Category Archives: Writing Tools

#Cloud storage & #sync.com…….or a positive tech post for a change!

After coping with the security issues of Windows 10, it was such a pleasant surprise to find an ‘app’ that is unabashedly security conscious! And yes, Sync.com, I’m talking about you. But first, a quick word about the problems that sync.com solves: storage, backup and version control.

Normally, when you create a file on your computer, you save it to your computer – i.e. onto the harddrive inside the physical ‘box’. If you’re super organised, you may also save that file to an external harddrive or USB device, as a form of ongoing ‘backup’. Belt-and-braces type people might save that data to a DVD as well, giving them multiple backups in case of disaster.

But all of these various types of storage have one, critical downside – a change made in one copy of the data will NOT be reflected in the other copies. If you have 3 copies of a particular file, you will have to manually update each copy.

There is also another issue that can be a nightmare – version control. Let me give you an example. Every time I work on my WiP [work in progress], I save it to my desktop, and then I copy it to my USB device. The latest version from the desktop always over-writes the version on the USB. Obviously, this is so I always have at least one copy of my work no matter what happens [e.g. the house burns down in a bushfire or some other catastrophe].

But what if I have 2 computers and want to add to my WiP on both?

That is the problem I’ve been struggling with for the last few days: there’s no point having the laptop if I don’t use it for my work, but if I do use it while I’m away from home, how do I keep the versions straight?

My fear is that if I continue with the USB device, sooner or later I am going to get the latest version of the WiP wrong. In a moment of madness or tiredness or distraction, I’ll over-write the wrong copy and then I’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Enter cloud storage.

Like the USB drive or DVD etc., cloud storage saves your files outside your pc, usually in a server on the other side of the world. The file is ‘up-loaded’ to the cloud via your internet connection, and once it’s there, you can access it from any computer device you choose. You can also share that file with others if you wish.

For me, cloud storage means I can work on my WiP at home and have it synced to my laptop so if I go out, I can continue working on the WiP where I left off.

Lovely concept, right?

Unfortunately, the grand-daddy of cloud storage – Dropbox – showed that cloud storage can be hacked, and most reviews I’ve read say their security has not improved much if at all since then. Now, I’m not working on anything ‘naughty’ that I need to hide from anyone, but privacy is very important to me, and I would die if I lost four years worth of work through someone else’s ‘oopsie’. So no Dropbox.:(

I was trawling through the umpteenth review/comparison of cloud storage offerings – there are heaps of them! – when I came across Sync.com. And guess what! The thing that sets sync.com apart from the rest is its security. 🙂 Plus it’s Canadian, so not subject to some of the, um, government sponsored hacking found over the border.

And now for the acid test – does sync.com work?

Yes, yes, it does. 🙂

The two screenshots below show my desktop and the laptop. They’ve been synced via sync.com and the test files I used have shown up on both computers with only a very short delay – approx. 20 seconds or thereabouts.

sync com screenshots

So now I know the system works, and thankfully, getting it to work is really simple too.

How to use Sync.com

  1. First, register for the sync.com free, 5 GB plan: https://www.sync.com/install/
  2. Then download the installer to the first pc. Install Sync to the first pc using the account name you setup in step 1. Part of the setup process is the creation of a folder called ‘Sync’.
  3. Now, download and install the Sync installer to the second pc. Make sure you have a ‘Sync’ folder on the second pc as well.
  4. Drag and drop [or copy/paste] a file into the ‘Sync’ folder on the first pc.
  5. Wait 20? seconds and you will see that the file now appears in the ‘Sync’ folder of the second pc as well.

The Sync presence on your pc is minimal. If you need to do something with the actual app., you can find it inside ‘Show hidden icons’ on your taskbar:

sync taskbar icon

All other work is done on the website itself. Once I’ve worked out how to share files with friends, I’ll detail that in a separate post. For now, I’m really happy with my new way of working.

Last question: was finding and installing Sync as easy or convenient as using the default OneDrive cloud storage app offered by Windows 10?

Simple answer: no. Installing and learning how to use Sync didn’t take me long, but it still required some time and effort on my part, the payoff, however, is more than worth it:

  • I have an excellent cloud storage app.
  • It has excellent security features, and
  • I am in control, not Micro$oft
  • oh…and Sync is free [unless I want heaps more storage]

By contrast, I pay for the ‘convenience’ of Windows 10 by handing Micro$oft my privacy on a plate. No contest.

cheers

Meeks

 


#amwriting – using StoryBox 2.0

I’ve been using StoryBox novel writing software for years now so it’s easy to forget what a difference it makes to my writing. You see, I’m a pantster at heart. I don’t outline, I don’t storyboard, I don’t use ‘cards’ and I don’t know how my stories will end.

