Category Archives: Writing

Thoughts on writing, both general thoughts and relevant to anything I might be hacking away at, or thinking of thinking of hacking away at…

The Cellar Door » The Vapour Trail of Scrivener for iOS

For the longest time, this was something I kept biting at the bit for. The Literature and Latte folks posted a long note to users today explaining the delays, the reasons, and the Let Me Sum Up version:

The short version – the “tl;dr” version as the cool kids say – is that we still expect it to be finished this year, but now very much doubt it will be released until next year 2015 because of the amount of testing we need to put it through before letting it loose on the world.

via The Cellar Door » The Vapour Trail of Scrivener for iOS.

Knowing how small a shop they are, and having seen code rushed in other shops to meet demand, I think they’ve probably made the right decision here. It’s really tempting to release early and often, adding features as you go, but if they had we’d see two results: folks would just complain about what wasn’t there, and the L&L folks would be spending all of their time chasing bugs instead of working on improvements.

I have a small confession to make, something I haven’t mentioned: for about six months, I switched over to Storyist completely. Wait, don’t lose faith in me, I came back! While the ability to transition between iPad and desktop was very, very nice, the application itself didn’t work for me. Too used to the shoebox mentality of Scrivener, where I can move pieces about and work more organically, I found Storyist to be too constraining and hard to navigate. Which is perhaps ironic, since I tend to write in a mostly linear fashion, not jumping around. Meh.

Radio silence: a writing update

I know that it has been a bit quiet in these parts – surely a good sign that I’m off doing other, fantastically non-blog related things. Right?

English: An early American typewriter, made by...
English: An early American typewriter, made by the Oliver Typewriter Co. in Chicago 1895. This is a rare nickel-plated model, so perhaps it belonged to someone fairly well off. The image was taken at an exhibit in Toronto Airport in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this case – yes. I’ve been working on my work flow lately, trying to find that groove that works best for me. I’ve been looking at what times work best for me, and what actual workflow is most productive.

First, I looked at when I write.

Thankfully, I have a most enviable job right now – I work from home for a company that’s based in the west coast (and I live in the east coat). That means that while my day tends to run longer than other folks around here (work typically ends between 8 and 9pm for me), my day also doesn’t really begin until noon. With these skewed hours, I’ve been free to explore and find the time and pattern that works for best me. Am I a writing night owl? Or a morning bird?

As it turns out, even working from home, anything at night is most likely to fail. I may work from home, but that doesn’t mean I’m not exhausted by the time I can stop for the day. In looking back at my word tracking for this current novel draft, the first few days I started off strong, then quickly tapered to a few hundred words a day. Then nothing for almost a week. A thousand words, then another desert.

The problem for me is that evenings are too chaotic a time to count on. Some days are quiet, and I’m revved up and ready to go. But busy days aren’t predictable and tend to build on one another. Trial and error eventually led me to realizing that as romantic as the thought of the writing typing away at night is, that’s not when my mind is geared up for storytelling.

As it turns out, my Goldilocks zone is between 9am and 11am. If I start and finish in that time frame, I’m more likely to turn out 1k in an hour or less.

Then, I looked at how I wrote.

I’ve mentioned recently that using notepads and transcribing later helped me through some rough patches. Lately, though, I’ve made some modifications to that technique. I still use the notepads if I feel like I’m painted into a corner, but for day to day writing I’ve changed things up a little. My current toolchest – and workflow – looks something like this:

1. Focuswriter. I start here because I like the sound of typing. There is something cathartic about the sound of a typewriter as you work. My theme is simple – typewriter paper for a background, American Typewriter for a font, and sounds turned on. The results – I usually bang out about a thousand words in 40 minutes. Then I copy what I’ve written, and go to

2. Hemingway. This app is not the bee’s knees, I know there’s room for improvement. That said, I buckled and bought the desktop edition (link goes to the web version). For the price, it does exactly what it says it will – it helps you spot awkward sentences, overuse of the passive, adverb usage. Hey, it cost me $5 and helps keep me from looking like a 100% horrible writer, so that’s good. Then I copy it again and go to

3. Scrivener. You expected anything else? Serious, in the end, I can skip all of the above (and do), but Scrivener is where its at. Scrivener is where I keep track of the larger picture, manage my burgeoning outline, etc. Some days I skip straight to Scrivener, because that’s the mode my brain is in.

