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Posting yesterday about a couple of my writing tools got me thinking about how the right tool (in this case, Scrivener) can make the right creative choice easier, and thus increase the likelihood that you'll make that right choice.

I'm trying to finish a story called "Secret Skin," which I first drafted around the time I started writing again, almost two years ago. The early drafts were something like 12,000 words long, and the story itself didn't really justify that kind of length, so I spent a ton of time cutting, re-writing, cutting, re-writing and eventually hacked it down to 5,000 words with all the magic gone. After a while, tired of worrying about this story, I set it aside and worked on other things.

I picked it up again recently, and realized it still needed... something. I was having difficulty seeing what some of the scenes were about, and how to sharpen them, even though the overall arc of the story still made sense to me. I had worked on the story in Scrivener for a long time, and eventually considered it close enough to a final draft that I moved it to a Word .DOC, and I'd been hacking away on that for countless hours. I started to feel discouraged about the story, even though I loved the main character and the dangerous female he encounters, and the strangers who cause them problems. I just couldn't see clearly what it needed next. Where to cut, what to build up, how to restructure or resequence.

I decided to take a step back, import the story back into Scrivener, break it down into scenes again and do a "reverse outline" (a trick I frequently use, which is instead of making an outline you intend to turn into a story, take an existing story and reduce it down to an after-the-fact outline -- a way of zooming out to take a wide view of your story). I realized, when I looked at the story this way, that several of the scenes were kind of muddy, because they were really several scenes run together. Sometimes it just makes more sense when scenes are clearly delineated. I turned a 5-scene story into an 8-scene story just by chopping some of the over-complex scenes into pieces that made better sense.

It wasn't just a matter of breaking scenes apart, but once they were split into more logical segments, I was able to zero in on each scene and quickly assess what needed to happen, what the reader needed to learn, and what the point of the scene is within the story. In other words, jam two separate scenes together and you end up with this shapeless thing that's hard to figure out. Break the pieces back apart again and it's much easier to see how to improve the shape of each.

I might have been able to approximate this using MS Word, but Scrivener is built for this kind of thing. I love using it to evaluate structure, move things around, combine them, break them apart, and figure out what works. It's harder to cut/copy/paste big blocks of text in Word, or to make multiple printouts and chop them up and edit that way, at least for me.

I give Scrivener a lot of credit for my ability to zero in on what each scene needed, and finally get "Secret Skin" close to ready to submit.

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I've raved about Scrivener many times in this blog. It's my most important writing (and outlining and organizing and revising and editing) tool. It's always been a Mac-only piece of software, but the developer has partnered with a Windows software developer to create a Windows version. So far, the Scrivener Windows Beta is similar but not exactly the same. Close enough that the differences aren't a problem, let's say.

At the same time, Scrivener has released a NaNoWriMo preview edition of Scrivener 2.0 for Mac, so I've downloaded that too and given it a spin.

Anybody (any writer-type, I mean) who hasn't given this application a spin now has no excuse. Check it out: Literature and Latte (Scrivener developer).

I'm mostly a Mac user but there are many times I find myself in Windows land, so I fully intend to buy a Windows license as soon as they're offered. This is great stuff and I really believe it's better than the similar alternatives (StoryMill and Ulysses). I bought a StoryMill license but I never use it any more.

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It's unlikely anyone reading this hasn't seen or heard about the Apple iPad, which seems to have taken over the technology world this past few months. The device is portable and easy to operate, and uses a touchscreen interface so intuitive I've yet to find anybody who can't figure the thing out immediately.

Much has been made in reviews of the device being better suited for consumption of media (listening to music, reading email, blogs and ebooks, or watching videos) than for producing it, but the iPad occupies an important place in my writing workflow. Most of my "real" writing happens in Scrivener, which is a Mac application with no iPad equivalent. But leading up to the actual drafting and editing in Scrivener, I do a lot of note-making, gathering and combining the various seeds and ideas that grow into the beginnings of a story. I keep all my notes centralized in Evernote, an application that I keep on all my Macs, Pcs and my iPad, but which I use most often on my iPad for the actual capture of ideas. During the drafting and revision of a story I often get ideas that I intend to apply to the story in progress, and these go into Evernote with a tag appropriate for the story. When I'm ready to work on a given story, I first check Evernote for any ideas tagged with that story's title, and it brings together every scrap or idea or name-change I may have come up with since I last worked on it. Once a note has been incorporated into the story (or discarded), I delete the note from Evernote.

There does not yet exist for iPad a word processor or text editor application without a lot of flaws. Apple Pages is a pretty nice program and only costs $10 but there are some serious weaknesses regarding how you get your work into and out of Pages, so I don't use that program at this time. If I wanted to draft a story scene, I'd fire up my bluetooth keyboard (the onscreen keyboard works fine for shorter bits of typing but I wouldn't to type hundreds or thousands of words with the thing, unless I had to) and type the text into Evernote. Then next time I was at a "real" computer I could collect any such scenes, again using Evernote's tagging feature to designate written drafts to be incorporated into Scrivener, Word, or whatever application you use to write your storise or novels.

I love my Macbook Pro and if I were to travel for any length of time with the intention of doing real writing, I would probably take that along. But for a short trip, I could definitely imagine taking just the iPad and getting all kinds of work done. I've always believed a lot of the work of writing isn't just writing drafts, but creating notes, sorting through them, combining ideas into an interesting brew and then starting to outline, sketch characters, and brainstorm. All this kind of activity is perfect for the iPad, and Evernote is an absolutely essential tool for this.

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[ GriffinWords ]

August 2013

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