience defies logic to make itself felt, however, there’s always this:
I’m pretty excited about that! This is my first nib holder that isn’t a Speedball, and my first that isn’t plastic! (That’s real wood on the handle!) It’s also my first nib holder with a grippy thingy on the barrel. I’m hoping I’ll magically get less ink on my fingers with this holder than I do with my classic Speedball holder, but I suspect I’m going to miss that holder’s bulk and shape.
There are also nibs to go with the holder:
These nibs are similar in size and shape to the nibs I normally draw with. I’m excited to see if there’s any substance to the notion that Japanese nibs are better than the Hunt and Speedball nibs I’ve always used.
Finally, to truly make this collection complete, the box includes a letter from InkTober’s founder, Jake Parker:
And on the reverse, an inky bit of inspiration:
And this? Well, the color is appropriate, and I guess that candy is, too, since InkTober, like October, culminates in Halloween.
But really, y’all? We both know coffee would be a better choice. It’ll take a lot to keep me drawing all month long!
As excited as I am to try most of the non-edibles in this box, I’m going to make an effort to not use any of them until the first of next month.
The rest of this month? Those 16 days are just for building anticipation!
And you? Would you like to draw along? Fire up your blog, if you have one, get out your pens, and go read the rules of InkTober!
The best backpack I’ve ever owned was one that was “free” from Marlboro, bought with Marlboro Miles — UPC codes from Marlboro cigarette packs — back in the ‘90s. When I say that it was the “best backpack”, what I mean was that its design was well-suited to my needs. It had a big main compartment which opened from the top, secured by an adjustable cord and a buckling top flap. It had significant padding on the back and straps. It had an insulated beverage pocket on one side and a snap-top pocket on the other. It even had a decent-sized zipper pocket on the front, with a smaller, mesh pocket attached.
I loved that backpack. It accompanied me to every college-level lecture I attended, and was a perfect grocery-getter! But fast forward a decade or so and I would end up sacrificing that backpack to something that I loved more.
I haven’t replaced it, despite the ready availability of packs just like it on eBay. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I haven’t smoked in four years. Maybe it’s because of the details of my original pack’s sacrifice. Or maybe I just don’t trust eBay.
Regardless of the reason, I’ve spent the past couple of years using either tiny bags on strings or a sleek and modern laptop bag, instead. I don’t hate the laptop bag. It’s nice. But WTF? I don’t even own a laptop.
I’m a desktop kind of girl.
I’m a desktop computer and big, wide-open, top-loading backpack kind of girl.
And I found my new, second-favorite backpack this weekend at IKEA Costa Mesa.
Like about half of our IKEA purchases, it was not something that the wife and I were looking for. We didn’t know it existed until we saw it in the store, and we only spotted it there because it was right by the door which presented our quickest path to get to the things we were actually there to buy.
This particular style of Förenkla backpack1 still has the word “New” on its page at IKEA US, and the current IKEA Family member price is $29.99 (compared to a regular price of $37.99). It has a larger compartment than my old Marlboro pack had2, with a rollover top that secures via D-rings, sturdy webbing, and a bolt snap. Two zippers allow side access to this large compartment, which includes a see-through ID slot and a zippered, mesh, inner pocket. The straps and back are padded enough to be comfortable. There are deep, narrow, non-fastening pockets on each side of the exterior, a zippered pocket (with interior compartments and elastic pen loops) on the front, and an expandable, double-zipped compartment on the bottom.
This is a great, smoke-free, trauma-free replacement for my old Marlboro pack, and it’s already done something my beloved old pack never got the opportunity to do: It hauled Bestå3 parts — drawers, drawer rails, hinges, legs, cabinet doors, and push-to-open hardware — and five Tjena boxes4 from checkout to the Mazda and from the Mazda to our condo, freeing my hands to carry other, larger, heavier parts I’d spend hours building, sweating and stressing over.
