Tools for NaNoWriMo 2011 (Writing)

This post is a little delayed, but that’s a good thing as my NaNoWriMo project this year nearly got caught in the Technology Trap™.

The Technology Trap™ is where seemingly productivity enhancing tools aren’t actually productive at all. This can be through misunderstanding of the purpose of a piece of technology, inappropriate training or education for a piece of technology, or through design flaws and errors in technology.

My problems were the latter, I wanted to be able to write on my phone and on my PC. Surely there must be an app for that right?

Congratulations there was, a nice simple little app called My Writing Spot on Android. It had word counts in the file list of the app, and in the Web application on the PC (the latter being better as it gave you word count per file and for the whole project). The website is My Writing Nook. It’s very good in theory, you write in a series of text files (which means no complications from unnecessary functionality at this stage of writing and if you’re worried about spell checking, most browsers handle this natively, and auto-correct on your phone when it’s not in a DAYC mood will take care of spelling there), when you click save the file is stored on a protected area of your Google account and is ready for your other device to pick up when it syncs. Now syncing is the best way – but it’s also where My Writing Spot falls down in its current version – the syncing is imperfect and at points you could be syncing over and over until the file moves from your phone to appear on your computer screen and vice versa. You nervously delete it from one, and hope that works, you make umpteen copies just in case.

All this lost time, and concentration becomes a distraction from writing. I finally gave up on it when one night I ended spending a several hours trying to sort it.

Since then, I’ve switched back to good old trusty Microsoft Word when on my laptop on my mobile where I still want to write I’ve gone with QuickOffice which allows me to work on the same file and I could easily view and add to my Excel tracker for NaNoWriMo.

That’s fine with me, except I don’t want to be emailing files several times a day, it’s too inconvenient. So I signed up to Box, they are already integrated into QuickOffice, but they also have a plug in for Office so I can in effect open from and save to my account fairly fast, and then do the same from my mobile.

Even there though was a Technology Trap™, early on with QuickOffice, it crashed while saving to my Box while the signal was a bit intermittent. Lost a few hundred words (I should say this for My Writing Spot, I never lost any actual words just time). Since then I open the file save it down locally and when I’m ready for the PC I save it back to my Box. Haven’t had a problem since of that kind and it doesn’t really take much time more..

QuickOffice isn’t perfect, it doesn’t handle Swype well, but I’ve changed Android keyboards since which I’ll come on to shortly.

So to summarise the majority of my writing is done in Microsoft Word with stuff during commute and breaks at work is handled on QuickOffice – it’s worked for me for the last half of NaNoWriMo.

Another thing that’s made a big difference to writing on my phone has been Swype, it was a lot faster than typing – though it could get annoying at times not recognising what I was trying to say. When I was using My Writing Spot this wasn’t too bad, as I could press the Swype button and it would offer alternatives. The button doesn’t work like that in QuickOffice which was annoying, (it does do this automatically when it’s not sure first time – the issue is when it thinks it got it right and didn’t).

I have since changed keyboards to one called SwiftKey which uses Natural Language Processing to predict based on your historical typing what words come next, a bit like T9 and its derivatives but predicts further ahead. It means you can say more with fewer key presses. It’s taken me some time to get used to typing rather than swiping my way across the screen but it’s actually pretty good at what it does, (however since the most recent update of QuickOffice it annoyingly doesn’t work as well, with several faults in interaction between the two).

I’ll see how it does at writing fiction later, but it is doing okay with blog posts and text messages. Though, as I mentioned, there are a couple of issues with QuickOffice since the most recent update of the software.

Other tools I’ve found invaluable are covered below split between mobile, PC, and real world tools. Some of these may have been mentioned in the planning post, but I list them here as they are also vital to my writing process this NaNoWriMo.

Mobile apps (on my Samsung Galaxy SII with Android 2.3):

