8 Reasons why Scrivener is my writing tool of choice #amwriting #writing #writingtools #Scrivener

I have been writing for a long time now, over twenty years in fact. When I first started, there wasn’t even the basics such as Microsoft Word. I was pretty excited when Word came out!

But in 2011 I moved from a Windows PC to an Apple Mac, and I have been using Scrivener ever since. It was originally only available on the Mac, but you can now get a windows version.

So, I have been using Scrivener for quite a while.  I can honestly say that I am more productive with Scrivener than I ever was with Word or those even worse writing applications that came before. And I thought I would share a few highlights as to why I love Scrivener so much.

  1. It lets you chop up your book. If you are anything like me, the order of chapters at the start is not the order at the end. I pull stuff about, chop it out, put it back, and generally hack the sequence within an inch of its life. Scrivener makes this easy. Chapters can be placed into folders, and I can move them, or delete, and if need be… restore them.
  2. You can categorise chapters. I write in a number of character perspectives so I categorise (And further colour code) my chapters so it is easy to see which chapter is which character. But you might use this colour/ category for many purposes such as location or something else.
  3. Chapters have a status. The status allows you to set whether a chapter is Draft, Revised draft, To do, complete etc. Its configurable, so you can make your own status to suit you. If you are anything like me, some chapters are completed early and some I go back to many times. Using the status makes it easy to see what has been completed and what parts need more work.
  4. Compiling is easy. You can convert your scrivener project to just about any electronic format you can think of, i.e. mobi, epub, ibook, word, pdf, and a whole lot more. It takes seconds! Yes there is a little configuration to do, but the default compile is good for most purposes and it is only if you want to get fancy with font etc. that you need to play with the settings.
  5. It comes with standard novel templates so you can get the book title, chapter list, title pages, front and back matter, built into the compile.
  6. You can add icons to chapters. I mark my quarter points, which makes it easier to see the book breakdown.
  7. Target word counts. I love target word counts, they keep me motivated and moving forward. See Using Target word count.
  8. There is a notes and synopsis section for each chapter. If like me you sometimes hack sentences out but you are not sure you are ready to trash them, you can keep them in the notes section of that chapter so they are easy to see until you are confident you no longer need them. I also use the notes for jotting down comments about the chapter, or points I want to address. The synopsis field is great if you want to put a brief note of what the chapter is about during the planning stage.

I have skimmed the surface of what Scrivener does, and I am sure everyone has different features they swear by. It has been a great tool to use and I can’t imagine going back to Word now. I would love to hear about your writing tool, if you have tried Scrivener what you think, and if there is any other writing software out there you would recommend.

And if I have tempted you to look into Scrivener, you can get it on a free 30 day trial.

Writing Software – changing technology

50% through my draft…and a bandicoot #amwriting

Today marks a special place in my drafting of book three, and I am delighted to hit the 50% (or 50k in words) mark!

I always aim for around 100k in the draft, and generally chop around 10k in the editing stage to leave a decent scifi size of around 90k. I break my book into quarters for planning, and set myself a daily target in scrivener. I am currently on target to finish the draft by the end of April, and then the wonderful, and endless, editing can begin.

I actually like editing, I like writing more, but editing is also fun, and I feel a great deal of satisfaction from turning a rather basic draft into something far more polished.

But…I have another 50k to go before any editing can begin, and I have been surprisingly disciplined with myself in not over editing what I have just drafted, which is paying off in terms of progress.

To confirm just how dire my addiction to writing is, my husband took an Instagram snap of me (unbeknown to me at the time) with the comment ‘Even when we’re out she’s editing her book!’ It got quite a few likes—I suspect mostly from writers 😉

Yes, I did have my kindle with me, and I was reviewing yesterdays draft, but it was just to set me up for the day, honest!

To take a break from my writing, I did a little gardening yesterday (and yes it was hard to drag myself from my computer), which is when I spotted the bandicoot chomping down on the cat’s food. We get a lot of bandicoots around here, usually early or at dusk. They are pretty cute, and not at all bothered by people or our cats. In fact, this one hopped straight past me and the cat on his way to the food bowl!

Hope everyone has had a wonderful easter weekend.

Happy writing 🙂

Bandicoot 2

Bandicoot 1

burmilla cat

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 1

I am going to confess something right off—I hate planning. I hate it with a passion. I find it boring. So, if I want to plan a novel I need to make it super easy, and when I say super easy, I mean idiot proof.

My Simple guide to planning a novel will be a series coming out every Wednesday. Today we are looking at the tools needed, pre-work, and Stage 1 – Brainstorming. I will be using Star Wars to provide plot point explanations, and these examples will be obvious even for those who haven’t seen the movie. If you haven’t seen Star Wars (why haven’t you seen it?), I will also be using examples from Toy Story.

My advice in using this guide is not to over-think every stage. For example, if you don’t have a complete character profile you can move forward anyway. You do need some of the character profile, though.

