Category Archives: Tools

Blog Organization with Scrivener

Scriverner ScreenshotScrivener is my writing program of choice. I started using it during the 2010 NaNoWriMo and I credit it with part of the reason that I made my writing goal that year. The company that developed the program offers it at 50% discount to all NaNoWriMo winners and I used my coupon to purchase it. I use the program to organize, research and write my novels, compile short stories and to organize my blogs.

For instance, No Wasted Ink has a Scrivener project (file) where I write all the posts for No Wasted Ink. When I write I leave both the binder and the inspector open to view and I have a word count feature set on the bottom of the page. I aim to make most of my posts a certain length and the word count feature helps with this goal. Sometimes I write the draft on my Neo or in my NEC MobilePro 900 and then transfer the text into a scrivener file, but I find Scrivener comfortable to draft short term projects in.

The Binder

The Binder holds my pending articles at the top in no particular order. I work on the book reviews, commentary or memoirs as the mood strikes me. Even if all I have is a vague idea for a blog post, I will title it and leave the file there to remind me of the idea. Sometimes I will leave a short document note in the inspector with details of the idea if the title is not enough to spark my writing. Once the post is completed, I move it into one of the item folders in the draft section depending on the type of article. For instance, all my book reviews will be in a certain folder once completed. This allows me to find them when needed.

The Inspector and Meta-Data

Once a post is begun I mark its status in the inspector on the right hand side of the screen. I will give it a label as to what type of post it is and I will check the status as to where in the process it is. The labels are customizable as to color and name in Scrivener. My labels read: book review, commentary, memoir. Below that is the status of the item. My status can be set first draft, done, and posted.

Scheduling

The only part of Blog planning that I do not do in Scrivener is the scheduling. For that I use a Filofax Crimson Malden leather binder in personal size with a Week on Two Pages insert. As I schedule the blog posts in WordPress, I write the dates into the filofax. I note if I’ve done the twitter marketing tweets for each post and the title of the post. I like keeping this information in the filofax since it has less chance of disappearing due to server crash and I like the feel of paper. I suppose that an electronic organizer such as google calendar would work as well, but I prefer the filofax notebook.

Conclusion

The advantages of using Scrivener to organize a blog is that all the posts stay in one place, yet are separate. The inspector tracks the post as it goes through the various stages of completion. I have a permanent storage of the post in case of blog failure or if I want to publish it elsewhere. It is easy to go back and double check what I have written in the past and what I have planned for the future. I found that I had trouble being this organized when I was using Word. I still own Word and use it, but most of my writing takes place in Scrivener.

NEC MobilePro 900 as a Writer’s Tool

Wandererchronicles Nanowrimo Writing KitBeing a member of the Alphasmart community, I have developed an appreciation for older electronics. I’m very happy with my Alphasmart Neo for writing rough drafts and it is my go to machine for NaNoWriMo in November. However, after the writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo is over, I generally have revisions to do. The small screen of the Neo is simply not suited for this. One day I was surfing the machines that other writers were using for NaNoWriMo on Flickr and I came across a photo of a tiny Nec Mobilepro 900 as part of a writer’s collection along with a Acer Aspire 5100 and a moleskine notebook. It was the smallest “netbook” I’d ever seen. I thought it was simply adorable.

What is the NEC MobilePro 900? I was determined to find out more about this tiny mini-computer. It is such an antique machine that most people have never seen one before. When NEC first developed this machine for the business market back in the early 90’s, it was considered the top-of-the-line pocket PC, a fore-runner to today’s laptop. Jet setting executives would sport this handheld device that cost over $1000 new and would be able to stay in touch with their offices via cable modem or wifi, computing for the first time on airplanes or in their hotel rooms. They touted its speed, the state of the art connectivity via its gold Orinoco card and the Microsoft pocket office suite that came pre-loaded. The machine would turn on instantly with seconds to bootup and the keyboard, while small and portable, was still large enough to be comfortable to write on. Not only did the MobilePro 900 come with two CF ports, but it had a USB slot, one of the first portable machines to do so.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the device. I had considered purchasing a netbook to do my revisions at the coffeehouse, but after trying them out in the retail store I concluded that they were simply too slow to use, even for simple writing. Cost was also a factor. At the time I could purchase a used NEC MobilePro 900 with a case for around $60. Today, you can find them for even less. It made the NEC cost effective and portable enough that I was willing to give it a try.

