As has been stated on Magical Words many times before, there’s no one and only way to write a book. You might be a plotter or a pantzer. You might tell your story based on the three act structure, the heroes journey, carefully plotted arcs, or just wing it. You might write everything long hand, dictate the story, type the manuscript using a word processing program, or use any number of writing oriented software. The trick is to find the process that works for you and a means of recording that story that is most compatible with that process.
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about my process when writing a book and how the software I use (Scrivener) helps me streamline that process.
First, a little background is probably called for. From previous posts, many of you already know that I’m a hardcore plotter. While I might change the story as I work through the manuscript, I need a full road map before I begin writing. Years ago that meant my process went something like this:
- I started by jotting ideas on colored post-it notes. I didn’t worry about order or continuity, just any idea that hit me for the book. I kept different colors of notes around to visually differentiate parts of the plot. Sometimes I’d know in the brainstorming stage that this or that idea would be part of a subplot or part of the major plot, but often these colors had to be adjusted once I had more of an idea what I was actually going to write.
- I then arranged these post-it notes into a logical story form, each one representing a scene. I’d add in post-it notes where needed to link ideas and move them around until I had something that told a full story in colored paper on my wall. (which tended to my horrify my poor husband as we lived in a small appartment so this story in post-its was stuck to the living room wall the entire time I worked on the first draft.)
- From these post-it notes I wrote an outline, which I printed out so I’d have it beside me while I wrote a first draft. This outline often ended up with lots of scribbles, scratches, and arrows on it as I changed my mind while working.
- I had excel sheets of character lists and folders filled with individual word documents about world building, notes, ect. I also tended to have either a paper notebook or another document file where I jotted down notes to myself as I worked.
- And, of course, I had one long word document with my manuscript. Double checking earlier scenes included a lot of scrolling. Moving scenes was a nightmare of scrolling and copy/paste. Oh, and if I added/removed chapters–uhg. I can’t remember how many times I used the ‘Find’ feature in Word searching for “Chapter” and renumbering them one by one.
- After much butt in chair, picking up fallen post-it notes, scribbles on the outline, endless scrolling through thousands of words, and stressing my computer with a dozen or more documents open at once, I’d have a finished first draft.
Now there is nothing wrong with that process–I used it for years. But when I started using scrivener three or four years ago, I found that the program allowed me to work in a similar fashion that was far more efficient, wasted less paper, and saved me a lot of time and headache.
This is my process now:
Before I start writing, I jot every idea I have for scenes down in the program’s note card view (one scene per notecard). Just like on my wall, I create these note cards in any order they happen to enter my head–this is brainstorming time. As the mess of ideas congeals into a plot, I rearrange these digital cards and color code them.
Okay, so that’s exactly what I was doing before, only now I’m doing it digitally instead of with post-it notes on a wall, right? Well, that’s where scrivener changes the game. If I click “outline view” these note cards (with color, header, and description) turn into a scene by scene outline. No more sitting and transcribing from post-it notes to a document–scrivener did it for me! Each note card has also created a corresponding ‘document’ in the right hand binder. Depending on the book, I might go ahead and break the scenes up in chapters at that point, or just add in the chapter folders as I work and ‘feel’ the chapter breaks.
If I realize the plot is taking an unexpected turn, changing the outline is as simple as adding a scene to the binder or a point in the outline or a notecard–all accomplish the same thing and the change is reflected across all three views. While I can switch back and forth between these views at any time, often I don’t need to unless I’m trying to get a visual overview because all the scenes are listed in the binder so when I finish one, I just click the one below it and any notes I made on the outline or notecard show up on the side of the page, letting me know what I planned to write.
This works well for me in another way as well because, I like being able to see my book as a series of easily navigated scenes instead of one long document. Not only is it great to quickly access any part of the story simply by clicking on the scene, but my writing practice changed when I started looking at my daily accomplishments as how many scenes I made it through instead of focusing so much on how many words I’d written. (Which with a word processor tends to be the easiest way to track progress when looking at a single long document.) Also, because of the scene by scene break down, I can very easily drag and drop a scene to a new location if I decide it’s in the wrong place–or I can drag the entire scene to a scrap file if it no longer suits the story. Extra bonus? Because scrivener compiles the document for export, I never have to worry about renumbering chapters if I make major changes–it does that for me.
Another feature that saves me a lot time that I once spent scouring notes (or searching for a particular comment in an enormous word document) is the fact Scrivener allows me to jot notes to myself in the sidebar. These are not attached to one particular part of the file like a comment–though there is an annotation feature if that’s your style–but notes that are attached to the scene as a whole. I can leave myself notes and I don’t have to worry about accidentally sending them to my cps/agent/editor (yes, I’ve done that.) It’s also nice if I’m really struggling with a scene because I can jot down in the side bar the key parts of the scene which have to happen. I can then check off those points as I work. I can also change the sidebar to be notes for the entire manuscript, not just that single scene. So if I realize something important that effects several scenes or the MS as a whole, I can add it to the project notes and it is accessible from all documents at anytime.
And all those different documents I used to maintain (and keep open in the background) to keep characters and facts straight? Well, scrivener also helps me with that. There is a section in the binder not attached to the manuscript where whatever documents you might need can be kept for quick and easy access. (This is also where I keep my scrap file). But even better is the Keyword feature which allows me to tag scenes or documents with keywords.
I use keywords to keep track of everything from characters and places to what day a particular scene occurs. Anytime someone or something new shows up in the book, I create a keyword for it and tag that keyword to the scene. With a click of a button I can find every scene/character profile/research/ or any other document I tagged with that keyword. As I write series (and move the previous manuscript down to a separate part of the binder when I start the next book) the ability to search the keywords is amazing, but even better, I have every place/character/abbreviation/etc I used in previous books in a handy list. Invaluable!
Of course, writing still comes down to BIC and putting one word down after the next, but scrivener certainly streamlined a lot of my writing process. The program fit into what I was already doing and offered me easy solutions to problems in my process I struggled to juggle (like keeping up with minor characters and place names). Scrivener wasn’t the first program I tried out–I passed on many that just didn’t add anything to my process–but I’m glad I found it. Of course every program has its downsides, but for me and my process, this particular program works well. For people with different needs, it might be more headache than help (I certainly tried out programs I found to be such.)
Have you ever tried out writing software? Do you already use a writing software? Which one and how does it work with your process (or how did it change it)? Have you tried writing software and decided it just wasn’t for you? (After all, to write you just need an idea and a way to record it.) I’d love to hear your experiences!
Also, if you are interested, here are some links to popular writing software that range in features from simple organizational tools to more specialized features aimed at novelists. **note, I haven’t personally tried many of these programs, but they have been recommended by different writers on loops I belong to. Please feel free to recommend others in the comments :
Have a great Thursday everyone.