Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Dragon vs. the Keyboard

Nanowrimo Day 8 - 14926 words.  Staying one day ahead of the daily goal (for today it's 13333).

The key is balance.  Although I went to two write-ins yesterday my goal is not to write as many words as I can, but to lay the foundations for this novel just by doing scene work and doing it in an easy 50,000 words.  Every day when I open my computer, I have no clue what I'm going to write, but if I have one sentence or a phrase (e.g. "main character is reunited with her brother"), then I'm able to sit down and write out that scene.

I'm also still doing research.  At the recommendation of two people, I decided to buy the Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software, not for the writing but for brainstorming new ideas based on the reference books I'm reading.  So far, Dragon has been a slick program and fairly accurate.  You speak into a microphone, and it types out your words.  It does take some practice.  You have to speak all your punctuation and formatting (comma, period, new paragraph, next line), and sometimes if you breath too heavy you get an "s" in your text box.  Overall, though it's been nice to be able to skim a paragraph in a book and then speak the summary or new idea that's triggered from your reading.

Technology changes the way we write.  I remember how difficult it was moving from the tactile experience of pen and paper to the head-to-keyboard thinking of using a computer.  I once had a job where everyone had a computer on their desk but they were still writing in longhand and then typing it into a document.  I suppose it's a little like trying to brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.

I might get used to this slightly different way of writing with the Dragon program, and then I might not.  It's like a whole different dimension to the thought and organization process.  Of course, then I had the problem late last night.  I was getting tired, and I started talking to my spouse in sentences with punctuation and formatting commands.  (!!)

This past spring I coached a student who was using dictation software to compose e-mails.  He was getting complaints about his grammar and usage, so I was guiding him on how to speak more effective sentences and to take the time to go back and edit if he needed to.

Regardless of how writing changes, it seems that editing will never change.  You'll always need to at least proofread your work, and even though you can make changes on the computer and do spell checks, that still doesn't substitute for printing out a hard copy to check spacing and the other wordy glitches that happen after you press Save and before you press Print.  And then, just to complicate the issue, once you're familiar with your own work, it's hard to edit a second time because your mind fills in the missing words or errors.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Writing Tools and Coaching

Day 4 - Word count currently at 7823 and rising.

This past week I coached two clients on using Scrivener for their writing projects. Many of the people participating in Nanowrimo are using the Scrivener program because there's a special deal offered by the Office of Letters and Light. Oddly enough, my clients weren't doing Nano or writing novels.  One person, a psychologist, was writing a non-fiction book and the other was writing her dissertation.

I've really enjoyed using Scrivener for new projects because with it you can lay your information out in both linear and non-linear formats.  I was using the corkboard feature this year to brainstorm about character names and locations for my story.  You can also collect related photos and research articles and include them all in the same document.

I used to use a brainstorming program called Three By Five which was like laying out index cards with ideas.  You could color code the cards, transform your ideas into an outline and print everything out in different sizes.  That program survived three computer upgrades before I (sadly) had to retire it.  Then I digressed to colored sticky notes on white pieces of paper spread out on the living room floor.

More recently I found a program called Scapple.  It's a simple tool, but it works much better for brainstorming than Three by Five.  You create balloons and you can connect them in whatever way you want.  You can even connect things in multiple ways.  There's color coding and font choices.  For this time around it was a great way to organize my initial thoughts and figure out what choices I needed to make about my story.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Listening to History

I squinted, one-eyed, at myself in the bathroom mirror.  First day of Nanowrimo and I had dropped my contact lens somewhere between my left eye and the sink drain.  I never found it.  Fortunately I had an old one in the drawer, and it's been working just fine.  I had also started writing right at midnight on Nov. 1 and got in over 1000 words.  Day Two left me a little short of par (3333) but now I'm headed for 5000+ for today.

Research has been interesting.  I realized that most of the research I've done in the past for my novels has been related to my own time frame, or if I was writing about earlier times (such as the 1920-1940) I had people I could talk to for the information.  Or, when I was writing fantasy, I could make up my own rules.  For this Pirate novel I can't even begin to imagine lifestyles, habits, and language patterns of the 17th and 18th centuries.  It's one thing to read about it in a book, but to imagine yourself there, walking through it and then writing it down is a very surreal and intangible experience.  Every sentence comes into question even with a simple scene of your main character waking up in the morning and hearing voices.  (What was the room like, the bed? What was her mindset?  How do you make her different without launching her speech and mannerisms into the 21st century?) Oddly enough, once I got to the crew on the pirate ship, the speech patterns came more easily, although I'm sure they're still inaccurate.  Best attempt is to take Shakespeare and rough it up a bunch.

For this Nano "hyper" draft I think the main focus will be on the relationships of the people and how they react to the issues of that time.  These are the things that are universal and timeless.