Nanowrimo – I’m a winner!

I love Nanowrimo.  My intro blog has some context about why I love Nanowrimo and what it has done for me.   With the close of the April 2015 Camp, I feel a set of mixed feelings.

First, the Good.

I did it.  I’m a winner.  I set a target; I hit my target.  How many people can say that?  I managed to chew through 50,000 words in a month.  Are they all words I’m proud of?  NOPE.  But, I got through it.  Those last 2,000, I really was stretching to fill the count, but I managed to get through them all the same.  Ironically, if I had just kept right on doing my thing normally, I’d have hit the word count a couple of days later just fine.  The strange word dance I performed on the evening of being able to turn in only gave me a bigger headache later, and didn’t ultimately impact my ability to win.

Second, I got to talk to lots of people who were working on their own books.  People from all over the world participate, and you get to maintain a chat room with them while you work and get to pep talk them and be pep talked by them as you write.  It was great to see the kinds of challenges they face, and how like my own challenges they are.

And third, my momentum is still positive.  Even after a losing a little ground cleaning up some of the tricks I used to give myself a few more words, I’m back positive again and closing in on 60,000.  I really feel like I can finish this work, and I owe that to Nanowrimo.

Now, the Bad.

I look back on the experience and really wonder what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t generate this kind of momentum on my own.  It’s nice to talk to these people, but if I’m fair I know nothing about their stories other than one of my camp mates having to kill a character.  I know nothing about them as people other than one of them having to bow out of the race for school.

I hoped to build lasting relationships, or a secret author circle of ninjas that I can leverage when my muse bails from the car or the writer’s block gets too thick.  I think it’s highly likely I won’t stay in touch with any of them after this… And that’s unfortunate.

Also, as great as the push was, I get no feedback on what I’ve written.  I have no idea if I’m any closer to publication than I was when this began.  If you give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters, you can get the complete works of William Shakespeare.  That said, there is (infinity – 1) count of complete junk.  Am I writing junk or the complete works of William Shakespeare (hopefully not junk, but certainly not Shakespeare)?

I guess the next stop on my writer’s race is to a critiquing contest.  Know any good ones?

Did you participate in Nanowrimo?  How did you do?

Advertisements

Book Review – 48 Days to the Work You Love

As part of my journey to make the transition to becoming a professional author, I read a lot.  I’m a firm believer that Leaders are Readers, and I am going to read everything I can get my hands on.  This is going to include a variety of things:

  • Fiction – How better to get inspiration and see what other authors are doing than by reading current fiction?
  • Books on Writing – These are books on the craft and business of writing. In my first blog, I mentioned that I spent a year reading this stuff, and hadn’t made any real progress.  While I don’t want to fall into that trap again, I still intend to continue reading books on this.  I want to get better, let me learn from those who already have done what I seek to do.
  • Self-Improvement Books – Some people look down on these. After all, a book can’t make you do something you don’t want to do.  A book can’t force you to be motivated, or a better dad, or any number of things they might profess to do.  That said, I believe they can help keep you in the right frame of mind to remember that you can do anything.  I believe they can give you tools to use for life just as quickly as a book on writing can give me a tool to use in writing.  And so I will continue to read them as well.

Today’s book review will be in the third bucket.  This week, I read 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller.

The book was a fun read, but I’m not sure how much I can take home from it.

First, mechanically speaking:  He covers early on where the 48 days comes from, and it’s a great number.  That said, it doesn’t have the step-by-step approach you might want with a book title involving a timeline.  Usually, you would expect to see a breakdown by day or range of days what you are supposed to be doing, which is what I thought I would find going into the book.  Nope!  Dan covers why he thinks 48 days is the right number of days, and that’s the only time it’s mentioned.

That doesn’t take away from the content, though.  The core premise of the book can be summarized by:  Find something to do you love so much that you would do it for free, and then do it so well people will pay you for it.  He approaches this from a number of different angles, drawing upon extensive expertise both anecdotally and personally.  He goes to a lot of effort to convince you that, “Hey, I really can go be anybody I want!  I just need to go do it!”

After a trip through the “think big!” chapters, we get into the weeds a bit, covering some good topics about deciding whether or not you should be an entrepreneur (which is a nice change, since most books on this subject tend to live in “Go start your own business!” pretty firmly).    He goes into the key components of how to find jobs, how to build a resume, and how to interview successfully, which are definitely great skills to develop.

