Experimenting with eBook Creation

If you’re going to go down the self-publishing route, it’s useful to get familiar with the software that’s available.

In preparation of eventually publishing something one day, I’ve been playing around with authoring eBooks (ePub 3.0 format, mainly) through a combination of Scrivener, Calibre and Sigil.

Scrivener, I think, would be great for fiction books or non-fiction with minimal graphics or pictures, mainly because there aren’t many options when it comes to manipulating layout when compiling an ePub; in order to do that, you’d have to drill into the XHTML and CSS and Scrivener doesn’t give you a view into that. It also doesn’t allow you to set any fonts, which sucks if you’re big on typography and have your own ideas on how to make things look.

What does allow you to manipulate the innards of an ePub file (including setting fonts) is Sigil and Calibre. They both have great XHTML editors, although Sigil has a slightly more powerful editor than Calibre. That said, Calibre’s automated features when it comes to format conversions is pretty good; in some cases, its Heuristic Processing functionality does a better job of importing or converting a file that was scanned by OCR than Sigil does through its related plugins.

The way I practiced was by converting some of my old computer programming PDFs into ePub files, as well as converting static HTML files (mostly GNU reference manuals) into ePub files (which are just glorified zipped bundles of HTML files anyway; you can verify this by changing the .epub extension to .zip and unzipping the file).

Manipulating the PDFs were a pain; basically, you export OCR’d text into a Word .docx file (using something like Adobe Acrobat or the Tesseract OCR project), and then import that into either Sigil or Calibre. The Sigil .docx import plugin does its best to try to create as clean an HTML file as it can, but it does so by stripping out a lot of extraneous tags that are MS Word specific, many of them affecting formatting. Calibre does a better job of keeping formatting intact, but the outputted HTML isn’t as clean as it could be (and it still might have artifacts in the formatting regardless).

That said, if there’s fancy text formatting or graphics like tables or figures in that PDF file, Calibre had a better chance of preserving that stuff. With Sigil, a lot of that layout information would be lost when importing the .docx file, and you’d need to use a combination of HTML and CSS to migrate and approximate that information to look like it does in the PDF, which is a very manual process.

Either way though, with OCR’d text from a PDF, the result was substandard as there were extraneous newlines everywhere. While the Sigil .docx import plugin tries to account for weird newlines, Calibre’s Heuristic Processing does a better job of unwrapping lines and stripping those away using the default settings (and you can tweak the settings to make things more accurate too, although it isn’t perfect and will still need some massaging afterwards). There is an MS Word plugin called ePUBTools that can do some OCR post processing in trying to recover that original formatting, but it isn’t as good as Calibre (although it doesn’t hurt running it on the file first before importing it into Calibre as a type of first pass).

However, regardless of what route you go, everything still needs to be eyeballed after conversion to make sure the algorithm wasn’t too aggressive in taking out newlines and that the outputted text looks like the original source material, especially when it comes to the content of paragraphs.

So, at least when it comes to PDFs that are primarily text based, a decent workflow when it comes to converting OCR’d PDFs to epub files is:

PDF -> Adobe Acrobat (save as .docx) -> MS Word (import .docx via ePUBTools’ Post Process OCR functionality) -> Calibre (convert .docx to ePub with Heuristic Processing enabled) -> Sigil (manually edit ePub file to ensure output is sane).

With PDFs that contain a lot of custom graphics or more complicated text layouts, you may have a better time with importing the file straight into Calibre (i.e. without converting it to a .docx file first) and making Calibre convert it to an ePub directly. You might very well end up with an ePub full of images (if that was what the PDF file was made of in the first place), but for a quick-and-dirty result with minimal finessing later, it’ll get the job done.

Converting static HTML files to ePub format was a lot easier, but ensuring that the resulting ePub files passed validation was the most time consuming part. There is a tool called epubcheck, which is the standard program that is used to ensure that ePub files adhere to the various ePub standards. Most online bookstores won’t take an ePub file unless it passes validation first, which is why it’s important to ensure your files make the cut before uploading.

That said, the HTML2Epub Sigil plugin chokes if there are any tables in the HTML file, so if that’s the case (which was the case with the GNU manuals I was playing with), you’re better off importing those to Calibre instead and using that to convert the HTML files into ePubs that you can then use Sigil to put the finishing touches on. Or, I suppose you could just add the HTML file to Sigil directly without running it through a conversion plugin, but that’s something I didn’t try.

In the case of ePub 3.0 (which uses HTML5 and CSS3), replacing deprecated HTML tags with HTML5 compliant ones was what took me the longest, mainly because I’m not a web programmer at all so I had to do a lot of web searching to learn what the new way of doing things with CSS was. The file was still readable by my Kobo if I did nothing, but if I ever wanted to post these on the Kobo or Google Play stores or what not, I’d need to make sure they passed validation first. If I stuck with ePub 2.0, I think I could have gotten away with doing nothing, but this is 2019 and so why publish to a format that’s almost a decade old (other than for compatibility with older eReaders, although to be fair, ePub3s are supposed to be somewhat backwards compatible)?

