This November is for Editing

img_0237Depending on who or what you follow online these days, you‘ve likely seen NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) mentioned as the month of November approached. With things having kicked off on November 1st, the progressive daily word counts are now beginning to appear in my social media feeds. To those participating this year, I wish you every success, and to those “I’m already behind” tweets – where there is a will there remains hope – a thought which worked for me a few years ago.

While not diving into the full NaNo experience myself this year, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach (though I’m not sure whether to suggest its an easier or more difficult one), and revise the 55k words I committed to pixel and paper in 2014. At the time, I wrote a couple of posts on the tools I used to get there, and a quick search of the term NaNoWriMo on this blog will pull up a few posts outlining how I managed to fall over the 50k word deadline before month’s end.

Reflections

Memories of how November went in 2014 fall somewhere on a continuum between I never want to do that again and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Where my thinking lies on that continuum varies day-to-day, however one thought always remained – I never quite finished it. Sure, the actual story or first draft is finished – it has just never been revised and edited. You know… finished.

Have I not had the time over the intervening three years to read, revise and improve on that initial effort? Absolutely. Just couldn’t do it. I even started a couple of times only to be thwarted by some innate inability to read my own work, let alone embrace the apparent enormity of the task.

So why now? A very good question, though perhaps not as good as the one which asks: what makes you think you can do it this time?. To be honest I’m not entirely sure I can, however in my own mind am a little more definitive about giving it a go this time. After all – I have a plan!

Three years on, the statute of limitation seems to have expired on those feelings of oh wow… I can’t read this, so away we go I guess. Besides, is it not the least I can do after having put my mother through proof reading and editorial duties the first time around?

The Plan

Diving into a river of bad grammar, poor punctuation, and let’s face it – a somewhat dubious plot line and story structure requires some sort of plan.

I have 55,000 words over 32 chapters, so the common sense approach would seem to be about one chapter per day. With reference to my Tools below, I plan to make a first pass through each chapter making corrections and notations by hand, subsequently transferring those to digital form.

Being relatively confident I will get through the initial markup, my fear is becoming bogged down in rewriting and larger changes. Should this be the case I think I’ll leave any major section rewrites to a later time if things head too far in that direction (says he who sets himself up for failure: hmmm…yes, that’s too time consuming – I’ll just do that bit later…).

The Tools

With reference to those previous posts about the tools used in creating the first draft, I might simply argue if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, however that would be oversimplifying things a little. The fact is I tend to proof and revise things far more efficiently and effectively in a very different format to what they were written in, and am of course far from alone in this way of thinking.

At the very least this takes the form of a text editor’s preview pane or say, Marked 2, in an entirely different theme to the editor pane itself. Better yet, with the physically printed word I am able to hold and manually scratch, scrawl, and mark up or annotate by hand. I don’t believe I am necessarily in the minority with this type of approach either, however perhaps a generation of digital only writers, editors and reviewers are now on the scene, and I would be considered a “throwback”. If not the case already, that time certainly cannot be far away.

In any event, given my reticence to get stuck into this task in the past, I’d suggest I am in need of selecting not only the best tools for the job, but those most likely to maximise my chances of success.

Pen and paper

For all of the notebook and paper reviews I’ve done extolling the virtues of my favourite types, the manuscript is printed out on standard office copy paper. Yes I know – I thank you for your kind thoughts and commiseration, however do believe I’ll cope. Strangely enough, my previously abandoned attempt at this task found the paper – while nothing to write home about – certainly usable.

I cannot recall the pen I was using, however the J. Herbin Orange Indien ink feathered just a little, and demonstrates some show through, however I’m simply taking anything I can see through the page as a sign of progress. I’m here to mark up, and can see it’s mark up I’ve done – a positive approach I’ll run with as far as it takes me.

This time around, I’ve settled on Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, ably distributed by a Pilot Custom Heritage 91 and its FM nib. The Shakespeare is my most recent ink acquisition, and seems perfect for the task in that it isn’t too bright, yet stands out from the printed black ink. I’ll leave it to your imagination whether I’m perhaps trying to channel some other form of inspiration with this choice as well…

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The pen? Well it really could have been any of a number of choices, though in the end the FM nib squeezes my corrections and notes in and around those tighter spaces, as well as minimising feathering given its relatively restrained ink flow. The maroon with silver trim simply seemed like a good fit for the ink colour – or perhaps I thought it would set a creative mood?

