Wednesday, March 4, 2020

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

I wrote this post in November, and then a follow-on (which I'll post next week to let you know "how it went").

Years ago, The Big Guy got me a version of Scrivener to try. I did try it, and I figured I was an organized enough person that it didn’t make much difference, and so I chose not to buy the program. I track everything it does in my own fashion. Fast forward – I have some of the scenes in my current WIP that I know have to happen, but I don’t know how to get there, and my brain is refusing to focus on the problem at hand. I’ve learned from past experience that you can only solve problems by focusing on one at a time. Because my brain isn’t cooperating with the multiple balls in the air, I downloaded a free copy of Scrivener again to give it one more try. I needed to do SOMETHING. Generally, this would be the point I outline to propel myself forward, but I couldn’t even manage to do that.  

This might start to sound like a commercial for Scrivener, but please keep in mind that different things work for different folks. As I mentioned previously, I’d discounted this software years ago because I was able to do all that it does on my own using Word (I’m what they call a “Super User”) and an Access database. But this time I needed help. There is a learning curve to the software, but I’m a computer friendly person, so I was able to manage that fairly easily. Then I organized what I had already written, added what I know needs to happen in the story, but it was too soon to write that part. Added a couple other “somewhere down the road” things and suddenly I was filling in the holes. To be honest, those holes were what was scaring me. “What if I put down what I need to happen and end up with empty space in between?” Getting down what I needed to happen provided me with “This has to happen first” moments – the spackle for those holes. The end result is what some authors refer to as storyboarding. Mind mapping. Once I get down the plot points I need to cover “at some point,” I was able to see more clearly the plot points I needed to employ to get to that point, the ones that were eluding me.

Sometimes we all need a little help, and the program helped me to visualize what my brain refused to recognize. Will I continue to use it? Well, that remains to be seen. For this particular time in my life, it serves the purpose of a “style sheet,” something my editor generally does for me when she completes her editing pass. I have to tell you, I love that. The other benefit is that I can save the template to apply to future books in the series. While I do track all the pertinent information, settings, characters, etc., this keeps everything at the click of a mouse rather than the “open the file to refer back to,” or immediately tracking things I might forget to add because I had to open a second file to note them.

Can you achieve the same results without getting a “fancy writing program?” Absolutely. As with most aspects of writing, Your Mileage May Vary.


  1. I've tried Scrivener. Taken classes. Bought the book. And yet, I can't make the connection. I'm normally an "after the fact" tracker and prefer sticky notes on a foamcore board. This book, I'm trying the 'reverse engineering' using an Excel spreadsheet for what's happened--and where, and when, and with whom--but I think I'll keep using my sticky notes for things that I know need to happen, but am not sure when or how to get there.

    1. Sticky notes were the precursor to Scrivener 😊