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Scrivener 2

Scrivener 2

The last organizational software test on my list is finally here: Scrivener. I’m not sure why I saved it for last – maybe because it looked like there was more to it than the previous two programs I tried and I was being lazy, or maybe because I just happened to look it up last when I was researching all of the tools you all mentioned in your comments to my original post. Either way, it’s last, and the time is nigh!

The first thing I had to do was download the free trial of Scrivener from their website, which is pretty cool. They have a trial period that equals thirty days of use, which can last however long it takes you to use the program on thirty different days. If you use it every day, that’s a month. If you use it twice a week, that’s quite a bit longer.

When I opened the program after it installed I was brought to this home screen, which gave me a sense of what I was in for. There are three forms of tutorials: interactive, written, and YouTube videos. I won’t go into the details of use, because the tutorials are all very thorough. For the sake of diving in, let’s look at the fiction interface!

Once you choose the type of writing (for me, fiction), you get sub-types. I went with novel. I want to pause here and point out that if you choose non-fiction, you get everything from research proposals to “undergraduate humanities essay”. Where has this been all my life!?

Each template has it’s own introduction page to show you what you’re in for, which is great. On the left you have a navigation pane, on the right is a spot for your synopsis, and at the bottom right is a post-it colored writing spot to make notes to yourself. When you open the “manuscript” window, you get this really excellent interface that looks like a corkboard with index cards stuck to it (this is already calling to me).  Each moment within the chapter is called a scene, but all of the text on the card is editable, so you can re-name it whatever works for your brain. If you right-click on the corkboard you can open another menu of options, including the ability to add character and setting sketches!

Any of these choices opens another corkboard screen for you, where you can basically make virtual post-its, but organized and not falling off your walls all the time. Within each chapter you can then select the scene you made notes about and be taken to a basic word processing page, where you can get to writing!

As someone who helps people make books, I really liked the “front matter” category, which gives authors little cards for each page they’ll need that they often don’t think about, like a dedication, copyright page, and title page. Not sure why there wasn’t any back matter, but I bet I could add it!

The program has a bunch more fun little features, but not as many as WriteItNow has, as far as organizational detail. I didn’t mind that, because WriteItNow was sort of overwhelming to me. Scrivener does have a few templates for character and setting organization, but for the most part it allows Post-it people to take their madness and make it digital, which is not only more practical but creates less waste!

You can probably already tell, but I’m drinking the Scrivener Kool-Aid over here. Something about that corkboard background….

One big negative for me is that, again, there was no cross-device functionality here. You can’t sink Scrivener to your tablet or phone, and you can’t access it online if you’re on the move. So I do suggest, if you’re using it, to have a supplemental web-compatible note jotting program happening as well, like Evernote or Google Docs.

But what do you all think? Also, as a teacher, I wonder if any of you ever use this as a tool for getting your students organized for paper writing? Let me know in the comments below!

WriteItNow

WriteItNow

This week I’m continuing to forage my way through the world of organization software with a program I had never heard of before: WriteItNow. It’s produced by a company called Ravens Head Services, and to be honest, the website looks a little bit sketchy. But I trust you all, so onward!

The first thing I had to do was download the demo version of the software for Mac (remember, I’m using a MacBook Pro). That just took a few minutes. When I opened the program, it took me to an example page that looked like this:

There’s a navigation panel on the side that gives you a peek at what you’re in for here:

You can see that they have tools for chapters (content), characters, events, locations, notes, ideas, references, and submissions. I can’t stress enough how seriously streamlined this program is – if you need to really organize yourself into compartments, like I sometimes do, this is the thing for you. You can file away everything, from the smallest of characters to the largest of ideas, and then not worry about remembering all of that good stuff.

The first thing I noticed when exploring the interface was all these funky symbols mixed in with the text. If you click them, you’ll get little menus with options to go a few different places. If you click on a character, for example, you can go to the character page for that person. Here, you will have, theoretically, filled out the details about this person. Let me tell you, they’ve really thought of everything here:

I mean, you can craft a person’s personality from scratch, giving each characteristic a weight and ordering them by importance. It’s pretty thorough. The organizational nerd in me was salivating over this. As someone who likes to write character-driven narratives, I could probably spend hours in here filling this out. I felt like George RR Martin should use this software, because he has so many characters that are intertwined in so many different ways.

