Tag Archive | tools

Confessions of a writing tool addict—good intentions paving the way

“I know it's here somewhere...”

“I know it’s here somewhere…”

I’ve written a few times about some of the issues I face being a packrat who comes from a long line of packrats. One of the manifestations of the behavior is that I collect things, but not all of the things I collect are the sorts of things most people think of as collectable: keyboards, headphones, iPods, dictionaries, typewriters… and word processing programs. In a sense, my predilection for downloading and trying out new word processors is not unlike the way that many writers and artists and such like to try out new pens or buy new notebooks or sketchpads. You’re always looking for tools that will make some of your job easier, or are just nicer to use. And in the case of things like paper or pencils or brushes, they do get used up or wear out periodically, so having replacements already handy can be a good thing. When I see a cool-looking mechanical pencil, for instance, there isn’t much harm in picking it up and at least considering buying it. One of the pencils I already own might break, or get misplaced, right?

Software programs don’t usually work that way, but the non-rational part of my brain doesn’t quite get that. So seeing a review of a word processor that extolls features that appeal to me has the same effect on that impulsive part of the brain that makes me pick up a new pencil or pen or pocket notepad when it catches my eye in the store.

Many apps offer free trial versions, so it is literally a matter of just clicking or tapping a few times on my phone or laptop, and the next thing you know there’s a new word processor installed on my iPhone or iPad or Macbook Pro. And I will play with it for a bit, maybe find some things I like about it. If it works well and is cheap, well, I might buy it. If the free version has no time limit, I may just leave the free version on indefinitely.

All of that sounds mostly harmless, and it usually is. But… Read More…

Getting the words down

“If the pen fits, write it.”

“If the pen fits, write it.”

One of a writer’s worst enemies is procrastination. And procrastination can be very clever. Research is a common trap procrastination lays for the writer. Research is often vital for writing projects, but it is insanely easy to waste a lot of time running down research rabbit holes. A lot of people blame the internet for this, but trust me, it happened to me all the time with paper research before the internet1. But then, I was the kind of guy that would use one book that had some of my research data as a bookmark inside another book for a spot I kept trying to find.

So in the old days I would have piles of books around my typewriter, some with note paper stuck in them to hold a place2, others with multiple bookmarks7 stuck in them so I could find multiple facts scattered over multiple pages, and so forth. The internet has only changed the amount of physical exercise that is necessary to run down rabbit holes on the research front, at least for me.

Tools and implements is another class of thing8 that can be either a help or a procrastination trap. But tools are important. So while it is possible for procrastination to latch onto the exploration of new tools as a means to keep you from writing, talking about good tools can also be a help in the writing process. Therefore, here is a list of my current favorites:

  • Scrivener 2 – the absolute best writing project managing tool/word processor available for Windows, macOS, or iOS, bar none. For all the features it packs, it’s also incredibly affordable! It’s multi-platform. I use it on both of my Macs and my iPad, and they make it easy to move back and forth. If you don’t have an iPad but do need to work on other platforms, you can use the Sync to External Folder feature in conjunction with Dropbox or Copy or Box to edit files in application that can open Rich Text Files when you’re on the go, then sync back to Scrivener on your Windows or macOS box later. I’ve used this latter feature before the iOS version was available, and it worked well. Not as cool as having all of the features of the full product on my iPad or iPhone works now, but… .
  • Scapple – by the same people who make Scrivener, this is a brainstorming/outlining tool. I’ve used it for charting plots and subplots that had gotten out of hand. It’s also really good at family trees and charting out character relationships.
  • iA Writer – a full featured word processor available for macOS and iOS. I use it when I need to format something I made in Scrivener, or just to type out notes for later. I’m particularly enamored with the iOS version’s built-in “share as PDF” because I’m often working on large projects in Scrivener on the iPad, and just need to send a single chapter or some other small bit to someone for comments, et cetera.
  • Honorable Mentions: There are some products that I used to use a lot more than I do. Particularly before the advent of Scrivener of iOS.
    • Textilus – iPad text/rtf editor. This is a good word processor for working from iPads and integrating with Dropbox and similar cloud sharing services.
    • SimpleNote – this is a good multiplatform Note taking program that is useful for getting down something quickly, that will automatically be available on all of your devices so you can copy into a main writing program later.
    • Pages – Apple’s free word processor that works on macOS, iOS, and iCloud. I liked the mac version of the program a lot before they decided to unify the features in all versions. It’s still a good program and they keep updating it. Just not quite as good as it used to be.
    • Scrivo Pro – A Scrivener-like word processor for iOS when Scrivener’s official word processor that could read Scrivener projects in their native format if you saved them to Dropbox. It was pretty good. I used if for several months until Scrivener for iOS became available.
    • WriteRoom – If you need a good, simple distraction-free writing program on the Mac, I highly recommend WriteRoom for macOS. I originally bought the iOS version to write on the bus and other places when I was away from my computer back in the days before I had an iPhone or iPad (it ran on my iPod Touch just fine). The software maker has stopped supporting the iOS version, as it wasn’t generating enough income to justify the work. Since it hasn’t been updated for a long time, it will still work if you already have it installed on your phone, but it’s clear that iOS is going to stop supporting it, so I finally have stopped using it on the phone.
  • RhymeGenie – I use this for poems and song writing… and for composing prophecies14.
  • AffinityDesigner – has become my replacement for Adobe Illustrator for many illustration tasks, including drawning maps for my fantasy stories.
  • iTunes – I often listen to music while I’m writing. Not just random music; I make special playlists for certain characters or projects. My oldest playlist, called uncreatively enough “Writing”15 was created in 2003, when iTunes first became available for Windows18. That’s right, I used iTunes for three years before I owned my first iPod.
  • Leuchtturm 1917 – These notebooks are awesome and are available in a lot of cool colors. Occasionally I like to write on paper. Certain types of thinking process just work better for me that way. But I know it doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Goulet Pens – I love a good medium- or broad-tip fountain pen for fun colored inks. Again, when I’m in one of those moods where I need to write it needs to be a good pen or…
  • a 0.9mm or 2mm mechanical pencil – my very favorite pencil is a tigerwood mechanical pencil that was handmade by Pandora House Crafts. If I don’t happen to have that specific pencil with me, any mechanical pencil with at least a 0.9mm lead will do.
  • And of course, 20+ paper dictionaries at home – I use the paper dictionaries often, because they tend to have more information than the affordable software versions. But the software ones don’t usually require me to stand up, so I often go to them first:
    • Shorter Oxford – I have this version of the Oxford English Dictionary20 installed on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
    • Merriam-Webster Dictionary & Thesaurus21 – I have more than one electronic version of this dictionary on all my devices.
    • The Chambers Dictionary22 – I keep this on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone.
    • Chambers Thesaurus – Companion to the Chambers Dictionary.
    • WordBook Universal English Dictionary and Thesaurus – another one that I’m not sure why I have it on iPad and Mac, but not the phone.
    • SPQR – a Latin dictionary app on my iPad and iPhone, very useful when I need to make up incantations for one of my wizards or sorceresses.
    • American Heritage Dictionary23 – I have this one on the iPad only.

Anyway, so that’s my current set of favorite tools. Though the truth is that my real tools are sentences. I can compose those with word processors, typewriters, pen & paper, or pencil, or technically anything I can scratch symbols into a medium with. The important thing is to start writing.

Neil Gaiman24 is fond of saying that the only secret of writing is to just keep putting one word after the other. That advice is true and succinct. It is also extremely difficult to do, while sounding quite simple. We have to make ourselves sit down and write. That’s what makes a writer.


Footnotes:

1. This might be less true for people who didn’t have multiple encylopedia sets in their houses.

2. And with notes written3 on said pages related to things I wanted to do with the information in said book.

3. Well, most often scribbled. Have I mentioned that my handwriting is atrocious4?

4. Part of the problem is that I learned how to type on a mechanical typewriter when I was ten, for reasons. And so I stopped doing the work at school where they were taught us cursive writing. So I only ever formally learned how to print5

5. If pressed, I can produce by hat writing in cursive, but I have to visualize what the letters look like, and then draw them individually. I just don’t have the muscle memory to write. It’s is painstakingly slow and frustrating6.

6. But I still consider learning to write that way as an archaic and obsolete waste of time. Learning how to read it is much, much easier than writing it.

7. Another thing that has changed a lot in my life the last decade or so: I no longer go to great lengths to save and collect bookmarks. It used to be extremely important to have physical bookmarks I could stick in books. I still am usually reading multiple books at the same time, but more than half of them are e-books, so I don’t need physical bookmarks any longer. And it’s kind of sad.

