Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

January 14, 2012

Behind the Book — My Modern-Day Quill Pen

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 12:06 pm

When I was finishing up the first draft of the third Velva Jean book, a terrible thing happened: Microsoft Word self-destructed. Right before my eyes, every letter turned into an asterisk, one by one by one, until the entire document was gibberish. (Apparently, more than one person has experienced this problem with Word for Mac.) Needless to say, I freaked out. The document was irretrievable, but luckily I had saved and re-saved multiple versions, so all that was lost was a handful of rewrites on various paragraphs and lines.

That day I switched over to Scrivener. I still use Word, but only for short (and far less important) documents. Scrivener is a program that was created by a writer (Keith Blount) for writers. As he says on their website: “The thing about programs aimed at writers is that no one program is going to suit all writers, because all writers work in different ways.” What he did was create a program for himself, the kind of thing that would help him in his own writing.

When I switched Velva Jean #3 to Scrivener, I didn’t do anything but use it as a regular word processor– a hopefully safe place in which to finish my manuscript. Because my publisher needed the manuscript submitted in Word, I easily imported it there and sent it off.

Now, as I’m in the researching/brainstorming/compiling/outlining phase of the fourth Velva Jean, I thought I’d give Scrivener a go to see exactly what it’s made of. With every book, I’ve organized and outlined the material a little differently from the book before. In the case of Velva Jean Learns to Fly, I wrote a 30-page detailed, scene-by-scene outline on the computer. With the third Velva Jean book, I wrote every scene on index cards, which I filed by month (since most of the action takes place within one calendar year). In this fourth one, I started doing a little outlining on the computer, a little on index cards, but for some reason this feels too scattered now.

Readers and writers are always asking me about my process, about my system for writing a book. What I tell them is that every book is a new experience, new territory, and you have to learn your way along the way. Each story is different, which only makes sense that each will be outlined uniquely and individually.

Here is what the folks at Scrivener say about their program: “Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you’re done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done. Enter Scrivener: a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

So far I’m liking Scrivener. Like many writers, I love organizing and reorganizing my materials. One of my writer friends, who also shares my love for organizing and reorganizing, has tried Scrivener as well. At first she loved it. For weeks she learned and made use of every single feature and option. But in the end, she had to turn away from it. She said the problem with Scrivener– for any writer who has even an ounce of the procrastination gene– was it was so detailed and so much fun to work in that, before she knew it, she was spending all her time organizing her files and photographs and outlines and digital index cards, that she didn’t have any time for the actual writing. In other words, it’s a great program if you can exercise restraint.

I’ve spent yesterday and today creating character files for everyone, even Velva Jean, who I know almost as well as I know myself. Rather than listing her traits, this is a place for me to brainstorm her journey in this particular story. I also created separate files for the “characters of place” that will figure into the book– everywhere from Hollywood itself to the movie studios to the nightclubs Velva Jean might visit. These files are great because, unlike the physical index cards, I can put anything in them– photos of the people and places; links to websites for more info; maps; blueprints; and, of course, text.

This phase of the writing is always fun, but I have to say that Scrivener (as of this moment) is only making it more fun. Hopefully it will continue to work for me…

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.