Writing Tools

I finished off the (very) rough 1st draft of my first novel last week and started on the 2nd draft. This is my rewrite draft. I tend to write short (in fiction anyway) so this draft lets me fill in the details I skipped over, plug any plot holes and sync up timeline issues. I was in a hurry to find out what happens. Now I have to clean up the narrative.

Longer fiction has been a challenge coming from non-fiction and short fiction stories. It didn’t help that I took most a year off to write and get published another non-fiction book. A big part of that challenge is what writing tool to use. I travel a lot for work so I find myself writing on a laptop, my iPad and an iPhone. Yes, I’ve banged out a couple of hundred words on an iPhone standing in line waiting to board a plane more times than I can count.

I started out with OneNote. It’s great for research and it runs on all the platforms I need. The PC version will do word counts but the iOS version won’t. I also used Excel to track my word counts. About two-thirds of the book was written this way.

Along the way I got frustrated with OneNote’s iOS limitations. You couldn’t select the text in an entire section, pasting in from something else trashed the formatting, etc. I played with Scrivener and I think it can be a great tool, but alas, no iOS version, so I’m saving Scrivener for final book creation.

I finished off the first draft in Yarny It’s kind of Scrivener/One Note light in the cloud. Yarny has a clean writing surface and you can store notes about characters, places, etc. However, you can’t bring in pictures, drawings or drop in whole web pages for research, just text. With OneNote I’ve dropped in piles of research material. The Send to OneNote feature makes that almost too easy.

Yarny works in a browser but it hasn’t been tested with all browsers. It works with IE and Safari, despite their warnings, but it is kind of finicky sometimes. There is an iPhone app, but Yarny doesn’t really have an offline option. That was a problem on aircraft. WiFi isn’t everywhere yet.

Along the way I switched from Excel to Google’s spreadsheet for tracking word counts and time. Excel is so much better than Google’s spreadsheet that it’s not funny, but Google has an offline option for iOS and web-based Excel is still clunky with touch. I haven’t tried since the latest update and I really didn’t want to buy an app just for that.

I started the rewrite work on Saturday and today Microsoft released an updated OneNote for iOS. I’m hooked. It’s fantastic. The only things it’s missing are word counts and creating ink notes (you can read ink notes created on a PC) but since I can copy the entire section it’s easy to drop it into Pages and get a word count.

In the end, everything will end up in Microsoft Word and Scrivener. If I use a publisher, it will have to be in Word. I’ve done enough non-fiction work with publishers to know how that works and it’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it. If I selfpub/indiepub, my plan is to use Scrivener to create the mobi and epub files. I’ve done it using Word and it’s painful. I keep hearing that Scrivener is much better.

I really just want tools that won’t get in my way. If Scrivener ever releases a full iOS client, that may be the ultimate answer. Until then, OneNote is getting pretty close for at least the writing and editing portion.

As for the book, I’ll have more on that once it’s closer to being done.

 

 

Book Selection

As I look through free Kindle books it has me thinking about how I select a fiction book. Non-fiction is completely different. This is a much a message to me as anything else. I think my fiction selection generally follows this pattern:

  • Author – If it’s by someone I like, nothing else matters. Preston and Child could write a vegetarian cookbook and cover it in a paper bag. I’m in.
  • Cover – Yeah, we know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover but I’m a visual person. Cover’s tell me a lot. Is this supposed to be a thriller? Is it chick lit? Horror? Romance? A good cover at lease gives me the category. Joel Friedlander knows more about books covers than I ever will. The more of his stuff I read the more I notice covers.
  • Description – I need to know the storyline. If the storyline and the cover match, then I’m really interested. If you give me a chick lit cover on a book about finding Incan gold while being chased by alien frogs I’m put off by the disconnect. It makes me think that you’re sloppy. I don’t care about blurbs. Blurbs are crap. I’ve watched celebrity endorsers scribble out a blurb in 5 seconds flat without knowing jack about the book.
  • Ratings/Reviews  –  Yep, I read reviews. I tend to read them on Amazon and Goodreads. I to put more stock in the Goodreads reviews but I’ll check Amazon because of the volume. Anything really generic is ignored. I tend to read the good and the bad to get an idea of what to expect.
  • Price – If the cover is good and the description works I’ll take a chance if the price is right. An indie author that no one has ever heard of trying to price their work at $9.99 probably doesn’t have a chance. Remember, the first criteria is author. If I like someone’s stuff I’ll buy it, even in different genres.
  • Buzz – Rarely but occasionally I buy a book based on buzz. About half the time it works out. If someone is already getting that kind of buzz they don’t need me.

Author, cover, description. That’s the key, in that order. A good cover shows professionalism. A good description proves that an author can write. A review or two and a reasonable price gives me a reason to try. If I try a book and I like it, I’m willing to buy more.

New GP Book Coming

Packt Publishing has given the green light to my next Dynamics GP book. It will be due out early next year. I’ll have more, including the topic as we get closer to release.

The Magical Last 100 Pages

There is something magical in the last 100 pages of a book. This is particularly the case with fiction. In my experience this magic holds true for everything from lap breakers, like World Without End at 1024 pages, to slim young adult novels like Amanda Hocking’s Hollowmen, a very fast 194 pages.

The last 100 should go faster than the rest of the book and not because the first part was interminable. For me, delivering in the last 100 pages forgives a multitude of sins.

100 pages seems to be right length to build up an ending without rushing it too much. When there are 15 pages left in the book and I’m worried that the author can’t wrap things up in time it usually means the ending is rushed and I’m not going to be happy. I want some build up. I want to see the ending coming even if don’t know what the end will be.

Spend a lot of time on those last 100 pages. They are the last thing we read and the last thing we remember.

You are a Writer–So Start Acting Like One

I write..a lot more than even I realize. I have regular monthly columns at MSDynamicsWorld.com and the Dynamics Community site. I have book that was a best seller for the publisher and a spin off. I’ve written six well received short stories with another one due soon. I’ve written more original blog posts than I can count…but I don’t think of myself as a writer.
I’m a CPA. I’m a consultant. Now Jeff Goins has made me realize that I’m a writer. I’m not a writer because I’ve done all of those things. I’m a writer, because I write.
Jeff was kind enough to give me an advance copy of his new book You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One).  I’ve mentioned before that Jeff’s previous book, The Writer’s Manifesto, is one book that I never archive from my Kindle. I think that You Are A Writer is the same type of book.
You Are A Writer is a short, easy read. It mixes kick in the pants inspiration with practical tips for getting writing done and getting your writing read. I ripped through it an evening and got up from the couch with a desire to go write something.
Even for people who don’t think of themselves as writers, much of this book applies to other creative endeavors. But, many people write more than they think. For example, a colleague was writing documentation for a project. When she got done, the documentation was 250 pages long. That’s the length of a book, but she doesn’t think of herself as a writer.
Whether you think of yourself as a writer or not, pick up a copy of You Are A Writer, you may be surprised.