Previously, maybe like a lot of other wannabe writers, I used Microsoft Word to write my book, which is not unlike swatting a fly with the broad side of a barn and only scraping its wing. Word was designed for business office needs and isn’t agile enough to handle large swaths of text and keeping organized very easily the things needed for book writing, particularly on the fiction side.
Additionally, being on a Mac limits my opportunities for smaller or independent apps. I’ve read tell of Scrivener and FastPencil and all of these and some other one that blanked out your entire screen except for your story’s text, but I either had to pay (I tend to be Depression-era cheap) or it just didn’t feel right.
But I eventually did find one, which was Jer’s program. It’s specifically designed for fiction writing: you can create chapters, quickly make notes a link them to certain parts for review, make a character database with descriptions, and there’s a general area where you can jot down random notes and categorize them. The best part I’ve found so far is the outline, which displays all your chapter and the first few lines. Usually I’m able to tell what the chapter is about from the first line, so it’s easy to navigate the entire manuscript.
The best part is that it’s free, although there’s an official nag window (Jer’s verbiage, not mine), that goes away when you pay.
Read more about Jer’s Novel Writer here, but caveat emptor: it makes it ridiculously easy to write, so instead of spending time slaughtering chickens on Farmville or plumbing for tweets about last night’s Daily Show you’ll be wasting away the hours being creative. Not worth it!
I recently gutted my RSS reader of a few dozen writer blogs and a few select agent blogs because the effort to keep up with all of the linguistic confusion was reaching critical mass. Few writers actually write in their blogs; there’s always some urgent contest, a vomit-dump of acronyms in every post, people scheming like crafty lepers for Twitter followers, links to some site or industry post or to nowhere about something I really really absolutely need to check out. It’s like walking in on the middle of a conversation between: if you stick around for a bit you’ll understand what’s going on, but if they’re utilizing their own amalgamated verbiage then you should immediately abandon all hope.
Being in control of language, a skill every writer needs to have, doesn’t mean one has to achieve social chaos through the interconnected anarchy of the internet. Feel free to throw mud made of clauses and commas at the wall, but not so much URLs and hashmarked ridiculousness. There’s beauty in restraint; a respectable modesty in finesse and the fine touch. Remember when Flash started out? It was overused simply because people could overuse it, and most of the results were ugly on one end and browser-crashing on the other. Finally the dust settled and the best thing it’s used for is link carousels, Youtube, and Farmville. It looks as if some of us are drunk on code-lust.
Really, writers, do what you want with your own blog. If there’s any place any of us should indulge our druthers it’s the internet. But decide whether you’d like to be a writer or a blogger. I’d like to think there is a difference.
I ride my bike to the bus stop almost every work day — even in the winter. That sounds crazy, but it’s hardly that; biking in the winter is actually much more pleasant and not any more dangerous than in warmer seasons. With a few key pieces of clothing you will not get cold. In fact you’d be warmer than if you walked or stood around waiting for the bus. Trust me. Weather aside, winter biking is good exercise, saves gas money, wakes one up in the morning, and coasting down the bridge above my bus stop can proffer some nice vistas of the Allegheny River — views I wouldn’t get or experience the same way if I were going over the bridge in a car.
I’m sure that a few of the affable, middle-aged ladies that get dropped off right at the bus shelter must think I’m crazy to bike in the winter. But if I didn’t take that (admittedly mild) risk of removing the layers of metal and glass that an enclosed vehicle provides against the elements, I would be a few pounds heavier, a little poorer, and have one less nice thing to look at. Taking risks can pay off. The same goes for writing, because our characters take risks, and they take more grand risks than most of us will ever do…otherwise it wouldn’t be a story worth telling. Wouldn’t it make sense to put ourselves at risk, even if it’s just a smidge, like the characters we write about do?
There was a great scene in Stranger Than Fiction, where a renowned writer played by Emma Thompson sits in a torrential downpour with only Queen Latifah and an umbrella to protect her. They are watching cars travel along a bridge so that Thompson’s character can imagine a car crash for her current book project. She didn’t need to sit out there in the rain with her cigarette and an exasperated assistant to get the scene right, but it most likely helped (remember, if you’re a writer you have to smoke and, if it can be pulled off believably, be neurotically British).
Like I’ve said before, writers like to think of their vocation as something transcendent, something that they were made to do. When one invests so much time forming imaginary lives inside their head this manner of thinking can be a natural inclination. Physically, though, it’s really an unglamorous situation to an embarrassing degree. Someone enraptured in the actual process of writing a story can appear no different than someone eroding their life away playing Farmville or watching a Youtube video of an attractive women repeating the same sentence in different accents. Because of this we have to gussy up our pursuits with lofty phrasing and “no one understand my genius” self-vindications for overlooked manuscripts and concerned families. The job is naturally attracts introverts, who are (I think) averse to risk a little more than others. So writers who know themselves to be this way would do their work a service to do something out of the ordinary once in a while.