Several of my writing friends, including some who actually get paid to write, use Scrivener for drafting. Various people have tried to convince me to try it, but I had a variety of excuses at hand. Things like “my word processor works fine” and “I don’t want to start something new in the middle of a project” and “but how can I justify paying for something when I’m not making any money at writing.”
Shortly after my writing break, I decided to give the free trial of Scrivener a try. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to look into it while I was getting all geared up for NaNoWriMo, and if I really liked it, I’ve spent $40 on video games that I’ve only played for a few hours and surely I could justify the price of one piece of helpful software. But I would REALLY have to like it.
It turns out that I really like it. I did the entire tutorial to explore the features, and I have to say that I was almost sold at that point. Splittable windows is something I can do on my two monitors already, but splittable windows where I can lock one in (like my draft or outline) while easily clicking through my research and notes in the other to reference what I need without having to distract myself by leaving the program and digging around? I stated salivating.
But the ability to link things like a wiki is what really sold me. Until this point I’ve been using separate systems of a free, crappy wiki and physical paper notes. Having the wiki-like ability in the program itself is golden. And it has turned into a great way to organize my paper notes. I have a scanner at home, and I can easily scan and import stuff. I still remember the time I lost a whole handwritten chapter of the Plague Novel somewhere. I’m pretty sure I can avoid that, now.
As far as downsides, I sometimes get lost in the interface. It’s this odd combination of way too simple for me to easily do what I want, but also way too complicated for me not to get distracted while trying to find what I need. It’s somewhat intuitive, just not enough for someone that gets easily frustrated by technology (like me). The sheer amount of organizational features can also get distracting, but that’s mostly because it encourages me to be way more organized than I am by default. I think when the shiny newness wears off of those, I’ll have picked up a few habits that actually save me time.
Right now I’m mostly glad I purchased it, but I’ll give it a fuller review when I’m done with NaNoWriMo. After 50k words and two months, it should be pretty broken-in.
Last week I posted about the first-draft process for writing my short stories. But the first draft is quite literally just the beginning. The initial two to eight hour time investment tends to take another twenty or thirty hours to turn into something I’d even consider shopping around.
Before I start my second draft, I outline. I place the story as it exists in an outline, and I break out the settings, the characters (in short stories there are almost always only one or two major characters), and the plot. I think about things like where the beginning, middle, pinch points, and end are, what the themes are. I write a little more about the characters, what are their backgrounds and motivations, what do they want out of the situation. I spend about five or six sentences fully describing each setting, including nonvisual details like sounds, smells, and tactile feelings.
From there I move onto my second draft. The second draft is usually based on the first; I have only once entirely rewritten a new story after the first draft. As I go back through the first draft, I add in setting descriptions so that it isn’t so white-roomy. I change dialogue to better reflect the characters. I restructure the story, sometimes moving entire sections around to better fit my outline and the pinch points. I change parts of scenes, adding in new parts and subtracting old parts to fit the themes and make the story more round. The second draft is usually where the hardest work comes in, and I’m rarely able to do it in one sitting. Usually it’s a three or four day process.
For the third draft, I print out the story and focus on the tiny details. Do the paragraphs flow from beginning to end, does the dialogue sound natural and fit the characters, are any of the sentence structures repetitive. How does the pacing of the story flow overall. Where are the spelling and grammar mistakes. This usually takes about two days.
Then I do my final read. The final read I try to do as if I’m reading the story for the first time, so I’ve usually set the story aside for a while before I pick it back up again. If it doesn’t speak to me, I’ll go back to the second draft stage and rework it again. If it feels complete to me, I’ll start trying to shop it around. But shopping a short story around is an entirely different process that I’ll get into in another post.
My first draft of the plague novel (which is now tentatively titled Surviving the Plague) was completed at about 5 pm on December 26th. This means that my vacation was actually really successful for me as a writer. So don’t judge my update-less life! I ended up making a lot of progress in Florida.
The first draft is 46 chapters and about 85,000 words. However, the last six or seven chapters are very white-roomy and not very character in depth, as I was picking up and rejecting endings left and right. The ending I had planned just didn’t fit the characters as they developed during the writing process.
But fixing that kind of stuff is what revisions are for. At this point I have three planned revisions: one for the plot, and one each focused on the two point of view characters. But I’m sure I’ll update you more about that process (for instance, why I picked at least three revisions) as I go along.