Product Review: Scrivener

I have recently purchased Scrivener. I think it’s a big upgrade from Word. I use a PC, running Windows 7 with MS Office Pro 2010. This is why I back up my work excessively (on an external hard drive, a DVD-RW and 2 USB thumb drives), and how I became very, very skilled at removing rootkits and other nasties from my hard drive.

Why I bought Scrivener

I liked the idea of having an all-in-one program to use for my writing. That way I don’t have to toggle between Word  (self-explanatory), Excel (I use spreadsheets  a lot. Blame those accounting courses), Visio (I also like to make flow charts and diagrams. I’m just weird that way), and OneNote (for all the stuff I want to save but don’t want to waste the paper to actually print. Like that tutorial on kusudama – which is a Japanese paper folding technique similar to origami. I’m sure I’ll need this information some day). Scrivener can also save photos and web pages. It’s a computer version of my beloved 3-ring binders.

The Details

I purchased my copy of Scrivener from literatureandlatte.com with the NaNoWriMo discount, so the price was right. Even at regular price ($40 for PC. For another $12 they’ll send you Scrivener on a CD), it’s pretty affordable. I won’t get into how much I paid for MS Office Pro 2010 when I purchased that a couple years ago.

Cool Features

When you write in Scrivener in the full screen mode, it offers what it calls “typewriter scrolling” which means you type in the MIDDLE of the screen instead of always at the bottom unless you scroll down over and over and over. This means your neck will likely hurt less after a session at the keyboard.

If you delete something from your current project, it stays in the trash bin until you choose to empty the trash. I’ve been doing this for years with Word, only there it involves multiple steps. Highlight what I want to remove, copy and paste to another document, name new document “trash” and save it in the folder with my WIP. Scrivener makes electronic dumpster diving much easier when you need to retrieve that line of dialogue that needs to stay in your story.

Scrivener comes with a handy tutorial, so if you’re like me and suffer from brain corrosion from too many years of using too many Microsoft products, you can flatten the learning curve considerably by taking the time to go through this. It took me less than an hour. Scrivener is pretty easy to use, and I probably could have managed without the tutorial. But I knew I was going to write this review, and wanted to include the tutorial as well.

Index cards and a corkboard are part of Scrivener. I would love to have a wall where I could pin up bits and pieces of my story, but I have too many annoying relatives who appear at my door without notice. Fortunately, these relatives are computer illiterate, so I can have my corkboard in Scrivener. I love index cards, so what’s not to love about index cards inside a computer program?

The Bottom Line

I recommend Scrivener for large projects. I will continue to use Word for my freelance work, and possibly for short stories as well. These are the projects that don’t require all the bells and whistles of Scrivener.

Right now, I am working with Scrivener to outline an idea for a new novel. I don’t have any intention of starting another novel so soon after NaNoWriMo. I started planning because I had the idea on the day I downloaded Scrivener and wanted to play a little.

Be prepared to take your time learning your way around Scrivener. It’s definitely worth the initial time investment. I suggest waiting until you’re between projects to make the switch (or at least finished with your current draft).

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NaNoWriMo Review

Before starting National Novel Writing Month I believed I would learn a lot about my writing process from 30 days of speed writing. I was right. I did learn quite a bit. Whether you buy into the concept of writing an entire novel in a month or not, the volume of writing is good practice. I do want to remind everyone that this process will result in a rough draft, not a FINISHED novel. At the end of NaNoWriMo, you still have plenty of work to do. So please, edit that thing before making it available on Kindle.

NaNoWriMo teaches writers:

How to focus on a topic – For the month of November, it’s all about your novel.

How to meet deadlines – In this case, 50,000 words in 30 days. No excuses accepted and no extensions given.

How to procrastinate – There are many categories in the discussion threads just for this purpose

How to support other writers – Those discussion threads again! They have a number of topics for you to shout out things like reaching a word count milestone or when you’re stuck. It’s nice to be able to connect with other writers to receive a pat on the back or a kick in the butt as needed.

There are plenty of things I don’t like about NaNoWriMo as well. Among those:

It encourages people to wait for November to start writing. We all know the rules. Writers write. All the time. We don’t start writing like we start a diet – after the holidays. We start whenever we damn well want to.

It causes an obsession with word counts, which leads to flabby, bloated drafts that need extensive editing because of the temptation to add extra words to pad your word count. Chris Baty actually gives instructions on how to do this in his book, No Plot? No Problem. Stupid, stupid, stupid thing to do when the goal is quality writing. (Just like using the word “stupid” three times was a stupid way to illustrate my point.)

