On Why I Love Scrivener

It occurs to me that I should have posted this at the beginning of November, for anyone attempting to write an entire novel during National Novel Writing Month, although if you are a NaNo participant, you may be eligible for special offers this month. I didn’t discover Scrivener until after my first NaNoWriMo journey. I wish I had known about it then, and I’m definitely glad I have it now, as I prepare for a rewrite that is going to require rearranging several scenes, deleting some, and adding new ones.

Scrivener is a writing software, available for both Windows and Mac, at literatureandlatte.com. Unlike a regular word processor, it allows me to write my novel in chunks (I call them scenes) rather than in one long file. It eliminates the annoying need to scroll forever through a multipage document when I realize I made a typo in the middle of say, chapter 12. It’s much easier than cut and paste if I decide that a scene I put at the end of chapter 10 really would go better at the beginning of chapter 11. It also allows me to keep notes, research, and deleted scenes all in the same project file rather than searching my computer for that piece of backstory or that scene I deleted and now decided I want to put back in.

Here are some of my favorite Scrivener features:

  • There is a handy search function, so that when I realized in a read-through that I use some form of the word “irritating” too much, I could list all the spots where I used it and edit them.
  • The Project Targets, which shows a total word count for the project as well as my current session, and gives me red, yellow, and green bars to tell me how close I am to my targets. Statistics also give interesting information like an approximate page count and how many times certain words are used.
  • The ability to Snapshot the current version of a scene before editing it. That way, if I make a change I’m not certain about and then I decide I don’t like it, I can just Rollback to the previous version with a click, or cut and paste bits and pieces out of previous versions. Scrivener saves as it goes, so this is one way to keep a log of previous versions of scenes.
  • The extremely valuable Compile function, which allows me to compile all of my manuscript, or just parts of it, into various file formats. So if I want to send a PDF of my latest chapter to a reader, no problem. If I want to compile the entire thing to archive it before a major edit, done. I can create a Word file and touch that up for submission to an agent or publisher. And my latest, most exciting discovery: I can create a .mobi file and read my own book on my Kindle, or send it to beta readers in that format if they want.

In my opinion, writers are much better off using writing software than word processors to create their manuscripts. Word processors have their place, but since Scrivener can compile into a .rtf file, why not wait until the manuscript is complete and then use the word processor for final editing and formatting? I haven’t even taken advantage of all the amazing features Scrivener offers. It has different templates for novels, non-fiction, scripts, etc. It’s not very expensive, and adding the license to multiple computers is simple, so once you’ve bought it you shouldn’t have to ever purchase it again. I know there are other software options out there. I tried several before choosing Scrivener several years ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

Do you have any questions I can try to answer about this amazing tool? If you’ve used it, do you have any comments to share? Maybe you can tell me about a feature I haven’t tried yet!

**I purchased Scrivener at the full retail price and I am posting this blog without the knowledge or permission of Literature and Latte Ltd. I have not received any promotional discounts or other compensation in exchange for my opinion of the product. It is simply something I use and enjoy.

On Writing: The End

Yes, the rumors are true. I finished my book this week. I’m just going to stop for a moment and celebrate the fact that I have actually written an entire book. It’s 112,000 words, so about the length of Twilight or The Golden Compass, and if you’ve read either of those stellar works of literature, well, good for you. Anyway, it’s a full-on, novel-length book, and I hope you can forgive me for feeling pretty pleased with myself.

After writing my last post about reaching 100,000 words, I struggled for several weeks to reach the ending I was aiming for. And then on Sunday, I got mad, gave up on that ending, and took a completely different direction. Two days later, I was writing furiously and suddenly I realized I was at the end. I’m not sure yet if I love it or hate it, or even if I’ll keep it, but for now, it works. It’s actually pretty good.

Now for the bad news.

While I was struggling through those last few chapters this month, I realized (thanks in part to input from friends who will remain nameless) that part of the problem with getting to the ending is that the middle of the book lags pretty badly. The story just sort of meanders along aimlessly for a few chapters and doesn’t really build to a good ending. So now that I’ve finished this draft, I’m going to take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling for a week or so, and then go back and rewrite most of the middle. Because yeah, I wrote a book, and there are good parts to it, and I really like the characters, but the story as a whole still isn’t very good. So, I’ll let it rest for a little bit and then it’ll be time to open it back up, rip it apart (again) and see what I can salvage from it this time.

