On Beyond Index Cards: A Review of Scrivener Software for Writers

My first novel, slated for publication with David C. Cook in early 2014, involved hours and reams of research. I researched everything from fossils, to barbecue restaurants, the history of Haiti, pecan recipes, and more. I organized text, web links, and photos into dozens of Word documents, which I then had to flip open and closed while writing and editing each chapter. Add this to the half-dozen internet browser screens I had open for research, and, well, my computer was on the verge of crashing.

So was my brain.

At the time I didn’t know any better, so I never lamented the process. But now that I’ve found Scrivener, a software program for writers of any genre, I marvel at how I ever kept my sanity. Currently neck-deep in an intense season of editing, I’m especially glad I can dump my manuscript in there, blow it up, and put it back together again with Scrivener.

Now, I will warn you. What you’re about to read may sound like an infomercial, but it’s not. I downloaded the trial version (highly recommended), quite skeptical about how much easier this could really make my writing life. But after just two days, I bought the software outright. First of all, this little slice of computer engineering GENIUS only cost $45—a small price to pay for sanity. An even smaller price to pay for the time it’s saved me, and the fun it brings to the novel writing process.

What’s so great about Scrivener? Below, I’ve summarized my personal favorite aspects of the program—so far. And I say “so far” because the software has so much depth of capabilities and bells and whistles, I discover something new and even more fun every time I use it.

1. Love me a Trapper Keeper!

I am a true child of the 80s. When I took my kids back-to-school shopping earlier this fall, I teared up, grieving that they shall never know the true beauty of the Trapper Keeper. Oh, sure, we found imitation versions on the shelves, but nothing close to the ultimate office supply nerd’s dream machine contraption, which kept everything in check, even when the bully on the football team rounded the corner and flipped my books in the air, sending everything—including my fragile, Love’s Baby Soft ego—to the floor.

Well, never fear those bullies again. Scrivener is your virtual Trapper Keeper. The  program holds everything you need for your novel—websites, photos, places to jot down random thoughts and ideas, references, and notations—everything. And since it’s all in one location, nothing falls out.

2. The corkboard is adorable.

Say good-bye to sticky notes falling on the floor when it gets humid outside. Say hello to the floor you haven’t seen for months, since it’s been covered in index cards. Scrivener allows you to not only create virtual index cards and post them on a virtual corkboard, but you can also rearrange them, even when your manuscript is complete. Need to move chapter 30 back before chapter 14? No problem. Instead of scrolling back up and down through pages of text, just point, click and drag!

Better yet, each index card can function as a chapter synopsis, and you can attach various and individual scenes to each card, again, for easy viewing and rearranging, even within a chapter.

And as an added bonus, you can print out the index cards you create within the program, complete with lines to cut them the exact size of a 3×5 card.

As the website says, “Make a mess. Who said writing is always about order? Corkboards in Scrivener can finally mirror the chaos in your mind before helping you wrestle it into order.”

Don’t like index cards? That’s okay, because you can do your writing (also with rearranging capabilities) via the outlining mode.

3. Don’t just think about Harry Connick as you write out your protagonist’s next love scene. See him on the screen.

Don’t just think about the New York City skyline as your villain creeps through Central Park. Keep a photo of it on your desktop as you write.

Character, setting, and other research organizers allow you to attach photographs, charts, maps, and more all together and accessible as you write. One of my supporting characters looks like Matthew McConaughey. Seriously. He does. So whenever I need to jot down notes about his character, I open up my folder and there he is, gazing at me. Beautiful.

(woah–where did HE come from?!?)

 4. Worry about Word later.

It took me awhile to get over the fear of not writing in Word. But alas, the designers make it possible for you to compile all the text behind all those index cards and export it into one, seamless document which dovetails easily into Word.

