Tag Archives: Scrivener

Welcome To First-Draftsville, Population: Me

*shoves cabin door open with shoulder, coughs at dust*

Sorry, I still have a lot of cleaning up to do.

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I wrote the first draft of Bound in 2010, the first draft of Torn in 2012, the first draft of my Urban Fantasy novella Resurrection over a year ago (and that in two very separate parts). Sure, there have been drafts of blog posts since then. Short stories. Flash fiction, just to keep me on my toes. But this? The big stuff?

*whips dust cover off of decrepit sofa*

This is big time.

Have a seat. I don’t think the dust bunnies will bite. Or the plot bunnies, for that matter. Mind the spiders, though.

I’m 18,000 words into the first draft of book #3 in the Bound trilogy. It has a name, but that’s top secret for now. If you need a working title, I was going with “Creepy Uncle Pantaloon’s Circus of Fun.”

Probably best to just go with “book 3.”

My point is… this is kind of a weird place to be. I know some people love drafting. Me? I love revising. I don’t like filling the sandbox, I like playing in it. I like taking the words that are there and improving them, pruning the stray branches off of an unruly story, re-shaping character motivations that aren’t helping them or me, finding the problems and fixing them.

The blank screen is intimidating, I’m not going to lie.

Now, I have done a few things to make it less so, and I’m going to share them with you. I’m always experimenting with technique. This is by no means a permanent battle plan, or right for everyone, but here’s how I’m doing it this time around:

  • This is the end of a trilogy, which means lots of loose ends to tie up (if not all of them, then at least the major ones). I’ve also dealt myself a whole lot of wild cards in books one and two. All of this went into a pair of lists that we’ll come back to later.
  • I’ve known the ending since before I started drafting book one, but until a few weeks ago, the first half of book three was… let’s be generous and say “nebulous.” I knew the answers were there, but I couldn’t see them no matter how hard I tried. Scary stuff. This is where those lists came in. Those were the blueprints and tools that helped me build the bridge to the second half of the book.
  • I planned more this time than I ever have before. Every scene I knew I wanted to use and every one I thought I might use went onto an index card in Scrivener. I added to them, rearranged them, figured out who would be the POV character for each scene. As I made those notes, the holes became clear, and I started to fill them in.
  • I took a fresh look at how the characters have developed so far, where they need to end up, and what internal and external pressures would logically lead them there. They’ve already surprised me a few times, and this could all change, but it gave me ideas for those missing scenes.
  • Having those scenes laid out meant I had no excuse to not start drafting.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. But it’s a big leap from having ideas for events in my head and just trying to get to them, or scribbling notes on paper, as I’ve done in the past.

What I’m really trying to do here is streamline the process. Might save on revisions. We’ll see.

Now, this isn’t to say that everything is planned out and writing is just a matter of finding the right words to express what I already decided on. After ten scenes, things have already happened that I hadn’t anticipated. Bright little moments have popped up and made me smile, new scenes have turned up, internal conflicts have come to light*, past relationships have… well, you’ll see. Plotting doesn’t mean taking the surprises out of writing, as I always thought it would. It just means that with the big things taken care of, I can turn my attention to teasing out the little ones that make a story rich and satisfying. In the past, those moments didn’t come to light until draft two.

It’s still hard. I haven’t had a day yet where the words flowed and my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain. But I’m hitting a steady pace, and I like what’s happening in the story, even if getting words out of my brain is like pulling taffy.

Taffy. Out of my brain.

Terrible image, sorry. I used up all of my good ones this morning.

This is all I can ask for, really. I’m working. I’m actually enjoying the first draft this time through, even if part of me still just wants to have it DONE.

I’m happy. And I think readers will be, too.

*I now need to go back and make adjustments to Torn because of this–and this is exactly why I draft the next book before I publish the previous one. That, and so I can release more than one book a year.





N is for Notebooks (and Not)

Confession: I’m a sucker for a new notebook, especially if it’s a good price. Our dollar store gets a lot of the spiral-bound kind I like and sells them for $2, so I have way too many.



(the baby dragon one is not from the dollar store)

I mean, I adore $40 leather-bound notebooks, too, but can’t afford them and would never be able to actually write in them, so they’re kind of out.

The point is, I have a LOT of notebooks.

They’re great. Portable, pleasant to write in if you can find one that lies flat, great for journaling or brainstorming. The thing is… I’m starting to realize how limited their usefulness is.

Much as I love being able to write things out in pen or pencil, I have a hard time keeping notebooks organized. Even if I use one per project, it’s impossible to rearrange notes to put scenes in order, or to put more pages in where I need them later. Binders are better for this, but aren’t as portable as a notebook. And the other problem is that space is limited– I either spill over into another notebook (rare) or have a whole lot of wasted pages (frequent).

