New Toys For NaNoWriMo

So here we are in the second week of NaNoWriMo. Things are going pretty well for me. I hit just over 28000 words yesterday so I am ahead of schedule. I need to be. I am in Scotland this week visiting family. Time is tight. Last week I picked up a new toy, reactivated an old one and learned a few things.

The Roost

Possibly the most important thing from the point of view of ergonomics was that my Roost laptop stand arrived. This was recommended by excellent SF author and long-time friend Gary Gibson in the comments of this here blog and it’s proved to be well worth the 80 bucks I invested in it.

The Roost raises your MacBook (or many other laptops for that matter) to the correct height to avoid neckstrain. What’s clever about it is that it folds away to about the size of a small bundle of chopsticks and weighs almost nothing. It’s very easy to carry around with you.

I managed to spend 6 straight hours at the laptop keyboard t last weekend and write 6000 words, a feat which would normally leave me crippled for days. I was fine the next day. If you carry your laptop around a lot, and have issues with your neck and shoulders I highly recommend this.

The Alphasmart Dana

Like I said, I’m in Scotland and I’ve brought my Roost Stand with me. The Roost is great and super-portable but it does mean you need an external keyboard. No way was I carrying a full size one with me. I could have bought an Apple external keyboard but I didn’t want to spend the money.

Fortunately, I had a solution close at hand–my old Alphasmart Dana. At least I thought I had. All my attempts at charging the thing failed even when I switched batteries. I had given the Dana to my toddler Will as a toy last year when he wanted a keyboard of his own so he could play writer just like his Da.

Had he broken it? Had this rugged little device failed at last? There was only one way to find out. I took out the power pack and inserted two AA batteries. The thing fired up immediately and worked like a charm. Yes, you read that right– a twelve year old machine which had spent a year being used as a Frisbee by a two year old still functions perfectly.

The first battery came with the machine and was over a decade old. The second battery, my spare, was bought in Scotland 7 years ago. I suppose it’s not really surprising that they stopped working. What is amazing is that the Dana still works perfectly using the AAs. I don’t know how long they will last for but hopefully they will see me through my trip. And if they don’t, AA batteries are easy enough to find.

As a bonus, the Dana is perfect for distraction free writing. No internet. Great keyboard. Instant on and I do mean instant on. There is nothing you can do on it but write. It’s lightweight and tough. You can just throw it in your bag and go. The battery life is great compared to a normal laptop. I used it to get a 10 minute writing sprint done in Schiphol airport on the way over.

NaNoWriMo Update

I learned one thing from last Wednesday—when you make a public announcement of a writing goal on your blog, you will move heaven and earth to achieve it. Various things made me start late on the writing but I settled down into a routine alternating 30 minutes of writing with 10 minutes of break and battled my way up to 5K.

Thursday was a child-minding day and a long one, since I was alone in the flat until 10 pm so my goal was to just do 1000 words. I worked in 5 minute sprints on the Dana and standing upright using the top of a cabinet which is just the right height in our living room. I managed 1670 words pretty effortlessly, thus hitting the daily average required for producing 50K in a month.

On Friday I finally gave in to my obsession with outlines and wrote a 3000 word one. This meant I only had time to rack up another 1600 or so words on the actual book.

On Saturday, I hit 6000 words. The outline really paid off here because I did not have to think about what I was going to write. I just sat down and got on with it.

Sunday was a family day so I only put in 1500 words.

On Monday I was flying but I did a thousand words before I got on the plane and did some sprints at the airports so that got me a couple of thousand words.

Tuesday was a very busy day so I just did 1100 words. Today is going to be another hectic one and there’s this blog post as well so I will be grateful if I manage 1000.

Lessons Learned

Sprints are still awesome. This has been the revelation of NaNoWriMo for me. I had never really thought of working in 5 or 10 minute bursts before now. It’s a habit I will keep up long after this month is over.

Momentum makes a difference. I feel like I am going backwards now having made so much progress in the first week.

Just writing as fast as I can is important. I strongly suspect that a lot of what I am writing while be gutted during the rewrites but no matter.

There are some scenes that just need to be written even if you never use them. A good example are the two villain scenes I wrote for my NNWM novel. Both are shown from the internal POV of the villain and both are give insights into the minds of the characters.

One is surprisingly amiable. He even likes our hero, who once saved his life. This will not stop him from killing Kormak if the man gets in his way but it explains some of his attitude.

The second character who when seen from external point of views comes across as a classic psychopath turns out to be something of an idealist, a crusader for his admittedly dark cause, but one who believes utterly in what he is doing and is loyal to those he serves.

The actions of both characters when seen externally are consistent with their internal POVs but will probably be interpreted much differently by readers. I was surprised to find a more complex reading of my villains as I wrote them. Now I just need to find some ways of communicating this that have dramatic tension and advance the plot!

Anyway, that was the week that was. I shall return with another NaNoWriMo update next week.

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