Blogging, Inspiration, memories, Journaling

Why I Journal, and Why You Should, Too

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” And so begins Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel which was turned into a brilliant movie by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. It starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

But that’s neither here nor there. And I apologize for the title, which is the uniquely American bad habit of turning verbs—in this case, journal—into verbs. And vice-versa.

I like to record my dreams…when I remember to. It’s a simple process, really: I just jot down a few notes on my iPad and save them for later. Later, when I go back and read through them, I can see trends in my dreams and therefore, in my life.

There are places I’ll remember all my life.

I would love to have written that line, but John Lennon beat me to it.

Dreams are elusive creatures

They don’t like being seen in the light of day; that’s why they fade so quickly when you wake up. Until very recently, I’ve always been able to remember my dreams. I’ve also been able to remember if they were in color, or black and white. But lately, while I remember the basic subject of my dreams, I’m still hazy on the details.

And for the past few weeks, all of my dreams have been centered around Juneau, Alaska, as well as New York City.

New York City

The New York City dreams always begin the same way: I’m driving in my car down US Highway 101, about to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, when the bridge turns into the George Washington Bridge. I’m in New Jersey about to head into Manhattan.

The next thing I know I’m in downtown Manhattan, usually in one or two places: standing outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or underground waiting for a subway at the Christopher Street station, in Greenwich Village. But regardless of where I am, I always take out my cell phone to call my cousin, who lives in Brooklyn, to make arrangements to meet her.

At which point I wake up.

Juneau, Alaska

The thing about Juneau is that I lived there for 15 years. My then-wife and I moved there shortly after the birth of our first daughter in Petersburg, AK. Our second was born in Juneau 4 years later.

15 years is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place

Stef-Zanne

My daughters at Eagle Beach, Juneau

Believe it or not, we did a lot of camping in Juneau. The summers were so short we took advantage of every bit of nice weather we could. And while the season was short, the days were long. I still have pictures of a sunset I took at 10 p.m. one night. It’s the complement to a sunrise I shot later that same year at 10 in the morning.

In the Juneau dreams, I’m usually driving down Old Glacier Highway, heading towards our house on Taku Boulevard. Just as I turn into the driveway, I wake up.

Sometimes I’m shopping in downtown Juneau. Not current-day Juneau, of course, but the way it was when we left in 1989. My friend Suzanne owned a kayak that she would lend me so my daughter Suzzanne and I could paddle among the whales. Naturally, thee two of them became Big Suzanne and Little Suzzanne. She also owned a health food store I frequented.

Usually, the shopping dreams ended when I entered Suzanne’s store. I’d wake up, feeling disappointed.

And I’m still not sure

What my dreams mean. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. They do, after all, give me things to write about.

Thanks for reading.

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Ulysses, Writing, Writing Tools

Is This The Ultimate Writing App for iOS?

Ulysses. Ancient Greek adventurer and explorer. Legendary traveler. And now, a writing app for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.

I discovered Ulysses whilst searching for a new blogging and writing tool. I had several requirements that any system or app had to satisfy:

  1. It had to be reasonably priced
  2. It had to have a clean interface
  3. It had to have a free trial period
  4. It had to be compatible with the apps already in my existing Writer’s toolbox
  5. It had to allow me to sync between my iPad and iPhone.
  6. If possible, I would like it to sync with my windows laptop.

Price

At $4.99 a month or $39.99 annually, it definitely is reasonably priced. That took care of the first requirement. It also comes with a free 14-day trial period, thus fulfilling number 3.

So far, I’ve not found any conflict with my existing tools. That was number 4 on my list.

Syncing

As far as syncing between my iPhone and iPad, I originally installed and configured it on my iPad. When I installed it on the iPhone and launched it for the first time, it was already synced with the iPad. Since my documents were set to store in iCloud, what I had written on the iPad was already available on the iPhone.

