January 28, 2014

Stephen Fry Got It Right

The Mac turned 30 years old a little while back, sparking not only articles and blog posts of nostalgia, but also this awesome Apple site celebrating the Mac. Among all the pieces, Stephen Fry’s post is the one I like the most. I especially like this part:

What cannot be denied is that the first Macintosh changed my life completely. It made me want to write, I couldn’t wait to get to it every morning. If you compare computers to offices, the Mac was the equivalent of the most beautifully designed colourful space, with jazzy carpets on shiny oak floors, a pool table, wooden beams, a cappuccino machine, posters and great music playing. The rest of the world trudged into Microsoft’s operating system: a grey, soulless partitioned office, with nylon carpets, flickering fluorescent lamps and a faintly damp smell.

Whatever tool you choose, the one that you’re happy with is the one that’ll let you perform best. I Stephen Fry’s case, back in the day, the Macintosh was empowering him, making him want to write. Today lots of writers dream of MacBook Airs because it just seems like a sexier way to churn out words than the black fat plastic Windows laptops they’re stuck with. It’s nothing special really, we all want better tools.

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November 30, 2013

Write What You Want

Every now and then the following advice in regards to writing floats up through the sewage. Beware, this is not for the faint of heart, so make sure you have someone dear standing by. Alright, here goes:

Write what you know.

I think that’s utter nonsense. I have to think that, otherwise the world’s a lot darker than I thought. Think about it, if every thriller and horror writer out there wrote what they knew, then they’ve committed more crimes against humanity than your least favorite dictator. I can’t believe that, Stephen King has to be a nice guy, so the only conclusion I can draw is that these fellows didn’t write what they knew.

If we writer types just wrote what we knew, fiction would be awfully boring. There’d be almost no crime or horror stories, nor any particularly interesting erotica for that matter. Let’s not even consider where fantasy and science fiction would fit in here.

“Write what you know” is bad advice, but there’s a grain of truth to it. Let’s twist it a bit, into “research what you write”, and we’ve got something useful.

Write whatever you want. Don’t be constrained by silly facts like you’ve never fine-dined in Venice, traveled in time, seen two-headed giants, or driven a golf club through the eye socket of somebody. Do research these things though. Where can you dine in Venice, what’s time travel really, how would a two-headed giant look and move, and what’s the terminal velocity of a golf club? Those are valid things to consider.

October 31, 2013

It’s NaNoWriMo Time, Again

Tomorrow is November 1st, and although most of us call that iPad Air Day, some have more reasonable goals. Like writing a novel in a month, as a part of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

The target word count is 50,000 words. That’s 1,667 words per day in November.

Or as I like to call it: Quite possible to pull off.

BlankPage.io landing page
BlankPage.io landing page

I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo myself, I’ve got enough writing project on my table as it is. Although I must confess I’m weirdly tempted each year, despite averaging a word count higher than the necessary one to complete NaNoWriMo in style. It’s nice to belong, I guess.

While working on your NaNoWriMo project, I urge you to do the following:

  • Write every day in November. Every. Day.
  • Set a daily word count and stick to it.
  • Outline, and do it properly.
  • Turn off Twitter, Facebook and whatever you’re addicted to, at least until you’ve reached your daily word count.
  • Pick a writing tool and stick to it.

Speaking of writing tools, I’ve got two links for you there too. First is my ebook, The Writer’s iPad, which is all about helping you write on your iPad. The second is a new focused writing service called BlankPage.io, which is free to use during November. The latter isn’t built by me, but it is part of the same Odd Alice satellite program as Shrtnws, so give it a shot.

And read up on my Thoughts on Writing series for more writing tips. Happy pecking, all.

October 30, 2013

#MobNov October Update

There’s just no easy way to say this. My iPhone novel writing project is struggling. The story’s almost done and there’s just the endgame left, which adds up to a couple of thousand words or so, but the manuscript is way too short. As I’ve said before, writing in such short spurts completely changed the pace of my writing, and I’ve already re-outlined the novel twice, to no avail.

