Bitcoin: How to claim your BitcoinCash after the Hard Fork

Before the August 1st, 2017 hard fork, I moved all of my Bitcoins (BTC) to cold storage on various paper wallets, each protected by BIP0038. The fork itself was relatively uneventful, which is a testament to the technology underlying Bitcoin. The currency has survived, not because it has never yet been attacked, but rather because it is designed to survive DESPITE continuous attacks. This proved true once more after the fork.

And then the truly strange happened: everyone with Bitcoins suddenly got free money. Like, actual free money. The new alt coin BitcoinCash (BCH) emerged and has been trading with steady volume and support at about 7% of BTC’s value at the time of this writing. That is a free 7% return on your holdings.

So how do you actually get that cash? How do you access the coins on the new blockchain?

Who this tutorial is for:

  1. If you had Bitcoins in paper wallet cold storage prior to the fork
  2. If you leverage BIP0038 to encrypt your paper wallet private keys
  3. If you are a USA citizen

There are a thousand combinations of Bitcoin users, but I fell into the above category and had a hard time figuring out how — exactly — to actually do something with my BCH. Thanks to some Reddit users and google searches, I eventually managed and decided to make a quick how-to for anyone in a similar situation. Despite the specificity, other cold-storage forms and other countries of citizenship may find parts of this useful.

A few basics

Things get a little confusing when we start talking about forks and multiple blockchains. It is important to understand what is going on behind the scenes so you do not expose Private Keys or otherwise cause your Bitcoins to be non-secured. Let me summarize the key understanding before we go on.

Bitcoins all exist on the blockchain. There is no way to “download” your coins or to truly take them “offline,” despite terms like hardware wallet or cold storage imply. Every single coin that exists is noted in the blockchain and is owned by a particular public key. In order for a transaction to include a particular coin (e.g., to be spent), the transaction need to have the private key that corresponds to the public key on that coin in order to prove ownership. I can randomly pick a thousand coins and make a transaction sending them all to me, but the Bitcoin network will reject the transaction when I am not able to provide the proper private key needed to unlock the coins in question. Like a password, but orders of magnitude more secure, I won’t be able to get the needed private keys if I am not the true owner, barring theft or hacking or intervention from a deity.

When you talk about cold storage or hardware wallets, you are talking about keeping that unlocking private key offline so it can’t be stolen, but the coins themselves are always still in the chain and are always still publically assigned to your particular key.

When someone comes along and clones the Bitcoin network and gives it a new name (which is the essence of a fork) they will have the same record of all existing coins, and the same record of all coin assignments. This means your same private key works on the new network, just as it did on the old one.

What happened on August 1st, 2017?

A two-year disagreement between developers of Bitcoin came to a parting of ways. When differences could not be reconciled, a portion of the community decided to just go their own direction. They installed an incompatible version of the Bitcoin network code onto their mining platforms and local machines, took a copy of the existing blockchain, and carried on.

This new code was such that it rejected any blocks coming from the old network, and the old network rejected any blocks coming from the new network. As a result, the two immediately went their own way, each blockchain ignoring the other.

The result is that all coins connected to private keys you control were duplicated. One version sat on the old network, and another version sat on the new network. It also meant that spending and receiving money suddenly forked as well, because now transferring money on one chain has no effect on the other chain.

The key here is this: The same private key now unlocks two coins, but those coins are not otherwise linked or connected. Depending which network your wallet/site uses will decide which of those two coins you are handling at a given time.

How do I get BTC or USD from my cold BCH?

If you’ve followed along so far, you probably can anticipate the steps we need to take. I’ll outline them here, then go into detail:

  1. Sweep BTC in cold storage to a new address
  2. Import your Private Keys into a wallet that talks to the BCH network
  3. Transfer your BCH funds to ViaBTC.com
  4. Trade using BTC/BCC exchange
  5. Send the BTC funds to your normal exchange for cash out, or else back to cold storage

Nice and easy.

Step 1: Sweep

In order to access your BCH, you will need to expose the private key corresponding to the coins you wish to claim. The problem is, as noted above, this same private key will also unlock your Bitcoins on the main chain. Exposing your private key is, therefore, a significant security risk. To get around this, you should first move your existing cold Bitcoins to a brand new address with its own Private Key. This will only affect the coins on the Bitcoin network side, but it will ensure that when you expose your private key in the next step on the BCH network, there is no risk of an attacker trying to unlock corresponding BTC coins. If they do try, they will find a zero balance since that version of the coin has been moved.

I do this through blockchain.info, but any wallet software will do. In blockchain.info, go to Settings->Addresses, and under Imported Addresses, click [+] Import Address. Here you will enter the public address of you current paper wallet, the one containing coins you need to move.

Once you’ve added this “watch address,” return to the main interface and choose “SEND.” Use the drop-down next to “My Bitcoin Wallet” to select the address you just added, and in the TO field, enter the NEW paper wallet address you want to use.

This TO address should be brand new, and thus using a private key that is not associated with any of your coins on the BCH network. You will need to expose your private key now, but your risk is reduced by 15x since the coin on the BCH side is worth that much less.

Note: Blockchain.info supports BIP0038 encryption. If your paper wallet private key is encrypted, as mine are, you will be prompted for the encryption password in order to complete the sweep. This is safe to do.

Repeat this for any other paper wallets you control. At the end of this step, all of your coins will belong to NEW private keys on the main blockchain, but on the new BCH blockchain, all of the same keys we just used still control the corresponding coins there.

