NaNoWriMo 2016 Post-Mortem

nano2016_screenshot

I like to write up a post-mortem about my writing projects after I’m done with them, so here are my thoughts on my NaNoWriMo 2016 draft. For reference, it’s an untitled historical fiction set in Belgium at the beginning of World War I. It’s about, you know, people, who like, do stuff.

The hook might still need some work.

I validated my (exactly, as it turned out) 50,000 words about 8 PM on November 30th.

nano_comeback30

This was definitely my greatest come-from-behind win. The previous record was 2013’s train wreck, which now looks like it was a walk in the park:

nano2013

And here’s 2014’s picture-perfect graph in case you think I’m always a slacker:

nano2014

And no, I haven’t finished editing any of these manuscripts. Some of them I haven’t even started editing.

So about the story. First of all, it’s not technically “finished” yet. I feel like I’ve only completed part one of three for this particular story, so I could easily see it growing to a total of 100k or more words before a complete first draft is done. There is no resolution of the story yet, and frankly I don’t know where or how it will end. (All I know is that it has to end before the end of the war, otherwise it’s about fifty books away from being done at the current pacing.) I just have an idea that there are three distinct “phases” of the overall story, which I think of as “Before Antwerp,” “During Antwerp,” and “After Antwerp.” Most of what I wrote is in the “Before Antwerp” section.

I suppose I could end it “During Antwerp” but it would probably be a bummer of an ending there. Sort of an Empire Strikes Back kind of ending, rather than a Star Wars kind of ending, if you know what I mean.

Early on I experimented with streaming my writing sessions on Twitch. I think it had some benefit, but overall I don’t think it helped enough to warrant continuing. (I think I gained a couple of followers though.) The main thing it did was force me to sit in one spot and think about the writing uninterrupted. That was probably a good thing for this particular project. If I hadn’t been streaming, I might have wandered off and gotten distracted with something else and never gotten anywhere.

I say that because this novel was really, really hard to start. I think it probably had something to do with the fact that I didn’t have any kind of plot or characters prepared ahead of time. (Duh!) But besides that I had a really hard time putting myself into the world of 1914 Belgium.

This was the first time I’d ever attempted to write a historical fiction. It’s really scary to write something when you know for sure everyone will be pouring over every word to verify the historical authenticity of it. I wrote out a timeline of historic events beforehand and I tried to follow the basics of things as I know them, but I’m sure there are tons of details that I got wrong. (Like maybe those tentacle monsters.)

In this first draft, I knew I would have to ignore things like language and culture and, you know, silly little things like facts, and that was hard. It grated on my nerves to not be sure whether people should be speaking French or German or Flemish or whatever other languages they had back in 1914.

I wasn’t quite sure if the average peasant walked into a room and turned on the lights, or lit an oil lamp, or both, or neither. I know there was electricity in the cities but what about way out in the country?

I spent a relatively large amount of time one day trying to figure out if flashlights had a) been invented in 1914 and b) were common in 1914. (Turns out yes they had been invented and soldiers carried them, but I’m still not sure if every Belgian village household had one.)

That kind of stuff bugs me when I’m writing and can really throw me off. The entire nature of a scene can change based on whether a person can shine a flashlight into a dark room or not, you know? In this case I tried to circumvent all issues entirely by avoiding too many descriptions.

And then there was the U.S. election, which was like a nuclear bomb going off in Washington, DC on November 8th. I’m fairly dispassionate about politics myself, but most of the Internet went into a deep depression, and that rubbed off on me too. The point is that I stopped writing for about a week.

But I’m rather proud of myself for picking it back up and clawing my way back into it. Amazingly enough, the writing actually got easier in the final two weeks. I think when I started my comeback, the nanowrimo.org page said I had to write 2500 words a day to finish on time, but at first I was content just to get to 1667. Then I slowly worked my way higher and toward the end I found it wasn’t that difficult to write 2500 or 3000 words in a day. (There was a fortuitously-timed holiday weekend in there too.) I think I got to 4000 on that last Saturday.

Here I should apologize to anyone who didn’t make their goal. I’ve been there too, and I know it’s annoying to hear people talk about how well they did in NaNoWriMo. I’ve had plenty of those days where you struggle to write 200 words and then you see somebody tweet out “I did 7000 words today!” and you just want to punch them right in their smug face. My only advice is keep trying.