5. Other cool features I love:

  • A name generator with every ethnicity and region imaginable!
  • Templates
  • Word count features, by chapter and whole document
  • Color-coding for chapters, editing status, and more.
  • Progress tracking
  • Keyword options
  • Formatting assistance

The website sums it up best:

“Most word processors approach composing a long-form text the same as typing a letter or flyer – they expect you to start on page one and keep typing until you reach the end. Scrivener lets you work in any order you want and gives you tools for planning and restructuring your writing. In Scrivener, you can enter a synopsis for each document on a virtual index card and then stack and shuffle the cards in the corkboard until you find the most effective sequence. Plan out your work in Scrivener’s outliner and use the synopses you create as prompts while you write. Or just get everything down into a first draft and break it apart later for rearrangement on the outliner or corkboard. Create collections of documents to read and edit related text without affecting its place in the overall draft; label and track connected documents or mark what still needs to be done. Whether you like to plan everything in advance, write first and structure later—or do a bit of both—Scrivener supports the way you work.

But wait. Before you buy, please note:

As with any computer program, there are negatives. Some folks–including an adorable and brilliant writer friend of mine–hate it. Also, while a PC version is available, the program was designed to operate on Macs, and the designers even admit it will probably work best on that platform. Try the trial version before you buy it to see if it will work for you and your computer operating system.

Also, you do need to have at least a smidge of computer savvy. And patience. There is a learning curve to this program, and the designers have been kind enough to offer a thorough, interactive tutorial and instruction book. While helpful, the program is so rich even I—a borderline computer geek—felt a little overwhelmed initially. And I don’t know if I’ll ever use all the functionalities.

That said, Scrivener has truly changed the way I approach my novel writing. I feel like it really frees my mind to focus on the prose, because I no longer have to remember where everything is on my hard drive . . . or if my dog ate a sticky note or a stack of index cards.

I honestly don’t know why more folks aren’t using and/or raving about the software.

Try it for free for 30 days.

I can’t throw in a set of steak knives, but I’d be willing to wager you’ll like the program, too.

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2012 Writers and Readers Reach Out

Over the years I’ve challenged my readers at All Things Southern to join me in an annual benefit for the less fortunate. We’ve done everything from drilling wells in Africa with Life Today to partnering with World Vision to buy chickens and goats for needy families around the world.

Last year I became fixated with the exponential power represented by the fellow writers I meet in my travels. Knowing these wordsmiths all had a circle of readers that enjoy his or her work and interact with them via their websites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter, I wondered what we might accomplish by combining our individual platforms and multiplying our efforts. The dream led me to launch Writers and Readers Reach Out. The positive results fueled my desire to do more. For the second year, I’m asking writers and readers to embark with me on 30 Days of Thankfulness to coincide with the season of Thanksgiving.

I was in the planning stages of the drive and personally burdened by what I was learning about human trafficking when I read Passport through Darkness, by Kimberly L. Smith.  I knew immediately that Make Way Partners, the organization that Kimberly and her husbanded founded, should be the recipient of this year’s efforts. Make Way Partners works with individuals, churches, and organizations to help prevent and combat the evil of human trafficking and all forms of modern-day oppression.

If you’ll take the time to read just a few of the real-life stories on Kimberly’s blog of women and children who Make Way Partners has rescued from slavery, and for whom they provide long-term care, I believe you’ll want to participate in this beautiful journey of restoration.

Eight years ago, Kimberly began chartering small mission planes to fly her into the war zone where U.S. sanctions and Islamic regimes rendered thousands of orphans unadoptable. Providing food and opening a first-grade school in a lawless land with no other educational systems, MWP partnered with an indigenous leader to rescue and care for these most vulnerable orphans. Year-by-year, they have added a new grade to their school. Now, graduating eighth grade, the orphans of MWP have more education than many current leaders of their nation.  It is time to build a high school, making it possible to raise up the next generation of educated Christian leaders who will stop the cycle of violence and slavery.

Read about a few of these amazing students and the complete high school proposal here: http://kimberlylsmithblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/battle-cry-by-guest-blogger-matt-mcgowen.html

The quotes scattered here are those of the late Helen Keller.  Inviting Ms. Keller to share this journey with writers and readers feels right, for it was the power of a word written in the palm of her hand that unlocked Ms. Keller’s heart and mind and subsequently impacted untold lives around the world!

As readers and writers, no one knows the value of education better than we. Let’s dream big and build a high school for the world’s most vulnerable orphans!

Thirty days of thankfulness. It’s not a long time, but it’s a perfect time to join hands and do something grand, together. ~Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Details for participating authors:

~Writers and Readers 30 Days of Thankfulness begins Nov.1st, 2012

~Each author posts the drive and invites his or her readers to join the effort.