2. Import your private keys

Now that your Bitcoins are safe, you want to unlock your BitcoinCash still stored at those old paper wallet addresses. For this, you need a wallet software that knows how to connect to the new network. I used this: http://www.electroncash.org/

Launch the software and create a new standard wallet. Once that is setup, you will have an empty wallet that is connected to the BCH network. Now you need to import the private keys you just used on blockchain in order to access the corresponding coins on this side.

If you use BIP0038, ElectronCash does not allow you to import the encrypted private key the way blockchain.info does. An extra step is required!

2.a. Decrypt your BIP0038 Private Key

Navigate to http://bitaddress.org

Move the mouse around until the %’s reach 100%, just so the interface doesn’t screw with you. Once that is done, click on “Wallet Details” on the right.

Paste in your Private Key, and provide the passphrase. Click the Decrypt button, and let it spin, then your unencrypted Private Key will be printed down below. You can copy the WIF compressed format or the standard noncompressed format.

Note: entering your private key into a website is typically a bad idea. Since we already secured our Bitcoins and are about to move our BCH from this key, the procedure is relatively safe. The password is not uploaded to the server, but there is always a risk that the site is hacked and manipulated. If you use this same password on other cold wallets or are otherwise security paranoid, you can disconnect your network once the site is loaded. Everything will run with javascript offline, leaving you free to do what you need to do, then wipe out the session/cookies before reconnecting. Even better, get a USB-bootable Ubuntu and complete this step in an offline virgin OS (as you should have done when you created your paper wallets in the first place!). I didn’t bother since my private keys and BIP0038 passwords would both be garbage after this operation anyway.

2.b. Sweep into ElectronCash

Once you have non-encrypted private keys, open your wallet in ElectronCash and go to Wallet->Private keys->Sweep.

Enter your non-encrypted private key in the text box (or multiple, if applicable, one per line). Do not change the “Address” field — that is your local wallet address and is a safe place to receive the contents of the old paper wallet. Complete the sweep and wait for confirmation, and now your coins are safely moved to new/distinct addresses on BOTH chains.

3. Transfer to ViaBTC

I had a lot of trouble finding an exchange for BCH that would let me do anything as a US citizen. Coinbase does not support BCH, Bitstamp does not support BCH, Kraken does not validate US citizens, BTC.COM does not validate US citizens, etc.

ViaBTC, however, does allow you to complete a simple automated ID verification. It requires your actual name and a driver’s license ID number (or passport), as well as set a few passwords (you’ll need to setup the asset password, for instance). Once that is done, you can immediately use ViaBTC as a go-between from BCH to BTC. Create the free account, complete the validation, then you want to transfer your money into the platform. I recommend doing a small amount initially and stepping through the entire process before you send large quantities of funds.

Once you have an account, go to the Asset->Deposit->BCC section. ViaBTC uses the older ticker symbol BCC to represent BitcoinCash, even though the rest of the community has moved to BCH since BCC was used for another alt coin. In any case, on this page, you will see a recipient address that you can use to transfer your BitcoinCash into the system. Copy that address.

In Electron Cash, go to the “SEND” tab. Paste the address in the “PAY TO” field, leave description blank, and then select an “AMOUNT” to send. When you are ready, hit SEND. You will need to SIGN the transaction and hit BROADCAST.

You can track the progress of the deposit using any blockchain browser for BCH. I prefer Blockdozer since it is most similar to blockchain.info. The address is this format:

http://blockdozer.com/insight/address/xxxVIABTCxADDRESSxHERExxxxx

It takes some time to get confirmations since the hash power on the BCH network is much lower than the main BTC network, so be patient. Wait until you get 20 confirmations since ViaBTC prevents you from withdrawing prior to that anyway (even though they let you trade earlier).

4. Trade BCH to BTC

When you have your confirmations, you can go to the Trading tab and select BCC/BTC. Select your full balance by clicking on the “Available balance: xxxx” label, and hit “Sell BCC”.

In my experience, selling was instant. If you return to the Asset tab, you should now see no BCC, but some lesser amount of BTC depending what exchange rate you received.

5. Withdraw your BTC

Now that you have BTC funds, you can withdraw them to your normal exchange, such as Coinbase, or else send them to your paper wallet. You need to configure a recipient address, which is done from the Asset->Card/Address menu.

Under “BTC Address Settings” heading add a new address:

Provide the address of your paper wallet, or else the recipient address from your exchange. Save this then return to the Asset->Withdraw->BTC tab. Here you can send the funds you traded out to the address you just added above:

And that is it! Be patient — the withdrawal will sit in the “processing” state for a short time, then go to “verified” and sit there for a while… all without broadcasting to the Bitcoin network. But within the hour, it will change to “Sent,” at which time you can track it on the normal blockchain.

And that is it! You just collected your free money.

Except…

Or, maybe you cheated yourself out of a fortune if BCH gains dominance and BTC falls by the wayside. Nobody can predict what might happen. In any case, if you decide not to sell some (or all) of your BCH, you should still sweep it to a new address, just like we did for the BTC.

If you followed steps 1 & 2 above, your BCH should be safely moved to an address in your ElectronCash software wallet, so if you take the proper backup/password precautions, that is a safe place to retain the funds. Otherwise, you can use ElectronCash to send the coins to a new paper wallet, created the same way you would for a normal Bitcoin paper wallet. The process is the same as outlined in the latter half of step 3, but replace ViaBTC’s recipient address with your own.

Hope this helped to demystify some of the confusion around BCH and BTC of late. Happy trading, fellow crypto hodl’er.

Just Keep Swimming

Time for a(nother) quick writer’s block rant.

There is a fair amount of wisdom in Finding Nemo, believe it or not. As a new father confronting the world of hyper-protective parenting and we-don’t-keep-score-at-games-so-nobody-ever-has-to-lose mentality, etc, I’ve given a little thought to Dory:

Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.

Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

Marlin: What?

Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

Right indeed.

But this is not a parenting blog entry. I’ve been back and forth through a strange fog of writer’s block the last few weeks, partially due to an overloaded schedule, and partially due to an inability to break into new chapters. A creative chasm I can’t seem to leap. I frequent a number of writing blogs and hardly a week goes by when someone doesn’t voice a similar issue. The creativity just isn’t there, or it’s an off week, or they just can’t find the best way to come at their scene or chapter. I posted a similar thread myself on one forum a little over a year ago, and yet here I am again.

Well, there is another bit of wisdom in Finding Nemo that I’ve found quite useful, and so long as I remember to keep it in mind, I can push through. Most recently when I reminded myself of the magic formula, I managed to break out a 10K+ word charge!

The magic formula? Here it is:

Dory had it right.

Howard Taylor and his crew over on Writing Excuses refer to this as BIC HOK: Butt in chair, Hands on keyboard.

The instruction is simple enough, and the concept, but I am more interested in the mindset.

Why the stumble?

For me, there is a lot of inertia when beginning a new chapter. Some of this comes down to how I outline. I have a huge piece of paper that lists all of the arcs unfolding in my story and the key scenes that take them from start to finish. Each character might have two or three lines down this chart, non-character movement might get a line, a mystery plot or discovery plot will be there. Together, the chart represents all the strands of DNA that will eventually form the living, breathing story. Once I have that worked out, I start organizing these key scenes into chapters and identify where I need additional scenes to bridge two points on this map. I’ll try to combine things in ways that make sense and hammer out the order. When it is all said and done I have a list of chapters for my story along with bullet points of what each arc looks like going into each chapter, and what each arc looks like going out of each chapter.

That sounds just delightful I’m sure, but there is one little problem: Nowhere have I figured out how I’m supposed to get from the input to the output. This is where my discovery writer wakes up and helps keep my story organic.

Or at least, he’s supposed to wake up. Turns out he’s more the wildly indecisive procrastinating type.

As I stare at the blank Scrivener document–the bullets noted over on the right–I start trying to find the best way to get from A to B. The problem is, there are a million ways to get from A to B. How do I find the right one? How do I find the one that will serve my story best? The one that also brings in world building and tension? The one whose setting most captivates the reader? The one that hits every beat just right?

I know what you are thinking: “But you are such a brilliant writer, you probably find the best solution on your first shot!”

Oh, you weren’t thinking that? How rude.

In any case, moving right along to…

How to write your scene perfectly.

You can’t. Quit writing and get another hobby.

How to write your scene.

This is the tough bit, the part that stops people from making headway. The story in your head feels like the perfect story. It feels like you just need to find the right words to get it out. It feels like the wrong words won’t do the story justice.

None of that is true, I’m sorry to say. There might be concepts in your head, movie-like scenes even, a sense of the characters… but until you write something down, there is no story, in your head or otherwise.

 

The story is only what you can get on the page. So what happens when the version you write doesn’t seem to fulfill your conceptual expectations?

Just keep swimming.

That comes back to the crux of the issue. In order to write your scene, you have to be okay with writing a crappy version of it first. Give yourself permission to have a little literary indigestion, and don’t worry about it. The way forward–the ONLY way forward–is to accept that much of your first draft will stink. The ideas will be overdone, off the mark, the characters will act inconsistently, you’ll leave out things you meant to include, you’ll include things you meant to leave out, you’ll pick crappy settings, your tension will be off the mark, etc.

That doesn’t mean you’ve sabotaged your story. It doesn’t mean much of anything, except that you are a little closer to your goal.

This cannot be understated. The key to writing your scene is to just write it and don’t give a damn if the thing you end up with stinks like yesterday’s garbage.

I know I went with the Finding Nemo thing, but let’s switch quickly to golf.

Think of your first draft as your driver. You’ll cover more yards with that first swing than any subsequent hit, but there is no expectation that you’ll land in the hole. That is no excuse not to swing. You take the shot, you see where it lands, then you start from there and figure out how to get closer. It might take a few hits, each with a slightly different tool, each employing a slightly different technique. Each hit will also take you closer and closer until you end up right where you want to be.

So what does it matter, really, if you botch the drive? Who really cares if you accidentally send the damn thing for a swim fifty yards off the course? When it’s time for the next shot you’ll just pull out your nine-iron and hit it again, in the right direction this time. Maybe there are a few scenes you’ll have to hit pretty hard in that second draft, but so what? On this course, there is no par. Play until you run out of bird-names to grade the strokes. Doesn’t matter at all.

Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Accept the fact that your second draft will be way better. Your third, better than that. No matter how you feel or how impenetrable a new chapter might seem… Just. Keep. Swimming.

A page stuffed with crappy, amateur words, in a big stinking messy pile, is nothing at all to worry about. It is closer to the goal than you were before, and that’s what you want.

… Even if you are writing in Whale.

Readback with Scrivener on iOS

On the Mac, text-to-speech is built into the operating system. This means you can highlight just about anything in most programs, right click, and go to Speech->Start Speaking and at once a flat Skynet robot will begin reading to you. As mechanical as the voices tend to be, I’ve found readback an indispensable part of my editing process. I catch spelling errors, strange phrasing, and all sorts of things that just don’t stand out on the written page.

Furthermore, writing is currently a backseat passenger in this runaway train that is my life, so I am often trying to squeeze it in amidst other things. The fact the computer can read to me while my attention is (ostensibly) on other things is fantastic and it lets me get some actual utility out of various chores, such as cleaning the dishes, cooking, etc.

