It was nearly fifteen years ago when I first spoke about my idea. The Architect and I were driving back from looking at locations for our wedding, and I wanted her opinion. I haven’t discussed it with anyone else, until now.
After wishing I did NaNoWriMo for years, I’ve started writing my novel.
It’s a story I’ve tossed around in my head since I left college, but getting it out has been anything but easy. There have been a lot of false starts and diversions along the way.
The biggest of these diversions was silly: How would I write it? Most people simply write when the urge strikes. Not me. I have a tool fetish. And I hated everything I tried. It quickly became a distraction.
This was 2003. If you wanted to write formatted long form, you could choose anything as long as it was Microsoft Word1. I really wanted to write in plain text, and in 2004, Markdown was created. This meant I could use a text editor like VIM or BBEdit, but I really wanted affordances for managing 50,000+ words.
Most people would just start writing.
Most people, not me. Instead of writing, I became obsessed with building the software I wanted. In 2007, with a head full of ideas2, I attended the C4 developer conference determined to write the best Mac app for writers, ever. Between 2004 and 2007 I committed myself to learning everything about Mac development3. To gain experience, I would moonlight as a Mac developer-for-hire and grew a healthy side business.
I dove head-first into writing software. Unfortunately, I didn’t get anywhere. I had some beautiful mockups, and a lot of random code, but I didn’t have an app to test. Nor was I writing a novel. By 2008, most people would’ve given up and focused on the novel.
Instead, I decided my problem was scale. I should start with a smaller app. And the iPhone SDK had just been released. Perfect, I’ll write an app to capture the assorted notes I had for my novel.
Another set of beautiful mockups later, I didn’t have an iPhone app either. Then a good friend told me about a WWDC 2009 talk, where the presenter spoke of prototyping applications using images from their mockups. Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that?
Instead of writing a novel or building an app to write the novel, I wrote a framework for building interactive prototypes from image mockups.
Of course, building (and attempting to sell) that framework put another idea into my head: what I really needed to finish my app was more time. If I would get rid of my day job, I could devote more time to my apps. So, in 2009 I started a company, and quit my day job in 2010.
Most would’ve started writing, instead.
Since I first verbalized my idea for the novel, I’ve become a husband, a father, a homeowner, a business owner, and—most recently—an Apple employee. I wrote the first words of the novel on a 2002 G4 Powerbook. Over the past month, I’ve collected scraps of notes, and doodles from six (mostly empty) notebooks of assorted size, including three which I bought specifically for writing the damn novel.
After a decade of distractions, searching for the right tools, and attempting to create a few, I finally just started writing. Last week, I took off two days from work, stayed in a hotel near the coast, and sat down to diagram my novel.
The cruel irony was the tools I used. After all my fuss over pens and notebooks, I forgot to bring any on the trip. After a $20 stop at a local Target, I had a Moleskine “small” lined notebook, and a Pilot G-2 0.38mm pen4. To visualize my plot, I also bought some sticky notes, a sheet of poster board, and a black marker.
As for software, Ulysses is where I type everything these days. I wrote this post in it5, using Markdown and a custom CSS theme. Simply put, Ulysses is the app I wanted to write, but better, and more expansive than my ambitions. I capture notes and research in it on my iPhone, and draft long form prose in it on my Mac and iPad Pro.
Most important, last night I wrote 1,232 words towards the novel. Excelsior.
Crazy ideas like using an embedded Subversion repository as a file system to store versions, and using CSS stylesheets to style the exported manuscript. ↩
I had a gig writing Enterprise software in Java and C++. It was hard to get a day job writing Mac software back then. ↩
They were the best options available. And I swore I hated lined notebooks. That is, until I tried one. Sigh. ↩