MultiMarkdown Composer

If I’m to make a permanent record of any of these planned improvements, a digital element to this process is rather important. The choice here was easy, despite the significance of throwing 55 thousand words in a text editor, needing robust iOS syncing (I’m using Dropbox), and trusting my hard work will be safe, saved and ready to go anywhere over the next 30 days.

You may be thinking I’ve said the choice was easy given my loyalty to Ulysses for writing over the past three years, however given the title of this section, clearly that isn’t what I mean. I began using Ulysses through the promo trial for NaNoWriMo back in 2014. Fitting then that I’ll be testing something different this time.

My reference to the choice being easy, simply relates to a recommendation from a very good online friend who has helped immeasurably in much of my Mac related development over the past couple of years. I still maintain the best thing to come out of this blogging caper are the people you become acquainted with as a result. So, when someone whose opinion you highly respect makes an app recommendation, I feel it is well worth trying out.

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MultiMarkdown Composer’s Table of Contents based on header levels

Armed with the Pro version of MultiMarkdown Composer v4, I am ready to work through and make any necessary adjustments or rewrites. As you can see, I have dropped the text into a Markdown file, and MMC4’s Table of Contents provides me with a nice sidebar view of my chapters. Although arguably possessing a few less bells and whistles than Ulysses, MMC4 provides everything I need for the task at hand. It’s a robust and powerful text editor, and if that isn’t what I need for the task at hand then I’m clearly approaching this all wrong.

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…he was actually editing his work

I’m also interested so see how the iOS Files app handles Dropbox syncing when I use Byword on my iPad to squeeze in a few updates at lunch time. A few days in I can report so far so good. It would however be remiss of me not to mention encountering more than a couple of Byword crashes when using Copied in split view on my iPad (Air 2 running iOS 11.1) putting this post together.

Signing off

Enough talking, as the time to commence reading, critiquing and rewriting has already passed. I’ve indeed made a start, however am yet to convince myself that my will is strong enough to push on and get this done in a month. I’d like to at least think I can make one complete pass through with pen in hand – even if the rewriting comes a little later.

To all of those creative and motivated souls who’ve dived headlong towards the 50k word target, I wish you well. While its fair to say I have a certain reticence towards fully editing my first draft, I’m certainly glad I managed to create it.

Anyway – it can’t be that bad. My mother wouldn’t lie would she…?

 

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November is Coming

 

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month
Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Have you got 50,000 words in you?

You might say you don’t. Personally, I’m inclined to disagree, and I’m sure those committed to undertake NaNoWriMo for another year might be on my side of the fence.

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and here I am with another post about National Novel Writing Month. Although not participating this year, having managed some twelve months ago to come up with a 55,000 word tale I was fairly proud of (albeit a little less so upon re-reading), it seemed timely as we near the end of October to share a few thoughts on some of the things that helped me stumble across the line in 2014.

I offer these observations clearly not as a seasoned novelist, with a bio inclusive of numerous published works, but perhaps like some of you. Someone who thought: ”you know, I think I might be able to do that… but that’s over 1600 words a day for a month… but… ohh… gee… maybe I can’t — no, damn it, I actually think I can. Wait… I’m really not sure… ahhhhh!

That of course, is exactly my point.

Although every seasoned novelist started somewhere (perhaps even with NaNoWriMo), it can sometimes be a little difficult to conceptualise expert tips and tricks into your own situation, as valid and well-tested as they are.

So, after reading two posts recently containing such tips from a professional author, I will endeavour to pass on some advice of my own, in the hope they might assist in some way to lead you headlong into NaNoWriMo greatness.

The Expert

I have previously mentioned author David Hewson and his book Writing a Novel With Ulysses. The book itself is about creative writing using text editor Ulysses for Mac and iPad, in which I wrote my 55k words in last November (the Mac app at least, with the iPad version coming later from developer The Soulmen).

Ok, to get this out of the way. Firstly, Ulysses. I absolutely love it, and use it for every piece of writing I do for this blog. The above guide by Hewson provides fantastic advice guiding the efficient use of Ulysses in a fairly large writing project (certainly larger than anything I had attempted at the time). While there are cheaper word processor/text editors out there (at the time of writing: $AU69.99 on the Mac app store; $AU30.99 on the iOS app store), Ulysses worked for me and I have not looked back.

