First Novel Notes to Self

So I’m finally happy enough with my novel to start showing it to people. I have a few notes for myself that I wanted put down here.

  • I helps a lot if you just pick a tool and stay with it. I started in OneNote, moved to Word, then to Scrivener and back to Word. Some of that was trying to reconcile how to write in on odd places and times mixing between a laptop, iPad and iPhone. The problem is that the formatting still gets lost switching between applications. When that’s line spacing over a hundred pages it really sucks.
  • Don’t format anything until you are finally done. Keep it all in text. Formatting is a productivity trap that can be worse than Twitter or Facebook.
  • Use beats. I’m not a super heavy outliner, but I’m a sucky pantser. Beats help me figure out what to write next.

Now I’m hunting for more beta readers.

The Year Without Pants

I’m a huge fan of Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker. It’s the primary book I recommend for people doing presentations for the first time.

In Scott’s latest book, The Year Without Pants, Berkun trades his speaking, writing and consulting life for some time working at Automattic, the creators of blogging platform WordPress. I’ve done the consulting, industry, consulting dance and it’s both fun and scary to be responsible for what you recommend. Its even more fun in The Year Without Pants because WordPress is not a normal working environment. It a highly distributed, independently motivated environment.

Berkun does a fabulous job of relating what worked and where he made mistakes. The stories are relatable and funny. I felt like I was the silent extra member of Team Social. There is a great human/everyman quality to his writing. Berkun doesn’t try to force what worked at Microsoft on WordPress or what worked at WordPress on another company. He fits bits and pieces of what has worked other places into the unique WordPress culture.

I came away with a new appreciation for the effects of corporate culture and the  trade offs that culture decisions create. These were thing I knew, but Berkun manages to articulate them in a clear and approachable way.

The Year Without Pants is easily the best nonfiction book I’ve read all year and it’s better than most of the fiction. Just buy this book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll take your pants off.

Hotel Fun

I travel a lot for work and spend way to much time in hotels so I thought I would offer this handy guide to some hotel terms and what they really mean.

Boutique Hotel – offers the convenience of being able to sit on the bed AND work at the desk at the same time.

Downtown Hotel – Average rooms at ridiculous prices combined with the convenience of being at least 30 floors from anywhere you want to be. Plus you get the privilege of paying for extras like WiFi and parking.

Corner King Suite – 2 rooms, 1 bed, really odd layout because it’s wedged in a corner where 2 other rooms meet. Also, WiFi won’t work in parts of this room because it’s in a far corner of the hotel.

Suite Hotel - There is not such thing as an upgrade.

Free WiFi – Doesn’t work as well as your cell phone

Paid WiFi – Doesn’t work as well as your cell phone at 10x the cost of your home WiFi

Corporate Rate – not available for any week you actually want to stay there

Disney Hotel – That incredibly long walk from the lobby to your room is really just training for the theme parks.

Starbucks Sign – The hotel serve Starbuck’s coffee. Sometimes this means they bought it a the grocery store, no latte for you. Sometimes it means an actual Starbucks. It’s always a surprise.

Handicap/Accessible Room –  Large bathroom door, no lip on shower, light switches and hangars placed low to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Note that this does not necessarily mean that a wheel chair, or a non-impaired human, will fit between the bed and the desk.

Recently renovated – You really, really didn’t want to stay here before the renovation.




Lessons from the edit

I’m working on the first edit of my first novel. It’s different from the edits on my non-fiction books. The non-fiction books tend to be pretty tight on the first pass. The edits are really just clean up. The first pass on the novel is sloppy mess, but I’ve learned a lot.

When I started writing, I took people’s advice and wrote a bunch of short stories. I was pretty happy with them, but I think it’s affecting my longer form writing. My first pass on the novel was shorter than I wanted, and I think it’s because I was warming up on short stuff.

I was also worried that once I finished the first pass that I would lose interest. After all, I would be done telling the story. What I’ve found is that I really like the first pass edit. Reworking the story to make it what I really want is a lot of fun. It makes we want to get through the first pass faster next time.




Writing Tools

I finished off the (very) rough 1st draft of my first novel last week and started on the 2nd draft. This is my rewrite draft. I tend to write short (in fiction anyway) so this draft lets me fill in the details I skipped over, plug any plot holes and sync up timeline issues. I was in a hurry to find out what happens. Now I have to clean up the narrative.

Longer fiction has been a challenge coming from non-fiction and short fiction stories. It didn’t help that I took most a year off to write and get published another non-fiction book. A big part of that challenge is what writing tool to use. I travel a lot for work so I find myself writing on a laptop, my iPad and an iPhone. Yes, I’ve banged out a couple of hundred words on an iPhone standing in line waiting to board a plane more times than I can count.

