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Friday, 27 June 2014


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This all sums up why I find you so interesting to read.

It sounds to me like all you really need to get this as a book is a solid, committed editor. Shaping loose threads into a coherent entity is their entire reason of being.

This is good news.

Wow. I can totally relate to some of this.

Mike, this is a very exciting undertaking. As one who follows TOP faithfully —as a reader first and a photographer second— I look forward to your new venture with high hopes.

Have a fine and interesting weekend.

AKA Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Mike (But Were Afraid to Ask)?

Good luck with the effort!

It's worth a try. Getting the bits down in cold type, with digressions, out of sequence, etc., lets you see what you have to work with. Sometimes people can figure out how to organize it better from there; at least some better.

Also if you really like the bits but can't hack the organization, having the bits written opens the possibility of hiring somebody with the organizational skills to help out.

Boy am I looking forward to that!

I've drunk the Kool-aide....yummy.

Dear Mike,

You might look into a program called Scrivener. It's designed for writing major book projects (fiction or nonfiction) where you're collecting all sorts of materials and resources and you may not be working at all linearly. Several author friends of mine who I very much respect swear by it.

I have a copy, in fact both John and I are interested in it. We did not try to use it on the novel-in progress, because changing horses in midstream is a hell of a lot easier with real horses than literary ones, so I can't give you a first-hand report. But, I may try throwing it at the next edition of DIGITAL RESTORATION. (next project on the table)

The purchase price is an outrageous {g} $45 . And they have one of the nicest free trial offers ever [ https://www.literatureandlatte.com/trial.php ] :

“Try Scrivener free for 30 days -- Download Scrivener and try it for yourself. The trial runs for 30 days of actual use: if you use it every day it lasts 30 days; if you use it only two days a week, it lasts fifteen weeks. Before the trial expires, you can export all of your work or buy a licence to continue using Scrivener.”

Look up some reviews on it. Charlie Stross has some very good observations (Google: charlie stross scrivener). If it has a chance of being useful to you, give it a whirl.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Looking forward to Zander's story.

"Organizational Aptitude". My youngest has none, but is stubbornly independant, and contrary to a fault. Go figure.

Why not use Pages on your Mac, then copy and paste?

I use MarsEdit (Mac only) for writing to WordPress.

Or you could set your WordPress site to accept Markdown markup and then write in any of numerous apps that will accept Markdown, such as Byword (again I think it is Mac only).

If you are using a WP.com version of WP, then here is how to set it to use Markdown:

If you are using a self-hosted version of WP, then you need a plugin to make WP accept Markdown, such as JetPack, which is made by Automattic who make WP. You probably will want to deactivate all the other features of JetPack.

Interesting point about organisational aptitude. When people gawp at the state of my home office, I tell them, "that's what my mind looks like". That having been said, I spent a few years in the lower ranks of the army, applied to join the police force (too short), very nearly ended up in prison, but thankfully spent the last 35 years as a freelance journalist, technical writer and software developer. I always say that the advent of the personal computer saved me - it's the only structure I have ever had in my life; and now that I am retired I'm hoping that photography will fill that roll.

I'm really looking forward to the new blog, Mike. For years now I've thought it a pity that you've chosen not to write more widely here. I enjoy all your posts, whether it's photography, or some other part of your life.

And as an unexpected single parent myself (although I got a little more warning than you did since I gave birth to my twins) I'm looking forward to reading about your and Xander's history.

I'll be adding it to bloglovin as soon as you publish.


I share your disorganability (I just invented a new word) but I've had an idea for a book in my head for several years (science fiction). But I need to ensure it keeps to a coherent story line. As a former tech I plan to make a block diagram, or actually a timeline with blocks along the line showing what happens and when, and especially who the characters are and when and how they are introduced.

I would also make a family tree showing how all the characters relate to each other, simply to ensure I don't make blunders.

Of course, the timeline would also show how the story ends, so that I don't forget along the way.

The computer makes all this so easy with word processing and especially outline mode. I still use Lotus Word Pro because its outline mode is so good (and the whole program is still so good even after 15 years, IMHO).

Are you aware of Scrivener? https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php I've only had a brief play with it but it seems to be exactly what you and I need. For $40 I'm prepared to give it a serious try.

My other book is my memoirs and I've made a start on that. The timeline there is obvious. What I didn't realise until recently is how much easier it is to compose in a DTP program (I'm using Serif Page Plus) when there are a lot of in-line photos, as there will be. Sure, compose your text in another program if you want to, then just flow it into text blocks on the pages. It all shifts and reflows as you add pictures, pages and info blocks.

PS: I marvel at the organisational ability and clarity of thought of authors, past and present, who wrote their books in long hand on paper. They must have it all composed in their head, just needing to translate their thoughts to visible text on paper. Amazing.

People who lack the aptitude for organization (like me) are just letting the laws of nature (entropy*) be. Mess is reversible but that requires work! The trick, I guess, is to set boundaries where disorder can be tolerated, while one expends energy on things that matter more.

