Distraction-Free Writing Programs

As mentioned in a previous post, I partook in NaNoWriMo 2011, and rather than use my beloved WriteMonkey like I did for NaNoWriMo 2009, I used yWriter 5. Recently, I’ve tried a few other distraction-free writing programs that are currently out there, and I’ll give you a quick review of those I tried.

* Just as a side not, I tried Scrivener again for the second time in as many years, and I still don’t like it. While certain areas are customizable, its layout and format just rub me the wrong way. While some areas in it are customizable, its layout and format just rub me the wrong way. I’m sure it’s fine for what it is, some people even claim to “live” in Scrivener, but I just can’t. A pen and notebook are more organized. I find Scrivener messy and aesthetically very unpleasing. That’s all I’ll say about that!

CreaWriter

Creawriter was the first distraction-free writing program I tried. It’s easy on my memory, which is important because I use a laptop that likes to overheat a lot. There are two versions, a free and donor version (any donation over 5€ accepted) . In the free version, the background, background transparency, and background sound file is customizable, and typing sounds are donor-only. Fonts are limited to three basic fonts (mono, serif, and sans serif), and font sizes come in only three options (small, medium, large).

I give it a 5 out of 10. Visual customization is good, though the white “wings” where the buttons are on are a little distracting (they disappear when you start typing). I feel that the buttons on the right could be designed better. Personally, I prefer something more customizable, and while typing sounds are a little perk in these sorts of programs, I find it a little strange that they’d leave it out even in a free version. See their website (towards the bottom of their site) to see what more you get with the donor version. Or click the thumbnails below to see if you like it!

  

OmmWriter

OmmWriter: I really like it, but it eats at my memory. If I turned its preset background music off, I may far better with it (for I hate typing on a laptop whose internal CPU temperature is 174C … you do the math), but otherwise, it does tend to eat my RAM and CPU.

It has a very Apple feel, and it figures because OmmWriter was originally for Mac. I’m happy to see it available for Microsoft because I really like it. Font is limited to three typefaces, four different font sizes, it does keep a word count at the bottom of your writing area, and the writing area is fully movable and resizable. This program is very visually appealing. The only downside is that it becomes just another full-screen writing program if all those nice typing sounds and background music is turned off. Background, background music, and typing sounds are not customizable, though the donor version ($4.11+, the amount is up to you) gives you quite a few more backgrounds, music, and typing sounds to enjoy.

Easy on the eyes, and recommended if you’re into a very clean and simple program. I give it a 8 out of 10 for the minimalism and aesthetic softness of it. The music gets a little loud (earphones recommended) and I didn’t find an option to turn it down other than turning down my volume, which is a little unfortunate. I like those ambient typing sounds!

Focus Writer

Focus Writer reminds me of a basic text editor (like WordPad) with the functionality and snazziness of Write Monkey. With background pictures, and the option to not be in full screen mode. You can create entire savable themes, choosing any background picture (with the option to tile, stretch, or center), any font and color in your computer to switch to any mood you’re in with a few clicks. There’s a timer that comes with the program (set for word count or time) and did I mention you don’t have to keep it full-screen? I know, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of “distraction-free” writing, but sometimes alt-tabbing for whatever reason out of a full-screen program gets a little … tedious. It also has a built-in spellcheck (it can be turned off).

The only so-called problem I had with FW was that the typing sounds had to be manually changed, as in, you have to go to the folder you installed it into and replace the typing sound file with something else (I would presume you need to keep the same file name, so back up the old one if you want it back!). But that’s negligible. No background music, but I think it helps with how much memory it eats, because FW doesn’t eat too much of my memory. I give FW a 9.9 out of 10. I’m sure there has to be something wrong with it, I just haven’t found it yet. Of all the three programs I tried here, FW comes out on top. Tips are welcome for the programmer!

  

I’ll save my review of yWriter 5 for another post. I enjoyed it, but well, call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer keeping all my notes and timelines and character sketches hand-written in a notebook in front of me. I will say, that out of all those writing programs like Scrivener, yWriter (free!), Liquid Story Binder, WriteItNow, CeltX (free!), RoughDraft, PageFour, the list goes on, yWriter is my writing program of choice. Next to MS Word, of course. Questions and comments are welcome!


New Years Update

Apologies to those who’ve watched me disappear from this blog. I won’t list all my excuses here, but I’m glad to be able to say, with some bitter-sweetness, that I’ve restarted the series that proceed The Red Forest. It’s lacking a title, but I began it in November for NaNoWriMo and reached about 51k words, which, coincidentally, is the approximate word count I’ve reached so far in Parallax. That project has been in hiatus since summer of ’11.

