Tuesday, 8 May 2018

First week of sprints

I'm quite happy with my first week. I ended up writing 11,000 words in 7 days.

Now on first sight, that sounds pretty fantastic. Going at the rate, I could complete a Middle Grade novel in three weeks, or an adult novel in seven. But consider that when I first started playing with writing sprints, I was hitting around 3,000 words a day. If I'd continued like that I should be closer to 21,000 words per week. That would mean a Middle Grade novel in ten days or an adult novel in three and a half weeks.

Of course, there's a little more to a novel than writing fast. Part of successful writing sprints is knowing what you are going to write before you get going, which means a lot of planning and pre-writing. So you have to add that into the mix - does that count as writing every day? If it does, I'm laughing, because I jot down ideas and scenes all the time. It doesn't result in word counts, and sometimes it's just doodles on paper, but it is development and creativity.

The other thing about writing quickly is you get lots and lots of errors. The theory is sound - Most of what you write in a first draft will be rewritten or deleted.

But I like to play with sentences as I write. I usually do something called cycling, where I write a chunk, go back and edit, polish then move on. That's not possible with writing sprints. To maintain high speeds, you have to ignore grammatical errors and spelling mistakes and simply push on. And if you want to hit the magic 5000 words per hour goal, you need to switch to dictation. I've tried that with Google Docs, both in the house and while out walking the dog. With my accent the results were usually hilarious and needed more work than ever just to get them to make sense.

All in all, I really like the fun and the challenge element of writing sprints, so I'm going to keep with them for now, and plan to really go for it when I start my next project. I'm going to plan in advance and see just how fast I can complete a 30k Middle Grade novel. I'd like to get a first draft in ten days.

But for now, I'm going to keep the sprints for fun projects that aren't really about anything. Just writing for the sheer fun of it.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Streaks, sprints and word counts

Yesterday was the first of May, and I agreed with a writing friend to go for the #100daysofwriting challenge.

It all stems from my post a couple of days ago about following Chris Fox's guide to writing 5000 words per hour, but it also goes back to the writing streaks I've done in the past, where a streak is the amount of days you can go by hitting a minimum word count for each day. I think I managed 500 words per day for 53 days which isn't that fantastic at all.

This time I'm taking a new approach by going for streaks of sprints. Sprints are small chunks of time (15 minutes for me) where I just bang out the words and track the amount written.

I'm not going to blog every day because blogging takes up valuable writing time, but also because publishing word counts doesn't really make good blog material. The only function of tracking is a motivator for myself and to see on the long term if writing sprints really do help.

Also, 100 days is a long time. Most of this is going to be just play - writing for the sheer fun of it. What's the point in that? Well, the fun of it! But also, it's the fun writing that creates the best ideas that I can eventually take to the next level. There's no need to keep the Nano approach just for November!

Colin Mulhern



Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Scrivener pros and cons

Okay, so here's my verdict on Scrivener. I've spent the last couple of weeks absolutely submerged in this thing. I didn't want to simply tinker, I wanted to know the thing inside and out. To do that, I transferred my current WIP across and dove in.

Overview

Scrivener is a piece of writing software specifically designed to work to a writer's needs. Someone sat down, took a look at how they work, at how other writers work and decided to make a piece of dedicated software that can handle everything from concept notes, to research, photos, character profiles, synopses, scenes and chapters. It's got everything you can think of, and if you've got the time, everything can be customised. Clever stuff indeed.

Everything a writer could wish for... isn't it?

Pros

Great for outlining, plotting and researching. If you do bags of research that you need to refer to as you write, then Scrivener can keep it all under one roof. You can split the windows and have anything in either - ideal if you are redrafting or need to keep notes on screen. You can colour-code keywords, add tags and labels to folders and files. You can also track all of these. As for writing, you can work directly in the window or bring up a full screen, having everything else either faded or blacked out.

Cons. 

Learning curve. Even a simple project will cause frustration. I consider myself quite IT literate, and I'm used to complex software from my time in the games industry, but I spent a LOT of time watching YouTube guides. Some things seemed just too complicated or difficult to find. Also, getting your work out of Scrivener and into something else is also a pain. What you see on screen is not what the final document looks like. It isn't very portable. You can save to Dropbox, which works fine if your other laptop runs Scrivener, but this means syncing those files (lots and lots of them). Scrivener will also back up locally, so that other laptop needs to be secure. Not good if you're using a work's machine.