So though I love buying notebooks, I find myself shifting to other options. TECHNOLOGICAL options. I struggle with technology, but I can’t deny that some programs/apps have distinct advantages over paper.

EVERNOTE is a great program. There are a few like it out there, and everyone has their favourite, but I have no complaints with this one so far. I like that I can organize my notes into “notebooks” (hey!) to keep them organized, and can always add more as I need to, without worrying about space or leaving enough pages for future notes. I can access it from anywhere if I have my phone on me, so it’s perfect for those random moments when inspiration strikes while I’m out walking, or at the grocery store… or at church (sorry, pastor!).

Oh, and it’s free, unless you spring for the premium version. I don’t even know what that entails– I’ve been happy with the basic service.

They have other products, too. Skritch lets you write/draw/make notes on photos, there’s one that does digital handwriting, something with food, yadda yadda. I’m not so fancy with my computery things, but they’d be worth looking into if you like this program.

Moving on.

You’ve all heard me rave about Scrivener before, but let me tell you something: I had NO idea how much I was missing out on until I took Gwen Hernandez’s course. She’s the author of Scrivener for Dummies, and what I learned has me thinking that I might only be using notebooks for brainstorming in the future, because this program does everything else that I need.

Those index cards I’ve been using to organize scenes during revisions? It’s got ’em. I can colour code them, mark what stage of writing they’re at (notes, draft, revised, whatever), add keywords to track characters, show locations for each scene… whatever floats your boat, really. And it’s easy to move them around on-screen if I need to shake things up, stick a new scene in, or take one out.


Sayonara, paper.

The info panel lets me make notes for the scene or the whole project without interfering with the manuscript, play with those keywords, keep research and resources handy, add inspiration photos, and a lot more that I can’t do in a paper binder.

As for the writing itself, we’ve covered this before. Each scene is its own file in the binder, so I can move them around, jump to a different scene in one click if I need to fix something or find a reference, group them by chapter, find scenes by keyword (for, say, working on a single POV character’s chapters).

I can’t even begin to tell you all how much I miss just this one feature now that I’m editing in Word.

Scrolling sucks, is what I’m saying.

Scrivener’s not for everyone. Some people find it confusing, or just don’t like using it. Some are perfectly happy in Word, and that’s fantastic. I don’t understand it, but I fully support everyone in their software choices. But for someone who’s looking for an alternative to the frustrations of notebooks and binders (and scrolling, oy), it’s been the best tool I’ve found.

And… that’s it. That’s the only two tools I need to work toward replacing notebooks. I didn’t think I’d ever see the day when it would happen, but then, I thought I’d hate e-books, too.


I’ll keep using binders for things like worldbuilding and series bibles, and I’ll keep a little sketch pad on-hand for doodling and drawing. But it sure looks like I’m going all computery for everything else.

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Scrivener vs Yarny: Battle of the Writing Thingamajiggers

Remember when my computer died? That was sad. I do have a working replacement, but I’ve run into a problem:

It won’t run Scrivener for shit.

Not familiar with Scrivener? It’s a “non-linear” writing program originally developed for Mac (and which still has more features for Mac), but that was beta testing in 2010, just when I was doing my first NaNoWriMo. We’ll talk about features and stuff later. For now, I’ll just say that it’s been a life-saver for me, and works SO much better than Word/OpenOffice for working on a novel.

It worked fine on my old netbook. Occasionally it would go all (not responding) when I first started it up, but it always got over that pretty quickly, and everything was smooth sailing from there on in.

Now, not so much. On the “new” netbook, I can’t type ten words without it going (not responding), and half the time I’ll lose whatever I typed during the time it took for the program to come back. This leads to some odd, disjointed sentences, not to mention a lot of tooth-grinding, hair-pulling, “why am I even bothering” frustration.

It sucks, is what I’m saying.

I don’t know what the problem is. There’s a ton of memory space on the computer, and everything else runs fine. Would reinstalling the program help? I have no fecking clue. Tell me, please. (UPDATE: reinstalled, improved somewhat, still want a better computer)

Until I get it figured out, I have a few options: I can use OpenOffice, which doesn’t work for me until I get to the final editing stage, and even then I find it very frustrating not being able to just jump to whatever chapter and scene I want. Or there’s Yarny, which has many of the features I like from Scrivener, is online, and is free.


I’ve used Yarny for short stories before just to try it out, and I like it. Not as much as Scrivener, but… well, you know where we are with that. And it has some distinct advantages.

I don’t have a choice about what I’m using right now, but for anyone who’s curious about these programs, I thought I’d outline the features I use in each, the benefits as I see them, and the disadvantages. Because why not?

Click on the names for some far more professional information!