Mobile

I’ve kicked out a couple blogs about Scrivener for iOS. Long story short, most of my writing is on mobile (iPad specifically). Were it not for the mobile app, I’d get hardly a word down these days. For a long time this has meant no more readbacks, or so I thought!

Turns out the same functionality is available on iOS, it just takes a few steps to turn on.

To begin, navigate to your Settings -> General -> Accessibility

Then find the menu item called Speech

Turn on “Speak Selection” then click on “Highlight Content.”

Here, choose to highlight both sentences and words. This is very helpful when you hear your device read something wrong and you need to see where it is in the text to correct it.

Finally, you can click on voices if you want to adjust how the robot sounds. I’m reasonably happy with Samantha Enhanced (which is a separate download, all managed right from the voices screen. The enhanced version has a bit more natural tonal variation as she speaks).

How to use it

Ok! Your iPad or iPhone is ready to go. Using the feature is simple. Pull up Scrivener and press and hold to get the context menu, then select all for the chapter/scene you want to hear (or highlight just the part you need).

Now you may notice a new option comes up in the context menu called “Speak.” Go ahead and give that a tap, and you’re off to the races:

As you can see it highlights the sentences as it goes, with the currently spoken word in blue.

Pronunciation

I found one other cool trick with this feature. I noticed it doesn’t say some of my made up words properly — an unsurprising problem, in a fantasy book. If you return to the “Speech” screen under Settings->General->Accessibility, you will notice at the bottom is a section called “Pronunciation.” Click into there.

What this lets you do is enter words and provide a phonetic spelling for the readback to use instead. I did it for one of my main characters, as well as an in-world term I created for doctors, both of which the default voice botches.

To add one of your own, hit the little (+) icon and you get a screen like below. Put the word as it will be found in your Manuscript in the “phrase” section, then under substitution, enter the same word phonetically. Use the “Play” button in the upper right to test it out until you get it right. Once this is setup, the readback will use these pronunciations automatically as it moves through your Scrivener documents. Quick aside: I’ve noticed the sentence highlighting sometimes gets quirky when it hits a word for which you’ve defined a replacement. I’d keep this feature’s use to a minimum.

Hopefully someone out there finds this helpful.

All right then, back to procrastinating!

On Motives and Failure

A recent post on The Guardian has been making some rounds in the writing community, and a few of the forums I frequent (including Chrons and Fantasy Faction). The short depressing tail from “anonymous” is stirring up frustration from some, and sympathy from others. It got me thinking about this thing we do called writing and the lofty goals we hold so dear: getting published.

Haven’t ranted in a while, so here I go.

Firstly, if you didn’t want to read the link, here is the summary: Anonymous showed every sign of being a writer, even from a young age. She called writing her destiny. She excelled at the craft, finished a manuscript, secured an agent… and then floundered. In her words:

I defiantly started a second novel. It was my masterpiece, but it bombed, too. Years of work and emotional investment wasted, I finally gave up, to save my sanity.

I have two comments I’d like to make about this, the first regards process and the second regards motivation.

Process behind success

A couple years ago I read the book the Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco. It is one of these self-empowering, feel-good books but with a few more practical actionable items for thinking about and achieving success. On the whole, the book isn’t particularly relevant to this discussion except for one bit: the author spent a great deal of time talking about process.

Success is the end result in a long unseen process of trials, errors, headaches, hours, and investment. It is very easy to look at someone else’s moment of success and fixate on that event itself, and think the event is what made the person. The moment an author is signed. The moment an author reaches the bestseller list, etc. It is natural to see that event wonder why the same thing isn’t happening to you.

Success isn’t the result of an event, it is the result of a long-unseen process marked my a multitude of failures. Maybe an event pops up along the way, maybe not. This is true in business and it is true in writing as well. Would-be authors ought not forget this. Getting an agent is great, but look at it as just another step in your ongoing process towards success. The moment you fixate on the event itself and lose track of the journey, you set yourself up for disappointment.

That friend of yours who self-published and is selling 50K books a month may have a million+ words in failure novels under their belt. Success was only the very last step.

Ok, enough about that. I think Anonymous made the mistake of assuming an event meant success, and when they signed an agent, they lost sight of the process. This is the wrong mentality to be successful. Every up might have a down and you either keep pushing, or you are better off not even getting started.

Motivation

Another issue with Ms. Anonymous was thinking publishing was her fate. This immediately signals a problem: was she in this just to be published? Was she in this just because she wanted to “be a writer?”

Unfortunately, that is not good enough. The wrong motivation and the wrong reasons won’t carry the day. It is like picking up a guitar because you want to be a famous musician, not because you have music to share with the world.

You’ve probably heard people say they write because the love it. Maybe you agree, or maybe deep down you think, I enjoy it, but I really just want to make money at it. If so, best of luck to you, but I think you are in the wrong game. Breaking out is a huge amount of work and the only way you can possibly keep the momentum going is if you genuinely love what you are doing. There are easier ways to make money.

Anonymous seems to have fallen into this trap somewhere along the way. Anyone writing only with an end goal in mind is missing the point. Write because you love it. Write because you’d do so anyway, even if you’d seen the future and knew nobody would ever pay you a dollar for it. If you do this, and you end up making money, well that is about as good as it gets. If you don’t end up making money, who cares? You are doing something that makes you happy.

/End rant

Those are the ingredients I think almost all successful writers must have:

  • A true motivation to want to share stories, no matter what.
  • An understanding that success in any field is the result of a very long process, and not the result of achieving any one event

Anonymous, if you are out there, don’t give up. Rediscover what it was that first excited you about writing, and return to that. Forget about being published, forget about the rest of it. Feed on the excitement of telling stories, and see what comes.

