A Writing Update, or, other adventures in blocking oneself

Figured it being so long since I posted updates, I felt compelled to post a writing update.

The short of it is, writing continues. I’m currently working on query letters for agents for Chrysalis, as well as working on a new novel. I’d share more details on the new novel (it isn’t the second book of Niki’s story like I had meant to work on), but the story behind that is actually a little long and the subject of a much longer blog post in the future.

One of the things slowing me down, besides the day job, is my continued flailing around to find the right tool for the job. Ideally, anything I settle on needs to work on the Chromebook (at least for the near future), which means it has to be online in some way. I’ve tried a couple of different solutions, and kept falling back on Google Docs. Not because I like Docs particularly, but because of all its evils (chief being it begins to choke on large size documents, but also because I occasionally need to try moving scenes around, and Docs is just a monolithic editor in that scenario) I keep trying other things.

So this week I stumbled on Novelize. So far, I like it. It’s missing some of the aesthetic refinements that I can get with Google Docs, which IMHO is really a contender as an office document writer online, but then it makes up for it with some nice bonus features. Scenes and chapters are discrete units – and you can move them around. I haven’t tried exporting from it yet (will soon as a test), but all in all it has a nice set of management tools that let you track and work on your novel without getting trapped in a single document structure.

Now back to writing.

Let there be music!

So, an interesting thing happened last weekend. (Quick, don’t look at the date since my last post, it hasn’t been that horrific an amount of time!)

(I told you not to look!)

When we left the East Coast, Middle Daughter had to say goodbye to her cello, Rufus. It was an interesting relationship – she only just started playing last year, but by the time she said goodbye she was rather good at it. Perhaps not concert level, but still, for a then eleven year old who had just started playing, pretty darned good.

Then, for reasons I couldn’t begin to justify in a simple blog post, I picked up a ukulele last week. Two things quickly became evident – my fingers are too fat for the tiny frets on this particular model, and Youngest Daughter had a desperate desire to learn to use it.

So, as parents are wont to do, we went to a local music shop last weekend, just the wife and I. You’d think that the lack of children in our retinue would be enough to keep us under control, but no. It turns out this shop rents cellos – done. Then, while browsing introduction to uke books for the Youngest, I found myself drawn to the guitar. Maybe it was the fact that fret board is large enough for my meaty fingers to work, maybe it’s because beside the piano, there is no other instrument I enjoy more when it comes to music tastes.

You guessed it. Walked out of the shop with some ukulele guides, a rented cello, and a new guitar. Needless to say the house has been a wonderful, amazing cacophony since. Most of the dischordic notes are me, of course, while Middle Daughter practices and Youngest, in a 24 hour cram session, has learned to play the opening songs of both Adventure Time and Steven Universe (mostly).

And what about Eldest Daughter? She’s off baking us some treats, humming to herself as she gets ready for choir this week.


Google docs vs novlr

Since I bought the Chromebook, being able to write on my tiny netbook, both online and offline, has been a concern of mine. When I wrote the latest draft of Chrysalis, I did it all in Google Docs. Sound crazy? You bet! Here’s how I did it:

  • Thanks to Ken McConnell, I got a hold of this great extension for Google Sheets that lets you listed a series of document ID, and then takes care of merging them for you. This let me write in chapter blocks in individual files (keeping the per file size down, which in turn meant google and my helper scripts didn’t choke on >50k text). It is a great extension, and I salute whoever first wrote it.
  • All of my writing is in one folder. I kept things pretty simple – document name was TITLE – Chapter#. In my spreadsheet, I kept track of these numbers so I always knew how deep in I was.
  • I can import existing docx files without any trouble. (or doc, rtf, etc.) Google docs has a pretty decent conversion  process, and it’s quick.

Actually, that’s about all there is to it. There are one two things I never quite to work right, like changing the default font (had to do this manually each time), but all in all it was a good experience.

At the same time, the spreadsheet, awesome as it is, is a little kludgy. So I thought I’d give Novlr a try, as a counter example. In descriptions at least, they are the scrivener of the web. In practice, I’ve had a few problems.

  • Importing existing documents is screwy. I’ve talked to the developers about it, and they’re looking into it, but if I take a document and import it as docx, I lose all formatting AND everything is bold. Weird. But more importantly (because I too am an expert at select all and un-bolding), I lose all formatting. I don’t use a lot, but I do favor my italics for thoughts/special words. Gone. Importing as an odt (open doc), I don’t have the bolding problem, but I also don’t have any formatting. Ouch. Not something I can’t live without, but ouch.
  • There is no tab key. I didn’t realize how important this was to me until I tried taking some notes. I don’t typically work from an outline, but I do do a brain dump before I start a project. It’s therapeutic, helping me organize my original thoughts. Part of that is making a bulleted list with sub-bullets. Can’t do that with Novlr. Kind of a bummer.
  • I knew there was no mobile app (yet), but I hoped to at least have some simple text input on the go. I didn’t use this a lot with Google Docs, but I do use it. I commute for 12+ hours a week, occasional text input is to be expected. But I also expected it to be a draining experience on Novlr with live saves, etc., even with their “offline mode” now working. Not so good on the Samsung S5. The weirdest part, once I could get it to take text, was that it kept moving my cursor to the start of the line and ERASING every thing I had just typed. What keystroke did this horrific thing? The space. Yeah. Not happy.

So why did I even want to try Novlr? Because their aim is at the writer, they understand you want to break your work up by chapter. Each book you work on has separate chapters, and you don’t have to dance around a spreadsheet to get it working. Unfortunately, the inability to work on the go easily is going to be a show stopper for me (again! This is my second trial with Novlr 🙁 I doubt their patience will last for a third trial in a few months).

I think Novlr is a great product that needs a little more maturation before it can be used. In the meantime, I think that means I will continue to use Google Docs. It’s not perfect, but it’s consistent in its flaws.