Regular readers of this site may know that I’ve been going back and forth between writing a new novel and working on (extremely painful) revisions of another.
Part of the problem with the revisions is that I started the novel with very little sense of direction, so a lot of the characters still run together, and after this on-again-off-again relationship with it, I’m still finding continuity errors.
My basic revision “strategy” had been to open the gigantic Word file with the novel in it, open up another Word file with an outline, another file full of “fix it” notes, and yet another file with an ugly list characters and a few of their basic traits (black hair, athletic, etc.). The entire frustrating process usually involved going back and forth between all of those documents, while scrolling up and down throughout the manuscript and comparing what I was reading there to what was in the outline and the notes.
After doing this long enough to either become angry or hopeless (sometimes as little as a few minutes, other times an hour or more) I would just give up on the revisions and go work on the other novel.
That novel, I told myself, would be easier. I was, after all, going in with a plan. I had a basic outline, a clearer vision of the main characters’ wants and desires, and a much better sense of how each character would support the overlying plot.
But as I progressed with that novel, I realized something frightening and depressing. Regardless of how prepared I thought I was, I was still going to end up with a chaotic mess of notes, outlines, character profiles, and a gigantic Word document to scroll up and down in looking for continuity problems.
There had to be a better way.
And there was. I was reading a post on K.M. Weiland’s blog about a paper organizer called the WriteMind Planner. The post address so many of the problems I was having with my revision process that were already bleeding over into my new novel.
Weiland and several of her readers in the comments compared this to “Scrivener in a notebook.”
To which I said to myself. Scrivener? Why haven’t I tried something like that yet?
Now, I suppose I should mention that I did try Scrivener maybe three years ago. At that point, I wasn’t a big outliner, and after using it for a few minutes didn’t see any benefit in taking an existing novel (or even short story) and importing it to another medium when Word has worked just fine for me. I messed around with it a bit and said, “Eh. Back to Word and Excel.”
But things were different back then. I hadn’t published a novel yet, and was still a deep believer in discovery writing. Not too mention, the novel I was working on was a very linear story with only one POV character. It’s not a bad novel and you should certainly check it out sometime 🙂
Anyhow, I downloaded the free trial of Scrivener and glanced over a quick tutorial. Yes, there was a little learning curve, but the default novel templates worked just fine for me. I copied the first two scenes from the new novel and used their built-in character templates to fill out a couple of character profiles.
I stared at it for a few minutes, and then went onto Twitter and wrote:
Trying Scrivener for the first time. After five minutes I have no idea how I ever lived without it. I’ve never been this much in love.
And the thing is, I meant it. Every word. Okay, maybe I technically love my wife and kids more than this piece of software, but it’s pretty close. But what’s even more amazing is that after using it just a little, I found myself excited to work on the novel again. Which novel? Every novel!
It was like I just discovered this shortcut to making writing and revising 100% easier. And I couldn’t wait to get to work!
But what’s so great about it?
What makes a product great (at least to me) is when it offers a solution to a problem. My problem was that I hated using half-a-dozen documents to keep track of a novel. Scriviner solves that problem by offering one place to keep everything. Links to everything are right there on the left side of the screen, presented as an expandable outline.
It’s up to you how you want to customize this, but what I did was set up an outline of my novel, broken down by chapter and then by scene. The text of the manuscript is then broken down into those sections, so when you want to write or edit, you just click on that scene and it comes up. No more scrolling through, no more CTRL-F returning 570 results…it’s all right there.
And when the time comes for you to combine all the parts, there’s a fast export option that will save the entire manuscript in whichever format you like. You can customize the output, but it includes a few by default, including Standard Manuscript Format for submission.
Another great feature following the outline templates for character and setting. You can fill out as much detail as you need and to keep an easily accessible list of character and settings.
I very rarely write posts just to plug a product, but I chose to with Scrivener because I had such a great (and unexpected) experience with it. I really would urge you to try it.
You can download a 30-day free trial at their site. The trial is great because it doesn’t mean 30 days after install; it’s 30 days of use. So only days where you actually open up the software count toward those 30 days. If you only write on weekends, for example, you can use the software for a long time before you need to purchase it.
Download the trial version or purchase the full version from the official site here.
So go get it!
And if you have already used Scrivener, or similar software, feel free to leave a comment and share your experiences with it.