Writing on the iPhone

I recently composed a short story, “Garlic in the Air,” entirely on my iPhone while I was at work. Why the iPhone? Primarily because I was having some issues with my wrist and what might be some mild carpel tunnel issues and the iPhone didn’t aggravate those symptoms. Because I’m using Writeroom on my phone, my work is automatically backed up to the Simpletext servers, which I can then access on any computer with web access or on my home computer which has a Simpletext application that syncs a local folder with the server. I don’t think I’d write stories on the iPhone if I didn’t have that kind of syncing capability.

But what, I can hear you asking, is the process like writing on that little touch-screen keyboard? Not great. I certainly can’t type as fast as I can on a keyboard and it’s even slower than writing on paper. However, I’m not sure that is always a liability. Having to slow down a bit makes me consider my words more. It means that I am paying slightly more attention to the individual words and sounds than I might otherwise. I type moderately quickly, somewhere between 65 – 80 wpm depending on the computer and the ergonomics. Often, this speed means that I’m typing the first thoughts as they come into my head and stream through and are then gone replaced by the next thought and the next thought. Being forced to go slower means that each thought gets additional . . . well, thought before being committed to pixels. Also, I’m learning to ignore errors more on the iPhone and keep going because it’s much more tedious to fix misspellings on the iPhone than on a computer or even by hand. The truth is that when I misspell something I don’t have to fix it while I’m writing since it’s easy enough to fix later. Yet on a computer, I’ll break my train of thought to go back and fix any word in read I see. So, while on the one hand I’m slowing my thoughts down, I’m also training myself to keep moving forward instead of breaking out of the flow of the story to fix the mechanics of it.

Would I sit down and attempt to write a novel straight through on the iPhone? No. But because of Simpletext, I’m thinking of routinely writing first drafts of stories using either Textmate or Writeroom and saving them in my Simpletext folder so that I have them accessible wherever I go, whether that is on another computer or my iPhone. Scrivener remains my choice for longer projects, and as a place where I may very well import short stories after a draft or two, but keeping it simple with plain text files and a server that provides access wherever I go is making me rethink the tools and workflow I use for short works and early drafts.

If you’d like to read “Garlic in the Air,” you can find it at The Dueling Quill.

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400 Words/40 Days Challenge: Conclusion

InkQuill

So Friday, November 6 saw the conclusion of my 40 days challenge and my totals were, I think, respectable: 24903 words written in total with a daily average of 621. In the 116 days since I started my first 25 day challenge, I’ve written on 95 of those days with a total 47532 words written. While these challenges may seem artificial, I can definitively state that they work for me. As a way to get myself focused and working, these short term, low word count challenges add up to doing what it is that makes a writer and what it is that makes a writer get better: writing.

At this point, I’ve decided to not go into another writing challenge for myself as I am going to start focusing more on my PhD applications for the next couple of months and will take some time to go over what I accomplished since July 13 and do some editing and work on second, third, and forth drafts of short stories so I can start submitting my work.

If you end up challenging yourself using some of the strategies I’ve developed for myself, I would really appreciate you leaving a comment and letting me know how it went.

Good writing to you!

Writing Update for October 18

InkQuill

Today marks 21 days into my current writing challenge of 400 words for 40 days. I haven’t been as focused on my novel (yes, I’ve given up pretending and have accepted the fact that The Devious Astrolabe is going to be my first novel), as I might like, however, I have been writing quite a bit. Without going into details that I don’t want to share here, I seem to have found myself a muse of sorts for a kind of storytelling that I’ve never explored before and found myself writing quite a bit last week, finishing the first draft of one new short story, completing 3/4 of the first draft of another, and starting a new story that will probably run 10,000 – 12,000 words.

Now, I just need to get to editing some of this output!

Stats so far:

Week 1: 3950 words / average of 564 per day
Week 2: 5910 words / average of 844 per day
Week 3: 3776 words / average of 539 per day

I have several stories out to magazines, but still no publication luck. After this challenge, I plan on taking 2 weeks to really focus on editing some of these stories and finding markets for them.

In other news, I’m assisting a friend who has started a new website called The Dueling Quill, which offers writers a chance to get into the habit of writing. The site will suggest a title, a maximum word count, and a genre and writers will have a week to write something that then gets posted. Readers will vote on their favorite stories and the winner of the duel will get . . . lots of praise and the knowledge of a job well done. Ok, so not much of a prize, but if you are struggling to make writing a regular habit, you might want to check it out.

How’s your writing going?

300 Words for 30 Days Writing Challenge Conclusion

InkQuill

I just finished up the second writing challenge that I’ve set myself since July. I found I wasn’t quite as focused on The Devious Astroblabe but the upside of that is that I now have first drafts of two new short stories. My total word count came to 13,414 with my daily average being 447 words. This brings my total word count for creative writing since July 13 to 22,659.

