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Thursday, September 01, 2011

My Writing Tools

Hey, why not a writing post? Every artist needs a medium to present their art. And they need tools and resources to make that art. In my first post, I'll talk about what tools I use. In the second, I'll talk about my writing process. In the third, I'll talk about my useful writing bookmarks.

The Computer
I use a Lenovo ThinkPad with an AMD Athlon II. It has a 6-cell battery (lasts about 2-2.5 hours), 15.6" widescreen, 4GB of RAM, and Windows 7. It's nowhere near a top-of-the-line laptop, but I don't need one. In fact, I shouldn't have one. The last thing I need is the ability to play video games when I should be writing. Left 4 Dead does not count as zombie research.

I used to have an IBM T40, which I called "Ol' Clunky", but served my purposes at the time. If I had too many browsers open, it would slow down to unusability. Plus the battery had declined to the point where I couldn't have a 45 minute writing session without needing to recharge. For both of these, my price point was $500. I have a hard time spending money on writing tools when I've yet to earn anything resembling decent cash from it.

To be honest, I'm not that fond of my new ThinkPad. Mostly has to do with the new keyboard. The keys are closer and the trackpad is wider. This means the meat of my thumb is often unconsciously pressing at the same time my finger is. There used to be keys linked to "Back" and "Forward" on the browser, but not anymore. For the function keys, I have to actually hold "Fn" to activate them. Otherwise they do the default laptop hardware actions, like switch video modes, hibernate, etc. I'll have to pay close attention to the keyboard layout on my next lappy.

The Software
Speaking of being cheap frugal, let's talk about materials. For my word processor, I use Microsoft Word 2003. I used to use Microsoft 2000 and OpenOffice, but dammit, I love that you can hide the headers and footers in page layout.

Like this
You'd think I'd use OpenOffice. You can't beat the price.  But it takes forever to load and the interface, while extremely customizable, isn't that user-friendly. The other thing is that I can't use my macros.  They won't compile -- something about Microsoft's Visual Basic.  Not that it surprises me. Nonetheless, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel.

There is specific software to write a novel. One is yWriter, designed by the guy who wrote Hal Spacejock. I've installed the program and given it a look. Seems pretty nice, but it has more than I need. You can break down scenes, summaries, project notes, characters, locations, and items. Set deadlines, writing goals, and import files. My problem is that it feels more like designing a video game than writing a novel. Takes the organic-ness out of it, and since I'm an outliner, I need all the organic-ness I can get.

The Tools
When I start up my computer, I have a batch file (a .BAT file) called writing.bat that opens up all the programs and files I need to do my work.

First is Google Chrome. I find this to be the better browser. Clearly, IE ain't it for reasons that I don't need to reiterate. Firefox is nice, but it's bulky. It's great for developers, and the plugins are great. But it starts up slow, updates too often, and takes a lot of memory.  But if not for Firefox, there would be no Chrome. Chrome is fast, its efficient, and can do anything Firefox can do.

But that's enough browser pandering. What do I use the browser for? I'll go into my bookmarks later, but I always keep a tab for open. Otherwise, Wikipedia and Google are frequent mainstays. And, I must admit some guilt here: I keep a page on Devilfinder to look at pictures of pretty girls as a distraction. Hey, I'm a guy.

Then I have it open three Word documents. One is the current draft of my novel that I'm working on. One is the novel's timeline/chapter breakout. And last is my novel notes. More on those in a later post. Finally, it opens Winamp and a timer.

The Other Stuff
I use Winamp to play my background music. This changes drastically depending on what I'm writing. I like atmosphere, so when I was writing the first draft of Merm-8, it was all ambient ocean sounds -- little waves, big waves, underground caves, etc. For my story about centaurs, I listened to forest sounds. Merm-8's non-rough drafts involved a mix of ambient tracks from Overclocked Remix which comprised half water-themed and half-fantasy, since the novel is half-ocean and half-fantasy. There is also a playlist of lyrical songs from my archive of MP3s that I feel fit the story. These eventually get condensed to the story soundtrack.

And if I'm not listening to something related to the story, it could be classical, movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks, pop, electronica, or low-tempo chill. Just something so I'm not distracted by the sounds around me.

My timer is provided by TimeLeft. It's an old bit of freeware, but it still works. It's a bit clunky, but once configured, I just let it run. Forty-five minutes of straight writing. When the timer goes off, I finish my sentence and shut down the lappy.

But not before I let Dropbox do its sync. I recently learned of Dropbox as a way to backup files across computers. So far, it works pretty good. I was using Google Docs before, and a shared drive on my home network that only worked when I was on my home network. And in both cases I had to consciously transfer my files. Dropbox does it for you. And it retains file shape, so a Word doc stays a Word doc, unlike Google Docs.
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