And syncing was almost instantaneous: I started this document on the iPad, edited it on the iPhone, and when I moved back to the iPad, all of the new changes were there!

As far as syncing to my laptop, I haven’t tried it yet. But since I can export documents in MS Word docx format, I don’t foresee any problems.

The Interface

Finally, the interface. It doesn’t get much cleaner than this:

One of the reasons for the clean interface is the fact that Ulysses uses markdown language for all of its formatting. There are only 25 commands to memorize, but if you’re lazy like me, there’s also a pop-up menu to give you access to all of them.

Of course, as I use the program, I’ll become used to and will learn the language.

Exporting

When I’m ready to publish, Ulysses will export my WordPress posts directly to WordPress. It’s an easy enough setup, and you can configure the program for multiple blogs.

Blogging Tools, iPads, iPhones, My Writer's Toolbox, Writing Tools

Why So Many Tools?

From time to time I get asked why I use so many different writing tools. That’s a Good Question©, and one that deserves an answer. But we first have to differentiate between devices and applications.

Devices

I do about 99% of my writing on one of three devices:

  • My iPhone

  • My iPad

  • My Windows laptop

Although not necessarily in that order. The other 1% is for those rare occasions when I don’t have ready access to one of those devices. That’s when I’ll grab a napkin or other scrap of paper and write on it–assuming I also have something to write with.

Applications

Or apps, as they’re called today. There are so many available for writers that it’s next to impossible to pick just one that does everything you want it to do.

That’s where your research skills come in. What? You don’t have any? Girl, how do you expect to be a writer if you don’t know how to research your topic? Okay, I’ll give you a basic outline of (1) how I found apps to begin with and (2) what I did when I found a likely candidate.

Back in the day, Google was a library card catalog, and librarians were–and still are–the search experts. Research was often a long, arduous task that involved writing copious amounts of notes.

But today, Google has replaced the card catalog for all but the most determined researchers–and even they have their own specialized resources. But for our purposes, we’re gonna stick with Google.

Before I even started my search, I narrowed the parameters. After all, I didn’t want to search for “Writing Software” because I knew that would give me far too many results, including things that weren’t relevant to my search—like information on how to write software.

Instead, I searched for “iOS apps for writing.” Most of the hits I got referred me to the Apple Store, where I wrote down the names of a few likely candidates. Then it was back to Google to search for reviews of the products I was interested in.

Finally, I went back to the Apple Store to grab the ones I wanted.

But Therein Lay a Problem

As I said earlier, my main device is my Windows laptop. And the two best programs I found are only available for iOS and/or MacOS. Even worse, the program I use to post to my blog (Open Live Writer) is only available for Windows.

So what’s a girl to do—short of buying a too-expensive Mac computer?

Enter Dropbox

Fortunately, both iOS apps will export as plain text directly into Dropbox. And from there, it’s just a matter of copying and pasting into whatever writing app on my laptop I desire—including this one.

It ain’t perfect, but it works. And that’s all that matters.

Blogging Tools, Dropbox, Inspiration, Writing

A Simple Truth

Lamott

I’m spending today migrating most of my writing projects to the Cloud. (As an aside, I’m slightly amused by the fact that after being an IT professional for over 30 years, I still don’t know if that should be the cloud or the Cloud.)

I use several different programs and apps when I write; some of them do have desktop versions, but only for MacOS—and I use a PC. But they all have one thing in common: they can all connect to Dropbox. If you aren’t familiar with Dropbox, I would strongly urge you to check it out. While there are many other cloud storage services available, more and more programs for writers are making it easier to connect with Dropbox than with any other similar service.

With everything on Dropbox, I can readily access it from my PC, my iPhone, and my iPad. Besides, it helps me sleep better at night knowing that my years of hard work are backed up in a secure place. And in case you’ve forgotten it, let me remind you of Robyn’s First Rule of Computing:

BE PARANOID AND COMPULSIVE!