The other thing I’m proud of is that I stuck, mostly, to the story. In my 2013 train-wreck, I wrote a lot of “filler” words, basically rambling about nothing related to anything. I had characters talking to each other about the story they were in, new characters popping in from totally different genres, stuff like that. It was mostly a waste of writing effort. This time I tried to stay in the right setting with the right characters. (Okay, except for that tentacle monster. And maybe a couple other off-topic sections. Let’s say I stayed on topic for 95% of it.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about writing a lot of words quickly: It’s very difficult for me to sit down and write, say, 4000 words in one sitting. I work much better when I sit down and write 500 words, then do something else for a while, then come back and write another 500 words, then do something else for a while, come back and write another 500, and so on. If I keep doing that throughout the day, I end up with a bunch of words and it doesn’t feel like an exhausting slog the way it would have if I’d written them all at once.

I discovered that a few years ago, but I mention it again in case it helps anyone else, and also to reinforce it in my own mind because sometimes I forget how I work best. (It’s kind of dumb but every time I start a large writing project like this it feels like I’m always starting from scratch.)

Speaking of which, I’ve grown to like my document structure for writing a first draft. I use Scrivener and make one blank document for each day. So every day I’m looking at a blank page, and most of the time I don’t even look back at what I’ve written before. That structure gently forces me to keep going forward instead of looking back. (The down side is that I probably repeat myself a fair amount.) (And it’s harder to edit later.)

scrivenerlayout

I wrote this draft entirely in Markdown format. One blank line between every paragraph, _underscores for italics_. I actually didn’t do much italics, now that I think about it. The quotes are sometimes smart and sometimes not, depending on where I pasted in some text I’d written at work.

I had a much easier time typing on my MacBook Air than I did on my PC keyboard. I don’t have to move my fingers as much. Toward the beginning of the month I wrote on my PC but toward the end of the month I did all my writing on the MacBook Air. (One of the great things about Scrivener is that you can work on your project from a Mac or a PC interchangeably.)

On weekends, I found it very difficult to make myself write early in the day. It doesn’t feel very natural to write when the sun is out. Presumably this is a side-effect of having to write when I get home from work.

It was always hardest to write the first words of the day. After I’d written something, it was much easier to continue from where I’d started.

As for whether I would write more historical fiction, I could see myself doing that. There’s a certain freedom in not having to worry about “world-building.” I wrote a thriller once and had the same feeling about it.

FFXIV – Importing Settings From Another Computer

Documenting this with better search keywords so it’s easier for me to find next time.

I re-installed FFXIV on my new PC and of course all of my settings were gone. I dimly remembered running into this before, but it took a while to dig it up.

To copy your FFXIV settings from one machine to another, copy Documents\My Games\FINAL FANTASY XIV – A Realm Reborn to the other machine. I left out the “screenshots” and “downloads” folders.

ffxivsettings

ShareX For Uploading Screenshots

A while back I asked on Twitter if there was a way to automatically upload screenshots taken from games to some kind of online repository:

It turns out that ShareX has this capability.

You can’t actually take the screenshots using ShareX, because it doesn’t support full screen applications, but it has a feature where it will watch certain folders and upload any new files to wherever you want. (It defaults to imgur, but there are a zillion different options.) This is exactly the kind of functionality I wanted.

ShareX_Watch_Folder

I added all of the folders where MMORPGs save their screenshots and viola, every time I save a screenshot, it automatically uploads to my imgur repository.

Endgame Viable’s Imgur

The main reason I wanted something like this is that I usually write my blog posts far, far away from my gaming PC, so I never have access to any of my screenshots when I need them. Having them on imgur allows me to embed them in posts at the time I write them, as opposed to trying to remember to add them in later, which I almost always forget to do.

NBI 2016 – Thoughts On Blogging

nbi2016

The first rule of blogging is not to blog about blogging. However, June is the Newbie Blogger Initiative here in the game blogging community, so this is the month where we throw out all the rules, talk about the craft of blogging, and try to recruit and encourage new bloggers.