Anyway, all of the GNU manuals that I experimented with are open source and are allowed to be modified, so I figured I’d post my work in case people wanted ePub copies of these things for offline access later, rather than the PDF copies that the various projects already provide. I even embedded a set of IBM Plex fonts, which really gives them that “these are computer books!” feeling, at least when viewing on an eReader device.

They are:

  • GNU C Library Manual, glibc 2.29 ( epub | mobi )
  • GNU C Reference Manual, v0.2.5 ( epub | mobi )
  • GNU Emacs 26.2 Manual ( epub | mobi )
  • The Org Mode 9.2 Reference Manual ( epub | mobi )

I chose these ones to work with because they were all documents that I had first encountered when I started my Computer Science degree a long time ago, and I had either printed them out via the department’s old school LPR line printers (two pages per sheet, double sided to save on paper) and/or either bought a printed set of (or had wanted to in the past but couldn’t because they had limited print runs and were always out-of-stock), mainly for my own reference. Plus, I figured it’d be nice to have reference copies of programs or languages that I used to be very proficient in back in the day again (not that I ever anticipate coding in C again using EMACS anytime soon; I’m a Vi guy now and I’ve given up on most types of programming these days, lol).

All in all, this was a fun exercise, and if I’m ever bored, I’ll probably attempt to convert more documents to ePubs just so I can have them on my eReader (it really gave me an opportunity to indulge my OCD, which I can really appreciate on days where I’m not feeling productive). However, I don’t think I’ll try and keep pace by creating new versions of the above files whenever upstream updates the documentation; it takes more time than I want to spend to make sure everything looks good (it’s usually a day or two worth of work) and things don’t change much between minor versions anyway.

However, I do feel more confident that when I’m ready to publish whatever it is I end up writing (whether that be fiction or nonfiction; at this stage, it’s 50/50 on which concept I ultimately go with), that I’ll be able to author and typeset various book files on my own, rather than relying on a third-party source or having to pay another person to do it (assuming I improve my (non-existent) skills in HTML and CSS, of course). I think that’ll make going the digital self-publishing route much, much easier for me. Print layout for a traditional paperback is a different story though; my friends that have self-published say that sometimes, the platform or service you publish on will take care of that stuff for you automatically if you want it to, although my preference would be to publish things directly to various services myself in order to maximize my earnings. For everything else in regards to layout in print, I suppose there is Scribus to learn.

As for the Kindle formats (mobi/azw3/KFX), I haven’t forgotten. However, I’ll leave figuring out how to directly author into those file formats for another day (it’s pretty easy using kindlegen from what I’ve read; just need to remember about adding media queries to images first. Or maybe just use Kindle Previewer to convert them? Not sure.). But if you have a Kindle device and wish you could sideload the above reference manuals into it, just use Calibre to convert them to .mobi files first and you should be fine.

Edit:  .mobi versions now available. I just used Kindle Previewer to convert them from the original .epub files, although I have no idea why the file sizes ended up so big compared to the .epub versions. If you have a Kindle device, let me know how they turned out!

(Photo Credit:  mac42 via Flickr/CC)

Post NaNoWriMo – Day 3

Oh NaNoWriMo, what have you turned me into?

Still sick and I took the weekend off to rest and recover, but this danged NaNoWriMo novel keeps beckoning to me.

Yesterday, I was hit by a sudden sense of inspiration. The conspiracy plot in my story wasn’t jiving with me, and it’s understandable why: It wasn’t thought through well. Going into NaNoWriMo, I had the seeds of an idea, but it was just that, an idea. The intricacies and the events leading up to and surrounding it weren’t hashed out, mainly because I was concentrating on making word quota instead.

Now that I’m no longer under the gun, my mind has had some time to process things, and I think I’ve figured out how to kick that plot point up a notch. I’ll have to figure out a way to make it work within the confines of the story and I may have to throw out some things to make room but that’ll be easy with enough time to think and work.

So, yes, I’m still working on my baby and have every intention of publishing it somehow in the new year. For fun, I decided to do a quick .epub compile of what I had already written (screenshot above). While I know it’s lame, the sudden rush of satisfaction I felt when seeing it rendered in that form above surprised me. It looks like a real book! I look forward to the day when I and everyone else can read this thing on an e-reader and maybe someday, find it in a bookstore or library shelf.

Oh NaNoWriMo, what have you turned me into?

How I Won NaNoWriMo 2012

Here are some of the tricks, tips and tools that I discovered on my 30 day NaNoWriMo journey that helped me get through it.

Folks, I’ll be honest with you: I decided to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo on a whim, a mere week before it was supposed to start.

Despite having many textbooks about writing in my possession for a while (I’ve always wanted to write and publish a book), there was no time to read them all before it started. I was ill prepared, had no plot other than a loose idea or theme and hadn’t spent any time outlining, plotting, sketching or planning at all. What was worse was having never done it before, I had no idea what to expect.

I did my best to read some of those books on writing as I went along, but I wasn’t able to finish any of them. The daily word quota beckoned.

That said, I did learn a few things. So here are some of the tricks, tips and tools that I discovered on my 30 day NaNoWriMo journey that helped me get through it.

