More On Workflow

I spent the last two days getting organized for writing. I decided to join the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) forum and make use of its word count application. I will be working on a variety of projects, but the ones I am most excited about is a short story I’m tentatively calling the “Oligo Dynamic Effect.” The second project is tentatively called “Earth Ship” and is a saga, likely several novels in length. In addition to this, I’ll be continuing my blogging posts, including the new Vergennes Lion’s Club blog which the club just started and keeping up with my own blogging projects. Then there’s my book of poetry which will continue to be edited and the submissions of poetry to various literary magazines. For all of these projects, my writing goals are quite modest: 500 words a day. I am sure I’ll do far more, but I want to give myself the satisfaction of succeeding at my goals consistently for a while. I’ve usually chafed at arbitrary writing goals like this in the past, feeling a need to resist and defy the disciplined approach. It may not be useful to me to have this goal, but I’d like to see how this impacts my writing practice.

In the last two years, I learned that I had made things hard on myself using MS Word to start a novel. It was unwieldy to use for a variety of reasons. While MS Word is a fabulous work horse for many kinds of writing and publishing, it is unwieldy for novel-writing because it is not made to be a database for a folder or binder of mini-files that include character information, novel outlines, chapter outlines, scene settings, and sample chapters that may or may not end up in a final chapter or the novel altogether, and so on. MS Word cannot intuitively group files and it will not let you move whole scenes around in a linear workflow as you experiment with the sequence of a storyline. There’s no story boarding aspects to the MS Word software, and there’s no handy way to find sets of files via tags, characters, timelines, scenes or any other fashion, except the file titles you would find in your pc file explorer without waiting for both the pc file explorer and the Word software to boot up. You can’t view the contents of groups of files together without changing the size of each text field and arranging them on the screen. Only one is viewable at a time unless you’ve got more than one monitor. Even then, only one file may be edited at a time, which means that if you change a name, a date, a scene (or whatever) in one file, you’ve got to open every single file in the book project, one after another, and change all that information by hand. Oy! With MS Word, only those files most recently accessed are left handy after booting the software up. As I said, you can write an essay, keep a great bibliography or works cited and you can make a newsletter and resume, but when making a multi chapter book or a multi book story it is nightmarish to organize. I know that lots of famous writers do their all their novel-writing very well with MS Word. I certainly did a fine job with making a book of poetry with it, but I want something more intuitive for novel-writing, because contending with all these issues causes too much fiddling and not enough producing and that certainly distracts creative flow significantly.

I would love to use Final Draft, a very popular novel writing software. I understand it’s the most intuitive for the functionality I outlined above, and its certainly highly recommended by my writing buddies. Only thing is, it’s a bit out of my reach financially just now. Even with my Amazon Prime discount, it’s still $129 (which is certainly a steal!). Final Draft is on my wish list, but I won’t be getting it this year.

Last year, I bought a copy of Scrivener, which is in easy financial reach at just $40. Scrivener has all those features I want that MS Word doesn’t have. It seems to quite complex though, so I have to study its use. That’s always a bummer, because I can’t just dive into writing that easily. In any case, I’ll be testing Scrivener in the coming weeks to find out whether it suits me. If not, another possibility I will investigate is Celtx, an online writing studio suited to writing novels, screenplays and plays. From what I can tell, it is most suitable for plays and screen plays and for collaborative writing online. It is available for less than $8 a month.

Regardless, I will go back to MS Word for editing text after I’ve compiled the story and got it in the final phases. It has the best editing software of anything I’ve found to date and I’ve already paid for it.

My other new tool is Evernote. I love so much about it. What I don’t love is that its nosey, taking many authorizations which gets it into sensitive files and utilities in my devices. I have resisted using it for years. I researched and tested dozens of apps for note taking on the go with my phone. Most of the time, I think they are suitable just for grocery lists and keeping track of the latest movies I want to watch and games I’d like to get.

Recently, I decided to check it out again. I found it does just what I need. I want an app that will insert my spontaneous thoughts easily into a workflow when I wake up in the night. I want to pick up my phone, open the app and just start typing. I want to be able to then easily transfer that information into my Scrivener workflow. I have tried Google Keep, Colornote and some other note apps. They just don’t do what I want with organization/sharing. While Evernote has many downfalls in terms of security, its saving grace is that I can lock the app from my phone. I have adopted it reluctantly, but I am loving how easy it is to use.

Dropbox is another service that has faulty security. I once put a file on it with some security codes. It got hacked. The same happened with Google Drive, so Google’s increased security is no proof against hacking. Thankfully, I never put the most crucial codes on a cloud and it was easy to change the insignificant ones, but it was frustrating to note that I can’t trust my files with Dropbox or Google Drive if they are sensitive.