Conclusion.

I want to like Scrivener more than I actually do. It ticks so many boxes, and once you get into it, isn't particularly difficult to use at all. Unfortunately, it makes playing far too easy. So when it came to actually writing, I didn't get a lot of work done. While having everything at your fingertips has its advantages, it's also a distraction. Having everything right there was like having a screen full of sparkly things when all I really need is my manuscript. I ended up compiling my document, took it into Google docs and slipped straight back into the writing seat.

Google Docs on full screen.

And that for me is the acid test. When it came to getting work done, I reverted to something simple because for me, to be able to write, I need to clear out the clutter, remove the distractions and simply get to work.

Added.
It's less than 24 hours since I wrote this post, and I've already gone back to Scrivener to give another, last last last go. I'm my own worst enemy. It's like having toothache - I just can't help wanting to give it a prod and a poke. At least this time, I've written a couple of thousand words.

Colin Mulhern

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

5,000 Words Per Hour and my move to Scrivener

I've been watching the YouTube channel of Chris Fox, a Science Fiction and Fantasy author who also wrote a great little book called 5,000 Words in an Hour.

I decided to give it a go, writing in Google Docs and tracking my word count and WPH in a spreadsheet. The results are quite impressive. I don't want to give all of his secrets away, but if you are interested, take a look at CHRISFOXWRITES where you can download the ebook for free.

I haven't broken the 3000WPH mark yet, but I find it almost impossible to write without correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation along the way. But, I have been knocking out over 3,000 words each day without having to sit at a my computer for hour after hour. This is important, because I  work full time, have a family and I like movies, TV Box Sets and eating crisps!

One other thing that has come out of watching Chris's channel is that I've become even more fascinated by Scrivener. And so, a few days ago, I started the trial and had a play. Last night, I transferred my current WIP over. This means I haven't done a word of writing today, but I'm looking forward to giving Scrivener a full working trial to see what all the fuss is about.

I'll report back...

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Google Docs Vs Microsoft Word - the verdict

(Note - on recommendations, I also looked briefly at LibreOffice and Scrivener.)

Is one really better than the other?

The simple answer is no. The problem with choosing writing software, or having it recommended, is that different writers have different working habits. Some gather loads of research. Some plot to an insanely detailed degree. Some keep detailed character files. Some write scenes then shuffle them about. And some just start at Chapter One and see what happens on the page.

It also depends on where you work. Some writers have a single desktop machine that never moves. Some have a laptop and write while watching TV or on the go. Some have different machines with different operating systems (eg PC and Mac) and work between the two. Some even write on tablets or smartphones.

So, in order to find the best platform, simply playing with different word processors isn't enough. I need to nail down where I work and how I work and then find the best fit for my needs.

Where I work

Mainly, at home on a personal laptop and during my lunch hour on a work's laptop.

I have worked with Word and Dropbox for years, but that means syncing my documents to a specific machine at work. If that laptop isn't available, it means logging into Dropbox and copying the files, working, then saving and copying back. Google Docs works across different machine and operating systems effortlessly. I can open a document on any device and it is ready to edit without any fuss. I also found that I really like having my documents to hand on my phone, especially if I'm sitting waiting in the car or something. I tried using Word and Dropbox apps to balance this out, but they feel clunky by comparison.

Google Docs rocked this round. 

How I work

I like to bounce between documents and have lots of information at hand - specifically, the working document, character profiles and a working outline. Scrivener should be perfect for this, but it's just not mobile. It also feels a bit messy and quite 90s, if that makes sense. I can have multiple documents open in Word, but flipping between them isn't as fast or instinctive as Google Docs (CTRL + TAB). I can also work FULL SCREEN. This option is available in Word, LibreOffice and Scrivener, but LibreOffice leaves a button on screen, Scrivener leaves the background semi-visible and Word had the option hidden (I only found it this week, and I've had my W-2007 copy for over ten years!).
Edit: I didn't realise that Scrivener can completely black out the background. The choice is there. I've also discovered that Scrivener works very well with Dropbox or Google Drive. 

Google Docs wins.   After taking another look at Scrivener, I  feel I should give it a fair trial and blog an update. Right now, it feels like Scrivener offers more than I realised.