The event and location tabs are less thorough, but they have some cool features. Events, for example, let’s you create an important moment and make note of what happens:

It lets you specify who was there and when it was, as well as make any notes to yourself you might need. The location tab is similar:

Notice the little people icons at the top of the description. If I go to “Links”, I can add information to any of these entries, such as who was there, what scenes take place there, or even references from the web for that location:

And they’ve really thought of everything, from idea to publication. I went to the “submission” tab to see what it might be for, and it’s actually a place to keep track of who you submit the manuscript to for publication:

There’s a place to keep track of when you sent it, when and if the agent or publisher replied, when and if it was published, and for how much.

There are more menu options along the top of the page, and I was intrigued by the “graphs” option. There are three kinds of graphs to be found here: relationships, events, and story conflict.

The visual learner in me LOVES these, seriously. If you timestamp every event in the story, as the software allows you to do, it will literally make a bar graph for you with the story arc, broken into scenes and chapters. That’s pretty cool, and my writing professor who said a good story should look like a roller coaster would probably agree with me.

As far as cons go, I have a few. First, the interface just looks outdated to me (I’m thinking AOL circa 2003, know what I mean?).

 

Remember me? I’m your dashboard from 1998!

 

There’s no app, either, for any kind of tablet or phone, which means you’re restricted to working on the laptop or desktop machine that has the software. God forbid you spill your tea on it and fry the thing mid-chapter (not that I spill beverages on my computer. I’m responsible!). Because of the lack of compatibility with other devices, there’s no live-update or automatic saving and syncing happening. If you have an idea while you’re out and about in the world, you’ll need another app for your phone to record your ideas in, and then you’ll have to transfer those ideas once you’re back at the computer.

But the ultimate question, I guess, is would I use it? I’m sorely tempted, I’ll admit. I have post-its on my walls that say things like “location” and “what Grace has”, with lists underneath. These lists would be organized very nicely by this software, and to see what Grace has I could just click “Grace” and see all of my notes about her. Not bad. But the aesthetic of the interface is a huge draw back for me, because you have to figure you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at it, and if I’m going to pay $70 for writing software, it should at least look nice, am I right?

I know that some of you swear by this thing, so let me know your thoughts! Do you find it frustrating to be unable to access your story from other devices? Do you supplement with something else for note-taking that’s sync-able, like Evernote?

For me, this is something I would consider getting if I had a desktop computer that I always worked from. I’d have to figure out what to do when I wanted to work on the go from a laptop or tablet, but I haven’t seen a program that comes close to the organizational capacity of WriteItNow.

 

Experimenting with Evernote

Experimenting with Evernote

On Monday I got some great responses to my post about getting organized. There are a lot of different tools that we all use, some of which I have never heard of before! I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I thought it might be a good idea to go through and check out these different programs that several of you mentioned. First up: Evernote.

Before I get started, let me give you some background on the technology I have at my disposal. I work on a Mac, though at heart I’m a PC gal. I don’t have any tablets, so it’s purely laptop/desktop or pencil and paper for me. I also have an Android phone, and an old school iPod nano (without a touch screen, like the Dark Ages!).

I happened to have the Evernote software on my computer, which was a nice start! When I opened it, I was prompted to sign up for an account. It took my email and a password I created, and I was off! The interface is pretty straightforward and not cluttered, which I liked a lot.

What you get with Evernote is pretty simple: Much like Microsoft OneNote, you have a basic word processing program. Unlike OneNote, which allows you to click anywhere on the page and start writing, Evernote is a bit less free, confining you to starting at the top and working your way down.

The program gives you the ability to organize your thoughts into notebooks, and then to give each page within that notebook a header. It also timestamps all of your entries, which could be helpful when revising and trying to sort through which ideas are the most recent. It also has a GPS stamp, which I’m sure has a purpose for some people (?), but it’s cool either way!

It also has an audio recording function, so for those of us who like to dictate our thoughts, they’ve got you covered!