I started out with OneNote. It’s great for research and it runs on all the platforms I need. The PC version will do word counts but the iOS version won’t. I also used Excel to track my word counts. About two-thirds of the book was written this way.

Along the way I got frustrated with OneNote’s iOS limitations. You couldn’t select the text in an entire section, pasting in from something else trashed the formatting, etc. I played with Scrivener and I think it can be a great tool, but alas, no iOS version, so I’m saving Scrivener for final book creation.

I finished off the first draft in Yarny It’s kind of Scrivener/One Note light in the cloud. Yarny has a clean writing surface and you can store notes about characters, places, etc. However, you can’t bring in pictures, drawings or drop in whole web pages for research, just text. With OneNote I’ve dropped in piles of research material. The Send to OneNote feature makes that almost too easy.

Yarny works in a browser but it hasn’t been tested with all browsers. It works with IE and Safari, despite their warnings, but it is kind of finicky sometimes. There is an iPhone app, but Yarny doesn’t really have an offline option. That was a problem on aircraft. WiFi isn’t everywhere yet.

Along the way I switched from Excel to Google’s spreadsheet for tracking word counts and time. Excel is so much better than Google’s spreadsheet that it’s not funny, but Google has an offline option for iOS and web-based Excel is still clunky with touch. I haven’t tried since the latest update and I really didn’t want to buy an app just for that.

I started the rewrite work on Saturday and today Microsoft released an updated OneNote for iOS. I’m hooked. It’s fantastic. The only things it’s missing are word counts and creating ink notes (you can read ink notes created on a PC) but since I can copy the entire section it’s easy to drop it into Pages and get a word count.

In the end, everything will end up in Microsoft Word and Scrivener. If I use a publisher, it will have to be in Word. I’ve done enough non-fiction work with publishers to know how that works and it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. If I selfpub/indiepub, my plan is to use Scrivener to create the mobi and epub files. I’ve done it using Word and it’s painful. I keep hearing that Scrivener is much better.

I really just want tools that won’t get in my way. If Scrivener ever releases a full iOS client, that may be the ultimate answer. Until then, OneNote is getting pretty close for at least the writing and editing portion.

As for the book, I’ll have more on that once it’s closer to being done.



Should you self publish your first book?

Scott Berkun has the most coherent, well thought out post on self publishing that I’ve seen in a while. It’s up at Should you self publish your first book?.

I’ve published 4 non-fiction books now with a publisher who specializes in technology books and I’ve self published a few small things. I’ve seen both sides and I think there are plusses and minuses to both. Much of may depend on your personality and what you want out of publishing.

iTunes via Windows Remote Desktop

They’re making some changes at work. One of which will be to ban iTunes from our work computers. This is a problem for those of us who travel a lot. I know that when I’m connected via Terminal Services/Remote Desktop/RDP the desktop finds my iPhone and my iPad. So I figured that I could setup a machine with a remote connection at home and pass through iTunes while I’m on the road. That way I could plug my iPhone/iPad into my work computer and update it via RDP.

After much Googling and Binging my head against a wall I got it to work. I thought I would lay out how to make it work here, since a lot of forums indicate that it can’t be done. I’m using Windows 8 but this should work with Windows 7 as well.

  1. Get Terminal Services working inside your house. There are lots of good instructions on how to do this on the web.
  2. Now get it working outside of your network. Put one of your computers on a different network and test this. Use a cellular connection, Starbucks, whatever. Usually this involves opening port 3389 on your router and pointing it to your local machine’s IP address. Again, there are lots of good tutorials on this on the web.
  3. On the RDP client machine, activate RemoteFX USB redirection like this:

    Run GPEDIT.MSC to activate the Group Policy Editor.
    In Group Policy, navigate to Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Remote Desktop Services\Remote Desktop Connection Client\RemoteFX USB Device Redirection
    Edit “Allow RDP redirection of other supported RemoteFX USB devices from this computer.”
    Enable the policy, and specify whether you wish to allow all users or only admins to redirect devices.

    On the client machines, run “gpupdate /force” (without quotes) from an Administrator command prompt to enable/disable the feature, and then restart the computer for the changes to take effect.

    The feature will not work until you restart.

  4. You’ll now have a new option in the More section of your RDP client: Other Supported RemoteFX USB Devices.


  5.  Plug in your iPhone/iPad, fire up the RDP client and navigate to the More window. An Apple item should show in this window.
  6. Connect to the remote computer and start iTunes on the remote machine.
  7. iTunes will find your iPhone/iPad and sync normally. Note, there can be a significant lag before it finds the device, but all in all this works pretty well.