That last point guarantees that my stories will not be predictable. Unfortunately, it also guarantees that they are always in danger of turning into a sprawling, self-indulgent mess. I know, because I used to use Word [before I found StoryBox] and I remember how hard it was to see the forest for the trees – i.e. to get an overview of the whole story. I also remember how hard it was to restructure that story in order to make it flow properly.

Now when I say ‘structure’, I don’t mean a neat, pre-ordained three act roadmap of the story. I mean placing scenes where they are meant to go.

“Well, duh. Isn’t that what writers are supposed to do?”

“Yes, but I’m a pantster, remember?”

The truth is, I ‘see’ scenes in vivid technicolour and write them down. If I’m having a good day, the scene will fit perfectly into the progression of the story. Other days, not so. That’s because my sub-conscious doesn’t work in a neat, linear fashion. The process is more like putting together a spherical, 3D jigsaw puzzle. My sub-conscious gets an idea and my fingers translate that idea into something more or less relevant to the part of the story I’m currently working on. It’s not until later, often much later, that I realise scene A is in the wrong spot and that it would go much better in position 123. Something like this:

globe wireframe

And this is where StoryBox comes in. It allows pantsters like me to become hybrid ‘pantliners’, and all without trying to turn my brain into something it’s not.

For me, StoryBox does two things extremely well:

  1. it allows me restructure chapters and scenes as easily as moving physical cards around on a storyboard, and
  2. it allows me to create quick and dirty outlines on the navigation tree as I go [sort of like creating a roadmap rather than following one].

This is the navigation tree. In the beginning you start with just one chapter and one scene. As the story progresses you add more chapters and scenes on the fly until you get something like this:

storybox useful 2At the very top of the navigation tree is the name of the story itself. Below that are the chapters and inside the chapters are the scenes.

I can leave the chapter headings as just ‘chapter x’ [created automatically by the software], or I can add my own road signs to show what’s in each chapter/scene.

Over time, these road signs add up to that quick and dirty outline I was talking about.

I’m too lazy to add a synopsis to each chapter/scene, but that is also easily done on the fly.

So now I can look at my ‘outline’ to get a quick overview of the story. This allows me to see whether it’s flowing correctly. It also allows me to rethink what comes where, both in terms of events and in terms of character motivation.

In fact, this post was motivated by the fact that I have just had to do quite a substantial restructuring of the second half of Innerscape. If I had still been using Word…-shudder-

As wordprocessors go, Word is probably as good as you’re going to get, but it simply doesn’t have the tools a writer needs. Yes, you can move great chunks of text around. You can even set up a form of navigation to help you, but it’s still hard work. First you have to find the exact chunk you need to move. Then you have to select it, cut it, scroll through hundreds of pages of story, find the new spot and paste. If you mess up anywhere during that process you can do terrible things to your story.

Now look at how StoryBox does it:

storybox useful 1In this screenshot I have selected the whole story by clicking on ‘INNERSCAPE 5 TO 8’ [at the top of the navigation tree]. Then I click on the storyboarding function which displays every chapter [and part] as a digital ‘card’. To move a ‘card’, I simply drag & drop it to its new location. Every scene associated with that chapter is moved right along with the chapter.

On a smaller scale, I can do exactly the same thing with scenes. To move a scene around inside a chapter, simply select the chapter, select the storyboarding function and move the relevant ‘card’ for that scene to a new position.

If I want to move a scene from chapter A to chapter B, I click on the scene in the navigation tree and drag and drop from there.

I truly do not think I could have written the Innerscape beast without StoryBox to organize it for me. The story has become so big, with so many threads woven through it, that I simply could not have kept it all in my head.

If a project you’re working on is turning into a behemoth and you’ve reached the limits of Word functionality, I really would recommend trying one of the dedicated writing packages. I’m very happy with StoryBox, but I’ve heard that Scrivener is very similar, and there are other options out there as well. Stop struggling and start optimizing your time and energy!

cheers

Meeks

p.s. If you want to read my original review of StoryBox version 1, you can find it here. Version 2 has the same core functionality but is sleeker.

p.p.s. I just realised that using StoryBox has changed the way I write. Now I think totally in ‘scenes’ and that has resulted in a dramatic drop in the amount of waffle I produce. 😀

 

 


#hashtags for Indies

The link below leads to the Indies Unlimited website and an article I wrote about how we [authors] can use hashtags to help readers find our books…if our stories match what those readers are looking for. It’s a bottom-up system rather than a top-down system applied by some retailer.

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2015/12/07/tagging-discoverability-and-ebooks/

Please join the discussion over at IU!


How to link to your story on Wattpad

angryIn my last post about Wattpad, I talked about my failed attempts to link to Innerscape, Part 1, and the workaround I finally discovered. I was not particularly happy with the Wattpad interface, and said so.

