Feature Rich

I had this dream a while back, a couple years ago in fact, to code a content management system for novelists.

No, not a web publishing platform, but it could be that too I suppose, though rather more of an online tool for someone who was inclined to sit down at a keyboard and try to pen some fiction and needed a tool to help them.

There are a couple solid applications out there that do this specifically, and of course a million other ways to turn thoughts into words ranging from pen and paper through modern word processors.

My tool was meant to be something like those, but a little different. It was meant to be a way to work on a story in a non-linear fashion, collecting all the bits together as you went, and then massage those bits into a story that made sense.

Linear writing has too often failed me. I know some people can plot something out or come up with a couple characters and just write, but I tend to be far more scattered than that. I would take notes and write the middle bits then jump around more until I had a scattered collection of words that struggled to find purpose.

I also tend to rush things. Sometimes rushing is good: letting the reader fill in the spaces where you’ve blurred through can be a positive technique for eloquent and concise prose. But rushing can also leave gaps that are tougher to fill. It’s a bit like drywalling, I think. You want to hang the sheets so that they align and you can mud in the gaps and the painter can come along later to create a seamless wall. But if the gaps are too big, there is too much to fill in and you’re going to see the seams in the final result. Okay, so not the best analogy. But I was leaving a lot more gaps than I should have in my rush to tell the story.

So I’ve been writing this content management software for about four months now and refining, tweaking, improving all the way along as I use it to start working on my story. Truth be told I spend more time coding than writing, but I’m also running out of big features to build so that should reverse as winter creeps up on me and I can write more.

I like to think of the software as kind of like sitting at a table with pens and stack of loose leaf paper, sticky notes, and paper clips. Across from you is an inquisitive eight year old. You start writing stuff on the notes and the paper and the eight year old looks it over and asks “but why?” or “who’s this guy?” a dozen times and so you write more notes and add more plot and stick more bits together and clip that bit to this bit until your whole table is covered with notes and paper and crayon marks from the kid and some kind of order begins to emerge from the chaos.

That’s what I’ve built, but you can use it on a web browser and on your phone.

I can open up a new blank page and write while I’m sitting somewhere, from my phone or on the laptop. I can go down a rabbit hole of fleshing out characters or worldbuilding my set pieces. I can set up the big picture plot or fill in the tiny details of story. I can ask for a prompt and fill pages with scratchpad-like notes about something that might happen or might not without committing it to the story. And I can keep track of how much work I actually did with daily counts and overall word tallies.

I’ve been iteratively adding a lot of features and it’s getting closer to that dream I had envisioned years ago.

Now I just need to actually use it all to write something worth reading.






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