But that leads me to where the book sits with me.  I enjoyed it.  It was everything I hoped for bound between a leather cover completely with old paper musty smells (or a shrink-wrapped cardboard CD case, whichever is more inspirational to you).  My complication is that it’s a rehash of things I already know.

I know how to find a job (or career, or vocation, or whatever).
I know how to write a resume.
I know how to interview.

I know what I want to do has a lot of meaning and is worth pursuing… And that it can sustain me one day.   It’s the premise of this whole venture.

All things considered, I enjoyed the book.  It scratched the “I like to read inspirational stuff” itch, and helps me stay motivated and encouraged on my quest to succeed as an Author.

My rating:  4.25 / 5.00

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?  Or are there other inspirational books that you enjoy reading?

Software Comparison:  Scrivener vs yWriter5

There are dozens of tools out there that are designed to help make the writing process easier, a lot of which are targeted towards non-linear writing.  Today, I’d like to dive into yWriter and Scrivener, both of which are exceptional tools in this space. Both tools allow building of scenes and being able to arrange them on the fly or tag them.  You can also track your word counts and progress in both tools, but they have a few differences.  If you just want a raw comparison, here you go:

Feature Winner
User Interface/Experience Scrivener, hands down – Drag & Drop functionality, color, and fewer bugs
 Metrics (Word Count, WPM, novel length)  yWriter, very narrowly – Same metrics, yWRiter makes them more visible.
Non-linear Writing Capabilities Scrivener – You have a lot more power to structure things however you like, nesting documents and folders
 Backups and Restores  Equal – Both possess good backup functionality.
 Writer’s Tools (tagging, metadata, labeling, etc) Equal – Scrivener has a LOT of flexibility here with custom metadata, page and project notes, POV, status fields, etc… But maybe it’s too much.  yWriter has clearly labeled sections for Locations/Characters/Items, and lets you follow some very explicit (hardcoded) attributes for those items.  This ends up being personal preference.
 Analytics  yWriter – Although Scrivener can give you counts of the words you use so you can see if T”Throttle” is just coming up way too much, yWriter gives you the ability to see how many scenes features which characters or locations, how often a characters serves as a POV, and more.
Price  yWriter – Can’t beat free.

That is the broad overview of the comparisons, but feel free to read on for the deep dive on each.

Scrivener Overview

scrivener

Scrivener, made by Literature and Latte (https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) is a fantastic tool that I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog already.  It is highly evolved and targeted initially towards Mac users (although they do make it available to Windows users as well).

  • Everything works from a single text “unit” that can be labeled as a scene, a character bio, a location, or anything else. This creates a lot of flexibility.  Do you need to track magic spells available for whatever reason?  Just start labeling the documents that way and add icons.
  • The arrangement of scenes (or “texts”) is very intuitive and easy, built on a folder structure (which, incidentally can also contain writing). It’s very drag-and-drop friendly to arrange your scenes both from an order perspective as well as a hierarchical perspective.  You also can add color coding to an outline view to give yourself detailed looks at content.Scenes.png
  • The cork-board view expands the concept of moving things around and arranging them where you like them. It really lets you get the feel of organizing notecards (which can also be color-coded and labeled) to decide where you want.  Even aside from that, you can view your scenes in a single browser, compare scenes to each other in the same windows, and get lots of ways of looking at the data.
  • Keywords and Metadata attributes can be assigned to each scene (document).  For instance, you could create a metadata field entitled “Location.”  On each scene, you’d have the ability to type in the location and populate.  Likewise, you could create a list of characters using keywords (with each new character having its own keyword).  You then could assign a color-coded character to your scenes to make life fast and easy when scanning scenes to see who is in it.

