Fascinating Rhythm: On Writing Comedy

I recently published a column in my weekly newsletter, The Study, on finding your rhythm when writing comedy:

You can tell when a joke will land. It’s in the way the audience laughs, whether you’ve had them from the beginning or you had to pull them to your side throughout a scene. I don’t have a live studio audience for my show, but I do have a gut feeling about how a joke will be received by the audience.

It took me six episodes, but I finally found The Shelf Life’s rhythm. I noticed it when I was editing laugh tracks in episode six. I’d left them in from episode five and watched as many of them lined up within a second or two of their previous locations from the last episode. My jokes were hitting in the same spots.

I’ve learned a lot while developing my podcast sitcom. If you’re interested in a little insight on writing comedy, maybe for your own project, give it a read.

And if you’d like to get these kinds of things delivered straight to your inbox every week, PLEASE SUBSCRIBE!

The Study: Issue #24

I just released a new issue of The Study, my Substack newsletter for readers and writers:

  • The Shelf Life: Episode 4 | “Mail Call”
  • The Prophet: A New Thriller from Yours Truly
  • James Patterson Saving Independent Bookstores
  • Notion – The All-in-One Workspace

Read it here. And click here to subscribe so you get it delivered to your inbox every week.

The Prophet: A New Thriller

On Tuesday of this week, I decided to release my latest book, The Prophet to the book-buying public. It’s a literary thriller about a fundamentalist cult and a young woman trying desperately to get out. The full synopsis is below:

Twelve year-old Callie Rich wouldn’t know what a normal childhood looks like. She and her family have been a part of the Lambs of Zion church their entire lives, existing in a well-guarded pocket of the American southwest where modernity and independence are shunned. When their leader, the Prophet, excommunicates her father—one of his closest advisors—and takes Callie to be his next bride, it has to be a mistake.

One town over, private detective Max Barker is well aware of the polygamist cult on the Arizona-Utah border, but he keeps his distance like everyone else until Callie’s father shows up on his doorstep begging for help. His family is in danger and he has the proof that could bring the whole organization—and its leader—crashing to the ground. Max, hoping to make good on a promise he’d kept to a former Lamb, decides to help.

Unaware of her father’s plan, Callie joins up with a group of other wives looking to escape, but someone inside the church knows what they’re up to. While Max and Callie’s father work to infiltrate the church for evidence, Callie and the other women of the LoZ must hurry and leave before the Prophet takes drastic action to keep his church, his family, and his legacy intact.

You can buy it for Kindle and other eReaders today over at Gumroad and Kobo. It should be up on Apple’s iBooks store soon.

If you do end up purchasing, it would mean a lot if you left a review afterwards. Reviews help boost visibility and let others know whether they might like it, too.

iPad for Writers — Part 3: Keyboards

If you plan on doing any kind of longform writing on the iPad — you know, more than the occasional tweet or email — then it’s probably safe to say there’s a 100 percent chance you’re going to need an external keyboard. Before I got my iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard Folio, I tried a lot of third-party keyboards.

I’m going to discuss a few options out there that should hopefully help you find a sweet spot for your own needs, or at the very least, put you on a path to that one true keyboard you’ve been looking for.

Apple Wireless/Magic Keyboard

I bought the first generation iPad soon after its release in 2010 and at the time we didn’t have nearly as many keyboard options available as are available today. There was the keyboard dock, Apple’s own wireless keyboard used with its various desktop computers, and little else. We didn’t have Brydge, or Logitech, or Belkin providing all manner of keyboards at varying form factors and sizes.

Since it was cheaper than the dock at the time, I opted for the wireless keyboard and an Incase Origami workstation case to carry it in. The case unfolded into a kind of cradle where you could prop up your iPad as you worked. One advantage it had over the dock was that it allowed me to use the iPad in vertical or landscape orientation.

While the Origami isn’t really an option anymore given the Magic Keyboard’s redesign from the original Wireless Keyboard, there are similar products available that perform essentially the same function.

Studio Neat makes what appears to be the best solution and it comes the closest to what the original Origami offered. The Canopy is a $40 sleeve for your Magic Keyboard that kind of folds over on itself when closed, then unfolds into a tented stand for your iPad. the button strap keeps it closed during travel and holds the stand together when opened. I haven’t tried it myself, but Studio Neat is a very well-known and trusted company and at $40, it’s worth a look. One thing MacStories writer John Voorhees noted in his review of the Canopy:

Sliding the Canopy around on a table works well, but in my lap I’ve run into a couple minor issues. The added friction of sliding the Canopy in my lap sometimes causes the snap to come undone. In addition, when I use the Canopy in my lap, my iPad sits lower in it than it does on a table or in the Smart Keyboard Case, which can make it difficult to swipe up to activate Control Center.

Something to keep in mind if you’re looking into using your Mac’s keyboard as your iPad keyboard, too.

