Scrivener vs. The Inner Critic

And you thought you were rid of me for the whole month!
No such luck. Besides, I have something kinda cool to share.
I’ve been struggling with keeping track of multiple projects. It seems I like to jump around from project to project, a characteristic of the Muse I’ve come to love and accept. This does however lead to a very convoluted to-do list, especially because every time I change course I have to rearrange the list. Not only is it hard to measure progress spread across so many places, but it is also difficult to keep track of where I left off with each project. Worst of all, every time I take the top item off the list to replace it with something else my self-esteem takes a hit.
And my Inner Critic screams, “Failure!”
Just for fun, I opened a Scrivener document on my To-Do file and tried to list every single thing I want to work on in the next year or so: All the stories I want to write, the stories I want to revise, the works in progress, the chapters I want to post for critique, the books I want to read (and I like switch off between several at once; doesn’t everyone do that?) and even little projects like fixing up Ye Olde Blogge. Everything.Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng
The list was twenty-one items long.
As I stared at it, I was struck by an idea.
How about treating each project as its own Scrivener document, turning it into an index card and keeping track of progress inside the document? And then how about color coding each one according to project?
The Muse loves colors!
CategoriesI decided blue would be good for The Tempest’s Serenade (my revised novel), yellow for The Dragon’s Milk Chronicles, red for my other first draft stories, purple for writing craft stuff, orange for reading.
It didn’t take long before I had a pretty cork board with everything I want to do spread out in neat color-coded rows. I’ve sorted them into the order I want to work on things, starting at the top left corner. First: Finish posting chapters of The Tempest’s Serenade at Critique Circle. After that: Finish the first draft of The Way of Wolves.
I can keep track of where I’m at on the document part of the card and I can add images or links there as well. Making a new project is easy too. When I decided that I really don’t want to work on something as epic as the third book of my trilogy for NaNoWriMo, and work on a lighthearted romantic comedy called Karma’s Dragon set in the real world instead, I just make a new card and slide it into the queue in the order I want to do it.
No failure here. Just a rearrangement of priorities.Scrivener Index Cards
How about you? How do you appease the Inner Critic? And do you read one book at a time, or switch off between several?

Colored hearts image courtesy of Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng

IWSG: A Bridge Between Clouds

InsecureWritersSupportGroupWelcome to this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post! On the first Wednesday of every month hundreds of writers all over the world-wide web gather to share our insecurities and support and encourage each others’ writing endeavors. For more info, check out Alex J. Cavanaugh’s website, where you’ll find the linky for our little blog hop.

This month I discovered an interesting facet of being an insecure writer as I learned the real reason behind my reluctance to make scene cards to guide me through my novel drafts.

I’ve come to think of writing a story as crossing a very large and often treacherous body of water. Here I sit on the shore of my beginning, and, if I squint real hard, I can see the end on the other side. There are rocks and rapids and sharks in the water, but my scene cards are like a bridge to keep me above all that–because I really don’t want to swim. It’s too easy to get off course when you’re fighting just to stay above water!

My scene cards look sort of like this:Screen shot The Whole of the Moon

Looks nice and organized doesn’t it? But in reality, all the words on my virtual corkboard look a lot more like this:Image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat@ stock.xchngi

Trusting my Muse to fill in the missing pieces, I start across despite the rickety construction. I’m more of a discovery writer and so I’m not afraid of building scenes as I find out more about my story. Often, my bridge even starts heading to a different part of shore. I’ve heard that’s normal and okay for a first draft. But what to do with those obsolete scene cards? And what does this have to do with being insecure?

For an insecure writer like me, discarding scene cards might be the psychological equivalent of building the Image courtesy of Marco Michelini @ stock.xchngwrong bridge. When I show up with my new improved story blueprint, my Inner Editor turned engineer-math-whiz project manager glares at me from under her hard hat and barks, “Don’t you know you’re wasting precious time and resources with this change in plans? Who told you that you should attempt to write a story? Give up and let a real writer do the storytelling around here!”

I know. The resources in my case are pixels and paper, but my Inner Editor eagerly pounces on anything that could possibly represent failure.

Maybe the analogy between building stories and building bridges can only take me so far. Maybe stories aren’t really rivers and bays, but are more like clouds and planets. They shift in position; they can even change shape for no apparent reason. I can try to build bridges and plan roads between their beginnings and endings, but imaginary roads can easily change direction. All I need to do is note things down. I can even chart a new course again in revision. It’s all part of the journey.Image courtesy of Piotr Koczab @ stock.xchng

Is your Inner Editor a math whiz? Does your insecurity micromanage your writing schematics?

Jetty image courtesy of Enrico Nunziat, hard hat image courtesy of Marco Michelini, bridge into fog courtesy of Piotr Koczab, all @ stock.xchng

1967

Hi there. I haven’t forgotten about ye olde blogge, it’s just that I’m writing. A lot!

To prove it, here’s some of what’s been going on in the land of revision, where I converse early and often with the story’s main character, Nick Moore. In fact, something eerie and magical happened the other day while I was writing an outline and I was excited to tell him all about it …

“Something kind of cool happened last night,” I type, hoping Nick isn’t too far away to hear me.

Image courtesy of Cema Graphics @ stock.xchngHe stumbles out of the bathroom, sleepy-eyed and unshaven. “It’s early,” he says.