Final manuscript

I have a particular look for my final manuscripts, and want my file to look that way from day one. Scrivener fell flat on its face as far as this is concerned simply because of the learning curve. I know it's possible to get a full WYSIWYG mode, but it's not clear how on day one, and right now, I don't want to lose hours of time trying to do something that should be right there. Google Docs is good, has lots of the features of Word and produces a great final draft, but Word gives me just a little more control over style guides. (Note, I also looked at LibreOffice here too, but it didn't sway me at all).

Word wins - but it's a fairly close finish.

Editing

Word is the industry standard, and that's what most editors use, but I would like to really test Google Docs here. One of the best features of Docs is that two or more people can work on the same document at the same time. As one person edits, those changes appear on all open devices. That's the future, right there. Most people I know that work in Scrivener go to Word when it comes to working with Editors.

Word wins by default. However, I have heard of one writer doing a pitch by sharing a Scrivener file through Dropbox and showing off all the research and back material. How cool is that?

Overall Verdict

Word: I've worked on Word for years, and together with Dropbox I thought I had a system nailed.

Scrivener: I've played with this a few times and should love it, but I'm yet to see the magic that everyone else talks about. Ideally, I'd like to give Scrivener a full soak test of using it for a month, just as I did with Google docs. Quote: Hicks in Aliens, "It's the only way to be sure."

Google Docs: This really surprised me. I'm amazed at just how easy it is to use across platforms, and love the added bonus of being able to see and edit my documents on a mobile device without any fuss. I don't need to worry about saving or the program crashing either. But more than anything, for sheer productivity, Google Docs blows everything else out of the water because I can work absolutely anywhere - I can even dictate text directly into the document while I'm walking my dog.

Conclusion. 

I love Google Docs. Just love it. It's simple, quite fast (not as fast as Word) and I can use it alongside Google Sheets to track my writing targets. It's perfect for writing if you want a very simple editor and your documents aren't too big. However, I can't ignore the buzz surrounding Scrivener and I want to know more, so... the only real conclusion here is to look deeper into writing software.


Colin Mulhern

Monday, 26 March 2018

Google Docs Vs Word

I've finally decided to give Google Docs a full trial - not by playing or fiddling and saying, 'Yeah, that's cool,' but by using it for the next few weeks and seeing how it goes.

Why change?

I have looked at Google Docs in the past, but felt it too difficult to give up the more advanced controls of Word - I was formatting ebooks at the time and couldn't be bothered to wrestle with something new. And really, I think that's the hold Word has - it offers soooooo much.

But there's a lot to be said for simplicity, and Chromebooks fascinate me. Their whole charm seems to be one of liberation rather than limitation. But I don't need to buy a Chromebook to see what they are like, do I? I can just use Chrome on my laptop and start using Google Docs now and see how.

So that's what I'm doing. Already, I've found a lot to like but I'm going to hold off putting any details just yet - it could well be the shock of the new. So I'm going to stick with it. I've switched over completely, converting everything I have to Google Doc format. For the next few weeks, perhaps a month, I'm not even going to look at Word. I want to give Google Docs a full test and report on a working trial - although it's very, very tempting to start shouting about the bells and whistles.

I'll get back on this.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

World Book Day 2018

Had a great day on our postponed World Book Day at school last week. We were closed due to the snow on the real World Book Day, but that wasn't going to stop us - besides, if parents have been good enough to pay for costumes or put the effort in to make costumes, then how could we let it go?

It's fabulous to see so many children dressed up as their favourite book characters, and great to hear them talk about books they love. Sharing experiences of favourite books is a big part of the day - after all, there is a point to World Book Day. We have a lot of children with reading ages much lower than their peers, and peer excitement can be a great motivator to make them want to learn, so we make a big deal of giving them time to talk to each other about what it is that makes their favourite book so fantastic.

We invited Class 5 to come down and pair up with our Class 2 kids and read to each other. 

In the afternoon, one of the Year 2 girls read out a book she had written and illustrated all by herself. This inspired everyone to make their own books, so I handed out blank booklets I'd prepared earlier and everyone got to work. 

We finished the day with the last couple of chapters of Buttercup Sunshine. Class 2 are the only class IN THE ENTIRE WORLD to have been an audience for it, and they loved it! I'm pretty chuffed about that - it was a real buzz to read my own story to the kids I work with. Just awesome.   

