What’s on my mind? Storyist vs Scrivener

English: An "X" colored to be simila...As a distraction, I’ve been playing with the demo of Storyist, testing out the integration between the desktop app (which has a hefty price tag I haven’t quite committed to yet) and the iPad application.

Storyist isn’t as feature rich or easy to use as Scrivener – what is? It has a basic manuscript mode, which took some getting used to. Although visually in the sidebar it presents the text as discrete blocks, like Scrivener does, in the main editing area its all really just one large document per chapter. This can be a little disconcerting since if you’ve started outlining, you have a large block of #’s without being able to tell where you are in the text. Maybe there’s a setting that I haven’t found, or that isn’t in the demo, that addresses this, but a bit annoying. The notecard (“storyboard”) and outline functions seem pretty straightforward, and I have to concede I prefer the way Storyist presents the group of notecards. One of the benefits is supposed to be the way the different sheets (character sheets, plot sheets, setting sheets, etc.) integrate with each other and let you link against parts of the manuscript, but its not something that’s completely won me over yet.

The seamless integration with the iPad app, which has the same features (note cards, outline mode, manuscript mode, etc.), however, is really rather enticing. Scrivener, as wonderful as it is, is going on year three of promising to have an iPad app without any sign of a real delivery.

I’m still on the fence between shelling out the money for a new program and waiting, but it’s good to know there is a viable alternative out there. And I know, not a bit of this adds words to the page as far as actually writing, but we all procrastinate in our own ways.

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On writing the latest draft

As I start this blog post, I have just finished the first draft of the current novel. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful, if not to you then to me, to lay out some of the lessons learned in writing this first draft.

  1. It’s just the first draft. That means that changes in character, motivations, and back story are allowed, you just need to remember to fix them later. This is a draft only – nothing is set in stone.
  2. Comments are the secret to not back tracking. I wrote the first part of this novel in Google Docs, switching over to Scrivener after the first 20k or so because I needed Scrivener’s ability to quickly move between segments (scenes) in the book without have to cut and paste large blocks of text. A feature of both writing tools (to use the phrase lightly), and that I exploited in both environments, is the comments button. With a single button you can make a note to check a fact, verify a bit of back story, or just of an idea for something without actually going back and interrupting your current progress.
  3. Always write forward. It’s hard not to go back and make changes, or make additions, but always moving forward was how I carried the momentum from start to finish. This is different than not adding chapters or scenes – I’m talking, mostly, about editing yesterday’s work. Don’t. Just write forward.
  4. Writing goals suck, but can work. I’m not the kind of person that’s going to be able to say I have 365 days of solid writing – I need to recharge my batteries, life happens, etc.. But during the course of writing this novel, despite the fact that there were two weeks (one in November, and one in December) where I did no writing at all, I aimed at a bare minimum of 500 words a day. I didn’t always meet that number, especially in the last week or so when the day job started to catch up with me. For most of January, though, I was able to target 1k a day, and that really made all the difference. 35k of the just over 60k novel (so far, first draft, caveat lector, etc.) was written in January alone.  If you haven’t tried them, and your project feels like it needs that boost of momentum, you should give it a shot, even if your target number isn’t high. Sometimes that’s all that matters.
  5. Know your length. Past writing experience has taught me to “feel” how long a story will be. I knew starting out that my first draft of this novel was going to be roughly 60k, and so far that isn’t far off the mark (I hit 60k yesterday, while I’m in the final chapters).
  6. I didn’t outline – but I did draw some pictures. Probably sounds silly, but it worked. They let me visualize where I wanted the story to be at certain junctions, and left me free to write my way to them. I didn’t stay true to them, not 100%, but they gave me a kind of storyboard hint at where I was heading in all of this.
  7. The first draft is crap. So set it aside when you’re done and come back to it after its had time to mature in your head. I know, it’s a little to early for me to say this – with this project. But this is a lesson I have fought tooth and nail my entire adult life, and have only in the last few months come to truly appreciate. Maybe you do write the perfect piece on the first go. I used to think I did. I also have never sold anything, so that tells you something. Take your first draft, whatever it is (short story, novella, novel, whatever) and put it aside for a few months. Get your mind on something else. Then come back to it and revisit what you wrote. If you feel no compunction to make any changes – no additions, retractions, or modifications of any kind – cool. But for me, I’ve begrudgingly come to realize, I can’t do it like I thought I could all those years.

The novel ended at 62k. I’m sure that in the next pass I will add to that while cleaning up, but I’m satisfied with this first pass. Now I plan on taking some time to recharge my batteries before diving into my next effort.


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Sunday’s blank page

It’s a quiet Sunday morning in Chez Cummings, and I’m staring at a blank page. Not this one, of course. My blank page is in scrivener and is the next scene in the WIP.

"Baby of the team" Neil Harvey, aged...
“Baby of the team” Neil Harvey, aged nineteen, never lets a Sunday go by without writing home to his mother (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

Let me start this by saying the WIP is coming along smashingly. I’m at 46K, which is a respectable stab at my initial goal of 60k for the first draft. Why just 60k? Well, because I’m not looking to write a tome here, and because 60k is (at 250 words per paperback page) about 240 pages long. I’d like to write a little more than that, maybe get the book in the 300 page range when all is said and done, but I’m not trying to write a doorstopper here. While I like the idea of writing future books in the same world (and I’ve more than a few failed attempts in this milieu),  I’m not looking to write a multivolume series. I don’t think.

The hesitation comes when, as a pantser (one who writes with a framework in mind, but no written outline), I start to wonder if maybe, rather than being at the end of my story, I’m really only half way through it. I know this is a slippery slope to be considering, but as my mind worms its way through these final chapters towards my original goal, I see room for so much more than I have envisioned so far. The subconscious mind, in an effort at world building, has allowed references to a larger picture slip in that are just damned tantalizing.

We’ll see. Temptation is great, I tell myself, but finishing is better. Maybe rather than being wrong about the length of this book, I’m just wrong about it being stand alone. Of course, a lot of this is so I can avoid the nagging suspicion that it’s all crap and should just be trashed.

Now I must return to that blank screen of mine. Later today I have another trip down memory lane post queued up, I hope you enjoy it!

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