Writing a book is definitely a learning experience for me. It’s not as though I’ve ever done this before. Yeah, I’ve written bits and pieces of various stories over the years, but an entire novel that carries one plot from the beginning through the end, that’s new. I’m still not very good at it, but I think I’m getting better. I’m enjoying the process, despite occasionally panicking and deciding that I hate my book and I can’t actually write and I’m wasting a whole lot of time and effort on a completely useless pursuit. It’s fun.

I appreciate all of you who have been asking how my book is going. It’s really sweet to know that there are people who actually care, or are curious, at least. No news yet on when anyone (except those nameless few) will actually get to read it, though. It still needs lots of work and lots of love from lots of people I haven’t met yet. But for today I’ll just say I wrote a book, and I’m pretty happy about that.

On Writing: 100,000 words

This week my novel tipped the word count at over 100,000 words. I’ve found that while writers tend to think in terms of word count and automatically have an idea of what 100,000 means, readers often want to know how many pages that is. Word count is a solid, tangible number, while page count is rather ambiguous in an unpublished work. The number of pages in a book depends on several factors, including format (paperback or hardcover), font, print size, front matter, back matter, chapters, sections… That being said, not that anyone is counting, but if my book were published in its current state, it would be somewhere around 300 pages, give or take 50 or so. But let’s not talk about my book being published in its current state. I’m already breaking out in hives.

Honestly, I never thought I could write a book that was 100,000 words long. Don’t get me wrong, I know I can be pretty wordy. I decided when I was ten years old that I would never be a short story writer. Novels are my thing. I love action and drama and fast-paced, quick-moving stories… in movies. In a book, I like to take my time to get to know characters and love them before things happen in their lives, while things are happening, and after the things happen. That’s what I love, so that’s what I write.

Characters take time to develop. Just like first impressions in real life, where you can make a snap judgment in five minutes and decide whether or not you’re going to like a person, very often you can tell within five pages of a book if you’re going to like a character enough to invest in them for the next 300 pages or so. But then there’s the fun of really diving in to what makes this person tick, watching relationships unfold and stretch and change, seeing how they respond in various situations and wondering if you would react the same way. That’s what’s fun about stories, isn’t it? Escaping your own life and immersing yourself in someone else’s, just for pure entertainment. Sometimes you even learn something along the way. Again, that’s what I love, so that’s what I write.

Still, when your novel is limping along at 55,000 words (barely a novella by most standards), which is where mine was a year and a half ago, 100,000 seems like an impossible target. When I embarked on this major rewrite, adding important things like a plot to my story, I set 80,000 as my target goal. Surely I couldn’t add 45,000 additional words to what I thought was already a fairly complete story, but 25,000 seemed reasonable. Then as I kept writing, and the plot and the characters kept developing, and one minor character kept demanding more of a role, I looked at my outline (yes, I do look at it sometimes) and thought, “This thing could go massive. Like, I’m not sure if it will be less than 130,000 words.” But I kept writing because I figured, hey, if I can add that many words, I can just as easily cut out that many when it’s time to get it into shape to try to submit it for publication. Then a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, I wrote a short piece of a scene that just popped into my head and thought, “Hey, you know what? This sounds like an ending.” So now I’ve been writing toward that, and I’m only a chapter or two away, so 110,000 is sounding like a really good total number of words for this draft. And let me be clear: it’s a draft. The kind of thing that only a few patient people who really love me would be willing to read through. It needs lots of work, still. But I’m much, much happier with it now than I was a year and a half ago. Who knows, maybe in another year and a half (or less!) I might have something that I’d be ready to let the whole world read. We’ll see. For now, I’m going to enjoy this moment, knowing that I’ve written more words in a single story than I ever have before, and focus on writing on to that ending!

(In case you’re wondering, this entire post is about 730 words)

On The Writing Process (Blog Tour Post)

Let me start off by thanking Matthew Wilbur, one of my #WritersRoad friends, for inviting me to post this as part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. Check out his blog at nightveil.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @Nightveil. He’s cool.

So now I’m supposed to talk about what I do as a writer and why and how and all that. Since I have no idea what I’m doing, really, this should be fun.

1. What am I working on?

My current work in process (or WIP) is a YA (teen) fantasy set in a world where history and myth have become blurred to the point that no one really knows which is which. My main character has some nifty knife skills and a horse that she will do anything to protect…including maybe magic. It’s about 85,000 words (300ish pages) right now and I’m moving toward the ending, which scares me because I don’t exactly know how the ending will go at this point. 

