It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’d like to say there’s somereally good reason I don’t post frequently, but I’d be lying. Fact is,I’m just not much for jumping into my browser to write anything. Oneof my recent posts dealt with abandoning my word processor for something better suitedfor drafting a novel. In that case, I settled on using IndexCard. It’s relatively distraction free, lets me work in a non-linear fashion, and works onthe iPad.

What’s that have to do with why I’m a lazy blogger? It’s the tools,and how I relate to them. I love the tumblr platform, but I’m not too keen on using the browser-based editor. Thesurest way to distract me from writing is to throw me into a webbrowser. Within minutes I’ll jump from Facebook to Goodreads to Tumblrto Twitter, back to Facebook, window shop on Amazon, check news onvarious locations, look at my watch only to find I’ve wasted an hourand still haven’t finished my blog post, then go back to the watchingdancing cats and the toilet paper gun for a while. Ugh. No wonder Ihave to get up early to finish anything.

Anyhow, as with the whole noveling (is that a word?) without a wordprocessor, I started to look for ways to blog without using tumblr’sweb editor. I had a few simple requirements:

  • Let me write in plain text with simple formatting
  • Don’t force me to use a web browser
  • Give me a distraction-free interface
  • Work on the iPad

I didn’t really find anything out of the box, so I wound up cobblingtogether my own solution. For writing blog posts, I’m using iAWriter on my iPad and iPhone and VIM on my Linux laptop. Drafts are saved toDropbox so I can move seamlessly from one device to another if need.Both VIM and iA Writer are simple text editors that support Markdown, but neitherintegrates directly with tubmlr. Fortunately, tumblr provides eachblog with a private email address where you can send posts instead ofediting in the web browser, and by including a simple somewhere inthe post, tubmlr knows to use Markdown for formatting.

This post is my way of testing my setup. I whipped this post up inunder 10 minutes while hanging out with the family instead ofsquirreled away in the office during the wee hours of the morning.

I got a little bonus by going through this discovery. Index Cardworked great for helping me draft a novel (and will continue to doso). Now that I’m finished with the first draft, I’m setting the novelaside to work on some short stories for a while. Index Card is, forme, too much for short stories. On the other hand, iA Writer worksgreat for short pieces, and I already keep all my work in Dropbox soit’s a natural fit.

Alright, enough about me. Here, go check out the Toilet Paper Gun.

The hip and talented writer Stephanie Wytovich tagged me in a game of author infection. The rules are simple. Search your work in progress for the first use of “look”. Copy and paste that paragraph and the ones immediately before and after into a blog post. Then, like all good chain letters, tag five other authors. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is from the nearly finished first draft of my novel The Galvanized Man. What kind of novel, you ask? I once described it as squishing Lovecraft and J.J. Abrams into a dark post-apocalyptic cult fantasy. Yeah, I guess that works.

At least I wasn’t alone. I took Quin’s hand, something I’d not done since we were in our teens.

Quin glanced at me, raised a golden eyebrow. I could feel the tension in my face, and it must have shown, because no sooner had our eyes met than she leaned in. “Fucking worthless remnants. Part of me wishes the government would just round them up. Don’t you worry about him. Looks like he’s just had one too many.”

I squeezed Quin’s hand. “He’ll hear you. Let’s just get this over with, okay?”

There you have it. Although what you have doesn’t really tell you anything. Oh well, hope you enjoyed it anyhow.

Now I’m off to spread this disease to five other lucky writers, like the undulating tentacles of the god who dreams in his sunken city.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about how I needed to get back to planning. My current project—a novel that’s probably too complex, but fun to write—stalled and I couldn’t find a way back into the story. I needed to put the word processor aside and revisit the fundamental structure of the story.

I also mentioned in that post how I like to use index cards for planning my DIY projects around the house. (By the way, the closet organizer we were working on only needs a couple of coats of polyurethane and we’re done!) Index cards are relatively portable, they constrain and force me to think about what I need to capture, and I can easily rearrange them to change the structure of whatever I’m working on.

But… when it comes to writing—my current project is always on my mind—index cards aren’t very practical for me to carry around despite their portability. When I have a few minutes between meetings at work, I can’t exactly pull out a deck of index cards and play with them on the floor. I mean, I suppose I could, but I’d get some pretty strange looks…

I went on a search. I’d heard of apps like Scrivener and Storyist, but I wasn’t quit ready to dump a ton of cash into something I wasn’t sure would help. I don’t have a Mac, and even if I did, I wanted something that either integrated with or worked only on my iPad.

Enter this wonderful iPad app: Index Card.

Within two days (a mere handful of hours), I finished planning out the last dozen or so chapter of my work in process. This worked just as well as when I did a similar activity for my last novel using real index cards. Here’s the result:

IndexCard Screenshot 1

The green cards are complete, the yellow is where I was at a few days ago (when planning this post), and the white are still to be done. You can visit the app’s website if you want a full feature run down, just know you can rearrange cards by dragging, stack them together (like that first stack in my photo), exclude them from draft, and tag them with a color.

The app has an additional feature that’s allowed me to abandon my word processor entirely while working on a first draft. Each card has a long text area. You can toggle whether to show the field, so I hid it while working on structure then showed it when I was ready to work on the draft.

IndexCard Screenshot 2

The app will also export to Dropbox in RTF, plus a few different formats. The resulting RTF is in a generic format, and when I looked at it my heart sunk a little. It’s rather generic (understandably so), and I was looking at a lot of work just to integrate the finished work back into the manuscript. Fortunately, Index Card also exports an XML file. If this app was to become my standard for putting together a first draft, I needed to have an easy way to produce an RTF in manuscript format. Fortunately I’m no stranger to working with XML and writing code, so I whipped up a little script that’ll transform the XML into a workable format for revising a first draft.