8. thing Old English, noun 7. That which exists individually; that which is or may be an abstract object of perception, knowledge, or thought; a being, an impersonal entity of any kind; a specimen or type of something. Also, an attribute or property of a being or entityThat which exists individually; that which is or may be an abstract object of perception, knowledge, or thought; a being, an impersonal entity of any kind; a specimen or type of something. Also, an attribute or property of a being or entity9.

9. Please note that this is the seventh sense of the word to be defined in the Oxford dictionary, while it is closest to what I think most people would say is the primary definition. The first definition in Oxford is “A meeting, an assembly; a court, a council.” which happens to be the oldest known meaning of the word, but only seems to be known among most modern speakers of English who are also into the history of England and Northern Europe. I used this particular meaning in a draft scene in my fantasy novel series without thinking, and of the people in my Writers’ group, only my husband10 understood the meaning I was going from when I used it. So I switched to on Old Norse derived word instead, folkmoot.

10. My husband who has been described by more than one of our friends as “the most capable man I know” and his areas of expertise include computers, repairing computers and other electronics, bartending, history, obscure languages, science fiction and fantasy, science, electrical engineering, farm equipment repair and maintenance, quantum mechanics, chemistry, and cooking11

11. The latter is an understatement. The state he lived in at the time allowed children as young as 14 to work as prep cooks12, and that’s one of the two jobs he held down at that age. I have commented many times that if you want to be amazed just hand my husband and nice sharp knife and a box of vegetables and ask him to assemble a veggie tray. He will chop up all of the veggies you give him, no matter what they are, into exactly uniform slices, in a time frame that will make you suspect that he is actually super powered. I am not exaggerating in the least13.

12. Most state in the U.S. don’t allow children under the ages of 15 or 16 to work around commercial kitchen equipment, because limbs can be chopped off, basically. Although the are often exceptions carved out for children working in family businesses, which is how my Great-grandmother and a Great-uncle got away with teaching me how to drive a truck when I was about 12 years old.

13. When people who have only interacted with him in certain social situations have scoffed at this, I have smirked, because I’ve seen his school records, which include IQ tests, and most of the scoffers are nowhere near as smart as he is13.

13. No, I really don’t know why he settles for such a jerk as me. I really don’t.

14. I have a lot of characters in my fantasy universe who can see the future: the Oracle, Madame Valentina, Brother Ishmael…

15. Followed by “Writing II,” then “Laying Out an Issue of the Fanzine” then “Writing Faust and “Writing III.”16

16. I have since become slightly more creative with playlist names17. The playlists I’ve been using while working on my latest novel have names such as “Dead Witch,” “Ballad of a Lost Soul,” “Only the Wicked,” “Ballad of a Would Be Dark Lord,” “Zombie vs Dragon,” “Ballad of the Unrepentant,” “Night of the Monkey’s Uncle,” or “Ballad of Dueling Masterminds.”

17. I previously thought that I had hundreds of playlists, but since I recently merged together two previously separate iTunes libraries18, I now really I have nearly 4000 playlists.

18. Remember that I started using iTunes many years before owning on iPod (and later an iPhone). So my main iTunes library started on my old Windows 98/Windows 2000 machine, was imported to my early 2009 model Mac Pro Tower, and was updated over the years as I bought music and finished importing the rest of my old physical CD library. Meanwhile, the machine that slowly took over my day-to-day computer was on old white plastic Macbook, which was built from an import of one of on old Windows laptop that only had a subset of the Windows desktop, and then was augmented and updated to a Macbook Pro, then updated to a newer Macbook Pro, and then for a bit over five years I tried to maintain two similar libraries: one on the old Mac Tower which contained six-and-a-half terrabytes of internal storage, and my Macbook Pro laptop that only had a a 512 gigabyte drive, and therefore not enough room for my entire music, video, and film library plus all my story files and so forth.

19: I have a lot of characters in my primary fantasy series who can see the future in various ways: the Oracle of the Church of the Great Shepherdess, Madame Valentina (a.k.a. Alicia), Brother Jude, the Zombie Lord, Brother Ishmael, Mother Sirena, Brother Theodore, Mother Bedlam…

20. The platinum standard of English language dictionaries. In hard copy I have the Oxford American Dictionary and Thesaurus, a pocket version, as well as the single volume version of the unabridged that you need to have a good magnifying glass in order to read.

21. Genuine Merriam-Webster dictionary is the gold standard of U.S. desk dictionaries. I have a couple different editions of the Collegiate version in hard cover, a pocket version, and a hard cover of the giant unabridged Third International.