Many people drop out because of the one-size-fits-all goal of 50,000 words. I believe it’s more important to write, preferably daily, whether it’s 100 words or 10,000 per day. Writers are all different. The goals that work for me may not work for you. I think some people get behind and figure they won’t be able to reach the goal, so why bother to continue?

I hated the pep talks. Most were rambling and unfocused and the worst of those were a way for the writer to brag about having such and such book published. I actually stopped reading the pep talks in the second week.

Two things I am not going to do in the future relating to NaNoWriMo:

I’m not going to spend hours of my valuable writing time persuading others that it’s absolutely necessary to participate.

And I’m not going to spend hours of my valuable writing time persuading others that NaNoWriMo is wrong and should be avoided at all costs.

Will I participate again? Right now I say probably not, though I may change my mind between now and next year. It was fun, I finished the novel I started, and I made a couple of good writer friends. I just have to wait and see how I feel about it next fall.

Bad Writing Days

First, a big apology – this should have posted yesterday, but I somehow managed to schedule the post for a completely different date. I blame NaNoWriMo – and by the way, my NaNo Novel is at 51,600 words as of yesterday!

Bad Writing Days. These are the ones where you find yourself in front of the computer at 3PM in food-stained pajamas with a bottle of scotch and no glass. Your characters flatly refuse to do what you tell them to, which is totally not fair because if it weren’t for you, those characters would still be dancing around in the dark cobwebbed recesses of your brain and not taking on the strange reality of being a character in a novel.

Just thinking about Bad Writing Days gives me chills. Or maybe that’s just the draft from the window by my desk.

Sometimes on Bad Writing Days, you write a lot, but it all sucks so much that you delete it later. I’m not a big fan of this approach. I prefer to believe you can always edit and revise shitty writing, but you can’t fix a blank page. So maybe you save one word out of ten, and that word was “the” but it’s still one more word added to your work in process and your complete body of work.

Bad Writing Days are hard to fix, with you mopping your tears with toilet paper (because you ran out of Kleenex two days ago) and all. But it can be done. First, put away the bottle of scotch. Second, shut off your computer.

Take a walk or a nap. If you’re having a Really Bad Writing Day, do both.

Find a book that you detest because it’s poorly written. My personal pet peeve is a “floating” point of view where you’re never quite sure who is thinking the thoughts the author put on the page. Open it at random and read a bit. Pissed off yet? Good.

Rewrite the scene that you just read until you believe from the bottom of your heart it’s better than what was written by the bestselling author of the original version.

Now, take the sense of satisfaction you gained because you now believe you’re a better writer than (insert bestselling author’s name here) and go back to your writing.

Feel better?

Strange Habits of Writers

This month, I’ve been making an effort to join my local NaNoWriMo group for group writing events. It’s been fun, though I do feel I’m more productive when I write on my own. Because of this experience, I would like to share a few strange habits I have observed.

Strange Habits of Writers

  1. We leave our computers for a drink of water much more often than biologically necessary.
  2. This requires us to take lots of bathroom breaks.
  3. We like the kind of snacks that make us thirsty (see numbers 1 & 2).
  4. We’re easily distracted.
  5. Sometimes we don’t accomplish as much as we hoped (see numbers 1-4).
  6. We have families, friends, and pets who don’t see our writing time as sacred (see number 4).
  7. In spite of all this, the words add up and we complete blog posts, essays, articles, novels, and pretty much any other writing project imaginable.

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And They’re Off – NaNoWriMo Begins!

(Insert sound of Sam the Bugler playing “Call to the Post”) Don’t mind me – I just had a flashback to August in Saratoga Springs when Saratoga Race Course is open and there’s Sam in his red and white fox-hunting uniform in the winner’s circle while the horses are loaded into the starting gate… And that had nothing to do with NaNoWriMo, did it?

I think we DESERVE to have someone play “Call to the Post” to call us to our keyboards. Maybe Sam the Bugler is available?

I’m coming into NaNoWriMo already feeling burned out. I have the threat of back surgery and an appointment with a neurosurgeon hanging over my head. I just flew through more than 40,000 words on another project, plus completed a lot of revisions on my first novel. There was my 32nd birthday during October, and that wasn’t exactly a bushel of peaches for many reasons.

With all that going on, how am I going to write my novel in November?

Simple – I’m going to put all that drama on the page.

So far it’s a great cocktail of drama for a novel – I have angst about getting older combined with a less-than-stellar professional history. I have abject fear at the idea of needing surgery and the possibility that the surgery could go badly wrong. And there’s just that general crappy feeling of burnout which in a fictional character could be great – it may cause him to do something insanely unexpected.

