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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!

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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!

Let’s go to the Movies

Let’s go to the Movies

Now that I’m getting close the finish line with this draft of my book, I’m starting to really think about what might happen next. Ideally it will be published, but that’s not necessarily the end of the road. I mentioned before that I also studied screenwriting in my undergrad career, and I’ve always had one eye on the screen and one in a book. I can’t help but wonder about the possibility of a book getting turned into a film, but when I think about that I realize that I’ve never really heard writers talk about what that means to them.

Since Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings went to the big screen, it seems as if a huge wave of film adaptations – particularly of children’s book – has taken the world by storm. Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars are slated to be two of the biggest movies this summer, not to mention what’s happening with the Hunger Games franchise, and before that, the way that Twilight exploded on screen. All of these franchises were a pretty big deal before going to theaters, but it makes me wonder about the smaller, lesser-known books that are turned into perfectly good movies and bring the words to life in a new way.

When I think of books turned to movies, I don’t think about The Prestige or Blade Runner, or even Fight Club. Those films all stand on their own, and they don’t necessarily drive people back to the book the way that The Fault in Our Stars and the Hunger Games do. Maybe that doesn’t matter so long as the story is being told. But how much does the writer of that story benefit?

The point of all this pondering is just to say that I haven’t really spoken much to writers about how they feel about film adaptations, or if they would ever want one made of their own book. I’m curious to see what all of you think! I can’t imagine it would be easy as a writer to hand over the rights to your story to someone else, who will then write the screenplay. There are people who write both, though. Ron Howard, for example (the creator of Veronica Mars, not the musician), wrote the TV series, then the movie, and now the novels.

My questions this week are threefold:

  1. Would you ever consider allowing a film adaptation to be made of your book?
  2. Would you want to write that adaptation yourself?
  3. How do you think movie adaptations affect the books they’re based on? What if the popularity of the film vastly surpasses that of the book? Does it matter?

For the sake of starting the conversation, I’ll admit that as I’m re-reading my story (and, in fact, whenever I write anything), I think about it on a screen. My writing is very dialogue-heavy, and I think that’s because I’m drawn to screenwriting so much, which is carried by people talking to other people. Because I like to write for the screen, as well, it would be hard for me to let someone else write the adaptation. I hope it would be the kind of movie that would make people want to pick up my book, but if I were also writing the movie, I think I wouldn’t mind if the book wasn’t as popular as the film. Let me know your thoughts 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?

 

Where Were We?

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This weekend I had time to write in what was (I am horrified to say) the first time in nearly two months. This is my own fault in a lot of ways–because I wasn’t making the time for it, and also because I’m someone who prefers to write when I have a long chunk of time to do it. If learning to write in fifteen-minute spurts is a transferable skill, I want to learn it.

Anyhow, I found myself spending a huge chunk of my time just trying to figure out where I had left off. I have trouble just jumping into a story–I need time to fall into it and get a sense for where I am, and in this case I needed to remind myself what had happened with my characters up until the point where I had last left them.

This is much more difficult than it was when I was just working on finishing the draft. Back then, I would just read the last few pages and then get to work adding what I wanted to happen next. Now that I’m revising, I need to figure out not only where the characters are going but whether I need that to be different than it was before. Does it make sense with changes I’ve made before this point? Does it continue the progression and the nuances I’m trying to add to the story with the revision?

Overall revision feels like a lot more work than writing the draft ever was. It’s still fun and engaging, but in its own totally different way. Instead of building something from scratch and seeing what I come up with, I’m working with something that already exists and trying to find ways to change it and make it better while still maintaining the structure that I built when I was writing. I’m definitely starting to get to that point where I feel like I’ve been looking at these pages so much that I can’t see them for what they are anymore, which means some more close friends are (finally) going to get the okay to read the next draft.

When all was said and done, I only got through about two new pages this weekend, but I also had the opportunity to remind myself what was happening in this other little world I had created. It was sort of comforting to know that they weren’t all moving along without me. That’s what’s sort of fun about writing fiction: when you come back to the characters you love, they’re always right where you left them.

How is it for you? Do you find it easier to write a first draft, or to revise? What strategies do you use to jump back into a story in an efficient way?