Tools for NaNoWriMo 2012 (Writing)

As NaNoWriMo draws to a close I want to mention some of the tools I’ve used this year, and their pro’s and cons. I actually started this as a look ahead to what I would be using, but I got distracted by life and work, but I think it’s important.

This year I was hoping to not be caught in the Technology Trap™, (as happened last year). Now, as I can’t handwrite for toffee, I ended up caught right back in it. I decided that I wouldn’t do any writing on my phone this year, and concentrate purely on my computer. It meant fewer sync issues, and since I have a wonderfully touchable touchscreen laptop, I could use that for writing on the go, (space being limited on buses).

Unfortunately, last week I got hit by a lovely piece of Ransomware, that demanded money to unlock my desktop. Now me being hit by a virus is incredibly rare, despite not using virus scanners, other than Windows 7/8’s built in ones, I’ve not been afflicted by anything for a long long time. Worst I had was something that redirected my searches, and it was easily dealt with. I don’t even know how it got me, because I don’t do dodgy downloads any more, and the only sites I’d visited were for research this month, and the NaNo forums of course. Somewhere along the way, one of the pages I used for research must have gotten me. It doesn’t matter really, but it did rob me of two good days writing just when I needed them.

I fixed it, and it was time to carry on. I do want to use this story as a message though, back up often. If it had been something worse, and I lost my laptop for longer, or worst still it had done something to affect my files, (and I’m thinking of the documents my stories, and their preparation are kept in specifically), I would have been screwed. Back up often when you’re writing, whether it’s school/college/university work, or a story, or from your job. It doesn’t matter, it takes a few seconds to back something up occasionally  but it will save you pain and far more time later on, if something does go wrong.

Okay, back to the tools I’ve used this year, which has been a lovely mix of the digital, and the objects in the real world.

So, I’ll cover the digital orientated tools first:

  • Good old Netbook (currently the Dell Inspiron Duo, that transforms between a standard clamshell laptop and a tablet). Handy space saver, comfortable keyboard, with Windows 8, a nice big on screen keyboard, and it runs pretty fast.
  • Android Phone (currently the Samsung Galaxy S2, no physical keyboard sadly but on-screen keyboard solutions can empower word counts, plus camera and voice recording vital functions that can help a writer out)

I also have a tablet, however I choose to give that up this year. It’s filled with comics, and would have been easy to get distract by them.

Well that’s the electronic hardware for the software I’ve got another array of tools at my disposal that sit on my hardware:

  • Microsoft Word (PC) , hands down the best word processor by miles, for me anyway. It’s comfortable, and known, and stable – three absolutely vital features, I don’t want to be thinking about what I’m typing into when I’m trying to focus on writing.
  • Microsoft Excel (PC), I’m an Excel geek, I’ll openly admit that, I’m also terrible with numbers and mathematics ironically, so each year I use my Excel skills to track, analyse, and forecast as I go through NaNoWriMo. It works for me, so I’ll keep it going.
  • Microsoft OneNote (PC/Phone/Tablet), is handy tool for organising my research, all being well this year I’ll mostly just need to reference it, rather than spending a lot of time on research itself. Nice thing about Excel is that it’s available on all my devices.
  • QuickOffice (Phone/Tablet), is my home away from home. It gives me full word processing power on my phone, and limited spreadsheet functions. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best of what I’ve tried.
  • Box.com (PC/Phone/Tablet), has two purposes, it keeps me backed up, and allows me to access my writing from all my devices wherever I am. Plus it works directly with both Microsoft Word and QuickOffice so it’s convenient.
  • SimpleMinds Pro (Phone/tablet) – mind mapping software that has helped me organise my thoughts, and plot out new ideas.

Now, the electronic tools are great, and for obvious reasons they account for 100% of my word count, but not 100% of my creativity. Instead at least 20% of my creativity came from non-digital tools:

  • Pen and paper – the most obvious tools. I catch and store notes, write a couple of plans, experiment with an idea. Should I ever find myself completely destroyed by the Technology Trap™, I would drop to just this. I doubt I could do 100k of words in a month though.
  • Whiteboard and whiteboard pens (obviously) – I have two A4 white boards. I can scribble to my heart’s content, and nothing is permanent. Just wipe it off and do over. It’s also crazily invaluable when working with StoryCubes (see bellow).
  • StoryCubes – these deserve a post on their own. I love these little things, and if they’re something you think could help, I wholeheartedly recommend getting some. I want the other two packs. They help me break through parts where I’m stuck, and they help me develop entirely random plots.

Once upon a time, I would have just relied on writing, (whether pen and paper, or on a computer), and I never finished anything. I think I’ve gotten older, and five years of NaNoWriMo have helped me mature somewhat. I’m not a full planner, but the plans I do do, allow me to handle complex ideas, keep track of where I am, and where I’m going, and I don’t get stuck. I don’t get bored and wander off. Shiney things lose their lustre somewhat.

That’s technically not true, two of my NaNo novels are hanging this year, but they’ve not stopped, December will see a lot of work to plot out the specifics of their closing, and then actually writing it. I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time plotting in the middle of the month. They will be finished.

