Category Archives: Research

A Testimonial – How Scrivener Changed My Life

So, I was reading TL Conway’s blog today and she was describing the kind of organized disorder of her inspiration notebook. It sounded to me like she kind of thinks/plans like I do – in no particular order. She’s got a method for keeping herself organized and finding ideas later, but I have really struggled to do the same thing. I just can’t stick to a system and I’ve got these random notes all over the place and I just couldn’t stand it anymore! My natural disorganization was making my writing life untenable, especially since my current project required a lot of research on a lot of topics.

So, I tried Scrivener. And I fell in love. By the way, you can download a 30 day free trial so there’s no risk.

I should mention at this point that I haven’t actually gone through the tutorials for this program yet. I might have glanced at the set-up instructions when I started, but after that I just started clicking on stuff. I found it really intuitive and the way the sections work just makes sense for how I work – your milage may vary.

There are four main sections in the left-hand navigation bar: manuscript, characters, places, research. There’s also a template and trash section, but those aren’t really “working” areas for me. You can add both folders and individual documents into each of these sections using either the drop-down menus or handy buttons at the bottom. If you click on the main tab for each section, you get a “cork board” that shows a little card for each folder/document. You can move these around, color code them, put stamps on them (I just learned about this part) and probably other stuff, too. Here’s a screen shot of the Manuscript section of my current project:












As you can see, the cards correspond to the Binder window. Each card defaults to the first sentence of the linked document, but that can be changed easily. Then you can add a synopsis of each document for quick reference. You can see the “First Draft” stamp that I randomly added to my “slush” card for effect. My “Other Materials” card has other written stuff that isn’t part of the manuscript. I’ve used a card for each chapter, but you could do it scene by scene, too. And I saw a suggestion a few days ago to make a stamp for “action”, “exposition”, etc and label each card to help check for pacing. I love that these cards can be moved around, I can make notes about revisions or which chapters are done or whatever and I can see that easily when I check the cork board. I’m a visual kind of person and the labeling options appeal to my disorganization and tendency to forget things.

Then there’s the “Characters” and “Places” sections of the binder, which are set up the same as the “Manuscript” section. There is a basic character template in the program and I used it to make sketches for each character. It includes name, appearance, occupation, role in story, etc and the template can be adjusted and customized however you want. I think there is also a “places” template, but I didn’t use it.


I particularly like that I can add pictures to the “Places” folders – I really struggled to write places effectively in my first novel and I’m having far less trouble now. You an actually have more than one thing open at once so I can have the picture open while I write the scene with the place!

But my favotite part, the part that’s saving my sanity, it the “Research” section. Again, you can fill it with either documents or folders, so I can organize to my heart’s content. And you can import pictures or full websites! And you can have any of these open at the same time as the manuscript:

Ah… So good. So exactly how I think and work. Now, there’s lots of other cool stuff like formatting the manuscript for various e-pub platforms, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. I have also used it for non-fiction projects and find it just as wonderful. One big caveat, though – it’s only available in beta version for Windows. Whoops. There are some other great screen shots on the Literature and Latte website, and you can see more info on Scrivener’s features and download the free trial. I hope that was helpful and good luck!

















Filed under Research, Writing Tools


Whew! I’ve been so busy working since I got back from the conference that I totally forgot to update here – I also missed the first writing challenge for the Platform Builder’s Campaign so I hope any visitors from that will forgive me.

So the RMFW conference was totally awesome. As with all such conferences, some sessions were better than others but I got a ton of inspiration/ideas/confirmations/exposure and I’m feeling re-invigorated and ready to work. But there was one unexpected ramification: I have decided to scrap my current project.

I’ve been working on this project for three years or so. I took two years off in the middle and when I came back to it, I just didn’t love it any more. I still think it’s a cool story and, with some of the plot revisions I’ve been working on over the last several months, I think it could still be a viable project. But I have to admit that my characters are just a touch boring. It’s not that they aren’t three-dimensional… they just aren’t that cool. You know those characters that are vibrant and sexy and you just can’t wait to read more about them? My characters aren’t like that. I really liked them when I first wrote the book but they just haven’t stayed with me like I wanted. So I am going to shelve it and start on the urban fantasy that has been nagging at me for the last month. It’s based on Russian folk lore and I found some serendipitous history that turned my cool idea into a bad-ass world-concept that I just can’t get over. I love it so very, very much. But I have so much research to do…

When I wrote my first book it was based on science and politics that I already had in my head. I went back after the fact and fixed/added in details, of course, but it didn’t stop my writing. My research was primarily after-market. But this project is different. I just don’t know that much about Russia. Or russian-american settlement. Or US Geography. Or Russian geography. Or… I studied russian for four years in college so I know enough to get started with research but I need so much background information before I can start. And it’s a testament to how excited I am that I’ve spend four days doing fairly boring statistical research without getting discouraged or loosing steam. I’ve got a really neat historical context for my family, I’ve got basic character sketches done for everyone, I’ve got a basic premise for my antagonist (she is going to be SO cool!), I’ve got an outline for a modified medieval marriage ceremony, and I just decided on a location for my family estate (dang, that took forever). So I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot, but I have so much more to do!

I promise I’ll write up some reflections on the better sessions I took at the conference (an agent session on the first 30 pages; designing deliberate secondary plots, characters, and villains; publishing research for profit; building a brand/website; and writing a pitch). It’ll help me crystalize my impressions, anyway, but I need to loose my new-idea-high first.

I will say that I had a group critique session that went really well – I got a lot out of critiquing the other five projects and listening to the editor who was running the session, but I got very few criticisms. There was only one small suggestion from the editor and, while two people in the group had criticisms, everyone else disagreed with them. So that was nice! Even though I’ve decided to shelve that project, it’s reassuring to have such positive feedback. It means that my writing, itself, is on the right track. I also had a pitch with a New York agent (who was the most adorable person) and, while she did agree to look at my first two chapters, she seemed far more excited about my russian project. I just need to get a move on with writing it! She actually told me I was a tease for telling her such a great idea without having a book for her to read! So, a good weekend for my ego. And I feel so good to have finally admitted that I don’t want to finish the thriller. I’ve been fighting with myself for months – thinking that I just didn’t want to do the re-write because it was hard or it wasn’t as exciting as a shiny new project… but I feel really good about switching projects. It’s better for me and, conveniently, it’s better for the market right now. And much as I love the process of writing, I also want to sell a book. Shocking, right?.


Filed under Conferences, Manuscript, Reflection, Research, Workshops, Writing Craft