Searching… For A Plan?

Once again, I’m finding that I’m able to write these blogs a bit better on my phone because of procrastination. You know how that goes.

Once again, I think that I get into the situation where I try to do a whole bunch of things at once and then it turns out that I don’t focus on getting every single thing done. And again, I’m writing this late on Saturday night. At least it’s Saturday rather than Sunday.

I went and looked back at the list I first set up about two weeks ago and laughed a bit in despair and ruefulness. I might as well review what did (and more often did not) happen.

1. Continue to set up the email list, especially this “landing page.”

This got stalled out to be honest. I’m getting the idea that I might be able to try and do an email list with someone other than ConvertKit or whatever it’s called. If you asked me what that alternative was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it is.

So, the new goal will be, make sure the ConvertKit account is fully set up and start looking into alternatives to it. 🤷🏻‍♂️

2. Look into Canva. I suck at designing things.

Like I said before, I’m signed up but haven’t really messed with it. I’m considering whether getting the paid subscription might be a good idea, at least for a little while. It seems like it would give me more access to other designs and clip art. Anyone who has used it, feel free to let me know if it was worth it.

3. Set up a query letter for my new project.

Totally blew this off. I need to take a look at the synopsis I typed up of it and see if I can turn that into something.

4. Get more writing done.

🤣🤣🤣 …anyway…

Yeah, I was on a cold streak for at least the past three days. I think this is due to me spending a bit too long in fanfiction. I’m beginning to feel a little bit of obligation to continue it, and I will because I feel like I started something that I need to finish. However, I want to also start on my original work, the work that the A Song Of Ice And Fire world sparked in me. I’m getting close to having the main story finished, and after that… I think that I will be able to take things at a bit of a slower pace.

I will say this about fan fiction, however. So many people have classified it as illiterate nerds trying to fulfill whatever fantasies their favorite books, movies, or television series sparked in them. There is a bit of it there – I will say that a bit of wish fulfillment was the reason I started writing it. I’ve been writing and judging other people’s writings in different circumstances for around 25 years, so I think you can trust what I’m about to say. There are more than a few examples of fan fiction writing that were as accomplished or more accomplished than many published authors of original content that I’ve ever read, and that’s the absolute truth.

5. What I did rather than what I said I was going to do…

I signed up for Substack and Gumroad. I was a bit disappointed to find out that I wouldn’t be able to do print on demand through them, so it would have to be through Amazon self-publishing or maybe another service. I don’t just want to sell electronic copies of my books, I want to have some physical copies as well.

It’s going to take me a while to figure out the best system for me. It’s probably going to take a bit of trial and error. Whelp, such is life.

Next week I think I’m going to give a review of one of the pieces of software that I’m going to experiment with. At least that should give me plenty of material to write.

Also… I’m trying to read a new series, and that is giving me a some fits. It might be worth another blog about my feeling on spoilers.

On a totally unrelated note, I found out that I got my 1,000th “like” on this blog. So, I’ve got that going for me, which is nice, as Bill Murray once said.

Wonderdraft: A Review

When I started to read fantasy and science fiction, I was always fascinated by the maps that would be included as part of the books. I have yet to get through the entire Lord of the Rings series, but I have had several looks at the map Tolkien created of Middle Earth, and it helped keep things straight for me. I saw the map at the beginning of The High King by Lloyd Alexander and I still can’t keep straight where everyone is going – it just seemed like a jumble of symbols stuck around randomly on a sheet of paper. Dune by Frank Herbert had a unique looking map, but if you have the paperback version of this, it looks like he drew it using the smallest commercially manufactured pencil in existence and a magnifying glass to do the job. I think it took me about four years to totally understand it and be able to use it to follow along with the action in the book. (I needed it, too – that’s a book that has an 18-page glossary of terms and terminology because otherwise nobody would be able to keep the dialogue straight.

In classic fantasy/science fiction, the best map I ever came across was George R.R. Martin’s one for A Game of Thrones. As I have exhaustively described in this space, I was obsessed with and then bitterly disappointed with the television series – enough to try fanfiction for the first time in my life – and I have read the first book of GRRM’s series. I’ve been nervous about diving into the rest of the book series – am I going to be disappointed again? I’m not sure, but I think I’ll have to dip into it eventually.

