Monthly Archives: October 2013

In The Cloud: A Horror Story…

I am not a fan of horror stories, but since it is Halloween I have one to share.  Sadly, it is not fiction, either; I experienced this story firsthand.  My only hope is that others will be able to learn from my experience, and will be able to avoid this horrible monster that will suck away hours of their lives in an instant.

This story begins in place far away, a place called THE CLOUD.  The Cloud is accessed through magical portals called the Internet.  All of the technology gurus will show pictures of how The Cloud is a nice safe place, free from any harm: a gated community free from burglars.  But do not be fooled by the green grass and perfect cookie cutter houses – there are dangers to be found here.

I don’t want to dissuade you from ever using The Cloud – on the contrary. Spending hundreds of hours on a story, then leaving it to sit on your computer, only on your hard drive, is extremely dangerous. If you drop your laptop wrong, hit your computer, get a virus, someone steals your laptop – any number of things might happen to that one device, and your work is gone.

Forever.

Using Dropbox or any of the other services out there is a great way to have backups of your work – not only in The Cloud, but synchronized to your other computers as well, providing excellent protection against disasters.

That is how I used to use The Cloud when working on my story.  I would write in Microsoft Word for Mac, and anytime I saved, a copy of the story would be sent to the beautiful gated community that is The Cloud.

I could not be satisfied with how things used to be, though.  I wanted to try something new.  What if I wrote my entire story in The Cloud?  What if I spent my entire day sitting on that park bench in The Cloud working on my paper, so that none of it is on my local machine at all?

This idea does have some appeal to it, but also needs a strong caution.  You see, on this particular day, I was duped.

There are two excellent services that you can use to write your documents in The Cloud.  Using either of these services means not spending any money on updating to the latest version of Microsoft Office, and you also do not have to worry about installing and updating your software.  If you are on a lightweight computer, like a Macbook Air, which has limited storage space, then this provides an additional feature of not needing to take up any space for the software or for your documents.

These two main services are Microsoft Skydrive and Google Drive .

Microsoft Skydrive is neat because the interface is almost exactly like Microsoft Word.  If you are used to using your word editor, you can pick this up really quickly. Also, it works a bit like Dropbox.  If you install the software on your computer, you get a folder that is always synchronized with your other computers, and is kept in The Cloud.

One Saturday morning I spent six full hours writing in Microsoft Skydrive.  I had nearly 3,000 words in my short story.  And then my browser froze…

My heart started beating, palms started sweating.  It felt like the Grim Reaper, Death himself, was standing behind my shoulder, waiting to suck away the hours I spent.

Then, I refreshed the browser.  Grim raised his sickle to strike… The page reloaded, and so did my document.  Close one!  Grim took a few steps back, but was not ready to admit defeat.

My browser was still acting slow.  I don’t know if I had too large of a document for my browser to handle, or if there was an issue with Skydrive that day – I just do not know.  But it froze again, and this time, Grim took the chance.

He struck.

Not me, the computer.

When the browser refreshed, it was blank.  A new document.  I frantically tried to go to the online history, to see document versions; I tried everything, but it was gone for good.

Now, I do not want to bash Microsoft Skydrive. It might be a perfectly awesome product. I will give them a chance and admit that it may have been my fault.  Maybe I was just assuming that Skydrive has auto-save, for I never once hit the save button.  Maybe…

As I searched The Cloud that day, I cried a little.  I did not see that happy place that I saw before. I now saw the darkness that loomed around every corner, the shadows that were just barely visible, that could spell disaster in a moment.

But I will not be defeated so easily!

Last week, I decided to try Google Drive for my short story.  Google Drive is different.  It has no save button.  At all.  It just has a little text message at the top that says your document has been saved.

Can you really trust it?

On day three of writing, I felt that same presence of Death approach me.  Sure enough, Grim was there again.  This time it was not my browser that froze, for it was handling Google Docs like a champ.  All at once, my music, my browser, my mouse, everything, just died.

My whole computer locked up.  Had I been using Microsoft Word and saving on my computer with auto-save, I would have lost several minutes of writing, no questions asked.  But I was writing in The Cloud.

Was it possible?  Could it be gone again?

Quickly, I rebooted the computer.  And watched….

As my document opened up, right where I left off.  I lost less than a word.

So, this is my experience.  Do not fear The Cloud, understand it and use it, just do not fully trust it.  Test the applications to discover things, like if it has auto-save or not, and how large of a document it can handle before it crashes.