Here’s to a new year, yes? I hope to at least complete one of those novels I’m working on, because I have a third story that’s been lulling around in my mind for the past two months. I must admit, new story ideas don’t come to me extremely often, but when they do, I let it simmer in my mind for a while. Sort of like a test for strength, if you will. Am I the only one who makes “deals” and “conditions” with themselves? I told myself I won’t begin this new story until I finish at least one of my novels-in-progress.

The new story? It seems, at the moment, to be in the SF/F genre, parallel or alternate universes and such… multi-dimensional, that sort of thing. And all that inspired me was a four minute cut scene from a video game preview. From that video, a cascade of ideas and characters assaulted me, and it’s stood the test of time because I’m still thinking about it. But I must complete the first draft of one current novel first!

Otherwise, life’s been busy and I don’t get half as much free time as I’d like to write (or paint). I have a part-time job, I have two consistent commissions for a website and illustrations for a friend’s writing project, and I’m also homeschooling my kindergartner as well as doing all the other things a mother and wife does. Feeling very unproductive as of now! But I apologize, I said I wouldn’t explain [all of my] excuses. I’ve been reading a lot too, there were some winners and losers in my reading list, but the good certainly outweigh the bad. My past reading list is here, and I successfully completed my goal of reading at least forty books in 2011!

I hope everyone had a wonderful holidays. Anyone make some New Year’s writing, or otherwise creative, resolutions for 2012? I have an inkling it will be a most interesting year.


Stone of Tears Review

I finished this book a couple weeks ago, but haven’t had the time to give my thoughts on it. Until now, so I can finally check it off my Day Planner.

The plot was good. I’ll try not to be too critical of this one.

The Story

The book picks up right where it left off from the first one, and honestly, this story feels like the second half of Wizard’s First Rule. Richard parts ways with his mentor Zedd for the purposes of marrying Kahlan. He leaves so quickly that he misses a lot of action that could have prevented a lot of confusion in Richard’s side of the story. A sect called the Sisters of Light (and Dark) are introduced, and once again, because of prophecies, the Sisters of Light decide to take Richard under their wing for their own purposes. They seek him out and he goes off alone with Sister Verna on the day of his wedding — but not after Kahlan purposefully misleads Richard into thinking that he must degrade himself again by wearing the scholastic collar.

So he leaves, thinking she doesn’t love him anymore, and then the story takes us back to Kahlan’s journey of discovering some vindictive Imperial Army who have been wreaking havoc in the Midlands. She fights against them, then eventually she is captured by the Midland’s government and is sentenced to death. Of course, she is only a scapegoat and is wrongfully accused, but tell that to the sheep who want her head.

Meanwhile, Richard takes his trek with Sister Verna to Aydindril. He fights with her the whole time, vowing he’ll kill them all if they anger him (Rich, get over it already!). Along the way, he befriends a gar, Gratch, and when they arrive at Aydindril, Sister Verna is demoted for his bad behavior. He immediately starts causing trouble and sneaking around, then figures out his powers and purposes, that he is really still a puppet at this point in time, and he exposes the Sisters of Darkness by the end of his stay there. He makes two friends there (why is it that I like his friends better than the MC’s Richard and Kahlan?) and despite their using him, he saves Aydindril and finally repairs the veil and closes the boxes of Orden. However, he and Kahlan are not reunited by the last paragraph (at least not in reality as we know it) and that separation is a decent enough cliffhanger for me.

My Thoughts

This second book is a whopping 880 pages, and unnecessarily so. Goodkind gets a bit repetitive and goes as far as the middle of the book to rehash what the first book was about. If one hasn’t bothered to read the first of a series, why in the world are they starting from the second book? I feel that it is the reader’s loss if they’re confused, and that the author is under no obligation to have to reiterate and summarize to the reader. Maybe it’s a publisher’s requirement, I don’t know. But Goodkind didn’t have to write pages upon pages of summary.

This brings me to my main peeve about Stone of Tears: while Goodkind is a good writer, he is lacking a good editor. The setup was good enough, but his middle dragged and there are numerous areas that should have been condensed. The end was great, and connecting the dots and watching everything unravel was enjoyable. But the length at certain points stick out and taints it as a whole. And honestly, I trudged through every page preceding p800, but after p800, I began to lose track of time as I (finally) got caught into the story. But then there were only 80 pages of exciting story to read through.

Pros:

I enjoyed some new characters, especially Warren and Sister Verna. The climax was better than WFR, and overall, the progression of the characters and events was realistic enough, despite the superfluity of prophecies.