Since then, Fernanda from Wattpad support replied to my email and explained how to link to my story properly. The following is a quick, pictorial version of what Fernanda told me.

Once you have created and published your story to Wattpad, you are ready to promote it beyond Wattpad.

Step 1 Click the tiny arrow next to your Wattpad name to display the drop down list as shown below:

 

Step 1

Step 1

From the drop down list, select the ‘My Profile’ option.

Step 2 The ‘My Profile’ page contains the About [you] as well as a list of stories you have published to Wattpad. In the screenshot below, you can see that I’ve only published one story [Innerscape].

Step 2

Step 2

To read [or link to] any of the stories you have published, click on the relevant link. For me, the link is for Innerscape.

You should now be looking at a sort of public page on which anyone can read your story.

Step 3 Click on the address bar for your story as shown in the screenshot below:

Step 3

Step 3

Once the URL of your story is highlighted in blue, simply copy and paste it into your tweet, FB post, blog post or other promotional site.

If you try to do any of this from within the ‘Works’ option [the obvious place to look for your story], the resultant URL will belong to your private Wattpad account and hence will not be accessible to other people – i.e. it won’t work!

I can see the programming logic behind all this but …a good interface would not hide such a common function in such a non-intuitive location. Or perhaps the Devs of Wattpad assume that anyone publishing material on Wattpad will not be interested in promoting their work anywhere else. -shrug- Or maybe they don’t want to clutter up the interface with all this unsightly and potentially technical stuff?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe most current user interfaces are hell bent on being innovative and different, and beggar the functionality. I’ve suffered through the latest, ongoing transformation of the WordPress.com interface, and it appears I shall have to suffer from the Wattpad one as well.

Perhaps I should be more diplomatic.

-thinks-

Nope. Poor design is poor design no matter what the intention of the developers may be.

-grump-

Meeks


List of book promotion sites

Apologies to all my non writer friends. Today’s post is to share info. about this very handy list, and save it somewhere safe for my own use.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually gone back to some of my own posts in order to check a how-to, or some other piece of information. Having it all here saves me trying [and failing] to remember where the hell I put it.

Now, to the list. It’s been created to allow Indie writers to find, use and keep track of promotional sites. In other words, collecting all your important information in one place. Again, saves on the memory doesn’t it?

I’ve only just discovered this list so I haven’t had a chance to try out the interactive part of it, but just having all this information in one place makes me happy. If I can actually track who I’ve sent what to, and when, then I’ll be ecstatic!

http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promo-sites

If any of you use the interactive part of the list please let me know how well it worked [or didn’t].

On a more mundane note, the weather continues to stay most un-summer-like. I’m loving it, of course, because this is the most peace of mind I’ve had in January for years. Now I just have my fingers crossed for February. I’m supposed to start teaching again in February so I may get a little stressed out over leaving the house, and the Daughter, on hot days. Meh…I’d better not jinx myself!

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Meeks

 


Tic [toc] – A clickable Table of Contents!

It’s almost midnight but I finally did it! Vokhtah now has a proper Table of Contents right at the front – and you don’t have to use the awkward Kindle Go-to function to see it or use it. 😀

To explain why this is making me so happy I have to backtrack a little to a comment Metan made last week about moving the Vokhtan dictionary to the front so people could see it.

Given the extreme ‘otherness’ issues of Vokhtah, and the fact that so much is explained in the dictionary, I finally pulled my finger out and re-arranged the layout to have the dictionary right at the front.

Unfortunately, when I transferred the new file to my Kindle so I could check it out, I discovered to my horror that the dictionary went on for pages and pages – literally about 20 odd. Sci-fi or not, I couldn’t see people patiently paging through so much just to get to the start of the actual story. 😦

That was when I realised the problem was not so much that the dictionary was at the back, but that no one knew it was there.

My next experiment was to type up a manual Table of Contents showing the dictionary, and insert it into the book. I put the new page at the front, where it would be nice and visible. It looked good, but was like a politician’s promise – not worth the pixels it was written in because it had no functionality. To look something up in the dictionary you still had to get to the end of the book, or fiddle with the Kindle Go-to function.

By this point I was literally pulling chunks of hair out. In desperation I emailed the wonderful Mark Fassett [the developer of StoryBox, the writing software I use].

Was there someway of setting up a clickable Table of Contents in the actual ebook, I asked.

[toc] Mark replied. He actually said a few more things as well, but the nub of it was that lovely little command.

Of course my implementation managed to screw things up the first time around, but now I know how to do it – and it works like an absolute dream! Ta dah!

table of contents 015

What you see in that pic is an actual page of the book. It’s not the Go-to function. Each chapter heading is a link that will take you straight to the relevant chapter. I wish I’d known how to do this back when I first published Vokhtah. Oh well…

And now, in case there are other StoryBox users out there wanting to do the same thing, this is what I did :

Step 1 Add a new document [not chapter or scene] to your story.

