Scrivener – An All-In-One Writing Tool

As a writer, there are many approaches to the actual writing itself.  Some people take pen to paper, some dig out an old typewriter, though definitely the most frequent method in this era is to make use of a word processor.  Obviously, Microsoft Word is a big one, though OpenOffice and others also have their proponents.

I wrote using these basic word processors for a long time– after all, they’ve served many writers well for the last couple decades, right?  I liked writing with them, though it felt like I either had to spend a long time scrolling and searching or had to break up my work into multiple documents, neither of which really were the best for my writing.  When I’m really in the writing zone but I need to pause to check a detail from previous work, I tend to get distracted and usually get much less done than I should.

Thankfully, a friend of mine once happened to have his book-in-progress open scriviconon his computer one day while I sat behind him in an English class.  He was using a program I hadn’t ever seen before.  I asked him what it was, and he replied “Scrivener!  Have you not seen it before?  It’s awesome!”

He was right.  Rather than the basic, all-purpose word processors I’ve spent most of my life using for everything from my books to essays to badly formatted birthday cards, I could see that Scrivener had a very specific sort of setup– one meant for writers, especially for long form fiction and nonfiction.

scrivenerFor starters, Scrivener is set up in a way that allows you to break up the writing of the story in any way you want.  You can have chapters, sub-chapters, whatever.  There is a note card view that allows you to look at all of the sections and lets you add notes that don’t show up in the text itself as to what is happening, or what you want to accomplish, et cetera.  It’s very easy for outline writers to thrown up a bunch of cards (which can be added to or re-organized as needed) and then write the text in each section without having to flip back and forth between the text and an outline document.  You can make a research section that is part of the Scrivener project to fill with notes, character sketches, photos, anything.  The whole writing process is streamlined wonderfully.  Also great is that if you jump to a different section of your text or notes, your cursor stays where it was in the section you were just working on, so no losing your place while editing or revising.

It’s honestly wonderful.  It’s made me more efficient, organized, and goal-oriented in my writing.  Plus, it’s like $40, and even less for students.  Check it out: if you are serious about your writing it’s much cheaper than MS Office and is much more helpful for your writing.

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Why I’m (Continually) Thankful for Brandon Sanderson

In the last few weeks, I’ve become even more grateful for the great writer Brandon Sanderson.  I’ve already given a brief dissertation on why his writing is awesome and why I find him to be an inspiration to my writing.Brandon_Sanderson  I’m going focus on two points here: firstly, I’m just going to talk about some of his other writing I’ve read in the past few weeks, and also I’m going to talk about Writing Excuses.

At the job I recently left I listened to a lot of books.  This was really my first notable experience with audiobooks instead of print books, and I must say that it can be an enjoyable way to experience good writing.  Overall I still prefer the convention medium, but audiobooks have really been great for making long stretches of repetitive activity much shorter and more interesting.  As I’ve mentioned in my other Brandon Sanderson-related post, I listened to the audiobook of his recent novel Steelheart, which was pretty well done, and to his novella Legion, which I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.  More recently I listened to another of his novels, this particular book a fantasy novel targeted for the YA audience.  Though I highly enjoyed this book, The Rithmatist, in its content, I wasn’t as pleased with the reading thereof.

As usual, hisrithmatist story and magic system for the book were both rich and unique.  The magic system, rithmatics, is based on chalk drawings and geometry, somewhat reminiscent of things like alchemical circles in Fullmetal Alchemist, though certainly more clear in what it does.  It uses circles drawn around the rithmatist, which serves as both a defense measure as well as the framework for additional lines or drawings which can be used to defend or attack.  One of the most intriguing elements of the system that tends to differ from other drawing-based systems is chalkings, which are combatant two-dimensional drawings that can to damage to rithmatic lines or living beings, and that there are numerous wild chalkings that are engaged in constant combat with the military.  The story is, naturally, closely tied to rithmatics.  Sanderson is thorough in how he deals out the implications of the magic system and how it has shaped the world in numerous aspects, including military, education, and religion.  I also liked the characters, even though they were clearly written for an audience a decade or so my junior.  I felt that they were pretty solidly presented in their youth.  I didn’t have the usual urge to roll my eyes that comes with much of YA literature, with writers clearly out of touch with what it actually is to be adolescent.  The setting was also one of the most compelling aspects of the novel, both in the school where most of the action takes place and in the world in general.  It is set in a turn-of-the-century America that, instead of being a single landmass, is a cluster of islands.  The sociopolitical history of the world is cleverly demonstrated in ways that are refreshingly subtle– for instance, to indicate a heavy Asian influence throughout Europe, the characters eat “Italian food,” which is noodles covered in a tomato-soy sauce and eaten with chopsticks.

So, as I’ve stated, the book itself is a pretty good read.  It seemed pretty clear that Sanderson intends to write subsequent novels, and I welcome that.  I almost certainly will not be partaking of them via audiobook again, however.