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Image courtesy Ulysses

Ulysses currently has a free trial running through to December 7 for the brave souls who may want to embark on NanoWriMo with it, and there is no better time to give it a run – NaNo or not. I remember thinking to myself half way through the free trial last November, if I manage to finish this damn thing and get to 50,000 words — I’m going to reward myself and buy this app. Just a thought.

Now, remember the three paragraphs immediately above when we come to the tip “the tools don’t matter”. Let’s get to it.

The tips

I’d encourage you to read the two posts by Mr Hewson, which I found myself nodding along with as I read, and if you’ve done any writing yourself you will probably do the same:

8 Tips for Writing a Novel this November – The NaNoWriMo Blog

Five ways to help you finish that book – Medium: David Hewson

However the stimulus for this post comes because, as well as reading and nodding, I also found myself thinking: yes I’d agree with that, however as a complete amateur, I’d also add…

So here I am… ”also adding”, to a small few of the thirteen tips contained in those original posts.

(Unless stated otherwise, quoted text is from either of the two posts linked above)

On considering your book as a journey

Hewson points out:

Yes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But it’s also a journey, from life to death, ignorance to knowledge, love to hate or vice versa.

and:

When you think of a book as a journey you then realise you need waypoints, movement, progress.

Of course a lot more detail and a good example of the above can be seen in the 8 Tips post, we see how an “inciting incident” and a further seven or eight scenes might provide 10,000 words.

To that I say boom! You’re a fifth of the way there! Well, perhaps not, although I do agree that a journey with a few stops along the way is a great way to look at it. Further, once you get rolling, it can be surprising how quickly the words tally up.

On sticking with the right tools

Here I’d add, this is really only going to work with the right tool(s) for you. I don’t necessarily mean Ulysses, Scrivener (also a 30 day free trial available), Byword, or heaven forbid even Word. It might be anything.

I get it — the tools matter, but not as much as the words.

However, remember you will need to be writing — a lot, over the course of November. Where will that writing take place? Will it be one place? Your desk? Many different places? Set yourself up to work whenever and wherever you can.

Are you going to need a companion iOS or Android app, or at least something that can access your Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive easily and efficiently — and more importantly do so reliably? Or perhaps you will be writing on the one device you can take anywhere with you.

I think a some planning here might make things just a little less stressful if you are well set up to pick up your story just about anywhere you are.

However, if things aren’t quite working in the first few days and you do have an epiphany about changing something that will see things work far more effectively — I say go for it. Within the first few days my iOS solutions were not quite where I needed them, and a little tweaking of apps and syncing worked a treat.

So, tweak a little if needed, but please, have back ups and just don’t keep tweaking.

On time management

Manage your time effectively — you won’t have as much as you want or need. Keep the book alive by making notes … when you have spare moments.

Of course in relation to the previous point about the right tools — it is great to be able to work anywhere, but you most likely won’t be able to work everywhere. When you are not specifically writing is often when the best ideas come to you. Notebooks, a sheet of paper, a phone — all perfect tools for that killer scene, idea, or great line from one of the main characters. Anything you’d really prefer not to forget.

One of the main benefits in taking notes one my iPhone is the ability to send text to whatever digital tool you might be doing your writing in (assuming it is digital — I acknowledge some brave souls do this with pen and paper in longhand). I found this useful on a couple of occasions where a note became several hundred words, and it was far more efficient to drop them into the story than rewrite from handwritten notes.

Whatever you use here doesn’t matter. Just get those thoughts down.

While we’re talking about managing your time effectively, I would also add a comment about the lead in to the November 1 kickoff. Only making the final decision to participate in last years event a couple of days before it commenced, left a less than ideal lead in as far as planning and organisation are concerned. I had the bare bones of a plot outline in my head, however my point is, even if you are feeling rather less than prepared — it can be done. The rest of my planning and organisation came along as the story progressed.

When in doubt and the calendar clicks over to November 1 — just get going and let your characters take you at least the first part of the way. Now is a good time to glance at your calendar though — see that? There are still a few good planning days left before this mayhem begins.

On writing your way out of it

Mr Hewson sir, if only I had enough talent to write my way into it in the first place!

But here’s the hard truth: the most dangerous place any writer can find him or herself is the moment you think, ‘I can find out what I want to write by writing it.’

