NaNoWriMo Tools – Part 3: Get Organized

I know. know. I can see you squinting at me.

I said that too much organization for NaNoWriMo was a bad, bad thing.

But some of you are going to do it anyway, either because you have the experience to make it work or because you’re freaky control freaks (not judging, truly) and need to know what’s coming for your story to feel comfortable.

Here’s the thing: organizational tools are also super-helpful if you really get in a snag mid-month. And it will likely happen to all of us to some degree.

Here are some of my favorite organizational tools for noveling. (And remember, I’m a Mac guy, so these will mostly be for that platform. Please, please chime in with options for PC in comments!

Curio

This is the mac daddy of all organizational tools for Mac (see what I did there?). You put your thinking down in documents called ‘idea spaces,’ and they are awfully powerful. You can do hierarchical lists, mindmaps, and tables; pull in pictures, video, audio, PDFs, Word docs, weblinks… all in the same space. Everything is customizable, so you can change the backgrounds to colors or pictures or tiles, make a bright green list, or a rainbow mindmap. I find the visual stimulation inspiring. It’s especially great for worldbuilding and creating characters. Head over to Zengobi’s website to see just how powerful Curio is. And, it seems to be on sale right now. Go get it.

Scapple

This little gem is made by the guys that brought you Scrivener, and will be great to help you get out of a jam in the middle of NaNo. At first blush, it seems like a mindmapping tool, but it’s really not (though you can use it that way). I didn’t understand what it truly brought to the table until I started using it. Scapple allows you to quickly get bursts of information and ideas down… with zero hierarchy. This allows you to then find connections that you didn’t know existed. I can imagine getting stuck in the story in November and using this to get me out of it. Just put the current story and character elements that are tripping you up into their own little chunks, start throwing out some ideas. You’ll find the connections between them in no time… and those connections will generate story. And just like that, you’re back on track.

Mindmapping Tools

I’m not much of a mindmapper, and I don’t have a dedicated mapping program, but here’s a handy link to a recent article on some good options. If you cotton to mindmaps, let us know how you use them and why in the comments!

Scrivener

Scrivener again?? “You’re obsessed!” you’re saying. Yes, I am. It’s great program for writers. And it organizes too. Its basic text-handling structure is an outline, and it has both outline and index card views. And there’s more: a section dedicated to research documents (which don’t count against your word count), as well as character and place sketches and more. Since the text is married to an outline structure, moving scenes to a better position is a snap.

Personal Wiki

This isn’t for NaNo necessiarily, but I thought I’d mention it. A personal Wiki can be a great tool to use for worldbuilding. Imagine having an encyclopedia that you wrote yourself with everything about your world including all the internal links that make Wikipedia the beautiful time-suck that it is. You’ll have to learn the Wiki markup syntax, but if you’ve ever even dabbled in HTML or a similar markup language, then getting up to speed won’t be at all difficult. Here’s a PC Magazine article about how to setup and use personal wikis.

Whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or not, what tools do you use to stay organized as you trundle through your text?

NaNoWriMo Tools – Part 2: Focus Tools

NaNoWriMo is super fun. But it’s not always easy to get through the month. There are so many reasons to abandon the enterprise: work, kids, football, video games, government shutdowns… the list goes on and on.

But don’t give in! You can fight through the distractions… even the dreaded, yet sweetly seductive siren song of the internet. No really: you can avoid Facebook for 1700 words worth.

Yes, you can.

Stop shaking your head! I’m telling you…

Okay, look: here are some tools and methods to hold distraction at bay and become a NaNo winner!

Distraction-bashing Word Processors

The makers of OmmWriter say on their website that:

OmmWriter is here to serve you. Re-connect with your old friends Concentration and Creativity, and discover the bliss of single-tasking.

That’s exactly what you need to succeed at NaNoWriMo. And OmmWriter provides a serene, beautiful container in which to create. It features a simple full-screen text editor, soothing visual backgrounds, enveloping musical soundscapes, and keystroke sounds that will make you want to press on. It only does plain text, so you don’t even have the distraction of bold and italics.And it counts words. I go to this when I really need to bear down. Then I copy/paste back into Scrivener.