And as the First Axiom of Robyn’s First Rule of computing says, “It’s not if  you’re going to lose data, it’s when.”

“A Change is as Good as a Rest”

That was one of the bits of homespun wisdom my father shared with me as I was growing up. Never mind that I was too young to understand what it meant; the important thing is that it stayed with me, and that now I understand it.

I live in a rented room in a two-story house. It’s where I do most of my writing. Sometimes, when the weather allows, I sit outside with my iPad and write there. Just the change of environment lets me see things from a different point of view. I feel refreshed, almost as if I’m a different person. This, then, is what my father meant.

But what allows me to do that is Dropbox. No matter where I am—be it in the house, at a cyber café, at my doctor’s office—so long as I have a connection to the Internet, I can work, especially since I also keep a local copy of my work on my iPad.

Why the Quote from Anne Lamott?

Because until I came across it, I had no idea what I was going to write today. And you know something? She’s right!


Depression, Mental Health

Stop Saying Suicide Is Cowardly

This is going to piss off a lot of readers, but I don’t care. The people it will piss off are the ones who have already pissed me off by their uneducated, ignorant claim in the first place.

The first thing I’m going to say that will piss them off is this:

If you have never been plagued by depression, or never watched a loved one crippled by this disease, kindly shut the fuck up.

I can’t state this enough. You have no business pontificating on a subject about which you know nothing. And by making your statement, all I hear is, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m going to give you my opinion anyway, because I know more about it than you do.”

I hate to burst your bubble, but here’s an uncomfortable truth: People with depression don’t want to die!

People with depression don’t want to die!

  Here’s the thing: on both occasions I tried suicide, it wasn’t because I wanted to die; I simply wanted the pain to stop. I was in a place where I could no longer think rationally. After all, do you really think that if I could see any other solution I wouldn’t have chosen it instead?

And that, dear friends and critics, is the difference between my depression and your “sanity:” the inability to think clearly and rationally. Did I really want to die? Did I consider how my death would affect my family? My friends?

Of course I didn’t: I was so overwhelmed by my depression and its pain and agony that I was incapable of any thought at all, much less rational thought.

Was I a coward? Or was I in a state where suicide was my only rational choice?

Do you see the contradiction here? That I was in such pain that I was incapable of clear, rational thought that to me, suicide seemed to be the only rational solution.

Unless you’ve been there, you won’t understand. And being there, you don’t see any other solution. Which is why depression can so often be a fatal disease.

So before you call suicide “Cowardly,” or “The easy way out,” or any other stupid thing, stop and think: what would you do if you saw no other way out of a soul-deadening, horrifying life of agony, with no hope of improvement?

One more thing: there’s a reason J. K. Rowling modeled the Dementors on her own depression.


Blogging, Techniques, Writer's Block, Writing

Is There Truly Such a Thing as “Writer’s Block”?

Or is it just an excuse? See my previous post on the subject.

Last night my friends Rick and Kirk from Syracuse came to visit, and we stayed up far too late watching Dr. Phil analyze a young man who is, to put it in psychiatric terms, batshit crazy. Nutty as a fruitcake. As crazy as a shithouse rat.

I rarely watch television. In fact, the few times I have was when Rick and Kirk were visiting. Anyway, by the time I got to bed it was 2:30 in the morning. I woke up at 9 to take my morning meds, and lay back down and managed to sleep until 10:30 or so. After a leisurely breakfast (leisurely because I was so tired it took me a couple of hours to get around to it), I went back to bed around 2:00…

…and immediately had so many ideas and topics running around my brain that I had to get up and start writing. As I write this, it’s 4:00 pm and I’ve already posted on two of my other blogs.

This, I believe, is the hallmark of a true writer, as opposed to a hack: when you have to write something that it keeps you from doing anything else until you get it down, whether on paper or as pixels on the screen. The need—not just the desire, but the raw, urgent need—to say what you have to say before you can finally feel able to turn to other pursuits.

