Meta: Unfinished Blog Tweaks and Shortcuts

I love using GeneratePress (Premium + GenerateBlocks) for WordPress projects. I’m still relatively new to everything but after using Divi, I’m blown away by how versatile developer Tom Usborne’s products can be in replacing traditional page builders. It also works surprisingly well on an iPad. With the block editor gaining more traction, the future of WordPress development seems different to me. My ship for learning tons of code and hand building custom web pages has sailed. It never docked. But that’s okay. The people I build for are friends and small business owners and GeneratePress will get the job done perfectly.

But I’m keeping Among the Stones in Sami Keijonen’s theme Simppeli, for a long time probably. Like the name suggests, it’s simple and I love the bold headings, typefaces, and lack of a dropdown menu. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

In early iterations of Among the Stones, I tinkered much more than I wrote, usually without much knowledge on how to do it. So I would switch from Raam Dev’s Independent Publisher (a very good blog theme) to a thousand others, searching in vain for that desired look. Then switch back, change some things, become restless again, then go hunting on GitHub and WordPress’s themes directory once more. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I hated it.

Lately, I’ve tried to focus on writing more. I’ve used the space to journal, to link and comment on things around the internet, and to share photos and some ideas.

Now, and especially after seeing a nice blog redesign, I have a list of changes I want to make to the design of Among the Stones, all within a child theme of Simppeli.

Here’s the thing though. I’m trying to prioritize offline time after my classes, so some of this might get done, and others might not. I’ve sat down to finish up a shortcut or dive into a problem only to be pleasantly pulled away by a walk in the woods, or one of the unread books sitting on my nightstand. Most of these unfinished tasks are small tweaks, such as highlighting the tagline of the blog to break up the black and white. I also added a vertical line of the same faint yellow #fff9c0 to block quotes to better differentiate quotes. So here they are, to be done or not.

Blog Tweaks

SSL Certificate

Really the only thing I must figure out quickly is securing the blog with SSL. My knowledge of the backend is admittedly pretty shaky. I found my first host, Media Temple, through Mike Rockwell’s Initial Charge. I’ve since switched to a Digital Ocean droplet and this means the command line. I go to make a password on the droplet and it fails. Every time I’ve sat down to figure it out, my eyes glaze over and my short attention span (or undiagnosed ADHD) forces me to get up and go outside or read something about autochthonous forests or the history of emissaries.

Dark Mode

Automatic dark mode on iOS13 is something special. I have it set to sunset to sunrise. Most of the apps I use have a dark mode that defaults to the system now. And the web can also take advantage of @media (prefers-color-scheme: dark. I have a snippet that I’ve pieced together but it’s incomplete.

    @media (prefers-color-scheme: dark) {
  body {
    background-color: #333333;
      color: white;}
      p {color: white}
        a:link {color:#ffffff;}
    a:visited {color:#ffffff;}
    a:hover {color:#ffffff;}
    a:active {color:#ffffff}
        h1 {color:#ffffff;}
    h2 {color:#ffffff;}
    h3 {color:#ffffff;}
        h4 {color:#ffffff;}
        li {color:#ffffff;}
        tr {color:#ffffff;}

    #respond #commentform textarea {
    background-color: #404040;}
    #respond #commentform .text,
    #respond #commentform textarea {
    color: #ffffff !important;}

The metadata below the post and the typeface color with highlights don’t switch, so I haven’t implemented it yet. Until then, the white background at midnight is a little jarring.

Square Search Bar

It’s proverbial low-hanging fruit but the search bar that appears in About and Archives is rounded, where every other text field is square. I want to change this to make it more consistent.

Better Archive

Simppeli doesn’t come with a great archive, so I’ve used short codes for recent posts and months with a search bar. I’d like to include post dates after recent posts’ titles, a smaller month and year view like use years and months in a line, include most-used tags with the number of posts next to them in a simple comma-separated list. I’m not a fan of tag clouds with each larger or smaller tags.

Minor Changes

  • Add image borders? I go back and forth between loving a thick black image border or not. Earlier, I used to upload photos with these included already. Have a thought on this? Let me know in the comments.
  • Remove the drop shadow from text boxes.
  • Customize Jetpack’s Related Posts feature to blend in better with the metadata and post.