  • Thinking Space – mind mapping software for Android with a rough around the edges file syncing system. Most of my planning was stored in Mind Maps, meant it was easy to find and reference the information I stored there, navigate my plot plan and get my story roughly back to it. Thinking Space is the only Mind Mapping software I’ve tried for Android, but it does the job very well. It’s a lot easier to use than PC versions I’ve tried.
  • Fake Name Generator – based on criteria you select it generates a random name and identity information. It generates a lot of points of information such a national conforming phone number, email address, date of birth (gives you age as well if you’re not interested in DOB), occupation, fake credit details, fake website, and vital statistics like height weight and blood type. I have spreadsheets with thousands of fake details like this but it’s handy having an app that generates and does so by gender, ethnicity, and language. I tried two or three from the market this one worked best for me. It does require an internet connection to generate but you can save the identities you generate to access later without a connection.
  • Task – a generic app that came already installed on my, however I used it to craft an initial timeline based on my Excel forecasting as to when I would get to particular sections, and notes to remind me to do things when I did. However, after the first few chapters I gave up trying to divide my work as I went, and decided to do chapters in editing. However this was no fault of the app, and I will use it again because it has a relatively simply to use interface. I’ve looked on market, it’s not there, but there are alternatives.
  • Dolphin Browser HD – There are a lot of options for a browser, but if you’re writing in the wild, it’s handy to have internet references in the wild, and I find I get less distracted by the inconsequential when on mobile phone than when I’m at the PC. However there quite a few options for non-stock browsers on Android, I choose Dolphin Browser HD not because it’s the fastest, or because it does the most, but because it’s a good all rounder and handles complex sites fairly well. I also appreciate the interface most of the time, the sliding menu and favourites bar for instance are handy most of the time, unless they accidentally pop out at random.
  • QuickOffice – Which I’ve already mentioned, it does everything I need, except work consistently with custom keyboard technologies. However even those problems aren’t insurmountable.

PC applications and websites (on my Dell Inspiron Duo with Windows 8 Developer Preview):

  • Microsoft Office 2010
    • Microsoft Word – I’m a long time Microsoft Word user, I remember going way back into the days of DOS. I’ve grown up with it, I was educated on it, and have educated others in it. So out of all the free versions out there, I’ll still opt for this every time. I say this to admit my bias when I say this is the best Word Processor available bar none. Everyone however is entitled to their own view of this, but I like the things Microsoft does well, and better than the competition, and I like the idiosyncratic things they don’t. However to summarise it in an unbiased way, it accepts words in a variety of languages, has custom dictionaries, can do macros if you like for to automate common functions (I like having a short cut for adding page breaks), the newer versions have the ribbon, which I hated initially but have grown to enjoy for the most part, especially with a touch screen.
    • Microsoft Excel – For all your spreadsheeting needs, there’s nothing better. I am however a power user, and fill spreadsheets with macros, and charts many of them created or customised by me.
    • Microsoft OneNote – I use OneNote to store all my more detailed notes, web page clippings, random notes, and samples
  • FreeMind – is a free Mind Mapping software for the PC, which works with files from Thinking Space on the android phone. I mostly use it for reviewing on a larger screen what I’ve done on the mobile.

 

So there you have it, a brief over view of the tools I’ve used for NaNoWriMo 2011. I’m going to try out a different set of tools, and some different methods for going about my writing, to give me something to compare to. Also, while I acknowledge my favourites here, I am open to something better being out there, as long as its a tool that works with the whole process with minimum fuss.

I’ll do another post in the new year to let you know what I’ve chosen to try, and how it has gone. In the meantime, suggestions wouldn’t be unwelcome.

 

NaNoWriMo 2011 – From Week Two to the End

NaNoWriMo 2011 week two, or as I shall hereby refer to the 45th week of 2011, ‘ The week that won it’.

I’m sure you can guess why, if you can’t, or even if you can because I want to show off, as of Sunday 13th November I hit 50,000 words (50,443 to be precise). Can’t validate until the 25th November, but still after falling short two years running, to hit a second week finish feels great.

I can tell you, it was quite a buzz to hit the 50,000 mark, and I didn’t stop there. Week three saw me push on with the aim of hitting 75,000 words, including “The end.” Want to know how that went? Well I did that too. Though, it was a bittersweet second victory, someone I loved dearly passed away on the Saturday, and I contemplated on just stopping with 8,846 words still to go. That wasn’t the memory I wanted to have of someone I love passing, and though it was a slog, I finished at 75,114 on day 21.

So, the last step of the immediate NaNoWriMo process is to validate your win. And I did.


So there you go – I officially win this year’s NaNoWriMo. I have a badge to prove it.

However, I have decided that there is more to NaNoWriMo than simply writing 50,000 words though – that’s goal number one, with a couple of sub-goals that are worth noting. Below I’ve listed important steps in the writing process as I see them right now, (I reserve the right to grow as a writer and evolve these later*).

 

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NaNoWriMo 2011 – Week One

So this time last year was an unmitigated disaster, and it’s telling there weren’t any more weekly posts after week one last year. This year I’m singing a different tune.

I’ll go into stats and numbers later on in this posts, however right now day six has just finished, and I finished it at 22,056. I’m not starting with any other number than that purely because I just want to take a moment to enjoy it. To bask in it.