You can get Scrivener for $40 USD, but if you time your purchase around one of the Nanowrimo events, you can pick a copy up with a discount, making it a great buy.

yWriter

ywriter

yWriter by Spacejock software (http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html) is another great tool, and also has the added benefit of being completely free.  A few of its highlights:

  • While it lacks some of the flexibility and customization on its units as Scrivener, it has hardcoded several elements including Scenes, Characters, Locations and Items. These have their own properties and unique traits.  This lets you add a lot of meta-information about them that are unique to that type of thing.  Beyond that, you can see how these things relate to one another, and perform detailed analytics on those relationships.  IE:  Pick a character and see how many scenes that character appears in… How many scenes that character is the POV character for (which is just another thing that is hardcoded and thus can be reported on).
  • If you’ve ever read Dwight V Swain’s book Techniques of the Selling Writer, you’ve seen how he breaks apart scene structure as Action/Reaction and goals. This helps make sure that your scenes are actually bringing content to your story.  Yes, I recognize that it is oversimplifying things, but it’s a great tool to use.  A great reference book to read as well if you haven’t (heavy read though!).
  • Reporting and metrics are better. You can see in a quick window your word count per scene/chapter/section/etc.  You can see your words per minute while typing.  Everything is tracked and highly visible.  Is this necessary?    It’s a personal preference, but I know I like to see if I can keep my WPM up on a first draft to ensure that I am getting some writing done.  By the same token, you also can track (and graph) attributes you’ve defined based on each scene, such as comedy, intensity, villain redemption, etc.  Coupled with the graph, you can make sure your peaks and valleys are where you’d expect them.

All in all, both are great tools and worth looking at. Which do you prefer?  Something else all together?

Writing Styles – Ups and Downs of Jumping Around

I am about 50,000 words into my very first draft.  This is a pretty significant milestone for me since historically I have petered out around 15,000 pages.  I know the final product of this book is going to be somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 words.  I’m not sure where it lands yet, but I can ballpark around there.  I’m fairly pleased with how far it has come compared to my other works.

What makes this one different?

1) Nanowrimo.  I’ve said positive things about Nanowrimo before, but I’ll say them again.  When you have a high word count that you are trying to fulfill, and you aren’t under the pressure of trying to finish for a writing contest or something thereabouts, you are more free with just letting the words flow from your fingers onto the page.

I guess time will tell whether or not the volume is ultimately creating a better project than smaller encapsulated projects that I actually polish.

2) Subject Matter – The story is being written for a universe I have mostly created called Greyscape.  This setting is being worked on by a few other individuals because it is the backdrop for a card game I am co-developing (http://www.greyscapegame.com, shameless plug!).  This creates a sense of urgency around it.

3) I’m jumping around while I write it.  I’m going to expand on this point for this post. Before I dive there, I want to make a quick note:  You’ll notice I didn’t include this reason:  “I really, really want to be a published author… Super bad.”  That’s definitely a true statement, and led me to creating this blog.  However, that feeling also led me to writing tons of 500-1000 word brick-a-brack, and reading dozens of writing books.  It didn’t help me make progress on one.

Back to Jumping Around

Jumping around in the story was never something I’ve tried before.  I typically have tried to write chronologically, letting the characters dictate what is going to happen, and then flowing from one thing to the next. I got to this point using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson.  If you aren’t familiar, check it out.

Whether you are a plotter or pantser, it’s a good way to grow a story and a useful tool to have in your arsenal. I’ll summarize what you do:  You start by writing a sentence summarizing your story.  Then you expand the sentence and write a paragraph summarizing your story.  Then you expand the paragraph and write a page summarizing your story.  Then you do four pages (there’s some filler steps in the middle to flesh out characters more).  Each stage takes your story and adds detail.  It lets you really get to the heart of it.

What I found using this method is that by the 4-page version, I’m feeling comfortable enough with it I’m ready to go ahead and hit the gas on my draft.  After all, I have a 4-page outline summarizing the story to use as guidelines, and the rest just needs to flow. The problem is that while I write the story, I hit a road block (or we can call it a writer’s block, your choice).  The roadblock feels like it has to be overcome before I can write more.  Thus the story stalls.  A few times, I would write some weak narrative and push the story forward, resolving to come back on the second draft.

Ultimately though I hit a block I can’t get through with where I am, and the story stops… Or even worse, I start working on another story “just until I get past the block” and now I have another story that’s keeping me from finishing my first.

Now I jump around as I write.  It has a few benefits:

1) When you have that scene you just can’t get out of your head, write it!  Don’t worry about the fact that you aren’t there yet.  Write the parts you are excited about.  Ride your enthusiasm.

2) When you add a new plot element or character, you can stay on that topic and add it to the different points in the story where you might need it.  This lets you make sure your threads are deeply interwoven rather than forgotten or added suddenly.

