For the Love of Scrivener

6 11 2009

First and foremost, I owe this entire post to my sister, who started talking about Scrivener a couple years ago.  She kept saying how wonderful it was, and I kept resisting her, saying I already had a writing program I was happy with.  For a while I did have a valid excuse: Scrivener is for Macs, and at the time I had a PC.  Over time, she and several friends convinced me to get a Mac, and… well, now I’m a Mac girl through and through.  Once I got a Mac, it was harder for me to keep putting off trying Scrivener, so I made my way over to their site (Literature & Latte) and looked through all the information there.  I saw they had a free 30-day trial, so I downloaded the software.  The first thing that caught my attention was that their 30-day trial is truly a 30-day trial.  A day is taken off your total 30 days only if you actually open the program; so if you open it three times a week, you get 10 free weeks with the software.  Any company willing to do that is a company I’m interested in doing business with.


After downloading the software, I went through the tutorial (a necessity if you want to save the learning-curve headaches in the long run) and imported a novel I had been working on.  It took me exactly two days of using the software to purchase it.  I loved playing with it so much that I found myself doing work just so I could have something to do on Scrivener.  My sister is beaming about now–yes, she was right.  Now that I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I’m happier than ever to have Scrivener.


To tell you why I’m loving the software, though, I have to first back up and tell you about the outlining system I’m using.  I’m using what’s called the Phase Outline, which I first heard about on Twitter from another writer and read about here.  Being a lover of outlines, I thought the idea sounded intriguing.  After all, I already knew the direction I wanted the novel I was working on to take, and the majority of my down time while writing is spent wondering what I should write next.  The phase outline takes the planning out of writing the draft.  The goal is to spend extra time up front, planning out each chapter, scene by scene, so that when you start writing, all you have to do is fill in the details.


Here is an example from the novel I am writing; the scene is called “Return home” (I like to provide little titles/tags for every scene), and here is the phase description:


Sefane and Lolathe run home, again with Sefane in the lead.  Instead of running with abandon, though, Sefane’s cryptic thoughts weave through the air to Lolathe, who struggles to make sense of them.


The overall description of the phase reminds me of what I need to have happen in this particular scene–other people may not get much information out of that, but it tells me, as the author, what I need to write about.  That 33-word description turned into a 450-word scene in my novel:


Lolathe was once again stuck trying her hardest to keep up with Sefane.  She stared at her sister’s back wondering how she did it.  Wondering how she managed to dodge every branch and jump over every stick.  Sefane wasn’t moving as gracefully as she normally did, and fragments of her thoughts wound their way back to Lolathe.  “… Why didn’t they … I’m sure no one would have thought … It’s not too late…”
The words meant nothing to Lolathe, yet they instilled fear in her heart.  Sefane rarely worried enough to let her thoughts escape for others to read.  Lolathe wanted to yell, “What’s wrong?” but couldn’t force the words out between her gasping breaths.  Sefane continued running while Lolathe slowed to a more tolerable pace—one that allowed her to breathe and keep Sefane in her sight.
When she heard a noise like a twig breaking to her left, though, she slowed her pace too much.  In the second it took for her to slow enough to turn her head, Sefane had disappeared.  When the two of them were together, Lolathe put on a brave front, pretending that nothing bothered her—not even the way the other daughters of the Colony so obviously avoided them.  When she was alone, though, she felt her world ripping in two.  Without Sefane’s steady rhythm marking out the way in front of her, Lolathe came to a complete stop, her senses heightened.  She smelled her own fear, making her disgusted with herself.
“She’s just like you,” Lolathe whispered aloud.  She closed her eyes and focused every cell in her body on being able to See the best path home.  When she felt her body align with her surroundings, she opened her eyes, full of renewed hope that she had finally figured out how to use that Gift.  But nothing had changed.  The trees loomed over her head, their lowest branches threatening to hit her if she refused to duck; the ground below her was littered with weeds, flowers, and thorn bushes.  But nothing spoke to her, telling her which way to go.  Lolathe felt herself flattening as she heard her own insecurities whisper, “You’ll never be like her.”
She dropped to her knees, wishing the ground would swallow her, when she felt a hand pull her up by the arm.  She looked up to see her sister.  “I was worried I lost you,” she said.
Lolathe wanted to say, “You did,” but found she couldn’t open her insecurities to share them with anyone—not even her own sister.  Instead she mumbled, “Thanks for coming back for me,” and resumed her position behind her sister as they ran—at a slower pace—back to their house.


