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.

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