Scrivener and Me.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Scrivener gave me a structured working environment which put everything I needed just a click away, and still allowed me to write without interruption or distraction.

This blog post starts with a plea: if you haven’t already, please take a moment to look at the crowdfunding page for my novel, and consider supporting the publication of its first edition. (Here, also, are direct links to the entire first two chapters, and some comments from John Mitchinson, founder of Unbound.) The hardback will be a thing of beauty, I assure you, and the digital version provides a low-cost starting point for pledges. I’ll wait until you come back… … … 

Thank you. 

I wrote "All the Perverse Angels" with Scrivener writing software. I thought you might be interested in learning a little about the application, and why and how I used it. (This isn’t, however, a detailed exploration of every feature of Scrivener: there are plenty of those on the web, and Scrivener’s own website is a good place to start.) At the end of the post you’ll find a code for 20% off the purchase price of the software. 

Here’s the key point: Scrivener gave me a structured working environment which put everything I needed just a click away, and still allowed me to write without interruption or distraction.

"All the Perverse Angels" required:

  • a lot of research : details of particular art works and painting techniques; the lives of multiple artists and writers; everyday life in Victorian England, and the lives of the first women to study at Oxford University; capital punishment in Restoration London; seventeenth and nineteenth century English prose forms; ... 
  • all the normal matters of writing a novel : plot outlines; chronology; descriptions of characters, locations and items; ...
  • the mechanics of getting words out of my head : a distraction-free writing environment; chapter organization; word counts; page counts; notes; to-do lists; ...
  • the mechanics of getting those words in front of other people : fonts; formatting; pagination; cover sheets; exporting to Word, ebook formats, pdf; ...

Scrivener provided all of this, making sure its features were always there when I needed them, but never in the way when I didn’t.

I’ve seen people complain that Scrivener has a steep learning curve, but I’ve found that it only takes an hour or so to learn the basics (and even if it takes an entire day, that’s a lot less time than it’s going to take to write a decent novel). The trick, I think, is to relax and use Scrivener in a way which works for you, rather than worry about using each and every feature exactly as intended.

The screenshot shows a draft of "All the Perverse Angels" in Scrivener. The left panel is the Binder, where everything’s filed away and organized. In the picture, the centre panel contains a set of ‘reference cards’—one for each chapter—with a note on each 'card' to help me track dates, scenes and characters. This centre panel changes depending on the selected Binder document: when one is writing, this where the text lies (but there’s a distraction-free, full-screen writing mode, too); when looking at research, it may show an image, or webpage, or pdf. The right panel displays information about the selected document: here, it’s about the first chapter.

The Binder is very flexible, and mine is arranged to work for me. It didn’t start with all these sections: I added them as I needed them, rearranged them sometimes, and grouped and ungrouped them if it helped me.

  • Front Matter & Draft : the text of the novel itself (I split the book into chapters, but it can be split into individual scenes or even smaller building blocks.)
  • Corrigenda : changes made from one draft to the next (after the first five complete edits, when the number of changes were relatively small)
  • Pitch : draft versions of the pitch document for the novel
  • Timeline scenes : a breakdown of the novel in chronological order (unlike the novel itself)
  • Ideas : random thoughts captured during writing, to-do items, that sort of thing (Whilst there’s a certain linearity to my writing—here, I started with the first chapter and finished with the last—my mind does not, in general, subscribe to that approach and I need to be able to go on a tangent and come back without having lost anything in the process.)
  • Research : detailed descriptions (and story arcs) for the characters, locations and items featured in the novel
  • Resources : background materials—images, websites, pdfs, etc.—relating to characters, key items and the plot of the novel (A well-organized set of browser bookmarks is also invaluable for this purpose.)
  • Stages : see below
  • Trash : I never make mistakes, of course, but if I did, this is where they’d end up. (In reality, this got quite a lot of use.)

I used Randy Ingermanson's snowflake method to write the novel. (You can read about it here, but the basic premise is: start with a single sentence summary and build 'outwards' from there. I'll try to write more on this way of working in a later blog post.) The Stages section of the binder holds the output from each stage of the snowflake method. I tend to “talk to myself on paper” so each of these documents contains a draft attempt (at a single sentence or whatever), then a paragraph of criticism and thoughts, then the next draft attempt, then another paragraph, and so on, until I'm happy with the result.

My advice on Scrivener is: try it out. No, wait: go and read a bit of my novel and consider pledging, then try it out. If you like it, here’s a code for 20% off the purchase price: UNBOUNDANGELS. (Perhaps if you use the code, you could retweet my original tweet to your followers, or share my Facebook post?)

Oh, and remember that the "Writer's Reward" includes a copy of Scrivener and a one-on-one video lesson with me, focusing on how I use Scrivener and what I've learned in the process.

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P.S. If you're wondering why it says, "Save Save Save Save Save Save ... " after this postscript: it's not a plea for help, it's a bug in the Unbound blogging system. Promise.

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