NaNo Technology

2009-October-03

One of the things I’m working on right now is determining the best way to execute my evil plan of having the best NaNoWriMo novel I could possibly do. I’m specifically working on researching various technologies I can use throughout the month of November to write and track my novel in terms of milestones I want my characters or stories to reach, and of course, I’m always thinking about the specific pieces of hardware and software I want to use.

One such piece of software I am testing is called Liquid Story Binder. I’m trying to see if I can work on my NaNoWriMo novel in a different way from last year, which essentially amounted to a Microsoft Word Document. The cool thing about this program so far is that it seems to be hyper-focused on the novelist who should themselves be hyper-focusing. It is an interesting app in that it really is singularly purposed. Things like a full-screen mode, management of multiple files, session goals among other things (including accurate looking word counting tools, along with line counting tools for column-inches) make it a really compelling product for somebody who is writing full-time. It has other features such as the ability to manage dossiers, timelines, mind maps among other things. It’s almost like a/the Windows version of Scrivener.

Admittedly this is one of the situations where having a Windows PC is somewhat limiting. On the Mac platform, there are dozens if not more really incredible offerings in the category of “novel writing applications." Scrivener is great from what I hear, along with other various applications, such as Jer’s Novel Writer, which is another application I'd tried last year. My own question is whether or not I need or want to bother learning a new piece of software. Ultimately I think I may need to limit my intake of new software, especially as I may or may not have mentioned before, I am going to be working on this particular novel from different computers. The Microsoft Office file format has served me well in the past – indeed, Office 2007’s .docx format has worked better for me overall than a few other formats I tried to use, including the AppleWorks 5 format, which was a good idea until I realized that the novel needed to exist on more than just one computer.

One of the other things I’m working on is a determination of whether or not it would be feasible for me to use a console application (possibly on tacgnol) for novel writing. I know I can easily use it for smaller writing sessions ultimately to be stitched together, if I am at work or in a class or on another person's computer, I’ll be able to log into tacgnol and write the next few words/scenes/paragraphs or whatever. Of course, Tacgnol really is reliable enough that if I wanted to, I probably could write the entire novel in an SSH session, the biggest problems with it are the fact that I may not always have access to an SSH session, whereas I do almost always have access to my own laptop and/or my USB flash drive.

Additionally, I need to think about whether or not I would really want to do plaintext. Plaintext isn’t bad, but there are definitely a few nice things about having a big fat ugly format like docx to store a lot of formatting information. If I did want to use plaintext, the editor Joe (which I have installed on tacgnol) looks like it could be great. It automatically wraps everything to 80 lines, which seems like it works the same way nano and pico work, which could become incredibly annoying as I work not only on writing in the console, but editing there. I will need to continue looking at text/document processing solutions, ultimately. The Joe editor on tacgnol does have an option to reconstruct a paragraph, but I do have questions about how convenient it would be. With any console writing app (including Word 5.1 for DOS, upon which I also stumbled earlier today) a concern is getting a word count. I could easily transfer the text file to/from my computer with a real word processor on it in order to do word counts, but there is apparently another solution as well. The UNIX utility wc is apparently able to do word counting, which although somewhat awkward, really does fill the need I have.

From there, the only real concern would be what happens if I go offline for a certain amount of time. The solution I propose is that I just anticipate being disconnected and save the text file to my local computer, and edit it with a local application, until I can re-upload it to the server.

I still want to look more into outlining and timelining and mind-mapping software, however I may ultimately make the decision that a physical representation such as note-cards or notebook paper, or even a simple text file or Word outline file would be the best. In order to really decide what the best technology is for the actual planning, I need to start the actual planning.