Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

17 December, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

I’ve just finished up what I think is the most intensive exam period of my academic career, and good riddance to it. The exam period, that is, not my academic career – although the results are not in yet, so we’ll see. Prior to the exams, I had a quite full semester, with teacher training eating lots of time, so all in all it’s been a busy six months.

Because I am, as previously established, crazy, I decided to add to my work this year by forging ahead with NaNoWriMo for the first time since my very first year at university. Back then, in the innocent days of 2006, I concluded that there was just no way to complete the challenge with university work on top! I clung to this established truth until now, the busiest semester yet, before throwing caution to the wind, and I actually ended up with a workable first draft of a story I have been brooding on for far too long.

A graph charting my progress thorugh NaNoWriMo

But spot the bit where I gave up in despair for a while.

Anyway, this is all preamble, what I actually want to talk about are word processors.

I know, right! Sexiest blog in the ‘verse, right here.

The purpose of a word processors, as I currently see it, is to get out of the way and allow the user to just write, and then be ready with whatever features are needed to polish the product afterwards. Pretty easy and straightforward, no? Hard to see how it could be screwed up, really.

But it can. Oh, but it can.

I’ve been using OpenOffice for, oh, several years now. I can’t quite recall when I made the switch, but it was sometime after 2005, when I no longer had a school computer with Microsoft Office on. During my aforementioned teacher training, I had to use one of the school computers they had lying around there, and it came with Microsoft Office 2010. I think my feeling can be pretty much summed up with a tweet I made at the time:

I do not understand how that thing can even be sold. When last I used Microsoft Office it had looked pretty much like OpenOffice still does, but now the UI was clunky and unnavigable. It was made so user-friendly as to be unusable. And every time I tried to scroll to a different part of a document, the would automatically jump back to wherever the cursor was. Maddening. I wanted to throw that machine out the window at the end of every day. Ugh, never again. I hope.

As I’ve pretty thoroughly established by now, I’ve been using OpenOffice. During the writing sprint in November, however, I suddenly discovered that OpenOffice isn’t what it used to be, and that LibreOffice is its spiritual successor. I’d heard the name LibreOffice before, so I’m not a complete shut-in, but I’d never bothered to look up why all the people who used to push OpenOffice had suddenly switched allegiance. What I had worked for me, and I never even noticed that there was a change in update frequency or support systems. Now that I do know, though, I think I might switch over. Just because it seems better to use a piece of software that’s actually in development and with a support structure around it. I realise that OO still has that to some extent, but hey – support the open source guys, yeah? Also, it looks prettier.

But there’s another piece of software I’m quite excited about – something new and shiny that’s caught my eye. It’s called Scrivener. OK, it’s not all that new, only to me, but it sure is shiny! Scrivener is one of the sponsors of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t actually notice it until after the month was over, but I downloaded the demo to see what everyone was raving about then. And since I did manage to squeeze out the 50 000 required words, I then almost immediately used the discount given to winners to buy a full copy. That’s how much it impressed me. It looks good, it makes organising notes easier, and its non-linear approach to text handling – because writing often is about shuffling bits around until they work – just appeal to me tremendously.

Now, there’s a part of me that is eager to jump into the old trap of thinking “If I just had the right pen, the work would do itself!”. Scrivener, or LibreOffice, or anything, obviously doesn’t do the work for you. And you don’t need any of it, you can write with a piece of coal on a slate if that’s what you have handy. But these tools can make the process easier. They can sit back and just let you write and be there when you need them to help you polish stuff once you’re done. And I’m eager to find the optimal setup here.

Because as long as I’m looking, I have an excuse not to do real work. Zing!

8 October, 2012

Managing Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Predictably, writing about my D&D withdrawal didn’t alleviate the problem so much as exacerbate it. I have passed the week with the possibility of a game swirling around my head, a maelstrom of ideas and notions and desires. Of course, it always comes back to the same stumbling block: I don’t have the time.

Or maybe that’s just what I tell myself? When am I ever going to get more time? Could I do it if I just managed my time better? There’s probably no question that I could squeeze out some extra hours if I accomplished that, I am terrible at time management. Or, viewed from a different perspective, I am great at it, and really do need quite a bit of time to just digest.

