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Freehold Friday: How I Write, part 2

Last week, I explained how I brainstormed and created outlines and then detailed outlines.  You can see that post here.

This week, I thought I’d share with you how I go about creating the stories I write, using quite possibly the best piece of software I’ve ever installed on one of my computers: Scrivener.


I can’t even begin to describe how awesome this program is–it staggers the mind.  I am completely in love with it, and through the course of this blog, I hope to show you why.  Disclaimer: I have no association with Scrivener, Literature and Latte (the creators of Scrivener) or anyone even remotely involved with it’s sale or development.  I don’t get any money from L&L and I happily paid full price for my copy of Scrivener.  There, with that out of the way, let’s dive in:

I’ll leave it to others (and they are legion) who have described and given overviews on how Scrivener works and why it’s such an evolutionary jump above Word (at least for us writers).  Just do a Google search, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of examples of Scrivener’s inherent superiority.

How do I use it?  I suppose, like many of my literary siblings.  I am a visual person, so I like the “cork board” aspect of Scrivener.  Instead of writing out chapters/plot elements on notecards and organizing them on…ahem…a cork board…I jot down notes in Scrivener, which then creates little notecards that are thrown up on the screen (which looks like, drum-roll please…a cork board!  Brilliant!).  With a click of the mouse, I can rearrange the cards until I’m satisfied that I like the order of parts, chapters, scenes.

Here’s the genius part—when I rearrange those parts, chapters, and scenes in the cork board mode, the actual document gets rearranged to match!  No more cut and paste and hunting through one 300-odd page document in Word to find just the right point for a scene that was typed out of order.  Click–boom–done.  Below is what it looks like, with a smattering of chapter cards for my current work in progress, AJE2.


Speaking of out of order, I’m finding the more I write, the more I like to write out of order.  That is, I used to start at chapter 1 and just write everything until I hit “the end”.  Now (mostly thanks to the schedule I keep due to my kids and other duties around the house) it’s far easier for me to write a scene at a time, as a think of them, as I have time.   Then, at my leisure, I can go back, plug them in where they belong in seconds, and stay on track with a cohesive story.

As an example of how I set things up, here’s a picture from my current WIP, the sequel to Alea Jacta Est, as Scrivener sees it:

aje2 screenshot

On the left side, you can see my file structure: the front matter (copyright, title page, etc.), then Part 1.  Under Part 1 are the chapters (the first is called The High Ground).  You can see where I’ve switched the order around because the first chapter is 1, followed by 6 Suthby (yep, originally this chapter was going to be chapter 6, but after pondering the flow of the story, I decided it would better serve the book by being the second chapter.  I dragged the chapter folder up and let it fall…easy!).

I write each scene as a new document inside the chapter folder (from chapter 1, look at “at the launchpad”, “Russian landing”, “down the tower”, etc.)  I tend to write 3-4,000 word chapters, so each scene is roughly 1,000 words.  That makes it easy for me to estimate a final word count for the chapter, part, or book, at a glance.  But I also use this tool:

aje2 screenshot 2

Look at the bottom right corner of the above screenshot.  I clicked on the little highlighted blue target icon (top, left of center) and the little window opened that is labeled Project Targets – AJE2.  I set a manuscript goal of 120,000 words (just my standard….AJE ended up at 210,000 and Apache Dawn ended up at 150,000 words or so).  Then I set a session target (brilliant!) for daily motivation.  As I type more and more words, the white bar fills up as red, yellow, then green when I reach 2,000 (my daily goal).  It’s great to see that bar slowly build up and I don’t quit for the day until it’s solid green.  Likewise, the manuscript bar will fill up (though, waaaay slower).

Okay, so I make the outline I wrote on paper appear in Scrivener by creating folders for parts and chapters, then add new documents for scenes inside the chapters (which I get from my detailed outline).  My next step is usually to create character sketches and drop them in the research folder (which holds maps, character lists, things I’ve discovered about Russian military ranks, etc.).  At any point during my writing session, I just click down to the research folder and pull up what I need (Scrivener even imports webpages to keep handy too).  It’s like having all your notes and maps and pictures condensed into the file without the physical clutter.   Below is a screenshot showing the map I was using to keep track of where the launchpads were at Kennedy Space Center (the location of chapter 1).


I. Love. It.

Once everything is in place, I get down to writing.  At this point, I let my muse take over and start taking notes on what a characters doing—seriously, I don’t really remember actually thinking this stuff up—it’s more like I watch a movie in my head and just type what I’m “seeing”.  An hour later, I’ll have 1800-2000 words and I’m ready to get up and stretch, grab a drink, change a diaper or feed a baby, etc.


