My Analogue Writing Tools

I wrote the first few chapters of my first novel longhand, with fountain pen on loose sheets of A4 tomoe river paper. As I realized that I would have to type everything into Scrivener before I could even start editing, the lazy programmer within me balked. It was fine doing this with quick drafts, but writing an entire novel longhand was not for me.

I still use pen, pencil and paper a lot in my writing though. I use a fountain pen (anything that doesn’t have a flex or novelty nib will do — from extra-fine to 1.1mm stubs) and loose sheets of A4 and A5 tomoe river paper to work on my outlines, for quick drafts, to test plot options out, or when I’m really, really stuck in my writing. A Field Notes Byline is constantly under my keyboard, horizontally. Yes, I know that the lines don’t go that way, but I ignore them. The form factor is perfect for that, and the ruling is pale enough for me to easily ignore it. I use a Blackwing 16.2 or 24 with it, to quickly capture any ideas that may come up during my writing, to remind myself where I was going with an idea or what I need to fix a previous place, to brainstorm names, etc. It serves as a scratch pad that allows me to maintain my writing flow and still remember things along the way.

Messy, messy handwriting, because getting things down on paper is more important to me then keeping them pretty. 

So, even if you do all your writing using Ulysses or Scrivener (hopefully not Word), I recommend that you incorporate some analogue tools in your process. You’re bound to find them useful, particularly when you’re stuck or you’ve dug yourself into a hole.

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My Analogue Writing Tools

Moleskine Limited Edition Peanuts and How to Start a New Journal

I started a new journal this month, this time a Peanuts limited edition Moleskine. This is one of Moleskine’s best designed limited editions in recent years, because of the simplicity of the design and the limited palate choice (white, black and red). So first up, here are some pretty pictures, and then I’ll get into how I start a new journal.

That sleeve looks transparent, but is just perfectly aligned, that’s all. 
“Are you happy right now?” “I guess so..”
Gramma knows best.
No Problem
Only the best end papers in any Moleskine edition to date.
The back end paper is a sweet and a little heartbreaking – like the best Peanuts strips.
Bonk! Stickers galore.
Red detail on the famous back pocket.
Build your own Snoopy’s doghouse from the B-Side of the sleeve. 

So this is definitely a top 10 edition for me, both because I love Peanuts so much, and because it is such a well-designed notebook.

Now to how I actually start a new journal:

I’ve noticed that the hardest part of journaling for me is when I’m just getting started with a new notebook. Blank pages are scary and discouraging, and at that point I’ve invested so much time and effort in my old notebook that I really don’t feel like moving to a new one. Like Charlie Brown says, “Goodbyes always make my throat hurt… I need more hellos”.

The trick is to get the new journal started well before you actually “move into” it, so that by the time you start using it full-time it’s already an old friend.

Once I get to about 20 pages before the end of my current journal I select a new one, fill in my personal info, and start filling the first few pages with various project ideas/running and training plans/writing plans/home improvement plans. These are specifically things that I know that I’ll need to start updating and referencing before I start using the new journal, so that it’ll start filling up with meaningful content ahead of time. I also use the last pages of the journal to test new pens, jot notes for myself or just for various stamps. By the time I start using it, the notebook isn’t just randomly used or “wrecked”, but meaningfully mine. It’s already working for me, being my outboard brain and eye and heart. And it doesn’t take a lot — I was too preoccupied this time to notice that my old Star Wars Duel notebook was running out, so I started the Peanuts one in a rush, only a few days before I fully moved into it. All it took was a running plan and a list of things that I want to pack up and give to charity for me to easily transition into it, as if I was merely turning another page in my old notebook.

If you have trouble starting new notebooks, give this idea a try, it may help you out.

Moleskine Limited Edition Peanuts and How to Start a New Journal

My 2018 Journals

I managed to journal almost every day in 2018, a tremendous personal achievement considering the chaos that was the latter part of the year for me. I use Moleksine large lined limited edition notebooks for my journals and Ti Arto/Ti Arto EDC/Ti Pocket Pro with Uni-ball Signo 0.5mm refills (UMR-85).

The four notebooks I filled in 2018. I filled five notebooks in 2017.

Why do I use Moleskines when I have better quality notebooks (Rhodia, Tomoe River Paper notebooks, Leuchtterm, Baron Fig)? Because they’re notebooks that I want to use. I love their limited edition notebook designs. I used to use Baron Fig notebooks for my journals but I like the Moleskine format better and since I switched to journaling with gel ink pens instead of fountain pens, Rhodia and Tomoe River Paper notebooks are pointless. Moleskine notebooks were easier to obtain than Leuchtterm notebooks, and Baron Figs were slightly bigger, bulkier and with thicker paper, that I no longer needed.

