Archives for October 2014

NaNoWriMo, Baby!

We interupt our regularly scheduled lack of programming on this blog to let you know that it’s almost time for National Novel Writing Month. This year I’ve decided to give it a go. I’ll try and give regular updates on my progress.

I know what you’re thinking. This should be a walk in the park for you, Bill. You’re a professional novelist with all the time in the world on your hands. If you can’t do a 50000 word rough draft in a month you should be ashamed of yourself.

Normally I would kinda sorta agree with you. Fortunately for purposes of narrative tension, Mother Nature has taken a hand. My efforts to be the poster boy for bad ergonomics have finally paid off. This last week all my hunching over the laptop was rewarded. Attacks of dizziness and a numbness in my right arm let me know my RSI is working overtime. Work has slowed to a crawl and I’ve been forced to take time away from my desk.

I had intended to stride manfully into NaNoWriMo with a detailed outline for the book. That’s been thrown out the window due to health issues. Instead I’ll be forced to rely on my waypoint method. This does fit neatly with having just over four weeks to write the book. I’ll aim to hit one waypoint at the end of each week.

I’m not flying entirely blind here. The book will be my ninth (how did that happen!) Kormak novel. It’s the third part of a trilogy. The first part is written and the second part is 75% complete. These have tossed up a bunch of questions which will need to be answered.

Will the deadly assassin stalking Kormak succeed? Will our hero uncover who was behind the attempt on the life of Aemon, the saintly but sinister king of Siderea? What will he find when he reaches the origin point of the awesomely powerful supernatural sentient bio-weapon he fought back in Book Seven?

I have some basics for a plot right there. When I was writing Gotrek and Felix such things took on a momentum of their own, and I’m hoping that the same thing will happen here.

I have some ideas for the setting too. Terra Nova is a medieval magical version of Conquistador Mexico, complete with Robert E Howard/ A E Merrit style decadent lost cities.

I even have a few characters. There’s Kormak himself, of course. The lovely merwoman Rhiana and the bounty hunting Captain Zamara have survived four books alongside the veteran monster hunter. The question is whether they will live through this one since it’s the end of a big plot arc.

I’ll be finishing the second book in this sequence and editing the first as I attempt NaNoWriMo. I’ve got a visit to Scotland in the middle of the month as an additional distraction. I’ll also be spending my usual two days a week chasing my hyper-active toddler around the flat. It’s not going to be a cakewalk.

Will I make it? Stay tuned!

If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Writing A Novel With Ulysses III

Ulysses III looks so simple but it’s enormously powerful. The program’s documentation does it no favours. It does not explain half what the this radical and innovative piece of software is capable of. It leaves you to flounder with its most powerful features. Fortunately David Hewson has come along to give us a helping hand.

Writing A Novel With Ulysses III is a short ebook about writing long works of fiction using the program. It is clear, clever and concise. It doesn’t claim to be a comprehensive guide to Ulysses III. It still taught me a few things that I did not know and I have been using the program since it was released.

Mr Hewson is the author of a number of excellent thrillers. For many years he worked as a tech journalist. His expertise shows in this book. It is written from the perspective of a working novelist who also happens to be very good at explaining technology.

What he has to say about writing novels is worth listening to. It’s always interesting, often useful and occasionally has to be taken with a pinch of salt. I mean no disrespect. What works varies from writer to writer. Mr Hewson finds the goal of writing 1000 words a day silly. I find it the most useful route to consistent stress free productivity. As ever it’s best to try any advice for yourself and if it works for you, stick with it. Otherwise ditch it.

What the book says about Ulysses III is particularly worthwhile. The author has taken the time and trouble to get to know the program in considerable detail.

The book sets things out in an easy to follow readable style with plenty of screenshots. It starts with an excellent general introduction to the program. It then takes you through every step of of writing a novel, from planning to writing to editing to producing a manuscript or ebook. It does this in surprisingly short space.

If you follow the steps outlined here, you’ll have a very solid structure for getting your book finished. You’ll also save yourself a lot of time grappling with the intricacies of the program.

Mr Hewson has the courage to say something that most tech books won’t – that there are plenty of features of the program that you don’t need to deal with, indeed you shouldn’t. He is not trying to write a comprehensive guidebook. This is not Ulysses III for Dummies. It does exactly what it says on the cover.

It shows you how to best use filters, keywords and goals, how to set things up to handle the long complex flow of a novel narrative and how to create a background bible for a novel or series.

Reading the book I learned how to do pretty much anything I can do in Scrivener in Ulysses which seems like a much simpler program. I learned how to set up a manuscript so I could inspect multiple plotlines by point of view or timeline or anything else I care to tag them with. I learned how to set word count goals by scene, chapter, section or any other artificial division I care to create.

The book showed me how to split and merge documents and edit them out of order. It revealed how to use notes and comments to quickly setup a scene. This is particularly useful if you follow the methods outlined in Rachel Aaron’s excellent 2K to 10K.