Oculus Rift

I had my first foray into the world of virtual reality with an Oculus Rift, and I thought it warranted a few words of review. I’ve been unusually tight on both time and energy to work on writing, but VR turns out to be another easy way to slip into a secondary world when I’m just too spent to be creating my own.

The Rig

Quick origins story: I built my first rig as a freshman in college. My buddy and I decided we didn’t have enough to do, what with a full load of courses, so we started a (now defunct) hosting company. It was a modest venture, but we did have about 300 customers billing monthly at one time. I don’t have much tangible to show from all the time I sank into that, but it did provide the funding for the first rig I ever built. I don’t even remember the hardware I used, so much having changed since those days. In any case, ever since then I’ve always carried the itch to build my own gaming system.

I fell out of touch with such things for many years, in part because I switched my home and work platform to OSX, in part because gaming fell by the wayside between my later college years and the corporate working world, and in part because I didn’t have the money to maintain a dedicating gaming machine. The itch remained and festered for well over a decade, then finally last Christmas I decided to scratch. I spent more than I should, but what the hell, it’s only money. Or maybe, hash-tag y-o-l-o? Business write-off as long as I develop on there too? Whatever, it’s done now.

Got a snazzy SSD PCI-e HDD that I’ve deployed in some of my database servers, got a Titan X Pascal in there, intel i7, and a gigantic case because I’d forgotten what “full ATX” meant. Wired it up nice and clean to my OCD’s delight, and fired it up:

Virtual Reality

So I had this thing since Christmas and I’ve been utterly amazed by how far games have progressed since the early 2000s, particularly when played on a curved 21:9 monitor (which actually was a work purchase. If you are a developer, look into one of these… seriously). Maybe I should have been content there, but it got me thinking… what else have I been missing in the world of gaming? The last console I owned was an early PS2. The most advanced game I ever played on my iPhone was Bike Race. What else has passed me by?

These idle musing came to a point over on the Fantasy Faction website, where I sometimes dwell in the writing forums. One of the users on there is a VR enthusiast. I’d heard of HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t really know if they’d matured as products, or if they were just expensive gimmicks. In any case, a thread led to a few PMs which led to a few YouTube videos which led to yet another slap in the face.

This VR thing is widely adopted and quite mature, and everyone who has used the hardware swears it is the future. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others are all fighting to win this market… the following is unusually dedicated, and the reviews unusually unanimous. Well, who am I to argue with the might of the internet? Thee command and I obey.

Oculus Rift

I decided to grab the hardware for this thing and see for myself. It arrived last week:

It took an hour to setup and configure, and just going through the initialization steps, I knew this thing was going to blow my mind. Next I downloaded a few games (Steam has a VR module so it all works pretty easily… you just have to enable “all sources” in the Oculus app). The first one I tried was called Eve: Valkyrie. It’s a space-ship flying game.

And it absolutely blew my fucking mind.

I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. You start out sitting in the cockpit of your little ship. You can look down and see yourself… well your virtual avatar. Your legs, arms, chest. If you move your head around, your body moves too as if your head is actually attached. You can look down and see the foot pedals, look left and see the glass beside you, even turn around and see the back of the pilot seat and the equipment stashed in the back. The response to my movements was 100%, completely natural. As you turn your head, the sounds even track left to right, as they really should. I was THERE.

Then outside the ship the lights come on and the controller starts vibrating. I’m in a launch bay and it’s counting down. When it hits zero my ship gets jettisoned down this enormous track and out into space. It felt like an actual rollercoaster, everything moving all around me. This thing was worth it just for that experience, though of course I’ve played several games since then to try and get the full experience. Some are better than others, but one thing is clear to me: this is the future of entertainment consumption.

Sim Sickness

There is one drawback I’ve noticed, that I can only hope improves. It is very easy to get motion sick using this thing. I’m not one easily pushed to the spins… I made it through a flight in NASA’s Vomit Comet without blowing chunks, after all. I’ve never been car sick or ill from a rollercoaster.

Yet Oculus almost got me there. After an hour, my stomach feels weak and my head is spinning, and I have to get out. Even the next day I felt a little off-balance. I’ve since learned that you need to acclimate to VR, start with games that let you stay stationary, and limit the extent to which you swivel your head around. More frequent breaks are also required, compared to conventional games. This is certainly a disappointing side effect that keeps breaking me out of the immersion, but it is a minor nit to pick compared to the overall experience. I still highly recommend Oculus to anyone, gaming enthusiast or otherwise… just make note of the “comfort level” rating on games, and be sure to start at the low end of the spectrum.

Well anyway, that is my little rant of the day. Hopefully I can get myself back on track with Lunhina, but for the moment I’m allowing this little diversion.

Oh, and Happy new year to y’all. Hope 2017 has great things in store for everyone.

Finding Time to Write

So this is a new challenge for me. My wife works nights, I work days (I work nights too, often, and we both work weekends), but there was always a reliable half-dozen hours a week where I was home alone on a given evening, and bored out of my mind. From this idle time hatched my love of writing. Soon all these regular hours helped me to generate the 200K words in novels I’ve so far written, and nearly a million words in revision, some great crit circles, and a growing involvement on a few writing forums. Some nights I banged out 3K or 5K words, some weeks 15K. My craft was improving, my intuition slowing growing… all was well and moving forward.

Check out this chart from my progress tracker for Lunhina:

As you can see I had a nice strong take off, a little writers-block lull in April, and a beautiful recovery (if I do say so myself) right up until about….. August 18th. Since then my pace has tanked and my progress has stagnated.