22. Chambers was the dictionary most commonly found on bookshelves and desks in the U.K. for years, much as the original Merriam-Webster was in the U.S.

23. The American Heritage Dictionary has a very interesting history. A publisher and dictionary enthusiast was angry when the Merriam-Webster Third Edition shifted to a more descriptive philosophy, and so set out to make a competing dictionary. Then he hit on an interesting marketing scheme. They published a huge unabridged version which they offered for sale at less than cost to public libraries and schools, along with a discounted pedestal or lectern that ensured the dictionaries were prominently displayed in libraries. Then after getting these dictionaries in hundreds of libraries and school for a few years, they released a subset of the dictionary as a desk edition, which made the desk edition an immediate best seller.

24. Winner of the Newberry Medal, numerous Hugo Awards, Locus Awards, Nebula Awards, the Bram Stoker Awards, the Carnegie Medal, Eisner Awards, British Fantasy Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, a World Fantasy Award, a Harvey Award… I could go on and on.

Let’s talk about writing tools

Sometimes I still write by hand...

Sometimes I still write by hand…

When I dropped off my phone to get the battery replaced, I thought I’d need to spend about an hour someplace, and figured it would probably be spent sitting at Starbucks with my iPad. But because there were a lot of repairs already queued up when I arrived, it was going to be a bit over two-and-a-half hours. So I set my watch for a half hour outdoor walk and intentionally meandered the long ways around the shopping area first, only heading to the coffee shop after. If I didn’t already know how addicted to my technology I am, the times I started to pull my phone out to take a picture of something cute or send off a message to my hubby drove the point home.

Once I got my coffee and found an empty seat (outside, the inside of the coffee shop was packed, and so loud!) I went to dig out the pocket notebook that usually hangs out in my iPad bag. I had expected to find a mechanical pencil there, because I tend to have writing implements tucked away in just about every bag, pack, jacket, and coat I own. I hadn’t expected to find my favorite mechanical pencil!

My friend, David, has a business making pens, pencils, and other things out of wood–often fancy and exotic wood. I’ve bought more than a few from him, but my fave, hands down, is a thick pencil made of tiger wood, with pewter-colored metal bits, and it holds a 2.0mm lead. Your typical mechanical pencil holds only a 0.5mm. I use those when I have to, but I constantly, and I mean at least once a paragraph, break such thin leads when I write. The next standard size up, 0.7mm, is slightly better. For years I collected pencils that required a 0.9mm lead because I didn’t break those very often.

I apparently press really, really hard when I’m writing, especially if an idea has seized me and I’m trying to get it down. Or if I’m writing a scene with lots of dialogue. My theory is that, since I learned to type at age 10 and routinely type at over 100 words a minute on computer keyboards (and even then, when the muse is on, it feels like my fingers just can’t keep up with my brain), that my hands are simply trying to make the pencil put words out as fast as a keyboard can, so the fingers get a little frantic.

Another friend once theorized it’s because I used to play bassoon, saxophone, and similar instruments (at one point in school I was in two orchestras and four bands at the same time), and my fingers are like mini athletes or something.

But my money is on the impatience.

My favorite tiger wood mechanical pencil was in the some pocket as my high tech Apple Pencil, which I found amusing.

My favorite tiger wood mechanical pencil was in the some pocket as my high tech Apple Pencil, which I found amusing.

I’ve argued many times that the fundamental tool of a storyteller is the sentence, rather than the word. But other tools are important. Most of my life I’ve carried pencils, pens, and notebooks everywhere, because I never know when an idea, or a scrap of dialogue, or something else I need to get down before I lose with will occur to me. Now that I’ve gotten used to always having my iPhone with me (and for several years before that an iPod Touch), the need to always have paper and a writing utensil is less urgent. A lot of scenes for my stories have been tapped out on either the iPod or iPhone. For many years in an app called WriteRoom. WriteRoom of iOS was my fave because it was simple but also had its own online shared repository years before Dropbox existed. Unfortunately, the developer came to the sad conclusion that he couldn’t make enough money selling that iOS app to cover his living expenses while fixing bugs and making updates, so he retired the software to concentrate on Mac products.