All right then — point taken. I guess the last thing you want to do is waste a few thousand words on a scene which takes you in entirely the wrong direction. Perhaps something to remember from our expert about taking a break to reassess:

Writing’s also sitting in a bar with a beer daydreaming about the book

Is it? Is it really? Of course it is — remember what we said about when those great ideas are going to come to you?

Probably wise words indeed. Just don’t make that the thicker end of the writing wedge — sit in that bar for too long and those ideas eventually will make no sense at all. Might I suggest a calming single malt could be an even better way to go about it, however I restate one of the original points — the tools don’t matter!

Back on track with my two cents here: Resist the urge to rewrite at all costs! Mostly. Absolutely, stop, think and perhaps head in another direction — but do anything you can to avoid rewriting too much as you go along.

Just remember — this is NaNoWriMo, and if it is your first, perhaps this is also your first full draft. You will likely write more words in the coming month than perhaps you’ve written in the past twelve — maybe longer. You just don’t have the time to make this perfect. This is not putting the finishing touches to your life’s work. It is not your masterpiece — not yet.

In the words of six-time participant/three-time winner Katie Maguire on her blog I Have Things to Say:

First drafts are shit

And there it is. The honest truth. If you’ll pardon me repeating that, my first draft is sitting in a draw with a couple of initial annotations made, and is still, well… shit (apologies again, I’m done with the language — it’s just that sometimes there is only one way to describe something, particularly if that is also the very word I said aloud upon first reading back over my draft).

If you get part, half or just about all the way through and begin to think: you know, this probably really isn’t that great. Guess what? Probably half of the other millions of WriMos are thinking the exact same thing. Others might be lying to themselves, and still others might (after many revisions) get published, however as the month goes on, everyone’s eyes are on the same prize — that 50k finish line.

Just. Keep. Going. Get it done.

On simple being better

Written in bold, with the suggestion to print out and keep, Hewson gives us the following:

Simplicity is always harder than complexity.

The point here is simple. A story told in a simple, straightforward way is far easier to understand than something overly complex simply for complexity’s sake. How to recognise it? Try this example:

You’ve just decided part way through this is actually a two-era story, part of which will take place in the modern day and the rest in Regency England featuring a mirror cast.

Thank you Mr Hewson, with that laugh out loud example above, we are just about done.

I would add here that the same rules apply to individual scenes or pieces of dialogue from your beloved characters. That said, sometimes you just need complex. An example? I give you, that classic piece of cinematography, Wayne’s World, where one of our heroes, Garth Algar hatches the “simplest” of plans:

OK… First I’ll access the secret military spy satellite that’s in a geosynchronous orbit over the Midwest. Then, I’ll ID the limo by the vanity plate “MR. BIGGG” and get his approximate position. Then, I’ll reposition the transmitter dish on the remote truck to 17.32 degrees east, hit WESTAR 4 over the Atlantic, bounce the signal down into the Azores, up to COMSAT 6, beam it back to SATCOM 2 transmitter number 137, and down on the dish on the back of Mr. Big’s limo… It’s almost too easy.

Complexity, when used for effect, can be quite powerful, however unless you have a real knack for clarity, it can certainly weigh things down over time.

My advice? Just write it as you’d think it or say it. Speak the scene out loud — even just in your head. Simple just works, and is an efficient way to plough on with the story. It also makes the whole thing much more readable for those who might eventually be on the other side of this situation. That’s right — your readers.

In conclusion

Truth be told, I’ve probably written almost as many words about NaNoWriMo as I’ve written in it. Who knows, last year may have been my one and only shot. If so, I am happy with how it turned out, and is something I would recommend to anyone considering having a go. It is indeed an exhilarating ride.

If that is you, then I hope some of what I’ve written here might help a little, or a lot. Perhaps it won’t help at all, and you’ll get “stuck in” and come out a winner in precisely your own way. In all honesty it will likely be the latter, given how different we all are, which is of course the best part of it. I’ll look forward to hearing how you went, what you found most useful, and if you don’t mind, perhaps use a few of your tips next time I find myself knee-deep in words one November.

So, November is indeed coming, and so is a flurry of words. Good luck with that word count, have fun, and be sure to raise your arms when you pass the 50,000.

I’ll certainly be cheering for you.