These tools of course are what work for me, everyone is different, and I hope you find the tools that work for you.

NaNoWriMo 2012 – a long awaited update

Usually during November I post every few days about my NaNoWriMo progress, that is until I crash and burn and end up riding the fail train until the end of the month, (though I did win last year). This year has been different, oh yes, on both accounts.

First of all I’ve failed to get round to inane blog posts about my progress until now, (now into the final week). Secondly, for the second year running, I missed the connection to the fail train and gained my win early. In fact at ten days, I was on the success train four days earlier than last year. That’s right, choo choo, I’m a winner again!

Okay, a grown man putting “Choo choo” in that statement may not sound like a winner, but it felt good, and so did winning.

This of course isn’t about rubbing all your noses in my success, (not entirely anyway), it’s about how I succeeded, and what I’m currently up to, (and no its not running round city centre bollock naked going running up to people before going shouting “Choo choo” in their faces – that behaviour gets you sectioned, and NaNoWriMo does not qualify as mitigating circumstances).

So, my last NaNoWriMo post before this, that was actually published, (have a whole post on tools that I didn’t publish, which is good as I went a different way), was all about my final decision for project this year. I originally had decided on three possibilities, and had a whole scientifically inaccurate way for deciding which I would go with.

Then October hit, and the Road to NaNoWriMo was in full swing, and I decided I didn’t want to do it. All that planning won’t go to waste, but it’s not being used right now. Instead I had a grand plan for revolution, with a Tyrant in Downing Street. I’m sure you can see the appeal of this given the times we live, and are likely to be living in in the future.  It’s tough, it’s exciting, and it’s political. What more can a guy ask for in a novel?

So with the planning session for the West Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo, I plotted out my novel, sorted out my main character and time a line leading up to the main events. Then November the 1st at 2:30am (I napped longer than I expected), I got to work on the ambitious story I had in mind.

Another reason for choosing this particular story was I did it as a history book, narrated by a single voice, but telling many of stories of the life and times of said tyrant.  It meant I didn’t necessarily have to care about continuity, writing in the right order and what not, it’s going to be easy to chop and change in editing. Whole sections can be lifted and moved, or indeed just removed without impacting everywhere. It was quite liberating, so much so with a big first day, and a huge Saturday I was well on my way. I was hoping for a Wednesday night finish, (50k in 7 days, epic), however NaNo crud hit early this year and it threw me off my game somewhat in the first Monday and Tuesday of the competition. It was a distraction I could ill afford for the 7 day 50k. So, I didn’t do it. That said, it didn’t stop me, I carried on when I was better, and won on day 10. 5k a day average? I can live with that.

So November 10th was a glorious day, since I won. Unfortunately for my 100k plans, the story lost its traction after that. I’ve stopped it at 52k, and moved onto a new novel, with the aim of doing a second novel in 10 days. So far I’m behind after losing two days to the curse of technology, (my laptop by loathsome ransom ware).  The second novel got me to 100k in eleven days, and I completed the 50k for that particular novel on fourteen days.

Below you can see a chart of my word counts, per day, up until today. I did my best, but I was no where near consistent. (click the image to see the chart in full size).

From Word Counts

Neither is finished, but both need a bit of extra planning to tie it all together and finish off. So I’m calling December finishing month. There’ll be three to do, as tomorrow I’m starting another story. This one will be short, about 25k, just to finish off the last week. I’m not worried if I don’t hit 25k, it’s just a bit of fun.

The plot is entirely driven by StoryCubes, (see below for the selection in question). No idea how it’ll work out, and I’ll probably need more StoryCubes at various points to pad out the plot.

From Story Preparation

I have a whole post in mind as to how much StoryCubes helped me, and how I used them, and the fun. So I won’t share my interpretations just yet. I think though I’m going to do a StoryCube story once a month, just for fun.

It’s early yet, but I’d hate to forget, so here are the obligatory thank you messages.

Thank you to:

  • NaNoWriMo for hosting and organisation the month.
  • The Yorkshire chapter of NaNoWriMo for being such a lovely encouraging forum
  • #NaNoYorks chat room for its many word counts, and encouragements, and putting up with my plot talks, and occasional boasting.

In particular, I’d like to thank (in no specific order):

  • Sparkie, for whom I was desperately trying to race, but out paces me for writing with worrying ease – even hundreds of miles away in her new home.
  • Kerantli, for secretly being the organised and responsible one, and prodding me when I needed to stuff.
  • Rokk, for talks about Bond and plots.
  • BoredRobots, for being the foil to my personal story

A further mention goes to:

  • My colleagues at work that have put up with me talking about things they have not a single care about.
  • My mum for encouraging me, and my dad for taking an interest in the plot.

So yeah, plenty of thanks, and I’ve missed a lot of people out. Some people don’t even realise they’re helping, but they have. I could never have made it through NaNoWriMo these past couple of years without the care and support of all the other WriMo’ers I’ve encountered.

I’m stood here on this podium in tears now… but no one’s handed me an award yet. Ah well.