~Participating authors and their websites will be credited and hyperlinked
on Kimberly L. Smith’s author site as well as the MWP blog and Facebook page. The Make Way Partners community is 15,000 strong, representing all 50 states and 10 countries. Kimberly will be blogging about Readers and Writers Reach Out and encouraging her supporters to read works from authors who are of the same mind and passionate to support the same things they care about.

(Authors, please contact audreym@makewaypartners.org if you would like to participate.  Please email Audrey with your name, blog site, Facebook page, website, or any other acknowledgement that you would like to use for your readers to track this opportunity.)

~Each author will be supplied with a button to use on your website, blog, Facebook wall, etc., linked to the donation button at Make Way Parners. You’ll notice the donation form has the following field: “How did you learn about Make Way Partners?” The software can easily track the efforts of individual authors by having the reader respond in that field with the shortened name of our drive and the author’s name. Example: WritersandReaders,authorJohnSmith

*The individual author will have access to how much he or she has personally raised but all other records will be private. There will be no public competition. At the end of the 30 days, we will publically announce the grand total raised, thanking all participating authors.”

Suggestions for participating authors:

~Please feel free to copy and paste this blog post directly, or use your own words to share the story.

~Instead of asking readers for a certain dollar amount, we respectfully suggest asking them to consider the weight of the subject. What would we be willing to do or give if it were our children and grandchildren being bought and sold?

~Strictly optional: On my personal blog, I enjoy having a giveaway in conjunction with the drive. Everyone who donates get entered in the drawing for a signed book, t-shirt, DVD, or anything else I decide to put in a goody bag. Last year I contacted one of my radio sponsors who gladly donated an Ipad for the giveaway! This idea might work for authors who don’t have a radio show, but do have a store or business in their area that would like to participate by sponsoring the author’s drive. In addition, Make Way Partners will give a free copy of Passport through Darkness to every donor.

~Keep the drive before your readers through your own platform during the thirty day focus, aiming to blog about it at least once a week and discuss it frequently via social media.

~Use your media contacts to schedule interviews to talk about Writers and Readers Reach Out 2012. If we can make use of your contacts but you’re unable to donate the interview time, please contact me. It may be that Kimberly or I, if not another of our participating authors, would be able to fill in.

~When twittering or pinning this drive please use hashtags #WritersandReaders2012 or #WR2012. Thank you!

Hugs, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (twitter @shelliet)

http://www.allthingssouthern.com

This is your donate button:

Simply save the .gif to your desktop and insert it into your posts. The direct link you will be pointing to should be: https://app.etapestry.com/hosted/MakeWayPartners/OnlineDonation.html  

***UPDATE– Yes, bloggers are welcome and encouraged to participate, too.  Also, I’d like to thank LITFUSE Publicity Group for donating publicity efforts.

Are Fiction Writers Schizophrenics?

Writing takes discipline, focus, energy, and empathy for our characters. That’s why I write in the morning before my mind sidetracks to real problems and outside distractions. A rested mind opens the doorway to my fictional world. We must create doorways in and out of our fictional minds.

But here’s the catch, the doorways must revolve.

Yesterday, I wrote a scene containing a climactic, heated argument between two characters. I pounded the keyboard with vigor! But today I need to patch things up between them—as humbling and draining for me as if it’s happening in real life. Not so fun. If the argument was real, a family member could have listened, supported, or at least consoled me. Or I could have had a good bawl—something to release those pent-up emotions.

Who understands what it’s like to simultaneously juggle the real and alternate worlds? And I’m not even talking to-do lists, just mindset. We enter an imaginary world and leave it carrying baggage—real emotions. This is why writers need interaction with other writers.

We are the only ones who GET IT.

In my last novel, my preacher hero got the hives twice because I used allergies to create a bond with his heroine. While I enjoyed writing these humorous scenes, I got the hives for an entire week, even longer than it took to write the scenes. It was awful. Every time I quit taking Benadryl, I broke out in welts. Besides scratching, I started to fret about mind-power and what might happen next. Hubby thought it was hilarious.