If that kind of visual and aural situation is not for you, try Hog Bay Software’s WriteRoom. Same full-screen editing capabilities, in a much simpler form both from a sight and sound standpoint. You can change the screen and font color to create your own themes, which can be shared.

For more ideas for distraction writing software check out this article over at the American Genius.

Ways to Avoid the Internet

This is hard. Really hard. Sometimes you have to go with drastic measures.

Freedom. This is what we want: freedom from the temptation of the internet. Turn it on, set the timer, and it cuts off your network. The only way to subvert the app is to reboot. Not insurmountable, obviously, but will make you think hard.

SelfControl is another internet blocker to try.

Or you could try actual self control to avoid checking Twitter and your newsfeeds. If you find a way to do that, bay all means, let me know!

Pick Where You Work Carefully

The internet is not the only distraction. Your phone, family, friends, dogs, and work will all clamor for your NaNo time. Don’t let them divert you! Make sure that you choose a place to work that allows you to avoid all this. Is it a closet in your house? How about the local bar or café? The park? (I’ll post about methods of going portable soon.) Make sure that you try different places and setups until you find the one that you’re most productive in. But don’t be afraid to switch things up if you need too! The only thing that matters is the word count!

What are you going to do to make sure that distractions don’t crush your dreams of calling yourself a novelist? Let us know in the comments!

Next up: NaNoWriMo Writing Tools to Get You Organized

After that: NaNoWriMo Writing Tools to Help You Go Portable

Starting later this month (October 2013), I’ll be running a sale on all editing services! And at the end of November, look for another special offer for NaNo winners… both past and present.

NaNoWriMo Tools – Part 1: Word Processors

I am looking forward to bringing you my NaNoWriMo Tools series. I like tech and clever software, and trying out new toys is a singular joy. Writers need toys too, especially for NaNo. The first thing you need? A word processor that counts words so you know how far along you are at all times, both for each day and overall. There are a bunch of those out there, but some are better than others… especially for NaNoWriMo. (Oh… and I’m a Mac guy, so that will be the emphasis. PC people: please share your favorite word processors in the comments!)

Word

Ah, the old reliable. This works perfectly well: it arranges words, formats them, counts them, is super-familiar and dependable. If you go this route, I’d use one file a day for easy word counting and keep the overall tally in an Excel sheet. (Or keep the tally on a poster you can put the wall of your office. Motivational.) You could also use OpenOffice to the same effect.

Text Edit/TextWrangler/Notepad

If you’d like something simpler – much more stripped down – these aren’t bad options. Sometimes simpler is better (as you’ll see in another entry in the NaNo ‘Tools’ series). Text Edit on Mac and Notepad on Windows are plaintext and rich text editors. TextWrangler is that as well, but also can handle working with HTML. That’s for if you want your NaNo novel to be a multi-media web-stravaganza. And who doesn’t want that??

Google Docs (now Google Drive)

Edit anytime, anywhere, from practically any device. Your NaNo novel in the cloud! As long as you have an internet connection (or figure out how to make offline mode work reliably), you should be good to go. It counts words, and you can keep your overall tally in Google’s Excel equivalent.

Scrivener

This is my tool of choice. I’ve been using it for almost as long as it’s been around. Not only does it handle text amazingly well, it also counts words in well-implemented ways. Keith and co. over at Literature and Latte have built in features that really help with NaNo, including the ability to set writing session targets, manuscript targets, alerts, and even the ability to tweet out your progress and taunt your friends with your 5631-word day! And there’s so much more to Scrivener: it outlines (but remember for NaNo, no too much), allows you to move and edit non-consecutive chunks of text easily, keep research notes, and on and on. It even has a built-in name generator, so you don’t have to waste time grasping for one out of thin air. It’s extremely powerful, but works the way you want to work. And it compiles and exports straight to ePub format… or any other format you can think of, as well as some you haven’t, I’d imagine!

What word processor do you use and why? Let us know in the comments!