My qualms with the audiobook are fairly simple.  First, the reader wasn’t particularly compelling.  He sounded like a tired older man, which really didn’t work as the voicing character is a young teenager and also just made the story kind of boring.  Also, the book featured diagrams that served to explain elements of the magic system more clearly.  The reader partially explained what was in the diagrams, and there was a PDF with them all included, but it was a pain to stop what I was doing to look at them.

Next up I’m just going to touch on 01_elantris_ukanother of his books– Elantris.  I’m only at the beginning of the book, but I bring it up now because of how I’m experiencing it.  I’m listening to the GraphicAudio version of the book, which is a very different sort of audiobook than what I’ve grown accustomed to in the past few weeks, in a way that I feel is mostly positive.  Instead of just having a reader or two read the book aloud, the GraphicAudio version features a full cast recording.  Every character is voiced separately, as is the narrator, and things like dialogue tags are dropped.  There are also sound effects and implied dialogue, such as a person babbling on as the narrator states that the person wouldn’t shut up.  They claim it’s “like a movie in your mind,” and for the most part, it’s true.  It’s interesting to have a book presented almost like an old-school radio show.  There are a couple little problems I’ve had in the listening to this particular book, but they are relatively minor drawbacks when compared to how much more interesting the book is in this format than conventional audiobooks.  Specifically, I don’t like a couple of the voice actors (they sound too old or the like), and there are times when there is a crowd shouting or something that wasn’t mixed well enough to keep the narrator’s words clear above the din.

The last thing I want to mention in my discussion of the-hero-of-ages-by-brandon-sandersonmy recent reading is the final novel of his Mistborn trilogy.  I’ve already raved about how good the magic system and world is generally, but I just wanted to comment that the series’ conclusion is very impressive.  Everything comes together in unexpected ways that are, simply, brilliant.  He set up a number of very critical elements from the very beginning of the first book that stayed beneath my radar until he wanted to skillfully pull back the curtain and show what he’d been doing the entire series.  I even more highly recommend reading this series now that I’ve finished it.  Even the most careful reader is going to be surprised, and it’s simply delightful.  I am very eager to read The Alloy of Law, which is set hundreds of years later, in part because the original series is so good and also because I can’t wait to see how the important events that conclude The Hero of Ages have an impact on future generations.

I’m going to say it again: read Mistborn.  It has an incredible magic system, dynamic characters that you actually care about, interesting creatures, and vast (but not overwhelming) scope.

Okay, I’m done foaming at the mouth fromwriting excuses how good he is at writing.  Now, on to how good he is at teaching.

Writing Excuses, if you are not familiar with it, is a podcast about writing.  Brandon contributes, along with other Utahn writers Howard Tayler and Dan Wells.  So, a fantasy novelist, a sci-fi cartoonist, and a horror novelist.  There is also another regular contributor later, but I haven’t gotten to her contributions yet, as well as numerous guests including Pat Rothfuss, Brandon Mull, Tracy Hickman, and Steve Jackson.  In each 15-minute episode the podcasters discuss some aspect of writing, specifically focusing on helping new and aspiring writers improve their craft.  It’s a lot like listening to college-level creative writing class lectures, but I honestly think they are frequently better than the classes I’ve taken in that they bring in multiple perspectives.  These are all genre fiction writers as well, so the advice is targeted at the kind of writing that I do (and is thankfully free of the judgmental tones that often accompany professorial discussion of anything that isn’t “literary”).  I can’t understate how wonderful this podcast has been for my writing.  First of all, they talk about a lot of topics that are important to take into consideration in writing– everything from specific aspects of worldbuilding to how to brainstorm to giving characters individual voices– and also about the business side of professional writing– that it is being a small business owner, the importance of cons, what publishers look for.  The most I ever got about the business of getting published in college was essentially “always be submitting.”  That’s it.

Not every podcast has been super-relevant to my writing, but every podcast has been at the very least interesting to listen to.  I’ve never had any interest in writing card or board games, but I still was fascinated when they had Steve Jackson on.

The most important thing about Writing Excuses is that it has provided me a regular opportunity to think about my writing.  I’ve listened to it during my commute to and from my last job (total two hours of driving, which is why I no longer work there), so I spent two hours in which I usually did nothing thinking about my writing from numerous angles.  I’ve learned a lot about my characters and what I need to do in my current revision process of my novel– and I’m not talking just about line edits, I mean big-picture changes and refinements.  It’s been invaluable to me, and I’m already seeing that my writing is improving because of it.  It’s also good in that it reminds me, frequently and in no uncertain terms, that I need to set aside time to write.  I need that reminder and I’m thankful that the Writing Excuses guys have gone out of their way to provide it and their experienced advice to anybody who wants to download it.

I Have A Degree In Creative Writing, So… What’s Next?

Spring  semester of 2013 I completed my degree in English – Creative Writing at Utah State University.  Initially, I felt thrilled– I essentially had a piece of paper that implied that I could write with a fair degree of proficiency.  Even though I had been given words of warning by every writing professor I had come in contact with, I felt like I was a writer.  I had done it.

