This is the place for my rants, raves, reviews and just general "stuff". May you be amused, enlightened, and perhaps even a little pissed off.

11.01.2010

Wrimo Gets Cloudy


For the last two years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which entails writing atleast 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Given that I am not a professional writer, like most of the other participants, this is quite a challenge. There are times when this could be best described less of a “challenge” and more of an “ordeal”, but this is precisely my reason for doing it. It’s like a marathon for the brain. Our 16 year old son Nick has participated (and won!) the last three years and was the impetus for me starting the challenge and now we provide mutual support in getting going and finishing.


For the numerically challenged, that works out to 1,6667 words per day, which doesn’t seem like much, until you are struck with the realization that the words don’t always come out of your head fit for typing, or necessarily in order. One important thing about NaNoWriMo is that you lock up your internal editor for the month of November and just get the words out, leaving editing for December and beyond. With a real job, family, and other obligations, the 1,667 becomes a painful goal on many days, and even more painful to catch up on, once you miss a day or two.


When I started, I didn’t think much about the tools that I would be using and how they would affect my ability to keep up with that pace. First year I used Microsoft Word (from Office 2004) on my Mac laptop, which worked adequately, but the pain and agony of slow startup time, and periods where I was waiting for it to catch up with my typing, made it seem like I was running a race with ankle weights on. It worked, but not well and I knew there had to be something better suited. That better thing came in the form of Scrivener, who was announced as a sponsor of NaNoWriMo. I try to be a minimalist with my tools and was skeptical at first, as it seemed to have a lot of extraneous bits that might get annoying. Given my annoyance with MS-Word, I decided to give it a try with some preliminary writing and it worked out very nicely. It was like a breath of fresh air, in terms of speed and functionality. Those bits that I expected to annoy me turned out to be highly useful and I soon incorporated them into my bag of tricks. By the time last year competition started, I hit the ground typing my brains out and I figure that Scrivener gave me roughly a 30% jump in productivity, subjectively. Scrivener was waiting on me, rather than the other way around.


That bring me up to 2010 and preparations to hit it hard. To up the ante a bit, Scrivener is updating their app to the 2.0 and providing a beta for wrimos. Additionally they are releasing a Windows version, which will work nicely for Nick, who has switched from a Mac to a Windows laptop for this years competition, saving him from either having to use MS-Word, or OpenOffice. I had in the back of my mind to try some new things this year, such as spending a lot of time writing on my iPad, using a bluetooth keyboard, while being out and about for write-ins at restaurants and coffee shops. Using the external keyboard with the iPad, I would be able to type at full speed and basically I had the equivalent of a netbook without buying a new toy.


In watching the introductory videos for the new release, it demonstrated the sync’ing with various cloud-based writing tools, such as SimpleNote. This was exactly what I needed! The SimpleNote app would provide the word processor on my iPad and I could simply save the results to the cloud and it would get auto-magically sync’d to my Scrivener document back on my laptop. Moreover, I could do writing where ever I could get access to a web browser. The same could be done with the Windows version of Scrivener and thus Nick could work on his novel, if he had extra time at school and access to a computer. Even if it was just a great way to keep research notes, it was a big win. Similarly, I could use the bluetooth keyboard with my iPhone, if I didn’t want to take the bigger and heavier iPad. As someone who has schlepped laptops all over the globe, the idea that an iPad being “heavy” makes me chuckle, but I guess everything is relative.


To fully embrace the wrimo life in the cloud, I am using Mozy as a cloud-based backup solution. Mind you I also have local backups going on, such Time Machine and manual USB backups, but the cloud gives me the piece of mind of offsite backups.


This year will be quite interesting and it will be very interesting to see if the new flexibility and new tools will help or hinder the process of banging out 50k words in 30 days! Here we go!

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