The Technology of a Writer

Memoir MondaysThe other day I was thinking about my writing process and I started thinking about how it has changed and improved over time, mostly due to the technology available to me.

I started writing back in the third grade; our teacher assigned a creative writing project that also involved creating your own cover for the story, and I had so much fun with it that I wanted to keep doing it. Back then (I’m really not as old as I’m making myself sound, I swear) technology was much different. Home computers were not yet very common, so I did all my writing by hand. I was actually pretty picky about my tools too. There were certain pens I had to have, and I couldn’t use any kind of notebook that didn’t fold all the way back in the middle because I couldn’t stand writing on one side of the page while the other half of the book dangled all over the place. In those days I would write for hours – at home, at school, at my grandparents’ house, in the car, sitting on the back step. I didn’t need much. Just the write kind of pen and the right kind of notebook.

Somewhere along the line – I don’t really remember when exactly – my parents picked me up a typewriter. That was super-sweet, because I could actually make my stories look half-way professional, although it really slowed me down a lot. Remember, computers as an every-single-person-has-one device didn’t really exist yet, so typing was a foreign process for me. I still did most of my writing with pen and paper because I was much faster that way, and then I’d type everything out later to make it look nicer.

Sometime between the fifth and sixth grades our elementary school got their first computer. It sat out in the main hallway between the highest-grade classrooms and you had to get permission from your teacher to use it. There was very little on it at the time – a few educational games, mostly – but I loved using it because it had a word processor. I’d begun to get a little better at typing at this point, so I would load up the 3.5″ floppy disk (oops, there’s my age coming out) and type away whenever I got the chance. It felt super-professional and high-tech to me at the time, to be able to carry around this little plastic disk that had digital copies of my stories on it. I was hardcore.

Eventually we got our first home computer as well. That was a huge deal for a number of reasons, but also because I could now do all that story-typing from the comfort of my own home. Like at the school, I used Microsoft Word for my writing. It was the olden days (ha ha) so Word was pretty much the only word processor that existed, at least as far as my pre-teen self was concerned. Bit by bit I filled up that floppy disk with my writing, most of it the kind of stuff that would be absolutely mortifying to read nowadays.

For a few years I fell out of writing. When I would write it would mostly be in notebooks, and mostly as a way to keep my brain busy during ridiculously boring classes. By the time I hit college I’d really gotten back into it, and although I still loved to write by hand, I needed to manage my time a little better. I’d learned to type properly in high school, and could do so at a pretty respectable speed, so using a computer for my writing was the obvious choice. But what program to use? By then there were tons of options. Somewhere along the line when I’d been busy with teenager things, Microsoft Word had gained a stigma for being the worst thing a “real” writer could use. I never really understood why, but since I wanted to be a “real” writer I started looking into the other options. I tried out a number of things, but the one that sticks out in my mind was yWriter. I believe I found it via a “technology” thread in the NaNoWriMo forums, and I used it religiously for quite a while. It was one of the first programs I ever saw that allowed you to organize a story into sections, like scenes, and the main reason I really liked it was that it could be run off of portable storage. In other words, I could load the program and my story files onto a USB drive and just pop it into any computer I happened to have access to. At the time that was an awesome deal because I didn’t yet have a laptop that I could carry around with me wherever I went.

Of course, getting a laptop was a huge turning point. yWriter on a drive was usable, but it still relied on there being a computer wherever I was going. Once I had a laptop I could just pack it up and take it wherever I wanted to. I could officially write anywhere, so long as there was power or my battery held up. In the early years of that first laptop I tried several other word processors aimed at writers. There were some I liked but none I loved, and often I actually found myself reverting back to Microsoft Word, or the free copycat, Open Office. I organized and reorganized my files often, trying to find the program and the setup that worked best for me. In the early stages of “Nowhere to Hide” I was still using Word, and it was absolutely painful because I’d have to manually scour page by page whenever I was looking for a certain scene.

For a while I also tried writing on a Samsung tablet. I liked the tablet; I’d really wanted one because they seemed so neat and portable and easy to deal with. All of that was mostly true, but I found that trying to write novels on it was a miserable process. There were no good apps that I liked (at least not free ones, and I wasn’t paying through the nose for something that I might not have even ended up liking), and though my Bluetooth keyboard is handy, it’s not very ergonomic for writing for long periods. Couple that with the fact that the WordPress app worked about as well as a rock against the head, and I eventually just came to the conclusion that using a tablet to write was not for me.