But I really hadn’t. 71019119

Reality has a way of punching people.  My degree made me a writer in much the same way a degree in French makes somebody a Frenchman– it doesn’t.  At all.  What my degree meant was I had received a few years of training on the craft, but other than some optional letters– B.S.– to add behind my name, I only warranted a BS (not bachelor of science) sense of achievement.  I wasn’t a writer.  Not really.  Unfortunately, I’m still not.

Yet.

So, what’s the difference between being a writer and a guy that writes?

I’m not going to restrict the use of the term “writer” by any measure of success in the field.  Success means that the wonderful word “professional” can be added before it, but I feel like I can become a writer long before any story or book is published, long before I garner a large blog audience.  To me, being a writer is about decisions and habits– ones that I am trying to teach myself to make and follow.

Simply, a writer writes.  Regularly, persistently.

Life makes it really easy for me to be a guy that writes instead of the alternative that I desire.  I’m married.  I have a job that I have to commute to.  I have friends.  I have an extensive backlog of video games, a Netflix account, a music library.  And these aren’t bad things in any way.  In fact, these are all wonderful– they make my life interesting and fun and worth living.  These things also can help with my writing.  A full, interesting, varied life informs and inspires art in the same way art informs and inspires life.

So, I need to find ways to make writing fit in with all these other things.  I have to make some sacrifices, but I think writing is well worth it.  I’ve started to find ways to adapt my life into one that involves writing more heavily, and I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how easy it can be when I don’t let myself to forget how much I love it.  I’ve found ways to remind myself of this simply by thinking about my writing– especially my novel-in-progress– all the time.  It sounds like this goes without saying, but it’s really so much easier to sit down and write when I’ve spent the day coming up with good ideas.  I feel like I’ve had the issue of sitting down and expecting myself to just create, on demand, without much forethought.  Moving away from this, letting myself really stew with fresh ideas for my stories, is really making a world of difference.  I sit down feeling elated to have the chance to write, and it makes the experience magical every time.

The end goal is to write every day, or at very least 4-5 days a week.  With my current schedule, it is admittedly tricky to sit down and crank out material with as much regularity as I’d like.  So, I’ve looked at how my time is divided and spotted sections that I can do something pro-writing with.  For example, I know that I really benefit as a writer when I’m receiving instruction, so I’ve found a way to be instructed– by listening to a writing podcast while commuting.  I actually recommend it to anybody interested in writing– it’s Writing Excuses, and is done by some Utah writers– Howard Tayler (whose webcomic I have not read), Dan Wells (whose first published book, I Am Not A Serial Killer, I have read and enjoyed quite well), Mary Robinette Kowal (whose contributions to the podcast I haven’t yet reached), and Brandon Sanderson (whose writing I am thankful for).  Their discussion of the craft has already helped me a great deal– as I listen I think about specific elements of my book and have accordingly uncovered very critical plot and character details that are really adding a great deal of shape and thematic power to the story.  I can say definitely that listening to Writing Excuses is improving my writing.

I’ve also been carrying around a little pocket notebook with me.  I’ve actually been doing this for a while, originally for the intent of scribbling down ideas when they strike me, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to do more with it– specifically, to make it useful in terms of prewriting.  When I have a free second at work or the like I’ve been pulling it out and fleshing out plot points, themes, character sketches, et cetera.  I’ve found that by doing so I’ve also been adding more to the fresh ideas aspect of the notebook as well.

I’m also seeking to find employment closer to where I live.  Simply, the less time I spend driving the more time I can potentially spend writing.  I may only end up with a job that pays okay and has only okay hours, but if it works with my writing then I’m going to be content– I’m learning to think more in terms of jobs that are working towards the goal of professional writing and those that do not.  Unfortunately, outside of podcast time and the ability to listen to audiobooks while performing my job tasks (because reading is critical to good writing) it isn’t a job good for my endgame.  So, I’ve also been looking into jobs that build writing skills, but that’s been a bust so far.

So, the habits and self-improvements to become a writer are in the works.  Any other tips for transitioning into becoming a writer?

Obligatory introductions

faeAs per tradition, I feel I should introduce myself.  I am Nathaniel J. Darkish, an aspiring writer who is  yet to be published.  I recently completed a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University, majoring in English, emphasizing in creative writing.

My biggest interest is in writing horror fiction, and I have a horror novel in the works (currently in major revision– second draft).  It is Dark Art and is available for reading (as is most of my writing) on my deviantART account (see my link to check it all out).  I am also working on a fantasy novel (very slowly, I’m focusing mostly on Dark Art) and a number of short stories.

The purpose of this blog is twofold– one, to chronicle my experiences as a writer trying to complete something worthwhile and get my work published, and two, to share my thoughts on things like literature that I love (especially horror lit).

I hope you find a home here.

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