Brydge

One thing you’ll often hear from skeptics is "the iPad isn’t a laptop." On a fundamental level, they’re right — though that’s all changing with the upcoming iPadOS. However, there are ways to bring the laptop experience to your iPad and one way is by using a laptop-class keyboard. If you want your iPad to feel like a MacBook, look no further than Brydge’s own Bluetooth keyboard. When I still had my 9.7-inch model, I used a Brydge keyboard with it and I loved it.

Not only does it feel like typing on a MacBook Air, but the keys are backlit and there are dedicated function keys for things like the Home button, Siri, and volume and brightness adjustments — keys not found on Apple’s own Smart Keyboards. You just slide your tablet into the rubberized clips on each side, sync up the Bluetooth connection, and you’re ready to write. The screen is protected when closed over the top of the keyboard, just like a laptop.

The battery life on a Brydge keyboard is arguably the best of all Bluetooth keyboards, the company promising it will last 12-months per charge. I never let mine get that low, but even charging it once a week was more than okay considering I need to charge my iPad about once a day anyway.

The new Pro models for the 2018 iPad Pro allow for 180-degree viewing, meaning you can flip the iPad around and either prop it up to watch a movie, or close the back of it over the keyboard and use it as a chunky tablet. There’s even a magnetic cover for the back of the iPad as added protection. The 12.9-inch model comes in at $170 while the 11-inch version runs $150, about $30 cheaper than Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folios. Not bad, considering the Brydge options offer greater functionality and protection than Apple’s own keyboards.

For a deeper look, I suggest you check out Jason Snell’s Brydge keyboard review over at Six Colors.

But for many users, owning an iPad is all about portability. You might not want to lug another laptop around, no matter how good the keyboard is. You want something you don’t have to charge, that you can remove in a second without having to fiddle with bulky cases or rubber grips.

That’s when you turn to Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio.

Apple Smart Keyboard Folio

In a recent piece about keyboards on the Verge, Sam Byford threw a bit of shade at Apple’s offering, saying, "Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio is the best option if you value portability and don’t plan to use your iPad Pro as a primary writing machine."

While I agree on the portability aspect, I think it’s more than adequate as an option for people who plan to use their iPad Pro (or Air) for writing. I’ve been editing my latest novel on it and while I expected not to like typing on such rubbery keys, I got used to it pretty quickly. One thing I didn’t like about the Brydge keyboard was how bulky it made the iPad. The beauty of the iPad is in its form factor — thin, light, easy to carry. Not that my MacBook Air isn’t also light and thin, but sometimes I don’t need a keyboard and I don’t want to have to struggle with removing the iPad from the Brydge’s clips.

Since it’s attached using only magnets, the Smart Keyboard Folio comes right off and pops back on without a problem. Where I struggle with it is in its "lapability." The Smart Keyboard Folio offers two angles of working — a steep, almost vertical angle and a slightly more tipped-back inclination, which is where I usually keep it when I’m typing. I certainly can use it in my lap, but it’s not as stable as a laptop or when using the Brydge. Keep that in mind if you don’t often use a desk or table at Starbucks when typing.

Other Options

Logitech, Belkin and a host of other third party companies make all kinds of keyboard cases for the iPad. They’re designed to protect the device on all sides while providing a kind of laptop experience. I’m not a fan of these. They’re bulky and getting the tablet in and out of them can be difficult. Basically, once it’s locked into the case, that’s where it stays.

There are also folding keyboards from companies like iClever. I have one and it’s good in a pinch or if you have limited space in your bag, but the keys are cramped and I have difficulty typing on it with my big, fat fingers.

Final Thoughts

Just like with your choice in word processor, your choice in keyboard is entirely up to your personal preferences. I love the Smart Keyboard Folio and use it daily. It’s the most portable of all of them and I don’t mind typing on the thinner, rubberized keys.

To keep things simple, here’s a quick recap of possible needs and the keyboard that would best suit them:

Apple Bluetooth Keyboard + Stand

  • You often write at home
  • Don’t travel much
  • You demand the same typing experience on the iPad as you get on the desktop
  • You want to be able to type in any orientation (portrait or landscape)

Brydge Keyboard

  • You want a laptop-style typing experience for your iPad
  • You want dedicated iOS function keys
  • You want backlit keys
  • You often find yourself typing with the device sitting on your lap
  • You’re looking for a cheaper alternative to Apple’s Smart Keyboard covers

Smart Keyboard Folio

  • Size and portability are your biggest concerns
  • You don’t mind getting used to the feel of a new keyboard
  • You often type at a desk or table, rather than with the iPad on your lap

Keyboard Case

  • You want ultimate protection for your iPad
  • Looking for laptop-like experience
  • Price is an important factor for you

Good luck in your search for the perfect keyboard for your needs. Hopefully this piece saves you the heartache and walletache I’ve gone through in finding what works for me. And if you haven’t caught up on the other pieces in this series, I invite you to check them out below:

iPad for Writers — Part 1: Changing Behaviors

iPad for Writers — Part 2: Scrivener and Apple Pages

iPad for Writers – Part 2: Scrivener and Apple Pages

Before we get started, let me state right away that you can write a book in anything. Google Docs, Word, Drafts–it doesn’t matter. However, I’d argue that just because you can write in those programs doesn’t mean you should write in those programs. I can’t imagine writing a book in Word and the idea of trusting a browser app to hold 80,000 words gives me hives. But people do it and they are far braver than I will ever be.