3) It helps ensure you keep writing.  I would find that as I jump to write a different scene, once I feel the momentum going, I am able to move back to an earlier scene and start filling in the blanks.  If I hit a roadblock again, I jump back to something fresh. 4) It lets you explore things you might not use.  You might right some exposition about one of your characters in a scene you envision at the bar… The bar was never in the story, and maybe it still won’t be, but by exploring that scene, you are exploring your character, whether the scene makes it to the book, gets referenced in the book, or never comes up at all. Sounds too good to be true, right?  There are a few pitfalls to keep in mind.

1) Continuity becomes an issue.  Great for threading something through the whole story, but the problem is that as your story adjusts, it becomes difficult to find all the scenes where a change you make on the fly gets resolved.  Example:  I have a great supporting character… We’ll call him Fred.  I write some great scenes with Fred.  I even have this really touching moment at the end of the book that I really see in my head.  A month later I’m writing a scene in the middle of the story where I’m escalating the tension and Fred dies.  That’s it.  Fred’s Dead.  But I have an ending involving Fred really confessing his love for the main character.  What am I supposed to do with that?  The relationship hadn’t built up enough early on for me to just move the scene to earlier in the story, but I really feel like Fred needs to die where I killed him.  Now what? In these situations, you might introduce a new character, say, George to take Fred’s place later.  You might have to cut one scene or the other completely.

2) Character behavior gets a little schizophrenic.  As I’ve covered 50,000 words, my main character has adjusted quite a bit.  As I read the story, things he values or ways he responds to situations jumps around because when I wrote him a month ago, he acted a certain way (and did so at multiple areas in the book).

3) Finding some of the gaps can start getting tricky.  As you start getting scenes exploding out the ying-yang, remembering where you’ve skipped some transitions can get tough.  You end up needing to read your story linearly periodically as you write to make sure you haven’t left something out.

4) This might suck to do with Google Docs.  I’d recommend using a non-linear writing tool like Scrivener.  Something where you can easily move scenes and jump to them.  Trying to do this in a conventional word editor feels like fighting words.

So that’s Jumping Around in a nutshell.  What about you all?  Do you write chronologically, or do you jump around?  What are some of the pros and cons of each?

Three Interesting Nanowrimo Quirks

So, April Camp Nanowrimo is finishing up.  This is the Nanowrimo light they do in the non-November months.  I think they do two a year, but you can check their page for the exact details.  I find as I get close to my writing goal (50,000 words), there are a few things I find I’m doing to preserve word count:

1) Including Stubs as part of my word count

This basically means I have scenes plotted out, maybe 1-3 sentence narratives describing what is going to happen.  These serve as placeholders or “stubs” for where the actual scene will get written.  I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with it.  But at the beginning of Nanowrimo, it gave me this great boost in my writing.  Now though, it aches.  I end up losing as many as a few hundred words depending on how big the stub is when I delete it.  That makes it slightly demoralizing to work on anything I’ve plotted.

The Benefit:  I don’t write on a scene unless I’m prepared to go hardcore and get at least 300+ words into it  I hate to write for half an hour and see the word count move a tiny amount.    This forces me to give more focus, more attention to my writing.

2) Saving my rewrites.  

Forward momentum is everything in Nanowrimo.  This means you are supposed to save your editing for next month!  That’s great in theory.  I wish I could subscribe to it.  I’m not going to call myself a perfectionist; I’m not even close.  I’ve seen some of my camp mates who are fanatical about going linearly, character driven, and need each sentence to be perfect before moving to the next.  I’m not there, but I do feel if a later scene is now contradicting something early on, I should make an effort to go back and fix it.  If it’s a few edits, no problem.  If it’s an entire scene rewrite, I create a new text/scene (I use Scrivener for my writing.  Great tool, check it out!) and move the old one to an “unused scenes” folder that stays a part of my word count.  The overall word count of my novel hasn’t changed, but I did do 1000 words of writing and want to make sure I get credit.

The Benefit: Sometimes in the rewrite, I end up losing some of the themes I wanted to capture in the scene.  This lets me maintain easy access to the scene, and in some cases, rewrite some of it to fit in elsewhere in the story.

3) I add completely new content

There are days when I am facing writer’s block, and I feel obligated to hit my word count for the day.  On these days, I make up a new character and POV, and then start writing a bunch of stuff from their perspective.  At worst, I file it away for reference material that helps round out my world, but it could range anywhere from a new character that I introduce (with me having more of a backdrop, even if the readers never see it), or to the best scenario, I really like the dynamic, and I start splicing the work up and mixing it in to keep the chapters fresh.

