Personal Writing

Up to Chapter 3

I’m writing another book – this one on outsourcing IT functions in the library tech department – and so far I’m up to chapter 3 (though I should be done with that and working on chapter 4, which is due next Friday, according to my self-imposed deadline). I thought I’d take a moment to write about the process I use when writing and to share some of the applications that make it so much easier than taking an actual, physical pen to actual, physical paper (for me – your mileage may vary, of course). This seems like a fine way to spend some quality procrastinating time…

First, I start off by setting up the structure of the book in Scrivener, a writer’s word processor that does everything from basic word processing to scriptwriting to providing a name generator for fiction writers.  It’s not free and it’s not native to Windows – it’s a Mac program that costs about $45 and has a somewhat delayed Windows port available (the Windows version just released 1.0, the Mac version is at 2.0). The more I use it, the more I realize the Windows version is pretty crippled, in comparison to the Mac version, but the Windows version is still far more useful than any other word processor I’ve tried. Scrivener is also not natively able to do much syncing in the Windows version – but you can set your writing folder (where Scrivener goes to save everything, sort of like My Documents in Word) to your Dropbox folder and use it on several different computers that way.

Setting up involves taking my Table Of Contents from the book proposal and making files for the various chapters. I also put any research or images that I have already gathered into the Research folder in the Scrivener file so that they are there and easy for me to access while I’m writing. After the chapter files are set, I go through and give each one a  word count “target”. Scrivener then puts a little bullseye with a progress bar on the bottom of my screen and I can see at a glance how I’m doing on my word counts – the progress bar shades from red (not much there) to green (nearly all the words are in place) and keeps me aware of where I am in the chapter, as far as word count goes. At this point, I write.

After I’ve finished a chapter, I compile it to a PDF (Scrivener does so much formatting and prettifying of the text for you that it’s really not saving your text – it’s actually compiling it according to very specific instructions that you can adjust as needed) and save it to my Dropbox. Once there, I let it sit for a bit (at least a week) before opening the PDF in my iAnnotate app on my iPad and open it for editing. I read through the chapter, making notes and comments as needed, then, when I’m done with the editing, set the iPad next to my desktop computer and go through the Scrivener file making my changes as I come across them in the iAnnotate PDF file.

At this point, the chapter is now in the “second draft” stage and ready to be compiled with the whole book for a final editing session when I’m all done. One of the nice things about Scrivener is I can set each chapter with a label of “first draft”, “second draft”, “final” and see, at a glance, where I am in the book. These labels are, of course, completely customizable to the way you work, so they can give you any kind of information you need!

That process, repeated several times – at least once for each chapter in a book – is what I do when I write either a book or an article for publication. Between Scrivener and iAnnotate, my printer is becoming a lonely and little-used (other than as a convenient place to stack stuff) peripheral on my desk – and that’s the way I like it!


Library Mashups – in multiple formats!

Library Mashups, the book to which I contributed a chapter on the LibraryThing API, has been available on the Kindle for a while now. I just got an email yesterday announcing it’s availability on the Nook! You can now read my words of wisdom about programming with the LibraryThing data in paper, Kindle and Nook formats. Exciting!


Scheduled Writing Time

I’ve begun to try the writing every morning thing again. Last time I did this, I ended up getting sick and giving up – my immune system needs it’s sleep, apparently. This time, though, I’m going to be less crazy (getting up at 5:30, instead of 5am) and more vitamin-y (vitamin D is my friend). The point of this is to have a specified time every day where I just write. I can work on emails that need to be sent, article proposals or articles, presentation materials, diary entries – whatever comes up that needs to be written, edited, revised or reviewed.

The idea comes from the book “How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing” by Paul J. Silvia. I don’t have a lot of academic writing to do, nor do I have the kind of job that I can just carve out the 8 – 10am hours as “writing time” (though I do have 2 hours a week carved out as writing time for getting board reports, work blogging, grant writing and such done) as he does. Other than that, the main idea behind the book is to schedule time to write, then sit your butt down and do it as scheduled every day.
He has other suggestions, such as how to keep track of your writing output and setting writing goals and such, but the main theme of the book is to sit down and write at a scheduled time on a regular basis and to treat that scheduled time as a hard-and-fast meeting with yourself that you can’t break.

[Photo Credit]

I’ve been sticking to this schedule for a week now and it’s pretty amazing what you can get done in about a half hour a day (from 5:45 to 6:15am). It’s also amazing how much pressure it takes off of your day to know that you have already done your writing and you don’t have to stress about when it will get done – because it’s scheduled and taken care of.  The other benefit that Paul mentioned in the book but that I was a bit skeptical of was the fact that just by writing regularly you will come up with more ideas for your writing – and will write much more than if you do it sporadically. This is true – I’m coming up with all kinds of ideas for articles and maybe even another book (we’ll see if a publisher agrees with me…).

