NaNoWriMo – My Digital Tools

So far, my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) journey continues as we come to the middle of November. My note taking, outlining, and general scribbling continues with the analogue tools I wrote about last week. How has the actual writing (as well as a bit more planning) occurred? With a few digital tools, which I thought I would share below.

Planning and Outlining

MindNode
Although I should no doubt use the technique more, I do find mind mapping incredibly useful. In the past I have used iThoughts, however for 6 months or so, it has been MindNode on iOS, and MindNode Pro on the Mac.

Specifically in relation to NaNoWriMo, MindNode has kept organised the general outline of the four overarching plot lines to the story, which I find particularly useful for referring back to in relation to names and relationships.

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The initial map itself was constructed just prior to beginning writing, however it is now largely an evolving document which develops alongside the story. I’ve found it extremely helpful when adding components, to then sit and review the story as a whole, as it is outlined on the map.

You will also see a timeline running across the top of the map which I have created on a separate node, which will most likely be split into a second node directly below the current one as the story proceeds and the timeline lengthens.

Why MindNode? It’s simplicity is the main drawcard.

Tapping a node allows the creation of child node by pressing the ‘+’ icon which appears, with a double tap to edit text. The nodes can be ‘folded’ down or expanded; detached to create another node, or attached to an existing node by tapping, holding and dragging. The same can be achieved through the contextual menus.

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Of course there are the usual style and formatting options for the background, text and nodes themselves, with a ‘smart layout’ toggle which, if on, will align nodes and branches uniformly throughout the map.

Although not it’s intended purpose, I’ve also created a ‘location map’ …map, if you will, which has been perfect for getting my head around where the characters have been, currently are, or are going to, geographically in the story.

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It does not have the advanced attachment options of say iThoughts, however I simply don’t require those. In organising my ideas, it is the content of what I get down, plain and simple. Oh, and I do love the outline view.

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Syncing is through iCloud Drive or Dropbox, with exporting options including Freemind and OPML file formats, along with text, PDF and image formatting.

Drafts 4
Although iOS only, I have been using Drafts for some time, recently upgrading to version 4.

For NaNoWriMo, it has been my go to app to use for quick notes, without needing to pull out my Field Notes and a pen. Syncing to my iPad mini provides some scope for expanding further on these notes on a larger screen if I need to, however I rarely do this.

Currently in my ‘NaNo Notes’, I have a few thoughts around the plot, a couple of character names I had thought of, and some ideas for an elevator pitch, which only recently came up after a friend asked what the book was about, and I found myself somewhat disjointed in my resulting explanation. A catchy (I think?) tag line rounds out the note.

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For those familiar with the Drafts app, there are virtually endless actions that can be applied to any note, with many more to be found on developer Agile Tortoise Drafts Action Directory.

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As you can see from the screenshots, for anyone wishing to produce longer pieces, there is also Markdown support (with specific keys in the additional keyboard row for this purpose). At the current time, my NaNoWriMo needs only require a robust, reliable note taking app, and Drafts fits the bill nicely.

Writing

Ulysses III
All the planning and outlining in the world won’t get you very far in this challenge unless you get the words down – and a good few at that. For this, I have used Ulyssess III for Mac, which is described thus by developer, The Soulmen:

Ulysses lets you focus when you need to concentrate. It keeps all your texts neatly stuffed in its intuitive library. With a few clicks, Ulysses can create beautiful documents from your manuscripts: PDFs, web pages, even iBooks-ready ePubs. With its simple, clutter-free interface, it will turn work hours into fun time. And mere thoughts into powerful stories. If you love to write, and write a lot, Ulysses is made for you.

Indeed I have found Ulysses III to be a great tool for getting the 25k+ words down I have managed to write so far.

So, with Scrivener already on my Mac, why Ulysses? To be fair, I have not really written anything of length as yet in Scrivener (a widely known and well-loved app for many an author – not that I consider myself one), so I cannot really compare the two.

Through a sponsorship of NaNoWriMo, Ulysses offered a 30 day free trial of the app, with some email encouragement throughout the month, and a free extract from author David Hewson’s book Writng a Novel with Ulysses III.

