yWriter – Test Drive

I installed yWriter and have been playing around with it for the last two days. My initial impression is, I think it is an awesome tool for fiction writers.

Installing it was a cinch. No snags. I’m on a Windows 7 system. I’ve found the user interface to be quite intuitive.

Key features I love

– It’s completely free, and no adware!

– Each story you are working with is saved as a “project”. This allows all the data you enter for that story to be grouped in one central location. If you are anything like me, when I write I will often have tons of separate files for notes, scattered all over the place. Even though I create a separate directory for that particular story, I still wind up with tons of separate files in that directory; character sketches, working drafts, research notes on related topics, world-building notes, backstory, revisions, and so on. With yWriter, all of that and more is stored in one “project”, easily accessible, and searchable. This makes locating and cross-referencing a breeze.

– For each project/story, you create Chapters. For each Chapter, you create Scenes. When you are sitting down to write, you write the story scene by scene. I think this is a great method, breaking down the chapter into smaller chunks (scenes). Also, you don’t have to do this sequentially. For example, you could write scene 7 for chapter 9, and then scene 1 for chapter 1, or whatever chapter/scene you want to work on that session. You can also move scenes around by a simple drag and drop. Say you wrote scene 4 under chapter 3, and then later decided that scene really needs to be scene 1 for chapter 19. Drag/Drop, Bam, it’s done.

– Outlining. If you wanted to, you could outline your entire story even before writing the first scene. You could create blank chapters, and blank scenes within those chapters, then go to the notes section of each chapter and scene, and write a brief description (e.g. chapter 1 description; character x goes to the rodeo. Scene 1, she gets in her car, scene 2, she drives there, scene 3, she watches the show. Chapter 2…).

– Notes galore! I typically write a lot of notes when writing a story (like I mention up above). With yWriter, there are areas for notes in most sections you are in. So if you are looking at your character list, and click on a character, there is a note section for that character. Same with scenes, items, locations, and the overall project itself. It even includes an area where you can tag the date and time (in story time) for that scene, in case you need to track that to keep your story internally consistent. For each scene you can add what characters are in the scene, a scene description, and other helpful bits of metadata as well.

– Backup, backup, backup! There is a scene backup utility that automatically backs up a scene when you open it, and also automatically backs it up at regular intervals. You can set it to either backup as one file, or as sequential files. The author of the software recommends sequential files. This way, you have backups of previous drafts all along the way, in case you want to revert (you can view/restore old scenes). Additionally, titles, descriptions, character data and all the rest are also backed up automatically into a file, and a new one is created every time you open yWriter. Lastly, you can manually backup the entire project into a zip archive at any time.

– yWriter can export your project into several formats; HTML, Text, RTF, LaTex, Ebook. You can also export an Outline, Synopsis, and Scene Descriptions.

There are additional features as well, but these are the top hitters for me.

Official website: yWriter

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Bleed the Page – Writers Group

I started an online writers group, called “Bleed the Page”.  Here is the original feeler I put out:

Are there any writers on my friends list that would be interested in participating in an informal online writers group? I’m particularly interested in fiction writers, though non-fiction might be fine as well. No poetry (sorry, while I do love good poetry, that’s a whole different thing). I’d like it to be geared towards novels (genre fiction and literary both welcome), short-stories, and perhaps even screenplays. I’ve written off and on my entire life, but never really got serious about it. I’ve been getting serious about it, and would love to be able to have a space to share tips back and forth, critique each other’s work, help source beta readers, and encourage one another. I’m not interested in a Facebook group. I’m thinking more old school, like an email list. Putting the feelers out.

I did get a response. At present (6 August 2017) there are 7 members, including myself. We have only just begun. Our first activity (suggested by another member) is a 30 day writing challenge. We are keeping it simple to start. The challenge is to write at least 100 words a day, consistently for 30 days (you can write more, but not less), and to post what we write to the group each day . The writing doesn’t have to be on any particular theme. It can be anything from character sketches, to story content,  to plot development, to backstory, to free writing or other related exercises. The idea is to cultivate a regular writing practice.