Even though I can now run full versions of my favorite combination word processor and writing project manager, Scrivener, on my iPad and iPhone as well as the Mac (and PC if I really wanted), sometimes I still like to be able to pull out a physical pad of paper and scribble some thoughts down. I don’t know if it’s the feel on the pencil in my hand, or what, but my brain seems to work from a slightly different perspective when doing that. I dove done some brainstorming on the iPad with the Apple Pencil, now that I have that. It isn’t quite the same, but that may be a matter of my finding an app that matches the way I think.

Writing tools are very personal. I have favorite dictionaries, as well as favorites in software, paper, and pencils (pens are an entirely different conversation). And yes, sometimes my inner procrastinator fixates on one of the tools as a why to avoid working right now. In truth, all of those things are simple a means to get the ideas transferred from my imagination into a format that other people can read and (if I’ve done it right), evoke similar ideas in their imaginations. It’s important to remember that the story is the goal, not the package it comes in, or the means by which it gets to the audience.

It’s NaNoWriMo time again!

nanonovemberbanner

I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) once more. If you don’t know what that means, let me quote their website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

There are rules, but for years I participated as a Rebel, until a few years ago when they dropped the one rule that kept making me a rebel.

  • Write one 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch.
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction.
  • Be the sole author of your novel.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

It used to be that you were supposed to begin with a total blank page (or empty word processor file) and not type any words of the actual novel before November 1. Now the new rule is that you only count the words you actually write during November in your total. So since I was usually working on finishing or revising an existing piece, I was a rebel.

This year I’m being a rebel again because I’m working on finishing two novels started previously. I’m writing new scenes in a separate file to handle the word count. If I substantially re-write an existing scene, I’ll copy it over to that file to keep track of the words, but if I’m just tweaking a few things, I won’t.

One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo the last few years is that the makers of Scrivener, which is in my not-so-humble opinion the best writing software out there (for macOS, Windows, and iOS), make a special trial version available free for the duration of NaNoWriMo plus seven days. So if, at the end of the month, you decide you don’t want to buy the software, you can still export your work to a format that is readable by other (inferior) word processors.

You can download this special trial and a custom NaNoWriMo Novel template here.

The NaNoWriMo template is like the ordinary novel template, except that it contains links to free video tutorials, and it contains a macro that will output your novel in a scrambled plain text form if you are paranoid about uploading your piece to the word-count verifying function later in the month.

Scrivener is not merely a word processor. The folks who make it (and it’s a very tiny company of, last time I checked, five people) describe it as a complete writing studio, or a content generation system. Scrivener has projects rather than single files. you can add scenes or chapters, move them around, view them in a summary mode where they look like index cards, and so on. Each project also has a research binder where you can save all your notes and scribblings and other supporting information. It’s all kept in the project, but won’t appear in the final product when you publish the manuscript in all the supported formats (including epub, of course).

One of my favorite features is that, from within the Research binder, you can select an “Import web page” function. Paste the URL of the page in question, and Scrivener will go out, copy all the text, images, links and so forth, and make it a “page” in the research binder or your project file. It’s not a link, it’s a complete copy. So if the web page goes away, you still have all the information from the page. This is really handy when you’re doing research on the web.

Scrivener is an awesome program that I’ve been using for years, and on top of all this content management and publishing functionality, it only costs US$45. That’s full price. You don’t have to pay full price! If you download the NaNoWriMo trial (either Windows or Mac version) and set up a NaNoWriMo account, at the end of the month you can buy it for a 20% discount, no matter whether you finished your 50,000 words or not.

If, however, you do finish the 50,000 words and upload and get verified, they’ll send you a code that lets you buy Scrivener at half price. When I first started using the older version a few years ago (not as part of NaNoWriMo, I’d simply read a review of the software somewhere), after just a week of the free trial I decided that the full price was a bargain, and I have never regretted it.

I’ve only used the Mac and iOS versiosn. I have a couple of friends who regularly use the Windows version and they like it a lot.

I really love Scrivener, can you tell?

There are some other special offers for NaNoWriMo participants, if you’re participating, you might want to check them out.

The only tools other than Scrivener on the sponsor offers page that I’ve used is Aeon Timeline and Evernote. I have found Aeon Timeline very useful for charting out the events of the world I have created for my series of fantasy novels. Evernote was useful for taking notes in various places and having it available on my other devices, but I don’t find it suitable for serious writing. They also no longer support free access on an unlimited number of devices, you have to pay a subscription to get that.