Do not pour hours of your life into The Cloud, only to have them ripped away by a small glitch or crash, before you realize its capabilities.

 

Do you have any success stories or horror stories about using The Cloud? What application do you use to do your writing?  Leave a comment and let me know!

My NaNoWriMo Challenge

NaNoWriMo just started, so I thought I would share my goals for this month with you.  I give anybody who reads this permission to help keep me on track and encourage me to write every day.

What Is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) is the National Novel Writing Month.  The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.  That’s right, 1,667 words a day for 30 days.

NaNo makes for a great goal, meeting all of the standard criteria for a goal.  It is specific (50,000-word novel in 30 days), measurable (1,667 words per day), attainable (with lots of sacrifices, it will be), relevant (I want to write a novel), and time-bound (30 days).

By writing my goals down and making them public, I hope to have help keeping the goals.

My Goals

  • NO MEDIA (except music) until I write my daily goal.
    • Including: audio books, books, TV, movies, games, or random internet usage.
  • Write EVERY SINGLE DAY.
    • One exception will be for my birthday, if I reach at least 45,000 words by then.
  • Write at least 1,000 words a day as a minimum, but try to write 3,000 words a day.
  • Update everybody of my progress every day on Twitter and the NaNo website, and every week on FaceBook.

The goal of NaNo is only to write 50,00o words, but the typical first novel for an author is around 80,000.  Since they say 10% should be cut from a first draft, I need to make my story around 90,000 words.  Of course, if the story does not want to be that long, then I will not force it, but it makes for a good stretch goal.

My Rewards

Writing 50,000 words or more will require a lot of time, which means I will owe my wonderful wife a lot.  So, for Danae, if I reach my goal, I promise to finally level a World of Warcraft character to level 90, so I can run dungeons with her.

To reward myself for reaching this goal, I am going to buy seasons 4 and 5 of Castle, and then spend a weekend watching several episodes back to back.  Also, I will buy myself a NaNoWriMo Winners T-shirt.

 

Follow me on Twitter, FaceBook, and Google Plus.  Are you a NaNo writer as well?  Add me as a writing buddy.  Do you have any suggestions for goals or rewards I should use?  Leave them in the comments below.

NaNoWriMo, I’m Insane!

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is an incredibly tough challenge.  The goal is to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words of a novel, during the month of November.  30 days of writing, 1,667 words per day.  To meet this goal likely means writing every single day, without taking any breaks.

Or, as someone on Urban Dictionary put it:

NaNoWriMo, an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, is an especially sad disease, causing its victims to suddenly believe they can write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It is a particularly horrible form of social suicide, which, once having taken hold, cannot be avoided  (Urban Dictionary).

Before this last weekend, I had never heard of NaNoWriMo.  I attended Mile Hi Con, a science fiction and fantasy writers convention in Denver, Colorado.  While there, I got to talk to a lot of authors and publishers.  One of the most memorable authors I talked with was Paul Lell, who spared a lot of time talking with me, and answered questions I had about writing, publishing, and his role playing game.

Paul invited me to a panel on NaNoWriMo (let’s just call it NaNo from here on), where he and other authors discussed what the purpose of the competition is, and gave several tips on how to be successful.

 What is NaNo Success?

One of the first things that was discussed was that NaNo was intended to get people to write novels, not to “win” the badge on a website.  If you write 1,000 words, that is a success.  Those 1,000 words would not have been written otherwise.

What is important is that you write.  Every day.

NaNo Tips

To have a chance at winning NaNo, one must develop new habits and mental tools.  There are a lot of tips I have heard, but for the sake of not having an incredibly long blog post, we will only touch on a few.

Disable the Internal Editor

Editing something while I write is a habit I have developed. I cannot see how this would be a bad habit, but it does get in the way of writing quickly.  In fact, I have put off writing for several days because I am having trouble getting what I previously wrote to sound the way I want it to sound.

To write 1,667 words a day will probably take me about two hours per night. Adding editing time to that will make this nearly impossible to fit into my schedule. Some people suggested adding parentheses with notes to yourself for later if you think of something to change, so you can go back to it during the editing phase.

Don’t Waste Time on Names

Coming up with names is incredibly difficult for me.  When I play games, I spend the first couple of hours staring at the character I just created trying to come up with a name, repeatedly hitting the “Random Name” button for ideas.  For main characters in my stories, it is even worse.  For minor characters, I have turned to fantasy name generators online to find something that works, or I give a shout out on Facebook, Twitter, or at home asking for a name.  Before my son was born, when my wife and I were in the hospital, it was just a couple of hours before his birth when we finally decided on a name – Malikai.