The past few days I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time each day to mull over what I’m going to do about this. True to the project, I’ve tried not to spend too much time. It has to be reasonable.

This is the new plan:

  • Insert the new scenes and character earlier in the story. This is usually not a good idea when writing, but I need these elements to proceed.
  • Add a parallell storyline, the one I scrapped because I thought it’d push the novel over 100,000 words. Yeah, that was quite a miscalculation.
  • Update the outline properly. I’ll most likely do this on paper, that’s how definite this thing’ll be.
  • Get back into the 300 words daily mindset, because these issues have left me scattered and unfocused.

That’s about it. I might change writing app as well, because Byword, which I’ve used thus far, have had quite a few issues with iOS 7. We’ll see, more on that in a later article series for this site.

October 3, 2013

#MobNov September Update

The iPhone novel writing project is struggling. I’ve missed two days completely thus far (because of life and, well just life), and a lot of time is spent thinking and outlining and re-outlining. Some days see less than 300 words because of this, which I don’t think is in the spirit of the experiment, but a result nonetheless. The word indecision comes to mind.

The current status is this. The story’s progressing a lot faster than I thought it would. It’s not that surprising since each writing session is so short, and I indadvertedly want to reach a point where the session makes sense in its own. This is messing with my schedule and pacing, because as it is now this isn’t a novel, it’s a novella. It’s distracting and annoying.

This pacing tells me that the second draft will probably be a lot more fleshed out. This is not a new development for me as a fiction writer, when I stick to an outline I tend to be brief, which can be both good and bad. There’s room for improvement in this particular story, especially around a character I’ve decided to bring back. Fleshing that out will be another 10,000 words or so.

I’ve decided to take a week off to let the story rest. As you’re reading this said week is no doubt over already. I’m not sure how this fits with the experiment, but just like the trouble finding a stride, it’s a result if nothing else.

As of the last of September, there are four months left of the experiment. I’ve learned a lot about writing when there’s no time at all, and prioritize the word count when I’d otherwise do other things. I’ve also learned that I have issues with keeping to short word counts. 300 words is a small target for me, I tend to set my targets at over 2,000 words so that I can settle in properly and get the words flowing. I’ll hold off on any analysis around this for now though. It’s still an interesting experiment, and I’m really curious to see what I’ll have on January 31st 2014. And what I can do with it beyond that.

September 2, 2013

One Month Of iPhone Novel Writing

On August 1st this year, I started to write a novel on my iPhone. It’s a long project that’ll end next year. The idea is to write 300 words daily on my novel manuscript, on my iPhone, and obviously there’s a point to be proven in the end. Along the way, I realized that I need to schedule time and words for outlining work, and I’ve done that on a weekly basis, more or less.

One month in, I’ve written at least 300 words daily. The 31 days of August should mean that I’d have at least 9,300 words, but some of these words have ended up in the outline. Then again, I easily make up for the lost words by writing more than 300 words daily on average. The manuscript is 10,263 words long after one month, that’s 331 words per day had I spent all my writing on it. In short, I’m on schedule, despite the change in procedure that the outline work prompted.

Some additional notes:

  • I still write around 350 (manuscript) words per session, at 11–13 minutes.
  • The word count of each session have had an impact on the pacing of the story. I’ve since adjusted, but this might mean that additional editing’s needed, beyond the usual needs of course.
  • The story is progressing faster than expected, which means I’ll have to reconsider my outline yet again. We’ll see where this takes me later on.
  • I tend to write late afternoons or during the evening. The daily alert I’ve got at 4 pm obviously has something to do with this.

So far so good. I expect to report on the project on a monthly basis from now on, assuming there’s something to report. Daily updates are posted to Twitter and App.net if you’re interested.

August 28, 2013

Another shot of the setup. Flickr.
iPad Writing Setup

It should come as no surprise that I write on my iPad. This is the setup I’ve been enjoying most of the time this summer, in my summer home.