Poor guy. He doesn’t think it’s so funny when he has to bear the brunt of my emotional writing baggage. Depending upon a day’s creation, I can do the garbanzo dance or crawl into a hole. Sometimes I’m so drained, I even feel antisocial on Bunco night. Hubby dreads my deadlines as much as I do.

Worst is when I stand in the doorway of both worlds. When things are flowing, it’s hard to quit. Right when I’m in the middle of an adrenalin high, real life beckons. I have to zap out of it, leave things hanging. When that happens, I become a zombie. I go through the motions of cooking dinner and even dinner conversation, but my soul is missing.  I haven’t found the doorway back to reality or else I’m just not ready to move through it. One arm’s lagging, grasping at other world insanities. Am I the only one who experiences this?

Do we feel guilty or secretive about spending the day in an imaginary place, especially after being the villain who plots disaster for our unsuspecting characters, or after writing a love scene? How do we stuff emotional baggage and greet family with a smile?

What doors transport us from one world to the other?

Gulp.

Are we on the brink of schizophrenia?

Or am I just imagining this?

Goodreads

Here is some Social Media just for authors and just for readers. You are probably thinking, “Am I dreaming?”

No! It does exist, and it is an amazing place to devote time and energy. This little heaven for authors is called Goodreads. Goodreads has approximately 4.6 million users. While it may not seem to be as grand as Facebook’s 800 million users, these 4.6 million users are just on Goodreads as readers!

Goodreads is a place people go to only to think about reading. What an awesome concept. There are no random pictures of kids, like on Facebook, pictures of things you can’t afford like on Pinterest. Instead, there are readers, some virtual books shelves, and people talking about BOOKS!  Think about this as Facebook just for authors and their audience.

What are some of the things that you can do on Goodreads?  You can create an author page that “fans” can share with others.  Within Goodreads, you can also start pages specifically for your book. ( I do not encourage people to start book pages on Facebook, just fan pages.  But on Goodreads, you can have both, and they link back to your author page.)  It’s designed just for you, the author. You can easily chat with your readers, add video clips, and link it to your Facebook and/or Twitter pages.

I recommend to authors that they spend money on Facebook, programming a page with their books, so it directs them to buy the author’s books. If you are an author with many books, start a store on your fan page. Goodreads does this for you! (Score!) If your book is on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, it is automatically connected to Goodreads.

Goodreads is super user friendly and very intuitive.  When you sign in, there are tips and tricks that are posted on their pages everyday.  It will give you more ideas and walk you through the site.  This makes it very easy to learn and be more adept in controlling the site. Have fun with this site, and don’t just put your books on it, but really get involved. Dialogue with friends, readers, and other authors.

These were my three tips from Goodreads when I signed in today.

My personal favorite thing on Goodreads is their quote section.  You can add quotes from your book or quotes from your favorite author. I love to search the quotes by words and topics. There are no ads with these quotes, and it is such a great resource for writing. Quotes are also a good way to promote yourself!

Goodreads is definitely a top social networking site for authors.

Go here to start your adventure as a Goodreads author. Also, here is some great information about how to effectively utilize all that Goodreads has to offer: Using Goodreads to Promote Your Books

Have you been using Goodreads to promote your writing? How so?

SEVEN TIPS TO MAKE THAT NEW YEAR’S WORD WORK FOR YOU

As a writer, the idea of designating one word for the New Year, in lieu of resolutions, appeals to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a bit lackadaisical when it comes to actually making those resolutions (not to mention keeping). 

Writers are wordsmiths and so it seems all the more appropriate. But wait. How does a writer select just one word for a whole year when there are myriad beautiful words floating around out there for the picking? Here are seven suggestions:

1) PRAY: After Christmas, I began tumbling words in my brain. I wasn’t sure how I would spot “my word”.  I wanted something with a ring to it. Maybe something catchy. Pretty, musical, a poetic word, I hoped. New Year’s Day arrived and I still didn’t have my word. Every time I gave it some consideration the word “return” popped into my mind. What kind of “word for the year” is that?  

As the end of January approached, I despaired of finding my word. And then I did what I always do when I feel hopeless: I prayed. I read my Bible. Of course, the answer I received was my word was there all of the time. And the lesson well learned? Don’t wait until you are discouraged to RETURN to our heavenly Father. 