Scrivener

Scrivener was the software tool I used to write everything this month. I had bought it on the Mac App Store earlier in the year because, like I said, I always wanted to write a novel, fiction or non-fiction. If I had known that they were a sponsor of NaNoWriMo and all winners would receive a coupon code for 50% off, I probably would have waited.

But even at full price, it’s worth it. It’s much more than a word processor. You can write different scenes and move them around within a chapter or transfer them to other chapters by clicking and dragging. There’s a handy outliner that you can use to plot your novel, and character and setting templates you can use when designing your backstory. There’s even sections for your research material (where it can grab pages from the web and store a local copy for future offline reading) and sections for front and back material like covers or dedications and acknowledgements.

The best part is that when you’re done your manuscript, there are easy compile options that let you produce a manuscript in .doc, .rtf, .pdf or various eBook formats like Kindle, .mobi and .epub. No need to know SGML and no need for fancy compile tools or converters, Scrivener does it all.

It even has templates for screenplays, comic books and other forms of writing, so it’s a very versatile tool. I haven’t even scratched the surface of its functionality this year, and I look forward to learning more about the tool in the off-season so that I’ll be more efficient come next year’s NaNoWriMo.

It’s available for Mac and Windows, but I only have the Mac copy. I’m tempted to purchase it again for Windows as well for my PCs because this is such a useful tool and it’d be nice to be platform agnostic when it comes to writing and editing.

Aeon Timeline

I found out about Aeon Timeline late in the game, but this is a simple program that came out of a desire for a better time lining tool. Think of it like Microsoft Project on steroids and geared towards writers trying to tell a story. They can be fiction writers, script writers, etc.

It allows you to plot your story on a timeline using whatever units you want to use for whatever duration of time. It sounds simple, but there isn’t a tool that I’ve found yet that does it well. This is the closest thing.

You can organize events based on story arc or character arc, which makes sorting through various plot points easy. I didn’t have enough time to learn how to leverage it properly, but I’m excited to learn how to utilize it to its full potential for next year.

That said, you could easily use project management software like Microsoft Project to achieve similar results, although the interface isn’t geared towards writing a story. Conversely, you could use Aeon Timeline for project management when it comes to tracking project milestones, as the interface is customizable and all the data is kept in standards compliant XML. This makes Aeon Timeline very versatile, especially if you’re willing to put the time into customizing it.

I love stories that have long arcs, keep things consistent and reward readers for re-reading stories, and I think this tool can help me keep my thoughts organized enough to tell those kinds of stories myself in the future. I’ll definitely be purchasing a copy of this once the NaNoWriMo Winning Prizes are posted (40% discount code for winners which makes it well worth it.).

It’s only available for Mac at the moment, but a Windows version is in development for release sometime next year.

Write or Die

When I was 13,000+ words in the hole with only three days left to go and desperation set in, Write or Die saved my life.

There’s a web version that’s free for anyone to use and I started with that. When I saw my productivity increase because of the tool, I bought a license for the offline desktop version. It’s written in Adobe AIR so it can run on Windows, Linux and OSX. There’s also a version for the iPad, but I find typing on an iPad difficult.

Its catch line is “Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity” and that’s exactly what it does.

How it works is that you set a target word count and time limit (for example, 1,000 words in 30 minutes), and hit start. You then have that time limit to hit that word count. If you slack off in writing, notifications and prompts pop up motivating you to continue writing.

Those prompts could be as unobtrusive or intrusive as you like. The base level shows a visual indicator where your screen slowly turns red until a pop-up notice appears telling you to write, to blaring alarms until you start writing again. There’s even a mode that eats (re: deletes) words that you previously written if you start to slack off, but I never used it because it would be a shame to lose something I had written and for NaNoWriMo, every word counts.

I never thought having a program nag at me could be helpful, but I think what was more helpful was seeing my word count progress go up as the time ticked down. Psychologically, it allowed me to see my progress and it let me see that the end was coming. It’s so easy to get lost in word counts and minor details that you lose track of the bigger picture. So when I saw that I was consistently racking up 1,200+ words in 30 minute chunks, it made that 13,000 word hole seem not as deep.

The bad thing about the program is that it doesn’t let you think too hard about the words you’re writing or give you a moment to breathe. But sometimes, that’s what you need. You need to let go of your inner editor and just write. Even if you’re stuck, write something and fix it later.

This program taught me that and was well worth the $10. If you’re ever stuck on something, give Write or Die a try. It might just motivate you to power through the writer’s block!

Pomodoro Technique

When experimenting with Write or Die, I realized that my peak productivity happened when I was working in bursts of 25-35 minutes, taking breaks thereafter. I was surprised to learn that my productivity habits mimicked something called the Pomodoro Technique, which was developed in the late 1980s. Pomodoro is Italian for ‘tomato’ because the guy who came up with the technique originally used a timer shaped like a tomato.

In short, the Pomodoro Technique consists of the following:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings. Record your progress.
  4. Take a short 3-5 minute break.
  5. Every four “pomodoros” take a longer 15-30 minute break.

If you don’t finish your task in one pomodoro, continue it on the next one. If you finish your task early, then the extra time left in the pomodoro is dedicated to overlearning, or what I like to call overkill.