That’s because on August 18th this happened, which has been absolutely fantastic, but it has dramatically altered the profile of my free time. For the first time in my life I am facing the challenge many of my like-minded peers have faced all along: how the hell do you find time to write with a job and a life?

Moving to Mobile

I remember an episode of Writing Excuses where Brandon mentioned a fellow writer he crossed paths with while on tour (I think? I don’t remember her name) and she was constantly writing on her phone whenever something else wasn’t going on. This is not how I’ve worked in the past. I like to sit down, clear my head (have a drink) and spend a few hours. How can you do 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there?

Well, it turns out you can, if that is all you’ve got to work with. The first major breakthrough was coughing up for Scrivener for iOS. It turns out if you put your manuscript in your hand (or your pocket, as it were), you’ll find yourself adding to it all throughout the day. My mind tends to wander into my fantasy worlds while I’m doing trivial or repetitive tasks anyway, but now those random wanderings translated into actual words in the MS.

Making Tradeoffs

We all need to prioritize the tasks that bid for our time, and often when you are tired or overworked, it can be easy to choose iPhone games, TV, or sleep. While at least one of those might be healthy for you [citation needed], I’ve decided to cut into them all. My lunch breaks are no longer purely for lunching, my nighttimes are no longer purely for sleeping, and I’ve diverted as much entertainment time as I can manage towards one goal: writing some damn words!

This definitely gets exhausting, and at times, fighting to schedule writing in this way almost feels like work. But I suppose, that is how all personal commitments feel.  Going to the gym wasn’t always fun, but sometimes you just make yourself go because it’s good for you. Side note: I’m no longer going to the gym either.

Tech Compensation

I’ve had the good fortune of some modest success in my business ventures recently, and so I decided to splurge a little (woohoo cyber Monday!) by grabbing an iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. Now that I am in the swing of Scrivener on the phone, I figured the iPad might give me a little more power. Mobile enough to pull out and jump in, fast and easy to pack up, quite unlike a laptop. Then I’ve always liked freehand writing over typing. On a computer I can type faster than I can scribble, no doubt, but not the case for a phone or iPad with a virtual keyboard. Thus I used the Apple Pencil with this app to let me truly write my stories, right into Scrivener! Each of these additions has increased my word count, letting me cram the most productivity I can from the spare moments I run into.

All that together has helped to keep me moving, but there is no doubt things are much different in terms of my productivity and my pace. There might be no way around that, but I continue to look for tricks or habits that can make sure this hobby doesn’t fall by the wayside. If nothing else, I can at least now stand in solidarity with so many other novice writers who have to fight for the time of day for each and every word.

Friends, I feel you.

Scrivener Sync Conflicts

I’ve been absent for a couple weeks, thanks to the adventure unfolding beyond the page with my new son Evan. He is doing great and fatherhood is proving a most unexpected delight.

What little writing I have managed in the last few weeks (and I actually have strapped on a couple thousand words) has been *almost* entirely on my iPhone, using the mobile Scrivener app I wrote about a couple months ago. Typing on a phone is far from an ideal experience, but it is working for me, and letting me use free minutes here and there in a more productive way.

Sync Problems

Today I hit my first issue. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I fired up Scrivener on my laptop and was met with a dire warning: the Mobile Sync encountered conflicts! Scrivener then closed out my project, made backups, did who knows what, and popped back up with a new folder down at the bottom called CONFLICTS.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-54-38

Eeek. I have plenty of experience resolving conflicts with source control frameworks and diff utilities, but what can I do with Scrivener?

It’s okay! Nothing is lost!

So I did some research and eventually figured this out. The first thing to do is take a deep breath and realize that nothing was deleted. When Scrivener is unable to merge changes together, it just saves the two conflicting copies of the file. All your words are there, you just need to figure out which file they live in. In some cases you will need to compare the two versions and manually merge the differences together, if they both contain some new changes and some old changes. It takes a little patience, but rest assured it can be done without losing any valuable words.

Snapshots

This is a cool feature in Scrivener that I’ve not really played with before. Basically, you can save versions of individual files and keep track of the changes as you go, including the ability to roll back to older versions. This is the functionality we’ll use to quickly figure out how to merge our files.

What you want to do is pull up one of the conflicted files, then choose Document->Snapshots->Take Snapshot

This will save a copy of this particular version off to the side for us to compare to later. If it doesn’t open the snapshots sidebar, you can click the camera icon next to the notes area, or choose Document->Snapshots->Show Snapshots.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-55-18

What you should see on the right is a list of all your snapshots for this file, in particular, the one we just made:

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-18-19-59

Copy & Paste

Believe it or not, that was the hard part. Now we are going to use a little trick to let us see the specific changes and decide what is the correct version, without missing anything.

My naming convention, as you can see in that first screenshot, is not the clearest. However, from looking at the text I know what chapter each of those files comes from. I just made a snapshot of the first one in that list, which happens to be my chapter 1. Now I scroll up and find the real version of chapter 1 under my Manuscript:

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-56-30

Once there, I do Edit->Select All, then Edit-> Copy

No, go on back to your conflicted version, the one you just took a snapshot of. Once there do, Edit->Select All, Edit->Paste.

This changes the contents of the conflicted file to match the contents of the Manuscript file, but because we have a snapshot saved, we can drill in to see exactly what those differences are. To do this, click the “Compare” button (no need to save a new snapshot).

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-55-33

Now on the left you will see a version of the document with blue writing indicating new text that was not in the snapshot, and red strikethrough indicating text that was in the snapshot, but has now been deleted by the manuscript version. You can use the arrows to jump from difference to difference, and manually copying the right bits back up to the Manuscript version of the file.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-18-29-23

So in this case, I can see my “Conflicted” version had an extra line, which has been deleted in the “Manuscript” version (e.g., it is in red). In this case that line was supposed to be deleted, so I don’t have to do anything, my manuscript version is right.