What decided me to do my writing backups with Dropbox over Google Drive or another cloud application is that Google Drive has issues with frequently edited files. Slow, but sure, errors crept in and instead of keeping my local file the dominant file (which is being edited), it kept a mish-mash of my edited local file and some previous online backup version from earlier in the editing process. I wasted a great deal of time reediting things and making my advisor annoyed that I hadn’t done my editing job before submitting to her. Gah! What a pain in the neck that was with my senior project‼

Nope, not doing that again! Google Drive is perfect for files that aren’t updated frequently or for those files for which you used Google Docs to compose and edit. This is really too bad, because not everyone likes the Docs software. I want Word + a cloud and that’s it usually. I suppose I’ll have to do something more secure when I’m famous enough to warrant hacking to steal stories, but until then, Dropbox is conveniently available across devices and easy to use. More importantly, my local file is the dominant file. When a back up posts to Dropbox.com, that new version is the only version. That means it is not at all something you can use to track changes! If I want that utility, I have to use some local method for back ups. If I don’t care about tracking changes, I need only save a Scrivener or other file-type into folders made in the Dropbox “binder” which Dropbox is instructed to sync. Backups are automatically taken care of whenever my laptop has internet access. Using this method, I generally use “save as” to track changes. I can always clean out versions I don’t want later.

Using these new apps and software with other applications which I shared about earlier is working great. Just one last thing to note. I have begun using the inside cover of my hand-written journals to note what’s of significant interest within its pages. That helps me find things in hundreds of pages of journaling. I am also using post-it notes to bookmark important pages. That’s just as helpful for my retreat journals and dream journals, as it is for my writing journals. I am even using post-it notes on my books of poetry and writing craft books to notate inspiring thoughts— both mine and the authors’.

Years ago, when I first started writing I had no organization at all and didn’t want any. I just grabbed a journal and wrote. Then I made a single file on a pc with my story. Invariably, I wouldn’t be able to find something when I wanted to refresh my memory or pick up where I left off. I would frustrate myself and stifle my creative ideas. A few times, entire files and journals, even entire books were lost.

Post college and post poetry chapbook, I feel ready to try writing fiction again. I am trying to make it all as easy as possible. I hope this helps me finish projects of great length. I’ve yet to do that. I have dozens of fledgling sagas that haven’t seen the light of day. They languish in a desk drawer and in a badly labeled folder on my pc. Hopefully I won’t find this time and effort has been wasted. Wish me luck!

A Few Tips on Organizing Creative Writing Research

from Rosmary
from Rosmary

I am studying sciences. Did I mention? I’m not going to college to do that. Rather, I’m collecting essays, blog posts from educational and science websites, and books to learn about astronomy, the composition and life cycles of suns, the earth and galaxies, and about gravity. It is not easy for me to learn this stuff sometimes. For instance, I was reading Isaac Asimov’s essay “What is Mass?” from his book Isaac Asimov’s Guide To Earth and Space. I just didn’t understand this essay. I must have read it twenty times (granted often late at night when I’m tired). I finally asked a friend who teaches math and science just what mass is. I learned from him the simplest of definitions: “the space an object takes up.” When I went back to the essay, Asimov’s instruction made sense finally and it expanded my understanding of gravity, so now I can move on with other essays in Asimov’s book and not feel lost. The point is, if you are writing fiction and need to understand something new and technical, you should have plenty of reading material, yes, but also get yourself a really smart buddy whom you can ask a question of now and again, when you don’t understand something.

I found it important to get Pocket or another bookmarking application for saving posts of interest. This application saves space on my hard drive, because the bookmark is saved on Pocket’s server. This keeps my browser free of excess stored information in the form of bookmarks, which makes my browser speedier to load. If you decide to use my example, I recommend that you spring for Pocket’s small monthly fee (about $5) or storing your research posts. For this fee, Pocket stores the original page, (as opposed to a link as with browser bookmarking) even if the page no longer exists live on the web. You can get apps across devices too. If you don’t like how pocket functions or it doesn’t play nice with your chosen applications, there are plenty of other services like it to choose from.

I am not fond of research at the library (gasp!), so I do most of it online. As such, I subscribe to a huge variety of interesting websites. I do that in several ways. I follow pages on Twitter and Facebook. For example, I subscribe to Nova, IFLoveScience, and many other science blogs. When I like a post, I can save to Pocket easily.