2) USE IT: Once you know your word, use it. At least once a day. Include it in your prayer time and if by the end of the day you find you have not used your word try to think of as many ways it fits into a sentence. A favorite of mine is to write a short story, one paragraph long, using my word as many times as I can. How refreshing to give yourself permission to break the rules! 

3) SHARE: Don’t be afraid to tell people what your word is. You don’t really have to know how your word applies to you. Part of the fun is finding out why the word is “your word”. You will find your friends are curious about your progress and provide motivation to continually strive to decipher the meaning of the word in your life. 

4) REFLECT: At the end of each month, think about how the word worked in your life. Or didn’t. Ask yourself questions. Does it have a different meaning for you than it did at the beginning of the month? Did it make a difference in your life? In what way? Does it make you view your world, your writing, your family and friends in a new way? In a positive way? Great! If not, why not? What can you do to change that? 

5) REVISE: Begin each month afresh. Be flexible in your interpretation of your word and what it should mean in your life. That is the power of a word. It will not always mean the same thing to different people. And it won’t always mean the same thing to you. 

6) BE OPEN: This is so much more than being flexible. Embrace the possibilities. It’s amazing how much one little word can mean to you when you open your arms wide and let it flow over you. Sing it, shout it, whisper your word. Think musically, think poetically, draw your story out. Express your word in a way that really moves you. 

7) RETURN: This is your chance to shrug off those resolutions that frequently cause so much regret by the end of January and live your word. Then RETURN often with prayers of thankfulness and give the glory to God.  

I can’t wait to see how my word RETURN directs my life next month! Returning to my roots come to mind. Hmmm, I write historical romance, so maybe. And I really look forward to finding the meaning of RETURN this December. I can’t wait!

What is your word for 2012?

Rebecca DeMarino is a retired United Airlines Service Director and worked as an Office Manager at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency from March, 2008 until September, 2010. She currently works part-time as a Carnival Cruise Line representative from her home office. She recently signed with literary agent Barbara Scott with WordServe Literary.

How to Effectively Use Twitter for Authors

We all know that as successful authors we’re expected to market ourselves and this includes social media sites. Most find Facebook easy to use, but I’ve seen several authors confused or disheartened by Twitter.

I used to be one of them. For basic Twitter use, including #hashtags and follow back explanations, check out 8 Twitter Tips for Authors at the Blogging Bistro’s site. (She’s got great content, search through her archives & consider signing up for her daily tips.)

1. Who are you marketing to? Remember who your target audience is. Every tweet or link you share should provide value to this audience. You should tweet links to your blog posts and website, but here’s a good rule of thumb, for every 10 tweets, only 1 should be about your blog/book/website.

Retweet others, it’s a great way to build report, but remember, only retweet things that you think your audience will find useful in someway.

2. Finding followers. Here’s where #hashtags come in to play. Search for the key words that define your target audience. I often look up #quilting, #crocheting, #cooking, and #christianfiction. Start a conversation with these folks. After all, that’s what Twitter is about. Most times, they will follow you back.

Don’t start a conversation simply for a follow back. Talk with them because you have something in common. People know when you’re being phony. Even if it’s just two folks a day, it adds up over time.

3. Use Lists. I’ve heard the argument that it’s impossible to keep up with hundreds and thousands of friends/followers. Yes, that’s true, but Twitter has the glory of lists. You can make a list and categorize your followers there. I have several, you can make them private if you don’t want people to see how you have them listed, or public and others can follow your list.

For example, I have a list of readers where I put folks who chat about the books they’re reading. I have one for my fellow writer friends. The possibilities are endless and you can pull up your list and chat w/ folks about that subject when you’re in the mood or have time.

Lists are the key to making Twitter work in my opinion.

4. Engage with other users. If you never talk with people, you’ve missed the point of Twitter. It is called Social media for a reason. In fact, if someone follows me and I check out their profile (I always do) if I don’t see Tweets including other people’s @handle, then I don’t follow them. I want to talk w/ people, not have them just talk at me.

Are you a Twitter user? What’s some of your tips or cool people who you’ve found via Twitter?

Follow me on Twitter and let me know if you found me from this blog. 🙂