Friday, February 20, 2015

The Tools I (mis-)Use

This is the first entry in a series of posts about my evolving writing process. I'm kicking things off by laying the groundwork. These are the tools that I currently (mis-)use to go from idea nugget to final draft (well, as final as I've made it so far). I may come back and update this post in the future, if/when I do I'll be sure to highlight any changes and why they've occurred.

Software:
Scrivener 2
I first started using Scrivener for NaNoWriMo. I'd seen a web demo of it as part of the NaNo prep and instantly fell in love with ONE feature, the full-screen "Compose" view that I still use to this day. Literature and Latte often (if not always) provide a free NaNo demo version and a hefty discount on the full version as one of the NaNo rewards.

What "Compose" does is put you one on one with your words. It clears away all the other parts of the UI (except any floating Scrivener windows you pull up such as Project Targets). It was exactly what I needed to be able to concentrate on getting words down.

Since that fateful November I've come to use more of Scrivener's features such as labels, notes, synopsis cards, the binder, text statistics (including a handy word frequency chart), and its more than robust compiler that lets me turn my MS into various other formats (epub, mobi, docx, rtf, etc.).

There's so much more to this software that I haven't even begun to experiment with, but working without the tools that I use already would seriously hamper how quickly I write (which still isn't fast enough).

Scapple
Another Literature and Latte product, I've replaced my previous mind-mapping/whiteboard software with Scapple because of some of its integration with Scrivener 2.

Scapple, while simpler than other mind-mapping software, provides me with all the features I need, which is a very basic free-form mind-mapping software that I can drop text, documents, and images into.

 I use it for outlining, detailing scenes, and connecting plot-points and characters during my brainstorming sessions. It also does a great job of making confusing and busy-looking spider-webs of text that scare people away when I'm working on them... but that has more to do with my (dis)organizational methods than the software itself.

Google Keep
I'm an Android user, plain and simple. I prefer Android phones and tablets to iOS. In that vein, when I went looking for a light-weight note-taking app that allowed me to fire off quick cloud-based notes from a browser or app, using a keyboard or voice dictation (with both an audio recording and passable speech-to-text), Google Keep was exactly what I needed.

Instead of carrying a trendy little Moleskin notebook in an oversized pocket or an equally trendy satchel carrier bag, I can simply carry my phone. Which I can shout at in the car. It doesn't look that crazy.

Google Keep also syncs it across all my various devices (yay cloud) so I don't have to go searching for whatever device I made the notes on.

Apple Pages
Like Microsoft Word, Apple Pages is a fairly full-featured word processor that's available on my iPad Air 2 and MacBook Pro.

With the addition of Handoff, a Mac OSX 10.10/iOS8 real-time file-in-progress push between the two, and I can start writing on one device and immediately pick it up on another. Throw in that Apple made it free on both platforms (with the latest OS updates) and I was sold.

Microsoft Word
Word is what I grew up on and use on a daily basis in the day job. When it comes to revising and reviewing feedback and markup Word is still where I'm comfortable and I know the formatting won't be screwed up when I send the files to other Word users. Someday Word may fall off this list, but for now it has a pretty comfortable and safe spot.

Dropbox
A life-saver. Combining Dropbox, which is a cloud-storage service, with Scrivener and almost all the rest of these tools, means I can work practically anywhere with any device. It also gives me the peace of mind I need, knowing that not only is my data backed up, but if I somehow corrupt or otherwise blow up my MS I can restore a previous version.

On top of those benefits, unlike certain other cloud storage services, Dropbox leaves and updates local copies to my various machines, so in the event that the internet isn't accessible I can still get my work done.

TiddlyWiki
This is the latest addition to this list. TiddlyWiki is a local (or online) light weight personal wiki. I picked it up when I started working on the sequel to Crow's Blood, and it's a far superior method of tracking semi-important details consistent (character descriptions, magic systems, fictional history, place descriptions, etc.). Because keeping all your details straight is important for some reason.

As with any wiki language, there's a bit of a learning curve to get going, but TiddlyWiki keeps it easier than some of the other ones I tried, while offering a robust enough base to do what I need.

Twitter
Twitter gets an honourable mention because it's an integral part of what stops me from losing my mind or running in circles of self-doubt. Writing is, by nature, a solitary craft. Twitter lets me find and chat with a community of writers at all stages of the process for support and conversation.

