Tag: scrivener

Using the Kindle to read story drafts

My evolution of story draft reading has come a long way in the last year. A year ago, I’d print out my first drafts, mark them up in red ink and then head into my second draft. Then I tried reading the draft within Scrivener and that worked pretty well, too, but it was a little less portable than a paper manuscript, since I didn’t always have my laptop with me. Reading a draft is a convenient thing to do in those small scraps of time that one finds during the day, waiting for an elevator, sitting in a doctor office lobby, waiting for a meeting to start. So when I started my work on “Rescue”, I decided to try reading the draft on the Kindle and see how it felt.

As I’ve mentioned, “Rescue” is a novelette that I am writing by cannibalizing the first part of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo. So in essence what I am doing is reading that first part, deciding what ideas and characters to keep and what to throw away, and then rewriting the whole thing from scratch as a self-contained story, cutting it from 35,000 words in it’s novel form down to 15-to-20,000 words in story form.

Scrivener makes it easy to export a story to Kindle format. Once the story was on the Kindle, I moved it to “My Fiction” collection and started reading. If I found something I wanted to cut, or change, I’d use the Kindle’s highlight feature to highlight the text, and then I’d use the Kindle’s notes/annotations feature to add a note. Since the keyboard on the Kindle is QWERTY, it’s easy to type and capture short notes like, “Cut this” or more extensive notes like, “I’m not sure if this character belongs in the story. Their viewpoint doesn’t add much and slows the pace down. It would also allow me to cut this scene…”

I’ve managed to get 63% through my reading and I’ve made well over 100 annotations and even more highlights. Here is a typical screenshot:


I’ve found that I can work as easily as if I had a paper manuscript in my hands, and since I almost always have my Kindle with me, I can work on this just about anywhere. And best of all, the notes and annotations that I am making are stored on the device and can be opened as a text file, which I can then pull into my Scrivener project to use as a reference when I write the new story.

There is one downside that I have found so far:

Because I copied the story to my Kindle directly from my computer, as opposed to using Amazon’s service (which would have cost a buck or two), the story is only available on the Kindle device. It does not sync up to Amazon and therefore, for instance, I can’t pull it up on my iPhone.

Nevertheless, I am pleased with the overall feel of reading a draft on the Kindle and making my notes there, and it is likely the way I will handle all future drafts of stories. A story like this one would easily have consumed 150 manuscript pages. Add to that another draft, to say nothing of ten more stories this year, and this method also goes a long way toward my goal of becoming paperless at home, too.

Scrivener and publishing to Kindle

One of my resolutions for 2011 was to go paperless at home. This includes all the paper that is involved in the business of writing. For a while now I’ve been pretty good at going paperless with my writing, but today I took it one step further: I started making use of my Kindle for reading my own stuff, as well as stuff that I critique for the Arlington Writers Group.

Scrivener makes this a piece of cake. I pulled up my novel from NaNoWriMo, the first part of which I am cannibalizing for my January novelette, in Scrivener and compiled the document to Kindle format. It filled in a few options (like the Title and Author) and clicked the Compile button, and–bam!–Scrivener turned out a perfect .mobi file which I copied to my Kindle.

Other than providing the author and title as I wanted it to appear, I didn’t have to change a single option. Not only is the story perfectly formatted on my kindle, but a hyperlinked Table of Contents was produced. This will make my life so much easier. You see, while I worked paperless before, I had to be in front of my computer to read my story and make minor edits or notes. Now, I can read it anywhere (even without my Kindle I can still read it on my iPhone) and add notes and highlights. I can’t edit it on the Kindle but that’s not the point. Especially for this story, since I’m keeping the basic premise and characters but doing a complete rewrite so that it reads like a piece of short fiction instead of the first part of a novel.

I am constantly impressed at how easy Scrivener makes tasks like this. And when you think about it, Scrivener almost acts as a personal assistant for writers. It manages my research and notes. It allows me to publish to a variety of formats, and does all of this in a way that is seamless and doesn’t require a lot of work on my part. I really can focus on the writing and not worry about the formatting. It is yet another reason why I couldn’t imagine my life as a writer without Scrivener.