I’m arming myself with wine, chocolate, coffee and frozen dinners (because if my fiancé thinks I’m going to miss a great opportunity to not cook for a month, he’s wrong).

Want to join me and thousands of others for a month of novel writing? It’s not too late to get started. Just visit the National Novel Writing Month website.

Finally, I have a request for everyone. Fear of public humiliation is a great motivator for me. If, on November 30, I have not completed my 50,000 words, please use social media of your choice to make fun of me. Thank you.

Please note – just in time for NaNoWriMo, I have added a “Resources” page to this blog. Check it out for links to everything from writing organizations, some helpful websites, freelance writing jobs, and even NaNoWriMo. If you would like to have a website added to this list, please contact me.

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

I wish I had decided later in the year to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Deciding in August has left me with too much time to fill between the decision and the beginning of the event. That means I am doing far more preparation than usual.

I am fortunate to be in an area where there is a very active local NaNoWriMo group. My group is meeting on Sunday for a Plot Planning Party. Being more of a pantser, I don’t care too much about the plot planning aspect. When preparing to start a story, I will do some planning. I usually have a very sketchy outline and a small dossier of information about each character. I’m not sure I can spend three hours planning my story. But in spite of my lack of plot planning skills, I’m attending the party. Hopefully I don’t come up with a different project idea for the month (again).

I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year for the community. I’m not daunted by the word count goals required to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve done that much before. On a typical day, I write 1000 to 2000 words, with most days being above 1500 words. But I don’t know that many local writers, and the ones I do know tend to talk about writing more than they actually write. This brings me back to attending the plot planning party.

My other preparations are simple. I talked my fiancé into accepting an extra 4 hour shift at work on Saturday evenings, which means I get more uninterrupted writing time. I purchased a couple big bottles of red wine. I designated a notebook and folder as my official NaNoWriMo command center. I have made a shopping list of delicious things to snack on while writing (carrots actually ARE on the list, just so you know) and budgeted for takeout pizza once a week for all of November.

There are also pre NaNoWriMo challenges posted in the message boards. This particular one was to watch or read something that we normally wouldn’t and then post our reaction to it. So I watched Dr. Zhivago – which was a bad decision that caused agonizing boredom. Next time I’ll just read the book.

Now I just have to decide on my NaNoWriMo rewards. That’s where I’m stuck. Obviously, I want the t-shirt. But if I complete something big, like a draft of a novel, I think I deserve a somewhat larger reward. Sadly, I have absolutely no idea what I want. But I’m sure I’ll think of something in the next 20 days.

In 21 days, NaNoWriMo begins!

One Month Until NaNoWriMo

I only remembered today was October first because I have a writing workshop to attend tonight. Shortly after that I realized I have one month to adequately stock my house with red wine, Cheez Its, Hershey bars with almonds, and coffee before the marathon begins. I also have a lot of writing to do this month, because I would like to wrap up the novel I am currently writing as well as a short story that has taken on a life of its own (I love when that happens).

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will participate in NaNoWriMo for their own reasons. Some may have been waiting for the right time to start a novel. Some might not know how to write a novel. Others may want a deadline for completing their project. Personally, I’m in it for the community.

I know a few writers who spend more time talking about writing than actually writing. These are the people who call me up with a fantastic idea for a novel or short story or a blog post or you name it, and yet also have a million excuses why they can’t write it. “I can’t work on that now,” they say. “I have to check Facebook/go to the store/get my kid into the bath/go to work/(fill in the blank).” So, one of the draws of NaNoWriMo is for me to spend time with writers who are writing.

I try to do 1500 words every day anyway, so the NaNoWriMo goal of 1667 is not that much of a reach for me. I do have a specific story I plan to work on in November that I am currently researching. Of course, researching this novel requires reading books with names like “Brand New Name: How to Get a New Identity” so I spend some of my time peering anxiously out the window to make sure the cops are in fact going to the domestic dispute across the street and aren’t coming to question me. (I have to admit to also browsing some rather sketchy websites with topics like “How to Avoid Arrest” and “How to Hide From Law Enforcement.”) It’s a crime novel. What can I say?

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo this year, please feel free to add me as a buddy (kimberly.hill).

What I want to know: what is the most bizarre excuse you have ever heard from someone as to why he or she couldn’t write something? For me it had to be “I can’t write a novel because my husband would have to watch the kids.” (I think my response to that was a reminder that they are her husband’s kids too.) Leave me a comment and tell me the excuses.