And I haven’t even touched on how awesome Scrivener is for organizing!  Each document can be color coded (I color code by Point of View Character, so I know exactly how much “face time” a character is getting in the book and can adjust things accordingly), sorted (is it a first draft, a revised draft, etc?), time-stamped (hey, when the hell did I write that?), and I can jot down notes (like, this sucks, fix this, or look up that guys name from the first book, etc.).  It’s called the Inspector window and it’s VERY useful.  I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface on it’s functionality—I’m almost giddy with its potential.



On top of all this, you can customize how it all looks by closing different window panes inside the main editor screen.  You can have your writing in one window, notes in another and look at both simultaneously.  Like this, where I can type my KSC scene and refer to the map under it to keep things straight (because I know I have some fans that like to look up locations I’m writing about!  I do it too!)


It’s just…amazing.

So there you have it–how I write a book.  I just keep plugging away, one word at a time, until I think it’s done.  But then comes the fun part.  Editing!  I check for spelling, grammar, and consistency, then my let my editor have at it.  When he’s done, I’ll go over it one more time and fix plot elements, etc., and give it back to my editor (all of this can be done in Scrivener, which has the ability to list corrections..,).  Once he’s satisfied a second time, I convert it to an ebook format (again, Scrivener does this for me too, in a matter of seconds), download it to my Kindle and have a go at it as a reader.  If I come across anything (and I always do) I make notes and then fix those mistakes.  Finally, the book is ready for publication and cover design…

If this sounds like a sales pitch for Scrivener, you may be right—but wait there’s more!  Okay, maybe not.  This really isn’t a pitch.  If you want to try it, get it free for 30 days here.  If not, no sweat off my back–like I said, I’m not compensated or anything, I’m just happy to be spreading the word and hope this post can help a writer out there struggling with Word (like I was until I saw a post like this, last fall).

This program flat-out ROCKS.  It makes creativity and productivity something that’s hard to stop.

Speaking of which, it’s time I got back to work on AJE2 (otherwise known as “Time to Pick a Title”).

Till next week, muchachos!

Oh yeah, the update!  I sent the final version of the cover art for Apache Dawn to Create Space this morning (after 4 attempts, I finally got one that worked LOL).  I’m really proud of how the cover turned out and can’t wait to share it with you.   I’m thinking it’s going to be available next week for purchase.  You’ll be the first to know–I’ll post the news here, so sign up for e-mail updates, today!

Freehold Friday: How I Write, part 1

How do I write?  Well…one word at a time.

Seriously though, all stories start with an idea—some authors use the old “what if” question to get things going—others use a particular scenario or event to start the story or serve as a backdrop to the story.

For Alea Jacta Est, the idea occurred to me (as I mention here) after watching news coverage of the Northeast blackout of 2003.  From there it took on a life of its own…I was just along for the ride.

Apache Dawn was a bit different.  I had an idea of some of the characters (namely Cooper and Chad)  but I didn’t know how they fit into a story.  I had written Chapter 1 as a short story—which was a dream I had during the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.  I had been listening to the local news talk about local schools shutting down to head off the flu epidemic and how upset people were over rescheduling football games.  We lived a little northwest of Fort With at the time so yeah, it was a big deal to even talk about high school football games getting shuffled around.

That night after a long day at work prepping my craft store for the upcoming Holiday season, I had a dream about a boy burying his parents during a pandemic.  He became Chad Huntley.

That story sat on my computer for a few years, until I saw on the news about a scientist trying to genetically force the 1918 flu strain to mutate faster than normal in an effort to track its changes until it became super-lethal to humans.  The outcry raised over this research when the scientist wanted to publish his results raised a pretty big question (not just with me, but the U.S. government, which tried to block said publication)—what if (that question again!) some terror group got a hold of that data and turned the 1918 flu into a bio weapon of biblical proportions?

Think about this: In 1918, the Spanish Flu killed over 500,000 Americans (that we know of…medical reporting back then flat out sucked) and more than 10% of the global population.   If an equal number of Americans were killed, proportionate to today’s population, we’re talking millions of deaths.  To put it in perspective, the Spanish Flu killed more people in 24 months than AIDS has killed in 24 years.

And this was the same bug that the scientist at the heart of the controversy wanted to force-mutate into something even more deadly.

So…my thought process was: say some organization that doesn’t like America turned it into a weapon?  How would they deploy it?  Where?  What would happen next?  Who would take advantage of that situation —and how?

And Apache Dawn was born.

Okay.  So I’ve got all these thoughts/fears/questions/nascent stories in my head.  After I find the duct tape and wrap my head to keep it from exploding, I grab a notebook.

I make a rough outline starting at the beginning (I’ll use Apache Dawn as an example):

1. America whacked with flu bio-weapon.

Then I write a few sentences about who did it, why, when, where, and how.  Most of that info is just for me—the characters (and by extension the reader) won’t know everything at once.  One character will know something, another with have more or less info—and some of that information may be different or even wrong.