The goal then is to grab some more time from my day, not get sick, produce some written stuff (much like I’ve just done here!) and get paid for it. I’ll keep you all posted on how that goes… 😉

iPad thinking Writing

Creating content on the iPad

One criticism I see about the iPad is that it’s software-based keyboard is difficult to use and unpleasant for long-form writing. I will agree that it takes some getting used to and that I still make more mistakes when using it than I do in a traditional, hardware keyboard, but it is still quite useful for me. I’ve written 2 1500 word articles, a 12 page chapter that will be published in an upcoming book, numerous blog posts (using the fabulous WordPress app!!) and more using nothing more than the software keyboard that the iPad comes with. I did shell out the $60 for an iPad dock/keyboard combo that I never use, because it is unusable with the iPad’s standard case (too much extra stuff around the edge of the case keeps the iPad from being able to connect to the dock at all… I need a new case, clearly!) and it’s more hassle to pull the iPad out of the case than it is to prop it up and start typing away. I’ll admit that I prefer typing in landscape mode – portrait is both a bit cramped and hard to do with the case being configured the way it is (again – new case for me – I’ll put in my Remember The Milk account now!), so landscape is the only way I create text on the iPad.
Now, to be honest, I have pretty small hands – my reach is pretty limited and my fingers are fairly small – so the keyboard that works for me may not work so well for you, depending on your hand size.
The reason I’ve posted all of this is to say that while some people may find it difficult to create text on the iPad, not everyone does. I wanted an alternative voice out there for people with small hands and a willingness to make a few mistakes in return for the convenience of being able to write where ever you are!

MRRL Writing

Blogging for work

I’ve found myself, more than once, sitting in front of my computer at work, desperately trying to come up with a topic, an idea – anything – that would be appropriate to blog about for the library’s blog. I’m sure those of you who blog for an organization have felt the same futile search for topics that are both interesting and relevant to your organizations. I’m doing something about it this year! Starting in January, my library’s blog will revolve around an editorial calendar that will also provide content for our Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites.
The editorial calendar is created from the events and “special days” of the library. I’ve put out a call to the staff to let me know of events and programs they are working on for next year so that I can come up with 12 themes to base my posts upon. Each month, I’ll focus on the event or special occasion and work that theme into the majority of my blog posts. Of course, that won’t work for everything that needs to be posted over the course of the year, but it will give me a starting point when I’m staring at that blank editing box in WordPress.
My question is – what are other people doing when they need to blog for their organizations? Are you doing something similar? Flying by the seat of your pants? Something in between? While my decision to pursue the editorial calendar might be the best for us (and I don’t know that yet – only time will tell if this will work), I know that there are other methods out there that are being used – successfully. Tell me – what are you doing?
Update: David Lee King just posted a “how they do things in Topeka” post on his blog that is pretty much related to this one – go check it out for more ideas on work blogging!

presentations Writing

The benefits of information-sharing behaviors

I talked to a local IT manager recently about his library’s planned migration to Google Apps. He’d emailed me late last week, saying he’d read my article on the subject and wanted to discuss it with me. We talked for quite a while and, during the conversation, they brought up the fact that Gmail may be E-rate eligible. I had not even considered this – even after learning that Amazon’s cloud services may be eligible.
This is one of the great things about being willing to share what you know – I, at least, always learn something from the people I’m ostensibly teaching or providing knowledge to. I’d like to say that my willingness to share what I know is purely selfless – a true act of generosity, but in reality, it benefits me as much as it does (hopefully) the people I share with!

collaboration 2.0 conference MRRL presentations Web 2.0 Writing

Updates and some cache clearing

I’ve finally gotten around to posting links to the last couple of presentations I’ve done on my Presentations page, as well as the latest information about the Publications I’ve put out (a link to purchase the Library Mashups book and a tentative publishing date for the Twitter/Friendfeed book). Also, I’ve updated the Raves and Reviews page with a new section called Awards. I found out on Friday that I’d won an Honorable Mention in the 78th Annual Writer’s Digest Awards in the Magazine Feature Article category. I’m not sure how prestigious that really is – I’m not among the top 100 listed winners in the category on the Writer’s Digest site, but the letter that accompanied the award certificate said that, “your success in the face of such formidable competition speaks highly of your writing talent”, so I suppose it is worth something…
Cache Clearing
— Google Wave – I’ve got an account and have been using it to conduct extended group IM-like chats with people and to follow the Real-Time Web Summit that happened in Mountain View, CA (Google’s backyard…) last week. The use of the conference wave was one of my favorite uses of Wave so far. Lots of great information at my fingertips!!!
–Drupal – I’m still in the process of working out the kinks in the new MRRL site, but it should be available for “sneak peeks” by the middle of November – it’s going live on the 17th of November. I’ll be posting more about my adventures with Drupal, but lets just say that I still have most of my hair… not quite all, but most. And, if anyone has a lead on a kick-ass editor that won’t eat my PHP code or re-write my content folk’s stuff at random, but will still give some help to those who are HTML-challenged, I’d appreciate it. That’s where most of my hair is going right now – crazy editors that either do too much or to little.

conference travel Writing

My netbook

Itsy-Bitsy Laptop just getting started Now that I’ve had my itsy-bitsy laptop for about a month, I’m ready to give you all a full review of it. I love it! Ok, that’s enough, right?
No, alrighty then… The specs for my baby (the Acer Aspire One in sapphire blue) are:

  • Windows XP Home
  • 1.6G Atom Processor
  • 1G RAM
  • 1.3 MegaPixel Webcam
  • 2 media card readers – one multi-format, one SD only
  • 160G Hard Drive
  • 802.11b/g Wireless
  • VGA and Audio out
  • 3 USB ports
  • 1 free mini-PCI slot
  • Ethernet port for wired connections
  • Size (LWH): 6.7 inches, 9.8 inches, 1.14 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 pounds

I got the 6 cell battery option, which gives me around 6 to 6 1/2 hours of regular use between charging – which is pretty freakin’ nice! That makes it a touch bigger/heavier than it would be normally, but not so much that it bothers me at all. It’s got a standard keyboard layout with the keys at about 90% of the standard size – so my little hands have no problems and even men with larger hands seem to be able to use it easily. The sapphire blue is gorgeous – but shows fingerprints like nothing I’ve ever seen – I’m constantly wiping the cover down… Itsy-Bitsy Laptop closed
It has a quick boot time – under 30 seconds – and is pretty speedy, considering the limited amount of processor in there! The screen is 8.9 inches and it’s fairly small for everyday work (though I end up using it a lot – I only use my desktop setup for writing, and that’s just because I’ve got a dual monitor setup for that one) but absolutely perfect for traveling.
I took the netbook with me to Internet Librarian this year and found that it was just about perfect for carrying around during sessions and such. There were a bunch of folks with these tiny little laptops around, but I still got a bunch of comments about it every time I sat down and fired it up. Helene Blowers has one of the original netbooks – the Asus – and we had to set them down and compare our teeny tiny laptops – you’ll note mine (on the left) is a touch bigger, but not so much as to be really noticeable.
All in all, I love my little tiny laptop and I’m pretty sure that I have found the perfect traveling companion (at least until my phone beefs up and can start to compare with some of the specs I posted above…). For the price ($400.00 at, it just can’t be beat!

presentations Writing

The common discourse and you

I’m currently listening to a book on CD (errr, rather .wma, since I’ve checked it out from my local public library via netLibrary and am listening to it via the DRM-filled magic of Windows Media Player – but that’s another post entirely) called “Way With Words: Writing, Rhetoric, and the Art of Persuasion” that brought up an interesting point in the 4th lecture on Audience. The professor, Michael Drout, used the term “common discourse” to explain why you should go beyond knowing who your audience is and actually understand what the common culture of the audience. He used magazine articles as an example – read the magazine and understand what type of language is used (jargon; plain English; first, second or third person; etc.) and what conventions the audience expects. Since you can’t know who exactly will be in your audience, the next best thing would be to cater to what they expect from you. This comes on the heels of a post by Aaron Schmidt, of the Walking Paper blog that gives tips for being a good presenter. Michael Stephens saw that post and pointed to his own collection of tips for presenting at Tame The Web.
All of these things came together for me this morning in a sort of synthesis of information – which I’m going to share with you. Dr. Drout was referring to audience as a writer or speaker, Aaron and Michael were talking about speaking and presenting and this blog tends to talk about (when it’s not overtaken by conference posts) web sites and web site design. All of these creative endeavors require that you take into account your “audience” – but none of them have a well-defined audience at all. Anyone can read a magazine article, show up for a presentation or visit a web site. You may have a vague idea of the type of people who will show up (librarians interested in webby 2.0 stuff, such as the last conference I attended), but even within a fairly limited audience range, you will find vast differences in technological abilities, interests and understanding. Because of this difference, “writing for your audience” becomes pretty much useless advice.
Instead of writing for a particular audience type, check out the audience’s expectations via the common discourse. Use Slideshare to see what kinds of presentations were given at the last conference at which you are speaking; read a back issue or two of a magazine for which you want to write; visit similar or competing web sites that do much the same thing as the web site you are about to design/write copy for/etc. This will require a bit more work on our part as content creators, but it will – hopefully – improve the effects our words/presentations/sites have on our audience – and that’s the point of doing all this writing/presenting/web site creating, right?

presentations travel Web 2.0 Writing

Speaking and Writing and Working, oh my!

I don’t think I’ve completely updated my Presentations & Publications page with all of this yet, but if I do it here, I can just copy & paste later, right? This is my schedule for the next couple of months – if you are going to be around any of these places, look me up and say hi!

Sept 8-12 –National Association of Government Webmasters Conference – speaking on Sept. 11th on Web 3.0, but will be there for the whole conference.
Sept 17th – MaintainIT Webinar on making Public Computers 2.0-ready
October 1-3 – Missouri Library Association Conference – speaking on the 1st on Collaboration 2.0 (2:45-3:30) and Library Learning 2.1 (3:45-4:30) – but will be there for the whole conference, introducing speakers and going to business meetings….
October 19-22nd – Internet Librarian – since I somehow forgot to send in a speaking proposal, I won’t be speaking here – just attending!
Nov/Dec – Computers In Libraries – Article on how to use social media/2.0 tools to collaborate.

That’s it – so far! Hope to see you around at one of these places!!

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