For more about what I have to say on Scrivener, see:

Scrivener 2.0: My month-long test drive

Scrivener 2.0

A preview of Scrivener 2.0 was released just in time for writers to test it as part of NaNoWriMo and I decided to take advantage of that to work on my novel this month. I’ve been a Scrivener user for many years and have already written about my great experiences with Scrivener 1.0.  What follows are my thoughts on test-driving Scrivener 2.0 for the last 30 days.

Although I am a science fiction writer by night (or early morning), I am a software developer by day and I’ve worked on software in which customer feedback has played a large role.  This is very clear in the first glance of Scrivener 2.0: it is a piece of software developed with the customers in mind–namely, writers–and 2.0 had introduced many features which make a writer’s life (well, mine anyway), substantially easier.

Writing a novel–as I am discovering–is a complicated process.  For me, it works best with a detailed outline where I can weave together the various subplots into a set of chapters and scenes that I can portion out for each day’s work.  Scrivener makes this easy.  I used the tool to write a detailed outline, very rough at first, which I then broke into chapters and scenes.  Eventually, I took that text from a single Scrivener file and split it into multiple files so that I had some 45 chapters outlined.  They show up in Scrivener 2.0 as index cards and the newly added feature that lets you include custom meta-data makes it even easier to organize those cards the way you want to.  It comes with some good defaults (by character, for instance), but I wanted to add meta-data for levels of tension and for certain subplots and it was easy to do this so that I could get a good visual representation of the story.  Furthermore, you can now place index cards freeform on the board if you choose, which allows you to graphically illustrate your story arc–something I think is very useful.

I had a lot of characters and a couple of other proper nouns frequently used in the novel and I added those to Scrivener’s auto-complete function so that when I started typing them, the Scrivener would suggest the autocomplete and I didn’t have to type the entire word.  This sped things up enormously and made sure that certain character names (e.g. “Derterous”) were always spelled consistently.

Scrivener 2.0 also allows you to capture information about characters and places in special templates.  This has proven very useful in my work on the novel because the cast of characters is large and it is sometime hard to keep them all straight.  The character template even allows you to include a picture of the character, which helps me enormously in visualizing what I think they look like and adding appropriate descriptions.  It is also a place to keep notes about the state of the character through the course of the writing so that you can easily reference key events or traits as the story progresses.

One thing that helped enormously during NaNoWriMo was the “Daily Target” template, which is nothing more than a normal Scrivener text file with a “goal” set for 1,667 words.  When you set a goal on a text file, there is a progress bar at the bottom of the file window that crawls forward the more words you write.  It turns from red to yellow to green and you can even have the system alert you through Growl when you’ve reached your goal.  Since my personal daily goal was 2,000 words, I modified the template slightly and it worked like a charm for me.  I usually exceeded my goal and Scrivener made it easy to tell how I was doing–I could glance at the progress bar–without pulling me out of my writing.

Scrivener 2.0 made excellent enhancements to its “scrivenings” functionality.  You can easily select multiple documents and have them appear as one continuous document in the editor.  This proved very handy in chapters which contained multiple scenes.  I was targeting my chapters for roughly 2,000 words, but when a chapter had 3 scenes, I’d set the goals on each scene differently, say, 800 words, 1000 words, and 200 words.  When I pulled these together into a single Scrivening, the application was smart enough to display a progress bar that was the total of all the selected goals so I was still looking at my overall target.

Scrivener 2.0 comes with a “name generator” feature that will generate character names for you.  It has a bunch of nifty little options (male, female, alliterative, double-barreled, etc.).  At first, this seemed unnecessary but it proved invaluable during NaNoWriMo to keep me writing and not getting bogged down in coming up with a name.  For most of my main viewpoint characters, I’d already chosen names.  But when I came to a scene into which  new character was introduced and for whom I did not yet have a name, I’d use the name generated and within seconds, I’d have 50 names to chose from.  The value here was that I had to pause for just a few seconds to get a name as opposed to stopping my progress completely, debating, searching websites, and finally choosing something.  It kept me focused on writing, which is key in the November contest.

There are many, many other features which I am not even covering at this point (but which I may get to eventually).  Snapshots in Scrivener 2.0 now highlight the actual differences between file version, for instance.  And there was even an option to compile the NaNoWriMo novel in “obsfucated” form–scrambled–so that you could submit it for verification to the website without fear of it being copied or stolen.