And it works! Or at least, it works for me. I was only introduced to the concept late into NaNoWriMo so I haven’t played around with it much, but it’s something I’m going to experiment with in the off-season in other fields as well. Hopefully it’ll make more productive, especially when it comes to working on tedious tasks.

Focus Booster

The Pomodoro Technique relies on the use of a timer, and while old-fashioned manual timers are encouraged because the mechanical process of setting the timer mentally reinforces your commitment to undertaking the task at hand, sometimes when you’re in a coffee shop or library, a loud tomato timer simply isn’t an option.

There are tons of timer programs for your computer or smartphone out there, many free and many not. I decided to use Focus Booster, which is free and written in Adobe AIR so it’ll work on Windows, Linux and OSX machines. I’m platform agnostic, so while I believe in using the best tool for the job, I also have a preference for software tools that are consistent across platforms.

I didn’t use it much for NaNoWriMo since Write or Die had its own timer, but I can see how it can be handy for blogging or other tasks on the computer, which is why I decided to install an offline timer on my machine.

Freedom and Anti-Social

It wasn’t until I started using Write or Die that I realized that software motivators actually do have value.

Freedom and Anti-Social are simple programs that block your internet access for a time limit you specify, and the only way to restore it outside of waiting for the time limit to expire is to reboot the computer. It affects you psychologically because if you really want to slack off and distract yourself with the Internet, you have to make a conscious decision to reboot your machine, which is embarrassing. It’s much easier to let the timer run down, and while you wait for that to occur, you may as well try to get some work done.

Freedom blocks all network access while Anti-Social just limits it to social media and other time waster websites, which is handy if you still need to access the Internet for legitimate research purposes.

Before Write or Die, I figured that personal discipline alone would be just as effective, but I’ve long since realized that I can easily get distracted. I was too busy trying to survive the Write or Die word sprints to get distracted so during those times I was extremely productive in a short amount of time. These programs, while I didn’t end up using them specifically for NaNoWriMo, might help me later on in other types of work when I really need to focus which is why I purchased them.

Freedom is $10 and Anti-Social is $15, or you can get them both for $20 in a bundle pack (which is the one I bought). I look forward to experimenting with these two programs in the future.

NaNoWordSprints

NaNoWordSprints@NaNoWordSprints

Twenty minute mark! Your fourth #1K30min prompt: Where would your characters prefer to live? Something reminds them of that place.

See NaNoWordSprints’s other Tweets

Speaking of word sprinting, a constant source of inspiration was the NaNoWordSprint Twitter account. I have written about it before, but I want to reiterate how helpful it was as a source of inspiration and how well the sprint leaders around the world led people in them.

I never realized the value of creative writing prompts until I got stuck or experienced writer’s block, so I’m wondering what I’ll do in the off season when the NaNoWordSprint account is inactive. I’m currently looking for a good set of offline writing prompts or a software program that incorporates them in a generator-like format. If you know of a good one that’ll work on a Macbook, let me know!

StoryToolz and WriteTrack

I loved NaNoWriMo’s daily word count tracker as it organized the data in easily understandable visual chunks. I’ll miss it now that it’s over, so I’m trying to find replacement tools that I can use in the off-season.

While my preference is for an offline tool that I can use locally on my machine without an Internet connection, I found two tools that might be able to work, both free after registering for an account.

WriteTrack keeps track of your daily word counts and targets, while StoryToolz does that and much more. StoryToolz can generate random conflicts, story ideas and titles and can detect readability issues or writing cliches. It’s iPad friendly as well.

StoryToolz might be my go-to creative writing tool for inspiration and project tracking outside of NaNoWriMo, but I’ll need to play around with it some more to determine that.

Remember that I’m always on the lookout for offline tools that can do the same things, so if you know of any, let me know!

To Sum Up

So there you have it. Some of the tools or resources that I used to help me sprint (or limp, depending on how you look at it) over the finish line of this year’s NaNoWriMo, and things that I intend to continue to use in the off-season.

If you have any other tips, tricks or tools that you have found that work for you, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about it.

I WON NaNoWriMo!!!

I may keep some, ditch many, and re-use some of those words in different stories, but now, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I know that I can write about 200 pages worth of words in a month if I try hard, and I know it’s possible to write a lot more if I’m playful and organized about it too. These are things I did not truly believe myself 31 days ago.

30 days, 50,000 words later and I can honestly say that I WON NaNoWriMo 2012, my first-ever!!!

It was touch-and-go there at times, and there were times when I thought I’d never finish. It was disheartening and discouraging.

In Week 1, barring the first day where I made par (1,667 words), I was averaging only 200-300 words a day after missing a few days due to volunteer commitments, with maybe two to three hours worth of work per day. When I saw those totals, I despaired ever catching up. But once that weekend was over, I was able to sit down and focus at home or at the library and just concentrate on writing something. It was the first time I had broken 3,000 to 4,000 words per day, and I was able to catch up.

The first time I broke 10,000 words total, I didn’t even notice it until after I submitted my word count for the day. When I was averaging daily word counts in the hundreds, it seemed like such a far off target.

