Recently I read a New York Times article that explained one author’s technique for waiting until after his first draft to create an outline. This was the first time I’d seen anyone put into words my own methods for structuring my work. It was both startling and comforting to see that other writers work backward like I do!
Starting in middle school, we were taught to outline before writing. Like disciplined Renaissance painters, we were to draft a grid, sketch the composition, and then paint the details. But I always “cheated” by writing the paper first, and then creating an outline to match. I felt I couldn’t create a map for my thoughts until I had first explored them on foot.
Over time I admitted there’s merit to at least considering key points for your work before you begin. Now I start by dumping a stream of consciousness onto a blank document and then eliminating the ideas that don’t contribute or flow. The outline still doesn’t come first, though. Sometimes I get far into a document before I reach a point where enough pieces are present to organize it and pare it down to its essential message. At this point I usually do find a rough outline helpful (at least for lengthy work) to refine the logic and flow of my arguments, and to spot any missing links.
I took an art history class during college where the professor explained Michelangelo’s method for sculpting marble figures. Michelangelo claimed he didn’t create the figures — rather, they were already within the stone and he chipped away until they were revealed. So if middle schoolers are taught to write like painters, I write like a sculptor instead.
Have you ever copied text from a website into a Word document only to find distracting spaces between lines or after paragraphs? No matter how many times you press delete, you can’t get rid of them. You click and drag and re-type, but just when you think you’ve won, the spaces keep reappearing. How can you make things normal again?
Web browsers and Microsoft Word use critically different markup languages to control how text appears. When you paste text from one into the other, the languages can collide and result in gibberish. Fortunately, there are three easy solutions that I use all the time.Read More»
Everyone has a superpower. Some people can transpose music by ear. Others can catch flying objects with a catlike swipe of the hand. A lucky few can even remember new names after one introduction.
I have a few superpowers too, and one of them is software mastery. It’s nowhere near as cool as leaping tall buildings in a single bound… but it’s way more helpful at work! I’ve unintentionally become that person at the office who people ask for help when Microsoft Word goes buggy, or Excel won’t display the right numbers, or images are blurry in InDesign.
Now I’d like to start sharing my bag of tricks with you, from basic keyboard shortcuts to expert formatting tips. I use PC at work and Mac at home, so I’ll try to share tips from both platforms. This promises to become a recurring column on the blog—so stop banging your head against the keyboard in frustration, and start reading. And please ask me if you have any tricky questions about Microsoft or Adobe products! Maybe I’ll have a superpowerful answer for you.
See you soon with the first superpower!
For decades my family has been spreading the gospel about our perfect quickbread recipe. It’s sweet, cinnamony, and uber forgiving (just don’t leave out the salt! — ask Emily). I’ve never met someone who didn’t like it.
Leftovers, if you have the willpower to leave any, keep for nearly a week on the counter. The bread freezes and reheats really nicely. It’s delicious at breakfast with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. You can even turn it into cute luncheon sandwiches by making mini loaves and spreading the slices with cream cheese.
And the best part? The key ingredient is whatever you want it to be! Unsweetened applesauce and shredded zucchini are my favorites. You could try pumpkin, dates, rhubarb, bananas, or maybe even carrots. Use whatever you’re craving, as long as it’s moist.
This time, since it’s fall (or at least the calendar says so), I used pumpkin. To the ingredients below I added a half teaspoon of ginger and a quarter teaspoon of cloves. I ended up with 24 mini muffins and four mini loaves of pumpkin bread.
Whatever Bread Recipe
makes 2 9×5″ loaves
or 5 mini loaves
or lots of muffins
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
3 eggs, beaten (or 3 heaping Tbsp yogurt)
2 cups sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup veg oil (use 1c if your “whatever” ingredient is dryer)
2 cups “whatever”
Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and set aside. In a large mixer bowl, beat eggs with sugar, vanilla, and oil. Continue mixing and add other ingredients slowly, alternating dry mixture and wet “whatever” ingredient. Pour into greased pans. Bake at 325F for 50-60 minutes (less time for mini loaves or muffins), until a toothpick comes out clean or with crumbs. Leave in pan to cool.
My mom’s copy of the recipe
Now that we’ve lived in this apartment a full year (I know, I can’t believe it either!) we’re finally taking care of some much-needed updates.
First up: The TV. From our former separate apartments we had both a projector and a small flat screen television, but for years now we’ve only ever used the projector (it uses the blank wall above for a screen). So I wanted to sell the TV and its stand and replace both with some bigger storage that could hold all our board games plus DVDs. Thanks to Craigslist, we found the perfect buffet/sideboard and sold the rest — and came out with a small profit!
Now we finally got the games off the floor in the office, and a recent visitor remarked that our living room looked striking without any visible television. Oh and you can ignore the crooked leg because I’ve since scared it straight with a rubber mallet.
Next: Our poor bed. Ever since college I’ve slept on a mattress held up by a collapsible metal frame. To make it look like a real bed, my sister helped me make a DIY fabric headboard. It was a great temporary solution… but we ended up still using it five whole years later. By now, aren’t we real adults who deserve a bed that doesn’t tip when you sit on the end to put on your shoes? With the exposed box springs and flimsy legs it also looked really rough when unmade — and I’ll admit, it’s almost always unmade. (Though it’s not always that messy; I was in the middle of sorting laundry.) Bed skirts weren’t an option because they’re just not our style.
A couple weeks ago I found the ideal nightstands at a local consignment shop: they match our dresser we bought there months ago because the same guy refinished both pieces. That was the kick in the behind I needed to start working on a plan for the bedroom, which I mocked up and sent to Dan like a total nerd.
Planning overkill? Maybe. But it was really helpful to make sure we were both on the same page before I actually spent any money. After we agreed on the plan, we finally bit the bullet and bought the IKEA Nyvoll bed frame in black-brown. Saturday I assembled it all by myself in between loads of laundry while Dan was out for the day. Those maddening IKEA bits and boards eventually resulted in a sturdy, grown-up-looking bed!
The support slats allow you to use it either with or without box springs, and the height is adjustable so it looks good either way. We’re spending a few nights each way to see which is more comfy.
Can’t wait to get started on more updates once our budget recovers! Hey, what do you think about the rug on carpet idea? I think that it can really help define a space and add color, which is key since we’re not allowed to paint. Dan thinks it might look goofy so I plan to bring home a sample to test it out before we order a hard-to-return version online.