Style Your USB Drive for NaNoWriMo (2014 Edition)

October 22, 2014

This is a re-hashed version of my 2013 NaNoWriMo USB drive post (which was, awesomely enough, featured in NaNoWriMo's procrastination station. Whoa!).

Back up your work.

Every year, too many writers lose the one and only copy of their novels due to computer malfunctions, unfortunate accidents, and novel-stealing gnomes. Fortunately, you can avoid losing your manuscript by frequently backing up to multiple locations. (Use two or three from this post for maximum security.) Today, I'm going to show you Mac users how to set up a super cool USB drive for NaNoWriMo. (If you're using a PC, follow this tutorial instead.)

Most of you will have only one Novel folder on your USB drive. I have three because I'm working on three novels next month. (Egads!)

This set-up utilizes custom folder icons and custom folder backgrounds. With the Finder window in question open, press command + J to open the Visual Organization panel (shown above). Select "Picture" under "Background" and drag your desired image file into the square. You can also adjust the size of your icons with the "Icon Size" sliding bar.

Here's what one of the Novel folders looks like on the inside. (This image is from last year's tutorial, BTW. The interior folder layouts haven't changed!)

Because I planned to (and did!) write the first 50K of this book in five days, I went ahead and created back-up folders ahead of time. In an ideal world, you'll back up your novel to at least one location every single day. Overkill? Of course, but you're better off being safe rather than sorry! (And trust me—people who lose their novels are VERY sorry. Like, sobbing while screaming WHY sorry. Don't be that kind of sorry.)

Optional Folders:

  • Outline: Store a copy of your outline here (if applicable).
  • Accomplishments: Received a nice compliment? Have screenshots of your progress bar after a long day of writing? Back those up here.
  • Rewards: Use this tutorial to create a "listing" for any and all rewards you plan to treat yourself to. Going to buy yourself a NaNo t-shirt after hitting 50K? Create an icon that takes you to the t-shirt's listing in the NaNo store. Want to take a long nature walk at 25K? Simply drag and drop a picture of a nature trail!
  • Pre-NaNo Draft (not pictured): If you're a NaNo rebel and are picking up where you left off on an already in-progress manuscript, keep a copy of your pre-November draft in this folder for reference and safekeeping.

You can download all of this (background files, icons, etc) in a .zip file (3.6 MB) via Google Drive by clicking here

Note that if your flash drive is formatted for Windows, you will need to go to Utilities>Disk Utility and "Erase" the content of your USB drive in order for these tricks to work. I recommend doing this only if the USB drive is brand new or if you have made copies of the USB drive's existing content. Be sure to select "Mac OS Extended (Journal) from the drop-down list of options.

To learn how to customize the appearance of any folder on your Mac, watch the following video tutorial. (Excerpted from this post.)

1. Select the folder you would like to change the appearance of and press command + i.
2. Open your desired folder icon image.
3. Press command + a to select the entire image.
4. Press command + c to copy.
5. Select the folder icon in the information panel.
6. Press command + v. Voila!

For more tips (including a snazzy Novel folder and Agent Directory), check out my Visual Organization Series.

Have a smashing NaNoWriMo 2014, you guys!


Alphasmart Dana SD Card Tutorial

October 21, 2014

To save a Alphaword document on an SD card:

1. If you have not already inserted an SD card in your Alphasmart Dana, do it now!

  • Your SD card should be 1 GB or smaller, as the Dana only handles text and doesn't need a lot of room to store information. 
    • SD cards larger than 1 GB cannot be used with the Alphasmart Dana.
  • You do not need to fill both slots with SD cards for this to work; one will easily suffice.

2. Open an existing file or create a new one, then tap the file tab bearing the document's name. (It's probably titled "Unnamed.") A horizontal menu bar will appear.

3. Under file, tap "SAVE AS." A small drop-down menu with a black arrow will appear near the space provided to enter a file name. Tap the arrow and select the desired SD card from the list.

4. Enter a file name and tap OK.

5. Congrats—your file has been saved to your SD card!

To open a document saved to an SD card on your Dana:

1. Open a new file. Tap the file tab bearing the document's name. (It's probably titled "Unnamed.") A horizontal menu bar will appear.