In Swedish, “förenkla” means to simplify, and boy, does this backpack ever do that!
Put things in big bag! Put bag on back! Done!
Its uncluttered, simple design is exactly what I had been looking for, and the price was too good to pass up. This is the perfect heavy hauler for my next walking trip to Von’s or Anaheim Central Library.
- IKEA Article Number: 203.135.71 ↩
- Its capacity is listed as 35l, or nine gallons. ↩
- Want to know how to make that “a” with the ring on top? On your Mac keyboard, press and hold alt/option, then press “a”.
The “ö” in “Förenkla” is made by holding alt/option while typing “u”, then releasing before typing “o”.↩
- IKEA Article Number: 602.636.06 ↩
- It’s 22” tall. That’s nearly two feet, y’all. ↩
- I regret that it only comes in black. Solid black. Backpacks should have red on them, damnit. ↩
Consider this a link dump.
I spent last weekend, plus Monday, getting my iMac set up so that I can work on building/customizing WordPress themes offline — in part because it’s embarrassing for you to see my work in progress; in part because I don’t know what I’m doing, and I need some room to play; and in part because my host, Nearlyfreespeech.net, doesn’t offer an ooey-gooey file manager, and it’s a pain in the ass uploading the same file over and over, especially if I’m working via Terminal and have to keep switching back and forth between SFTP and SSH.
In any case, useful links have been the thing for the past week or so, and they’ve been sooooooo useful that I thought I would share them with you.
Understand that I didn’t start at the start. Oh, no.
I started with getting my iMac backed up, just in case something went horribly, horribly wrong when I started messing with Apache and installing MySQL (and it’ll always be “My Squull” to me) and adding in command line tools. That meant 1. finally setting up Time Machine, and 2. creating a bootable clone of my drive.
Please also understand that I didn’t know anything about either Time Machine or cloning drives before I decided to do these things, so I read multiple sources before getting started. In the end, I used a trial of Carbon Copy Cloner to do the cloning, because my attempt to clone my drive via Disk Utility failed. Carbon Copy Cloner worked great, however. (Note: If you go this route, at the end, when CCC asks if you’d like to update the recovery partition, your answer should be “Yes!”)
My advice to you, if you decide to back up your Mac after years of neglect and a willful lack of know-how, is that you read the following articles, too:
Please note that, if you’re running El Capitan (and I hope you are), the Disk Utility used in these articles is going to look different from the Disk Utility you’ll be using. The “Restore” option is now tucked away inside the “Edit” menu.
If you aren’t interested in developing locally on your Mac, you’re done with this article. If you’ve read the articles above, made sure you understood them — as a whole — and followed their instructions, you should have Mac backups two ways. The rest of this post deals with the second aspect of my days-long project: getting WordPress running on my Mac.
The easy way to set up a development environment, of course, would be by using Mamp or Xampp to install and configure Apache, MySQL/MariaDB, and PHP. But modern Macs comes with Apache pre-installed, those apps aren’t really needed to get an AMP stack running, and learning is good!
So, another set of articles:
Be aware that there was more information than I needed in this collection of articles, but there was still information that I needed in each one. This was, for me, a matter of hobbling together the useful bits, discarding the rest, and eventually getting to what worked. There may have been missteps along the way: I’m not sure why I have Homebrew installed (perhaps my brief flirtation with Jekyll…), I may or may not have installed MariaDB, and phpMyAdmin tells me that my MySQL installation isn’t secure.
Getting a working, local WordPress installation set up was far more confusing than backing up my Mac was.
But I can theme in private, now, or practice PHP locally, outside of WordPress, to get a better understanding of the language. I can experiment with CSS until I get it to do the things I want it to do. I can use WordPress to build a site for private, offline use.
And Apache and MySQL both get shut down when I’m not actively using them.
My advice to other Mac-users with more desire than knowledge is to read all of the articles in the list, compare and contrast, figure out what you do and don’t need, and patch your method together from that.