You can go one by one until you have them all resolved. When you are all done, right click on the Conflicts folder and move it to the trash.

*whew.* Crisis averted.

Pantsing a different kind of story

I’ve just started working on a brand new story of a rather different sort: fatherhood. I’d prefer to outline this particular story, of course, but I’m told it doesn’t work quite like that…. so pantsing it is!

This has been quite a remarkable experience, all told. From seeing my wife transform, to seeing the amazing abilities of modern medical science, to watching my son enter the world, to feeling the bond already building between myself and him. You really have to live it to believe it.

The little man (9 pounds and 13.6 oz, if we can call that little) and is as healthy and happy as I could have wanted (as is his mom). He has a full head of hair, shows a propensity to quiet inquisitive staring over screaming (let’s see if this lasts!), and has already mastered sucking his thumb.

IMG_4586

Looking forward to a new adventure with this little guy and the start of my family. Evan, welcome to the world!

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 21.01.22

Get Beta Readers, then Ignore Them

Sidestepping the flippancy of the headline, I invite you to follow me on a brief rant of why you absolutely should get beta readers for your work, and then you absolutely should learn how to ignore them.  If you happen to be a beta reader of my work, don’t worry I still want to be friends. This post comes after I provided feedback to someone, and it inadvertently disrupted their vision.

Beta readers

People have different names for the different stages of critiquers. I’m talking about the first round of readers… the alpha readers, the workshoppers. The ones who are probably writers themselves. Since alpha reader doesn’t seem to be a commonly used term, for this rant I’ll just call them beta readers.

There are tons of reasons you should get beta readers. I’m not going to spend too much time on this point, because I think it is well understood. The bullets are as follows:

  • Outside opinions are indispensable for calibrating mystery plots
  • Outside opinions are essential for gauging foreshadowing and plot twists
  • Beta readers will catch tons of obvious mistakes to which you were totally blind
  • They will help you see pacing and arc issues from a fresh perspective

The list really speaks for itself. No matter how much creative distance you give yourself, there is no way to approach your own work the way a reader would, and the feedback a good beta reader can provide will help turn your story from good to great.

Protect your head

Maria_Hill_Mind_Probe_3364

Here’s the rub: mixed in with all that great feedback will be — inevitably — a lot of things that should just be ignored. Things that appear to reflect on the quality of your story, but don’t really. Your job is to keep those things from getting into your head.

First of all, no book you write will be a perfect genre match for someone else’s tastes, it just can’t ever be. The reason is simple. No matter how brilliant the story is, a book’s prose are only half of the equation that forms the “experience” of a book. The other half is the repertoire of beliefs and experiences brought by the reader. When these two combine, each reader has a unique experience of a given story mixed with their emotions and imagination. An experience surely guided by the author, but unique nonetheless. There is no one-size-fits-all, so there is just no way to write a story that works for everyone in all ways. This does not imply a problem with your story.

Then there are the high level preferences that are unlikely to be a perfect match for all readers. Your style of descriptions and prose, your use of voice, the length of your chapters, the characterization of whoever, the way you pace and plot… in that enormous list of “things you do in your book,” at least one won’t perfectly match a given reader’s preferences. This does not imply a problem with your story.

Both of those compatibility issues are normal and expected. Not a problem. A casual reader will love a book even if it wasn’t a 100% perfect genre match to their taste. They probably won’t even notice if this or that stylistically wasn’t perfectly their ideal. These things are overlooked by the casual reader, who just remembers how much they loved your book. These things probably won’t be ignored by your beta readers!

Finally, exceptionally few people will really know what you are going for until they’ve finished your book. Because beta readers often give feedback along the way, they will — thoughtfully and with the best of intentions — identify places where they perceive the story is veering off course. Off what course? Well, the one they anticipate. Probably the one they themselves would write, or at least the one they expect you to be writing. Whatever the case, they are almost certainly wrong, and their nudging doesn’t serve to steady the ship so much as confuse its vector.

In all of these cases, the related feedback actually has nothing to do with your story, it is merely a reflection of subtle mismatches between your story and your chosen readers. Recognizing when feedback is bubbling up from these sources is crucial, so you can safely dispose of it. We’ll return to this observation shortly.

Seek, and you will find

New writers often become new critters as part of the initiation into the world of writing. If you have workshopped other people’s writing, let me ask you something: has it changed the way you consume published fiction at all?

iStock_000001794848XSmall

In other words, have you ever slipped on your workshopping hat while reading a published book, perhaps and old favorite, and been surprised to see that you could make a list of issues if asked? I recently had this experience with Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss as well as The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. Don’t get me wrong: those are both fantastic books, and well worth a look by any serious fantasy writer. Nonetheless, I could find issues… things that didn’t move as well as they could have, unbelievable character statements or feelings, etc.

Of course I could, but so what?

All this should demonstrate is that the goal of the author is not to construct a story that is immune to feedback, it is just to construct a great story! The two are not mutually exclusive.

I think, at its heart, it is an issue of “academic” issues vs “actual” issues. In workshop-mode, all the rules and guidelines and best-practices are swimming about in our heads, and when we see something that deviates, we notice. We point it out, because that is our job as a critiquer. Yet many of these academic things do not imply storytelling problems, not necessarily anyway. It might just be that you want a chapter to meander a bit to set the tone. You want a character to overlook something for reasons revealed later. You want tension interrupted by flowery metaphors. It is not bad that beta readers will point many of these things out, it is bad when the author decides they need to “fix” all of these observations categorically.