There are dedicated applications designed for longform writing. One of them is called Ulysses. I know of several writers who swear by it, including authors Matt Gemmell and David Hewson. It’s available for Mac and iOS and it’s…fine. It seems to have a decent number of export options, including ePub, but it never sat well with me as a place to write something big like a novel or non-fiction book. I’ve tried it and I think of it more as a blog post editor. However, if you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to read Matt’s and David’s blogs, as well as this Macworld review.

For my fiction, I trust only the best and the best is and always has been Literature and Latte’s Scrivener, available on Mac, Windows, and iOS ($45 on Mac and Windows, $20 on iOS). Scrivener is the kitchen sink of word processors. It’s able to collect research, such as character bios, images, and webpages, it can export to all sorts of filetypes, including ePub and Kindle’s .mobi format, and moving scenes around is as simple and picking one up and dropping it where you need it to go.

On the desktop.

The iOS version, which I’ve been relying on more and more, does not share feature parity with its Mac counterpart. In some ways, that’s good. One of the biggest complaints about Scrivener is its high barrier to entry. Because it does so much, many writers find it to be overwhelming, choosing to rely on old standbys like Microsoft Word to do the job. Scrivener on iOS doesn’t have that problem, since the developers stripped out a lot of the power user features to give writers a simpler, cleaner interface.

Fonts and styles are tucked away under a separate button, so there’s less to fiddle with and you can focus on writing, not debating between Times New Roman and Cochin.

On the flip side, not having all the features of the desktop app makes tracking versions more difficult. As I work through edits on my latest novel, I like to take a "snapshot" of a chapter as it exists now before I start to make changes. Those changes can then be reflected in different-colored text on the page. Scrivener on iOS doesn’t have snapshots, so any edits I make can’t be tracked automatically.

I can still change text colors and highlight passages and make comments and footnotes, but all of that must be done manually.

Of course, the iOS version is still young and has a long way to go before it can be considered "complete." I’m hopeful features like Snapshots make it in soon.

The good news is many of the features I do use are present, such as Dropbox sync and the corkboard, which allows me to see each chapter displayed as an index card that can be shuffled around.

I can also see my progress as I write, including the word count for my current writing session, and I can set targets to hit each day if I hope to finish my first draft by a specific date.

For any writer who’s wanted to give Scrivener a try, but has been scared to dive into what they’ve believed is an expert-level program with a steep learning curve, I encourage them to take a look at the iOS version first. It provides a ton of features that can be explored at a steady pace, but without the clutter of the desktop versions.

In conjunction with Scrivener, I’ve also come to depend on Apple’s Pages app–a free download for iOS users. Pages has come a long way and what Apple has now is a capable word processor compatible with Microsoft Word. I recently hired a freelance editor to provide developmental edits for my novel, which he sent back as a .docx file. Since I work off an 11" iPad Pro, Word requires me to pay for a subscription to edit any documents and I already pay for way too many subscriptions.

Instead, I opened the edit document in Pages and was happily surprised to see all the tracking was still intact. The comments didn’t appear as little bubbles to the side like in Word. Instead, they popped up like little footnotes at the bottom of the window. Using the iPad’s split-window multitasking, I keep Pages on the left and Scrivener on the right at equal widths and edit my book side-by-side.

Also, a fun tip I learned from Jodi Hutchins on Twitter: adding "GOAT CHEESE" to your manuscript where you leave off in your edits makes it MUCH easier to find your way back to that spot later. This is especially true on the iPad, where apps are known to quit themselves and refresh spontaneously, stranding you at the top of your documents. Having to flick your way back to where you were near the bottom can take a while, so instead just conduct a search for any mentions of "GOAT CHEESE" and you’re right back where you stopped earlier. I add it to both the Scrivener draft and the edit doc just in case.

All of this is fine and dandy if you’re in the throes of editing, but what if you’re still drafting? Even on the Mac you can’t have multiple Scrivener windows open to the same project. If you need to stop writing to check your research folder for something, you need to bounce out of the active chapter, find what you’re looking for in the Research folder, then go back and pick up where you left off. It’s not a great system regardless of the platform.

On iOS, there are useful apps like Story Planner that can be flown in from the right side of the screen to give you quick access to character bios or research documents without taking you out of Scrivener. When you’re done, you can simply swipe them away and get back to drafting. I’ll be talking about Story Planner and other helpful utilities in a future article, but for more information on iOS multitasking, check out this helpful piece on iMore.

I’m not sure I ever would have written one novel, let alone six, had it not been for Scrivener. Its flexibility and robust feature set have made the act of writing not only easier, but also fun. But Scrivener, especially on iOS, is only the beginning. App choice is one half of the battle. The other half is in picking the right keyboard. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series where I’ll discuss the different keyboard options available. You’re going to be using the keyboard more than anything else, so choose wisely.