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 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).


Writing Mantras

From Buddhist teachings, mantra means any sacred word or syllable used to focus concentration and symbolize spiritual power. offers the definition “an often repeated word, formula, or phrase.”

I like mantras when I meditate (usually “peace” or “harmony”), and I also like mantras when I write. There are three writing mantras of particular relevance to me. They are:

Make something happen. Maybe pages of happy people in happy places doing happy things appeal to some readers. I am not one of those. If nothing is happening in a book I’m reading, I put it down and find something else to do. In my writing, if my characters are locked into a lengthy argument or conversation or are just doing nothing, it’s time for a pie to hit someone’s face (literally or figuratively).

Make things worse. Going back to those happy people in happy places doing happy things…well, who cares? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see how they get their happiness back after being miserable in a lousy place where bad shit happens? I like to see my characters struggle. Maybe it’s a bit evil of me, because I keep making their lot in life worse until rock bottom is reached. (This is also why I have occasional nightmares about my characters coming to life – because if they do, chances are, they are coming to administer a beat down because I make their fictional lives hell.)

What would Hiaasen do? Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers because his characters are completely whacked and yet totally plausible. Take Yancy from Bad Monkey – the pot-smoking disgraced detective who assaulted his lover’s husband with a shop vac. Hey, this could happen, right? Anyway, my goal in life is to create Hiaasen-like characters. That’s why I have a sticky note on the desk right above the monitor that says “what would Hiaasen do?”

Do you have a writing mantra? Please share in the comments.

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.

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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Species Description: Writer

One of my favorite writing books is Rochelle Melander’s Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it). I read it earlier this year when I was doing a full court press to complete my novel, Catch a Fisherman. It’s packed with advice on how to produce good-quality writing at a breakneck pace. It’s also very encouraging and contains a few laughs. One of my favorite exercises from the book is to create a field guide to assist you in your Write-A-Thon.

Since I am now participating in NaNoWriMo, I thought I would share my modified version of the field guide. (For you legal-minded types, Rochelle does give permission for this in the book).

Species name: Working Writer

Description: Varies, but resembles a human being

Appearance: Varies. Frequently appears hunched over a computer while wearing wrinkled pajamas. Hair may be in disarray and may or may not need to be washed.

Preferred habitat: Varies, but some usual habitats are a desk at home, in coffee shops, on the couch, at the kitchen table, and sometimes in bed with the laptop.

Distinguishing habits: Rapid typing, mumbling to self, surrounded by books and magazines that writer refers to as “research materials.” Usually over-caffeinated though has been found drinking alcohol in the afternoon. Aversion to house work, phone calls, and errands that may cut into that thing Writer calls “writing time.”

Often confused with: Online gamers or the mentally unstable.

Preferred food: Varies, but usually food high in calories and low in nutrition like pizza, chips, crackers, and ice cream. Preferred beverages also vary, but many Writers enjoy coffee, tea, hot chocolate, red wine, and occasional hard liquor, depending on the status of the Writer’s “work in process.”

Thrives on: Support, encouragement, lively discussions, exposure to weird people who will later become characters in Writer’s work.

Practices that endanger the Working Writer: Interruptions, talking to Writer, looking over Writer’s shoulder, offering advice, and loudly wondering when Writer will shut off the computer and cook dinner. Writer is also endangered by accidental data loss from computer crashes or viruses.

Cautions for approaching the Working Writer: Shield and body armor recommended. May wish to offer a bribe, such as cookies. Do not approach Writer from behind as this will startle Writer and cause it to swear loudly, losing its train of thought in the process, which will likely cause it to swear again.

Have you seen one of these in your neighborhood? True home range of Writer is not yet established by science.

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A Day Without Writing

Starting NaNoWriMo has made me realize something. I write nearly every day, but I don’t write every single day. Some days I write fiction (almost every day), and other days I work on nonfiction/freelance writing. Mixing up my projects helps keep me fresh. But there’s nothing quite like taking a day off. No writing for a 24-hour period.

The most important thing I can say is: choose your days off wisely, so they benefit you instead of keeping you from reaching your writing goals.