*A measure of disorder in the universe or of the availability of the energy in a system to do work. (Wikipedia)

Congrats Mike! I'm also a writer (aspirational more than anything else) who struggles with the organization needed for long form writing, and while planning has helped with me in the past, writing fiction for me requires a certain randomness that is impossible to plan for. I've been lucky enough to be able to cobble one pile of words together into a novella, but that was the most I could coax out of myself.

I look forward to reading Xander and your story! I've often wondered about it privately, and it seems from the bits I've been able to glean that it is interesting and non-traditional.

Re "a question"

I'm not a blogger, but, a great app for writers who skip around a lot and yet need to be able to find all of the pieces again is Scrivener: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/ The app comes in Mac and Windows versions.

I am currently in the midst of a major academic project after years out of that system and this app has been a great find. Been using it for about 3 weeks and am definitely a convert (wish it had been around the last time I was doing this kind of thing).

Goggled Scrivener for blogging and found this: http://thaddeushunt.com/writing-scrivener-as-a-complete-blogging-system/

Good luck on the new project and thanks for the blog.

Really looking forward to your personal story. I was really move by it when your story and pictures about how Zander came into your life first appeared in a photo magazine. Go for it. Organized or not, you're a terrific writer. (And I know what you mean about keeping up with stuff, I hate a messy house, but you should see it when my husband goes away. Having him around keeps me somewhat organized.)

Always thought there was a story there...

From my cluttered and disorganized desktop to yours, I understand. And yes, TOP is a cult. Just kidding on the latter but dead serious on the former.

When you told me the story about your discovery of, and fight to keep, Zander (about a decade ago in Milwaukee I think), I didn't think that you should "go on Oprah". I thought that it would make a really great movie and that you should write it as a movie script. Probably a "made for TV" movie, but in the last ten years that category has been vastly expanded and upgraded thanks to cable channels and Netflix sponsoring original content. It's one of those "truth is stranger than (and much more compelling than) fiction" kind of stories that has a rip roaring narrative and ultimately is both inspiring and uplifting. I am very happy to hear that you are going ahead with writing it no matter what form it takes. It needs to be out there.

The Melville you want is The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade http://web.archive.org/web/20080513104045/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MelConf.html">http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MelConf.html">http://web.archive.org/web/20080513104045/http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MelConf.html

As for the writing approach, I'd go the In medias res http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_medias_res
Chuck Palahniuk seems to make that whole non-linear thing work.

I was shocked how Po-Mo Melville is.

As far as writing posts offline for WordPress goes, use anything you want, then just copy and past it in, you'll lose too much work when WP pukes rather than save your work.



I don't know. Maybe I've suggested this before. I forget. Check out A Perfect Mess, The Hidden Benefits of Disorder - How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place (Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman). I'm sure it's not perfect and doesn't cover every facet nor possibility, but it really is worth a read.

And then stop wanting/trying to be someone that you aren't. Not that any of us can actually do that, but...well, you know.

You have wonderful talent at putting words, thoughts, and concepts together. I, for one, enjoy what you do. Thanks!

So Mike, maybe what you need to eventually turn the blog into a book is an editor. I'm reminded of a piece by Jeremy Bernstein, a professional physicist and former staff writer for The New Yorker. He tells of having one of his early pieces edited by William Shawn. He entered Shawn's office to find the floor covered with little slips of paper. Shawn had taken his manuscript, cut it up with scissors, and was rearranging the narrative, and commenting. That is to say, he was organizing, not writing. Now a New Yorker article is not as long as a book, but I wonder if a similar process might not yield a book, once the blog has reached a state where the story pieces are all present.

I count myself lucky to have heard the story, in I believe Reader Digest version (but time does escape when in good conversation). The best to you Mike, sharing this story with others will be inspiring to any single parent. I know I was and I'm married.

To each his own, Mike. I'm sure your story is interesting. But it bewilders me why anyone would be eager to just fling such personal information about themselves onto the Internet unless, perhaps, they were richly rewarded to do so. There is simply no upside to such a stunt.

My opinion.

Mike, go for it and give it your best shot (I know you will). Just get it down in words. Organization and structure is the realm of a "good" editor; something you can always find if need be.

Can't wait to read the story.


You may be thinking of Mars Edit for offline blog writing.

If you are on Windows I can recommend Microsoft's Windows Live Writer, which can be installed without all the garbage from their Live Suite.

On Android I use the Wordpress application, which works well.

So in n months time you finish up with m 'blog entries' / chunks of text.
I would have thought getting that collection of finished items into a semblance of order far easier than (as you say) writing A..Z in the form of a book?

An outliner tool might help, but I'm sure you can figure out a way to 'glue' the entries into a semblance of order (or your readers could help).

Best wishes. D

I organise my paperwork using a time and distance based system. It's remarkably effective.

Everything is piled on the desk...

The important stuff stays at the top of the pile, because you refer to it frequently. The unimportant stuff gradually works its way to the bottom of the pile. The really unimportant stuff fall off the back of the desk.

I start a fresh "pending" tray about every year - one draw of a filing cabinet.

The garage is organised the same way.

It actually works very well - unless anyone else tidies up.