I pulled information primarily from these sources to make this work:

Both sources provide more detail about the pieces.

One caveat, one of the sites indicates that DRM protected content can’t be synced this way. Most of my music is DRM free so I didn’t see any issues and I didn’t try to transfer something as large as a movie using this method.


Book Selection

As I look through free Kindle books it has me thinking about how I select a fiction book. Non-fiction is completely different. This is a much a message to me as anything else. I think my fiction selection generally follows this pattern:

  • Author - If it’s by someone I like, nothing else matters. Preston and Child could write a vegetarian cookbook and cover it in a paper bag. I’m in.
  • Cover - Yeah, we know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover but I’m a visual person. Cover’s tell me a lot. Is this supposed to be a thriller? Is it chick lit? Horror? Romance? A good cover at lease gives me the category. Joel Friedlander knows more about books covers than I ever will. The more of his stuff I read the more I notice covers.
  • Description – I need to know the storyline. If the storyline and the cover match, then I’m really interested. If you give me a chick lit cover on a book about finding Incan gold while being chased by alien frogs I’m put off by the disconnect. It makes me think that you’re sloppy. I don’t care about blurbs. Blurbs are crap. I’ve watched celebrity endorsers scribble out a blurb in 5 seconds flat without knowing jack about the book.
  • Ratings/Reviews  -  Yep, I read reviews. I tend to read them on Amazon and Goodreads. I to put more stock in the Goodreads reviews but I’ll check Amazon because of the volume. Anything really generic is ignored. I tend to read the good and the bad to get an idea of what to expect.
  • Price - If the cover is good and the description works I’ll take a chance if the price is right. An indie author that no one has ever heard of trying to price their work at $9.99 probably doesn’t have a chance. Remember, the first criteria is author. If I like someone’s stuff I’ll buy it, even in different genres.
  • Buzz – Rarely but occasionally I buy a book based on buzz. About half the time it works out. If someone is already getting that kind of buzz they don’t need me.

Author, cover, description. That’s the key, in that order. A good cover shows professionalism. A good description proves that an author can write. A review or two and a reasonable price gives me a reason to try. If I try a book and I like it, I’m willing to buy more.

Dear Microsoft and Apple

Dear Microsoft,

Every time that Outlook locks up with the little spinning wheel or mysteriously slows down my system I wish for a big “crash stop” button like the button on the iPhone. It’s about control.

Dear Apple,

After about a month of working with Windows 8, I find myself trying to used the “Pull down to close” gesture on my iPhone. It’s about simplicity.

Windows 8 Thoughts

I’ve had the Windows 8 preview since it was first available, and then the release version as soon at it was available on MSDN, running on a secondary laptop. A week ago I installed it on my primary machine, a Lenovo X201 Tablet PC with 2 touch points. Everyone I’ve talked (including me) agrees that it takes a week to two weeks to make the mental shift from Windows 7 to Windows 8. It’s about a week to get comfortable and another week to discover all the little things you missed initially. I feel like I’ve used it enough to toss out some comments.

  • The touch interface rocks, even on a machine with only 2 touch points.
  • Draggling down to close take a while to get right. After that, no big deal.
  • If you are upgrading, drivers are an issue. Shame on Microsoft and manufacturers for not being ready. Neither my Acer Aspire One or my Lenovo X201 have completely updated drivers.  Every error, every blue screen so far has been a driver issue.
    • On the Lenovo, I just found an updated driver to make the camera work and the fingerprint scanner is still on the fritz.
    • On the Acer I’m getting weird issues. I tried to install Office 2013 from the ISO download and it repeatedly failed. Finally I dragged out a portable DVD player, burned a disc and installed it successfully that way. I had similar issues with Win8 on this machine.
  • I can scroll Metro style screens using the mouse wheel which is nice. I still wish that I could hold the mouse to the right and have the window scroll like the Start screen does. That behavior is really inconsistent.
  • I’m in love with the People app. I just wish they had taken it even farther.
  • I miss browser add ins in the Metro style IE 10. I want to push stuff to Blogger and save items to Pocket and I can’t. I end up having to just email things to myself and it feels like a step backward.
  • The fact that charms like search and settings are contextual is a shift for MS. Whatever app I’m in, when I hit the Search charm, it searches that app. When I hit Settings, the options are different depending on the app I’m in.

All in all, I’m pretty happy. I want a Pocket Metro style app, Flipboard would be nice too. So will Apple make a Metro friendly iTunes app before Microsoft makes an iPad friendly version of Office?