Now my first drafts can happen in an environment that keeps me focused on structure, eliminates any formatting concerns, and can be quickly transformed into a manuscript suitable for revising. It’s a throwback to my younger days when I would write long-hand in notebooks, but without the laborious process of retyping the first draft. I’m in heaven.

I’m also convinced that Word (or any word processor) isn’t the right place to write a draft. It’s great for formatting and revising, but lacks a way to keep the writer focused on structure, which is essential to drafting a novel or any work of significant length.

So if you’re like me, and you find yourself constantly distracted by your own word processor, take a look at Index Card. And…

IndexCard Screenshot 3

If you’ve abandoned your word processor in favor of some other writing tool, I’d love to hear about it!

Just a quick announcement  I no longer plan to blog regularly about my polyphasic sleep. I have a few different reasons, but the biggest is that frankly I don’t think my personal experiment is all that interesting. I’m still interested, but I can’t get all that excited about it. My sleep data goes back to the middle of July, and what I noticed is that even when I sleep in, I usually only sleep about six hours. I didn’t need much sleep to begin with, so I don’t see how I can keep this interesting. My experiment will continue, and I may occasionally bring it up in posts, but there’s just not enough material to keep my own interest let alone someone else’s.

What will I write about? Well, I’m going to fall in step with other writers I know and write about my writing process, my challenges and experiences. Hopefully what I share can be of help to other writers out there.

I had an epiphany yesterday while working on a “weekend project” that’s taken several months. You see, there are no more real weekend projects in our home since we had our second son. My wife and I are lucky to get five minutes to ourselves on any given day, which is more than fine since we love our boys and love hanging out with them. But it sure makes it tough to indulge our DIY tendencies. For the past few months we’ve been converting the closet in our front hallway from they typical sliding-door, hide-yer-shit closet to a built-in locker. We’re doing this because when given a place to hide stuff, we will fill it with all kinds of unnecessary stuff. It clutters our lives, weighs us down and leaves us feeling overrun by… well, stuff.

Anyhow, here’s a picture of what we’re working on:

Hall Closet Insert

There’s still a lot to do—fill nail holes, paint, put a kick-plate on, etc—but you get the idea of what we’re going for. We’ll each have limited space for our coats, bags, etc., and it’s all out in the open which, in theory, will help us keep our stuff organized and to a minimum.

Yesterday I went to put the trim on… trim that I cut two or three weekends ago. I took a look at the thing yesterday, decided how I wanted the pieces, and went to the garage only to find out what I thought I was going to do wasn’t possible. Or even right. You see, the me from the past left myself a plan, and it made my day yesterday go smoother. I didn’t have to do much thinking. The pieces were cut and I had several index cards outlining what I needed to do with them. The work was hard, but the thinking wasn’t necessary. I’d already gone through the thought process and could focus on fitting the boards by hand, getting the nails in right place, and keeping my two year old from learning new curse words when I smash my thumb.

I have stacks of index cards around the house. I use them liberally when working on home projects—always have. They’re quick and easy, and they stash well with materials. The biggest project my wife and I did—rebuilding our back porch—took nearly a year, and that was before we had kids. But it went smoothly because we planned it, noted it, and left clues all over on what we needed to do next. At any point we could walk away from the project for days or weeks, then come back and know pretty much exactly what we needed to do next.

What’s this have to do with writing? Well, seems I haven’t quite learned my lesson when it comes to planning. I’m about 3/4 of the way through the first draft on a novel and I’m stuck. I have titles for the remaining chapters, and a little bit roughed in on a couple of them, but it’s not enough. At one point I knew how the story would end, but I didn’t leave myself enough clues. I’m ashamed to admit it but I have to rethink the whole thing, not because it’s not working but because I didn’t leave myself enough clues.

I had the same problem when I was working on Tearstone. I reached a point where I had about 100 pages of draft left to write and I couldn’t see the structure anymore. I couldn’t tell where the story was going. I’d been in the details for so long I couldn’t see the big picture.

After floundering around and battling feelings of doubt and insecurity I finally forced myself to sit down with—you guessed it—a stack of index cards. I set aside the word processor and focused only on structure. In a few days I had the whole thing sorted out again. I had a plan. And I finished the draft without any more major issues.

I’m back at that same point and I’m kicking myself for not having learned the lesson the first time. I’m not saying every detail of a novel needs planned out ahead of time, every character trait and every scene, but having the structure and sequence of events mapped out makes life so much easier. The kind of thinking that goes into writing a scene is different from the kind of thinking needed to tie the scenes together (at least for me), and it’s tough to build a novel’s structure when I’m trying to write prose will draw a reader on.

I’m setting aside the word process for a few days, maybe even the week if necessary, and I’m pulling out the index cards. I’m sitting down and capturing the novel’s structure in such a way I won’t have to think about it, or even remember it, so I can later sit down and get caught up in the moment. For me that’s where most of the fun is.

If asked, I’ll say I hate planning. I loathe it. I don’t want to feel like I’m boxed in and left without choices. But the reality is I do it. Even at the day job I keep index cards handy. I have a to-do list. I capture all that high-level stuff so I don’t have to think about it if I don’t want to. I’m off now to work on the novel, and I’m not going to write a word. Instead, I’m going to plan the rest of the thing out. And hopefully on my next major project I’ll remember to invest the time up front in planning so I don’t have to juggle so many choices while I’m pounding away at the keyboard.

So long, and remember…

A little bit of planning