Leveraging Shortcuts for A Better Blogging Routine

Alongside some aesthetic changes, I’d like to take advantage of more automation so I don’t have to fiddle inside the dashboard after publishing. I have not fully harnessed the power and time-saving capabilities of Shortcuts in my writing workflow. I have a ton of things to figure out to make more customized Publish to WordPress shortcut for markdown editors like iA Writer, my text editor of choice on iOS/iPadOS. I think most of this requires regular expressions, again, something akin to hieroglyphics.


iA Writer is also a very simple text editor app. With its main competitors, Ulysses and Drafts, moving to subscription price, iA Writer has intentionally stayed one price. I think I paid 4.99 USD for it in 2016 or 2017, but now it is 29.99. Only you can decide if it is worth it, but the amount of updates and ease of use suggests it might be for writers looking for just a blank page.

It utilizes iOS’s Files so you can see and move around your text files (not so with the two aforementioned apps). For organization, you can use Folders and hashtags. Hashtags are also used for titles H1-H6 in markdown. For instance, this section has three hashtags ###, a space, then the title Hashtags. To use iA Writer’s organizational hashtags, leave out the space. They will appear on the Library view at the bottom in alphabetical order. When you preview a filed with the keyboard shortcut ⌘+R, these do not appear.

What I’d like to do is add a few actions in Shortcuts to recognize these organizational hashtags (probably located at the bottom of a page) and use them as tags to be included in WordPress’s publish action, without them appearing in the finished post at the bottom of the page inside the body.

Utilizing iA Writer’s highlights

I like highlighting physical books and PDFs. I also like the look of them in posts to draw attention more than bold type. iA Writer recently added == as a way to bracket and highlight text inside the app rather than using HTML <mark> and </mark>. Unfortunately, WordPress does not recognize this. I need a few actions to find these, replace the beginning equals signs with the first HTML tag and the ending equals signs with the second.

Captions for Images in Markdown

If I use photos in posts, I run a shortcut that resizes and compresses it, uploads it to WordPress, and gives me a markdown URL, such as ![]( Theoretically captions go in the brackets, like any text that will turn into a link. While WordPress recognizes links, it does not render properly for captions. This means I have to go in to each publisher post, add the media manually and use HTML if I want to link to an image source that isn’t mine in the captions text box in the media library. It takes time and can be cumbersome from a phone or tablet, which is where I write.

Better Footnotes

I try to avoid footnotes, but for some posts, they could be helpful but I haven’t found a WordPress plugin or other solution that correctly emulates how markdown and iA Writer adds footnotes, which is simply [^text here] that automatically numbers them down at the bottom of a list. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

This one’s a bit meta and nerdy, but maybe I’ll find some solutions to these from someone reading this. The next post will be about Galician elections coming up on 12 July.

Isolated, Day 3

The national government took steps to restrict all nonessential movement. Patricia and I are a few days ahead, staying in our village since Friday, only interacting with friends and family through our phones and our elderly neighbors from a safe distance.

We both work from home but it’s still mentally and spiritually taxing to realize self-isolation will probably be for many weeks. Obviously there was never a choice, but yesterday countless hashtags and videos popped up of people treating this as a vacation or others going to meet friends at the bar for one last night together. Excuse while I remove my palm from my face.

The future is very uncertain. But we have to continue on in different ways. Our governments will fail us to protect markets. Loss of life at a higher rate is practically inevitable. We must rely on each other for support and we must learn from this after we make it through.

I’m taking the self-isolation to actually get serious about a few things. I’ve often said this and then I get lazy or too caught up in some other thing, but now it’s not optional. There is time and no social activities to distract myself.

  1. Write as much as possible. That includes trying to post something here and actually write my West African Islamo-fantasy project.
  2. Read Marx’s Capital with the help of a friend’s husband’s project MARXdown, the Penguin Classics Ben Fowkes translation, and David Harvey’s lectures.
  3. Continue helping build a network of DSA members who live abroad to leverage our internationalist socialist perspectives for progress and solidarity back home.

If you’re interested in hearing Brace and Liz from TrueAnon talk about what’s coming, I really recommend this episode. Liz made the point of being there for people, in her case, on Twitter, as a way of coping with it herself and that is so important right now.

So if you’re reading this, reach out if you want. Even if we’ve never met. Thanks for reading.

Rather, No Edit November

My new name for NaNoWriMo is No Edit November. The words are falling out of my head so awkwardly. Are you sue you want this? Have I really been thinking about these characters and world for years? It does not seem so.

But I do want it. I have no idea where this sentence is going. I look up the page and find something stupid. I quickly move my text cursor, delete, rewrite. Well, I failed again.