Hardware:
MacBook Pro
My MacBook Pro is my workhorse! I love the keyboard because typing on it is effortless. There's no "clack" (which I know some people love) and the resistance is just right. Then there's the trackpad, which is something you'd think one of the myriad of OEM's in the laptop space would have come close to, but they haven't. It's true what they say once you go Mac you never go back...

Unless it's for games, but even then you can't find better laptop hardware to run Windows...

Moto X
As I said earlier, I'm an Android user, and this is my phone (one of them anyway). The dedicated voice processing unit built into this phone does WONDERS for taking dictation in my overly noisy commute.

iPad Air 2 with my Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard
Wait... what? Didn't I say I was an Android user? Well... I am. My "play" tablet is, and always will be an Android tablet (currently an Asus Transformer).

But my iPad makes for better productivity. It's lightweight and mobile in ways that even my MacBook Pro isn't. And unlike my Android tablet, it has everything I need for writing, even its limitations play into making me more productive (here's looking at you frustrating one-task-at-a-time UI). It also has Pages which I mention above, and very few games that I want to sink a lot of time into (which means less distraction).

It makes for interesting trips through airport security. I have to explain why I carry 2 tablets, a laptop, and 2 phones (personal and business). Every. Single. Time.

Other:
Coffee
Because staying awake is important.

These are the tools I currently use in all aspects of my writing. Looking at them I'm sure there are plenty of more efficient ways to do what needs to be done. Maybe someday I'll find them.

Let me know what tools you use, or think I could put to better use, in the comments.

- Alex

Thursday, February 19, 2015

***Warning: Incoming Blog Posts***

So. Here's the deal:
I've been mulling and tumbling ideas for a series of blog posts around in my noggin  for a LONG time about how my writing process itself is developing and changing. Both as an insight into how I do things now and how much work goes into my writing, and as a possible source of feedback.

That's right, comments and feedback on this upcoming series of posts will be greatly appreciated. I'm looking to as much to learn and improve my craft and processes as I am to tell others about them. As much as I may play at being awesome and perfect, the truth is that I'm not.

No, no! Stop weeping and tearing at your hair. It's true.

You see, I've been having a bit of performance anxiety. Before Crow's Blood I'd never written a novel before. I was an infrequent short story writer. And people that have seen CB seem to like it. It even got me an awesome agent! I'm terrified to my bones that CB2 won't live up to it. That it'll be my sophomore slump. And I don't want that (who would?).

What that all means is that I don't have a solid process to work from. I have pieces here and there, tools that I use and have found immensely helpful, and very specific ways that I do certain things. I'm looking to improve on it all, and the best way to do that is to write it all out and (hopefully) get feedback.

Topics I intend to cover (and this is by no means a static list, things may be moved around, added, or combined as I go along):

The Tools I (mis)Use
The Idea: Brainstorming and expanding.
Characters and Characterization: Who are these people?
Plot: Where are we going and why are we in this hand-basket?
Worldbuilding: It's in the details.
Outlining vs Pantsing: Why choose just one?
Writing
Revising

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year! New Look!

I've been running this blog (poorly and inconsistently) for 4.5 years now. And it has had the same theme and layout from the time of that first post.

Sure there have been little tweaks here and there, mostly with the gadgets you see to the right, and the addition of my beloved Movie List and About pages. But let's be honest with each other. I think we've earned that at this point in our relationship (unless you're someone visiting my blog for the first time... Then: AWKWARD). My old theme was stale, and it really wasn't the easiest to read.

I hope I've improved on both the look and feel, and functionality of the page. I trimmed a lot of the fat, and spent a ridiculous amount of time and effort building that little "Follow Me" gadget on the right (mostly spent in image manipulation).

The key thing to remember is that my list of qualifications does not include "Graphic Designer", and I don't even have to pull up my resume to check. It's one of those things I just know deep down in my bones. So your feedback is more than welcome.

How did I do? Does it look alright (especially the colours, I'm chromatically challenged)? Is it usable? Is something missing/broken/doing something completely unexpected (such as opening a cavernous maw beneath your basement stairs? Go check. I'll wait...).

Let me know in the comments.

P.S. I'll give you all a writing update tomorrow.