I also have Feedly, an rss feed reader for blog sites and other website pages with rss feeds. (You can use any feed reader. I just found Feedly easy to use since I have google email and use Chrome all the time. These applications play nicely together with Pocket too) When I find a post that I think supports my learning or project really well, I put it in Pocket right from Feedly, so I can refer back to it when I am studying or writing. If I’m in a real hurry, I can also save a post within Feedly for later reading, though if the post disappears, Feedly does not save the entire post for you, only a summary.

I use tags for my saved research. If you use websites frequently, you likely know about tags, categories, and hash tags. If you don’t, I recommend you research what these mean and how they are used on Google and start using them. If already know about these and are lazy about using them, you might want to consider that this is the difference between a towering pile of paper surrounding your desk, threatening to fall over, and a drawer full of easy to find files. Just say’in.

Good news by the way… I just got notes back from my advisor and second reader for my senior project. Their notes suggest some very minor polishing edits, but they like it. They both like it a lot! Looks like I’ll graduate September 20. Only a few things left to do: create a senior presentation, schedule my presentation, put one final polish on my senior study and resubmit, and then practice my presentation. Oh, and pay my graduation bill. Pretty soon I’ll have a college degree!

Flashes of Heat

5627723058_6477b14441_mI roll over. The pressure in my bladder has forced me awake. I am frustrated mildly. The air is close and full of the scents of our warm bodies and our night mouths. My body is sticky with the sweat of a hot flash. I push the damp covers off me and struggle into a sitting as smoothly as possible so as not to wake him up. I pause and notice the sky is a medium dark blue of dawn, and not the blue-black of night. “Oy!” I think. I slide slowly forward to have my feet touch the floor. There is a scent of hot lint. It’s the kind of scent in a clothes dryer when its left on longer than the clothes need. My sleep-muzzy mind thinks, “Great, I’m cooking my clothes now. Why doesn’t it dry the bed?” I gingerly get to a standing position. I’m stiff. My whole body aches from muscles contracted too long. My breathing is the deep long kind that goes with sleep. I carefully put one foot in front of another and go do my business. By the time I am again walking around the bed, my breathing has changed. It’s not as deep or as long. I’m more awake now. I sit a moment and look at the moon  and the landscape limned by its light. The trees moving in the wind are hypnotic. My eye lids grow heavy. I pivot into the bed and lay down in a smooth, gentle motion. I want to sleep, but I know that my body isn’t going to do that. It’s too uncomfortable. I’m emotionally uncomfortable about that. I feel as if my life is controlled by my body’s basic imbalance. I’m not getting to relax. I’m not getting to sleep. I’m not feeling the deep comfortable happiness in my body that it feels when I’m really well. I want it. I miss it. I’m pouting that I’m not getting it. And yet, there’s something primal rising up in me over and over, burning me up. I think its burning something in me that I don’t understand, have no words for. I just lay, sweating, knowing that the moments will come when I’m shivering uncontrollably in a body that can’t get warm no matter how many blankets I lay with. I cannot understand it, but I feel its burning away my unwillingness. Its fueling my yoga. Its fueling how I write. I’m waking up wanting to do Reiki. Not for me, but for the world, for those I love. I’m waking up wanting to give the world the fruit of my pen. I write what words come and don’t know their value. I just move letters on to the page and hope it makes some sense; that it composes truth. This morning I stood in the hot rushing water of my shower, closing my eyes in relief at the heat and the relaxation it brings to my stiff muscles. I kept thinking of the scent of hot lint and clinging sweat on my body. I could feel body memory palpably of the rushes of heat suffusing the center of me. It feels more than physical. It feels as if fire is rushing through my consciousness and cleansing it of some dark fog that has clouded my mind forever. And then the heat will pass and I feel myself sinking into the dullness of mismatched hormones and old patterns of thought. It’s a dullness I’ve lived within always it seems. But this heat is causing my yoga to evolve. I’m thinking of it differently. I’m thinking that stringing these letters together is my yoga. It’s not just an asana. It isn’t just how I breathe. Its how I speak. It’s these letters composed together and encompassing and abiding with this heat. It’s in letters to my community and the way I smile all over my being when he tells me I light up his room. I keep hearing words in my mind, they are almost too dim to hear; “I love my life…” I hear this despite the fears I’ll fail or experience loss. I hear it and I choose it. I choose it over and over. No matter what.

I lay a long time this morning. Then he woke and pulled my back into his spooned lap and wrapped his arms around me. I finally got warm again. Not the burning kind of heat, but the calm warmth of peace. I fell asleep again, happy in his arms. I’m so grateful. I love my life. And this is my yoga. Its not just what happens on the mat. It’s what happens in my  heart when I string words on a page and the contentment and happiness of being cuddled by life.