I have been letting slide a couple of older stories that I need to do rewrites on, so I’m going to try to get some editing work done this coming week since I am giving myself the week off from having to write fiction. My next challenge is going to be 400 Words for 40 Days. Of course, that won’t be the only writing I’ll be doing this fall: I have edits and research to do on an essay being published in a book about Feminism and the figure of Ripley in the Alien films, I need to research and write a Dissertation proposal for the University of Hawaii, as well as a number of personal statements and other requirements for my applications to PhD programs, including a play analysis and a statement of directing philosophy. However, it’s important to me that I gain practice with regular fiction writing even when I have a lot of other stuff going on because when I do get into a PhD program, I want to remain committed to my fiction writing, even if it is only 300 – 500 words per day (which is, all things told, not that many words to commit to, even when busy).

How’s your writing going? Do you have any tips or tricks you can share? Drop me a comment if you want to share.

Dropbox and You

Lately I’ve been using Dropbox as a place to store backups of stories and other writing projects. I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about my workflow and why you should look into the free account with Dropbox. Of course different media require different back-up strategies and a free 2 gigabyte account is not necessarily going to be the best solution for backing up your photos or your music, but for a writer who wants to protect their work, Dropbox is an excellent way to make off-site backups.

There are any number of ways to create regular backups of your computer, but as any writer or student whose hard drive has crashed with all of their recent work could tell you, the trick is to make sure your backups are a) up-to-date and b) easily recoverable. Additionally, backing up to cd or another drive won’t help if something happens to your apartment or home. Having an off-site backup is important, even if the odds are agains you ever needing it. All it takes is one fire, or one hurricane, or one tornado, or one flood to make you really wish you had your writing somewhere safe from disaster. I’m not going to bore you with all my various strategies for backing up, but I am starting to rely more and more on Dropbox as the place where I keep my currently active writing projects.

First of all, though, what is Dropbox? Basically it’s an online backup and file-sharing solution that you install on your computer (Windows, Mac or Linux).1 The installation creates a folder on your computer that you can then use like you do any other folder. However, the folder will, invisibly and with no need to perform any complicated set up, back itself up to Dropbox’s servers whenever anything in the folder changes. For any of you working on multiple computers, what this means is that you can have one folder that is continually synced across a number of computers and different operating systems. For some, that is the primary reason to get Dropbox.

However, if you are like me and do most of your work on one computer, what this means is that you can have instant and continual off-site backup of your important documents. Because the folder resides on your computer you don’t have to go out to the web to retrieve any of the documents inside your Dropbox folder, which means that you don’t have to be connected to the internet to access your files. However, after making even the slightest change to your document and saving, the file will auto-magically sync itself to the server version whenever your computer is connected. Even better, it does the sync incrementally, so instead of uploading the entire file again, it only uploads the changes to that file. Even even better, Dropbox’s servers take a snapshot of each document before making changes, so if you realize that the changes you made yesterday to your story were really stupid changes, and you don’t have any other local versions, you can go to Dropbox’s web interface and retrieve previous versions.2

For the writer, there are two ways you could use Dropbox most effectively. The first, is simple use the folder as the home for all your current projects. That way, if something happens to your computer you know that all your latest work is backed up and easily accessible via another computer that you authorize with your account or through the web interface. Sure, 2 gigabytes doesn’t sound like a lot (and you can always pay for more if you need it), but you’ll be surprised just how much text can fit in that kind of space. If you are a student, you could probably fit years and years worth of papers into those 2 gb. This solution is probably best for those who keep their writing projects in discreet files and folders, however there are some of us who use programs like Scrivener as their primary writing tool and because these programs actually save dozens or even hundreds of small documents in a bundle, working directly out of the Dropbox folder can be problematic.

I’m lucky, because my program of choice, Scrivener, actually has a simply backup command what will put my whole project into a zip file and save it in any folder I choose. So lately I’ve been creating the habit of selecting that command whenever I finish working on a project. I figure that maybe once a month I’ll cull the folder from some of the older backups, but in the meantime, I just backup and enjoy the knowledge that even if something happens to my computer or my Time Machine disk or my regularly updated disk clone that I could still get access to the stories and projects I’m currently working on. Additionally, I may, on of these days, get around to creating an Automator action that will regularly zip certain folders and then place the zip file in my Dropbox folder.

If you aren’t working with huge amounts of research and with programs like Scrivener, I would suggest just saving all your documents to your Dropbox folder and feeling secure that you have a safe and up-to-date backup of your current or most important work . . . and all without giving it a second thought. Having a strategy like this is especially important if you have only one computer and don’t really pay attention to backing up on a regular basis (ahem – yes, I’m looking at you).

Go over to the Dropbox website and check it out, look at the tour and check out the video presentation. If you decide to sign up and you use this link to do so you’ll actually get both of us an additional 250 mb of storage space but I’m not posting this to get people signing up under my account (though it would be nice). I think there are a few of my friends and acquaintances out there who could use this service and save themselves some possible headaches down the line.