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Is anyone even writing YA fantasy right now? Seems like just about everything is paranormal or urban fantasy or dystopian or steampunk or something these days, and what I’m writing is just plain fantasy, with other worlds and magic and trees and mythical creatures and that sort of thing. It’s what I love and maybe it’s not selling right now but I don’t really care. I write from a very Christian worldview, which is different from mainstream fantasy, for sure. I don’t write allegory and I try not to preach but what I believe about God and the world is my life, so of course that’s a huge part of what I write.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Writing about God and universal truth in a different world is a strange sort of experiment, and honestly, I’m attempting to write it because I thought it would be a fun challenge. It is a challenge. I hope that the end result is a faithful representation of the story that I believe we all want to be a part of: something good, something bigger than ourselves, with beauty, community, and sacrifice, and an attempt to explain the unexplainable. This is a story I believe in, and it’s the story I feel compelled to write. It has not been easy for me, but I love it.

4. How does my writing process work?

In a word, chaos. I enjoy organization and outlines but my brain just won’t settle down and follow them. I do start with an outline, which I follow more closely than I think I do, and then I revise it when I really stray. I’m on the second(ish) draft of this book but probably the eighth or ninth draft of the outline. When I started the current rewrite, I added a plot. That was a big deal. I had these characters that I loved but nothing really happened to them and they didn’t do much. Now I have things like story arcs and villains. I am very pleased with that.

To borrow an old analogy, this process has been like building an airplane in the air. Everything I read and everything I write teaches me something new about writing, so my WIP has been in this shifting state of flux for several years now. I think it keeps getting better, but it’s not good yet. I write when I have time and someone else is watching my kids. So maybe two hours a week. It’s slow going, especially when I keep going back to the beginning to incorporate changes I made because of a brainstorm I had in the shower. I’m not getting paid for this, I don’t have deadlines, and although I really want people to read it, I’m not ready for that yet. I want it to be good. I hope I will know when it is.

The Writing Process Blog Tour continues next week! Let me tell you about the friends I invited to join:

In addition to being my BFF, Ashley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel, She has been writing and leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years and cute her ministry teeth as a collegiate campus minister in her home state of New Mexico. Ashley has a Master of Arts in Family Life Education from the Oxford Graduate School and studied at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA. Find her at ashleylinne.com

Amber Stokes works in marketing services at Harvest House Publishers and writes inspirational fiction depicting the seasons of life and love. Her passion for books compelled her to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and to run her own freelance editing and publicity business for over a year. Happily, the next step in her career lies in the Pacific Northwest – a part of the world she has always considered home.

Blog Link: http://seasonsofhumility.blogspot.com/

Go check out their blogs and hunt down the other posts on the tour. This has been fun!

On Why I Hate My Novel Right Now

Yes, that’s right, I used the word hate.

I have been writing this book for longer than I care to admit. Okay, I’ll admit it: I have files from this story that go back to 2006. For those of you who don’t realize how long ago that really is, I’ll do the math for you. It’s eight years. I have been writing this story for eight years. And I’m no closer to having a finished product now than I was eight years ago. I have written, rewritten, and written it again. I have outlined it, trashed my outline, attempted to write it without an outline, realized that in writing without an outline I had forgotten to include a plot, added a plot, wrote another outline, and now I’m rewriting it again. And I hate it. On days like today, when I’m pretty sure it’s time to throw out at least half of the manuscript and start over, I wonder, “Why am I torturing myself over this? Why can’t I just write something else? Or not write at all?”

Because I can’t, that’s why. Because if I don’t figure out what this story really is, and how it develops, and how it ends, it will bother me for the rest of my life. Because in the last eight years, I’ve fallen in love with these characters, and this world, and this idea I have of writing fantasy that honors God and communicates a biblical worldview, even though no one in that world knows that the Bible exists. And just to be clear, no one in that world actually exists. It’s fantasy. But somehow, I love them anyway.

On this journey, I’ve learned a lot about writing, and a lot about myself as a writer. Most of the time, I’m not very good at this. There are moments when I think I might be able to produce a whole book that will be worth reading someday, and other moments, like today, when I think it’s impossible. It may never happen. But I’ll keep at it because maybe someday, it just might.

So for today, I hate my novel. I feel like nothing is working, and I don’t know how to make it work, and it’s probably not worth the attempt anyway. And that’s okay, because it’s not as though anyone is paying me to write it, or expecting me to actually finish it. I’m not published, I don’t have a fanbase, I have 140 followers on Twitter and a handful of people who read this blog. You are good people, by the way. Thanks for putting up with me. Anyway, I think I’m allowed to hate my novel. I’m probably allowed to delete it and start over, as I’ve threatened to do repeatedly. But instead I’ll keep plugging away, hoping to someday craft it into a real story that I can be happy with.

And maybe, just maybe, tomorrow I’ll love it again.