Anyway, I really loved that first map I saw of Westeros. I immediately got a sense of place from it. I sensed the lay of the land, where all of the great events of the book took place, and an idea of the size and scale of those events as well.

The idea of who came up with those maps was something I didn’t think about, and to be honest, when I started writing this, I have to admit I was still in the dark about it. My assumption has always been that either the authors were coming up with those maps themselves, artists created them based off the author’s notes, etc., or some combination of the two. After a quick Google search over a few articles, I was happy to see that my assumptions were more or less on the mark. I was pleasantly surprised, but not overly so, that so many of the classic authors (Tolkien, Stevenson, etc.) did wind up creating their own maps, and doing a decent job of it as well.

That was something that always intimidated me as an author. I have a few talents, but drawing and art were never one of those. My wife and daughter are the members of my family that have a clear artistic talent. I might be able to put  together some squiggly lines and something that might approach the coastline of Europe and/or Africa, but nothing  that would look respectable in a cartography book, or even my own book.

This year, I was wandering around Reddit, as is my wont to do during my off-times, and I kept hearing about a computer software program by the name of Wonderdraft. It had been around for a few years, and I kept hearing about how people were using the program to create their own maps for their fantasy novels. (Another big purpose for their maps was to serve as locations for their Dungeons and Dragons or other role-playing-games.) It appeared that this was something that was going to give me the ability to create a map without having any discernible artistic ability whatsoever? I was intrigued.

It was around $30 for a full purchase of the product, which is less than I’ve spent on some games overall, either on PC or mobile. That seemed a good price for me, especially for something that was going to have far more reuse value than most games. So I was sold on it.

Although it took a little bit of time for me to successfully figure out how to download it after my purchase, the Wonderdraft people were really helpful in explaining the process once I got stuck on something. Once you get it downloaded, you can get started pretty much right away.

Getting a map started is fairly easy, and you can find yourself creating maps that have a tremendous amount of detail, like 4K quality pictures. Size can be variable too, which is helpful if you are wanting to try and put together a map covering an entire world. Whatever fits your needs, you can pretty much set up that way.

As a horrific artist, I find the “land wizard” feature pretty helpful. I could always try and freehand land masses on my map, and there are plenty of ways you can do that with a varying size and texture of “brushes.” But that would require me to have an actual talent for brushes, virtual and actual, so for me it’s helpful to just hit the wizard and let the computer do the drawing. The great advantage of that, obviously, is that it draws all of these realistic land masses without much fussing.

Earos 1.0

(My first try after using the land wizard and some land shaping. Be gentle.)

There is quite a variety of ways that you could set up a map. Do you want to go for a more black and white or “antiqued” flavor of map? Wonderdraft offers a variety of styles and varieties that can meet all of those needs. It has both auto and manual color schemes to allow for the coloring of land for either political or geographical (with biomes) purposes. It was hard to keep track of the different colors, so I wound up writing down the color codes I used for jungles, tundra, grasslands, highlands, deserts, etc.   Again, you have the option of having a variety of “brush” sizes and styles for these purposes.

Wonderdraft  gives you the options of using a good variety of symbols for your map, especially a variety of mountain, tree (forest), buildings, and city/town/fort icons. It gives you a default color for these icons, but you can change them if you wish. For some of my maps, I wound up coloring my city/town/fort icons a bright neon color because otherwise, it was difficult for them to show up on a map with more earth tones (pun intended).

I liked the “path” feature, where you are able to draw lines that are paths across your map. You have a variety of designs for those paths (dots, dashes, arrows, horizontal slashes, etc.) and can make them into any color that you wish. As a result, these can serve not only as paths or roads, but for country boundaries, walls, and other purposes. Likewise, the water feature (adding rivers and lakes) was a useful feature, even though I think it’s easier to make lakes in land masses by using the “lowering land” feature in the land section.

Another advantage of Wonderdraft is that you can export or turn smaller sections of your maps into maps that show more detail for those smaller areas. For example, as a fantasy writer, you might want to have those smaller detail maps for locations that have particular significance in your story.