Why because by Thursday, though I was over performing the 1,667 daily weird count by a few hundred our so each day I didn’t think I’d do it. I was behind on my pre-NaNoWriMo schedule that I’d set. Now I’m a tough scheduler, when setting them, but I do my best to make them easy to adjust when inevitably underachieve, which I was doing.

So what changed? Friday I went into the #NaNoYorks chatroom and met some lovely fellow participants, and we challenged and encouraged each other. As a result Friday I hit the 10k mark, and that felt great, I was start to build some steam, and have a buffer against a bad day.

Saturday was even better, had a great write-in in Leeds city centre, meeting many of the people I’d been in chat with the night before, and some familiar faces from previous years. Drank lots of tea, and wore a lot of words. That wasn’t enough though, so I was back in chat Saturday night, and when I was struggling to motivate myself and get started again I was given a prod or two and made it to 16k, and that felt great too.

Carried on after midnight too with some hardcore NaNoWriMo’ers  still doing word wars until 3am. Wasn’t quite as much written in those hours, but it did nicely.

Sunday evening it was a similar tale until midnight, it’s with their help that achieved my 22k.

It’s a genuine pleasure to be part of a community of writers all working towards the same goals, even if we all do so at faster and/or slower paces than myself. We all enjoy writing, talking about our writing, and other topics when we need a break.

I’ll be spending a lot more time in chat and won’t be skimping in write-ins, after payday will be going to more than just Leeds ones, I’d like to goto a Huddersfield one, and one in Scarborough (as post of a weekend writing by the sea).

So anyway, I’m feeling positive, and am hoping to get to 50k by mid-month so I can enjoy the pleasure of writing with less pressure for the rest of the month. The more I write the more options i’ll have in editing in January, and hopefully I can carry the form in December and redo the works in progress I mentioned in previous posts.

Anyway, six days in I’m getting good stats now from my tracking spreadsheet:

Words so far: 22,056
Total hours writing: 26
Avg Words Per Day: 3676
Avg Hours Per Day: 3.12

Avg Words Writing Per Minute: 15.25
Avg Words Per Hour: 915
Max Words Per Minute in a Single Session: 49.3

Avg Morale Per Day: 7 (a qualifiable number based on how I feel each writing period, or out of 10)

Number of Words Remaining: 27,944
Number of Days Remaining: 23
Number of Hours Remaining: 28.00

Those stats may not mean much to most people, but to me they’re a story that is unfolding as I do this project. For instance the average words per minute has risen by five since Friday which tells me that when I suit down and write I’ve been more focused and am starting to spend less time looking at a blinking cursor. Which is a very good story if you’re me.

I’ll stop feeling now and get on with writing. Here’s hoping for continued successes.

Tools for NaNoWriMo 2011 (Planning)

So I’ve talked about the planning I’ve done and am still doing for NaNoWriMo but not about how I’m going to be working.

First of there’s how I’ve done the planning. There are obvious tools such as the browser I’ve done online research from (Firefox on my PC, and Dolphin Browser on my phone), and then sites such as Wikipedia,  space.about.com, and news websites (for the latest science and technological developments and theories). Nothing ground breaking there, I’ve been using a lot of science based sites to flush out details I can populate my universe with, but some sites on the history of piracy, and 16th, 17th, and 18th century naval life.

That’s all great but once I’ve got it, whether it’s snippets or whole articles I need to store it so that I can access it again, preferably offline so I’m not distracted by the internet later on. For this I use Microsoft Office OneNote – something I’ve had for ages but never gotten round to exploring for writing. It’s good, I’ve two projects on there, one for all that juicy research, the other for character bio’s and scene/locales.

I’m also using an app on my phone called Thinking Space (I’m using the pro version, but the free version doesn’t restrict you other than listing some screen retail to ads). This is a mind mapping (or brain storming if you want to call a spade a spade) tool, it’s a lot lower on detail than one note but has the advantage of quickly summarising thoughts and ideas and showing how things are interconnected. It’s in Thinking Space I’ve also mapped out the structure of the story, so I can clearly see what each chapter needs to include to feed events four or five chapters further into the story, and ultimately the end. Hopefully it means no loose ends at the end, and if I can keep it up to date it gives me a to-do list of changes I need to make in editing if things happen later in the story that weren’t originally part of the plan and need supporting events.

Other basics in the planning stage include Microsoft Word, Notepad, and a calculator. Then there’s my Kindle, where I’ve been reading plenty of similar sci-fi, and piracy novels. They’d also a few travel guides on there as this is an interplanetary novel each location needs to be distinct but something that can be related to by the Earth found denizens of today’s earth. It helps to borrow from out countries, cities, and cultures to enrich my fictional universe, lest everything in the universe somehow looks and feels like Leeds.