We are currently using Google Groups as an email list. If you are interested in joining the group, send me a message with your preferred email address, and I can add you. As the above feeler post mentions, the group is geared towards fiction writers.

 

Reading and Writing – A Love Affair

Keyboard and Book

Two pieces of advice I hear most often from accomplished authors, when asked by novices like myself how to become a better writer, are 1) read constantly and 2) write something every day.

There is a strong connection between reading and writing. This seems obvious, especially to most writers, as most of us happen to be avid readers as well. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is a pleasure all its own. And I certainly still do that. However, I have also found that doing a close reading of a text yields a wealth of insight that can be added to my tool-set as a writer. Sometimes I will do two readings of a text–one simply as a reader, enjoying a text, immersing myself in the story, loving and hating the characters, etc., and another as a writer. Reading as a writer is something different than reading as a reader. What I mean by “reading as a writer” is reading and paying close attention to the author’s use of  style, word-choice, language, themes, pacing, dialog, plot points, tropes, story arcs, imagery and a whole slew of other literary elements and devices–all the “magic tricks” of a good writer, or rather, tools of the trade. We learn these by reading, and paying attention to what we are reading, and then practicing on our own. Close reading is fast becoming a lost art in this digital age of click, click, click, short attention spans, and 140 character limit twitter feeds. Yet it is an art I hope to preserve in my own life.

Writing is a craft, a skill. It can be learned. It can be improved upon. It takes practice. It takes effort. So the second point–to write something every day–also makes a lot of sense to me. I have learned enough humility to honestly assess my skill-level as a writer. I have a long way to go. Yet, I keep at it, keep banging away on this keyboard, building my writer’s muscle, practicing what I find useful from those other writers that I admire, exploring on my own, sharing my work with my peers and allowing them to tear it to shreds so that I may come back to this keyboard and try again, and again, and again.

Fantasy and Science Fiction – Lit Class

Fantasy and Science Fiction

As mentioned in a previous post, I am enrolled in the Fantasy and Science Fiction course offered by Professor Eric Rabkin on the Coursera platform.  This is an 11 week course and we are currently closing out our 6th week. The work load is high. For each unit we have selected readings (which often include full-length novels, or sometimes several short stories and/or novellas). We have a week to complete the readings for each unit, and then every Tuesday we submit a short essay on the previous week’s readings (between 270 and 320 words). We then have to complete 5 peer reviews (anonymously) for our fellow course mates by Thursday of that week.

The experience thus far has been very rewarding. The discussion forum is typically lively and engaging. The videos Prof. Rabkin releases each week are wonderful. I like that he waits until after we have done the readings and written our own essays before releasing his videos for that unit. This allows the students to think through our own views from a close reading of the text(s), arrive at a theme or aspect of the story we want to explore, and then write a short essay on the material without being unduly influenced by the Professor’s literary analysis ahead of developing our own ideas. It works for me, and I see why he does it this way. Professor Rabkin knows his stuff. The videos are always insightful.

Here is the reading list for the course:

  1. Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales
  2. Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems**
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The Country of the Blind and The Star
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars and  Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother

I missed one week due to being out of town on holiday (Unit 3, Dracula). I have read the novel in the past, yet I plan on returning to it and writing my essay anyway.

** The specific stories/poems for Unit 5 are as follows –
Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,  and The Artist of the Beautiful; Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, The Oval Portrait, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Bells, The Raven and Annabel Lee.

A Fantasy/Sci-Fi Course on Coursera!

Attention all Fantasy and Sci-Fi fans and writers! I learned there is a course coming up in June called, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. This looks quite interesting. The start date is 3 June 2013. The course is 11 weeks long. I just signed up. Maybe you will join me in this adventure? This MOOC thing is becoming irresistible. I just need to make sure I don’t enroll in more than I can handle at one time.