Tools of the Trade

Just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post.  I meant to talk about a couple of other websites and programs that I find useful in the losing battle to properly organize my thoughts, which makes it sort of self-explanatory why I got sidetracked.

I already know I’ll be working on The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun for the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo coming up in the month of June, but for those of you who don’t have a project in the works, and either a) have no idea what you want to write (or even that you had the opportunity to do a non-November NaNo), or b) have nothing more than a jumble of scattered ideas, here are some things that might help:

My Favorite Outlining Tool

SuperNotecard by Mindola Software is a free download for Mac, Windows, and Linux that allows you to create decks of virtual note cards, shockingly enough, to help organize your outlines.

Each “deck” opens to a series of cards for more detailed notes.

I love it because you can color code everything by character, category, or place, making it simple to keep track of who is where and with whom and when and why.  It also allows several different ways to visualize this information, including a timeline, which is pretty neat.

The interface is intuitive and easy to learn, and you don’t really have to make the $30 upgrade if you’re only planning to do relatively compact projects.  I highly recommend it for anyone whose typical outlining procedure is this:

I really think this show could have gone somewhere. Oh well.

My Favorite Motivational Tool

WriteOrDie.  Hands down.  I know, I know.  Some people hate the pressure of a time limit, and totally blank out.  I can’t do word wars with other human beings, because I get all panicky like I did when we would play Jeopardy! in high school, and totally blank out.  But computers require no social skills, remember?  Computers are easy.  If I’m really stuck, or I’m just being lazy and want to make my word count for the night, I’ll reluctantly type this URL into my address bar.  And it is a sleek little interface, that does exactly what it says with no fluff, no ads, and no nonsense.  For ten bucks, you can get a desktop version, but the web app works just fine for me.

Pick a goal and a time limit, and it gives you a blank page with a text box and a countdown at the bottom.  That’s it.  It’ll turn red and do a flashy thing if you stop typing for too long, or if you’re approaching the time limit.  It won’t actually kill you, at least to the best of my knowledge.

See, it was getting angry at me for pausing to take a screen shot.

I wish it did give you a little more time to pause and think before going all drill sergeant on your ass, but I guess that’s kind of the opposite of the point.

My Other Favorite Motivational Tool

Okay, so maybe that one doesn’t work as well.  Darn.

My Favorite Naming Stuff Tool

Because naming stuff is always my downfall.  Aside from the fantasy character/place name generator I talked about last time, I discovered this fantasy novel title generator when I was desperately searching for a title for TLDTC.  I had been using a working title that I won’t even bother repeating, and I knew it was just pretty bad.  I’m terrible at naming my work.  If I could get away with calling everything “Untitled”, or “Shrug In Your General Direction and Hope You Read It Anyway”, I probably would.

Most of the things this generator comes up with are silly and unusable, but occasionally something halfway decent will pop up, or something will spark an idea.

“The Autumn Doll” isn’t bad, and “Dancing Prophecy” could be worked with.  I’m not sure I really want to know exactly in which part of the slave that talisman ended up, but you get the idea.  It’s a fun thing to play with, and it can be properly helpful.

My Favorite Toy

I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to use the same words over and over to describe stuff without knowing it.  I can’t even tell you how many times my characters say something sharply, or sigh, or smile, or snap, or even glower – at least in my first drafts, before I realize I’m being repetitive and unoriginal.  That’s what first drafts are for.

Wordle is not entirely for pointing out how horrible of a writer you are, but that’s an added benefit.  What it does is take the word frequency of a sample of text and make a pretty, customizable word cloud, like the kind you see on motivational posters and teenage girls’ Facebook walls.

Just go to “create” and enter your text, anything from a quote you like, to your entire manuscript.  More frequently used words will appear bigger, so you can skew the results for shorter bits by adding multiples of that word if you like (I I I I I want ice cream cream cream cream cream).  Here’s the one I did for TLDTC.

Is it a fantastic breakthrough that will jump-start your writing career?  No, of course not.  But it’s kind of neat, in a procrastination sort of way.  And you can get access to the compiled word frequency list to check it out.  If you’re ever unsure who your main characters are, this is one way to be absolutely clear about it, at least.

So that about sums it up for now.  I would encourage you to sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo, or to log in via your normal NaNo screen name, although you’ll have to build a new profile. If you don’t have time this June, there’s another round in August, and of course the main event in November.

It’s a great program and I can’t speak highly enough of it.  Look me up at jenjiyana42 and wave hello.  I’m sure I’ll be talking about it constantly once we get started.  Hope to see you there!

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5 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade

  1. Very cool post! I have to say, my absolute favourite part was “My Favourite Toy” – I’d never heard of Wordle until just now! So of course I had to give it a go, and it was just awesome. I have a feeling I’ll be playing with that a lot in the next few weeks, lol.

    Re: Camp Nanowrimo – is it only in June, or can you do it in other summer months? I’m trying to think back to last year when I gave it a shot (and failed, unfortunately), and I think there was a choice between doing it in July or August?

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