The most useful part about Evernote, though, is the ability to sync everything live and keep your notes up to date across devices. If you own the whole Apple product family, this means that your information is updated live across your devices, effortlessly.

You can also log in to the program with any web browser, which means you can still access it even if you don’t own a Mac, or any Apple product, for that matter. The interface is not as comprehensive as the actual desktop software, but it definitely gets the job done and includes nearly all of the features that you can get from the download.

Overall, I have to say I like Evernote a lot, though I’m not sure I’ll make a point of using it for organizing myself. It reminds me a lot of what the Google Drive programs can offer, as far as live updating and desktop vs. web browser capability. But like I said, I’m a newbie to Evernote! If you feel strongly for (or against!) the program, let me know in the comments below!

Getting Organized

Getting Organized

Now that I have time to start looking at new work, I’m realizing that I don’t really have the best system for keeping track of ideas for stories. I’m a post-it person, and I’m beginning to realize that’s a problem, because post-its are not sticky forever, and when they’re not sticky they become little pieces of paper that get stuck to your shoes and fall in the trash accidentally. The walls around my desk look like those walls that serial killers have in detective shows—post-its all over the place, with arrows and notes that only make sense to me. One of my friends was chatting with me a few weeks ago and noticed the wall. “What is that?” she asked me. “That’s my book,” I said.

It’s not that I lack organizational tools—I have so many journals I can’t even tell you. I’m constantly finding journals tucked away on shelves, in boxes, and in drawers. People know that I write, and apparently journals are THE best gifts for friends and family who write. I have more journals then I could ever fill, even if I started journaling daily, starting now and ending in year 3014.

My problem is that I don’t really carry journals around with me, and I have no desire to do so. I don’t generally find myself struck with new ideas while I’m out living my life. Usually I’m thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish, like whether or not bread is on sale, and when was the last time I got my oil changed?, and I really shouldn’t buy any more cheese. I’ve heard that some writers are inspired by people they see on the street, or snippets of conversation heard in passing, or situational observations out in the world. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but even if I were, what would it look like if I whipped out a notebook and started taking notes while pretending I wasn’t eavesdropping on the people across from me on the subway? Not that it would be that weird, considering some of the things that happen on the subway . . .

What the wall behind my desk often looks like.

Anyway, I tend to be digital. I used to use Microsoft OneNote, which lets you just word vomit all over, and I definitely like that. I have files with titles like “first lines” or just “story ideas”, and I tend to just list things that would be really strange if someone were discovering them 100 years from now with no context (What is “female gladiators” supposed to be?). That system worked for me, but now that I have a different computer, I’m realizing I haven’t looked at any of those ideas in nearly two years. I know there’s lots of software for this sort of thing, so my question for all of you this week is this: What do you use to organize your ideas? Are you finding post-its all over your house, like me, or do you have a better system? Do you prefer to be digital, or hard copy? Let me know in the comments below!

Almost There

All right everybody, here it comes. I know I’ve been doing a lot of procrastination blogging lately, where talk about what’s next, but I don’t really talk about what’s happening with my book or how much I am (or am not) working on it. But I’m here to tell you that this post, this very one that you are reading now, is not going to be like that; no, this one is different.

Because I’m almost done.

Yeah, I said it. I only have about thirty pages left of my initial draft to go through before I’m ready to send it out to the next round of readers. (Sorry Dad, but that still might not mean you yet. Let me sleep on that.) I thought that I would be more nervous about this, but I’m finding that I’m actually more anxious to just get the thing off, and excited to have some more eyes on the work to tell me if what I’m working on is actually worth all of this.

I mentioned before that I sent the initial draft to the people I thought would be my harshest critics, and I did that for two reasons: First, I could take their criticism more easily if I knew that the draft they had was the first, most rough one. Not my best work! Obviously needs improvement! I plan to do better!

Second, I knew that they would have the most extensive changes, and I trusted them to tell me the hard truth about structural problems and narrative arcs that weren’t making sense or needed more elaboration. I revised with these comments open next to me, in addition to my own, which I made with what I hope was an eye just as critical. I feel good about the revisions; I have no doubt I’m sitting on a better story then I was before, and it’s thirty pages longer!