Cons:

The foreshadowing becomes painfully obvious at times. It took too long for Richard to accept the collar, too long for him to realize that he possesses Subtractive Magic, Kahlan’s interaction with the army of boys was too long, Denna’s appearance wasn’t exactly easy for me to accept, and her “favor” at the end was just a little too eye-rolling convenient. Richard’s forced dismissal of Gratch to realize was Kahlan did was convenient, and speaking of Richard. He was pretty annoying until he accepted himself and began shaking his sword around — then things picked up very nicely. By the way, did Goodkind ever mention that the sword has the word “truth” on it?

One aspect of the world setting kind of hit me as odd, in that many people east of the Westlands seem very primitive and uncivilized, and there’s only a few sophisticated cities like Aydindril and the People’s Palace popped right in the middle. Also, I’m disappointed that he hadn’t updated the map (and even more disappointed that it’s still the same map for Blood of the Fold), but I suppose Goodkind has a reason for that, though I don’t know it.

Eh, where is Galea, Choora, Kelton, and everything else? I'd like to know where those two towers are, too.

And thankfully, we hardly spent any time from Rachel’s point of view, because his “something fierce” fixation was really getting on my nerves. Shota’s revelations were convenient, but if she could foresee so much, then why couldn’t she tell Richard how to save the world? Also, I just want to make a point here to other SoT reviewers that there were not that many rape scenes. People make it sounds as if there was raping and pillaging going on in every chapter. But here, I will insert that the castle carnage scene was probably quite unnecessary.

I have to give Stone of Tears a 5 out of 10. Many unnecessary descriptions and tedious plot moments didn’t make it an all-too enjoyable read for me. Some repetitiveness also got under my skin, and I strongly believe this book should have been around 500 pages at the most, not almost 900 pages. So I’m thrilled that Blood of the Fold is only around 600 pages. Here’s to a more direct story!


Day Watch: A Review

Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

 

Just recently finished the second book of the Watch series by Lukyanenko. I read the first one about 4-5 years ago and finally got around to the second book of his tetralogy. When I first picked it up, I couldn’t quite understand why I was so fond of the first one. But after adjusting my reading mode, I recalled why I liked the first book, Night Watch, so much. No, really, I’m inclined to believe that Night Watch played a decent role in inspiring me to write The Red Forest.

The plot in this story is a little screwy at times, but the atmosphere is phenomenal. One reviewer over at Goodread’s was extremely disturbed and turned off by how dark and dismal the book is. But to me, that is what makes it so outstanding and rises above the rest of these ridiculous Hollywood urban fantasy books that are basically written to be bought and tossed in the fire pit. Isn’t that what they do to them? I’m sorry, but anyone who is an immortal is not going to be a happy-go-lucky fool, and I despise any romanticism of the idea, as well as this nonsense where all-is-right-in-the-end. And this is why I love Lukyanenko.

Unfortunately, Day Watch was, in my opinion, not up to par as Night Watch (#1) was.

Pros:

  1. We get a look into the Dark Side (the “bad guys”). Who doesn’t like to see what it’s like over there?
  2. As always, Lukyanenko does a masterful job at capturing the tone, environment, emotions, and descriptions. When you read his books, you really feel that you are there, that you can smell the cigarette smoke, that you’re really sinking into the Twilight with them. Very raw, and very good.
  3. Everything that happens is key to the plot. Like the first book, it all makes sense in a huge ka-pow at the very end of the book.

Cons:

  1. The first plot felt rather contrived. I felt as if he just needed this to happen, but didn’t spend that mind-numbing amount of time of making it plausible. It was hard for me to believe the depth of the emotions in the first plot — love at first sight is, for me, a hard concept to digest.
  2. The last fifty pages contained way too much explaining and conversational brainstorming. The twist at the end was good, but the journey to it felt long-winded and would have been more exciting if done differently. Personally, monologues and discussions don’t bother me, but for a story like this, I would have done things a little differently. Expect a lot of questions to arise during the read, but don’t expect to be teetering on the edge of your seat.

I’d give Day Watch a 7 out of 10. The story itself was grand and unpredictable. Lukyanenko’s a very talented writer and does not unnecessarily flower things up or add inane subplots just to make things more exciting. Everything presented is pertinent and vital to the entire story. Unfortunately, the way some of the plot points are performed, I feel, could have been better approached. Execution is superb, but the credibility of some of the means getting to the end could have been better set up.

But for a fan of the Watch, I loved it. As raw and melancholy as ever, and I’m looking forward to Twilight Watch. Hopefully I can get to that within, shall we say, 2 years?


