It’s official. Annabel Lee is starting to come together, or at least not scaring people away. Fellow boat yard dwellers are approaching in greater numbers as I lay down fiberglass, four feet at a time, and sculpt the rails to their original angles and dimensions. And the more people talk to me, the more I encounter the ever-popular, “What do you do?” After all, unlike the weekend boaters, I come and go on weekdays with the retirees, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed. I show up on no set schedule, do boat work for a portion of the day, then disappear into the cabin for hours at a stretch. The simple answer is, “I’m a writer.” But any writer knows, that’s just the beginning. “Do you know (big name author)? Where do you get your ideas? And my personal favorite, “How do you write a book?”
How? One word at a time. One page at a time, often in no particular order to start with. I like to know my middle and end before I ever figure out where to start. Beyond that, I’m still figuring it out, making it up as I go along. Things that worked for me the first time around didn’t the second time, and bets are still out for the third. Years ago I listened to an author speak on NPR — I don’t recall her name or prolific list of books, but her answer to that question still inspires me. Or terrifies me, depending on my mood, but let’s just go with the motivating part.
She explained that over decades of writing at least one book a year, each novel required a different approach. Sometimes it was a full outline, broken down into countless subchapters and passages, and in several cases she ultimately ignored those outlines once she got into the meat of writing. Some books were written backwards, or her progress was like following a hyperactive toddler around a playground. Some were written in a completely linear track straight from page 1 to ’The End.’ The answer, in short, is there is no answer, no right, no wrong, so long as you get it done.
Which brings us to the next important part of the equation. Readers expect a beginning, middle, and end. Go figure. ‘Unfinished’ won’t cut it — which goes back to the advice I’ve heard countless times. Reef early and reef often — oh, right. That’s catboat sailing. Try this: Write early and write often. Write a lot. Write awful, but get it done. An awful book is still a complete book. You can (and will, or else,) edit afterward.
But first, plain and simple, get those words on the pages, preferably lined up in a way that resembles a story. Which brings us back to one of the critical aspects of writing that can make or break ever finishing a book. Ass In Chair = Words On Page.
Simple, right? In theory, yes, but sometimes we all find ourselves gazing at a blinking cursor, minds blank. For me, that usually correlates to low caffeine levels, and I’ve found a few tricks to get the brain moving, or at least loosen up the typing muscles as my Hi-Caf tea reaches the bloodstream.
Step 1. STAY OFF THE INTERNET.
It only sucks time. If you want to write, shut the Wi-Fi.
Step 2. Don’t think. Just Type.
I downloaded a typing trainer for kids; Arcade Typing Tutor. It plays more like a video game, and to defend your space stations you have to type the words on the asteroids and comets as they come on screen. The sound effects are addictively obnoxious and amusing enough to wake me up. Added bonus, the words the program chooses: Sailed, Dies, Jake, Lies, Jailed. It may sound silly, but a few minutes of this brings the fingers, and sometimes the brain, up to speed.
Step 3. Start writing.
Enough asteroids. It’s words-on-page time. But where to start? That can be the challenge, and the answers vary. Some days I simply pick up where I left off. Other days, the Muses have their own agenda, and I roll with it. If neither of those approaches is yielding a word count, I’ll pick a chapter or passage I’ve been fighting, break it down to a mini outline, then flesh that out. That’s been surprisingly simple and effective.
But the bottom line is this: WRITE. No matter what, write something. Anything. Put words on the page. That isn’t so hard. They don’t have to be good words, or make sense, or go anywhere. These are words. I’m writing right here, about writing. See? It’s easy. Do it.
And over the last week, another facet of this ‘writing a book’ stuff became apparent to me. Use the right tools. When it comes to the boat, I’m a stickler for the right tools. It makes work easier, more enjoyable, and yields better results. And last week made me take a hard look at my writer’s toolbox.
Scrivener for Windows was a great program — though the more I used it, the more I saw how it was truly built to run on an Apple. And as I was migrating ALL my work back to Word and Excel, clearly some force beyond my control was trying to send me a message. True, I can be a bit dense at times, and this was clearly one of them. Because when no amount of duct tape, metal tape and Crazy Glue will hold your computer together any longer, when a combination of West Systems and Biaxial is your next option, maybe it’s time for a new laptop. But when the screen hinge completely breaks — it’s time to admit defeat. And if I have no choice, if I have to open my wallet, and if everything I need to do works better on a Mac…well…then…
Get ready to blast some words (asteroids) off the nice hi-res screen! <Note LBI Fiberglass supply catalog in corner.>
Yup. After decades of resisting the Cult of Apple, I’ve officially converted. I’m still adjusting to a few new keyboard shortcuts and such, but that’s pretty much the only learning curve I’ve had to climb.
Oh, and for shits and giggles I loaded a Mac trial of Scrivener, then loaded the backup that my PC refused to acknowledge. And there it was. Everything, just as it had been, right where I left off. And all those wonderful features that the PC didn’t offer, features that take Scrivener to the next level, flowed seamlessly on the Mac. I was able to switch over my license, and I’m 100% back on track. For the moment at least.
And yes, everything everyone’s told me about these Macs is true. What a lovely machine.
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