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My Best Tech Buys of 2014

11 December, 2014

It’s fair to say I love technology and I love gadgets, but when it comes to spending money on them, I’m often just a bit too sensible to buy anything really outlandish. This, then, isn’t going to be a best-of list littered with expensive toys, but the instead the tech items I’ve bought this year that have been genuinely useful and worth every penny. Let’s get started.

4. Moto G smartphone. My new phone really has to come in at number 4 on this list, simply because – much as I love it – a smartphone is an indulgence for me, not a necessity. It’s proved itself useful more than once, of course, but I could probably still get by without it. That said, the Moto G is a lovely piece of kit, solid, reliable and powerful enough for my relatively casual use. It’s a real budget buy as smartphones go, but it’s one of the best cheap phones out there.

3. Logitech wired gaming mouse. Perhaps this seems like a bit of a strange inclusion – it’s just a mouse, after all. However, when my previous wireless Logitech mouse started to wear out, I made the switch to a G400s, and I’ve not once regretted it. Whilst wireless mice are, in theory, a great idea, I’ve discovered that this wired version is much more reliable and much less hassle. If you’re going to be using a PC, after all, why use a gadget that requires batteries, which are both going to cost you extra money and be ultimately wasteful?

2. Netgear wireless range extender. Ok, this one isn’t very sexy, but it’s been an invaluable addition to our household. We have a very large house with very thick fire doors and even thicker stone walls, and had a string of complaints from guests about poor wi-fi reception. After taking just a couple of minutes to set up, our Netgear extender essentially provides a second wi-fi network, perfect for guest use upstairs. These things really are a must if you’re struggling with home wi-fi.

1. Hoover hand vacuum. And now we come to the least sexy of all. Yes, it’s a vacuum. Yes, that’s all it is, with no other bells and whistles attached. However, for someone who spends as much time cleaning as I do, this has been the single best piece of tech I’ve bought all year. After looking at far more expensive Dyson models (one of which cost an extra £70 for a plastic extension tube!), we went for a Hoover Jovis, which is both powerful and has a decent battery life (although it has truly terrible reviews online, so we’ll see how long it lasts!). Being able to quickly blast round the house with a hand vacuum before guests arrive saves us a huge amount of time, which is why it’s landed here, in the number 1 slot.

So, there are my alternative ‘buys of the year’. What tech items have you found invaluable in 2014 – and are they ones you didn’t even realise would be so indispensable before you bought them?

A Few Blogging Changes

5 December, 2014

November is always a busy month for me, blog-wise, and also a time when my posts here focus exclusively on writing and NaNoWriMo. This year was just the same, but several times I found myself fancying writing about something different. November wasn’t really the time, I reasoned – and I barely had the time, either – but now NaNoWriMo is over, I’ll be shuffling a few things around.

First of all: I will still be blogging about writing. My ‘Writing Life’ posts tend to reflect where I currently am in my writing projects, and I enjoy creating them both to clear my head and share what I’ve been up to. However, I feel I’ve been very remiss in blogging about books recently, and I want to change that. I’m planning a new series of ‘Epic Reads’, where I review/discuss some of the longer works I’ve recently read (mostly because it’ll give me a fresh incentive to dive into some fantasy series and to read some of the weightier tomes I have cluttering up my bookshelf!).

That’s books and writing – what else? I actually don’t have any firm plans, other than that I’d like to post more photos, more gaming stuff, and perhaps a few reviews of miscellaneous tech items (I do love my gadgets, after all). I am, of course, still posting to my joint game review site, but you can expect to see more casual updates here as well.

This is not a New Year’s Resolution, exactly – I don’t tend to make those – but I’ve been blogging here for several years now and it feels like time for a change. Here’s to many more years to come!

NaNoWriMo – What Next?

4 December, 2014

November is well and truly over, which means this year’s NaNoWriMo is now at an end. If you were taking part, how did you do? Was your novel a runaway success – or a complete flop? This year, I managed to stay on target right until the very end, squeaking over the 50,000 word mark on the 29th and taking a well-deserved break the day after!

Now that NaNo’s over though, what next? If you ‘won’, of course, now is the time to give yourself a pat on the back and probably catch up on some sleep. If your novel is actually complete, putting it aside for a while before revisions is always worthwhile. If, like me, that 50k was only a part of your estimated total, there’s obviously a lot more work to be done. I’m dialling back my daily word count for December, aiming for 1000 words a day instead of NaNo’s 1667 – but I’ll also be catching up on my serial fan-fic, starting on the editing notes for another novel, and posting the first few chapters of another serial story (more on that soon!).

