I’ve used a variety of tools since taking up writing, but I’m going to talk about the one I’ve settled on for the majority of my work. It’s called Scrivener, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard about it if you’re a writer. Now, this isn’t an advertisement for Scrivener, and it isn’t a tool everyone will like. As a word processor, it doesn’t compare to the capabilities of Word or the free LibreOffice Writer. What it does offer is organization. This post is about how I use it to help write a novel, and it’s as much about my process as the tool I use. Everyone is different, but sometimes reading about someone else’s process can lead to useful ideas. Certainly that’s true for me.
The thing about Scrivener is that it really isn’t all that complex. All there is to it is a collection of folders and documents, and the user can do whatever he or she wishes with them. In addition, each document includes a place for a synopsis and notes as well as the document body. From user-selected folders and documents, Scrivener outputs a manuscript. One especially cool thing, is the corkboard display where virtual index cards are pinned up with the document synopsis printed on each one. I use it to see a bunch of information all at once–very useful.
Okay, here’s how I use it to organize my novel. Scrivener creates Manuscript and Research folders automatically. To these I add my folders Outline, Characters, and World.
First, I start with a pitch. As much as anything, I’m trying to sell myself on the novel, but I also get opinions from others and use them to adjust the pitch. The pitch goes into my Outline folder as I develop the final form. Next in the outline folder goes an overall synopsis. Finally, I make an index card with a short synopsis for each of my scenes, and sometimes I’ll put how the scene advances the emotional and/or overall plot in the document notes for that index card. This list of scenes really helps me stay on track.
As I create my detailed outline of scenes, I add index cards with a short synopsis for characters and places I need in the story. These go into the Characters and World folders respectively. As I’m writing, I’ll cut and paste information about characters and places from the manuscript to the document each index card represents. That way I can easily reference what I’ve already written about something.
Finally, there’s the manuscript. Scrivener creates a Manuscript folder so that’s where I write the novel. I copy my scene cards into the Manuscript folder, and I start to fill them with the actual novel. Sometimes scene cards get combined or new ones created, the novel is always flexible, but I always know what I’m working on next which keeps me writing. Notes from early beta readers or my own impressions can go into the scene’s notes so they’ll be easy to see during revision.
As I fill in the scenes, I create chapter folders in the manuscript and then move scenes into them as I see fit. When all my scenes are filled out, I’m done with the draft. It may sound absurdly methodical, but it works well for me.
So that’s how I use my primary tool for writing. What do you use?
W.E. Larson is a life-time midwesterner living in the Kansas City area with his wife, daughter, son, and two dogs. He earned a degree in physics from Trinity University along with minors in computer science and mathematics then went on to pursue a career in software engineering. Larson has always enjoyed telling stories and decided to finally put some to paper—especially stories his kids might like.