The point is, garbage paper or not, Moleskine’s make me happy every time I open them, so that’s why I use them.

 

First two notebooks of 2018. I was journaling a lot more then, so each one contains two months of notes, bits and pieces that I glue in, plans and doodles.

Why don’t I use my fountain pens for journaling? I used to, during the first two months of journaling, and then I switched them out for my beloved UMR-85 and BIGiDESIGN Ti pens. I love my fountain pens, but they are not the best EDC pens, to say the least. A lot of them are expensive, most of them are vintage, and so unlike the Ti pens which I just toss into my bag or carry in my pocket, I baby them. I don’t want them to get damaged, I worry about them leaking after I carry them around in my bag (my consistently ink stained fingers attest to how often that has happened). I can’t use ballpoints (I hate them and they cause me severe RSI flareups), rollerballs like the Retro51 are almost as bad as fountain pens when it comes to leaking and being finicky about paper, so gel pens it is. The Uni-ball UMR-85 is an excellent gel refill, and the Ti pens are fantastic and can take everything you can throw at them, so I that’s what I use.

Last two notebooks of 2018. I managed to lose the Star Wars one on a plane, but I got it back, so I finished the year in it. 

I’ll make a post about my new journal for 2019 and how I start a new journal probably later this week. My posting schedule is a bit erratic lately, but I’m dealing with serious family health problems these past few months and so this blog has suffered somewhat, I’m afraid.

P.S. Say what you will about Moleskines, these notebooks can take a beating, I’ve carried and used these daily for eight months (four months each), and they are bulging and a tiny bit battered at the very edges, but otherwise like brand new.

My 2018 Journals

Beginner’s Tips to Watercolours, Part 1: How to Build Your First Palette

Watercolours are scary to work with, because unlike other drawing mediums (except ink washes), they have a mind of their own and don’t stay where you put them, and they don’t mix like other mediums, because of their transparency. There’s also a lot of very cheap, poor quality watercolours out there that the beginner may be tempted to buy, that will only be able to produce “grainy” or washed-out drawings. So, here’s how to build your first watercolour palette:

Which company should I choose?

Any company that has artist grade watercolours that has several series of paints, with different price points for each series, is a good choice. The key word is “artist” and not “student” grade, and that Cobalt Blue (expensive) should not cost the same as Yellow Ochre (cheap).

Quick explanation: student grade pigments are low quality pigments whose only winning quality is that they’re cheap. Your time and work are worth more than that, trust me. Artist grade pigments are much higher quality, and since we live in a “post truth” world, don’t trust the label, check that there’s a price difference between different pigments. Certain pigments cost more, and the companies that use them want you to pay for that. Usually companies will have about 4 “series”, with 1 being the cheapest, and where you’ll find most of the browns, and series 4 being most expensive and where you’ll find most of the blues and some yellows and reds. Don’t fall into traps like “this is a Japanese maker,” or “these are hand made,”  — every good quality maker will have grades to their paints. It’s not a “Western” or “Big Company” thing — it’s economical common sense.

OK, artist grade and several, differently priced series, but really, which company should I choose?

It depends what you’re going for and where you live. If you live in the US, Daniel Smith is a good option, since they’re the most readily available. The problem is they come in tubes, which isn’t the most economical or convenient of ways to start working with watercolours. If you want to start with Daniel Smith you’ll either need to buy empty half-pans and fill them, waiting for a few days for them to set, or buy a plastic watercolour palette with wells, fill them and wait for them to set.

Winsor and Newton Professional half-pans are probably the best place to start, if you can get them (and they’re pretty widely available). These are excellent and affordable. Just avoid the Cotmans paints, which are their student grade ones. Make sure that there’s “professional” printed on the label. They are the goldilocks of watercolour pigments

Schmincke Horadam (not Academie) is what I use, and is the favourite of many watercolourists as it has the most vibrant pigments that are the easiest to lift and rework. They’re more expensive and difficult to obtain, and if you’re used to other pigments their vibrancy might scare you off at first. (BTW – Schmincke is pronounced shmin-keh, and not schminkee. It’s a German company).

Sennelier is even more difficult to find, and is the opposite of Schmincke, being more subdued and transparent. If you really want to get into glazing, these may be for you, otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend them.

White Nights watercolours are also good, a midway between W&N and Schmincke, but they’re difficult to find, particularly outside of sets.

Which should I pick: Half-Pans, Full-Pans or Tubes?

Half-pans.