It’s Day One, and it’s a slog. I am not used to trying and failing at new things, failing spectacularly. I rarely give something a second try. My big stupid ego immensely limits the human chained to it. If something doesn’t click quickly, I move on. But I can’t move on from this. I don’t want to.

I glance at my email. An email from NaNoWriMo and author Anne Lamott awaits me:

“You either start now, or it is not going to happen for you, and you are going to wake up at seventy years old (or eighty, if you are already seventy) filled with sorrow that you let your dream, your passion, gift, fall by the wayside. You start now, as is.
‘As is’ is the portal to creation, to new life.”

I close the email, get back into iA Writer, and keep trying. Keep failing.

Because I want it. But for the love of all this is good and holy, do not hit backspace this month.

The Long Road to This Year’s NaNoWriMo

“Writing fiction is intense. It’s a drug you don’t swallow. You just sit there hallucinating and jotting down your hallucination and then you call it work. It is a socially acceptable form of madness. — Matt Haig

A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to (try) to write fiction. Specifically, I wanted to write a fantasy novel based on West Africa. Back then, I was fascinated with world-building, turning my interest and years in the region into something analogous but different. I started at the macro-level, some societies; their customs, languages, histories, myths, religion. I had four of five at one point, but now only three. But I had no
characters or any story.

A few months before National Novel Writing Month, I wrote a blog post about it (on the first iteration of Among the Stones, mercifully no longer online).

Instead of diving head first into a novel, I would take a year a write a few novellas, one for each of the four main characters in my head, to introduce them and set them on a crash course of what would surely become an epic novel. (Ha.)

I would have time to write on the road after I finished teaching in Mauritania. Over the months, characters started to emerge and become so lifelike in my head. A story slowly popped itself into existence. But still there were very little actual words on paper. I had maps, outlines, character sheets, bits and bobs of ideas, an infusion inspired points; Islam, Afro-Portuguese colonialism, entheogenic plants visions, etc.

But still nothing. NaNoWriMo came and went. And another one. Nothing.

I finished my trip without much writing but more inspired than ever. I returned to my home state of California, the concrete suburbs with a Starbuck’s and McDonald’s on practically every corner. It was a culture shock. I wasn’t hiking, seeing brutal Nature up close and personal like glaciers, lakes, rivers. Then I moved to a city in Germany and again, nothing. No time, no peace of mind, no writing.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.“ — Ira Glass

By now, dear reader, you might have guessed that all these moves, environments, living situations are just excuses. The point is I was, and still am scared to get my ass in the chair, write to the best of my ability (which isn’t very great), and be okay with that first terrible draft.

But wallāhi, that ends this year. I am in a peaceful village in Galicia, I have an income, and I have an incredible ability to wake up early and get started. So it’s now or never. Which is way I am committing myself by writing this blog post. During November, please hold me accountable.

I’m scrapping the novella ideas and going straight into a 100,000 word novel, 50,000 or which will be written in the month of November. My idea is an amalgamation of the Mandé hero (PDF) and old western novels set in 18th century Upper Guinea.

And after, there are so many places I want to take these stories. I have an urge to stay in this world with these characters for a hundred years. At one point in Mexico, I filled my notebook with a trajectory of three trilogies and twelve novellas. That might be overdoing it. But I’m an extreme person. Yeah, sometimes I’m just too much.

Here’s to the next week of compiling everything I’ve written down and starting at midnight on November 1. For anyone interested in also participating, I’d love an accountabili-buddy. Give me a shout.

Believable Over Precise

This bit in The Paris Review’s interview with Hernan Diaz is really interesting:

Interviewer: How did you balance that freedom from referential anchorage with the need to accurately represent the setting?

Diaz: My effort at all moments was to be inconspicuously accurate. I would always take believable over precise. And I tried very hard to make the novel not feel researched, a word I distrust when applied to literature. It’s awful when a novel feels googled—I didn’t want to know the exact name of the exact spur someone would have worn in Nevada in 1869. My intention was to convey a sense of pastness without fetishizing that past. I didn’t want to use props as magical objects that by merely being mentioned would summon the past into the present.

Hernan Diaz wrote a western novel about a Swedish immigrant in nineteenth-century Nevada heading east who does not speak English called In the Distance. While he purposely did not research certain aspects of his novel and relied more on feeling, he does have thoughts and reasons on subverting the western genre and it’s fascinating.