I got a comprehensive overview of how Ulysses works with iCloud. I learned that it can import and convert Word and Pages documents as well as pure plain text. (Somehow I have managed to use the program for several months without ever noticing it could do that.)

Writing A Novel With Ulysses III stresses the use of iCloud. This is understandable since the program is optimised for Apple’s online storage system and Mr Hewson uses a primarily Mac/iPhone based work setup. I use Dropbox and assorted markdown word-processors on different machines and I still found the book very useful.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. By the time I had finished it, I was convinced to try writing my next novel in Ulysses III If you want to learn how to use the program to write a novel, this book is invaluable. You’ll get an intriguing glimpse into the working methods of a professional novelist as a bonus.

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If you’re interested in finding out when my next book will be released as well as in getting discounts and free short stories, please sign up for my mailing list.

Improving Writing Workflows

I changed my workflow a lot this year. The most important alteration was that I started using markdown as much as possible. I’ve talked about the advantages before so I won’t go into them again here. I’ll just say that I love the way I can work anywhere on anything when I am using it.

I am using Scrivener less. I know, I know– me saying that is one of the signs of the End Times. In the past I used Scrivener for pretty much everything I could. But all is flux as Heraclitus once said.

My workflow is now broken into five stages mostly defined by the program and text format that I use for them.

The first stage is outlining which I do in markdown.

The second stage is writing the first draft which is also done in markdown.

The third stage is revision. If only light revisions are necessary then I make these in markdown. If scenes need to moving around for a major structural edit then I import the file into Scrivener. In Scrivener I can still write in markdown. It is set up for it.

The fourth stage is editing. This is where the files get transferred to Microsoft Word for my test readers and editors.

The final stage for e-book that I happened to be publishing myself is to load the file into Scrivener for production.

When streamlining my revision process I discovered the advantages of using a checklist such as Folding Text. I found that I liked having a separate outline to the one inside Scrivener.

I used to write a synopsis and then transfer my scene by scene descriptions into the index card window in Scrivener. One side-effect of this was that I sometimes found it difficult to get a broad overview of my story. One limit of using the index card method is that you can only put a small number of words on them – at least if you have eyesight like mine. This can be an advantage when you’re sketching out the broad outlines of the story. It becomes a restriction when you need to see more detail.

One way around this was to put a brief description on the index card then put the rest of the information in the documents window. This meant that you could see everything but only when you were looking at that specific document. These days I prefer to keep my synopsis, character descriptions and scene by scene outline in a separate document. This lets me check everything at a glance. Since that document is in plain text, I can access it from pretty much anywhere.

One thing that has not changed has been my reliance on Dropbox. I jump around from computer to computer and operating system to operating system a lot. Syncing between the Windows and OSX versions of Scrivener via Dropbox can be problematical. Files can get corrupted. The problem probably occurred because I did not wait for the file on one computer to finish syncing before opening it on another. It happened often enough for me to be wary of doing this. I don’t like losing work.

These days I have a separate folder in Dropbox for every type of project that I am working on. I have one folder for novels, one for short stories, one for blog posts, one for interviews and so on. I have one folder for outlines as well. Everything that goes into these folders is stored in markdown. I can access these files anywhere, even on my phone.

I try and keep revisions to a minimum during the first draft stage, because I never know what I am going to chop out. Doing a lot of heavy editing on a scene that later gets dropped can waste a lot of time. I prefer to wait until I have a working final draft before polishing things.

I write my first drafts in markdown text processors. On Windows my favourite of these is WriteMonkey. On my Mac I use is Ulysses. Both these programs have excellent export capabilities. They are the only markdown-capable wordprocessors I know of that can export Microsoft Word styles properly.

Most programs seem to spray on header styles locally. They change the appearance of specific paragraphs to give the illusion of coherent styles. They do not insert actual styles such as header one or header two. Ulysses and WriteMonkey can give perfectly formatted Microsoft Word documents if I need them.

I only switch to Microsoft Word when I need to send a document to an editor or to my test readers. Even then I use markdown formatting inside the manuscript instead of local style formatting. The reason I do this is that sometimes Microsoft Word adds many strange and corrupt codes to my text during the editing process. At the end of the editing process if I need clean code all I have to do is save the file as a text file. All of my chapter headings, scene headings, italics and bolds will be preserved.

I use Scrivener either for heavy structural editing or for final production of my indie ebooks. The program does a brilliant job of importing markdown files. It stores them all in one folder and breaks them into scenes based on the header type. It has a compile setting that automagically translates markdown into the correct formatting for the final output version.

When it comes to e-book production I still find Scrivener the way to go. Not only does it produce Kindle and EPUB formats easily, I now have it set up so that it can produce PDF files for CreateSpace books.

Using this system I get all the advantages of Microsoft Word and Scrivener. And I get to keep my files universally accessible for as long as possible. This has been the biggest change to the way I work in years and I just wanted to share it.