Some characters, (like Vice President Barron) know a LOT and get more info as the story unfolds.  Others, like Dr. Alston, or Chad (poor dude) know next to nothing and are thrust into the story and left to figure things out on their own, or get run over by the plot.

Once I have the background for what’s going on and why in a particular chapter,  I then start working on the actual story, pick a setting and run with it.  Before long I’ve got a chapter fleshed out (no dialogue, no transitions, just “X happened because Y did this.  Y moves to this town.  X follows.”).  With this (usually a dozen or so handwritten pages) I then sit in front of the computer and start creating.

Next week: How I use Scrivener to put words on the screen.

Freehold Friday: Oh, the irony.

So last week was about the end of summer, the beginning of school and the start of “writing season”.  Sadly, this also coincides with kids bringing sickness home from school.

Yeah.  Two days after I posted last weeks post about the joys of shipping the kiddos off to school, one of them brought home a nasty bug that knocked me on my ass.  So I’m going to apologize for the short post this week–I’m not quite myself yet and there is writing to be done (and skipped days to be made up for).

Anyhow, earlier this week, as I lay there in bed with a doozy of a fever, bundled up with blankets, sweating, I could feel the aching in my bones/muscles continue to intensify…yeah I couldn’t help but grin at the irony.

Here I had just finished Apache Dawn—a book about a flu outbreak—and it sure as hell felt like I had the flu.  All the research I did about the 1918 flu and the horrible descriptions of the symptoms…well, I have a vivid imagination, let’s leave it at that.  So Tuesday I dragged my carcass to the doctor.  After much poking, prodding, measuring, and harumphing, the doctor concluded I had a viral infection in my upper respiratory tract–and delivered this diagnosis with such a serious countenance you’d think he had just declared I had a month to live.  Then he grinned and said: “Otherwise known as a really bad cold.”


If this is “just a really bad cold”…I tell you what, muchachos, I’ll never miss a flu vaccine again.  Gives me a whole new perspective on the subject I’ve been writing about (and new material…I tried to keep detailed notes of what I was feeling…granted some of it looks like chicken scratch because my hand was shaking with the fever but, still some good stuff in that notebook that I don’t really remember now).

On the up-side, there were enough moments of decongestant-induced lucidity this week that I’ve nearly finished another chapter in AJE2 (yes, still waiting for the title to jump out at me—see this post)

I spent a lot of time reading Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k (a book for authors about how to dramatically increase your writing speed) and taking notes. I’m going to put her technique to the test and I’m confident I (and by extension you, gentle reader) will be pleased with the results (I recognized a few things she suggested that I already do in my writing—so that’s a good sign!).

Alea Jacta Est continues to amaze me: it’s been in the Top 100 Bestsellers on Amazon (Military Thrillers) for the better part of this whole week! I cannot thank you all enough!!!  And sales continue to rise for Apache Dawn…another high-point for the week 🙂

Okay, it’s time to get back to Scrivener, kick some ass and take some cough medicine.  And I’m all out of cough medicine.

Freehold Friday: So long, Summer!

As much as I love my kids and dearly love spending time with them, there does come a point where I have to throw my hands up and scream: It’s time for school to start!

It.  Just.  Is.

Our oldest started kindergarten yesterday in the midst of a pretty decent thunderstorm with lightning like I haven’t seen since leaving Texas.  Our daughter started preschool Tuesday.  Our youngest started flinging food across the kitchen–a new trick he is very keen to repeat as much as possible while squealing in delight.

But summer has officially ended and that means a whole LOT more time to write.  To wit, today I was able to pound out about 2500 words on a new project–uninterrupted (cue Handel…) in the hour or so before everyone got up for school.  During the height of summer, the kiddos were rising with the sun–which pretty much eliminated the early-morning writing session.  I had to stay up late during the night, then get up early with the kids…it was exhausting for everyone in the house.

Now that school has arrived to sap the energy of my little ones, they tend to sleep a lot later and I can get work done before the littlest one gets up.  Ah, the sweet bliss of a silent house and a steaming cup of tea.

Fall is and  always has been my favorite time of year. There’s something about harvest-time that stirs the spirit…the smells, the colors, the crisp air in the morning…the entire experience is just invigorating.

My fingers are itching to get back to Scrivener.

But I hear a cry over the baby monitor that signals it’s feeding time…

One last thing before I go:  That project I mentioned earlier is a novella set in the world of Wildfire.  Kind of a gap-bridger/depth-giver story that will take place in between Apache Dawn and the next book, The Shift.  

Not to be forgotten, I’ve been continuing to scribble notes and work on the outline for AJE2, so fear not AJE fans!