During the NaNo panel, Paul mentioned a very elegant and simple solution to this, one that I can’t believe I had never thought of.  Instead of stopping your writing to come up with a name, just insert some random character that you can search for later, and then come back and fill it in when you have a name.

For example, “Well, on second thought, let’s not go to <>. It’s a silly place.”   Then, when you think “Camelot would be a great name for that!,” you can do a search for “<>” and replace it.  This way, you do not stop your writing process to think and research a name, which may lead to even more distractions.  Other people in the panel used different words or acronyms.

I wonder if that would have worked at the hospital with my son?  “Just put <> on this birth certificate, we will fill it in later.”

Why?

An important question I have to answer is, why do I want to do this?

The short answer is, because having a challenging goal in writing can be fun, especially when doing it with thousands of other authors around the globe.

I know that this will help me develop a writing routine that I will hopefully keep in the future, making it easier to finish my novels without taking years to write them.

Another reason is, it gives me a chance to work on a new project, which gives me a break from the current series I am writing.  I know that it will not distract me for too long, since it is only a 30 day challenge.

There is something else I am hoping to learn from this.  Ever since I thought about being an author, I have written down story ideas that I have come up with, but I have never come up with enough information to write a story about them.  Now, I only have nine days before the NaNo challenge starts on November 1st.  In that time, I have to pick one of five story ideas, and develop it just enough to start writing it.

If I am successful at writing 50,000 words from just nine days of prep work, then fewer of my stories will be stuck in limbo. I will know that I can write a book from the idea I already created, rather than waiting for my brain to think up most of the story before I start on it.  Being forced to start on it before I finish the idea may very well be a good thing.  I hope.

If not, if I get stuck because my story has nowhere to go, I will seek help on Twitter or Facebook. So, be sure to follow me there so you can help. 🙂

 

Are you going to join the NaNoWriMo challenge this year? What tips do you have for those of us trying for our first time?  Leave your tips in a comment!

Write Every Day

Life gets busy!

One thing that almost anybody will tell a new author is that it is important to write every single day – even if it is not related to your story.   Write in a journal, write a short story, or just write down ideas for a story about which you have been thinking.

What if you have no time to write?

I tried to make it a point to write something, anything, every day to make progress towards my story.  The problem, though, is that I was going to college full-time while working full-time.

After I would do my schoolwork, I would try to write, but I would not have the energy to write anything productive, or I would want to spend time with my family.  If I did force myself to work on my story, it turned out really disorganized.  I had a hard time even getting my mind engaged in the story.

I ended up admitting defeat.  Although, thinking about it now, the only thing defeated was my own presumptuous goal.

Thinking back on it, I was writing almost every day.  Even if it was boring schoolwork, I was writing.   And it helped.  It helped keep my writing skills fresh in my mind, and it gave me plenty of opportunities to practice writing, grammar, and creating rough drafts.

If you are in a similar situation, do not beat yourself up.  Do what you can do, but set realistic goals.  I finally caved in and had to put down almost all personal writing projects until I finished school, but I did take all school assignments as challenges to better my writing.

And then, one day, out of nowhere, it was over.  That’s right, this wanna-be author is now a college grad. 😀

My first week without school, I had planned on writing a short story, but a mistake made me extremely discouraged (I will write about that in a future blog).  And then, I realized how quickly distractions can crop up to keep me too busy to write.

Then, I tried to write every day before bed, and I realized I would put it off until I was too tired to write anything decent.  So, I modified my plan again, this time deciding to write as soon as I get home from work and finish dinner.  The goal is to just write something I want to write.  It could be a paragraph or a few pages, whatever I feel like that day.

Finally, I had made a goal that I could reach, and set limits for myself that would force me to do it everyday, without being a burden.

In five days of writing, I have completed 3,000 words towards a short story.  Some days, I wrote for nearly two hours, and other days just for a few minutes – but every day I wrote, and every day I felt accomplished.

 

There you have it, my latest lesson: Write every day.  Make a goal, make a plan, and then adapt those plans and goals until they work.  If you slip up, do not beat yourself up over it, just try to write the next day.

What advice do you have about writing daily that you want to share?  Leave a comment about it!