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!


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