The features of the NEC MobilePro 900:

    Instant on/off
    Keyboard is 92% of normal size
    Half sized VGA screen
    Pre-loaded with Microsoft Pocket Office
    Touch screen use with stylus
    Significantly lighter in weight than a notebook
    The unit measures 9.69″ x 5.05″ x 1.19″ and weighs 1.8 lbs. Very portable.
    Has USB connection, CF slot and PCMCIA slot – perfect for networking cards
    The NEC has 64 megs of RAM available to the user.
    A 32 meg flash ROM area where you can install programs, data and backup files.
    Battery life is around 5 to 7 hours

I’ve been using my NEC MobilePro 900 for over a year and love its portability and speed of bootup. However, it was not an instant turn it on and be able to write situation. I needed to research the antique software and old accessories that were needed to make it into a productive, non-distraction, writing machine. Once all of these adjustments were done, it has become an excellent inexpensive writing device. If you are a student or a writer without much funding to buy a full-fledged computer, I recommend that you look into purchasing a NEC MobilePro 900 on eBay. It could be the writing solution that you seek.

How an Alphasmart 3000 Helped Me Conquer NaNoWriMo

Alphasmart 3000In the year 2010, I was facing the fourth year that I was to attempt National Novel Writing Month or as it is affectionately known, NaNoWriMo. The goal of writing 50,000 words in a single month is a daunting task, but I knew if I wanted to become a novelist, it was a skill that I needed to learn. For my fourth attempt I needed to make a change in the way that I wrote, otherwise I feared that I would fail again. My main problem was not being able to write away from home where my desktop remained. I work on the road for many days in November and I always lost far too much time in my hotel room stays.

On the forums of the NaNoWriMo website, there were recommendations for an Alphasmart 3000 and the Alphasmart Neo to use instead of a laptop. These were writing tools that were designed for young students to write compositions in the classroom. I had never seen one before, but I was intrigued. I could take one of these with me on the road and do my writing and then use the “send” feature to upload my work into whatever word processor I was using. Learning that an Alphasmart 3000 was around $30 on eBay, I was sold. I did not want to invest in an expensive laptop only to discover that I did not enjoy writing away from home.

In October 2010, my AS3K arrived in the mail. The device was a transparent teal with grey keys and had a small window for digital text. I was not sure if I liked having such a tiny window as I worked, but since this was an experiment, I was willing to give it a try. I did not bother to buy the AS3K a protective sleeve. I simply tossed it into a cloth tote bag along with my pocket thesaurus. It was rugged enough to hold up to such abuse. When I went to my first write-in, I was amused by the number of people that stopped to ask me what I was writing on because they had never seen one.

Due to the small screen size, I was not certain if I would like writing on the Alphasmart, but became a convert to it. The screen is 4 lines high and 40 characters in length. The LCD screen has a high contrast and is easy to read. Since I am able to scroll up and down and do minor editing, I am able to keep my train of thought as I wrote, leaving the main editing to my desktop at home. During the write-in, I was not distracted by websurfing as the writers with netbooks or laptops were, all my time was funneled toward the written word. At the end of the evening, I discovered that the final word count of my project was much higher due to this. I also liked that I did not have to fight for a chair near a power outlet as the other writers did. My Alphasmart 3000 has all the power it needs. The biggest surprise was the satisfying click of the full sized keyboard that reminded me of the old-fashioned typewriter that I had back when I was kid. It was a joy to write on compared to the soft keyboards of more modern computers. After the write-in, I was able to come home and upload the text into my computer via a USB cable. The only drawback to the unit was that it did not have a word count feature and the word processing software is somewhat primitive.

I was able to conquer NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2010 and I credit this success to the acquisition of my Alphasmart 3000. It became my main writing machine when I was away from home for two years. I like the Alphasmarts for rough draft work. The small screen size helps prevent your inner editor from interrupting the flow of your writing and you get more words down that way. Later, in revision, I work in Scrivener on my desktop. Late in 2011, I decided to upgrade to the Alphasmart Neo and it is the machine that I use for my rough drafting today. The Neo has a slightly more comfortable keyboard, a screen that can hold up to 9 lines of text and it can hold more text. The word processing software is better and it has spell check, a thesaurus and a word count feature.

If you are a new writer in search of an inexpensive machine to use for NaNoWriMo, I recommend that you look into the Alphasmart 3000 as your first writing tool. Get a feel for the keys and the non-distraction writing format and you will never look back.

Soundtrack of Writing: How to Use Your Ipod to Create Mood

I’ve been a participate of NaNoWriMo for the past five years. I was not successful in my word count goals every year, but it gave me the support I needed to start writing and to continue to write. In addition to learning about various software and hardware options to enhance my writing experience from the other writers, I also discovered the concept of learning to write while listening to music on your ipod. There are several advantages to this habit.

1. Social Convention. When you are seated in a coffeehouse with earbuds in your ear, people are less likely to interrupt you. The earbud has become a signal of “do not disturb” in public settings.