You will find that as you develop each stage you gain insights into previous stages and previous ideas. It’s okay to dive back and add extra details to any stage at any point. The more passes you make, and the more you progress, the greater detail you will see. And it doesn’t have to be perfect before you can start writing, I go for the 80/20 rule. If it’s mostly complete just jump on in and the last few missing pieces will pop up as you write.

Q: What are the planning stages?

A: Pre-work + 5 stages

We will follow the series of steps shown below. The Key plot points will take the most time and effort, but these are also the most important parts so it is worth investing this time. Today we are covering pre-work and brainstorming.

Planning a novel - Part 1

Q: How long does it take?

A: About a day

I have just planned my third book using this technique, which is based on a number of blog posts, articles, pod-casts, books, and planning guides I have read over the years, along with the experience gained in planning my first two books. It took me about a day in total excluding the pre-work and character profiles. Since it was the third book in a series I already had a good idea about what I wanted to achieve, and of course knew most of the characters. However, my original outline was still extremely sketchy, but with about 6 hours effort I had a great set of chapter summaries, was comfortable that I had not backed myself into any plot corners, and had all my key plot points covered.

Q: What tools do I need?

A: This is a generic planning approach and can use anything from a dedicated writing tool such as Scrivener, word, excel or good old pen and paper.

If you are using the manual approach then coloured pens and post-it notes can be a great help, but otherwise plain old paper and pen will do.

Now, without further ado, here is my Simple guide to planning a novel.

Pre-work

As with most things, you need to do a little pre-work before you leap into planning a book. The pre-work involves developing your story concept, along with a rough idea of what the story is about. A summary will do. Then we can move onto brainstorming our plot. Things to identify in the pre-work stage include:

  • What sort of dramatic situation is your story about? You may be surprised to discover there are only so many types of plot. Want some ideas, check out this great post with examples. 36 Plots and Mad Max
  • Who is your story about? When we get an idea for a story we usually have a character in mind for our protagonist, and we usually have back story ideas about them too.
  • Who is your story antagonist, or antagonistic force? Whether it is a person, a force of nature, an animal, a disease or something else doesn’t matter, there just needs to be something or someone who provides the counterbalance to our protagonist and delivers a source of conflict.
  • Our characters never live in a vacuum, so you also need an idea for the setting or location, and ideas for supporting characters as well.

Phew, that is quite a lot of pre-work! But, all of this will help you when you come to start the real planning and we begin to explore our character timelines.

Step 1 – Character timelines via brainstorming.

To explore character timelines, you need a book start and the book end…even if you change these as part of the planning and /or writing process. You have to start somewhere, and you have to put a boundary around your story.

This boundary will be used now when we explore our character timelines.

  1. First, list all the main characters, and all your supporting characters. If something other than a person is acting as an antagonist then list this as well.

2. For each write up a little bio. Here is a great list of questions you can use to explore your characters. How to create a character profile. You don’t necessarily need to fill in everything, especially for minor characters, but everything you do note down will increase your character depth.

3. Naming characters in my humble opinion is a nightmare, and I change the names constantly!  Some people use a generic name to start with such as ‘Best friend’, ‘guy in bar’, ‘Mr X’ and then let the name pop up later. Personally I just get on with naming them and change them later if need be. For more help see. Character names – decisions, decisions!

4. For each character now jot down any and all plot points or events that happen to them in between your story start and your story end. The main character(s) are easiest so start with these first. Don’t worry if you think there may be gaps, it will all get filled in later. And you often find that bullet-pointing one character generates ideas against another, which is great!

Don’t worry about the order of the events. If you have a order that’s a bonus and certainly use it, but otherwise just let the thoughts and ideas pour out.

Don’t allow any subconscious constraints to influence the brainstorming. Don’t worry if it will be an actual plot point or a sub-point. Your ideas here may become chapters, a few sentences or even multiple chapters, the most important part is simply to write them all down.

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 – Word count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 – The beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 – The inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 – The key events in a book

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes

 

Divided Serenity is available to buy on all Amazon stores, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s Free!

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Scrivener workshop – using a writing target word count

I am typically not a great planner when it comes to my writing work. I get the job done in a random fashion that bounces about from the start, to the end, to the middle, and all over the place. As a poor planner, scrivener has a number of features I have found invaluable to assist me in getting on with the task of writing a book. The project target feature is a great little prompt to help you keep on track with your writing targets, and to celebrate your progress along the way.

Accessed via the menu. Project | Show Project Targets

scrivener - show project targets menu

When I am writing, I have no pressing deadlines other than the ones I set myself. I usually pick a date and see how it comes out for the daily word count.

I write scifi, so I always pick a genre specific target for the whole book of 90K. Generally, I write 10k more than I intend, but hack about 10k out during editing.

This is the main Manuscript target box you see when you select the above menu option. It just floats like this over the top of you project, or as in my case, I drop it over the bottom corner of my second monitor.

scrivener - Show project targets dialog

It’s super easy to set up.

Select the options button at the bottom to show the next dialog. Here you can set your proposed date, writing days etc.

scrivener - show project targets - options

You can play around with the options to suit your preferences, but a few things worth noting.