Next up: NaNoWriMo Writing Tools to Help You Focus

After that: NaNoWriMo Writing Tools to Get You Organized

NaNoWriMo: To Prep or Not to Prep? That’s a Darn Good Question.

Unless you’re an experienced author or NaNoWriMo veteran, I don’t recommend much in the way of outlining or other deep prep. NaNo works far better if you employ ‘discovery writing,’ that is: make it up as you go with as little to go on as possible, as opposed to planning thoroughly. (Gardener vs. Architect.) This is a fun way to write, as it is more like the reading experience: lots of surprises. It’s a blast when your characters start doing unexpected things!

But… a little prep can go a long way towards making sure you stay on track, and don’t get discouraged.

Experienced writers can do more prep if they like, but I do recommend that inexperienced folks keep it to the minimum. Still, it’s not a good idea to start from complete ignorance. Before November 1, make sure you know at least something about the following:

  • Genre – Deciding whether you’re doing an action-adventure or post-apocalyptic dystopia brings in a whole host of standard assumptions that you can rely on to help guide the story.
  • Setting – A ‘where’ and what that ‘where’ is like is super-helpful.
  • Basic Plot – Hero’s journey? Love triangle… or pentagram? Decide in general terms what will drive the conflict in your story.
  • Protagonist and antagonist – Who does the story revolve around? What are they like at the beginning? Where do think you’d like them to go? What are their primary internal conflicts? (David Farland on Characters (short but mightily helpful))
  • The End – Not everything, but something about the end, even just an inking of an idea can help keep you going when you get to the doldrums of NaNo (and it will happen!).

One more important thing to keep in mind: When you do get to the doldrums and your story stagnates, be ready to introduce conflict to keep your plot moving forward and your characters jumping!

Have fun getting ready for NaNo! Let me know in the comments how you’re going to prepare – or if you’re a vet, how you’ve prepared in the past.

4 Reasons To Do NaNoWriMo: Professionals

You’re already a professional writer/author with many worshipful fans. You fly first class… every once in a while. Your new iPhone 5s is gold for crying out loud! Why should you bother with NaNoWriMo?

Here are four reasons that you might:

  1. Get that novella or novelette done. You’ve been putting it off, but no more. If you can, set aside November to bang it out NaNo style. Then you can go get your Hugo or Man Booker prize. Maybe a Nobel. (Probably not.)
  2. Free-write a new concept or world that you have big plans for long term. NaNo can be the lab you need for nearly consequence-free experimentation. Just like in college.
  3. Try out something wacky or something that’s not your usual style. Usually write romance? Maybe give a techno-thriller a whirl. Been toiling away on an urban fantasy series? How about some Law & Order fan fiction? No judgement. We all need a break.
  4. Marketing. Tell your legions of adoring fans what you’re up to. Blog about it. Tell them about your trials & tribulations, as well as your triumphs. It’ll be great for them to see another side of you. Unless that side is kind of a jerk. Then maybe refrain.

What other reasons might you devote your valuable time to NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments!

4 Reasons To Try NaNoWriMo: Amateurs

“I’m not a writer.”

You and many others like you said it, but I don’t believe you or them! Here are four reasons you should try NaNoWriMo:

  1. If you’ve ever said to yourself: “Hey… wouldn’t this be kinda cool to see in a movie or story?” Of course you have. This is your chance to finally create that show-stopping scene involving dolphin ninjas, their alien abductors, and the original Broadway cast of Les Mis.
  2. A new challenge for you and your friends. Make it social. Throw some writing parties. Talk trash. (Your character’s mama is so stupid…) It’s more fun with other people. (Sign up for NaNo at their website! There are forums and local writing groups for fun and moral support.)
  3. To find the story lurking in your heart and brain and guts. They say that we all have one good novel in us. I say we all have more than one… but you have to have a good reason to get that first one out. With NaNo, you can. No muss, no fuss.
  4. So you can say: I am a novelist. Maybe you won’t get published or self-publish, but you did it. You wrote a book. And isn’t that freakin’ cool?! Yes. Yes it is.

What other reasons do you have for writing your book? Let us know in the comments… and happy writing!