And so we come to my current situation. I’ve been using my laptop religiously for quite a while now, and the program that I eventually settled in on is Scrivener. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to use Scrivener because it has the ability to be extremely complicated. However, I eventually fell in love with it, and I deeply appreciate the fact that it has the integration to be able to format your manuscript for you, in multiple print and e-book formats. It has definitely made my writing easier and more streamlined, and it went miles in helping to make the self-publishing process less confusing and painful. This setup is as close as I’ve ever gotten to perfection for my process, with one small caveat: my 17″ laptop is just too darn big. Don’t get me wrong; I love the big screen when it comes to watching shows or browsing the internet, but when it comes to traveling around and writing it’s just too clunky and hefty. When traveling back and forth across the country it takes up almost half of the weight of my carry-on, and it’s almost impossible to use on a plane because it is larger than the table tray. This is a minor complaint, I suppose, but someday when I’ve got some disposable cash I hope to get a secondary laptop that’s just for writing and blogging, and on that day I’ll get something a lot lighter and more compact and thus complete my perfect setup.

Writing Process Blog Hop!

Last week fellow writer and blogger, Jay Dee Archer from I Read Encyclopedias tagged me for an interesting little blog hop about the writing process.  The questions are based around your current writing projects and process, which I thought was really fun and informative. I always enjoy hearing from other writers about what works for them and what they’re working on, so of course I had to take part in this particular hop. Please feel free to check out Jay’s entry when you’re finished with mine. 🙂

Photo 2-8-2014, 11 10 24 AMWhat Am I Working On?

The obvious answer would be the zombie apocalypse novel that I should be working through the final edits on instead of writing this post. But, since most of you have already heard about that often enough, I thought I’d talk instead about the project that I’m going to be working on as soon as the aforementioned edits are complete and out of my hair.

My next project is going to be something that I’ve been working on for a decade, but is going to have me pretty much starting back from scratch. I’ve mentioned this particular piece before, but for those who don’t know, the tentatively titled “Parallels” is the story of a young woman who, during a tumultuous time in her life, is transported to a parallel world and tasked with saving that world from an ancient evil. Back when I first started writing this story it was just a bit of cathartic fun to help get myself through a rough patch, but it grew and grew until I began to have visions of this epic story. Throughout the years I wrote and rewrote, changed the story, massacred the plot-line again and again, and eventually found myself with something that was a heck of a lot different than what I began with. In the past year or so I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on this particular piece, and I’ve had a lot of fun and came up with a lot of good ideas, but now it’s time for a truly big change. I am planning to begin the story over again, right from the beginning, as a young adult series. Because of the structure of the plot and the “A to B to C to D”-style goals involved with the story, I’ve come to the conclusion that “Parallels” would be much better set as a series than a single novel. I suspect that it will end up being six parts, based on the goal style mentioned, and I think that chopping it up in this manner will greatly improve the overall readability and enjoyability of the story.

How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

This is actually a really hard question. I guess, in one sense, it differs from other works because at the core of the story is a creation built of my own personal thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and desires. Speaking from a more general standpoint, I’ve had people who have read bits of the story tell me that I have a fairly unique writing “voice”, which I’m pretty sure is a good thing. Aside from those two points I’m not really certain that I can answer this question without giving away any major points of the story.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

Whether it’s horror, fantasy, adventure, fan fiction, personal stories, or anything else, I write what I enjoy writing, and what I personally would enjoy reading. I’ve been reading scores of books since I was in grade school, so while I may not be the most talented writer in the world, I know what is fun, enjoyable, and captivating. I aim to write those kinds of books. I try to write the kinds of things that I love to read, like the horror scenes that make you squirm with discomfort, or the love scenes that makes your skin feel hot. If reading my own writing creates those kinds of reactions in myself, then I’m confident that it’ll create excellent reactions in others, and that’s my big overall goal.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

The writing “process” for me is something that I’ve been struggling with since things other than reading and writing began to become important to me. When I was young I could literally sit for hours with a notebook and a pen and just write, write, write, but as I grew and began to enjoy other things, gather responsibilities, and change in numerous ways, it became harder to convince myself to spend that kind of time on my writing. These days my process is a bit of a hodgepodge mess of pantsing and panicking.