Of course, in the end, the only important step in all of this is that I put the words down. In a lot of ways, this is a lot like the notepad method. Putting the words down, then going through transition steps lets me shape it to a point that I’m happy to move along.

The proof is in the words.

I’ve been working on this novel draft since June 22, and I’ve written 23k. In the last 10 days, I wrote 10k of those words. I expect there to be some hiccups pretty soon – the initial outline I wrote has reached its end. I’d planned on extending the outline at this point, but needed to see where the story grew and changed organically before trying to organize it. Now that I’ve seen what stuck and what shifted in this draft, I’m ready to work some more on it, probably tonight.

Now, back to work on the novel for me. It may not be the only novel with a kick ass, monster hunting gal, but it’s the one I’m writing. And believe me, all she wants to do is retire. If only everyone would stop trying to kill her.

Tweaking the workflow

I think it’s important, from time to time, to re-examine the workflow you’re using and question whether it’s optimal. As I think I’ve recounted before, my first workflow when I first started writing so many aeons ago was to write by hand, in a marble notebook, then transfer it to computer when I got home. That workflow was born from necessity more than anything else – who could afford a laptop just for writing in 1997, especially when making about $16k a year?

As time moved on my budget increased, such that by the time I came back around to writing again, I could afford a somewhat more mobile piece of technology. And isn’t that the dream of most writers at some point, to be able to write anywhere with the knowledge that their words can’t be lost?

IMG_0848As the years moved on, though, I’ve found that although I have greater means of recording words than ever before, I record less of them and with weaker effect. So a few weeks ago, I decided to do a little experiment. With my trusty and relatively cheap disposable fountain pen in hand, and a yellow legal pad of decent paper quality in the other, I set out to do some writing.

The rules for writing have been simple. I spend a day more on paper, writing out a scene, or if the flow overwhelms me, a chapter. Then when I am at a comfortable stopping point, or I feel like I need a little inspiration, I take what I’ve written so far and type it up. During my typing, I also do some spot editing, changing words, fixing flows, etc. I have found in the last two weeks that by alternating between the two, I am able to keep tabs on the pulse of the story.

What I’m not doing is frantically tracking my word count. That works for a lot of people, and internally I have a running track as I’m writing. I know that a page of written text, in this particular notepad, with this particular pen nib, is typically between 200 and 250 words. So I know if I’ve written four pages today, I’ve written between 800 and 1000 words. Maybe less, not likely too much more, but that’s good enough for a day to day. At some point, I will probably try and strive to write X number of pages a day. For now, i’m just trying to write until either my hand cramps too much or I’ve run out of words for the day. Last night, to act as a bridge between the carefree, just pen it all down, and the gotta save it all to disk mentality, I snapshot (literally) my writing into Evernote for safe keeping. It’s not a perfect capture, but in the event of a water glass spilling on my notebook and ruining a page, at least I’d have enough to work on. (The water glass scenario isn’t as far fetched as you’d think.)

And if you are interested in tracking your word count? Well, my original plan, and what I hope to work towards at some point, is to spend the first part of my writing time each day transcribing/editing the day before’s scribbles, lightly editing and getting back into the right frame of mind, and then to spend the second half of it writing by hand. With first the pinched nerve, and then my other aches this week (I know I haven’t posted about those, but I figured folks don’t come for the health report) I’ve pretty much fallen into doing one or the other and not both.

Even if writing your whole story by hand doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I’d still encourage you to try doing a little handwriting occasionally. It’s more than the workout for the hand; there’s something liberating about penning your words. Of course, the most important thing, when everything is said and done, is that you are doing what you enjoy in whatever manner works best for you. The only critic you ever have to appease is yourself.