Have you ever felt the same way? To be honest, I need an intervention today. Yes, I am begging shamelessly for encouraging comments. We all need encouragement sometimes, and today is my day.

On Time

I have had several posts bobbing around in my head for the last month or so, and yet if you actually follow this blog you’ll know that I haven’t posted any of them. There are several reasons for that, but the main one is that I simply haven’t had the time. Or made the time, or taken the time, or whatever it is we’re supposed to do with the time that we’re given every day.

I suppose this could be a rant about being overly busy, or a whine about having two children under four, or excuses about why my house is messy and I usually refuse to clean it up, or something educational about time management or inspirational about priorities, but I don’t feel like writing any of those things. I just feel like talking about time. And writing.

We all have 24 hours in a day. I think, if we’re being honest, most of us sleep for about 6 of them. I now have an app (which drives my husband crazy) that tells me exactly how much time I spent in bed and what percentage of that time was spent in deep, restful sleep. At least, that’s what I think the percentage is. Honestly I really don’t know, except that the higher it is, the better I slept, supposedly. Sometimes it’s as low as 47% and sometimes it’s as high as 88%. I do know that out of the last 36 nights, I’ve spent 1.4 weeks in bed. So maybe that’s why I haven’t been blogging. I’ve slept for a week and a half.

When I’m not sleeping, I spend lots of time doing lots of other things, and lots of that time wishing I were writing instead. I have many roles in life, the primary ones being a Christ follower, wife, mother, and friend, but when I think, “who am I?”, what immediately pops into my head, almost every time, is: a writer. Not that I think any of the other things are less important. In fact, I think they’re immensely important, certainly more important than this little writing thing that I do whenever I get a spare hour or two, usually only once or twice a week. I spend much more time feeding kids, changing diapers, answering the deep questions of life presented by my almost-four-year-old, texting friends, reading my Bible, tweeting, talking to my husband, cooking, driving, going to church, running errands, and even grocery shopping, which I abhor. So then I ask myself: if I spend so much more time doing other things, why do I identify myself as a writer? I don’t really even make any money at it, maybe $1000 in my whole life.

The simple fact is, I’ve always been a writer. I’ve stated this before (This Is Who I Am) so I’m not going to labor the point, but when I think about me, just me, apart from anything else I’ve ever done or ever been, I am a writer. Whether I do it full-time or for one or two hours a week. It’s my identity. Would I like to spend more time at it? Sure. Do I have to do it full-time in order for it to be truly who I am? No. At different seasons in my life I believe God has called me to set aside writing for a time in order to focus on some other role or calling, and that’s just fine. Because ultimately my identity is in Christ and who He has called and equipped me to be. Writing will always be a part of that, but meanwhile, I have other things to do. I have years of my life to spend sleeping, after all.

Some day, I think it would be nice if I am able to spend enough time writing that when other people think of me, they think “She’s a writer.” Maybe even a good writer. But if what they think instead is, “she’s a mom,” or a wife, or a good cook, or a friend, that’s just fine too.

Who are you? What do you spend the most time doing? Are you okay with that?

On Plot Wrangling

There are times when writing is fun. When the words just flow, the story seems to write itself, and characters take on a life of their own. When I can pound out 1000 words in 45 minutes or less, when whole chapters come together in the space of a day or two. When I get so into the writing that scary parts give me chills, funny parts make me laugh, and poignant moments bring me almost to tears.

Then there are weeks like this one, when it seems like nothing is working, when I stare at the screen for what feels like hours (it’s not – I never have whole hours to sit and stare at the screen), and I think I may never finish this book. And even if I do, it will probably be crap. This week, I’ve hardly written a word but I’ve spent all this mental energy wrestling with my plot. I’ve rearranged scenes, added them, deleted them, thought of new ideas and rejected them, asked questions that may or may not have answers, and at the end of all that, I’ve decided I should just stop wrestling with this book and go back to writing it. It is in the writing that I find my voice.

Here is something I’ve learned in life: Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you should. If there is anything else you can do that brings you joy and gets you up every morning, do that. I keep coming back to writing because I love it, but also because I have to do it. Sometimes I think it’s going to drive me crazy, but really, it keeps me sane. I don’t get paid for it, and I may never get paid for it, but I’m learning that it is one of a few things I have to do every day to stay grounded. Spending time with God, reading my Bible, praying, having spiritual conversations with others, and … writing. If I don’t, I regret it. So I guess what I’m to say is that no matter how many times I have to chase this plot down and tie it up, I keep at it because, well, I have to. And because there really isn’t anything else I’d rather do when I grow up.