For those of you who participate, what are some of the quirks you find yourself doing in Nanowrimo?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Fiction!

Thanks for checking out this blog. I have started this as an outlet for me to talk about trying to crack into the whole “writing thing.”  As a kid, I did a ton of reading.  I graduated from Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventure books at 9 or 10 to my mom’s books.  I was a big fan of Christopher Stacheff, Robert Aspirin, and Piers Anthony.  But even on top of writing, creating was a passion of mine.  I started writing in competitions at school while I was still in elementary, and continued all the way through high school.  I also loved creating worlds and stories… brought about by running Dungeons and Dragons games when I was in 2nd grade… And have continued doing so until present.  Creating stories was something I loved to do.

College kinda put the kill on it.  I went to a technical school with the goal of “making video games.”  The pros:  Lots of D&D players at nerdie tech college.  The cons:  Not a whole lot of curriculum to exercise the right brain and encourage creativity.  Making video games was the best way to go for me.  The problem that existed that I didn’t know about then was that I wanted to design video games, not necessarily to program them.  Don’t get me wrong, I can sling some code with the best of ’em.  But the cold truth is that my favorite activities involve creating the worlds, designing the people, building exciting plots that blow people away.  And that’s what I really wanted to do.

Fast-forward several years.  I graduate from my school and get a nice technical job.  I climb the corporate ladder and start doing well for myself.  I enjoy teaching and leading people, and coming up with solutions to our problems to make everybody’s lives better.  Seems like a happy open-and-closed story.

But I know something is lacking.  I have a burning need to create.  It consumes me when I lay down at night; it churns at me during the long office meetings and strategy sessions.  I went through several phases of this.  Ironically, I first tried to meet the craving by circling back around to what I left from college.  Make video games.  I started picking up programming books again, started looking at the Unity engine and thought, “Hey, I can make a game.”  That didn’t feel right.  I started to try and crack the problem.  I thought I could come up with something that would be less technical, more creative… This led me to create “custom maps/mods” for video games.  I took map and campaign editors and started working on stuff.  This seemed kinda cool and I was definitely digging it… For about a month.

Finally, my wife hit on something that had completely slipped my mind.  Something I hadn’t thought about in years.  She looks at me and said, “Honey, what I really think you ought to do is write a book.”  That smashed into me like a hammer.  I had no idea why it hadn’t occurred to me.

I was meant to be a writer.

So how did I approach this new problem.  Like any good tech guy, I picked up reference manuals.  I bought every book that had a 4.5 star review on amazon and read up on the craft of writing.  Great works, all.  One year later, I’d written exactly… one short story.  But!  I had a whole slew of partially digested first-5 pages crap.  I needed to do better.

Nanowrimo changed my life.  Nanowrimo, for those unaware, is National Write a Novel Month (because the world needs your novel!).  They give you a 50,000 word quotient and you just write.  Lots of evidence pointed to this being the right way to go.  Every single book I read said, “The best way to get writing is to… WRITE.”  Wow.  What a novel concept (that’s right… I said it).  Nanowrimo helped me do it.  Not only this, but my leadership books pointed to something similar.  John Maxwell talks about an art class experiment involving clay pots where the professor splits the class.  Half the class gets graded on weight… 50 pounds of pots equals an A, 40 a B, etc.  Half the class gets graded on only one pot… But it must be a “perfect” pot.  Ironically, the half graded on quantity churned out better pots by the end.  The “perfect pot” class all had theories and conversations… and piles of dead clay.  The quantity class had the better showing.

Because they practiced.

Nanowrimo helped me do that.  I didn’t make the 50,000 words.  I hit about 30,000.  But the novel continues.  And will keep going.  And when it finishes, there will be another.  I will write as much as I need to in order to get on the map and get published.  I want to start churning out clay pots.  My writing might not be the best at first, but I can guarantee one thing… People who get published write.  So that’s where I’m at.

This blog will chronicle that journey.  I’m climbing in the car, and I suggest you do the same, because this isn’t just your standard race.  There will be stops.  There will be changes of tires.  Hopefully no wrecks, but we don’t know yet because the competition is fierce.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Fiction!