Delusions of Grandeur November 2016

Writing a Novel, Finally.

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.

I tried new notebooks (I tried them all, these are the best), new pens (fountain pens, roller balls, thin tips, thick tips, etc), and software. Yeah, the software sucked, too.

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.

The Obsession.

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.

"Plot Board"

Mapping the Plot. Salinas, CA

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.

  1. Pages was released in 2005. ClarisWorks only ran in Classic Mode. Don’t talk to me about Word Perfect. I had considered writing in HTML. Scrivener wouldn’t arrive until 2007.

  2. Crazy ideas like using an embedded Subversion repository as a file system to store versions, and using CSS stylesheets to style the exported manuscript.

  3. I had a gig writing Enterprise software in Java and C++. It was hard to get a day job writing Mac software back then.

  4. They were the best options available. And I swore I hated lined notebooks. That is, until I tried one. Sigh.

  5. I will edit and prepare the post for publish in BBEdit on the Mac, and Coda for iOS where I prefer to do all of my web work.