I technically started blogging in 1998, when I put some random notes up on my first ever web site, unless you count some Quake match updates I posted on the clan’s page in 1997. I didn’t really start blogging with any regularity though until about 2002 or 2003. The point is that I’ve been at this hobby for a while now, so I have at least a little sense of the landscape.

For the most part, starting a blog is fairly easy. Grab a free account on WordPress or Blogger or whatever and just start posting. The hard part is getting anyone to read your blog–a topic I clearly haven’t yet mastered–but generally speaking you do this by posting comments on other peoples’ blogs, posting on forums, posting on social media, sending out blog links to an aggregator like @mmoblogosphere, or participating in community events like the NBI.

Do you have what it takes to be a blogger? Almost definitely. All you need is a little bit of time to write, and the courage to post what you write. If you’ve ever posted comments on someone else’s blog or written forum posts, then you are already 90% of the way there. Even if all you’ve ever done is read blogs, you’re probably about 50% there. Avid readers tend to excel at writing, too.

Speaking of which, there are many kinds of bloggers, but a lot of them are writers. (I would count myself in that group.) For them, blogging is merely a convenient publishing platform for the writing they might otherwise do in a vacuum. If you have any kind of passion for writing, fiction or non-fiction, you are automatically a perfect candidate to be a blogger. (In fact if you have any past writing experience I wouldn’t even call you a “newbie” blogger.) Blogging is just about the easiest way to practice writing and perhaps even more importantly it’s a great way to practice having people read and react to your writing, which in my experience is the more grueling part of writing.

(That’s not to say you have to be a great writer to blog. Blogging is extremely informal.)

As a blogging newbie, you may find yourself hoping your blog is successful, but I would caution newcomers that the concept of “success” is very ephemeral in the blogging world. You can define success by the number of hits you get, or the number of dollars of ad revenue you make, or by the number of comments you receive, or any combination thereof. But I have observed that most newcomers are pretty disappointed with their blogs when they try to track those things early on. I know I was.

By the way, stop now if your only goal for blogging is to make money. Nobody is making any money by writing a blog. The best you could hope for is that your blog might give you some exposure which might lead to a content writing gig somewhere else, but the chances of that are slim and content writers tend to get paid quite a bit less than a living wage anyway.

One piece of advice that is often given to new bloggers is that whatever else you do, you need to post often to build and keep an audience. There is a certain amount of truth to that, but I’m not sure it applies as much today as it did in the early days of blogging. Back in the dark ages, people had to make a conscious choice to load your blog in their browser to find out if there was any new content there. The “update often” philosophy was borne from the fact that if people went to your site but didn’t find anything new, they would lose interest, forget about you, and go somewhere else.

Today, however, I think a lot of people will just drop a link to your blog into their favorite RSS program, or follow you on Twitter or some other social media. In other words, I don’t think readers spend a lot of time visiting web sites any more to find out if there is new content to see. Readers now get an instant notification whenever new content is available, so even if you only post once a month, people will still see it.

As a side effect, for better or worse, I invest very little time on the look of the web site itself (by which I mean the theme, the widgets on the sides, etc.), and make the assumption that everyone is reading my posts through an RSS feed or some other mechanism like that. It’s just my opinion of course, but a lot of the time spent on the fonts and layout of a blog page is wasted. I tend to go for a minimalist look that is easily readable in case people reach my site through Google searches.

A constant source of consternation for new bloggers is what to write about. (It’s particularly concerning when you’re also told that you have to post a lot.) It’s very common to think that you have nothing to say, but that should never stop anyone from starting a blog. Believe it or not, most bloggers tend to steal topics from other bloggers or news sites. :) By which I mean that we’ll see something interesting on another site and then write our thoughts about it as a blog post. Most bloggers (including me) tend to have a long list of other blogs they read for inspiration.

As far as the more inside-baseball aspects of blogging, there are a lot of mundane details that you’ll probably want to learn eventually, and which I’m sure are abundantly documented elsewhere in the NBI, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much at first. Things like how to optimize your posts and titles for search engines, how to end your posts with a question to encourage readers to comment, and how to make sure your posts have pictures so that they don’t look weird in aggregators. I find those aspects of blogging to be very much a chore and I often ignore or forget them.