Articles of the Weeks(s) July 31-August 13


Thoughts on Fanfiction

Two trends have been going on recently. They’re similar, yet not so similar. The title may have given away the first trend: there’s been much talk and discussion lately about how to deal with fanfiction, its perks, its pitfalls, how authors should react to them, if at all, etc. The other trend you may not be aware of so much, because it has to do with a certain art website I’m a part of. For the past month (if not longer), there has been something of a “witch hunt” going around over finding and pointing out artists who trace or paint over photographs who, all the while, claim that their final art piece was an original drawn with talent. Sometimes their work includes not even crediting their reference photos.

These are my thoughts.

  1. Tracing in and of itself is not wrong. Every artist begins somewhere, and while some may get more out of it than others, it is a typical method of beginner (and mediocre, and even professional!) artists to trace any or all subjects for practice. There are other means of working on skill, I won’t get into them, but tracing is one way.
  2. Tracing a stock photo is not wrong, dependent on the stock photographer’s wishes with his stock images. Tracing an artwork is not wrong, either. After tracing, then claiming that they did not trace and that the artwork is an original thought and creation, then that is wrong.
  3. Making money off of something traced is where it gets a little more complicated. Like point #2, tracing another person’s artwork and claiming it as their own is wrong, and therefore making money off of said traced artwork is wrong. Tracing a stock photo and painting it in (which can possibly be likened to trying to sell a paint-by-numbers piece) and making money off of it — technically, the stock photographer will determine that right. Is it wrong? It’s misleading and possibly touting false talent and effort, so to me, this is morally wrong and a dishonest practice. Some may not think so, some may actually not care at all, and some may get their panties up in a super-tight bunch over it.
  4. Painting over a photo does not require much effort. Painting over a piece of artwork does not require much effort, either. Both hardly require talent or skill. I have seen both done, both poorly and well. Either of these, in my most humble of opinions, I frown upon.
  5. I use references for my paintings. Sometimes I like to capture exactly what I see, and sometimes I like to use a reference photo as a guide for something I want to capture in my mind. Is this wrong? No: I am a realism artist, bordering on hyper-realism, and oftentimes I need that stock photo or pose to achieve that realism. Real life is my guide for creating art, so I take and transform things to create something my own.

Now replace artwork with book or story, and you see where I’m going with this? Painting over a photo or artwork is likened to plagiarism. You don’t do it. And you won’t get away with it. Tracing a photo or piece of art is likened to taking the same elements of a story and mimicking its style, elements, subject, etc., or in the case of writing: characters, setting, backstory, etc. The practice is questionable, but it achieves the same effect: you’re using a crutch to hone your craft.

I don’t feel that there is anything wrong per se about fanfiction. I used to write fanfiction, and I’m certainly not alone in that department. It helped me develop my writing skills, explore different genres, and generally ease myself into writing my own original stories. In the writing world, there is hardly any opportunity at all to generate any kind of income for writing fanfiction. It’s a violation of copyright laws, and no publishing company wants to deal with that.

Now that I’ve moved on from writing fanfiction (though sometimes I fancy doing it again in my leisure time), I see it as a means of a creative expression of how much one loves the story/game/movie/show. However, one must consider what it would be like to be in that author’s position. Would you be flattered? Would you be insulted that fans are skewing their characters or world, or whatever else? I think it has to do with how the author approaches their work. Some may be possessive of their creations, and thereby wish to deny any fanfiction whatsoever. Anne Rice and others have denied places like fanfiction.net to publish fanfictions of their work. I understand, and to be honest, I think I share her sentiments for my current work. It is not an easy task to create a world, its creatures, its politics, its magic, and everything else. Writing a story using someone else’s creation saves them a whole lot of work, sweat, aggravation, brain-racking, and tears that go into creating a world.

But others don’t have a problem with it. They love that others do more with what they’ve created, that they’ve found their work so inspirational. However, like the incident with Marion Zimmer Bradley, I don’t think that authors should delve into fanfiction until they’re definitively finished with the book or series. In Bradley’s case, she interacted with her fanfiction fans and read their work while still writing in her book, and at one point, seeing that a plot line was similar to something a fan writer wrote, requested her permission to use that idea, while giving her some credit and some money. The fan writer wished for more than just that, and in the end, Bradley was unable to publish her story. The moral of that story for my fellow authors, in my opinion, is: don’t read fanfiction. It will give you ideas, turn you off, or worse, disable your story for you altogether.

Whether or not you allow fanfiction of your work is up to you. Ultimately, of course, you could never prevent it if it happened, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent fanfiction from surfacing. As for writing fanfiction, I would give this challenge: change things around. Make it your story. You can start with initial ideas, concepts, and general characters from another, but with love and dedication, your work will blossom and transform into something completely different. And potentially offer a decent monetary bonus!


Articles of the Week July 24-30