2. Blocking Out Noise. The ipod blocks out the general noise of the public place you are writing in. There are fewer annoying conversations to slip into your creative state and the sounds of the coffee bar blenders are blocked.

3. Mood Enhancement. Perhaps the biggest advantage, is that the music you choose creates a mood to enhance your writing. When we go to the movies, the soundtrack helps gives us the audience aural cues as to what is happening. The characters all have their own themes and different kinds of scenes are accompanied with different scores to create the mood of the film. We can use these same soundtracks to create similar moods in our minds while writing.

My local NaNoWriMo group has approximately 35 participates and I put up a poll among them to ask what their favorite writing soundtracks were. The majority of them are college aged writers and their age does influence their choices of music, but after reviewing their selections, I discovered a wealth of lush, emotive scores that are clearly above the norm. Here is the list of recommended movie soundtracks from that group.

Hans Zimmer’s Inception
John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon
Dario Marianelli’s Pride and Prejudice
Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings (all three movies)
Hans Zimmer’s The Holiday
James Newton Howard’s Peter Pan
Hans Zimmer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek XI
Mark Knopfler’s The Princess Bride
Various artists Down with Love
Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes I
Howard Shore’s Eastern Promises
Various Artists Garden State
John Williams’ Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith
Michael Giacchino’s John Carter

Antique Manual Drill

In addition to my writing, I’ve been a creator of artisan jewelry for around 16 years. One of the staples that I use in my jewelry are handmade coiled beads. They are accents in earrings, form gently bended arms on bracelets or add a texture element to necklaces. The wire beads are simple to make once you have the proper tools and the technique down, but look complex. The trick is all in the steadiness of the tension you put in the wire as you make them. Ten years ago, I had purchased a device called a Coiling Gizmo. It is the basic tool that most other artisan jewelers use to make the beads. The tool is a U shaped form that you clamp to your bench with holes that will hold two iron rods, each bent on one end to form a handle crank. By turning the rod in the hole, you create the wire beads. One rod is thick and is similar in size to a 14 gauge wire. The other is thinner and conforms to a 18 gauge wire. Both rods created coils that were too large for my intended use. For a time, I stopped using the Coiling Gizmo and only used the coil beads in my larger creations.

I’m not one to admit to admit to defeat in my design ideas and set about creating my own coiling gizmo that would make coils and beads small enough to work in my intended creations. The first replacement needed were the rods. After chatting with other artists, ones that were more advanced than I in the art of coiling, I was told that a 0000 knitting needle was close to a 20 gauge wire and the G string of a guitar was just over the size of a 26 gauge wire. These were the sizes of wire I would rather work with. So I bought the knitting needles and the guitar string and added them to my studio tool box.

Next I needed a way to turn the needles and string so that I could create the coils. My first attempt was with a battery operated power drill. That did not go well. I was not able to control the speed enough to create smooth coils without gaps. I was at a loss as to how to fix this problem until I read of another artist that used a hand cranked manual drill. By using the manual drill, I would be able to go slow enough and to regulate the tension of the wire to create the smooth coils I craved. It was one of those eureka moments and I knew that this would be the solution. But where to find one???

I searched every hardware store in my area and only found power drills. I was told that no one used manual drill anymore because they were old-fashioned and out of date. I searched online, but again had no luck. Only power drills were for sale and the one or two manual drills I did see online were very expensive and had high shipping costs. I was not willing to pay the price.

Months after I had started my fruitless search, I was selling my jewelry at a Harvest Festival located at the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum. It is a place full of various models of steam powered machines that ran cotton gins, tractors and other antique farm equipment. During the festival, the children are given rides around the grounds on 100 year old tractors. Demonstrations on how life on the frontier are given for the children’s education and amusement. Handmade crafts and jewelry are one of the attractions of the Harvest Festival and the reason I was there. Two booths down from mine was a husband and wife team that sold antique tools. Their shop stocked old wooden boxes, files, saws and low and behold, antique manual drills! He had two of the little treasures for sale, each for $10. I bought one that had clean moving gears and operated smoothly. It is a POWR-Kraft drill from Montgomery Ward that was made starting in the 1930s through the 1950s. It is a tool that was manufactured in the United States and is solid steel with a wooden handle. It will out live me due to its rugged construction.

After the venue was over, I returned to my studio and was able to have complete control over the coiling of my wire. The egg beater style handle of the drill was easy to use and the collate held my knitting needles securely. After that it was easy. My new bracelets and earrings were a huge hit. Other artists had trouble figuring out how I made my beads so small and I was given much kudos for them. Now I make the beads twice a year and use them regularly in my jewelry.