  • I have some chapters which are potentially going to get chopped and / or are just bullet notes, so I tick the count documents in the compile only option to avoid muddying the count. You set the ‘include in compile’ against each folder (chapter). If you are not using this ‘include in compile’ feature then untick this.
  • Deadline – I like to play about with the target date and see what the word count per day pops out at. If you know roughly how many words you can achieve a day, you can work out a sensible target date.
  • I like to allow negatives. Sometimes when you are editing this can be a little disconcerting, but I still like to think about my overall target. If I chop out 500 words I just have to work extra hard to make my day’s count!
  • The writing days picker is good if you know you have definite days of the week you don’t write. I tend to just leave as is, and then write over-target on good days.
  • I use the default  reset the session count at midnight, but if you are a late night writer, you may prefer the reset on project close or one of the other session target options.
  • Tick the show target notifications if you want a happy little bong when you meet your target!

Once you are done in the options, click Ok, and head back to the main dialog.

Now Hit the Edit button. (It will then become Apply)

scrivener - edit target count

The manuscript word target can now be edited. After you have set the target words hit Apply. Your target session count will pop out.

Note: you can change words to pages or characters if you prefer. I like the default basic word count. (Click on words next to your manuscript target count)

I tend to jump in and out of the options to change the project deadline based on the total manuscript target until I get a realistic target per day.

I’m sure a target glaring at you from the corner of the screen will not work for everyone, but if you have not tried this feature yet, then you may want to give it a go. Writing a book is a long process and anything that helps you to celebrate the progress and the little wins along the way can only be a good thing.

I would love to hear from anyone already using this, and whether you find it useful or not. And anyone thinking of giving it a trial for the first time, let me know if it helps! 🙂

Divided Serenity Book Cover

Divided Serenity out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

Writing software – changing technology

I have been writing books for years. Back in the old days, I had a Atari 520 ST with a word processor, Lotus word pro. I am glad to say that writing software has come a long way since then. It was one up from a piece of paper but not by much. The font was hideous, I used to print it out to read it which took forever, and still looked just a grim.

Lotus Word Pro

I have always been a bit of a computer geek, and pretty much as soon as home computers progressed out of the games consoles era, I was quick to take that step. I continued with Lotus word pro on the PC for a while before Microsoft Word took over as my core writing software choice. Under the wings of Word I actually managed to finish two whole books. Neither of these being of a quality I felt an inclination to publish – I like to think of myself as a realist – but it did at least teach me about the stamina needed to actually get a book from inception to completion.

Microsoft WordI am one of those people who just like to write. I don’t necessarily need an end goal I just really want to write. The down side with this is that I have a great swathe of half-baked stories. These ‘in-progress’ stories are planned out in my head, and I have started writing anywhere from one to half a dozen chapters, but never taken them any further. Unfortunately, if you don’t have natural discipline, Microsoft word doesn’t really give you any additional help. I bought a few guides on how to plan a book, and these went some way. I used some of the principles, you know the basics, list the chapters, write a summary for each chapter, write a more detailed list of points you want to cover for each chapter. It helped – at least a bit.

I had been a basic Microsoft girl for a good twenty years before I bit the operating system bullet and moved over to a Mac. Possibly the most agonising month of my life!

My husband was already an apple fan and had been using a Mac for years, so my painful transition was of course all his fault. Until you actually move from one system to another I don’t think you realise just how much knowledge you have managed to build up over twenty + years. I didn’t know any of the short cuts, and some things just drove me absolutely insane!

My husband put up stolidly with my daily rants, until eventually I figured it out and the impassioned complaints tapered off. I got used to word on the mac – it was OK – but clunkier, and I wasn’t entirely happy with this. It felt harder, and when you are writing you really want to forget about the tool you are using to craft, and just focus on the crafting.

ScrivenerMy husband, ever vigilant in the quest to force me out of my computing comfort zone, and in spite of all the drama that had surrounded me moving from Microsoft to Apple, enthusiastically suggested that I may like to consider using a writing application called ‘Scrivener’. It had a really good rating, and would ‘allegedly’ help me with my planning, and dare I suggest it – actually help me to finish another book.

Again, it was a bit of a painful transition, but I am going to admit that I am delighted that I did it. Writing the first two books took me forever – writing a book using scrivener has, by comparison, been a piece of cake. I love scrivener, I set goals, I plan, I track progress, create deadlines, and compile straight to my kindle so I can read and edit what I have done the next morning while on my train to work.

Just one more time…I love scrivener! In my humble opinion it is the best writing software. If you haven’t given it a go yet, consider taking their free writing software trial.

So where am I now…

Another book is completed, and this is one that I have decided to make the positive call in regards to getting it published. I am just in the process of completing a review ready to hand it over to an editor.

I have planned out two further books to complete a trilogy. I am 70% of the way through the second one, and have the chapters roughly planned out for the third.

I am sure there are plenty of people out there who don’t need any help with their planning, or structuring, but for me scrivener has been a great help, and has made a big difference in me getting something quality across that all important line.