Well, October has snuck up on us once again, which means that NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) is right around the corner. Some of you are probably long-time NaNo-ers, and I’m sure that some of you think the whole idea of writing at least 50,000 words in a month is completely crazy, but if you break it down, that’s only 1,667 words a day, which is totally doable. Remember, just because you need at least 50,000 words doesn’t mean that they have to be good words.
While I haven’t actually “won” a NaNo since my first attempt two years ago, I have written a fair bit since then, and I want to share some of the tools that I use, which I find give me the best chance of actually hitting my daily word goal.
FocusWriter is probably the single most important piece of software for me as a writer (short of the OS needed to run it on). In short, it’s a very customizable full-screen, distraction-free text editor. FocusWriter will work with plaintext, Rich-Text, and .odt file and allows you to set yourself a daily writing goal, which can be measured in minutes spent writing or words or pages written. The best part is that it’s free and totally cross-platform (Windows, Mac, Linux, portable). You can download FocusWriter here.
Now most people, myself included, aren’t going to make it through November in one piece without a plan. I still use paper journals fairly regularly when I need to jot down ideas (though interpreting those jottings later is another trick entirely), but for planning something as long as a novel, I often find that I need something a little more fancy to keep my thoughts in order: something that lets me organize and quickly view the relationships between various characters, story elements, and settings–something a lot like Wikipedia.
I found (predictably, thanks to Writing Excuses) just such a tool when I began working on my first novel a couple of years ago, and it integrated into my workflow so well that I can’t imagine writing anything of that scope again without a tool like it. WikidPad is a personal wiki editor that lets you quickly link thoughts and threads as you’re working so that you can click through relationships and sometimes even find new ideas in the process (not a guarantee). You can run WikidPad on Mac or Linux, but it was built for Windows, and that’s where it runs easiest (other platforms require a little work to get everything running like a normal desktop application with a launcher icon and everything). Since I’m probably going to be doing most of my NaNo on my little Linux EeePC this year and won’t always have access to my home Windows desktop machine, though, I decided to branch out a little and see if there was anything else that might fit in the same niche as WikidPad, but which I could get running on my Linux box with little more than a
sudo apt-get install. In fact, what I found fits the bill better than I’d expected.
Zim desktop wiki is a Linux application that’s also been compiled for Windows and works pretty much exactly like WikidPad does. If you’re only writing on Windows, I would recommend using WikidPad only because Zim’s file dialogs don’t look like those of a native Windows application, but if you’re doing any platform-hopping, I think that Zim is the way to go, since it’s pre-compiled for a number of different Linux distros, and there’s a Windows installer package (if you’re wanting to run it on a Mac, you’re not out of luck, but you will have to do a little bit of work. Zim does have the advantage over WikidPad that you can have whatever word you like link to a specific page, since making links is done through a dialog box, whereas WikidPad’s links always have to be the same, but it’s a touch faster to make links in WikidPad, since all you have to do is put them in [brackets] or write them in CamelCase.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that if you’re looking for a powerful text editor to use anywhere with a huge feature set and controls that will make people think you’re smart (not a guarantee either), Vim is the tool to use. It’s a terminal application, though you can get a GUI version that has buttons you can click if the thought of using
<esc> :w to save your work is too much for you (but I might judge you a little (totally a guarantee)).
If you have any writing tools that you find indispensable for getting you through November (and the rest of the year), let me know in the comments.