I have, fearfully, toyed with a thought of jumping in with both legs and just see how much of a train wreck would result if I did try to do everything I wanted. This is a busy and important year in my education, my final year at University, and there are quite a few things I need to do and write over the course of this fall. I have, for many years, bemoaned the fact that NaNoWriMo takes place in November – the only moth that could possibly be worse for it is May – but in this dread fantasy of late I actually try to do it again this year. After all, it is lots of fun.

And maybe I could try running a net based game on top of that? It couldn’t hurt, my fevered brain whispers, what’s the harm in trying. That’s an argument that’s hard to counter with just a general feeling of impending doom, but you have to work with what you have.

Of course, maybe I’m overestimating the amount of work such a game would be; it’s not like I have any experience running one. Maybe it could be a slow runner, where I’d only have to post up a thing once or twice a week. Maybe I should just post an ad and see where it goes?

Of course, I have no real plan yet. My explorers idea is just that, an idea, not fleshed out at all. If I send players out to explore the world, I ought to have some world for them to explore as well, it seems to me. I could go against my every instinct and try to wing it, but I don’t know if that would end up fun or just messy.

I realise, by the way, how self-indulgent and spoiled I am – oh, no, not sure if I have the time to play a purely entertaining game on my magical electronic box – but I am blessed with a fairly drama free life, so this is what I angst about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have wallowing to do. See you next week, when I’ve probably already posted an ad at this rate.

3 May, 2012

Writing on a Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

All right, time for some rambling. The time is rapidly approaching midnight, and if I am to stick to my schedule I need something to go up, and I have no good ideas popping up.

The thing is, I do have a few ideas. I have a list of draft posts which consist mainly of a title and maybe a few words describing the core of the idea, but these are ideas I think are pretty good, and they require a certain amount of time and effort to do right. Lately, I have not found much of that time. My writing, as a result suffers, as I try to squeeze out something passable despite lack of inspiration and time to polish.

Now, forcing yourself to write regardless of quality has some merit. That’s part of the reason why I made this schedule in the first place. It’s also the core idea behind NaNoWriMo; quantity can in some cases be better than quality. If you don’t write some crap first, you won’t get to the good part later. I read a book on writing once that said the first million words you write are practice, and don’t count. Even if you publish books and win awards, put them away, and keep practising. I don’t recall who wrote that book, but presumably he’d written a fair bit himself, and the message seems sound. You have to write through the crap and the duds to get good enough to write the real things.

I’ve tried my hand at NaNoWriMo a couple of times. Once, I even made the target, 50 000 words written in November. The other time I petered out after 14 000, as I found myself without time – there’s that word again – to devote to the project. November just isn’t a very good month for that sort of undertaking, I think.

In neither project did I have a clear idea of what I wanted to write. I had some characters in mind, and a couple of settings that I still think are pretty neat, but no clue whatsoever on plot. Both of the texts ended up being mostly a series of events without much conflict attached – a very long introduction, essentially. The first go, the one where I actually finished, was a story about a young ghost. The idea was that ghosts and goblins and all manner of mythological creatures were actually related beings made of some dark energy, and they had set up a society of their own on the other side of reflections – not mirrors, mind you, reflections. The story was basically this young ghost, having been born in the real world, travelling there and settling in … and that’s that, the end. 50 000 words of exposition. Like I said, no good ideas for plot materialised. I might go back to it at some point, though, I think there’s something good to extract from it.

The other attempt was much less developed, but also a concept I’m more excited about and which I absolutely intend to return to. It was a fantasy about a group belonging to a monastic religion focused on fire worship establishing a small foothold in a Victorianesque industrial city on the far side of the world. Picture a Buddhist missionary monastery opening in 1850s London. Except they can control fire. Anyway, I didn’t really get far enough for much plot in that one either, but I’m real invested in the world building there.

Right, that’s stream of conciousness for you. Started with whining about blogging, ended up talking about writing fiction. The point of it all was the idea of forcing production, as I’ve done for this very post here. Actually, I think it ended up not being half bad. Made me want to star up the fiction writing again, too, though I doubt I’ll find the time before the holiday. Still, not bad, twenty minutes before the deadline.

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