In Week 2, I was able to keep up with the daily quotas, either hitting them or staying just behind or slightly ahead of the pace. I was able to free up 2-3 hours per day to work on that. Life was good.

Then Week 3 hit and all hell broke loose. I had to devote myself fully to work and volunteer commitments, and I had very little time to write. I managed to eke out 50 or 100 words here and there, but I fell behind BIG time. It couldn’t be helped. In fact, you’ll notice that I didn’t even have time to write a Week 3 recap.

I figured I’d be able to make it up somehow during Week 4. But that weekend, I managed to get a nasty sinus infection, that was quickly working its way into something worse. In fact, I’m still sick even as I write this, although not as badly as I was then. I was down for the count for three days. Three whole days of lost productivity, and when I was feeling well enough to tackle NaNoWriMo again, I was already 12,000 words in the hole and counting.

It was at that moment that I felt like giving up. Mid-week, I was averaging 3,000 to 4,000 words, but it was nowhere near what I needed as a daily pace to catch up, and I was still so far behind.

So in desperation, over the last few days, I dropped everything from my schedule, locked myself in a room, turned off the Internet, told my inner editor to shut the hell up and wrote like crazy. Forget about a Week 4 recap, I had to write. I wrote scenes out of order, moving on to new scenes that I knew had to happen in order to advance the plot if I felt like I was stuck. I didn’t even bother to revise anything. I used the crappiest words I have ever written, words so crappy that some of my favourite Language Arts and English teachers growing up would have cringed and chastised me for using them. But I didn’t care! I needed to make quota.

Miraculously, on Day 29 I wrote a record 10,300+ words. I had not only managed to catch up, but the amount of words I had left to reach the 50,000 word target was less than the recommended daily quota. The damn thing was within reach!

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill it off on Day 29. 1,100 words left to go, three minutes to midnight and I was stuck. I had already written an ending (but most likely not the ending I’ll use) and I had run out of scene ideas.

This morning, on Day 30, I went through my entire manuscript and fleshed out scenes that were a little bare. Here and there, bits and pieces added up until I was finally able to validate my manuscript on the NaNoWriMo website at 50,082 words.

Are they the best 50,000 words I have ever written? Hell, no. Will I end up ditching or re-writing most of them? You bet. The ending no longer matches the beginning, the theme I had originally started with morphed into something different, scenes don’t match up or contradict things I’ve written before, and I’m probably going to ditch my working title. But that doesn’t matter. After 30 days, I’ve got 50,000 more words than I would have ever written otherwise, and that’s all that matters to me.

I may keep some, ditch many, and re-use some of those words in different stories, but now, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I know that I can write about 200 pages worth of words in a month if I try hard, and I know it’s possible to write a lot more if I’m planful and organized about it too. These are things I did not truly believe myself 31 days ago.

So what are my immediate next steps?

  1. Get well again. I know my body well. I’m still sick and I haven’t hit the fever phase yet, so I’m a week or two away from full recovery. I may not have even experienced the worst of it yet.
  2. Re-organize my scenes so they make some kind of chronological sense. I wrote them out of order, and may have gotten my details mixed up, having characters refer to events that haven’t happened yet, didn’t happen according to how I said they did, or scenes that I still have yet to write.
  3. Formally timeline my story. As I was writing it, the pacing felt off and it feels like it took place in about five days. Realistically and logically, that’s probably not possible so I’ll need to figure out a proper timeline.
  4. Flesh out my characters. My characters are likeable and funny as hell, but if I’m honest with myself, they’re kind of flat. I haven’t determined their motivations or backstory in any intricate detail, so I need to figure that stuff out first and then weave in those elements throughout the story to give them some more depth and hopefully make this whole thing a bit more interesting to read.
  5. Write my missing scenes. It would be fair to say that this thing has plot holes aplenty.
  6. Massage everything so that it fits together and it’s all consistent. The pieces don’t quite line up and the flow is all messed up. It’ll need some polish.

Once that is all done, then and only then will I consider myself to have my true first draft from NaNoWriMo. When I have that, then I’ll probably take a bit of a break for a couple of weeks, return to my manuscript and start the revision process in earnest. Hopefully, I can have this thing ready for publication somehow early in the new year.

So while it’s true that I won NaNoWriMo this year, I know that my novel is nowhere near finished yet. Other WriMos have managed to turn something in that may be publishable with a little extra work, but not me, the beginning novelist.

That said, I would like to thank NaNoWriMo and The Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization which administrates the program, for the opportunity for me to take a chance to follow a dream I’ve had ever since I was a little kid. I’d also like to thank and congratulate any WriMo out there in the world that started on this journey this month, whether they ‘won’ or not. Reading through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter was inspiring, seeing so many people who either met their goals or were short but were working so hard to catch up. I was able to draw encouragement or inspiration to keep going, and I was able to give some to others as well.

I’m really considering doing this again next year, although I’m debating whether I should plan ahead of time so I’ll be prepared, embrace the whimsical nature of the program and just write whatever whenever it comes up, or if I should do something similar to what I did this year and start with a loose idea and see where it takes me.

Although I guess I should finish what I’ve started first, before moving on to the next thing. Before that though, some chicken soup and a nap.