That brings me to another point, which is that I find Wonderdraft to be equally as useful in creating maps of cities and other similar-sized locations as it does larger maps. Creating cities is where the variety of symbols that are available, such as regular buildings, city walls, cliffs/hills, ships/boats and docks, castles, farmland, and similar items come into play. Wonderdraft allows you to use all of these items and modify them for your use, such as make them various sizes, group them into different appearance frequencies, or rotate them to better place them on your map.

Although the program has plenty of interesting symbols, as I mentioned before, I found the game didn’t have that much of a variety of city-type icons, especially those that were designed to be seen from the top down. I usually prefer to lay out a city map, if I have one, from a top down perspective. Thankfully, there are many different sites out there that produce icons for the game. You can download these either for little or no cost at several sites. I used a couple different sources for those assets.

There are a couple of features that I would like to see in this game. For example, the land editor allows you to move selected landmasses to different locations on the map, and also allows you to stretch out or shrink those masses, depending on your taste. It would be really useful to allow you to flip or rotate land masses as well. Sometimes I’ve found that a continent or land mass would look much better on a map if it wasn’t oriented the way it was. As it now stands, I have to get out the landbrush and try and redraw it the way I want, and you know what I said about my artistic ability.

Despite that drawback, and some difficulties I had in properly downloading the program, I was very impressed with what I was able to do with Wonderdraft. I’m able to create a wide variety of maps using different formats and looks, despite the fact that my artistic skills are limited at best. But I was able to use this tool to start organizing the ideas I had in my head onto a page and start making them more real to me. For someone who is trying to create a new world that is significantly different from the real one we live in, being able to visualize that world is an extremely useful tool for writer and reader alike.



Microsoft Word and Google Docs: Moving from one to the other?



I have to estimate that I’ve used the same program, Microsoft Word, for my writing for at least the past 25 years. I’ve loved it; it’s been great to store files, build worlds, edit my work and others, and do writerly stuff. Honestly, couldn’t complain about it.

Usually I leave re-posts or shares of articles on writing to my Liegois Media Facebook page or my Twitter feed of the same name. However, this article (How Google Has Quietly Revolutionized Document Editing), got my interest.

During the past three years, I’ve found myself using Google Docs more and more in my teaching environment. On a personal level, I’ve found it to be useful to be able to edit and comment on a document at the same time that another person (usually one of my students) is working on the same document. Obviously, this is an advantage in working directly with a student, or students who are working on a group writing project. It’s also been easy for me to access files, etc. – other than the fact that the Internet can sometimes go down in a school district and leave students and faculty alike twiddling their thumbs.

However, the article goes over a lot of the advantages of being able to open multiple file formats in the Google Docs app, even PDF files. With me even dealing with older Word files, this is an obvious advantage. However, it appears that Google has gone even further with this. From the article:

On [last (:))] Wednesday, Google introduced another update to Google Drive that makes this sort of quick, collective document markup even easier. Now you can comment on Office files, PDF documents, and images in Drive’s preview pane—without even having to fully open the file in Google Drive. For dedicated Drive users, it’s an added level of convenience that can shave a few precious seconds off your workflow. The move also further the negates the need to pay for other traditional productivity tools like Acrobat Reader or Microsoft Office Suite, the latter of which offers a useful real-time collaboration feature. And indeed, it is a strong play against Microsoft Office, which is still the reigning document format and productivity suite, particularly among enterprise clients. Microsoft, it should be noted, has been focusing on the other end of Google’s equation, upping its OneDrive cloud storage efforts in order to lure customers away from Google, Dropbox, and other cloud services.

And, the money quote:

Google is eliminating the need for distinct file types, making it easier to sign or edit documents regardless of the applications you have downloaded on your phone or desktop. It’s a novel idea, really—just being able to open a file, work on it, and not think about “what” it is.

As simple as Microsoft Word is, and how many writing projects I’ve saved in .doc or .docx formats, I don’t believe that I will stop using that program any time soon. However, this new item seems intriguing.

Any ideas where your loyalties lie, readers? Let me know in the comments.