Anyway, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, if you’re a writer, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. You can get the NaNoWriMo trial version at the link I shared above, or if you don’t want to be bothered with NaNoWriMo, but the tool sounds interesting, their ordinary 30-day trial version is here.

gravitarEither way, let’s get writing!

It’s that time of year again: NaNoWriMo starts tonight!

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, again!

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, again!

As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) once more. But I realized that in the several posts leading up to this week, I haven’t explained what it is. So, first, from the official website:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

There are rules, but I’ve always participated as a Rebel. But last year they dropped the one rule that kept making me a rebel.

  • Write one 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
  • Start from scratch.
  • Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction.
  • Be the sole author of your novel.
  • Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.

It used to be that you were supposed to begin with a total blank page (or empty word processor file) and not type any words of the actual novel before November 1. Now the new rule is that you only count the words you actually write during November in your total. So since I was usually working on finishing or revising an existing piece, I was a rebel.

Now I’m not. Except that I still feel like a rebel, dang it! I’m just a rebel who happens to be following the rules this time.

I meant to post this earlier in the week, but kept getting caught up in other things. One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo the last few years is that the makers of Scrivener, which is in my not-so-humble opinion the best writing software out there, make a special trial version available free for the duration of NaNoWriMo plus seven days. So if, at the end of the month, you decide you don’t want to buy the software, you can still export your work to a format that is readable by ordinary word processors.

You can download this special trial and a custom NaNoWriMo Novel template here.

The NaNoWriMo template is like the ordinary novel template, except that it contains links to free video tutorials, and it contains a macro that will output you novel in a scramble plain text form if you are paranoid about uploading your piece to the word-count verifying function later in the month.

Scrivener is not merely a word processor. The folks who make it (and it’s a very tiny company of, last time I checked, three people) describe it as a complete writing studio, or a content generation system. Scrivener has projects rather than single files. you can add scenes or chapters, move them around, view them in a summary mode where they look like index cards, and so on. Each project also has a research binder where you can save all your notes and scribblings and other supporting information. It’s all kept in the project, but won’t appear in the final product when you publish the manuscript in all the supported formats (include epub, of course).

One of my favorite features is that, from within the Research binder, you can select an “Import web page” function. Paste the URL of the page in question, and Scrivener will go out, copy all the text, images, links and so forth, and make it a “page” in the research binder or your project file. It’s not a link, it’s a complete copy. So if the web page goes away, you still have all the information from the page. This is really handy when you’re doing research on the web.

Scrivener is an awesome program that I’ve been using for years, and on top of all this content management and publishing functionality, it only costs US$45. That’s full price. If you download the NaNoWriMo trial (either Windows or Mac version) and set up a NaNoWriMo account, at the end of the month you can buy it for a 20% discount, no matter whether you finished your 50,000 words or not.

If, however, you do finish the 50,000 words and upload and get verified, they’ll send you a code that lets you buy Scrivener at half price. When I first started using the older version a few years ago, after just a week of the free trial I decided that the full price was a bargain, and I’ve never regretted it.

I’ve only used the Mac version. I have a couple of friends who regularly use the Windows version and they like it a lot. I should also mention that I have at least two friends who use both, and they both agree that the Windows version isn’t quite as slick as the Mac version. But the company is only a handful of people, so I can understand. Also, I know that the Mac version leverages a lot of functionality which Apple bakes into the operating system which simply isn’t there in the Windows OS (just because the companies have different philosophies on how to do things).

I really love Scrivener. They don’t yet have an iOS version, but I use a function they have to synch a project to an external folder, and I synchronize it to Dropbox (it will also sync to iCloud drive, and Copy and a lot of other cloud services), and then I edit individual scenes on my iPad using a word processor for iOS called Textilus. There are a lot of other word processors for iOS, and if you already have one, if it can read RTF files, you can do this, too.

There are some other special offers for NaNoWriMo participants, including two other writing tools I’ve never used: Ulysses (Mac and iOS) and Storyist (Mac, iPad, iPhone). There are trial versions available of the Mac versions, and discounts offered after completing NaNoWriMo.

The only tool other than Scrivener on the sponsor offers page that I’ve used is Aeon Timeline, which I have found very useful for charting out the events of the world I have created for my series of fantasy novels.

Anyway, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, if you’re a writer, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. You can get the NaNoWriMo trial version at the link I shared above, or if you don’t want to be bothered with NaNoWriMo, but the tool sounds interesting, their ordinary 30-day trial version is here.

