The Power of Scrivener

This September, when it was time to hunker down on a new writing project, I decided that I was going to use Scrivener. I had heard good things about it on Joanna Penn's The Creative Penn podcast.  It was reasonably priced. I had a feeling that it would be a more effective way to write than my previous process.

Here was my situation pre-Scrivener: From April to August, I had been in editing/production mode for Kate and the Horses (beta reader feedback, rewrites, developmental editing suggestions, more rewrites, copy-editing corrections, further revisions on my part, and then several rounds of proofreading). While the readers, editors, and proofreaders reviewed the text, I researched what I thought I would write next, and when I had that figured out, I filled up one-and-a-half notebooks with ideas. (I don't like to seriously focus on the next book until the one that's about to go out in the world is done. It feels rude to me. Maybe I'll change my mind on that further down the road, but that's my current feeling about it.)

When it was time to focus on this new book, for the first time in my life, I felt overwhelmed by my notebooks. I knew that I needed a better system, and I thought Scrivener would be my solution. But, at the beginning, I did have serious doubts. When I sat down to look at their tutorial, it felt like it was in Mandarin Chinese. I did find a ten-minute tutorial on YouTube that I quite liked. But, even then, when I sat down with Scrivener, I spent an hour, flummoxed.

Immediately after that writing session, I ate dinner with Mike. I told him that I actually hated Scrivener. I said that I felt that it was going to stymie my creative process, that I had this beautiful project that I wanted to do, and I didn't want to let this frustration get in the way of my creativity, that I had written two novels, and why should I reinvent the wheel? I knew how to get things done.

Mike listened to me. Then he quietly said that he felt that Scrivener was a powerful tool, that if I could be patient, one of my weaknesses in life, that he felt that I would recognize how this tool could help me. He said that he would support me in any way that he could. I think I thanked him. I was so frustrated at that point that I may not have. I said that I was not going to guarantee that this was the right way for me.

But then the next time I sat down with Scrivener, something clicked. I understood how to do what I wanted to do. I quickly shifted my feelings from hate to love of all things Scrivener.

So this is how I've used Scrivener so far. I've created folders. In the draft binder, I have a scenes folder. In the research binder, I have folders for inspiration (right now, this is song references that I may want to quote or mention), characters, worlds, and themes. Then I went through the notebooks. I typed the ideas that I wanted to keep on digital index cards in the correct folder. As I went through this process, I realized that many of the things that I wrote in my notebooks were redundant. It made me feel more convinced that Scrivener was the way to go.

After I had gone through all the notebooks and captured everything on cards, I went back to the scenes folder, and I went through the cards again, placing colored labels on the cards that linked ideas that belong together in a scene. Once that process was complete, I rearranged the cards in the order that I thought the story would go. Then I created a document outside of Scrivener, where I wrote the story in chapters, glancing at the cards every now and again to ground myself, but mostly writing “off the top of my head.” In this document, I let myself write any dialogue or detail that I wanted for any moment. I thought about characters' motivations and what would lead to the next thing. I remembered my main character's goal and made sure that it was being represented in the actions that occurred. (I'm actually still in this process. I've worked on it for three writing sessions, three hours, and I'm on Chapter 10.)

Once I've finished that document, I will import it into Scrivener into my scenes folder. Then I will create index cards with the working title of the chapter name on them. (This book is going to have chapters with titles. Squee!) After that, using the Scrivener “compose” button, I will attach a draft to each chapter index card. I think I will make a folder for my note index cards and put them in there so I can have a relatively uncluttered digital work space, but I can still look at them at any time. And when I'm writing the draft linearly, I will probably work in split-screen mode, so that I can refer to the bits of dialogue and business that I have already dreamed up for each chapter.

Once I start writing the chapters in this way, I will also use Scrivener's Target Goal feature. You can set up your goal for the word count of the overall project and your writing word-count goal for each day. I want to see how that feels.

I need to hasten to add that I'm not abandoning my notebooks. I've written in notebooks since I was a child. I want to always write in notebooks. So I now use them to brainstorm (clustering) before writing scenes. Before I write anything in this blog, I first write it out in longhand.

So that's what I know so far. I'm sure in this project in and in future books to come, I will refine my process. But I don't think it will ever be straightforward for me. There needs to be some meandering. There needs to be some walks in the wood. But I am excited about Scrivener and the possibilities it offers.