My oh my, well it has been a long time…

My last post here was the 31st October, just getting ready for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’d had the ambitious aim of finishing in twenty four hours, but alas, I was a bit ill – quite a bit ill actually, and it waylaid me. Still, I managed a day ten win, so I’m still proud and happy.

A lot has happened in the past eight months, in November I started a new job. A very busy, stressful, demanding, and satisfying job. Lots of travel at the beginning of the year for work, (I’ve racked up something like twenty nights in hotels this year so far). In January I had to move from my home of over a decade, but I now have a two bedroom back to back all to my lonesome, and it’s nice, if a little too quiet at times. Both new and old friends have been coming and going, each bringing those indelible marks onto my life, the little changes, the memories, the lessons not to be forgotten.

This is just a synopsis though, you’ll have to wait twenty years for the biography, because all that life stuff isn’t what this blog is for. No, this is blog is for the writing. If I were to look at my life and say what label I would most like to be identified with, it would be ‘Writer’.

Of course writers write. Being published, even read, that’s irrelevant. Writers write. That’s the only thing that defines a writer. I write stories, that’s me. Despite everything going on, I’ve actually been doing that. Had a few false starts, that are now doomed to the dusty and neglected corner of my mind labeled “For future use”, but there’s one that’s fast forming a story that I’m quite proud of. It’s post apocalyptic zombie stuff, so hardly original, and somewhat dated with the zombie fetishism rapidly vanishing from fashion, but I’m enjoying writing it, and it has clever touches.

I’ve been reading a lot too, I’m practically devouring novels at the moment, but it’s helping me form my ideas for NaNoWriMo 2014. A nice big epic story to achieve my highest November word count yet, and of course another attempt at the one day 50k.

What else is happening? Well the post apocalyptic zombie novel should be finished this month. This July I’m banning myself from social media, (I don’t count blogging), no TV binges on Netflix, LoveFilm, et al, just four hours a week to watch films, healthy diet, exercise, chores being done, and the rest of my free time being taken up with writing and reading. I’m going to be highly productive this month, starting with finally updating here.

Will be pulling more interesting stuff together as well, rather than just recaps of my life, (because there’s enough replays around with this World Cup nonsense).

So watch this space.

Pre-NaNoWriMo 2013 Update

So, NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us, just days to go.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to fit it in later in the month. There’s a lot going on in my life, in most aspects of my life in fact.

Problem is, I need to keep challenges tough. In fact they need to be borderline unbeatable. That pressure I’ve found is absolutely necessary for me to win. Once 50,000 words was too much, now 100,000 looks easy. 150,000 should be doable, and 200,000 falls into the possible if I try hard category. Now, I know, or at least suspect that the level of effort I can put in is curtailed as I mentioned. So, I’ve thought really hard about how to challenge myself. Tiered targets, one of which is definitely borderline achievable, then the others taper off allowing for the shifting sands of fate upon my writing time.
Challenge 1) the most daunting, and potentially silly. Partly because I’m doing it to see if can beat someone, partly because even I don’t think it’s possible. The challenge is a day one win. 50,000 before midnight on first.

To make it easier, I have however booked the day of work, I’ll be going to bed early, and rising just in time for the 1st of November to officially start in the UK. I’ll probably have a 9am nap. It’s all perfectly possible if you get a strong start, and I’m sure knowing where I need to take those first 50,000 words will help.

Challenge 2) nice and simple, with two weekend days, but work on all the others, another 50,000 words by the end of the following 7 days.

Challenge 3) a final 50,000 by the 30th November.

All challenges are exclusive, so challenge 2 is 50,000 regardless of how many I manage to achieve in challenge 1,and challenge 3 is always 50,000 regardless of what I achieve in previous two tasks.

These are just word count challenges, I’ll find and/or steal challenges along the way, to keep it interesting and fun.

So now I’m done bragging about the size of my target, I should probably discuss something practical. I want to cover off preparation separately, and then there’s technology (a favourite post of mine), and I’d like to discuss what I’m planning to write. No, a far more urgent, (well brief and unimportant), is what I’ll do with my blog during this time.

I won’t be posting everyday, because I need to write fiction, not blogs, and a post every day would basically amount to “Woohoo, x thousand words!” or, alternatively, “Boohoo! X hundred or less words, this sucks!” Neither of which are that much fun, daily. A post the day after the challenges are due sounds fine for word counts, and self aggrandising.

If I post at other times, I’d like to focus on challenges I’ve faced in trying to achieve those targets, lessons learned, funny story, excerpts from the #nanoyorks chat room, because the people there, (the rare troll aside), are so fabulous and great. (Yes, I’m sucking up, but I’m not around much this year so have to do something to keep them liking me).

Right I should get back to planning, have a lovely climate controlled hotel room, no distractions for a few hours, and lovely tea. What more can a writer want for?

To anyone, and everyone taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, I wish you all the best, and good luck.

The Road to NaNoWriMo 2013

It’s that time again, when many writers put their heads above the parapet of their day to day fertile scribblings, (or piles of blank paper, depending on how their proverbial muse has been treating them), because right around the corner is NaNoWriMo.

Sixty-six days until the madness begins again.

In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it’s the National Novel Writing Month, (albeit it is now very much an international festival of writing). The goal through the thirty days of November is to write a fifty thousand word novel. How, and what are upto you.

I’ve done it several times, and I’m on a chain of wins, which I hope to maintain. Every year I set myself a bigger and bigger challenge. This year I’m doing the same one hundred and fifty thousand words – but the first fifty I’m going to aim to finish in three days. To put that in context, last year it was day ten when I hit 50k,the year before day 13. The harder a challenge I set myself the better I do – regardless of whether I ultimately complete the challenge, I will do more than enough to be proud of.

I’m not sure what I’ll write just yet, I have some great ideas I’ve previously mentioned, but I’ve either been working on them too much, or the idea turned out not to be as writable as I first imagined.

I may not have an idea for a story specifically, but I have some thoughts on style – basically I want to try my hand at a multi generational story, following three generations of the same family. If I go with science fiction then it will be based on a colony somewhere, and be quite western inspired, but I could go fantasy and set it in a world where a cataclysm is happening, has happened, or is fated to happen. I like both ideas to be honest – but I’ve not fleshed either of them out.

Cue mind mapping, and copious research. I may go with neither and do something else entirely, but that’s where I am right now. That’s the joy of the road to NaNoWriMo, getting ready for it… And potentially trashing all the plans and doing something else entirely come November the first when it begins.

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.