I’ve managed to bring some little bit of order to my writing life over the past couple of years via this blog. The desire to have a successful blog/author platform has driven me to keep returning to write posts on a five-day-a-week basis regardless of what else I have going on in my life. In the past year I have missed only a handful of days, and most of those were due to extraordinary circumstances. Blogging is my rock, the thing that makes me think of my writing as a bit of a job, and keeps me putting words to paper/computer screen.

Unfortunately that seems to be where any semblance of organization and dedication stop dead. I write sporadically, not on any kind of schedule. I very very rarely plan anything out in advance, instead opting to write from the cuff as the words and ideas come to my head. Sometimes I will write random scenes as they come to me, but for the most part I feel the need to write things in order, and I’ve been known to rewrite entire pieces from the beginning because one plot problem or inconsistency bugged me.

I’m a disorganized artist, and I don’t think I’ll ever be anything else, but as long as I get the writing done, that’s all that really matters, right?

Tag People!

I’m going to follow Jay’s example on this one, and tag those people who have commented the most on my blog and who also happen to be writers. So, L. Palmer, Tom Slatin, and Djinnia, consider yourself tagged! No pressure to participate, but if you do please link back here and let me know. 🙂

Mythologically Speaking

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

46. Myths about writers

There are a hell of a lot of myths out there about writers and writing in general. Do a quick Google search and you’ll be bombarded by everything from stereotypes about people who write, to complete BS about how publishing “really” works. I’ve plucked out a few particular ones that I hear quite often and thus feel that I can comment on them.

1. All writers are insane.
Obviously this one is a generalization, but it does actually have some basis in truth. Writers do tend to be a little…off the deep end…but that’s just because of the overwhelming mixture of creativity and passion. Here me out: writers have all this creativity in them, all these stories that need to come out, and there’s a desperate passion to make that happen. But putting a story to paper is a lot more difficult and time-consuming than non-writers think. In order to put that story down you have to give up things…time, sleep, a social life…and you’ve got to be at least a little bit insane to do that.

2. If you’re talented, you’ll get published.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The only other myth that’s as far off the scale as this one is “you’ll never get published without natural talent”. In a perfect world the talented writers would get all the publishing contracts and the no-talent hacks would never get anywhere near a published book. But this isn’t a perfect world. Unfortunately wonderful stories will get overlooked for a number of reasons, the least of which is not a publisher’s desire to publish what is currently “popular”. Publishers are like any other business…they’re in it to make money, and if they get a wonderfully-written fantasy epic and a crudely-written vampire-porn, they’re probably going to publish the vampire-porn because that happens to be what’s “in” right now.

3. All you need is an idea: the rest will come easily
Oh my laughable lord, no. I don’t think anyone really understands the writing process until they’ve done it, but as with everything else in life people will always talk about what they don’t understand. Sure, getting an idea for a good story is definitely an important part of the equation, but it is hardly the only variable. For one thing, a plot is nothing without good characters, and good characters need subplots, conflict, and personalities that allow us to relate with them. And even with all that you need a multitude of scenes, tension and climaxes, and a reasonable conclusion, and that’s a lot more difficult to figure out than it sounds. Also, all that isn’t taking into account that you have to find the words, the proper words that make everything sound right. All I’m saying is, try it first, judge the difficulty later.

Need for Speed

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

27. How to speed up your writing process

First of all, I would suggest that you go check out the National Novel Writing Month website. NaNoWriMo, as it is more commonly known, officially happens in November, but they have other events throughout the year now that are similar and can be very helpful. The original, happens-in-November event is a challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. Thousands of people participate, so there is a lot of support, and the overwhelming motivation of it all can be just what a person needs to really sit down and write.

Aside from that, I think a good rule of thumb to speed up your writing is to choose a personal goal number and write that much every day, no matter what, even if what you end up writing is utter crap. Writing, like many other things, is something you just have to do. The more you write, the more you will write, and the better your writing will become. And even if everything you write isn’t absolutely perfect on the first run, getting words to paper is the most important step…you can fix it all up and make it sound pretty later! This is how I finally got Nowhere to Hide, my zombie apocalypse novel, written…I dedicated myself to writing 1000 words no matter what, and I found myself determined not to break the streak once I had it going. Some people might not have the time to squeeze that much writing into every day, but writing anything is better than writing nothing, and eventually all those anythings add up into something. 🙂