The bookshelf features a desktop that you can pull out, fitted to a regular dining room chair, which is what I’ve been using too. I put the iPad mini on the first shelf to get a better angle. My keyboard of choice have been the Logitech Tablet Keyboard, covered previously. I’m not sure it’ll be what I use when I leave my summer home, but I decided to give it a fair shot and thus I left my trusty Apple bluetooth keyboard and its Origami casing at home. Just as well, as we picked up this combined bookshelf and cupboard this summer, and it would’ve worked less than great here. I think it’s good to be able to detach the keyboard from the stand, most of the time, and obviously that’s the case here.

The writing shelf, featuring Paazu the shiba inu. Annotated on Flickr.
The writing shelf, featuring Paazu the shiba inu. Annotated on Flickr.

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August 18, 2013

Two Weeks Of iPhone Novel Writing


I decided not to publish an update on my iPhone novel writing project last weekend. Not much had changed since the first update, linked above, and I did say that I’d do these updates somewhat irregularly.

I won’t bore you with statistics at this time. Hitting 300 words per day on my iPhone is still no problem. I write between 300 and 400 words in 10–15 minutes. Most sessions end at around 330 words in 13 minutes, but it depends on how clear my vision is for the writing session.

It’s too early to talk about when and where I write, but something of a pattern is starting to emerge. I’ll get back to that when we’re further into the experiment.

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August 8, 2013

The E-ink Typewriter

Writing outside is a painful experience. Sure, you could do as I do now, sitting cross-legged in the shade on my lawn, tapping away on my iPhone. That works reasonable well, at least until my back gives in. It’ll work for today’s 300 words of the iPhone novel, but beyond that it’s just not ideal.

An e-ink Kindle perhaps?
An e-ink Kindle perhaps?

I’d like to be able to put out a table, perhaps equipped with a parasol, and sit in a proper chair. I could do that, but it’d be far from ideal. Laptop screens just plain suck outdoors, and although devices like the iPad fare better, they still put an unnecessary strain on the eyes.

What I really want is an e-ink display and a keyboard, I really don’t need much more than that. I can’t find it though, probably because e-ink is still too slow and unresponsive to make it truly work as a regular screen. But let’s dream a bit, shall we?

The e-ink typewriter for modern writers who like to work outdoors:

  • 9–10″ screen, backlit and with a retina-like resolution (much like the excellent Kindle Paperwhite)
  • Keyboard support via bluetooth
  • Wifi and/or 3G, mostly for sync with Dropbox/other
  • Mad battery life (10+ hours should be a piece of cake for a device like this)
  • No need for a distraction-infested app store of any kind.

The only thing the e-ink typewriter needs is a nice writing app, something inspired by iA Writer or Byword. Markdown support would be nice, but it really doesn’t matter. I’d like to be able to change the font size and margins, for a more personal workspace, but that’s not a must-have either.

Please sell me this writing device. It’s all I want during the summer. Well that, and a new chair and table, possibly a nice parasol that I can angle anyway I like too. And sun, and a cold beverage, obviously.

August 6, 2013

Writer Math

Let’s do some simple writer math. If you write 1,500 words on a daily basis, that adds up to 10,500 words weekly. On a 30 day month, you’ll clock in at 45,000 words.

In two months you have your 90,000 word novel. Or rather, you have the manuscript for the first draft.

Photo by M. Valdes (CC)
Photo by M. Valdes (CC)

How long does writing 1,500 words take? That depends on who you ask, for me it’s less than an hour most days. There are times when it’ll take longer, days when the writing’s hard. We all have those days.

What does this simple math teach us? It’s pretty obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway: Write every day, preferably at least 1,500 words.

This math is dangerous, because it’ll tempt you to consider what 2,000 words daily would mean (14,000 words weekly, 60,000 words monthly, just a month and a half until you reach the 90,000 words mark mentioned above). Or maybe 3,000 words (21,000 words weekly, 90,000 words monthly), some of us could crank that out on a daily basis right? These are tempting, yet dangerous, numbers. It’s all too easy to get lost there.

My advice: Pick a sensible daily word count, cut it down to 70%, and achieve it every day.

It’s as simple, and as hard, as that.