So to summarize, blogging is cool! All the cool kids are doing it! You should totally do it too.

nbi2016discord

@newbieblogger2

Don’t Feel Bad About Getting Bored

I recently saw a farewell post on My Life in Azeroth. I’m sorry to see anyone stop blogging, and I hope they resume someday, but the tone of the post got me thinking.

It seems like a lot of WoW players sound apologetic or guilty when they discuss leaving that game, like they are somehow letting Blizzard or the community down. I’ve seen it in blog posts, and I’ve seen it on Twitter. Like they are admitting some deep, dark secret that they didn’t want to tell anyone. Like they are revealing some deep personal flaw in themselves.

I don’t mean to single out WoW here, but it seems like that’s where I see it the most.

I realize I’m probably reading more into this than what is actually there, but on the off chance anyone actually does feel that way, allow me to dispense some unrequested advice from someone who’s been there many times: It’s completely fine and normal and I daresay even expected that you as a player will grow tired of even the greatest, most fantastic MMORPG in the history of the world. (This applies to any game, really, not just WoW or MMORPGs.) There’s just no way that any developer can create content faster than a player can consume it. I actually find it more strange to hear about people who keep playing a single MMORPG day after day for years on end without any break.

The MMORPG genre is basically defined by repetitive gameplay, especially at the endgame (PvE at least). Sometimes repetition is soothing, and sometimes it’s annoying and soul-crushing. If it becomes more of the latter, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break from an MMORPG. If you come back to it later, then great, but if not, that’s okay too.

So to summarize: Don’t feel bad about it!

Star Trek Online – Delta Recruitment

I’ve enjoyed Star Trek Online quite a bit over the weekend. I’ve tried to play STO several times in the past but I could never get into it, but for some reason (boredom, probably) I’m “getting it” now.

Wilbert taking on time-traveling weirdos from blue space.
My heavily-armed away team takes on time-traveling bad guys from blue space.

Perhaps it’s because they just started this Delta Recruitment event at the exact time that I began playing again. I abandoned my two previous characters (who were no higher than the STO equivalent of level 1 or 2) and made a new Star Fleet “Delta Recruit” dude. I don’t have enough STO experience to know exactly what’s different but I gather that Delta recruits level a lot faster and get bonus loot to help you along the way. I seem to gain one level (or “grade” I think they’re called) after each story mission I complete, which is pretty cool.

I’ve been very surprised by the depth of the game. Neverwinter (also from Perfect World/Cryptic) isn’t very deep, so it’s nice to see all kinds of fiddly bits in STO to play around with. Things like Bridge Officers, Duty Officers, Traits, etc. Lots of things to put into slots, in other words. Sometimes that can get overwhelming but so far I like it in STO.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Leonard Nimoy’s voiceovers give a pang of wistful sadness.)

Here are some tips I’ve learned that have vastly improved my enjoyment of the game this time:

Pixelated Graphics. One of the first things I noticed was that the default settings made the graphics look pretty awful. It turns out there’s an odd setting called “Resolution scale” (under Options/Display) that for me was set to around 0.70. God knows why this setting exists, but it means it renders a picture that is 70% smaller than the screen resolution you’ve chosen, so your game looks like it’s sort of pixelated from being scaled up. I guess this is for less powerful computers, but it seems like this should not be on by default. Anyway, change it to 1.00 if you don’t want to vomit from looking at lousy graphics.

Space Controls. The default space controls were a big turn-off for me, so I made a few strategic changes. By default, your forward and backward keys are mapped to pitch up and down. I changed them to throttle up and down which feels more natural to me. (Space flight is actually more 2D than 3D in STO so the ability to go up and down is not all that important–it’s no Elite Dangerous in other words.) I also discovered that holding down the left and right buttons allows you to directly steer your ship in a mouselook kind of way, which is a huge help. Unfortunately if you don’t use invert mouse it’s backwards from standard flight controls (mouse back should be up, forward should be down–I haven’t found a setting to change it).

Moving Hotbar Actions. This drove me bonkers for a long time. Normally you just drag-and-drop abilities where you want them, but not so in STO. You have to hold down the right mouse button to drag-and-drop hotbar actions. I guess this was to keep from requiring a “lock” setting to prevent accidentally moving things.

