Saturday, November 30, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit or How I Won and Didn't Lose My Mind

I promised this at the beginning of the month: A list of the tools and tricks I use to survive (and win, 3 years in a row) NaNoWriMo.

I want to be perfectly clear, I don't work for any of the following (except perhaps the last), and I don't make any money off promoting their products. They're simply things that have become an essential and integral part of being able to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Could I do it without them? Sure. I absolutely could (except again, the last). I won my first year of NaNo using MS Word and nothing else. But I've built this arsenal and I intent to continue using it as I work to build and perfect my craft.

So here it is.

Literature & Latte's Scrivener and Scapple
I used Scrivener during NaNo last year, in fact I learned Scrivener during NaNo last year. It's an incredibly robust piece of writing software that I now do 95% of all my writing in (even the technical documents I often write for work).

It has an easy to grasp interface with plenty of places for notes, synopsis, and tags, that all feeds into a neat little corkboard interface you can use to shift scenes about. It's robust built-in tool-set can be overwhelming if you just dive in and try to use it all at once. Take some time and do the tutorials, and always remember: You don't have to use EVERY feature. Use what works for you.

Just a note on Scrivener, the Manuscript Target display loses count somehow and will be short on words if you leave it open all the time. Use the "Project=>Project Statistics" count for a closer idea, it will also update the Manuscript Target count.

Scapple is new for me this year (it's a fairly new product). Where Scrivener is robust and complex, Scapple is stark and simple. It's a free-form mind-mapping tool that I've started to use for outlining (and taking notes at work...). I'm positive I've just barely scratched the surface of what Scapple can do.

Nuance Mobile's Swype for Android with Dragon Dictation
If it weren't for this software I'm positive I would have lost my mind. I spend ~3 hours a day, 4 days a week commuting from my day job. That's 12 hours of potential writing time I waste in my car. At the same time, driving is boring, which also makes it one of the best times to have epiphanies about plot points, scenes, and character interactions.

Before using the Dragon Dictation piece of Swype I would do my best to remember all the little ideas I had while driving, and I'd inevitably fail.

That said, Dragon Dictation is FAR from perfect in a car with a great deal of road noise (I drive a 2012 Civic that I'm positive is made out of aluminium foil). Not to mention it might be less than optimal that I'm dealing with a Hidden History/Fantasy story with words that people just don't use on a daily basis.

Still, even with the clean-up I had to do on what it scratched out for me, it was a great help in not losing my mind.

Mur Lafferty's I Should Be Writing NaNoWriMo Specials
I listen to the ISBW Podcast regularly (well, as regularly as Mur gets them out there, but she's a busy writerly type person, with books coming out and deadlines and whatnot so I harbour no ill will). This year she's done a series of podcasts dedicated solely to NaNoWriMo. I found them to be a nice break, and at times a good reminder that other people suffer from the same problems and blocks I do while writing.

Clementine Player's "Rain" Extra.
This one's a little different. On my Mac I use Clementine Player instead of iTunes, mainly because iTunes doesn't support FLAC or some of the formats I've purchased or ripped music into. I write in a room adjacent to where the rest of my family watches TV, and frankly, I think they're all going deaf.

Sometimes if I'm writing something challenging where I need to concentrate the sounds from the TV just don't help. I need something without words to distract me and send me off on tangents. Sometimes that means classical music, instrumental, or even house/club/trance/techno.

Then there are the times where even having something with a regular beat, or discernible patterns causes problems. That's where the "Rain" feature under "Extras" comes in. It's a generated thunderstorm, where the thunder and rain patterns are random and non-repeating. It's perfect.

ZeFrank's "An Invocation for Beginnings"
If you ever needed a kick in the pants to get something started, whether it's the project on the whole, writing a particular scene, or just getting your butt in the chair, Ze's Invocation is just what the doctor ordered.

I listen to it when I start out. I listen to it when I hit a wall. I listen to it when I just don't feel like writing. It hasn't failed me yet.

My Wife
She holds all the loose pieces on that seem ready to fly off at any given moment. Not only does she give me the time (time she loses) to write, she supplies encouragement and support, and most important of all, she sometimes even brings me caffeine!

She tolerates my cranky moods when things are going well. She kicks me in the ass when I whine too much. And she doesn't make me sleep on the couch if I'm up 'til 1am "just finishing one more paragraph".

Out of all the things that make winning NaNo possible, she's the one I couldn't do it without. Oh... and a word processor, because writing 50,000 words out by hand or on a typewriter would suck.

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