This time the biggest thing I’m looking for is how the story affects the readers. I’m going to give it to a few people who like different kinds of books, just to see what they think. Most of all, I want to make sure that the story leaves them with a feeling, even if it’s not the feeling I’m trying to go for. Any feeling is better than boring, am I right?

I’m hoping it won’t take too long for the comments to come back to me, because warm weather always makes me feel insanely productive, and once summer hits I’ll be in grad school land, debating Shakespeare’s true identity with other nerds in Vermont. At that point I’ll have to go through and do what (I hope) will be the final revision, and then I really have to figure out what’s next.

Choosing Carefully

Now that the second draft of my novel is creeping into sight, I’m starting to think about who I should ask to read the second draft. I have a few people in mind, but it occurred to me last week that none of my second-round readers had read the previous draft, which got me thinking about whether or not that matters.

I’ve definitely heard of the term “fresh eyes” (who hasn’t, right?), and I agree with it when it comes to proofreading. It’s so hard to notice errors when you’ve already looked at something once. That’s one of the reasons I like to print things and mark them up when I’m editing. And as a writer, I also feel like it’s hard to see structural issues in your own work sometimes, especially when you’ve been shifting things around and storyboarding and outlining for who knows how long. I believe in taking a step back and trusting other people to take a look and let you know what needs work.

What I’m wondering is, is it worth it to have first-round readers take a look at the second draft? I can see the benefit of comparison here—these people haven’t been doing all of the shifting, they just read the first draft, and and if they now read the second, they would probably notice the differences (or the places where I failed to make a significant difference). I think that could be genuinely helpful, but I also wonder how many reads a person can do before it’s just not as effective to ask them anymore.

I also see the pros and cons of asking fresh readers to look at the second draft. They don’t know where the book started, which I think is probably more pro than con—in a way they’re getting a first look, so they don’t feel bad about how much work I may have already done on a certain part, because they have no idea. Maybe that’s the most important thing to me. I want to be sure I’m getting honest feedback.

I gave my first draft to the person I thought would be my harshest, but most honest, critic. I want these critiques to be just as honest, but maybe a little less brutal. At this point I’ve spent so much time reworking certain things that I think I need some feedback that’s certainly just as honest, but maybe a little sugarcoated.

How do you all feel? Do you use the same readers for at least two reads, or do you change it up with every draft? Are there certain people you really trust who read every page of every draft? Let me know in the comments below!

I Had the Strangest Dream

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Whenever I think of dream sequences I think of that moment in horrible movies or TV shows (I’m looking at you, Saved by the Bell) when the screen gets all rippled and the edges blur, and everything is sort of glazed over with white. Something silly happens that makes me roll my eyes and then the program goes back to the real timeline. Dreams were never something I really enjoyed or felt were worthwhile in fiction, and I certainly never used them as a tool in my own writing.

That is, until this book.

I don’t know what it was–I was at a point where I didn’t know what to do but I knew what I had to convey. I had saddled myself with a main character who doesn’t share her thoughts with the people around her. The story was written in third person. There just didn’t seem to be another way. Let’s just throw this in, I thought. It turned out totally funky and it felt, to me, like it wasn’t getting anything done. But I kept it, and then I turned it in to my workshop class to see what would happen.

The group had over twenty-five pages of my book to look at, but during the open comments almost everyone pointed out the dream sequence and how great they thought it worked in the story. I pushed back in disbelief. Seriously? It’s not too weird? Their overwhelming response was no. In this situation, the dream accomplished what a conversation between the main character and someone else could not–insight into both how disjointed she felt about what was going on and also the revelation that she was incredibly nervous about something else.

I didn’t believe in dream sequences before, and honestly, on the screen I still don’t. But in fiction, I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something to it after all. I’ve already added a second dream, and I think it’s doing good work to move the story along.

Since that experience, I’ve been looking for good books that use dreams in an effective way to actually get something done. Now that I’m revising, I’m thinking of going back and inserting another one, further along in the story. I’m still pretty nervous about them, and very conscious of the danger of causing eye-rolling from my readers.

This week, I’d love for any good recommendations you all have. Have you read any books or short stories that used dreams in a really great way? I’m also looking for your opinions on this–how do you feel about using dreams in your own writing?