Random Strangers. I’m in a turtling mood right now, so if you’re like me and would rather avoid random strangers joining you on Patrol missions: Open the Social menu. Click on Team Settings. Change the Team Join Mode from the default of Open Team to Closed Team (or whatever you want). (I think people are more likely to join you if you’re a Delta recruit because of that Dilithium team bonus thingy.)

So there you go. It’s a fun game that’s taken me many, many years to discover.

WoW – My Favorite Addons

I started this post in November 2014, and TAGN’s recent post on addons reminded me that it was still sitting in Drafts. So I thought I would finally post it.

Addons are a fact of life when you play World of Warcraft. You can play without them (I’ve done it), and most of the gameplay basics are there, but Blizzard has consistently refused to put in any of the quality-of-life enhancements that we are all used to from every single other MMO released in the past ten years. (I’m thinking of Rift in particular here, which put in just about every quality-of-life improvement you could have ever wanted in an MMO UI.) Thus you’ll probably want some addons for WoW. Here are my favorites, not so much to recommend them but more as a handy index for later when I inevitably lose them all after a reformat.

I typically don’t do much to change the visuals of the game, I mainly concentrate on quality-of-life enhancements and things that other games have that WoW doesn’t.

Altoholic. I don’t really do much with this addon, but it’s very handy to display informative lists of all your alts on one screen, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Deadly Boss Mods. Honestly I don’t even know what this mod is doing for me, but I assume it’s helping me in dungeons somehow. Anyway I’m sure everyone in PUGs would yell at me if I wasn’t using it.

Gatherer. Keeps records and statistics on every gathering node you come across. There’s also a neat radar thingy that you can enable if you just want to run around farming while watching Netflix. (I rarely do that, but when I do, it’s very cool.)

LiteBag Bagnon. Merges all your bags into one. I mainly like it because it makes your inventory take up less space on the screen, because otherwise WoW covers up your minimap with your bags, which I hate. LiteBag is much more consistent with the WoW 6.0 bag interface, unlike Bagnon.

Moncai Compare. It boggles my mind that WoW still does not automatically compare items in your inventory to your equipped items when you hover over them. (I know you can hold shift, but come on, this is 2015. Nobody else does it like that.)

Multishot. I recently installed this to take screenshots of significant events like levelups and achievements. I suddenly got it into my head that I wanted an automatic screenshot every time I leveled a character. That way, I can track how long it takes me (in real-time days) to advance my characters. Not that I need to know that, but metrics are fun.

Omen Threat Meter. I very rarely need a threat meter, so I’ve struck it from my list. Usually the default threat display stuff in the UI is enough for me. (But if I did need one, this is the one I’d use.)

OmniCC. A recent addition, this addon displays remaining time on cooldowns numerically over your ability icons, as opposed to the radial spinning-clock countdown display. The radial thing is great for very short cooldowns but I like numbers when the cooldown is more than, say, 5 seconds.

PetTracker. Another recent addition, this very handy addon provides tons of useful helpers if you do anything with Battle Pets. The main thing I like is the ability to display Stable Masters on the map, because I always forget where they are. (This addon seems to have some issues with 6.0, though, as I see occasional debug reports from Swatter.)

Recount. Your basic DPS meter. I don’t know why I bother, though, because I feel like DPS is radically unbalanced between classes in normal dungeons from 15-70, which is where most of my group experience is. I mean, seriously, the tank is often the DPS leader. What’s up with that? At least in 6.0 it seems they fixed the ridiculously overpowered Shield Slam that practically one-shotted every mob below level 30.

TradeSkillInfo. Adds tradeskill information to item tooltips. I got this because I wanted something that would tell me what in the heck to do with the stuff that kept filling up my bags, as it’s not at all clear if you’re a relative WoW newbie (This particular addon isn’t quite as good as I’d like, though.)

XToLevel. A very cool addon that displays information about how long it will take you to get to the next level. A variation of this addon was one of the very first addons I ever installed for WoW, way back in the dark ages. It tells you how many mobs you need to kill, or how many dungeons you need to complete, or how many mining nodes you need to harvest, or any number of other things, because numbers and statistics are awesome.

Zoomout. Allows you to zoom out much farther than the default UI lets you. Absolutely essential. I love to zoom way out so that my character is like 10 pixels tall while fighting bosses. I wish more games allowed you to do that, but most don’t. I can’t stand it when the boss is so big that it doesn’t fit on the screen.