I don’t know how I wrote anything before I tried this program (which offers a free 1 month trial and a huge purchase discount for NaNoWriMo winners). Oh, wait… I didn’t. Nothing that got long enough to be unmanageable in OO, anyway.

It’s a brilliant program, and I don’t even use half of the available features. Here’s how it works: You open a new project, and select what you’re writing: a novel, a screenplay, whatever. There’s a template for that! Let’s go with novel, shall we? Lovely. Here’s where it blows regular word programs out of the water: Each chapter is its own little folder, and they’re all lined up on the left side. Each scene can be written separately, as text within the folder. What’s the advantage of that? Two things: one, they’re all right there, and you can click on whatever scene you want to work on. Also, you can move them around! It’s fantastic. Drag and drop a scene to a different chapter, move it outside of the manuscript so it’s handy if you don’t want it right now but might need it later, rearrange scenes within a chapter to see how that looks, move them back. No highlighting, no cutting and pasting, no “where the heck did I put that?”



If this was the only feature worth mentioning, I’d still say the program was brilliant and worth what I paid for it.

But there’s more, and you can take a tour on their site here. If you like organizing scenes, etc. on index cards so you can storyboard before you write, they’ve got those. Make notes on them, move them around, color-code them, note what stage of writing each scene is in. Like to make a ton of character notes, or have outside reference materials you’d like to keep handy? There’s a place for those. Bring ’em on in!

scrivener index

^Index cards on corkboard. Isn’t that adorable?

And then at the end, you hit compile, choose your format (.doc, .rtf, .whatever), and there’s a professional-looking manuscript all prepped for you. Everything’s in the order you chose, nothing is included that you don’t want (like all of those character notes. Nobody wants to see that).

It’s professional-looking and easy on the eyes, and once you get the basic idea of what’s happening, it’s easy to use. There are advanced features that might be tougher; I don’t use ’em. They’re there if I need them, and there are lots of online tutorials.

EDITED TO ADD: I can’t believe I forgot this! Scrivener saves automatically every time you stop typing for a few seconds. This means that if, say, your 7-year old son (not looking at anyone specific right now) closes the program while you’re letting him use your computer, you won’t lose your work. Gotta love that.

Purchase price: $45 for PC, $56 for Mac (CDN)



Yarny looks very different from Scrivener. It’s bright, it’s simple, it’s in your web browser. It offers the same basic feature I gushed about in Scrivener: you organize your project in “groups” (in a novel, these would likely be your chapters) and “snippets” (your scenes), and these can be moved around as you see fit. It also offers a space to put the extra stuff that’s not part of your document; it’s not as multimedia-compatible as Scrivener is, but there’s room for character sketches and world-building notes.

This was a short story, so there were no groups, only "snippets"

This was a short story, so there were no groups, only “snippets”

It is lacking in a lot of the features Scrivener offers: no index cards, none of the features I don’t use anyway (seriously, watch the scrivener video if you’re curious). I can’t say how it works for compiling projects, but it does connect to “publification,” whatever the heck that is**. Formatting is a bit of a problem, too; you can italicize *like this,* but if you then copy to another program, you’re screwed.***

There are advantages, though. For one thing, it’s free. You can upgrade to a paid version, but I don’t think the added features are worth the cost yet. Even better is the fact that it’s online. You’re “writing in the cloud,” and it saves your work automatically. No more paranoia about what happens if your computer crashes or your house burns down and takes everything with it, no more e-mailing chapters to yourself just to be sure. I’m not the only one who does that, am I?  I do wish they had an option to work offline, though. Not everywhere I work has internet access.

Another good feature is the part where you start typing away, and everything except for your work disappears until you need it again. All of those groups and snippets are gone. It’s just you and your page and your words.

One word of caution: If you somehow get signed out during a session, you will lose what you write when you’re not signed in. It’s only happened to me once, but it ticked me off.

EDIT: I didn’t even get signed out and it just lost a few hours’ work. Not impressed.

See all of the features here

cost: free ($36 to upgrade)


So what does this all mean? For me, there are advantages and disadvantages to both programs. Generally, I prefer Scrivener. It has more weight to it, I’ve used it successfully in the past, I like the bells and whistles, and it’s never lost 2 hours’ work (well, not since beta testing updates). But if it’s not working for me right now, I’ll give Yarny a shot.

If you’re writing and think the features of either sound nifty (and I really haven’t taken enough time to do them justice today), I recommend giving them a shot. Neither costs anything to try. Of course, neither will bake you a better writer, but they might help you be a more efficient and organized one, and that can’t be a bad thing.

**So, Publification. It’s all about the e-publishing. That’s all I know, but there’s more info here

*** Scrivener’s formatting doesn’t transfer, either, but you don’t have *these* to deal with. And it all comes out properly when you compile, just not if you copy and paste.

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