For anyone looking for a new method to try for planning before writing, you should try the phase outline.  Today I was able to write almost 2200 words in about 90 minutes, which is more than I would usually be able to do when writing fiction.  Typically, that 90-minute period would only result in about 1000 words because I would spend so much time typing, deleting, rearranging, and trying to decide what to put next.  Now, instead of planning, I’m just focusing on writing each scene.  That also helps me focus and set smaller goals for NaNoWriMo: Instead of saying, “I need to write 1,667 words today,” I am saying, “I need to write 3 scenes today.”  It makes my goals more manageable and tangible.


So how does Scrivener play into all this?  Scrivener has this wonderful thing called a corkboard feature that allows you to post index cards onto a virtual corkboard.  When paired with the phase outline, each index card equals one phase.  Here is a picture of what my fourth chapter looks like on Scrivener’s corkboard:


Scrivener Chapter Corkboard

Chapter 4, laid out in nine phases


Notice that the index cards have different colors–I color-coded each phase according to the content of the phase, so that I can look at the board and immediately see how many scenes deal with which characters.  The words in the background of each index card are the status of each phase; the statuses I am primarily using are “To Do” and “First Draft” (eventually, those will be turned into “Final Draft”).  It’s fun to be able to change the status as I write from “To Do” to “First Draft.”


In the right-hand column is the Inspector information (which can easily be hidden); the index card at the top of that column gives me the snippet I wrote to describe what happens in the entire chapter.  Below that is the information about status and labels, and below that is where I can store keywords or research materials for the chapter.  In the left-hand column is a drop-down menu for the outline for the entire novel.


Once you start writing your draft in Scrivener, you have to leave the corkboard function; here is a picture of what it looked like while I was working on the scene I provided above:


Scrivener Draft

Working on a draft of a scene from Chapter 4


This time, the center portion is where I type my draft while the right-hand column provides only the information about the scene I am working on; the index card at the top has the short 33-word description of the phase I am writing followed by the status, label, and research/keyword information for that scene.  The left-hand column is still the drop-down menu for the outline of the entire novel.


Just in case you’re thinking, “Okay, so that’s kinda neat, but I still don’t get the big deal” (and I understand because I would’ve been saying the same thing before I got the software), there is more.  I can’t possibly go over every cool feature of the program, so I will narrow the discussion down to one more feature: the split-screen feature.  If I’m working on a draft for a particular scene but would like to view the corkboard at the same time so that I can remind myself of what I’ve done and what’s coming up next, I can split the screen in two to view more than one thing at a time:


Scrivener Split-Screen

Using the split-screen to view the draft I'm working on along with the corkboard for the entire chapter


Now I can write the draft while checking the corkboard below to see what all the other phases say.  How cool is that?


My writing habits have been improving since I started using Scrivener, and I’m excited to see how I grow from here.  As an update, I made my 11,000-word goal (thanks to my 90 minutes of productivity), and I remembered to do yoga once during a long stretch in my office at my computer.  I didn’t exactly remember every hour because I lost track of time while working.  I hear there’s a program that will lock up your computer at predetermined intervals to make you stop, get up, and stretch.  Maybe I should look into that a little more seriously…




4 responses

6 11 2009
Rev. Todd Peperkorn

Great post on Scrivener and writing! Thanks much.

7 11 2009

Glad you enjoyed it!

7 11 2009

Hi! Came across your blog via Twitter.
I love Scrivener, too. I’m new to writing seriously – I’ve written for years, but have finally decided to focus on it and see what happens – and I did the same thing with the Scrivener trial. As soon as I saw what it could do for me, I bought the program. It’s helped enormously, also for the same reasons. Outlining, note taking, status marking, sorting and colour coding by character and so on. Fabulous.
I also want to say I have a reminder program on my computer which pings me every 20 minutes to take my eyes off the screen and every hour to have a glass of water and do a thorough back stretch. Because it’s a simple, routine task, you don’t need to stop thinking about your writing. There are lots of programs to choose from, but you could try the Prod Me dashboard widget with different sounds for different reminders.
Best of luck with NaNoWriMo. Look forward to reading the finished piece!

7 11 2009

Thank you, Loulou, for the ProdMe suggestion–I downloaded it and will test it out for the day. I like that it isn’t as obstrusive as those programs that actually lock out your computer. My frog-chime alert should go off in about 6 minutes…

I’m glad you, too, love Scrivener. I can’t believe I ever resisted trying it!

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