Tag Archives: computer

Where to, Guv’ner?

Every once in a while, one sits at one’s desk and one wonders where one’s characters are wandering off to next.

Try saying that after a couple of whiskies.

Having made a New Year’s resolution to finish my book, it occurred to me on Monday that I was one week into said New Year and had not so much as glanced at it.  Then I realised in a cold sweat that, after fifty-one more weeks of similar progress, I’ll have failed my challenge.  Thus, I set to work, addressing the snag I knew was going to catch me one day.  For the sake of simplicity and larks, we shall call this problem, “Where to, Guv’ner?”

I think the journey aspect of any adventure is the hardest part to write.  If you’re anything like me, you can write a beginning, you have some vague but flexible ideas about the end game and you know a couple of pivotal points along the way.  It’s making the in-between bits a) connect these events together, b) lead to new plot points and characters and c) interesting.

Alas, I knew the time had come: I was going to have to get to grips with the landscape – the actual physical journey my characters are making.  Time to forge a map.  However, I was so stumped as to what I wanted this world to look like that I began to seriously doubt a paper map was going to be the way forward.

To this end, I started using a free app I shall recommend to you now.  It is called Idea Sketch.  It’s nothing groundbreaking: a large canvas and some bubbles of various colours, shapes and text sizes into which one may enter a title and description.  If you’re feeling truly sprightly and innovative, you might perhaps attempt to connect these bubbles together with arrows – as if they are related.

Granted, this practice is a bit fiddly.  Not only did I find myself unable to delete said arrows; I found myself inadvertently creating extra arrows in my attempts to do so.  Perhaps the arrows element would better serve a person building a regular mind map, where the precise connections between concepts aren’t likely to randomly move about.  However, for me, trying to squeeze in extra place names in a sort of linear geographical affair, it went a bit pear-shaped.

I decided to resolve this issue by simply not joining the bubbles, keeping them separate but close enough together to remember my routes.  This worked out far better.  I suggest you learn from my mistakes, and do this right from the off, rather than assume you are cleverer than me and can harness the arrows’ awesome power.  I make this suggestion out of love: when I tried to abort the arrows fiasco, I discovered that deleting one bubble deletes every other bubble joined to it, as if they are sharing organs or have made some kind of suicide pact.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: it sounds like trouble.  Why not just use Word or PowerPoint?  Well, to use Word or PowerPoint, I’d have to have to be sat at a laptop, which sort of stunts the creativity in the ideas stage.  On the iPad I can lounge about, looking at my map thoughtfully over several hours, whilst handily continuing with my life at the same time.  Multitasking.

Another advantage is that the iPad makes for more efficient zooming.  Plus the larger canvas means you don’t have to wrestle with page sizes to keep all your bubbles together.

Also, Word and PowerPoint’s shape functions, whilst eventually able to get the job done, do tend to fall down at key moments for no readily apparent reason.  Considering the money and research behind them, I do find any set diagram – though good in principle – simply can’t cope if I delete a box or try to move things about a bit.  It’s as if it was placed in charge of a psychotically needy relative as a child and now breaks down screaming, “What do you want from me?!” if you ask to borrow its pencil sharpener.

Also, when things go wrong on the iPad, I either blame myself for having butter fingers or forgive Idea Sketch its sins, because it’s just a little tiny baby free app and, coochy-coochy-coo, aren’t you cute with your limited capabilities and inexperienced developers?

By contrast, Word and Powerpoint… upset me.  Quite frankly, the idea of a mainstream word processor, on its umpteenth version, having a panic attack when I try to place a text box a few pixels to the right, fills my tantrum meter so fast you’d think I was a toddler, in an itchy sweater with too-long sleeves, dropping an ice cream cone in one hand and holding a complicated big kid toy I can’t work in the other.  With a tummy ache.

What was I talking about?  Oh, yes, my map app.  (Sorry.  Didn’t mean to rhyme quite that hard.)

Idea Sketch has its flaws, but, provided you avoid the arrows and make good use of the undo button, it can be quite a helpful tool for plotting your characters’ journeys.  Good if you don’t want to spend hours refining a drawn map, or buying new computers because Microsoft Office’s I’m-sure-very-attractive-if-it-found-the-right-person traits have rendered you a serial hardware defenestrator.