P.S.: This blog post is about 1441 words long (according to WordPress) and took about an hour and a half for me to write. It’s not perfect and I probably could have spent more time editing it, but it proves that it’s possible to hit 1,667 words per day if you apply yourself, and 50,000 words in a month easily if you can dedicate a chunk of time each and everyday to do so!

A day in the life of a NaNoWordSprint Shift

Sometimes, when I get stuck in my NaNoWriMo writing, I look towards NaNoWordSprints for inspiration.

Sometimes, when I get stuck in my NaNoWriMo writing, I look towards NaNoWordSprints for inspiration.

I’m not sure who the people behind the account are, but I admire them greatly for the work they do, and their willingness to work shifts at all hours of the day, even overnight.

Here’s a sample of one of the shifts that happened last week. I have NaNoWordSprints in my Twitter feed, and when I saw that this leader was mashing up Science with Romance Novel cliches, I wanted to make sure I saved the writing prompts. I didn’t have time to work on them then, but I do now.

There’s some good stuff here, and I have to resist the urge sometimes to lurk at all hours during the day to see what they’re up to. Part of me wishes I could save all of these tweets for to look at later during the in-between times. Who knows what other cool prompts I’ve missed?

NaNoWriMo Week 2 Update: On the road to 25,000

Yesterday was the first time since Day 1 I made/beat the daily recommended word quota with 22,020 words total (target was 21,666). Were they the best words I have ever written? Hell, no. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to re-write all of it. The words might be garbage, but the ideas are on the page, and I’ve learned that is the most important thing.

Tomorrow is the mid-way point of NaNoWriMo and to keep pace, by end of day all participants should be at 25,000 words.

Yesterday was the first time since Day 1 I made/beat the recommended daily word quota with 22,020 words total (target was 21,666 for Day 13). I’ve been averaging 3,000-4,000 words per day over the last few days, which is why I’ve been able to catch up.

Were they the best words I have ever written? Hell, no. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to re-write all of it. However, the words might be garbage, but the ideas are on the page and I’ve learned that is the most important thing for me right now.

I like to walk. And when I walk, I think. And when I think, sometimes I have some really cool revelations. The problem is that by the time I get to my destination, sometimes I forget about them. And sometimes I never recall them again.

This is why I’ve realized that it’s important for me to record things and why I’ve decided to stop caring about the words I write for NaNoWriMo, taking meticulous care in order to save myself some work later on. I already know that while my plot may be interesting, my story might be weak. My characters, while loveable and funny, honestly don’t have much depth. I’ll have to do some character development on the backend and introduce some backstory later on. So chances are, I’ll have to re-write the whole damn thing anyway. In that case, best get the plot ideas on the page before I forget things entirely.

I’ve also started carrying a voice recorder on me, just in case I get any interesting insights on my adventures. I haven’t had to use it yet, but who knows? At the very least, I’ll be wearing a wire, which may or may not come in handy one day if I’m ever caught in some sticky situations.

Yesterday was also the first time I started outlining. I found an old calendar pad, ripped out the pages and started to make notes on scenes I have yet to write to move the plot around. I think I got to around 17 pieces of paper before I decided to stop as I had run out of room on the table to lay them all out. So even though I’m at 20,000, I may end up needing more than 50,000 (at this point) to tell the story I want to tell. Or at the very least, get my characters to where I want to get them.

I’m hoping that by sketching some things out ahead of time, I’ll continue to have productive days of 4,000 words. If I get stuck, I can just pull an unwritten scene from the old TO-DO list and keep going. December will be when I worry about massaging everything so that it fits.

This is fun. Exhausting. Sometimes daunting. Sometimes scary. But fun. Anyhoo, back to my self-imposed exile. Let’s do this!

NaNoWordSprints!

NaNoWordSprints are a great way to bust through Writer’s Block. They are little writing prompts with a time limit that encourage people to incorporate them into their writing during that amount of time.

Fast and effective and usually fun, it’s a great way to experiment.

NaNoWordSprints are a great way to bust through Writer’s Block. They are little writing prompts with a time limit that encourage people to incorporate them into their writing during that amount of time.

Fast and effective and usually fun, it’s a great way to experiment.

Ketchup, Catsup, or Catch Up?

Going to put my Captain Obvious hat on for a moment:

“Writing is tough.”

Going to put my Captain Obvious hat on for a moment:

“Writing is tough.”

No, I’m serious. Anyone who says that they can bang out a perfect first draft is kidding themselves, not to mention borderline arrogant.

Every writer worth his or her salt, whether they’re a fiction writer, non-fiction writer, blogger, reporter, speechwriter or poet edits and revises at least once, even if it’s just proofreading for spelling and grammar.

That said, I also believe that writing is like art, that it’s never finished, only abandoned. One can revise and revise and revise and still feel that it isn’t finished. Sometimes you just have to settle for “good enough” and fire it off or just keep moving.

That’s the struggle I’ve had lately with my NaNoWriMo project. The perfectionist in me is at odds with the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants side of me and when the tension is too high, I sometimes get stuck, wanting to perfect what I’ve already written rather than move forward with the story.

Or, I get stuck with writer’s block and just don’t know how to proceed.