Either way, let’s get writing!

I’m the Cheerful Fairy (no joke)!

Camp-Participant-2015-Twitter-ProfileIn Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliant novel1, Hogfather, one subplot3 is that an excess of belief causes the temporary creation of a bunch of minor godlings/fairies, such as the Oh-God of Hangovers or the Sock-eater. And one of those beings is the Cheerful Fairy. She is said to “look just like your first schoolteacher”9 and wasn’t very good at her job. She kept trying to get the wizards of Unseen University to engage in party games and other activities suitable for Hogswatch Night11.

I am once again embarking on a Camp NaNoWriMo project12. I’ve recruited several friends to join my cabin14. I’ve had most success at NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo where I had writing buddies to check in with, and sometimes have word count races with. Camp NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a low-key version of National Novel Writing Month, where you either set a lower word count than the standard 50,000 words in a month, or you work on an editing or revising project. So I’m going to try to be more cheerleader rather than competitor with my buddies17. Thus, Cheerful Fairy!

Also… Read More…

Time to go camping!

I’m still working on wrapping up the second novel in the Trickster universe and getting the third going. So to help with that, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo. Which is intended to work in the same the same way that I did NaNoWriMo anyhow: set your own goal and it doesn’t have to be a new project.

In related news, I have spent a frightening amount of time this week using Scapple to map out some family trees and the subplots and complications of book three.

I received an enthusiastic review and demo of A Novel Idea earlier today. While I’m not sure it does things I don’t already do with WriteRoom1, I think I will give it a try because my Mom has been asking about more apps she could use on her phone for plotting and planning her book3.

Thinking about this reminds me that I need to migrate my PlainText app stuff over to PlainText 2 at some point… or, alternatively, look into a different iOS doc editor that synchs with Scrivener.4.


Footnotes:

1. Which is no longer available for new purchase on the iTunes store, alas2.

2. While there are lots of things I like about app stores and mobile computing on phones and iPads, one thing I don’t like is that the current models don’t allow app developers a revenue stream for updates. I love WriteRoom for iOS and for Mac since I first got them several years ago, and have recommended them to people looking for a good distraction-free writing solution that works across devices. But updating the software to keep up with operating system upgrades takes effort, and developers find themselves in the very unpleasant position of either doing that work for free, or trying to convince loyal customers to pay the full price of a new app in order to upgrade. Which means that the small developers who create software that meets any sort of specialized need are constantly going out of business and customers having to find something new to do what they were already doing with a tool they liked perfectly well.

3. Mom was one of my writing buddies last year for NaNoWriMo, and wants to do it again this year.

4. Since the maker of WriteRoom and PlainText sold his iOS apps to another company, said company has come out with an updated version of one of those products, PlainText 2. The original PlainText only worked on iPad, while WriteRoom worked on iPad and iPhone. WriteRoom was meant as a distraction-free program, so it was stripped down to the bare essential features of a writing program, while PlainText could do a lot more. PlainText 2 does work on both the iPhone and the iPad, and seems to interact with my other programs as I like, which is good. Right now I’m using the free version to test it out5.

5. On the other hand, if I’m going to have to go through the process of switching to another app anyway, and if getting all the features I want on said apps will require me spending some money, I should look at more than one, which is why I’ll probably also be playing with Textilus, which has been strongly recommended by a few friends.

One size fits none, part 2

I’ve been working on computers for an incredibly long time.

My first computer was from before the era of floppy disks. Printers cost about the same as a four-bedroom house at the time, so it wasn’t a tool I used for writing. It was a toy.

My second computer could have a floppy drive added to it, but it loaded programs by plugging cartridges into a slot. Reasonably priced printers had come into existence, then, but they were dot matrix printers that produced very low resolution stuff.

My third computer had a floppy drive built in. At the time I bought it, the first consumer-priced 1 megabyte hard disks were just coming on the market. Yes, I said 1 MEGAbyte. And it wasn’t the first consumer-priced hard disk, it was the first that was that large. Two friends of mine who both worked in electronics stores got into an argument in which one claimed that no one would ever, ever need anything that big, the other claimed that lots of people would. They both thought I was insane for saying that anyone would ever need more.

Computers were still primitive, in other words.

Let me describe the process for spellchecking a document on that third computer:

1. Insert boot disk into floppy drive, turn on computer, wait for it to load the operating system from the disk (about one minute).