In my case, it was actually very helpful.  I’m much further along in my characters’ journey and am getting a feel for my setting.  Now I just have to keep writing and work out what comes next.

Internet, We Need To Talk

I never thought I’d become the kind of person who wrote by hand.  I’ve always been so paranoid about losing sheets of work, I hold my pen awkwardly enough to bring about discomfort after short periods and, okay, fine, I am a bit of an IT snob.  Plus, growing up, writing on a computer made me feel important and intellectual.  I was writing documents, after all.  Documents!

But then Broadband happened.  And YouTube.  And Facebook.  And Wikipedia.  And online gaming.  And suddenly writing on a computer became a very different game.  A game I have recently cut back on tremendously.

Charlie Haynes, runner of Urban Writers Retreat (yes, the apostrophe is meant to be missing – she says so herself!), offers a useful piece of advice.  She notes that writers beat themselves up about being so easily distracted, and yet continue trying to write around huge temptations in modern life.  What they need to do is work in an environment where they are removed from those distractions.

So that’s what I did: got out these old mysterious relic items called a ‘pen’ (from the Latin, peniferus inkius) and ‘paper’ (formerly an Old English acronym) and began to write.  And I’m writing a lot more than I’ve written in an awfully long time!

There’s also an anti-perfectionist edge to writing things out properly.  The Delete and Backspace buttons can’t tempt me into dismissing anything I don’t particularly like.  On paper, if it’s written, it’s written and you have to make the effort to work with it.  Plus you can focus exclusively on your project rather than constantly splitting your attention in several directions.

So, thank you, Charlie.  And thank you, archaic writing tools.  And thank you, internet, for not calling me back to you too relentlessly.

For anyone interested in writing retreats, online or actual, Charlie’s website is http://www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk/

On another note, however, a quick celebration of another set of milestones!  I have now written over 20 posts and have over 30 blog followers, over 50 blog likes, and over 125 Twitter followers!  Thanks so much to every one of you for your support!  It means so much that you would associate yourself with a nutcase like me!

Adding Madness To My Method

I think most of us have a kind of ocean mentality to organisation.  We swallow up all this stuff indiscriminate of how much we actually need or want it.  In time, the tide turns, all those things wash up onto the beach for us to inspect and we realise we need to tidy up.  Well, sometimes.  Other times it takes a stern word from PETA armed with pictures of pelicans covered in oil and a crab munching on plastic packaging.  Either way, though, eventually the job gets done and we feel better for it.

So why is it so damn difficult to feel that way about computer files?

Seriously.  I just reorganised my hard copy portfolio into a nice folder.  I’ve split it into five sections with dividers, plastic walleted all draft material by their corresponding story, alphabetised it all and can find everything I’m after in seconds, and I’m not even that great at organising myself.

But with computers I just can’t do it.

I think organisation has a tactile dimension to it that computer programmers just haven’t learned to imitate yet.  Documents are, after all, just pixels.  There’s no handwriting or scuffs or scribbles on computer files; no real memory of writing the page that isn’t superseded by every other page I’ve ever written on Word in the past.  It isn’t a physical object and so, on some level, my brain just can’t fully grasp its significance.  When I look at a bunch of desktop folders, with their white backgrounds and appropriate but bland file names, I don’t see pages of my stuff.  I just see a bunch of icons that don’t really mean anything to me.  I still feel removed from my work.

There are ways to make the sight more bearable and the contents more aesthetically pleasing and manageable.  OneNote essentially makes your work look like a binder with links in and tables; tags can shorten file paths and keep things organised into sections.  Windows’ own icons can help distinguish one thing from another more clearly.

But perhaps no matter what a programmer does it won’t help much.  Perhaps, I realised tonight, you have to find or make value for your files’ appearance yourself in order to establish this elusive connection.  Perhaps you have to put a little of your own psyche into those dull icons and get the cogs turning whenever you see them – to use something warm and familiar and entertaining that has personal meaning to you.  Something which took an internet quest to find, and brings joy whenever you see it.

And that’s how I ended up downloading Wall-E as my Recycle Bin icon.