Guest Post: Getting Too Big For Your Glitches: Buggy Software for the Geek Writer by Collin Tobin

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    Upload first existed, in digital form, as tiny snippets on my smartphone. The software I used allowed me to capture, on-the-go, quick notes and thoughts. I could enter these on my PC, my laptop, my tablet, or most often, my phone. Wherever I had this software installed, my notes were kept in sync, in mystical dimension referred to as “the cloud” (btw, this is just a fancy word for a web server, which has existed for decades). Unfortunately, because I captured most of these notes while commuting, using voice-to-text, I was unable to verify their correctness. I would return home at the end of the day to read these notes. One of my favorites is a simple, direct phrase, its original meaning lost forever: “Likes ****.” (insert male anatomy). For the life of me, I can’t remember what I actually said.

    I next moved onto outlining. I imported my scattered and misunderstood digital notes into the outline. I struggled for a long time to find the exact outline format I wanted, downloading predefined templates that enabled secret, manipulative formatting macros that I was powerless against. Frustrated, I abandoned the templates and employed the MLA standards for outlining. Soon, the outline was complete and bursting at the seams. The story was further insisting upon itself to be created, as I found myself writing entire scenes in the outline and creating subheadings four and five levels deep, I had to move on.

    In a parallel track, in setting up the full cast of characters, their conflicts, their motivations, and their arcs, I had dipped a toe into another piece of software specific to story development. It was pure misery. I was made to plug in all sorts of data. A delirious amount of data. Was I writing a book or filling out a complete psych profile for match.com? And the final result was the worst of blind dates, me matched with a formulaic, half-hatched idea for how the story should proceed in order to be a commercial success.

    At this point, I had begun finally writing. Good, old-fashioned writing. These were the easy early chapters, but soon the story naturally complicated, and a proper timeline of events became a concern. Enter a flowchart tool to track the story events that occurred both before the opening of the story, and then throughout.

    Hours later, I had it. The story flowchart looked nice visually, and helped to further establish in my mind the full series of events. But as soon as I had to move a single date around, the tool fell apart. I soon moved to spreadsheets for keeping track of my chapters, and for working on quick chapter synopses. With spreadsheets, I was able to quickly refresh my memory of the story’s complete flow, and glance at them when I needed to get a quick feel for what story elements needed more attention, check on my pacing, and to keep a keen eye on story length.

    Soon, the story was growing and often my document would often hang and with my fingers crossed, promptly crash. If I was lucky, an emergency back-up file could be found. Sometimes, sometimes not. I had started to lose fragments of my story during these crashes.

    I quickly advanced to a well-known paranoiac condition known by writers as OCS (Obsessive Compulsive Saving). But I still feared the worst of all: a hard drive crash. To ready myself for this eventuality, I made a habit of moving my documents to a USB thumb drive. But I had as much luck keeping track of my thumb drive as I did my car keys.

    Enter a free online storage service. Each time I finished a writing session, I dragged and dropped my document onto a mystical folder that existed “in the cloud”. How magical! Heavenly, even. I wondered if the resident angels or sprites would perhaps work on my book as I slept, Grimm-like, and I’d open my draft in the morning to see my problematic scenes completely written, my rough spots smoothed and polished to a pleasing sheen.

    But no matter how much I obsessively backed-up the story into the ether, I still suffered the frequent document crashes. I finally moved onto a piece of software that suited all of my purposes. I’m not sure I can plug it here, but ask Melville’s character, Bartleby. He might tell you.

    Meanwhile, my novel was dizzy from such sudden context switching.

    Best of all, this software allowed me to configure my auto-back-up location. I configured it to back-up on *every* save, and pointed the back-up location to my online storage folder. Elegance solution! The writer can finally sleep! Trumpets, please!

    After all this, I like to think I’m cured of my obsessive search for a new and better tool for writing.

    But if you’ll indulge me for a second.

    One idea I have is to build a laptop exclusively devoted to the writer. The feature list is huge, but here’s a sampling:

    • Restricted access to your favorite time-killers (Facebook, FunnyorDie, Reddit, Tapiture)
    • All chat applications are blocked
    • Contains a preinstalled array of fully-updated writer’s reference manuals, writer’s market information, and dictionaries
    • Through sensors in the laptop’s biometric keyboard, your caffeine levels are consistently monitored in order to keep you at the perfectly productive levels
    • The same biometric tool will also deliver an aura report, and a real-time fortune telling session

     

    This last feature is curious, but could save the writer a lot of effort. If it turns out the author is to get hit by a bus tomorrow, or the book will turn out a miserable failure, the laptop will gently advise the writer to probably put the manuscript away for now, and maybe head outside, maybe get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine?

    Follow Collin’s Tour, here

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