2. Tap "Open."

3. On the far upper right-hand corner of the screen, tap on the small black arrow. A drop-down menu will appear.

4. Tap on the name of your SD card.

5. A list of documents stored on your SD card will load. Tap the document you want to open and presto!—there it is.

To access information (memory left, card name, etc) about the SD cards:

1. Press the Home button on your keyboard. (It's on the top far right just above the backspace button.)

2. Tap the "Card Info" button on the home page screen.

3. Tap the small black arrow to alternate between cards.

To Transfer the Contents of your SD Card to your Computer

1. Save your current file and press the "Home" key on your Dana.
2. Press down on the SD card to eject.
3. Use one of the following methods to load the SD drive on your computer:

4. Double-click the SD card's disk image on your computer.

  • Palm>Programs>Alphaword

5. Drag to desktop or right-click the PDB files you want to save to your computer.

To read/convert PDB files on your computer : where I got nothin'.

Unless you have an older computer with PalmOS capabilities, you'll need a mechanism that converts .pdb files to .rtf (rich text format), .txt (plain text), or a similar equivalent. I've looked everywhere for a solution, but there's nothing to my knowledge that can convert a .pdb Wordsmith file which doesn't require some programming knowledge. (Installing the old PalmOS software may be an option depending on your operating system, but it's unfortunately too outdated to run on most computers.) Sites like can't process this particular type of PDB file either, I'm afraid.

My advice is to save your documents to SD cards and plan to use them for only that purpose. All data stored directly on your device will be lost when the Dana's batteries die or are removed, so saving to an SD card is critical.  If you need an SD card, look on Amazon or eBay for cards that are 1 GB or less in size.

To transfer the text to your computer, use a Type A Male to Type B Male USB cable to 'send' the material into an open document that accepts text (Word, Scrivener, PlainText, GoogleDocs, etc). If you've owned several printers, chances are that you have one of these laying around; if not, they're inexpensive on Amazon and eBay and look like this:

[via Amazon]
Cables marked as "2.0" and "3.0" are safe to use with the Dana. Even though they're more recent, they're backward compatible with older devices.

To 'Send' Text to your Computer from your Alphasmart Dana

1. Use the USB cord to connect your Dana to your computer. 

2. Open both a program capable of receiving text (Word, a blank email in Gmail, etc) on your computer as well as the document on your Dana that you want to transfer.

3. By pressing the "send" button on the upper right-hand corner of your Dana, your keystrokes will be re-typed into the open document. (You won't lose the copy that's currently on your Dana once this process is done—you'll need to delete it manually from the Dana itself.)

I'll keep you guys posted on the PDB conversion situation; similarly, let me know if you've found a solution!

Making of Monday [v.12]

October 20, 2014

Designing a cover before I write the book is my 'thing.' It just makes the novel feel more tangible from the start; and if that's not motivating, hell, I don't know what is. The thing about this trilogy is that I'd like to seek representation for it one day, so this cover—assuming things progress favorably in the traditional publishing realm—will have been designed just for fun. (D'oh!)

Somewhat related:

I wrote the first installment, Opal Sky, during last year's NaNoWriMo. In doing so, I successfully completed the #50K5DAYS challenge and ended up writing about 70K in total—not as great as my 2012 total of 100K+, but it's still nothing to sneeze at. ;-)

Like last year, I have high hopes of knocking out some drafts to mold and chisel in 2015. The plan is to book a hotel room and try to write the first 50,000 words of Amber Dawn in one day (also known as #50kkillmenow and #50k1day), write another 50,000 words in some consecutive five-day period (aka #50K5DAYS), and maybe even slap down a third 50K if I'm feeling good about myself. I don't know which much-neglected project would receive those extra words, but I should probably figure that out soon...

I actually had similar ambitions last year, but I burned out after convincing myself that Opal Sky was the worst thing I had ever written (which is so completely untrue—bad Kat, bad!) and that I'd made a huge mistake. Here's hoping I'll remember how exciting it was to read that reasonably compelling and not too terrible draft eight months later!