That, combined with missing three days worth of writing due to other commitments like meetings and such, have led me to fall behind the recommended daily quota.

I’ll admit: A few of days ago, I was panicking. It seemed like I’d never catch up, and when my stats page indicated that at my current rate, I’d finish some time in January, I almost decided to give up.

But Thursday and Friday I decided to sit down and see where the process led me. I’d just write whatever, trying my best to stick to the direction I was aiming for, and see what came out.

And as I started to write again, I was surprised at what I began to discover about my plot and my characters.

  • I’d write a line about one character inquiring about another, and then realize that maybe this person has a crush on that person.
  • I’d start writing a speech for a corporate big-wig, and realize that he may be a part of a power struggle in the upper levels.
  • I’d write a line about a character having to excuse herself, and discover that perhaps she may have an ulterior motive for ducking out at that moment.

And sometimes, out of nowhere, scenes like this one would magically pop into my head:

And she just walked off?

Yep.

Well, that was rude. Will said.

You better believe it. Didn’t even get the chance to apologize properly. What’s up with that? Bobby took a sip of his coffee.

I know. Will poured himself another cup of tea. So, was she cute?

What?

I said, Was she cute?

Dude, didn’t you hear a word I said? She ran off before I could get a word in edgewise. I didn’t even get a good look at her! Could have been a kid, for all I know.

Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Don’t you know this is how all great romances begin? It’s so cliche! The man and woman meet in an unexpected circumstance, just like yours. Sparks fly, they run into each other again some time later, then they keep on running into each other, and before you know it Boom! Matrimony City.

Right. And you’re basing this on?

Hollywood.

Uh huh.

Listen, I’m a prophet. You’ll run into that girl again. In fact, I’d be willing to bet she’ll play an important role in your life. Five bucks. You wait and see.

Whatever you say, Will. Whatever you say. Bobby helped himself to another piece of scone. So have you considered my proposal?

Or this one:

Ok, are you going to tell me why you look like you’ve been hit by a bus? Will said.

What do you mean?

Ever since the announcement, you’ve been acting strangely. Well, stranger than what’s normal for you, of course.

Ha ha. Bobby stopped walking. It’s weird. When I talked to Sheridan last night, he seemed all excited at how Inspiration was doing. Never got the sense that he was going anywhere.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Whaddya mean you talked to Sheridan last night?

Oh, didn’t I tell you? When I got home last night, Sheridan called me. Wanted to know how I was doing with my various projects.

What? How come I never get calls like that? What else happened?

Let’s see. We talked a bit about that consumer product that came out of BioChem recently.

You mean that disgusting thing they’ve developed with that bacteria stuff that they’re now spinning as a dishwashing product?

Yeah, that one. But honestly, that’s all. Just some small talk, a status update on some of my projects, and that was it.

Hmm. Maybe he wanted to touch base on various things before he left. Or maybe he got fired for meddling.

Fired? He was the last of the original Inspiration employees, a founder. You don’t fire a founder, not without a lot of strife, which we probably would’ve heard about by now if that were the case.

Assassinated, then.

Get real, Will. Anyways, this feels way too sudden.

Maybe. Or maybe it’s all part of the plan. After all, who are we but mere rank-and-file employees? How can mortals such as ourselves expect to be privy to the whims of those above us?

I guess. I suppose we’ll never know for sure, will we?

When I broke through 10,000 words last night, I was ecstatic, even though I was still behind. When I first started this thing and noticed I was only making progress with 200 or 300 words at a time, I never thought I’d reach that.

Today is Day 10 of NaNoWriMo and I’m currently at 12,540 words and the target word count for today is 16,666 to keep on par for 50,000 by November 30. I know I still have a long way to go to catch up, and I have a few other commitments coming up that may detract me from my writing, but I figure I’ll deal with that when I get there.

I already know I need to revise (some of my dialogue is definitely clunky), but I’m barrelling forward regardless. Plenty of time in December to prune things or hack this thing down. The good news is that I have a clearer picture on where this is all heading, and I’m anxious to see how I get my characters where they need to be.

Only 20 or so more days to go and time’s a-wastin’!

No turning back now (Or: What the hell have I gotten myself into??)

Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo and somehow I survived it. I managed to bang out 1,745 words and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how I did it.

Yesterday was the first day of NaNoWriMo and somehow I survived it. I managed to bang out 1,745 words in about four hours and to be honest, I’m not quite sure how I managed it.

At this stage of the game, I still don’t have a “plot” per se, although I’m tentatively calling this story “Standing Idly By” (I reserve the right to change it later). All I started with was a theme (To act or not to act? And if so, how far is one willing to go?) and the beginning parts of a scene in my head. In my mind’s eye, this scene takes place near the end of the story during the lead up to the climatic battle (or at least, what I hope will be the climatic battle), and since I had nothing better to go with, I decided to start there, writing a scene that takes place near the end of the story first (which is a bit typical of my personality; for example, when problem solving, I like to start at the end and work backwards, beginning with where I want to end up so I can figure out what I need to do to get there).

