Sunday, November 25, 2012

It Ain't Over 'Til It Is

NaNoWriMo 2012 is drawing to a close. I 'won' on the 20th, but still have five chapters or so (about 7k-ish to go) before my novel (Draegith) is finished. I am going to end up at only 60k, which is actually 10k less than the final tally for last year's book (Fnerge!). Even though I was aiming for 70k, I'm not really surprised i didn't make it.

Fnerge! had a ton of characters and hopped viewpoints regularly. In many ways it was a much more complex story. Draegith is told almost entirely from the viewpoint of the MC, except for a few brief sections where she is either not conscious or information important to the plot (that she isn't privy to) needs to be passed on to the reader. the geographic area covered in Fnerge! was vast, several entire worlds worth. In Draegith, we only see one small part of one continent. Draegith does have far more emotional content in terms of exploring the MC's relation to her world, which is why it even came close in length to Fnerge!.

I've learned a ton from the process this year. As I've noted over and over again, doing more groundwork and outlining was incredibly helpful. It wasn't easy, but I managed to average 2.5k a day for most of this month. I had several days with wordcounts in the 3k range, and my highest day ever--4.5k last Tuesday. Without all the groundwork I did in October this wouldn't have happened.

However, I've also learned just how inadequate the prep I did really is. I will likely do a much more comprehensive outline for the next book, especially in terms of worldbuilding and character development. It's encouraging to see where improvements can be made, though. And I feel like I've made huge strides in my storytelling, as well as learning a ton about what I need to learn a ton about :) The first step on the road to wisdom is recognizing ignorance.

I'm not really very happy with the novel, unfortunately. This is a first draft, so I don't expect much out of the writing, but it actually reads fairly well. Still rough around the edges, but not too shabby. The story, however, just isn't as exciting as I wanted it to be. Lacks oomph, somehow. Once I'm done with it I'll set it aside for a month or two and then come back to it and see if I'm just feeling blah because I'm worn out, or if it really is lacking somehow. And, is so, try to figure out how to fix it.

Which leads into the final topic for today. I've recently become acquainted with an entire category of thingee-stuffs: plot-aids. I bought a set of Story Cubes for me and my son to play with (he's three). Really fun. They aren't a game, exactly, more of a way of playing together. The set came with nine six-sided dice, each one bearing a pictogram on each face (all different). Things like a smiley face or a bug or an airplane. So the idea is to roll however many cubes, then make up a story based on the images that come up. Plus, little kids love rolling dice, so the whole enterprise works out well.

I've found that I really enjoy working out stories based on random prompts like this. I've never lacked for ideas to write about for my own stories, so I don't need anything to break through 'writer's block" (never had it; not sure I even believe in it), but as a tool for sparking creativity, I like the idea of these sorts of things. Or just for fun :) I've ordered another set of Story Cubes with different pictures (called Story Cubes: Actions), as well as a set of cards called Tell Tale, which are the same idea, just cards instead of dice. I'm also messing around with an app called FIG (Fiction Idea Generator) and considering several other games/tools, mainly The Storymatic. I'll let you all know what comes of these explorations.

And that's it for this week.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Too Many Stuffs

I am trying out blogging on the tablet again. Several reason for this: there is a new version of the Blogger app (not that I ever used the old one). I'm hoping it will work better for this than the painfully wonky write-text-w/-Jota+-&-transfer-via-browser method I tried in the past (which sucked). I dropped my tablet a while back and the (full-sized--best feature of Acer A500, IMHO) USB port stopped working, making the tablet far less usable. But an emergency surgery session last week, inspired by a dream, resulted in me using a tiny hypodermic needle to bend one of the four prongs in the USB, which wasn't making contact. This involved headlamps, flashlights held with teeth, and no small amount of swearing. It was a complicated/simple fix, if that makes any sense.

But now my USB works again. Yay! Which means I can use my favorite portable keyboard (A chiclet-style Perixx that flies).