Here’s to the Creators

Recently I had a fleeting thought about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), as I intermittently do for some reason. Let’s face it, November is not all that far away for those who might be inclined to participate this year. Myself? I won’t be grinding away at the keyboard again this November – with the exception of an occasional blog post of course. Although participating in NaNoWriMo is definitely something I highly recommend, I’ve opted out this year — with 2014 of course being the first time I had opted in.

Which brings me to the few thoughts I had which generated this post.

What about those who never opt out? I read, listen to, and follow many very talented people in this corner of the internet, and you will have already seen links to many of them grace these pages. People I like to think of as creators. People for whom “opting out” is not, well… an option. Those whose living — either in full or in part — is made through their creative work.

Here I am not talking about the overt success stories — the best-selling novelists; the rock stars; the internet sensations. For every one of those, there are a thousand others locked in the knock-down drag-out battle to not only create great work, but to somehow survive by that very means.

Those who sit in front of an empty page, screen, canvas or microphone and produce something great — or not — and if not, keep coming back until they do. Every day without fail, they show up and create. Pushing on, and approaching every day as though it will produce their best scene, verse, or sketch yet.

The faith, hope, and perhaps on some days — the desperation. Those who push through meaningless comparisons, second guessing, and maybe repeated rejections. Those who won’t be stifled. Those who flourish — perhaps in spite of it all. Even if you half-heartedly believe everyone has that killer story inside them somewhere, not everyone has the desire, nor the ability to tell it — and perhaps some who do will never try.

Now in this, my fourth NaNoWriMo inspired post reflecting on last November I ask: did I produce something great? Definitely not (believe me – I’ve read through it). However I did manage to produce — or should I say to create— something I thought I never would: a 55,000 word novel. Although I am now finding the revision and re-write that much harder, lets face it, I really don’t have much riding on it do I? Yet there are many who do.

So here’s to the creators out there.

Whatever you might be working on today (or in November) — keep working. On those tough days? Might I at least encourage you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and stand tall. If it looks a little dark and empty ahead? Just keep walking, and above all — blink last.


My previous thoughts on the NaNoWriMo experience:


NaNoWriMo – two months on

Regular readers may recall (and are perhaps a little tired of reading about), my participation in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last November, in which I managed to complete the goal of writing a 50,000 novel by month’s end. My continued posts on this topic are indicative of two things — one, it’s not entirely over; and two, as a prompt, my winner’s T shirt recently arrived.

The Winner's T-Shirt
The Winner’s T-Shirt

My original plan to write a follow-up post in December failed to eventuate. Simply put, I needed a break from the whole thing. So now, in the official NaNoWriMo “Now What?” months of revision, editing and publishing, it is time for me to revisit the story.

Upon taking a break, I am now looking forward to hopefully improving on the original draft. Achieving the goal of 50,00 words did not come without a few learnings and realisations along the way, some of which I thought worth sharing.

The Tools

I won’t go into any great detail here, as both the Digital and Analogue tools I used were covered in two previous posts. That said, a few other points I would add:

  • there is nothing like attempting a 50,000 word novel to become acquainted with an app you’ve not used before, and Ulysses III was a standout here;
  • a hat tip to author David Hewson (Twitter, Web), whose tips (particularly the story bible and keyword filters) from his ebook Writing a Novel With Ulysses III were invaluable in assisting my efforts;
  • although unrelated, using the Ulysses iPad app (currently in beta) for a month or so would suggest developer The Soulmen will also be on a winner for those wishing to write on iOS
  • conversely, when struggling with a scene or plot idea, more often than not, pen and paper sparked an idea to pull me through1

The Ideas – or lack thereof

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A milestone

Upon starting on November 1, I had ideas. In my mind (and transferred to a mind map) was a basic plot outline and the semblance of characters. Exactly where they would take me as the story progressed was another matter entirely. There were many times I ran into an idea block, however found the following to be of assistance:

  • a written summary or debrief at the end of a writing session often generated a flurry of ideas about the next few scenes or the overall progression of the story (a what just happened generating a what will or should happen of sorts);
  • when stuck for ideas, progression was often made through either a break from writing, or brainstorming with pen and paper — the frustrating part being I never pinned down which would necessarily work on a particular day;
  • my best ideas (as always) tended to strike at random times, so a quick entry in my Field Notes or the Drafts app on my phone was essential to avoid losing them, for even a minute or two later I often had a hard time remembering that “killer” idea.