Add into that Google Sky Maps, Google Translate, and we’ve pretty much got everything I need for a space based science fiction story.

These are the tools I’ve used fire the planning, and they’ll be reused in the writing stage, but added to by things that are geared to better improve my writing, speed me up, andkeep me going. I’ll cover those in a subsequent post dedicated to that subject. I’ll do one in January to show the tools I’ll use to edit this story. For other novels I’ll try different tools and review them.

Nanowrimo Day One

Day one… is done.
I’m not going to bore you and me with daily NaNoWriMo updates – I’ll keep it weekly.  However as the first day is over, I thought I’d give it a start.
So my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo project so far – I suck. Okay, it’s not that bad, I’m  well past the 1,667 word standard target for day one, however I wanted to blast it. My  personal schedule called for 6,000 words. In the end, when I finished last night I was  at 3,062 words. I should be happy with that, but I’m not.
See the problem is, I got home from work, (and I’d been successfully writing on my  phone on the way home), and just went pfft. I got distracted by the interwebs,  television, food, reading the news. So what I need tonight is a digital coccoon to stop  this happening again. Going to need it to, as I’d really like to make the Herculean effort  to get back on track, (according to my schedule for the early push by the end of today I  need to be pushing 10l to 11k). However, that’s probably not reasonable, so if I write  6,000 words today, I will allow myself to get back online. Though from this point  onwards I’ll only be recording the shows I like, I’ll wait until I hit 50k to watch them, (I  actually prefer watching multiple episodes back to back anyway, you get to to see arcs  developing better than if watching them one by one.
After today the schedule, aside from weekends, becomes a lot less punishing – that’s  why a good strong early push is so important.
Okay, aside from my crap ability to focus after a days work, and my inability to resist  the temptation of other forms of entertainment,  the story itself is going pretty good.  I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m going still, we’ve not gone completely off plan  (though I used more words than I anticipated in the first section – I can easily see in  editing that the word count in that chapter alone will drop 25-50% but I’m not too  worried about that now). I’m now on the second chapter, and I’m pushing hard at the  world building, because chapter one was too limiting an environment to build up the  world the story takes place. Chapter two is a little cruise, several meet and greets,  and  just a tinge of excitement, as a preview of what is to come as the story progresses to  the thirdhalf way point.
That’s actually a little bit of an issue, but again I’m pusing it aside until the editing  process – I think the plan I have flows pretty well, but it does trouble me that the main  events of the story line don’t happen till late on – with feeder events earlier on building  up to it. However, if it doesn’t work I’ll worry about it in editing, because it’s too late to  go back now, and if I go off plan I’ll probably lose the thread in my head.
This of course makes sense to me, but I offer no guarentees anyone else will  understand a word of this.
So, do I feel confident after just one day? Despite not being where I want to be, the  likelihood is I will finish this year, I do have a plan, I’ve got a cast of characters, yet still  there’s plenty of room for my own creativity.
I was going to throw in all sorts of random stats, such as I’ve spent around 4 hours 37  minutes writing, currently averaging 15 words per minute (including the time I’m sat  looking at the screen trying to motivate myself to put words down), at my current rate  there’s 59 hours writing to go, and as things stand now (with only a part day done on  the second day),  should finish on or around the 27th November), however I just could  find a seemless way to fit them into this post, so you’ll have to wait till I’ve got a few  days worth of stats.

And we’re off…

Right now, this very moment I’m opening up my laptop putting my fingers to the keys and getting started on the actual writing of my NaNoWriMo novel.

I’m only going to do an hour’s writing, I have to go to work in the morning afterall. After work the aim is three to four hours solid writing while the passion is there. All being well I can clear 10% on the first day, get off to a great start and ride out the rest at a fairly comfortable rate. Or panic write over half the word count in the last weekend, (though hopefully not).

I’ve also got a new spreadsheet which is based on spreadsheet that Erik Benson created (I found out via Google at http://erikbenson.com/nanowrimo-report-card.xls). I’ve modified it with a few macro’s to create a more accurate log of my time and writing style.  Hey, what can I say, I’m a stats geek, and honestly believe the better I understand how I write, the better I’ll be as a writer.

I need to fix a few things, but I’ll post it up when it’s done.

I’ve set myself a gruelling schedule, but it’s designed to slip and be rescheduled, though I’m going to really push the early word count.

So if anyone is hoping for any sense from me for the next thirty days, good luck with that.