If you have thoughts about Dropbox or backing up documents in general, I’d love to read them, so drop a comment if you have the time.

  1. I’m not going to talk about the sharing features here, since my interest in the services is mostly as a document backup solution, however, the sharing features are pretty nifty if you are working with other people on a project. []
  2. This is not meant to be a replacement for other versioning strategies, but it is a nice benefit. []

Writing Update for August 30

InkQuill

So today marks my second week of a new writing challenge. This go around is 300 Words for 30 days and I have to admit that the past week I’ve had to really force myself to sit down and write and have ended up not working very much on The Devious Astrolabe. The good new is that I’m almost finished with a fairly short, short-story, although I’ve also spent several days just writing something that I have no idea where it’s going or even if it’s going anywhere. In general, I’ve felt a bit unfocused and will try to take some time tomorrow to actually go through and organize some of The Devious Astrolabe material to see if I can get back to work on that in a somewhat coherent fashion.

That said, however, my stats are pretty good:

Week One: 3254 words written, with an average of 465 words per day.
Week Two: 2996 words written, with an average of 428 words per day.

Just to put things in perspective, however, the folks who actually succeed at NaNoWriMo have to write roughly 2000 words every day for 30 days and I’m nowhere near that level of output. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to interrupt my slowly building set of challenges to attempt NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m leaning against it primarily because these personal challenges seem to be working for me. So I will probably stay my own personal course and do 400 for 40 Days, followed by 500 for 50 days.

How’s your writing going?

A New Poem

The Children of Thayer Street

Bright confused
and
with brash energy;
eyes of fire and terror.

Young. Younger every year.

A rustle in your heart,
a whisper of lost
                           lostness.
These children of your middle years
as they smile wide and smoke and wear
self-involvement like a superhero cape
slashing red and blue
in the sunrise of their grown up pose.

You hate them just a little
and love them in a way they will never understand
until they are middle-yeared and looking
back
at the young. Younger every year.

As the semester begins, they swell your heart,
taking Thayer Street as their own.

250 Words for 25 Days Writing Challenge – Conclusion

InkQuill

Thursday was my 25th consecutive day of writing at least 250 words. This last week was actually the hardest, in part because I wasn’t able to go home and stay home after work on any day other than Thursday. Luckily, 250 words is not all that much, so I was able to keep on track, even when I got home late. What this week did demonstrate to me was that as I increase the number of words in these writing challenges, I will need to be very careful during the week about how much time I spend out at night or, if I know I’ll be out late, I need to make sure I get up early enough to do some writing in the morning before going to work.

This past week, I wrote 1326 words, with an average of 331 per day. My total challenge numbers are 9215 words written with an average of 364 words per day. My next challenge, which begins on August 17, will be 300 Words for 30 Days. Considering that almost every day I wrote more than 300 words, I don’t think this will pose any problems. Because the week of the 17th will include some travel and visiting friends and family out of state, I’m going to have to be extra diligent that I get the writing done on those days. I may not bring my computer with me on that trip, so I will have to change my writing habit a bit for those days as well – writing by hand or possibly even on my iPhone (which, incidentally, I actually did once during this challenge, writing about 320 words on the iPhone using the WriteRoom app).

I do think it’s important to have some sort of visual record of your writing if you are doing a challenge like this. I’ve written previously about using some form of a “chain” calendar to track yourself. There are a bunch of apps that mimic making a red “X” on each calendar day, but I chose to stay with a simple spreadsheet and filling in each day with a color:

Writing Record

This gives me the ability to have both a visual record of my success, as well as having the daily statistics and word counts as an additional motivating factor.

More important than the numbers of words, however, is the accomplishment that I feel after having set myself a specific, manageable challenge and having met that challenge, even on days when I didn’t want to.

So there you have it, my 250 Words for 25 Days Challenge has been successfully met. If you end up trying this, please drop me a comment to let me know about your experience and any tricks or ideas that you come up with.

Writing Update for August 2

InkQuill

Today marks the end of my third week of writing at least 250 words each and every day. I remained primarily focused on “The Devious Astrolabe,” though I had several days when I didn’t connect with that story and so I worked on a story I had started a while ago called “Carving Away.”

Technically, my writing challenge ends this Thursday, August 6, but I think I’m going to extend it to next Sunday because it feels weird to end it in the middle of the week. I’m even wondering if I will end up giving myself next week off like I’d originally planned. I will certainly not not write just because it’s supposed to be a non-writing week, I may simply not force any word limitation on my self. Or, maybe I’ll work on some music ideas that have been rattling around my head.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One of the points of this exercise is to focus on making the act of writing a daily habit and keep myself from getting all tangled up in worrying about the end product. So far, that seems to be working.

This weeks stats: 2621 words written, with a daily average of 374 words, bringing my total of the last three weeks to 7889.