So, what if you didn’t win? What if 50,000 words still seems like a dim and distant dream? The simple answer is: it doesn’t matter. It can be easy to get caught up in the fun and excitement of NaNoWriMo, but at the end of the day it exists to serve a single purpose: getting you to write. I get frustrated when I see people sharing NaNo ‘tips’ online, which essentially amount to easy ways of reaching 50k and nothing else. Spending pages and pages describing your character’s dress, or hair, or the view from their window is all very well when it comes to churning out words, but what use are those words going to be when November is over?

NaNoWriMo, then, is just an added incentive to write in November, not the ‘be all and end all’ of the writing year. Even if you managed just 500 words last month, those are words you didn’t have before, and now is the time – as it will be for next month, and the one after that, and so on – to add a few more to the total, with or without the forums, badges and shiny little graphs to keep you going.

I don’t begrudge people whose only interest in writing is to take part in NaNoWriMo every year and never touch a keyboard for the other eleven months. However, if it’s the writing you’re passionate about, not the competition, open up that manuscript again or pick up that pen. December is here – and we’ve got writing to do.

NaNoWriMo Week 2

18 November, 2014

I’m a bit behind with these weekly posts, but that’s all just part of the general NaNoWriMo craziness! Now, let’s get to it.

Words      I’m past the halfway mark! Hurrah! In fact, my total word count is now creeping close to 30k, and I remain a teeny bit ahead of the target word count for this point in the month (more on that in a sec). However, I’m now reaching the point where my planning mostly runs out and I’m going to be winging it when it comes to ‘what happens next’. I reach this stage with every novel, of course, but the added pressure of needing to write every day to stay on track means finding the time for further brainstorming might be tricky.

A day off     In the middle of last week, I took a day off from writing to engage in a bit of early Christmas shopping. Now, I could actually have fit in my writing as well and I really wish I had. Although I was far enough above the target word count at the time to never drop ‘below par’, as it were, having a day off made it much harder to get into the writing groove the day after, and I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. I’m back to around 1000 words above the target at the moment, but it’s really felt like a slog to get there. However, I also need to blame…

The day-job     Didn’t I say my day-job was likely to be quieter in November? Who’s going to be looking for a B&B in rural Yorkshire at this time of year, I thought – and in this weather! Apparently, I was dead wrong, and November has been just as manic as the preceding two months. Whilst that’s great for the business (and our bank balance!), I’ve frequently had days where I’ve cooked, cleaned, baked, written and done nothing else. Of course, day-job + writing is the formula for the days of many writers who don’t write full-time, so I’m not complaining, but it does make me realise how much gaming, reading and TV watching I was managing to fit in before. I really wasn’t working as hard as I thought!

Week 3 is now upon us and I’m already wondering what it’ll bring. Will it be all downhill from here to the finish – or will something else crop up first?

NaNoWriMo Week 1

8 November, 2014

We are, believe it or not, now a week into November, which also means a week into this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s been a bit of a strange week for me, as I’ve rearranged my time around fitting in so many words. I’ve been, for the most part, very successful, so here’s what I’ve found so far:

Progress    Good, overall! I’m about 1700 words ahead of the target for this stage of the month, the equivalent of being a day ahead. Unlike previous years of NaNo-ing, this hasn’t incorporated any major spurts – instead, I’ve simply aimed for 1800-2000 words a day, instead of the required 1667. I’m obviously pleased with this, although I do foresee days later in the month when writing every day will be a challenge. I’m also pleased with how the start of my novel’s shaping up. I’m enjoying the characters I’ve brought together, the world-building keeps nicely complicating itself when I’m not looking, and I’ve just about reached the point where all the characters are introduced and the plot can start getting properly moving. I pointed out in an earlier post that the 50k words of NaNoWriMo is actually only about 41% of my projected total, though, so I’m in this for the long haul this year.

Time management    Perhaps not surprisingly, I quickly found that I have a lot more time in my day than I assumed before the month started. Partly that’s because my day-job is genuinely quieter this month, but I also seem to have rearranged my days to allow more time at my desk. I think finishing most of the video games I was playing in October definitely helped!

