In early 2006 I decided I had the outline of a story that absolutely had to be told. It was originally designed as the plot of a video-game, which I created with the help of my brother. When the story for the game seemed to outgrow the game itself, I knew I needed some other medium to tell the story in, and a series of novels seemed like the best route.
I knew I’d need to keep both my notes and my prose well separated and organized, so I opened up my web browser and googled:
A simple enough search lead me straight to the website of Simon Haynes (Spacejock Software), the developer of yWriter. yWriter is a free application that enables the author to create a book, within that book create chapters, within those chapters create scenes, and within those scenes, write. The structure of the application allows for extremely quick and easy navigation through your project (providing a list of selectable chapters, and a list of scenes within the chapter you’ve presently selected).
“A scene is a pleasant chunk to work on – small and well-defined, you can slot them into your novel, dragging and dropping them from one chapter to another as you interleave strands from different viewpoint characters and work out the overall flow of your book,” says Simon on the yWriter webpage. And then I realized that not only had I found a great piece of software, I’d also found someone who was willing to teach me how to write.
The structure of the application also taught me the importance of the structure of the novel; that is, each chunk of your book (the book itself, a chapter, or a scene) should detail some change, some movement of the plot in a forward direction.
I read all of Simon’s Articles On Writing, and moved on to his blog, which at the time also spoke to his writing process, detailing additional tidbits about getting published and such.
With both of these resources available to me, I was able, and inspired, to get started. I plugged away in yWriter for many hours, and when I felt myself slowing down, I’d take a break and read more about other writers’ processes. I found a lot of great reads, but there were two that really did it for me:
- Holly Lisle covered plotting, world building, language building, and a whole lot more, and as I read each of her articles, I felt I needed to do more of everything, but didn’t have anywhere to do it (see Note Taking below).
- Absolute Write helped ground me in the reality of the publishing world, offering tons of information from published authors about their writing process, the publishing process, the need for agents, etc.
So then I started thinking about note taking software. Unlike my search for writing software (which allowed me to stumble upon yWriter within minutes), I stumbled through note-taking application after application. Finally I decided I would install Mediawiki (the wiki software that runs wikipedia) locally on my computer. This worked well once I’d gotten it set up, but set up was a pain, upgrades to the software were even more painful, and keeping a server running locally so that I could use the wiki was just a nuisance.
A lot has changed in the way of note taking since 2006, but I am still a big fan of wikis, and personal wikis have come a long way in the last few years. There are all sorts of free wikis available nowadays, but my favorite is Zim Desktop Wiki. It’s like a wiki without the web servers; it’s easy to use, and relatively easy to keep organized (once you figure out how to create sub-pages, and how you’ll organize those sub-pages, you can get a very nice tree-view going for quick navigation).
Back-ups And Access Via…Cloud Computing!
So I’ve got all this great software and I’ve been plugging away writing about magic bones and time travel, but I don’t have access to any of it from anywhere but my computer, and the more I write the more I worry about losing everything I’ve written to a dead hard drive, burglar, house fire, earthquake, Nazgûl invasion, etc…. So what does paranoid me do? Well, I get DropBox, of course. Dropbox is a free backup tool that enables you to sync data between your computer and the DropBox servers, and then sync that data to any other computer you attach to that account. Be careful installing DropBox on computers that aren’t yours, since others may be able to get access to your work.
- yWriter for writing; create a book, chapters, and scenes, and effortlessly navigate between them.
- Zim Desktop Wiki for note taking; a wiki without the web servers.
- DropBox for back-ups and easy access.
This collection of software has made my writing process efficient and fun, allowing me to focus on the most important aspect of writing books: actually writing them. I didn’t touch on beta-readers or writing groups in this post, both of which are tremendous resources and will have their own posts in the future.