Quick explanation: you’re starting out, so half-pans are the best, and should last you for a long, long time, since you use so little pigment in watercolour painting. This will also let you experiment with different pigments later on, maybe even switching companies without breaking the bank. When you get into “heavy” use, you can switch to full-pans, or tubes, which are the most economical of options, if you actually get to use them.

Which colours to choose?

Start with these: Lemon Yellow, Raw Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Sap Green, Alizarine Crimson, Payne’s Grey (blue tone).

Every company will have them, although their names may differ a bit.

Later on I’ll discuss how to understand pigment labels (so you can pick your own), and which ones to pick for different kinds of drawing, but with these you’ll be able to draw landscapes, portraits and still-life, and they’re all transparent pigments, which means they mix well and glaze well, without creating “muddy” effects.

Quick explanation: this is the standard, classic watercolour palette, except that I’ve switched a few pigments with others that mix better. That’s why there’s no Cadmium Yellow or Cadmium Red here. Payne’s Grey is God’s little gift to watercolourists — you’ll use it a lot for shading and mixing, and as an added bonus, except the Cobalt Blue, these are all series 1 and 2 paints, which make them cheap.

Beginner’s Tips to Watercolours, Part 1: How to Build Your First Palette

This week’s long run: how to run when you really don’t want to

My mom has some very serious health problems, and that (coupled with some travel) has  made me put my running on a two week haitus. Except for an “angry run” of 4k that turned into 6k, I haven’t been lacing up lately, and that’s not good.

Yesterday I put in a 4k, and as usual after a break, it was pretty rough. Not as rough as I knew this morning’s run would be. It was scheduled to be a 10k, but I dropped it to a 7k, knowing that all things considered even that would be a challenge. I would have to fight my lizard brain all the way through this one, so I would have to use all the tricks I had to get through it:

Trick #1: Remove all obstacles to getting out the door. For me that meant setting an alarm, setting out my workout clothes, and charging my headphones the night before.

Trick #2: Promise yourself something nice once you complete the run. For me it was breakfast at my favourite cafe.

Trick #3: Distraction, distraction, distraction. This is the most important thing, and why I chose a new route, and I saved my favourite podcast (Do By Friday) for this run.

Trick #4: Give yourself a break. I allowed myself to stop for breaks, so long as they were only for a few seconds, and I went right back to running again. I needed to decide this in advance so I wouldn’t feel bad about taking the breaks that I knew that I would need. The point was not to beat myself up for something that couldn’t be helped.

It worked, and I got rewarded with some pretty nifty new views:

Get out there and run. You can crush it, no matter what the little lizard says.

This week’s long run: how to run when you really don’t want to

Second draft

I just finished my second draft of my novel today. Yay!

It took me a lot longer than I thought to edit the middle chapters, mostly because there was a lot of rewriting to do there, and I let that discourage me. I froze. I procrastinated. I did everything but push through.

In the end the solution was pretty simple:

I made a plan and set a goal to finish the edit (about 75,000 words to go through) by the end of February. Instead of having a word count for how much I wrote, I had a word count for how much I edited. Instead of counting up (how many words left to write), I counted down (how many words left to edit).

I cut the larger goal to a word count goal for each day, and almost every day I managed to surpass my 1,200 “words edited” goal. I only missed two days for personal reasons, and I missed my daily goal only four times, on exceptionally busy days.

I tracked my progress in a Google sheet, with the following graph illustrating my progress:

Screen Shot 2018-02-03 at 20.06.38

I also managed to cut down my manuscript by 10%, which was another goal for my second draft, and a much more challenging one that I originally thought. It was worth doing, though, as the resulting narrative is better, tighter, and easier to read.

For my next draft I’m going to create a plan from the start, so that hopefully I won’t get bogged down again by my inner demons.

Second draft

Three Good Things

After reading the great “How to Be Miserable” I decided to start keeping a “three good things” journal at my bedside and write in it every night, right before I go to bed.

The idea is to write three good things that happened to you today, and if possible attribute them. It breaks off the habit of always remembering the bad, upsetting or embarrassing parts of your day, and I also found that it helps me (together with regular journaling) clear my mind and fall asleep sooner.

The good things don’t have to be large, sometimes they’re just a nice meal that I shared with someone, or something good that I read or watched, or just a friendly exchange with a friend or someone at work. The thing is, once you start doing it you:

  1. Realize that even in the shittiest of days there is something good to remember.
  2. Train your brain to look for those things throughout the day, so that you can have something to write down at night.

I’ve been using the Field Notes Resolution weekly planner for that, but you might want to use something larger. I just chose the Resolution because it gave me a reason to use the notebook, and it’s small enough that I’m sure that I will have something to write in it every day.

Three Good Things