There are benefits and drawbacks to taking a day off from writing. I am so keenly aware of the drawbacks that I try to take only 2-3 days off per month, depending on what projects I’m working on and whether I’m more interested in my projects than having a life.

I believe in good news first, so I’ll start with the benefits:

Recharge creativity – Giving your creative mind a rest from time to time will help you keep your enthusiasm for a project. This is especially important when we think we don’t have time to take a day off. And maybe that’s true, especially if you’re working on several projects. This month I have a copywriting class, my NaNoWriMo novel, and those never ending query letters for freelance work. I have deadlines, but I need a day off.

Physically rest – Your fingers get sore from typing and your eyes need a break from staring at the string of words appearing behind the cursor. A day off gives your body a chance to recover.

Explore, have new experiences, and gather new ideas – Whether you visit the zoo or just read something interesting, new experiences spark creativity. This will make a difference when you go back to your project. Maybe during your adventure, your subconscious discovered the perfect plot point.

And the drawbacks:

A day off likes to turn into days off – You take one day off with no ill effects. You didn’t miss writing all that much, and you are tired, plus you’ve been working hard, so you take the next day off as well. This could, potentially, continue for years. Be careful!

Deadlines – I hate deadlines, but they’re a fact of life for writers. Obviously it’s best not to choose to take a day off when you have a project due. If you must, due to an emergency, don’t just blow your deadline. Call your editor and explain. Maybe he or she can work something out. After all, editors are people too.

Your inner editor wakes up – If I write a lot in a short period of time, my inner editor gets bored and wanders off because I’m clearly putting far too many words on the page to pay attention to his antics. My inner editor is named Teegan and his motto is “don’t bother.” So trust me when I say the inner editor loves it when you take days off. He will tell you not to go back to work because your writing isn’t any good anyway. I say get back to writing ASAP because that’s a slap to your inner editor’s face.

We’re not machines – we’re writers. We should never feel guilty about taking a day off. But we do need to be careful to prevent our day off from taking us from being a working writer to a wanna be writer who sits around saying “I’ll get back to that novel some day.”

The Inspiration Box

I’ve been making up stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Unfortunately, I think I let some of my best ideas get away in my twenties, when I was working too much and drinking too much beer to actually work on my writing. I wasn’t recording my ideas. Over beers with whichever loser I was dating, I would say something like “I think I’m going to write a book about some girl in her twenties who’s dating a total stoner.”

Unfortunately, none of these ideas were ever written down, except for the 22 partial manuscripts I found in manila envelopes in a box in the closet of my spare room. After looking these over, I’m forced to admit I shouldn’t have drank so much beer in those days. The part that makes me sad is that even if the premise is stupid (like the dating a stoner thing above, which also happened to be true for me at the time), the idea itself, had I written it down, might lead to a character or plot point that I could use in another story.

A funny thing happens when I write a lot. The more I write, the more ideas I have for even more writing that I could do. I’m tired of finding all over my house sheets printed from the internet (“BMW drivers really are jerks, studies find” – this was from the Wall Street Journal, I swear), index cards with names or ideas scrawled on them, and clippings from the 4 local newspapers that I buy on Sunday. I have ideas written on the back of receipts from the grocery store and on an appointment card from my chiropractor’s office.

To control all of these papers, I created what I am calling my Inspiration Box. It’s a basic clear tote, a little more than twice the size of a shoebox. I can throw all of my clippings and ideas into the box. I am even going to incorporate my Image File (which is a file of photos and drawings that I love). The goal of the Inspiration Box is to be able to go to it when I need an idea for a character or setting or event for my story. The box is big enough to hold a lot but not so big that it’s overwhelming.

My freelance ideas will continue to live in a more mundane and accessible folder. This also helps me draw a line between fiction and freelance.

One other tool I use for inspiration is meditation. You can simply relax and focus on your breathing for a few minutes, or visit this website to do nothing for two minutes, while focusing on a soothing picture while listening to the waves.

To find inspiration for your writing, slow down and look within.

C. Hope Clark