Side note - If I could get a portable, ergonomic keyboard, I would be in heaven. I love my big MS Natural keyboard knockoff (also made by Perixx), but it couldn't be less portable. I've seen one that would almost work  (Kinesis Freestyle2), except it's super-pricey. Why more manufacturers don't make split keyboards like this one, I don't know.

Anyway, I've now been working on this post for about half an hour (Amazon research soaked up some time). I won't know for sure until I try to send it, but so far the Blogger app works well. It's really sweet to be able to enter rich text instead of plain text. I can do italics, woot!

Edit - Just hit blip numero uno. The editor for the Blogger app has no undo function. Not having control-z isn't the end of the world, but It's an unexpected omission. Also, no preferences menu to do things like adjust font size, etc. Hrm...

Another interesting note - all the keyboard shortcuts I've learned for navigating on the AlphaSmart Neo (which has no other input device, no mouse or touchscreen or anything) are coming in really handy on the tablet. Which is nice, because I really hate trying to move the cursor around with my sausage-fingers.

Anyway, on to more important matters. It's the end of week 2--or the beginning of week 2 1/2, I suppose--of  NaNoWriMo. I can confidently report that I'm kicking ass. No, seriously. While chewing bubble gum and taking names. It's an awesome feeling. I am currently at around 44k. I've been averaging 2.5k a day, so I should 'win' within a few more days. Ya, again!

I won't actually be finished when I win. I'm on chapter 35 of a planned 48 chapters, so I have  15-20k more to write. I originally expected to hit 70k this year, but I think I'll probably end up closer to 65k. Good enough :)

The even-better news is that I am far happier with this book than I was with last year's NaNo. Not that the last one wasn't fun, or that this one will need any less editing/rewriting later on, but I feel like I have a much better grasp of both the story I'm trying to tell and storytelling in general. The prep I did definitely helped. Although I need to do way more next time. It turns out that what I thought was a ton of outlining and prewriting was really only the bare minimum to get my story started. I've had some hair-tearing moments trying to wrap my head around the plot and characters this month, stuff I thought I already had worked out. Lesson learned.

I am, as always, still not satisfied with the work I'm doing. Definitely room for improvement. But a far more fluent effort than last time. Plus--and this is the key, the whole reason I'm so hyped on NaNo--I feel like this is a repeatable process (during non-NaNo time). The pressurized writing environment suits me, although I might take things slightly easier on the next book. I've been missing out on sleep (and most everything else) in order to keep up with my wordcount goals. But that's gotten easier, in some ways, as the month has worn on.

In other words, I think I have the trick of writing novels now. Perhaps.

All that remains is to work on writing better ones :)

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I am writing this on my newest writing 'tool': an AlphaSmart Neo. (I'm the first to admit that I often have trouble distinguishing the difference between a tool and a toy. But it lends more cache when we refer our toys as tools.) It's pretty awesome so far.

I went through an Android tablet phase a while back. One of the main things I tried to make work was a system for writing on the tablet, so I could do things like write my Sunday morning blog post in bed on Sunday morning. I also wanted to be able to write fiction on the go (at least first drafts). I installed a pretty decent text editor called Jota (none of the web browser played nicely with Blogspot, so I had to do the text of my posts in a separate application). I got a nice portable USB keyboard. I was able to do a few posts this way, but eventually gave up due to the clunky nature of the whole enterprise. Plus, I really hadn't achieved the portability I wanted.

In the spirit of fairness, I will note that battery life for tablets is generally quite impressive. Also, the keyboard, a very Apple-ish one sold by Perixx, is wonderful. I have several Perixx keyboards and they are all well made an fairly priced. Also also, in my limited experience, Jota (now available as Jota+) is the best free text editor on the Android platform.

Side note -- I've pretty much abandoned any hope that Android will become a worthwhile operating system any time soon, being basically an attempt to remove functions from Linux then charge the end user to reinstate them. And the constant, intrusive, usage, data, and identity tracking is creepy. DRMania. But that's a whole 'nother post.

I've seen AlphaSmarts, the Neo2 mainly, which from a writer's point of view is functionally identical to the older Neo, advertised on various writing websites occasionally. I always thought the device was a rip-off. At around $170 USD for a keyboard attached to a glorified calculator screen, I'm still pretty solid in that assessment. I do understand that their primary market is a niche educational one, so I don't fault them for the high price. Economics is what it is.