Step 2 Move that document to the exact position where you want the Table of Contents to appear.

Step 3 Type [toc] in the new document.

Step 4 In the Properties pane, be sure to tick the boxes for ‘Include in Manuscript’ and ‘Page Break before’.

storybox properties

Step 5 Select Export, make sure the output format is set to mobi, and be sure to untick the box that says ‘Start at first text’.

storybox open to first text

And that’s it, except for one more little thing. If, like me, you use Calibre to convert your mobi file to Kindle format, do NOT mess with any of the Calibre settings for Table of Contents. That was my big mistake. I messed. None of those settings are needed because that lovely, wonderful [toc] command has already done all the work.

StoryBox truly is an amazing writing tool. I’ve loved it all along, but today I’m just in awe of how powerful it is. If you write, and you’re an indie, then you need StoryBox. I’m serious.

Good night all!

Meeks


NEWSFLASH! StoryBox @ $14.95 until end of nanowrimo 2012

Apologies! I only just found out that the developer, Mark Fassett, had this special on. He is a great developer, but seriously needs to work on his marketing! He doesn’t even have this great deal on his front page, I had to dig to find the direct url for this Nanowrimo 2012 StoryBox special offer.

Or if you prefer to see where you’re going before you go there :

http://www.storyboxsoftware.com/buynow.htm?i4#ecwid:category=0&mode=product&product=15895022

I reviewed StoryBox ages ago and I’m still using it and loving it. I won’t go so far as to say it made me win this year’s nano [although it helped], but it did make getting my thoughts/plot in order easier, and it definitely made posting my excerpts a lot easier.

Now I’m going to shut up so you can grab StoryBox as time is literally running out. Trust me, you do want this software!


StoryBox – designed for writers by a writer

Let me start by saying I can’t write reviews unless I really like what I’m reviewing. Well, I really, really like this tool.

I’ve been using StoryBox for over a year now and it ticks all the boxes I look for in a good writing tool. Not only does it do everything that Word does, it does all the things that Word was never designed to do, such as letting me keep all the information relating to my current book in one ‘project’.  Story, outline, synopsis, storyboard, characters, back-story, items, geography, you name it, StoryBox keeps it safe for me, never more than one click away.  When I want to check something in amongst all that information I no longer need to search through folder after folder of cryptically named files trying to find the one I’m looking for, the information is just there in one of the many categories available to me. And if I can’t immediately find what I’m looking for then I just type a word into the search pane and a moment later I will have a list of every chapter, scene or note in which that word appears. Clicking on an item in the list takes me directly to that location. I can also create global tags which let me track themes in my writing. If I need to move a scene or chapter from one end of the story to the other then I can just drag and drop it via the storyboard. If I want to track my word count or keep an eye on word usage StoryBox does all that as well.  Best of all though, when my story is finally done I can export it to a .txt file, an .rtf file or directly into EPUB format! Whether you intend to publish in ebook form or not, the ability to do so without any dramas is a great boon. I personally prefer to ‘read’ my story in EPUB form as I find it easier on the eyes and it stops me from editing as I go.

As much database as word processor, StoryBox quietly takes care of all this tricky stuff in the background without my ever having to think about how it’s done. Now that’s what I call a powerful tool. But wait! There’s more! StoryBox also gives me choice. If I want to write my whole mammoth story in one continuous document, I can. If I want to write it in separate chapters, I can. If I want chapters and scenes, I can do that too. If I want to outline the story before I begin to write, I can. If I prefer not to outline but would like to keep track of the story structure I can use the synopsis function to create a hierarchical list of chapters and scenes that give me a quick and dirty ‘overview’ of the story as I go.  Last but not least, StoryBox lets me choose how much or how little I want to see on my screen. As I prefer to have as few distractions as possible when I’m being creative I generally only have a few panes open at any one time, however when I do need to use one of the hidden functions I can do so with a simple click of the mouse because they are all there, quietly waiting in the background. This gives me a squeaky clean layout that is very powerful yet still unobtrusive.

All of these features make StoryBox an easy to use, very powerful aid to writing but we all know that function is not everything; cost and after sales service are important as well.

At $34.95 StoryBox costs less than a night out at the movies and much, much less than the Office Suite. StoryBox also provides something that Office does not – a real, live person to answer questions, fix problems and respond to wishlists.

The real, live person behind StoryBox is Mark Fassett. Mark is a writer just like us and he is also a brilliant programmer/designer. More importantly, Mark wants StoryBox to be the best tool out there because he uses it himself so he not only listens to suggestions, he does something about them and all the great upgrades he provides are free.

You can find StoryBox at http://storyboxsoftware.com/ or you can follow this link. Check it out; having the right tool makes any job easier, even writing.


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