Monday, November 19, 2012

NaNoWriMo: A Brain-Bending Exercise

This month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I have yet again taken up the challenge.  For those not familiar with the challenge, you are to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  That equates to roughly 1,700 words a day.  Doesn't sound like it would be all the difficult, does it?  Well, imagine that the average blog post that I've read comes in between 500 to 1,000 words.  The average tweet is about 10 to 20 words, and the average sound bite used in news broadcasts is about 5 to 10 words (averages and research done by author, and not in a scientific manner).

Now think of your average novel.  Good novels, the ones that get published and have a great following, leading to movie deals and thousands of die-hard fans that name their children after characters in your books, take years to develop, write, and refine.  Some may only take a year or so, some decades.  It's all about turning the phrase, gripping the reader, and drawing them in.  And, unless you are some kind of literary genius, it cannot be done well in a month.

So why bother?  Because a good first draft requires a complete story from beginning to end (at least in my case), so that you can look at it in it's entirety, and make the necessary changes to fix it.  That, and sometimes it's just fun to see if you can write a story in the given amount of time and have it worth reading.  To date, I haven't done such a thing.  Even after spending months of prep work building a scaffold of back story (a la Rowling or Tolkien), outlining the story, and getting to know my characters.

This time I thought I would approach the story as a way to explore a wish or a dream, and place that wish or dream in the belly of a huge problem.  In this case, I have always wanted to live on a boat (or have a boat that could be lived on for long, cruising voyages).  The problem is, the world just ended, and now all I have is my boat.  What to do?

Anyway, the fun is working through various plot points and possibilities while writing the story.  It takes a lot of focus, and a lot of research to make sure it's accurate.  The nice thing is once it's down on "paper", it's easily edited, searched for, and recalled when needed.

So, now that I have decided to write the novel, what tools have I been using?  Well, I've been burned before by losing files, trying to move them back and forth from multiple computers, and now I have an iPhone or iPad I can use as well, how do I write on those tools when I'm not in front of my computer?  Here is a list of tools I use:

  1. iCloud:  First and foremost I use iCloud.  I don't want to come up to my iPad and see that my son has deleted the whole thing, or accidentally wash my jump drive.  I also want to have offline access to the file, and have it update once I'm back online.  iCloud is a great tool for that, and it's supported by my favorite editor.  
  2. Dropbox:  I spent a week writing, backing up to Dropbox, and then the unthinkable happened:  my phone editor removed 7,000 words from my story, as it updated from what it had before it pulled from the cloud.  Fortunately, Dropbox has a restore feature online, so I was able to get it back.  From then on I kept two copies of my story:  One on iCloud, and one on Dropbox.  Two cloud based backups helps me sleep better at night. 
  3. iA Writer:  My editor I use is iA Writer.  It's one of those "Just get out of my face and let me write" apps.  I purchased it for my Mac and for my iOS devices, and I have just loved it.  It supports both iCloud and Dropbox on both platforms, so I have access to both copies, just in case.  
  4. Bing:  I have been slowly and deliberately moving away from Google based items.  Not because I hold any animosity toward Google, but rather because I'm concerned how much control I have allowed them in my tech life.  That control has been strained, as Google kills web apps that I have used for years.  As such, I started using Bing as my search engine (though I still use Google Scholar).  For basic information about Avalon on Santa Catalina Island to research in pneumatic robots and atomic sterling engines, Bing has been a champ.  
Well, that's about it!  Using these tools, I've managed to write (to date) a 28,000 page half-novel that is working it's way to completion.  Based on my current rate of completion, I could very well finish my novel in time.  

So for all of you who are working on your novels during this time, I salute you!  For those of you who have not tried writing a novel in such a constrained manner, I recommend trying it.  It exercises the mind, keeps your story-telling skills nimble, and could possibly be the catalyst for the next Twilight, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings series.  And if not, at least you can say you did it.  And that feeling of accomplishment can be worth a lot. 

And for those who don't fancy writing a lot this month, it is also Movember, or the month to grow a mustache, provided your significant other doesn't mind a scratchy cookie-duster in their kiss. 

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