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Given the enormity of the NaNoWriMo challenge, I was looking for something with enough structure to keep things organised, yet the simplicity to allow me to just write – a lot. As far as I am aware, Scrivener may be a little more feature packed and powerful, however Ulysses has been spot on for what I have required, namely:

  • Chapter and scene separation through separate ‘sheets’
  • Highly intuitive organisation of folders, files and keyword tags
  • Focused, full screen writing
  • Usual grammar and spell checking
  • Statistics, including word count and reading time etc
  • Effective grouping of scenes with key words so individual plot lines can be worked on in isolation, despite being mixed throughout the book
  • Markdown support
  • Exporting to other MD supported apps and also as ePub / iBooks
  • Syncing through iCloud or Dropbox via the ‘Add External Source’ option

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I have also written both this post, and last week’s on Ulysses, to try out some of the features more specific to a blogging, which has also been a great success. Incidentally, the insertion of a web link via copying a URL to the clipboard, highlighting a word in the post, and simply pasting to finish the link is a little magical.

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Ulysses is indeed a fantastic app for writing, and my initial plan to purchase it as a reward for finishing NaNoWriMo looks on track so far. I encourage you to check it out.

A final word from David Hewson:

Writing’s hard. Software should make it less so. Ulysses really does.

Daedalus Touch
Daedalus is the iOS companion app to Ulysses, also by The Soulmen, who describe it as The World’s Sexiest Writing App, and Simple, Powerful and Flat Out Georgeous.

True? Well, it is strikingly minimal writing app, with an interface considerably different to many you will find on the market. The app is designed as a series of “paper stacks” rather than document lists, and, upon entering a stack, navigation is then by swiping from L to R, or the reverse between each page.

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Pages are not limited to a standard size, and will infinitely increase in length the more you write. To retreat back out of the stacks, a simple two finger pinch is all it takes. Daedalus has an additional, customisable extra keyboard row, containing a central area which, upon tapping, will scroll to the end of the sheet. A nice touch.

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Due to my insecurity with iCloud at the moment, setting up Dropbox syncing with Ulysses was a straight forward task, and has worked flawlessly since day one.

Having had Daedalus on my iPad and iPhone for some time, I guess I really just needed a reason to give it a good run, and I’ve been impressed so far. It has been the go to app for racking up 500–1000 words over my lunchtime coffee, or writing at the kitchen bench nearer my family, rather than being stuck at my desk.

Reviewing and Editing

As you’d expect, a good deal of editing occurs as I go along, however given the somewhat larger word count target than I am used to, there are times when I simply need to continue writing, and the editing and revision suffers a little.

iBooks
I am a firm believer in the reviewing or re-reading work in a different format to that in which it was originally written, as I find this allows me to pick up errors or parts needing revision a little easier. For blog posts I find Marked 2 a great way to review what I have written.

For NaNoWriMo purposes, I have found that exporting the book from Ulysses (an extremely easy task) to iBooks, allows me to not only view what I have written in ‘book’ format, but more easily pick up such errors, and I have the ability to highlight and take notes in the margin, which are then tabulated in the contents section of the book, and it is a simple tap to jump back to the relevant section.

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Though I cannot edit the text directly as I read it, I have found it quite easy to edit on my Mac with my iPad in front of me showing the required revisions in iBooks.

The Hardware

There is not a great deal to say here, apart from mentioning the above Mac apps are used on a late 2012 Mac mini; the iOS apps on my iPad mini with retina display (now referred to as the iPad mini 2) or the iPhone 6, which have all performed flawlessly, and continue to do everything I ask of them. When writing on my iPad mini, I also more often than not use the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard mini.

Conclusion

So there you have it. My NaNoWriMo ‘digital tools’ both for Mac and iOS. You would have a strong argument in saying I was a little crazy when undertaking this challenge to try new apps as well, however I think it says a lot about the simplicity and functionality of MindNode, Ulysses III, and Daedalus, that things have run so smoothly.

In fact, I am now quite confident these tools will see me through the next 25,000 words to the end.

Lets just hope the creative side of my brain will do the same.

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7 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo – My Digital Tools

  1. Fascinating lot of tools. I, too, am doing Nanowrimo. Didn’t find your name in a search. I’ve already started up with Scrivener so not likely to switch, but some of your tools are quite appealing to consider adding. Also I’m only using a MacPro so no apps. Thanks for the thorough post and good luck with the 50,000.

    Like

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