RSI    Less positively, it became clear to me within the first two days of November just how much difference spending less time writing was making to the RSI in my hand, wrist and arm. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate this, but there simply seems to be no way around the fact that the longer I spend writing, the worse my RSI becomes. However, the further I get into NaNoWriMo, the more I expect this to ease, because of point number four (and because my RSI is worse the longer I spend at my desk, not the more words I type).

Writing speed    The first few chapters of a novel always take a bit of getting used to, which has meant it’s frequently taken me a good few hours to produce those 1800 words a day. However, I’m becoming more accustomed to my world and characters, which means I’m starting to pick up pace. I’ve also noticed one very pronounced aspect to my NaNoWriMo this year: in my morning writing session, I tend to hammer out 1200 words, and then come to a halt. The other 600, typically, gets written later in the day. Quite why 1200 words is my comfortable limit for a single session, I’m not sure, but I’ll see whether it changes as the month goes on.

So, there’s my first week of NaNo progress. Let me know in the comments if you’re taking part – and how well it’s going!

This Writing Life: Here Comes NaNoWriMo!

31 October, 2014

It’s been, amazingly, a full month since I last posted on the blog. October seems to have been the month that got away: I’ve been busy with day-job stuff, more home improvements, writing, gaming and even spending time with friends. Not much opportunity for blogging, in other words! It hasn’t escaped my notice, though, that with October nearly over, November is upon us – which means only one thing. NaNoWriMo!

In my last post, I mentioned I was thinking of taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, for the third time. Since then, I’ve been um-ing and ah-ing over whether that’s really a good idea. I could certainly do with getting 50k words of a new novel down, but I’m also insanely busy. Maybe, I kept thinking, I should stick to a smaller daily word count. Maybe I’m just too busy for NaNo this year.

And then I realised that perhaps I could do with the challenge. I’ve managed around 150k words this year, which isn’t bad, but I don’t really feel like I’ve pushed myself as much as I could have. Additionally, my previous two attempts at NaNoWriMo were both successful, but under pretty relaxed circumstances. In both cases, I had plenty of time, and that 1667 words a day target wasn’t particularly onerous. This year… I have a feeling that won’t be the case.

But isn’t that the whole point of NaNoWriMo? Pushing yourself to write more than usual whilst life carries on around you – the day job, the kids, the family, your hobbies (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NaNo takes place in November, either, which carries the twin pressures of Thanksgiving and being close to Christmas for the US). It’s when you’re pretty sure you don’t have time to write that NaNoWriMo is so valuable, providing an incentive and a network of support to push you to greater lengths of productivity.

In the past, 50k words in a month was no great challenge for me. This year, I think it’s going to be a monumental struggle – and that’s exactly why I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo. There’s every chance this’ll be the first year I don’t ‘win’, but writing anything at all will be a victory this year. Who’s with me?!

A Little Writing Progress

29 September, 2014

It’s been a while since I blogged about my writing progress, so here we are. I’ve noticed recently that the busier my life becomes, the more ambitious my writing plans are. For example: start new business this year? Great! Also self-publish for the first time this year? Er, ok. And do NaNoWriMo? Um…

Ok, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I am planning to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, in which I will be writing 50,000 words (actually only 41.67% of my projected novel – yes, I just checked!) in the space of 30 days, but that’s over a month away yet so let’s just forget about that. (Note: I haven’t forgotten. Not at all. I already have reams of planning material, to make sure I’m genuinely ready to start a major novel by then, not just launch into a directionless mess.)

So if we’re forgetting November, what am I currently up to? Another novel, of course! Sort of. Essentially, I decided I want to have a go at posting something to Wattpad, which largely revolves around serial fiction (something I’ve been thinking a lot about ever since I started writing fortnightly for Chronicles of Tyria). Could I have simply chopped up an existing story to post? Of course! Is that what I’m doing? Ask a silly question…

Let you introduce you, then, to my latest progress bar.

Whilst I’m aiming towards a short novel of 60k words overall, I’m planning to break the story into three parts of 20k each (roughly 10 chapters of 2000 words – about what I write for CoT). By the end of October, I want to have that first part complete and ready to post, which means aiming for a word count of 1000 words most days. Not a huge number, or it wouldn’t have been once upon a time, but did I mention that new business? Yeah… It’ll be a good warm up for NaNoWriMo anyway!

So, lovely readers: what are your current writing targets? Are you being as ambitious (read: idiotic) as I am – and are you joining me in the craziness of NaNoWriMo this year?

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