Participating in a Creative Writing Challenge

I still do not have the answer to what made me think I had enough creative ability to undertake such a project. The argument here being anybody could — the difference? Quality of the output I imagine. In my case for the past 25 years, my writing has centred around the following:

  • University papers and reports (science/medical/allied health based);
  • treatment reports and correspondence (as above);
  • file notations and forensic analysis of medical reports;
  • management, financial, and general business reporting
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Getting there

As you can probably guess, my career progression has followed down the list, with my current role involving the last two points on a daily basis. Nothing in the list above strikes me as being overly creative in nature, however in some respects it is all writing, and involves planning, organisation, structure, and clarity of both thought and delivery.

The chance to write more creatively was likely one of the reasons I committed to the attempt. I am certainly not of the belief I have a “killer novel” somewhere inside me. I simply enjoy writing, and hopefully have a little talent, that with some practice, research and patience, I may be able to develop further.

Some additional points on this:

  • who knew that working for my entire adult life in “non creative” writing would leave me so deficient in knowledge around punctuation, sentence structure, and many other things real writers simply know (I was actually quite appalled at the number of things incorrect or required clarification before proceeding);
  • I am currently at a loss as to where to even begin to re-learn many of these aspects from my schooling;
  • it was around the 42,000 word mark I felt I really found my creative voice, making it difficult to wrap up the story, and resulting in the finished draft coming in at 55,000 words;
  • for someone who has not attempted such a challenge before, 50,000 words (or the magical 1,667 per day) is a great length — achievable though certainly not easy;
  • deadlines are good, otherwise I would never have finished;
  • deadlines are bad, as I definitely got less sleep, less physical activity, and spent less time with my (thankfully very understanding) family members during November

People Care

Although I posted a few word count updates to Twitter, and wrote the blog posts I mentioned above, in my physical world, only my family and a very small number of friends were aware of my participation as it was underway.

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That would be – relief

The support received from my family was expected — to a degree, however went above and beyond, through extensive and unwavering words of encouragement; understanding at my constant desk-bound position; the expert editorial services provided by my ex-schoolteacher mother (a constant source of advice around some of those appalling gaps in my knowledge I mentioned earlier); and general excitement at the prospect of reading the finished product.

A little unexpected was the level of enthusiasm shown by the few friends also following along as the month progressed. Requests for word count updates; the “have you written today?” queries; genuine excitement at my synopsis and various plot “leaks”; and sincere requests for a copy to read once I was done.

It would be disrespectful to those involved to say the above was a complete surprise, however the enthusiasm shown by those supporting me (both family and friends) was touching to say the least.

What Next?

Now that I have that first draft in my hand, it is time to revise and edit, taking into account feedback from those who have read the draft (and in my teenage daughter’s case, kindly made extensive margin notes — and I mean a lot!).

I am also in the process of taking advantage of the deals on offer through the winners page on the NaNoWriMo site, including a printed copy of the novel through Blurb, which is a nice bonus. Also, catching a glimpse of the online writing community was also an eye-opener, and from what I saw, it is a pretty impressive one.

Conclusion

I certainly have a reinvigorated respect for those I consider real writers. As far as I am concerned, I wrote the draft of a novel here, however most certainly do not consider myself any sort of creative writer — however one may be defined. This is perhaps something I need to think a little more about, and work a little more on, however on current form, my mind keeps returning to the following from a book review in The Guardian recently shared by Matt Gemmell (one of the real writers) on Twitter:

He is probably a nice man. He obviously cares deeply about these great historical movements and has done a great deal of research — my God, he has researched and researched and researched. But on the evidence of The Book of Kings, he could not write ‘Bum’ on a wall.

Finally, NaNoWriMo provided me with a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about my creative talents, workflows, and how my tools work (or don’t) for me, in a deadline driven, fairly intense challenge. Learning just as much about myself in the process, I highly recommend NaNoWriMo if you even have half an inkling to undertake such a project — and perhaps you do have that killer novel inside you.

After all, it is for a great cause, and remember, although many are — you don’t even need to be a real writer.

  1. Although the benefits of using pen and paper for brainstorming ideas are well documented, I cannot help but think this very common occurrence in my writing was also due to my inexperience in producing such a large body of work (for me) in a digital format

 

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.