All told, I spent an estimated 56 hours using Scrivener 2.0 in the month of November, writing more than 65,000 words, and in all of that time, I did not run into a single bug or glitch.  Scrivener 2.0 works the way I like to work, it repsonds to my inputs in predictable ways in which I would expect and it doesn’t try to do things that it is not designed to do.  It is by far the best writing program I have ever used and despite the fact that Scrivener 1.x was already a good application, the development team still managed to listen carefully to customer feedback and make Scrivener 2.0 even better.

I “won” NaNoWriMo this year, my second win in 2 years.  In both years, Scrivener played a big role.  Winning the contest means that I am eligible for a 50% discount on Scrivener 2.0, but I would have paid full price ($45) even if I didn’t win.  It is some of the best money you could invest in yourself as a writer, like picking out a fine, well fashioned typewriter.

Since I have been using Scrivener, I have written stories that I have sold to Analog Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Apex Magazine.  Scrivener has proven an invaluable tool in those successes, helping me better organize my thoughts, and then getting out of the way so that I can focus on the writing.

If there are writers out there thinking of using Scrivener, give it a test drive, you won’t regret it.  It is among the finest pieces of software I’ve ever come across and I highly recommend it.

Scrivener: the ultimate writer’s tool

Today’s announcement of the upcoming release of Scrivener 2.0 gives me a good excuse to write about my experiences with this invaluable tool for writers.

There are literally scores of positive reviews of Scrivener available online, and for good reason:  it is an outstanding piece of software that allows a writer to focus on his or her primary job, writing.  Philosophically, Scrivener focuses on content.  Since most professional markets (novels, short fiction, plays and screenplays) have a standard manuscript format, Scrivener knows how to take the content a writer provides and turn it into the proper format–so that you can concentrate on writing.  All of my stories since 2007 have been written using Scrivener, including the stories that I have sold to professional markets.

Scrivener uses an innovative “corkboard” that allows you to plan out your scenes on virtual index cards, easily shuffle them around, color code them (by point-of-view, for instance) and visualize your story at a high level.  There are features that allow you to set goals for a story and session.  (I want to write 1,250 words today.)  And there are features that allow you to manage your research.  (Scrivener is even used by students for writing research papers.)  All of these features have been described by others many, many times.  I wanted to describe some of the unique ways that I use Scrivener, in addition to just writing my stories.

Scrivener provides templates for different projects.  I made some small modifications to the Short Story Manuscript template, adding some folders that I use with all of my stories.  There are 3 of these folders that are part of my template: Deleted Scenes, Critiques, Business.

One of the toughest things for me as a writer is cutting my own writing.  But it is a necessary evil and I’m a better writer for the cutting I do.  Scrivener has made this cutting easier.  I have a folder called “Deleted Scenes” and when I am cutting scenes, I simply move them to the “Deleted Scenes” folder.  This allows me to preserve what I wrote (and possibly reuse it somewhere else) without cutting it and losing it forever.

Back in the summer of 2008, I participated in an 8-week writing workshop led by science fiction writer James Gunn.  One of the most beneficial things to come out of this workshop was a trusted cadre of writers whom I trust to give me feedback on my stories. Scrivener makes it easy for me to manage these critiques and keep them associated with the story.  Each critique gets a document in the “Critique” folder (with the person’s name) and in this way, I can keep feedback on the story with the story.

Finally, I have  “Business” folder.  In the business folder goes things related to the business-end of the story.  For instance, if I sell the story, a scanned (PDF) version of the contract would go in the folder.  Correspondence with editors get placed in this folder, and I also put any reviews of the story that I find in this folder.  (I could probably keep a separate folder for reviews, but I haven’t done that at this point.)

The ability to keep everything together for a writing project, from the first index card on which the idea is scribbled, to the contracts and reviews of the published story is one of the things I really like about Scrivener.  The clean, unobtrusive interface makes it easy to focus on the writing.  I used Scrivener to successfully complete NaNoWriMo last year and plan on doing it again this year.  I would highly recommend Scrivener to any writer out there.  (Although that writer would have to be on a Macintosh.)

I can’t wait for Scrivener 2.0!