Writers on Writing

My Pinterest board has over 200 quotes from writers about writing. From the simplest statement (A writer writes) to the most esoteric (Don’t just write—BE a writer), some of the biggest names in literature have shared their insights on just how to write.

After reading and studying them, hoping for some magic, become-a-writer-overnight scheme, this is what I have come away with:

Nobody else can tell you how to write.

Whether it’s Ernest Hemingway, who is often miscredited with the “It’s easy to write; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” to Evelyn Waugh, who is reputed to have insisted on writing whilst wearing a three-piece suit, I’ve come to realize that when writers offer tips to other writers, they’re not spouting so deep, eternal truth; rather they’re describing what works for them! Nothing more, nothing less.

Pretty simple, yes? But here’s the catch: I’ve been writing off and on for the past 50 years, and it only took me until now, June of 2018, to understand this “simple” idea.

There’s No One Way to do It

Something else I’ve learned is that even for me there is no  one-size-fits-all approach. What works one day might not work the next. Sometimes I’ll sit down and dash off a few lines, paragraphs, or even pages without stopping, then go back and read and correct what I’ve just written. Other times I can’t move onto the next sentence until I’ve written and rewritten the current one until it is perfect.

Most days I know what I want to say. Other days I pull up a blank page and stare it it, chain smoking cigarette after cigarette (only figuratively—I switched to a vaper a long time ago) until I begin to get the ghost, the hazy idea of what I want to say.

The One True Thing

My own One True Thing is based on a quote from Hemingway:

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

This is what keeps me going when I don’t want to write. I write one true sentence, and it goes from there.

In Closing I’d Like to Say

This is what works for me. Your mileage may vary. Find what works for you, and stick to it.

And be sure to check out my Standard Disclaimer.

Thanks for reading.

Blogging Tools, Drafts app, My Writer's Toolbox, Writing Tools

Drafts: The App

As a writer, I’m always looking out for The Next Great Tool. And while I’ve pretty much settled on Ulysses for novels and short stories, I’m still not completely satisfied with what’s available for blogging on mobile platforms (I’m looking at you, iPhone and iPad).

On my Windows laptop, Open Live Writer is my program of choice. Unfortunately, it’s not available for mobile devices–they’re just not powerful enough.

This morning I started reading someone’s blog post about a program called Drafts. It looked interesting, so I decided to take it for a spin, which was easy enough to do since there is a free version as well as a paid version.

So I installed it on my iPhone. In fact, I’m writing this entry using it. I already have several writing apps on this phone, so why do I keep looking for more?

It’s quite simple, really: I wasn’t all that smart when I bought my smartphone. I went with the one that had the least amount of memory: 16Gb. Which means I’m constantly searching for more efficient apps so that I can use the fewest number of them as possible.

And yes, I learned my lesson: my new iPad has 128Gb of memory.

Drafts

Formatting text in Drafts is quite simple; it uses Markdown language which is accessed via the on-screen Markdown toolbar. It’s the same language Ulysses uses, which is pretty cool considering that I can export my writing right into Ulysses.

So today will be a day of research. I’m going to install Drafts onto my iPad, and put it through its paces. My goal is to see what, if any, apps it can replace. I’m also going to see how far I can go with the free version, which will help me decide if I really need to spend money for the Pro version.


I just installed Drafts onto my iPad and it immediately synced to the cloud and retrieved this post. So far, so good! That means that although I’m still going to use GoodNotes on the iPad, I don’t need to keep it on the iPhone, thus freeing up space for those all-too-crucial pictures of cats.


I also managed to export this post to Evernote, then copy/paste it into Open Live Writer, my editor of choice on my laptop. It’s really beginning to look as if Drafts Is here to stay! I’ve already replaced Apple’s Notes app on both of my mobile devices, and between Drafts and Ulysses, I no longer have any need for 53’s Paper or Apple’s Pages.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at a few more of Draft’s operating details.