As you can see below, things got quite animated. Being attacked by a zombie Harry Potter has got to be the highlight of the day. 


That's not my real hair! I'm in disguise.

Being attacked by a zombie Harry Potter

Photos courtesy of the school's Twitter feed.

Colin Mulhern

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Buttercup Sunshine - two book deal with Maverick

Delighted to shout from the rooftops that 
Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of DOOOOOM! 
will be released in September by Maverick Childern's Books. 
They snapped it up, two days after submission and offered a two book deal.

I've been dying to reveal this cover. I absolutely love it.



If you've been following the story of Buttercup on this blog, from development to submission, you might know the story behind the book, and what inspired it - which makes me extra proud. Plus, I was given the opportunity to illustrate it. So it's my first book for younger readers and my first illustrated book all in one.

Book 2, Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman's Hill comes out April next year.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Morrissey at Newcastle Arena

I got a bit of a surprise on Christmas morning when my wife told me, "I've got tickets for you and Dean to go to a concert in Newcastle." - Dean is my brother-in-law.

"Great. Who are we going to see?"

"Morrissey!"

Me, confused: "Morrissey?"

"You do like him, don't you?"

All of my life I've listened to punk, thrash metal and goth. But I have got a Smiths album somewhere, and once had a girlfriend who had a poster of Morrissey on her bedroom ceiling. Does that count?

"Erm... yeah. Love him. Great."

I met up with Dean a few days later. "Here, was this your idea? Morrissey?"

He gave me the same confused look. "Morrissey? I think I've got a Smiths album somewhere."

It soon became clear that the present was more the night out than the actual gig, but I wanted to get the most out of it so I started out on a diet of nothing but Morrissey for the next few weeks. Every time I got in the car - Morrissey. Every time I walked the dog - Morrissey. Lunchtimes - YouTube. I started singing the songs in my sleep. I even got his new album. By time the gig came round, I was well primed.

A few drinks in Newcastle meant we missed the support act - unless the archve footage of Ramones, James Brown, New York Dolls and a few others was it. Our tickets were for the Standing section, so we got a good view of the show - until we heard the opening chords to Suedehead and everyone went crazy and Dean spilled his beer all over my head.

The one thing that really hit me was how good his voice was. The sound in general was superb. I'm used to seeing bands that play so loud, all you can hear is distortion. But his voice... just incredible.

So there you go. I now listen to thrash metal, punk and goth... and Morrissey. Good night out. Good Christmas prezzie.


Sunday, 18 February 2018

Entering the Author Twilight Zone

The Author Twilight Zone - that's something they don't tell you about in those writing manuals. It's a special little place where time stands still and frustration grows like an itch you can't possibly scratch.

For anyone who has followed this blog, in particular the development of Buttercup, you might have the idea that things in publishing run slowly. Actually, in the case of Buttercup, it's racing along at top belt. Bearing in mind that this time last year, I hadn't even started on the first draft. Often it takes more than a year to just place a manuscript, never mind all the edits and other stuff.

One of the hardest things is keeping the major details under wraps. I've blogged about the process: the pitch, meeting an agent, working on edits, sketches and illustrations - because I think that's interesting to anyone who wants to write and go through this process. But I've avoided giving any official details of the book, the publisher, release date and other things. The reason is simple enough: the publisher has made the investment, the book is their product, so it's only right that they get to make the announcement first.

But the further along the process you get, the tougher it is to keep all this news to yourself. I've seen the cover go from roughs to final artwork, I've seen the promotional flyers - I've got a date for release, another date for the promotional launch... I've even seen the ISBN number (nerd central, right there!). I am so close to the finish line that I can almost taste it.

But I can't say a word. Not for another week and a bit.

That's the Author Twilight Zone. And it's itching like mad.

Colin Mulhern

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

My Secret Dog by Tom Alexandar

I love this book. Love it. It's short, simple and funny. Kid wants a dog - kid finds a dog and keeps it secret.

I work with reluctant readers, so something accessible, entertaining and short enough to get through in a couple of sessions is a great find, but I also liked it for what it is - just a great little story.

The illustrations are deceptively simple, just stick figures and line work, but they work. What's more, it gives another great message to kids because they are easy enough to copy, showing that you don't need to be a brilliant artist to tell a fantastic story.

Brilliant. I'd give it six stars if I could!.