But I certainly wasn't interested.

However, a chance comment by a writing acquaintance (about her AlphaSmart) ignited an interest in them. I am an obsessive person, and sometimes a nudge is all it takes :) I did some research and found out that older AlphaSmart were often sold in online auctions for much cheaper than the retail price. And the more I read about how other writers used them and how well they worked as portable first-draft machines, the more interested I became.

I found one for $55, emailed the link to my wife as an X-mas present suggestion, and she ordered it immediately. IMHO, the retail should be a lot closer to that price. If It wasn't intended as a present (a splurge, if you will), and if I didn't have a narrow-focus writerly use for it, I wouldn't have asked for it at all.

We have a lot of trouble holding on to gifts in my household. Life is short. My wife gave me the Neo as soon as it arrived, a few days ago. Thanks, babe. You're the bee's knees.

I've written at least 5k on it so far. It's definitely helping me make the most of my time for NaNoWriMo. And it makes the perfect Sunday morning blog draft machine. Assuming I continue to get the same level of use out of it, it will definitely be worth every penny.

The Neo is light, easily portable, and totally self-contained. The keyboard feels great. It gets 700 hours of battery life out of three AAs. Boot-up time is about a second. It opens in the last file I was working on, exactly where I left off. It saves every keystroke. When I'm on the go, I'm basically using it for the notes and ideas I would've written out longhand and had to type up later. It's a real time-saver in that sense.

I love it.

It's not perfect. The screen is a reflective LCD, so the text is black on light green. No backlight. I installed some add-on fonts that unexpected_human made (do a search for them if you have a Neo, highly recommended), so I can do as many as 11 lines of teeny-tiny text, but ultimately there is no way to fit enough legible text onscreen to do more than light editing. Even with larger fonts and much less text visible, I get more eyestrain than I would using a PC and decent sized monitor.

The screen limitations are forcing me to think in a different way when I write, to plan ahead and hold more structure in my head. I think it will be beneficial for my writing on the whole in the the long run. I think I can learn to do drafts that don't require heavy revision, but I don't expect to ever turn out finished copy on the Neo. But for notes and first drafts, it's a welcome addition to my arsenal.

Batman says "Boom!"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

This will (hopefully [which is kind of ironic, no?]) be a short post. Mainly this is just an update, since I've been away for several weeks.

And why is that?

I've been busy writing and editing, busy planning for this years NaNo, and just generally feeling averse to blogging. I actually took the time to write out a post in longhand a few weeks back, on story structure (yes, again), but haven't gotten around to transcribing it. I was going to do a pencast (and will, eventually), using the new laser printer I got, which has a built in scanner. Oh, joy of joys!

Mostly, though, I've been fighting with my OS. I upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04LTS and I've been hating every minute of it. After days of fidgeting, I've finally settled on the Xfce desktop environment, w/ the file manager and text editor (Nautilus and Gedit, respectively) from Unity/Gnome.

Honestly, though, if it weren't for NaNo I'd probably be wiping my system and doing a fresh install of something like Linux Mint. I might still, provided I get enough words done. I can almost guarantee that I'll at least try running a live image (or do a dual-boot install). To put it very, very bluntly: Unity sucks rocks. Massive boulders, even.

It's probably great on new systems that have plenty of RAM and processing power. On my 1.6Gh netbook with 1Gb system memory, it is slow, laggy, unstable, and a battle to do the simplest things, tasks that Ubuntu 10.10 handled with ease.

No thanks. I came to Linux because I was fleeing the evils of microshaft, specifically bloatwear.

Anyway, now NaNo is here and I'm all BIC HOC TAM (butt in chair [actually, in my case I'm mostly standing], fingers on keyboard, typing away madly). Any of you fellow NaNoers—best of luck. I'm pushing for 2.5k a day, over 10k so far, and hoping to have a 75k-ish novel done come Dec. 1st.

And life, irritations of OSes notwithstanding, is grand.