Ignoring beta readers

Which brings me to the thesis of the rant. If we reduce all this to an actionable summary, it would be this: just as important as workshopping is learning how to filter feedback.

I’ve heard Steven King quoted to say he takes one in three comments. For newer writers with less experienced writing groups, I’d say forget Steven King, and be even more stingy.

Look for trends, ignore the rest.

Watch out for feedback that stems from simple incompatibilities between your readers and your book. These are all the things we talked about above: stylistic or genre mismatches, big-picture nudges, and anything else that threatens to veer you off the course you intended to walk. These are rarely real issues with your story, and are unlikely to be repeated by other readers.

Furthermore, remember that a lot of feedback will be pedantic in nature. This is nothing against the beta readers — their role is to make sure you notice these things! But all you need to do is look for patterns, not specifics. If there are no worrying patterns overall, go ahead and stick to your stylistic choices, and disregard the feedback saying otherwise.

Finally, remember that your story is done when it feels right to you. You might still have a pile of “unfixed” feedback, but that does not mean the manuscript on your screen isn’t fantastic and publishable.

Note

I hope none of this is construed as an excuse not to reflect on the feedback you receive, or to otherwise make a less than stellar book. I merely hope to impress upon you that it is all measured to your standards; you the author, the creative force. It is to your judgement this book must yield, nobody else’s. Consider what they say, be aware of the types of feedback that are unlikely to help your story, then decide for yourself and discard the rest.

TL;DR:

Don’t lose track of your vision, and make sure your beta readers don’t inadvertently steer you the wrong direction. They are an invaluable resource in many ways, but never the final word, and never the golden standard against which your writing must measure.

a072bd9ab2f06ce3728b92776569804d

Scrivener on iOS

One week ago, Scrivener launched an iPhone app and updated their desktop application to support syncing projects between devices through DropBox. I tried it out and figured I’d help you do the same.

Getting Setup

In order to work on your existing projects on-the-go, you will need a few things. First you will need a free DropBox account. If you are new to cloud storage, here is the cliff-note version: DropBox is easy to use, they’ve been around a long time, and they keep your files safe and encrypted. Signup for a free account then mosey on over to their download page and get the desktop version of the application. Once installed, this will create a new folder on your computer (Mac in my case):

/Users/YourName/Dropbox/

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 17.08.36

Only the stuff you put in this folder gets synced up with the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally uploading all those nude selfies you keep on your desktop. Oh, that’s just me who does that?

Well in any case, once installed, grab your iPhone and give this link a nice press. The Scrivener iOS app costs $19 (here in the USA at the time of this post), but well worth the money if–like me–ideas hit you at random times and demand attention.

Once the app is installed, fire it up and hit the sync icon in the upper left, next to the plus icon:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 17.14.15

Choose to sync from Dropbox, login to your account, and let the app do its thing. When it finishes, you will notice a brand new folder appeared on your computer in the DropBox folder called:

/Users/YourName/Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener/

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 17.16.26

Nothing else happened on the iPhone, but that is okay.

Syncing your first project

On the computer, go ahead an open Scrivener to your work in progress. Then choose File->Save As… and navigate your way into the Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener folder, and save your project there.

You could just move the project file manually, but I am of the school of thought that having extra backups is never a bad thing. Just remember your working copy (and your synced copy) is now in the Dropbox folder, and the old one is just your backup.

Close down Scrivener and wait until you see the little green check in your Dropbox folder, like in the image above. This indicates everything is synced up to the cloud.

Now switch over to your iPhone and open the Scrivener mobile app. Hit that sync icon one more time, and you are done! From here on out, everything syncs automatically, or at the push of a single button.

The Scrivener mobile app

The app is absurdly easy to use. Once you pick a project, you basically start with a mobile view of the left-hand menu from the desktop app, and you are free to drill down to look at your characters, locations, notes, everything.

IMG_4418

If you drill into Manuscript, you can access your chapters and start working away. They keyboard has a cool left/right sliding toolbar that gives you quick access to some of the advanced style features you would expect on a computer:

IMG_4419

Congratulations, you are ready to go!

Once you have made changes on the mobile app, just tap the sync button and modified files will make their way back up to dropbox, and then down to your computer again, all in a matter of seconds. The next time you open your Scrivener project file (the one in the Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener folder), you will see the changes ready to go.

Note:

As with all multi-device syncing, it is a good idea not to edit things in multiple places at once, as this has a tendency to confuse even the best synchronizing software. The safest use case is to have your Scrivener project open in only one place at a time. Leaving your computer? Save and quit. Made a change on your phone? Exit back out before you sit in front of your computer. This way you only ever have your project open in one place.

If you do happen to leave Scrivener open on your desktop then make changes on your phone, be sure to press they manual sync button (the one on the right) before you carry one with further changes on the Desktop:

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 22.06.43

Likewise, if you have Scrivener open on your phone but made changes on your computer, you should make your way back to the app start screen and hit the sync button.

Pro tip

If you are like me, about half of your ideas strike you while you are lying in bed, lights out, sleeping wife beside you. I am a big fan of the accessibility feature on the phone that lets you invert the screen colors, and I’ve linked it up to the triple-click on the home button (Settings->General->Accessibility->Accessibility Shortcut). When an idea strikes in the dead of night, a quick triple-click later and I have a great nightvision-preserving non-wife-awakening editor:

IMG_4419i

Lastly, if you have one of the new iPhones (6, 6S, or later) that supports the “3d touch,” make ample use of this trick. Force touch anywhere on the keyboard, and suddenly you get a mouse-like cursor that you can steer around with your thumb, helping you jump around with ease.