I think I might have had another post floating around somewhere in which I griped about the most common problem with WoW Addons: Too many options. Yes, I said too many. Perhaps six months from now I will have a post to followup on that.

Elite: Dangerous Opinions and Advice

Elite: Dangerous is a neat game, however right now I see it mostly as a single-player game. I play it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people around. Thus I wouldn’t consider it a contender for 2014’s MMO of the year, despite how bad the other choices were.

From what I can surmise, there are only two possible outcomes that can happen if you encounter another person: Either they can a) ignore you or b) try to shoot you down. (I suppose some weirdos might try c) start a conversation.) As far as I know, there are no group objectives to go after yet (such as world bosses), so there is nothing to “team up” with other spaceships for. So if you’re not a fan of Open World PvP I would suggest just sticking with Solo play. For me, Star Wars-style space battles aren’t what I want from a space game, so I just play Solo. (I’m not sure what I do want from a space game, but I know it’s not space battles. At least not with other people. It takes long enough to kill the AI pilots–it would probably take a good half hour to kill another person in an evenly-matched battle.)

The fact that you have to manually pilot your ship everywhere in Elite: Dangerous is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve always liked the idea of EVE but in practice I always felt like there was little or no interactivity in the gameplay–that is, you just click a couple of buttons and your ship automatically flies to a new spot. It’s neat, but during that time, you yourself just sit there staring at the screen doing nothing. That makes it very hard for me to justify paying a subscription for it.

In Elite: Dangerous, the process is entirely interactive, which makes it feel more like a game. Unfortunately, over time, the curse of it is that piloting your ship between systems gets a little old. Flying from system to system feels like “grinding”–just repeating the same actions over and over again. You start to wish for an auto-pilot so you could press a button, get up, do something else, and come back to find your ship docked at the next system. (In real life, I would think real space ships would have exactly that.) There’s an auto-docking computer you can buy which is sort of the right idea, but it doesn’t work very well (it keeps dinging my ship because it lands too hard) and it doesn’t pilot between systems. Maybe they’ll add a full auto-pilot in the future. I’d probably even pay real money for that.

Advice

Beware that it takes some time and practice to learn to fly your ship. It took me a couple of days before I could do anything but rotate around like an idiot in one place.

The default mouse-and-keyboard setup gives you your basic flight-simulator controls: Left and right to roll, up and down for pitch. You can get around like that, but to fly more efficiently (especially while docking) you’re also going to want to learn to use the up, down, left, and right thrusters, and the left and right yaw.

Expect it to take a dozen or so docking attempts before you start to get the hang of it. In those first ones, you’ll feel like a senior citizen trying to drive with macular degeneration. Do not turn off the rotational correction unless you are a serious masochist. Your ship will survive banging into walls and stuff so don’t worry too much about that.

Don’t worry if you run out of oxygen and die in deep space like I did. You’ll get a new Sidewinder ship for free. (Also, don’t forget to refuel every time you dock somewhere.)

Get to know your Frame Shift Drive (the ‘J’ key by default). It took me a while to realize this, but there are actually two different “modes” of the Frame Shift Drive. One is for flying between systems, and one is for flying within systems. If you notice that you can’t stop, it’s because your Frame Shift Drive is still on because you’re flying inside a solar system.

The basic idea with trading is to buy goods that have a High Supply and sell them to systems where they are in High Demand. The Galactic Map is not terribly helpful in giving you that information either. If you follow the trade routes on the map, you might end up getting boned. I don’t know if it’s a bug or if I’m using it wrong, but I’ve had to make lists of the items in high demand at various systems in a separate document.

The fastest way to make money by far is trading, by the way. Exploration, mining, and collecting bounties is really, really slow. It can take you hours and hours to make the same amount of money you’d get in one trip between adjacent systems. I’d really like to see those activities get improved rewards. I would do more of them but it’s just not worth it right now.

Conclusions

Since trading is pretty much the only effective way to “level up” in the game (ie. make more money), it gets pretty routine after a while. For that reason, my attention has drifted away from Elite: Dangerous to other things. Still, it’s a cool game, and I think I got my money’s worth. I’ll pop back in from time to time to see what they’re doing with it.