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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Wiser Web Wednesday

Wiser Web Wednesday – a weekly link to posts of interest from around the web:

Les Posen’s Presentation Magic
That fabulous world of academia, where a soundly stated and well thought out hypothesis, is tested, confirmed or disproved, then reported and reviewed by peers. Important stuff. The means of presenting of such findings? Apparently much less important if conference presentations are anything to go by, and I’ve been to quite a few.

Some thoughts from a true master of the conference Keynote (yes – that Keynote):
Why Academic conferences need to change, and why Powerpoint is a dead technology walking

April Zero
At the time of writing, San Francisco based entrepreneur Anand Sharma had been “tracking everything about himself” with an iPhone and a few key apps for 107 days. The results are published on a great looking site:
April Zero

Asian Efficiency
The final part of a series by Mike Schmitz for AE on tools for taking care of the quick capture phase of a GTD workflow. This time how to configure Drafts to sync with nvALT on your Mac, allowing effortless iOS capture and transfer of information to your Mac for processing:
Quick Capture Part 4: nvALT & Drafts

Teespring
Sporting one of my favourite tag lines of all time, The Cramped now has an official T-shirt campaign that appears to have reached its funding goal. With only a day to run, show them a little more support and grab one before they are gone. You know you want one:
The Cramped Official T-Shirt

The Cramped
Of course I’d follow it up with this. A brilliant article from a writer about writing, whatever the tool used to get it done. In which you will find:

But it turns out that there’s nothing that motivates quite like the sight of your friend covering pages with ink. Are you going to sit there like a loser, with your blank page? No, you are not.

Always Open To The Possibility of Writing

The Writing Arsenal
If the above article inspired you to get writing by hand, perhaps a new notebook is in order. Tim at The Writing Arsenal reviews the Word notebook, with its built-in bullet point mark-up system:
Word. Notebooks “Indigo” Review

The Pen Addict
An interesting post on two fronts. Firstly, being a fan of felt tip or fineliner type pens in my teens, and was thinking I must give them a run once more. With seven tip sizes and multiple colours, I’m sure there is a Pigma Micron to suit.

Further, Brad discusses how a fascination with finer tip or nib sizes has perhaps seen him miss some great writing experiences with the medium to broader end of the spectrum. I had been thinking along those lines as well recently, however for me the reverse is true. I have traditionally never used anything finer than medium, though am now enjoying an exploration of some finer tips and nibs.

I’d best order some fine Pigma Microns as well then:
Sakura Pigma Micron Blue Black Review

Pens! Paper! Pencils!
Pen buying budgets are interesting things. What next? A big purchase, a bag of cheaper ones or something in between? Whichever one the needle points to when it stops spinning, reliable information is your friend. Ian Hedley with a very well-balanced review of the Kaweco AC Sport fountain pen. Red is probably not for me:
Kaweco AC-Sport fountain pen review

Doing Your Best Work in the Shower

English: Shower
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your best creative work that is. Somewhere between soap and rinse you will often find a solution to the creative roadblock that has been in place all day, or perhaps even all week. I find this to be an extremely common occurrence.

Much has been written about the phenomenon of creative ideas occurring when we are undertaking anything but the actual work itself. There are both differing views and at times outright disagreement on the neurological mechanisms behind it, as seen in the comments below a post written by Leo Widrich on Buffer. Whatever the view on the mechanism behind this phenomenon – it exists, and is a powerful, if unintentional way of moving forward on solving a creative problem.

So, if we know this exists, how to harness the power? Featured on 99u, a book review of Brian Eno: His Music and The Vertical Sound of Color, outlines some of the techniques Eno successfully used in overcoming blocks in the creative process. Whilst some of these techniques are deliberate ways to stimulate creativity, in my view, none is more important than this one:

The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.

Simply applying the same techniques (though well worth a try) of someone as successful as musician and producer Eno (U2, Talking Heads), will most likely not provide you with the same creative rewards, which is why the sentiment above is so important.

A great idea is worthless unless it is remembered or recorded, something eloquently put in the tag line of Field Notes notebooks:

I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.

Whether or not your best ideas come in the shower, or even while running, get them down as quickly as you can and solve many a problem seemingly without “thinking” about it. Move your projects forward, around the barriers that seem so impenetrable, without having to brute force your way through, using up vital resources and time.

Granted, there are times when a deadline will be rapidly approaching and a solution will need to be finalised, with the time for relaxing in the shower waiting for the next breakthrough having come and gone. In times like these I have found it useful to consider past ideas, reviewing notes captured on similar problems or even unrelated ones for possible inspiration. Again, record the ideas, and in addition, keep the ideas!

Capture

Shower_Capture

So our brain has done its job, subconsciously exploring all possible options and avenues available, placing a great idea front and centre – what next?

Capture it by any means available to you. Pen and paper, whiteboard, digital device, Hipster PDA, tell Siri if you have to. Just get it down somehow. How do I capture these ideas? A few different ways:

  • Moleskine Cahier Notebook – this is the idea book, the spark file, with cross referenced pages indexed for future retrieval
  • Drafts app – can be used simply as a digital version of a piece of paper, or is capable of more complex functions. This app will quickly grab any idea or text entry, which can then be ‘sent to’ or ‘opened in’ just about any app you can imagine
  • 3×5 index cards – a stack of these are kept in the top drawer of my office desk. Once the idea is captured, the card is placed in the pocket at the back of the Moleskine notebook for processing at a later time. Any post it note or scrap of paper also substitutes well here, and I have also recently commenced using a Field Notes notebook in this particular area of my workflow.
  • Omnifocus – for any ideas that I know are part of a larger project, or will be one themselves, I use the Omnifocus inbox as the first port of call, as all of these will end up here eventually

I have never been a fan of the notebook on the bedside table, in the bathroom, or the whiteboard in the shower, as I find constantly looking at an empty page or board that is meant for “great ideas” has the opposite effect. The tools are simply required to be close at hand when you need them. Not for when you think you should use them.

Store

Shower_Store

To any of you familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), I have obviously skipped the processing of the notes and ideas, however that aspect is beyond the scope of this post. As I have mentioned above, there are times when it is very useful to be able to go back and review previous ideas, even if unrelated to the problem at hand. Personally, I store these notes and ideas in:

  • Evernote – I use a free account which allows searching of both notes and tags
  • Moleskine Cahier Notebook – as mentioned above. The key in using this for both capture and storage is the index page, cross referenced to related pages; a copy of the index is also scanned and stored in Evernote, allowing a better overview across multiple books
  • Plain Text File – this is used also when at my office desk for ideas that will remain in the digital realm at the office, often stored in the project folder with any associated reference material

The most powerful form of capture and storage for me? Probably capturing in Drafts and utilising the ‘send to’ feature, where I can send the idea to Evernote, my work email account, or to another app to be fleshed out further should that be required.

Putting these ideas into a more cohesive project and action type framework occurs in Omnifocus, however again this is for a separate Processing post.

Conclusion

Irrespective of when or where they occur, these ideas will come to you. If you are at least somewhat prepared to capture and store them, they will not be lost to the ravages of time or distraction.

The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory (Chinese Proverb)

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