Back to writing

harvester-hand-full
A very old concept drawing, with my old title

After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back to writing my novel, The Harvester, although this time around I have the working title, The Spacetime Gambit.

The process is more or less the same. Write a crappy first draft, one chapter at a time. Endlessly massage the pros like I’m kneading dough when I’m stuck on moving forward, then move forward until the next time I’m stuck and start making pizza again. This process worked to get me five drafts of my 120k novel the first time so why not give it another go.

The rewrite is seeing me spending a lot more time on the characters and the outline for the story. This is a contrast to the first go where I just started writing and was forced to spend months cleaning up plot holes (which eventually were cleaned). I see this time around as my attempt to write the book with the final mindset I developed after five drafts of the first one. Because my idea of what the book was going to be changed drastically over that time period, leaving me with some inconsistencies I didn’t like.

So here I am, another round. Wish me luck!

Rewrite Planning

I’ve been doing a lot of “planning” ever since I decided to rewrite my book from scratch. This planning falls into these broad development categories:

  • Characters
  • Themes
  • Plots

I also have a large number of “notes” that I take throughout the day, either audio voice notes, written notes, emails, or bits I tell Siri or Alexa to remind me about. All of this data can be quite overwhelming so I’ve been working on ways to bring order to chaos.

Ulysses

I use Ulysses for all of my writing. I use it for many reasons:

  • It’s well-written
  • It works on Mac and iOS and seamlessly synchronizes via iCloud
  • I like the easy and future-proof open format used for writing, Markdown
  • It allows me to organize all of my projects in a hierarchical manner
  • The “sheet” mechanism and the way collections of sheets can be grouped in the hierarchy and “glued” together offers me a lot of organizational flexibility

So, all of my ideas eventually funnel down into Ulysses. The voice notes I take are reviewed and typed out and sometimes hilarious especially when I am drunk or high or both. The e-mails I send myself from work with some game-changing idea are pasted into my notes sheet periodically. But then it comes time to tease it all into a structure. When I wait too long, the number of ideas can accumulate and be daunting to reason through.

To begin, I start to organize these ideas into broad themes and categories. When I ‘m done, I have a list of themes/categories and the associated notes organized beneath each.

The number of notes can still be a lot so I like to go through a reduction phase where I remove redundancy and draw out the more important ideas and simplify or outright remove the less important ideas. This is easier once the notes are organized into themes.

Mac OS Mechanics

I use MacOS for all of my work so I do my best to take advantage of any organizational features it offers. Here are some of my favorites:

Command-` (backtick) allows you to switch between different windows in the same application. I use this when I have two “windows” open in Ulysses. To switch between two different applications, you’d use Command-tab.

You can also tile the windows, which is useful when I’m transferring notes directly into my outline. For this I use a cheap and well-written utility called Magnet since it expands on some of the basic window layout commands built into the Mac. On Windows, you can dock a window using Windows+arrow keys, but the Mac doesn’t have that exact behavior built-in.

Lots more keyboard shortcuts here.

I am back-posting this post since I wrote it a while ago and have already started writing!

Smoking pork shoulder

Today I’m experimenting with smoking a pork shoulder on my gas grill. I’ve been meaning to get a smoker “one of these days” but today I couldn’t wait. So this week I had the idea to try and smoke wood chips on my gas grill. Sure enough, there were plenty of videos on YouTube on how to do this.

So I went and got a 6.5 lb. pork shoulder at BJ’s and I bought some cherry wood chips, a small smoker box, and a bluetooth temperature sensor. The latter piece of technology turned out to be essential since maintaining the temperature I wanted was a challenge. More on that later.

Some members of my family don’t like spicy rubs so I found a recipe for a non-spicy rub. Well honestly I just found a rub recipe and omitted the Cheyenne pepper. It smelled nice and in the end, spoiler, tasted great. It seems to me that these rubs are probably hard to mess up.

I added two small bread pans of water because one of the videos said you want a moist environment. I had to continually top these off with more water every hour as the water boiled away. In hindsight, I’m not sure this moist environment did anything but I’ll have to read and experiment some more.

The ideal temperature changes from recipe to recipe but my main constraint was time. I needed to finish in about 7 hours so the temperature range that I tried to keep was 275 to 290 F. If I cooked it longer, say for 2 hours per pound, I’d use a lower temperature of like 220 F.

As I said earlier, maintaining the proper temperature was a challenge and without the constant monitoring and alerts from the bluetooth sensor, I would never have been able to come close to a stable temperature throughout the cook. As you can see here, my temperature was all over the place anyway.

The wood chips didn’t burn at first so I spit some lighter fluid onto them, let the flam get them burning, and then blew out the flame. After that they were on a nice steady burn and I added new chips every half hour to an hour. Still, over the duration of the long cook, I had to repeat this process. As it turns out this must be one of the main benefits of a real smoker, that is there is a dedicated flame to keep these chips burning. In my grill, the flame was mostly indirect and low (to keep ambient temperature low) so the flame was not exposed enough to the chips to keep them burning. Sigh.

In the end, the shoulder tasted great. Well, half of it tasted great. The half of the shoulder that faced the back of my grill was perfectly cooked and pulled apart with a fork. The half of the shoulder which faced the front got colder faster every time I opened the lid and the meat needed to be cut with a knife. Still tasty!

I’ll have to try this again, possibly in my oven next time. I spoke to a friend and they said there is a product called “liquid smoke” which essentially gives your meat a smoked taste even if you don’t have a smoker. I’ll have to try that.