2. Remove the boot disk and insert the word processing program disk into the drive. Type some commands, wait for the program to open (another minute or two, depending).

3. Type a document. Pull out the program disk and insert a data disk. Save the document to the data disk.

4. Pull out the data disk. Insert the boot disk. Exit the word processing program. Wait a few seconds for the computer to verify that the boot disk was there.

5. Pull out the boot disk. Insert the spellchecking program disk one. Type a command. Wait for the disk to load the spell checking program (this wait was for about four minutes).

6. When prompted, pull out the spellchecking disk one, insert the data disk. Pick the document from a list displayed. Wait for the program to load the document.

7. When prompted, remove the data disk and re-insert the spellchecking disk one. Press a key. Wait for it to scan the document (this wait was for about two minutes).

8. The program then would begin showing you chunks of text with incorrect words highlighted, and offer you the option to leave it as is, or re-type it. It did not offer suggestions for how to spell it correctly. Press a key to go to the next word.

9. When it reached the end of the document, it would prompt you to remove spellchecking disk number one and reinsert your data disk. It would save the corrected document, then it would inform you that you had successfully spellchecked words beginning with letters from A-M. Would you like to spellcheck the same document for words beginning with letters from N-Z?

10. If you said Yes, it would prompt you to remove the data disk, and insert spellchecking disk two. Wait for it to load the second half of the spelling dictionary (this wait was for about three minutes).

11. When prompted, pull out the spellchecking disk two, insert the data disk, pick the document from the list (That’s right! It didn’t remember which document was already half-checked!). Wait for the program to load the document.

12. When prompted, remove the data disk and (this is the tricky bit!!!) re-insert spellchecking disk ONE. Not disk two, disk one. Watch it load something from disk one.

13. When prompted, remove spellchecking disk one and re-insert spellchecking disk TWO.

14. Repeat step 8.

15. Repeat step 9.

Now your document is mostly spell checked. I say mostly because, let’s say during the second half of the alphabet sweep it found the work “spplication.” And let’s say you realized that it was supposed to be “application” and you went in to correct the spelling, but you accidentally deleted both the s and the p, so what you typed in to replace “spplication” is “aplication.”

The half of the spellchecker that was running at that time doesn’t know how to spell any words beginning with a… or b, c, d, et cetera, through m, right?

It wouldn’t tell you that you had replaced one typo with another in that case. It was a rare case, but it could happen.

So for a small document of say a couple thousand words, spellchecking was a complicated procedure that took about 40 minutes, all told. And that was if you didn’t screw up and insert the wrong disk at any of the dozen-plus times that you had to insert and remove a disk. Depending on when you did that, sometimes it meant starting all over again.

A second floppy disk drive made that process considerably easier, as there was less swapping out of disks. Unfortunately, a second floppy drive cost almost as much as the original computer had, so I didn’t get around to buying a second drive for at least a year after getting the computer.

In order to use that computer, you had to understand a lot more about operating systems, computer logic, and the hardware than the typical user of modern computers. You had to be comfortable typing commands like EXEC APWTR2 to start a program. Or to format text by pressing the ESC key followed by another key in order to turn on Italics, then moving to the end of the word, press ESC and a different key to turn it off. And programs had no What-you-see-is-what-you-get mode. You had to just take it on faith that: “I read ♦IThe Hobbit♦N in fourth grade.” would print out as: I read The Hobbit in fourth grade.”

Very few people would put up with that. I well remember the strange looks I would get from people when I was trying to explain the process of just getting the program going and writing a simple paper. They would look at their familiar typewriter and tell me the computer seemed like a whole lot of fuss to do a very simple thing.

And that’s exactly how I find myself feeling sometimes when talking to people about some of their modern gadget and computer choices. “Yeah, I had to root the device and sideload some patches to get it to work.” Or “This open-source program does everything your page layout program does… except use real fonts, or allow you to actually layout text and pictures on the page without hacking some of the configuration files, inserting a lot of extra codes, and experimenting for about a half hour per page. It almost looks the same, see?”

I understand that they’re perfectly happy working that way. I understand that it meets their needs. I understand that they think their own time isn’t worth anything. I understand that producing something that looks like utter crap doesn’t bother them.

Those things are their choices to make, and I wouldn’t dream of forcing them to do otherwise.

Now, if they would only allow me to do the same. Because my time is very valuable, and I’d rather spend it producing something I love than trying to make a poorly designed and under-powered tool do it half-assed.

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