In doing so, I realized just how much work I’ll need to do to get my protagonist up to that point. And it’s A LOT. I still haven’t figured out what the main conflict is about so I’m not quite sure how everyone got to where they were. I did discover that I needed more than the protagonist and antagonist in the scene, so I managed to whip up a couple more people and chuck them in there. I may add some more in later, depending on how the rest of it goes. And I discovered that the protagonist’s best friend will end up playing a big role in helping him prevail, at least in this draft.

At the very least, my characters have names now. I just used the first names that popped into my head. ”Vigilante Guy” (which should give you a bit of a hint on where I’m ultimately going to take this story) is now known as “Bobby,” “Best Friend” is now known as “Will,” and “Asshole” is still known as “Asshole” but he’ll also answer to the name of “Anton.” I haven’t settled on last names yet.

I figured I’d throw in the potential love interest in there too, and for a while, I couldn’t decide between naming her “Diana” or “Amanda.” I ended up settling on “Amanda” only because I’ve met lots of Amandas in my life, but never a Diana. The Amandas out there can fight over which one I’m actually naming her after. I have a loose idea on how she gets to be there, but it may change as I flesh out the back parts. She was kind of an afterthought.

The scene is nowhere near finished and I stopped writing in the middle of a big fight scene. I actually could have kept writing from that point, but I decided to hold back until I figured out how they got there in the first place. I know that the whole theme of this program is “No plot? No problem!” and the point is to explore where the creative process takes you, but I would hate to put tons of effort into a super cool fight scene only to trash it later on because I couldn’t figure out a way to get everyone to that point, especially because time is of the essence (only 29 more days to go!) and I didn’t want to have to force myself to maneuver the story in that direction if I stumbled upon a better path later in the month either. Besides, by that point, I had already reached my daily quota of 1,666 words so I decided to call it a day.

Anyways, after yesterday’s little exercise, I have a little bit of a better idea on where I want this story to end up. Sort of. Starting today, I’m going to have to start the difficult task of starting my protagonist down the road to get there. Who knows, in 30 days time he may end up at that point, or perhaps he’ll end up somewhere completely different. And that’s what makes NaNoWriMo so fun!

Going forward, if I have any good words left over in my head at the end of the day, I’ll try to blog about that day’s experiences here, but if I can’t, I’ve added a widget to the sidebar that tracks my NaNoWriMo progress. That way, you can follow along even if I don’t write anything here. Wish me luck!

Getting set for NaNoWriMo!

What I’ve learned in my old age is that if you’re only going to wait for the proper moment and when all circumstances are ideal to act, you may end up sitting idle for a long, long time. Sometimes, you just have to go out there and DO IT!

So screw it. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to write a novel.

I love books. I love reading, and I don’t mind writing, especially if it’s for myself (and definitely if I’m getting paid for it!).

For a long while, I’ve been saying that I wanted to write a book that would ultimately get published. I’ve got about 3-4 non fiction ideas and a few fiction based ones as well. Some are more fully formed than others, but none are structured to the point that I feel comfortable tackling them just yet, mainly because I’ve been really busy with volunteer work and other things over the last year, so I’ve never had the time to properly dedicate to a book project to do it, what I feel, justice.

But what I’ve learned in my old age is that if you’re only going to wait for the proper moment and when all circumstances are ideal to act, you may end up sitting idle for a long, long time. Sometimes, you just have to go out there and DO IT!

So screw it. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to write a novel.

November is known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short), and while it originally started in the United States, it’s essentially open to anyone around the world.

The gist of it is that anyone who’s interested in participating has one month to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel by November 30. If you can accomplish that, then you “win.” To do so, you have to write on average about 1,667 words a day to hit that goal.

There’s no real prize for “winning” except the self-satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment for banging out 50,000 words in a month, hopefully in a way that make sense.

The motto is “No plot? No problem!” which, for some reason, seems to resonate with me at this stage of my life. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and prefer to edit a piece of writing to death before publishing it, so it’ll be fun to see if I can resist those impulses for 30 days and interesting to see if what comes out of it is cool or an incoherent mess.

I’ve decided to tackle one of my fiction ideas that has been percolating in my head for a while, but hasn’t been fully formed yet. I have the beginning sketched out and the ending loosely as well, but haven’t defined the circumstances or conflicts that surround the story yet. I’m currently spending the lead up to November 1 brainstorming ideas on paper just to see if anything sticks. I don’t have a title or even character names, other than generic things like “Vigilante Guy,” “Asshole” and “Best Friend.”

But I figure that if I wait until all of that is defined to the point where I’m satisfied, I’ll never get to it. So starting at midnight, I’m just going to start writing stuff and see where it leads. This thing may never get published, or it may get heavily re-edited later and may not resemble anything I ultimately pump out in the next 30 days.

And that’s okay. Because sometimes, you just have to get out there and DO SOMETHING.

If I have any writing capacity left over, I may blog about my adventures in NaNoWriMo, but for now, I make no promises. My guess is that I’ll start slow at the beginning and will start to really pump stuff out towards the last half of the month once I figure out how things fit together. We’ll see how it goes. My biggest regret is that they didn’t pick a month with 31 days in it. But I guess you can’t win them all.

Anyhoo, wish me luck!