Strangely, my computer files for the last 25 years are perfectly organised by date and number, and I can find anything in seconds. Just can't do it with paper.

[Hugh, you might like a word I think I coined: "paperlanche." That's when a stack of papers and books becomes so unstable that it spontaneously topples over with no apparent cause or provocation. You know how I know. [g] --Mike]

That one great admirer of Melville, Hemingway, wrote mostly blogs (pithy news reports) before, even while, writing novels.

Mike, I don't have time to write a proper comment on this subject. Please just write it. My first child was born under challenging circumstances (that's all the details I can give). I'd like to hear your situation and how you coped. Someday maybe I'll tell my story.

One moment, please, to disagree with Kenneth Tanaka, whose contributions to your blog I always admire:

What you propose is not a stunt. Writing of this sort is like photography or music. The rich reward to be gained is not financial or even applause. There's something about seeing and rendering an image that almost requires sharing it to complete the process. The same goes for music, whether composing, playing, or simply discovering and listening to something particularly tasty. Putting it out there in broadcast form creates an opportunity for resonance with an audience.

Even if one never hears from them nor makes so much as a nickel as a result, there is something about transferring one's own experience to others that can be very satisfying.

Mike, things usually pretty much take care of themselves, one way or another. Don't worry, just be happy, push forward and keep writing--on a range of topics. I enjoy them all.

I have previously read a brief version of the story of Xander and you are to be admired in many ways. Other men could take a cue and learn a valuable lesson from you.

Some of my favorite books of recent years are disorganized messes, reflecting the asides and strange paths of fascinating wandering minds. It's almost a subgenre of literature and memoir, and off the top of my head I'm thinking of Dave Eggers, especially A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Nicholson Baker, especially The Mezzanine, David Foster Wallace, and there must be so many others. You might be setting examples for yourself from much more traditional sources. Chime in here, everyone.

Of course those writers and all writers are helped immensely by very good editors, so that's another path from a seemingly intractably tangled storyline to a readable tale.

But if the story's worth telling, your method of telling it might not be the obstacle you think it is. And I'm betting the story is well worth telling.

I remember reading about how Xander came into your life and the surprise of it all. At that time, I posted a response saying how remarkable I felt you are for taking on the responsibility, etc. Honestly Mike, it was that personal tidbit you chose to share that hooked me. I look forward to reading the story.

To be followed by the TOPTOP blog?

(The Online Photographer's Take On Pool)


Looking forward to reading this. I missed the magazine articles that others mention in which you told the story. I've always been curious to know more whenever you referred to it occasionally here.

I know people who use MarsEdit and swear by it. Its current developer, Daniel Jalkut, is a mainstay of the Mac dev community; Daniel took over the application from Brent Simmons, another well known and highly respected developer. I think you'd be in safe hands.

I still use Ecto, an early competitor, which I wouldn't recommend today – it has been abandoned. Finally, another recommendation for Scrivener, which  I own it and like a lot.

Let me echo Ctein's recommendation of Scrivener with a monstrous megaphone. It is the best writing tool hands down and beautifully designed. Besides the excellent tutorials and documentation, the Scrivener forums are immensely helpful, literate, and considerate.

Somewhere on the site you'll find a list of writer's endorsements. It's pretty astounding who is listed.


I think he first of the featured posts sums it up - a lot of very famous works of literature from the 19th and early 20th centuries started life as a magazine serial.

When Dostoyevsky wrote Brothers Karamaov,everybody wrote in serial format. Even Dickens.

Just do what feels right. You do it anyway. It works.

Someone else suggested this and I want to second the suggestion. Scrivner is a great program. I used it to write a book with my daughter. It is flexible and helps with many of the issues associated with writing a long document. Take a look.

An excellent idea, Mike. I've read a few pieces of the story here on TOP, and found them very affecting. I will read with interest.


Hi Mike,

Looking forward to read about your story! I have heard fragments over the years and it would be great to hear it all.

With regard to writing the story, I would heartily recommend to use Markdown to write it. Using such format allows you to concentrate on the writing and later process it to publish on various outlets, like a blog or full book.

Shameless plug: at my research department, we recently created a nice(and free) online editor for a fancy markdown variant, see: http://www.madoko.net

It is really meant for academic or technical documents but will do fine for books as well. Connect it to your dropbox account and you can work from anywhere with full backups and version history.

Another (belated) vote for Scrivener. It does take some time to learn its ways, but the investment in the learning curve is worth it. It's not perfect, but it's really helped me in the 5+ years that I've used it.

Another tool that I use for organization (and for jotting down notes on the road, something Scrivener doesn't do so well) is Evernote. Not only is it great for note-taking, but it's great for finding that bit of info you jotted down two years ago and now can't recall. It's great not only for text, but also for pictures of text (i.e., receipts, signs, etc...) You can, for example, take a photo of a written passage that you like, and Evernote will automagically OCR the heck out of it while you're not looking. Then, when you do a search, Evernote will search the OCR'd version of the text.

We must have the same penchant for disorder, because I've also been thinking about using a blog for non-linear written kind of thing. Best of luck!

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