Monday, July 26, 2010

Writer's retreat, software, hardware and spotting The Old School in the wild

How to make the best use of three plus hours in the car en route to a couple of weeks writing retreat? That was the question I considered as I was preparing to head out of town.

I’m prepared to experiment with different approaches to writing. Although, as I’ve said before, I’m pretty old school, I like my pen and notebook and the freedom it gives me to get out of the house, away from the tyranny of the screen, and most importantly away from the backspace and delete keys. It’s so much easier to turn off that internal editor when you write by longhand. Having now seen a text through to publication, I realise there are going to be plenty of opportunities for editing down the track.

For me, creating straight on to the screen provides too many temptations to second guess and edit as I go. I’m way more productive (and creative) if I just write and save the first edit for when I’m transferring the work from notebook to the computer.

Despite my love of pen and paper I’m no Luddite. In fact I’m a big fan of new technology – an unabashed if not always entirely successful geek. So when I picked up a reference to a software program called Scrivener from John Birmingham’s blog, I decided to give it a whirl and downloaded the trial version. They are smart folks those Scrivener folks. They let you have a good long trial period – one that works on how often you open the program rather than by dates. It took me about three weeks to get the hang of it, to see the potential of it and to realise that I wanted it in my life (in fact I've become embarrassingly fannish about it - first the conversion to Mac, now proselytising for software - the shame, the shame). However, the best news is that it is such an inexpensive program (under fifty bucks!) that you really don’t have to think twice about it when it comes to affordability.  

So, what does it do? Well for a start it doesn’t hang and crash like my word program does. But better than that is that it somehow manages to turn all those tactile creative processes I like to use, such as making notes about plot, about characters, pinning things up on a board, shuffling the order of chapters, of scenes within chapters, of having a great big pile of research that I sometimes want to have open at the same time that I’m working on the manuscript – well, Scrivener makes all of that possible. 

I’ve also invested in MacSpeech Dictate in order to rest a chronically sore shoulder I’ve developed from over use of the dreaded mouse. Unlike Scrivener, this is a software package that is going to take me a little longer to master. At this stage I’ve pretty much limited it to a dictation tool. I can read from my handwritten notebooks to get that precious first rough-as-guts draft into the computer. It’s taken a bit of time (and the necessity of privacy) to get used to saying my writing out loud but .... what it did do was plant the seed of an idea, which brings me back to making use of that driving time.

As I had the car to myself for the drive up I decided to try the dictation thing in the raw, so to speak. I bought a pretty basic inexpensive digital voice recorder and set off. I admit to feeling pretty self-conscious, not to say foolish, when I pulled it out and began to “write” but I found that as I went along I started to forget myself and I got stuck into the story. Although it’s certainly not “writing” I was surprised to find that it did begin to feel like I was “creating” and "talking" the dialogue was a something of a revelation.  Like writing in notebooks, dictating lent itself to “finding” the way (stumbling) into a scene, via false starts, digressions, intuitive leaps, realisations that something would need to happen before or after this particular scene. The time and the kilometres flashed past and I arrived at my destination with that sense of satisfaction that only a good writing session can deliver.

So now I’ve settled in, transcribed the first couple of files from yesterday's travel recording and discovered that I’ve had a 3,000 word day. It's rough, there's still much to tidy up – but I’m resisting the temptation to fiddle too much at this stage. I have a couple of weeks to really get stuck into building the scaffolding of this novel; the polishing, the refining, the embroidering and yes, the inevitable stripping out, will come through once the structure is there. 

I have a sensational work environment -

– my view from the computer desk is pure Australia Felix.

 And I have a companion who keeps watch over the word count.

Meanwhile, The Old School is still out and about, lurking in bookstores, sharing shelf space with some pretty fancy company as can be seen here.

Thanks to Sophie who spotted this at Tullarmarine...

... and thanks Barbara for a shot at Berkelouw's in Newtown. 

Both up front and cover out! 

So, tomorrow - another session transcribing from files made during the car journey. Then, I might take a walk, voice recorder in hand and try out a few scenes on the locals. There's a delightfully absurd bunch of alpacas living up the road who look like they might enjoy a spot of crime fiction.

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