“These are morning words– they’re supposed to be early. And besides, it’s Saturday. This isn’t as early as I usually get up.”

He cracks his knuckles and yawns. “Yeah, I suppose, but still …”

“I’m going to look up knuckle cracking. If it’s bad for you, you’re going to have to stop,” I type.

He grins. “Make me.”

I’m beginning to have misgivings about making him more bad@ss. So far, though, I think I can manage him. “I was going to tell you the cool thing that happened last night.”

“I’m listening.” Nick leans against the door frame, stretching his arms in front of him with his fingers entwined. “But you’re taking an awfully long time to get to the point.”

“I know, but this is morning words, and the point, I think, is to get a lot of words in a short period of time. Besides this will make me laugh when I read it over later.”

“Well, I think you’ve got that down pat then.” He raises his upper lip in a smirk. “But you had a point?” He’s done stretching and is fiddling with the tie on his sweatpants. Libra is right. He never stands still.

“Yeah. I was working on my Editor Outline last night.”

Nick holds up his hand, palm towards me. “Wait. Isn’t that part of Lesson Eleven of How to Think Sideways? And aren’t you on Lesson Twenty-One of How to Revise Your Novel?”

“Yeah, but remember our story is full of holes …”

He grins again and chuckles. “Did you ever think I might be messing up your story just so I can stick around? To keep you from moving on to other stories?”

“Yeah, I’ve worried about losing you. But the thing is, as a writer, I can conjure you up long after the story is over. It’s like my own personal fan fiction. I will finish this course though, even if I keep getting sidetracked.”

“Speaking of sidetracked …” He glances out the window and I notice the hyacinths have blossomed in the yard. Image courtesy of Claudia Meyer @ stock.xchng“Pretty,” he observes.

“And I’m in here with you. Working on an Editor Outline because I think it’s fun. Crazy, I know. ”

“So, how’s that going?”

“Splendidly, actually,” I write as my adverb alert spikes into the red. “I’m starting to see exactly where the holes in my story are. Do you want me to tell you about them?”

“Not particularly, but I have a feeling I don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“No, you don’t, but I’m going to tell you about the cool thing first. I was tired last night—“

“You don’t say?” He rolls his eyes and finds a spot on the bed, then pulls his feet up and leans against the wall with his head resting against his hands.

“Could you stop interrupting me?”

“Sure, but could you get to the point?”

“I will. I was tired so I stopped where you and Libby are in the apartment and you’re about to take her to the Hacienda.”

Nick raises his eyebrows. “Why’d you stop there? That was the good part, I finally get to kiss her.” His eyes turn dreamy.

“I told you. I was tired.”

“Okay, I suppose.”

“But anyway, as I was closing Scrivener I glanced at the word count, and noticed that I had exactly 1,967 words.”Screenshot 1967 words

“So?” Nick eyebrows rise again.

“Well, let me read you the first sentences of my outline. They’re about you and Milo:

They called it the Summer of Love. 

In 1967, Nick Moore packed up his guitar and joined his buddy Milo Young on a trek to the west coast …

“Okay, that is cool,” he agrees.

“Sometimes, Nick, it feels as if a ghost is watching over my shoulder. A good ghost, but still something bigger than I am, something that speaks through my fingers and guides me to what needs to be written.”

He cracks his knuckles again. Suddenly I know why. “It’s because you don’t smoke anymore, isn’t it?”

“What?” It’s when he looks innocent that I love him most. 

“Cracking your knuckles. You always need to be inflicting pain upon yourself, whether you’re ingesting nicotine and tar into your lungs, or cracking the bones in your precious hands.”

He looks stricken and I feel wistful because I love that word and have decided I simply must use it in the next thing I write. “What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing. It’s just that you know me so well, it scares me sometimes.”

Silly man. It’s because I wrote you.

Have you ever had weird coincidences happen in your writing? Do you have a hard time letting go of your characters?

And, is cracking your knuckles really bad for your hands?

Alarm clock courtesy of Cema Graphics, hyacinths courtesy of Claudia Meyer, both @ stock.xchng

Pardon the Tumbleweeds

Image courtesy Chris Dodutch @ BigStock.comDon’t mind me, I’ll just clear away these tumbleweeds that are blowing over the scenic route. I’m still writing, but it seems I took on too much again and left the blog to gather dust for a while.

What is it this time, you ask?

I’m writing a short story! Well, actually it’s done now and awaiting revision.

Usually not a big deal, as sometimes short stories ambush me and I bash them out in one big two thousand word rush to get them out of my head and onto the page. But in this case I wanted to try to get it right.

Holly Lisle, along with the forum moderators at the revision course I’m currently plodding through is putting together an anthology of stories by her students. Not only that, but there are prizes! Anyone who has taken a Holly Lisle course, from the Plot Clinic (short courses) to the How To Revise Your Novel course is eligible, so if you’re in that category I’m looking at you! The stories must be less than 2500 words long and the anthology even has a theme: Adventures in Creativity.

The thing is, I don’t really know how to write a short story. I write really, really long ones …

Image courtesy of ilker @ Stock.xchngSo I took the same approach I always do and threw up my hands and just started writing. I wrote three hundred words setting the scene for my idea, which was: What if a mysterious character who goes by the name of Dr. M were able to dispense inspiration and ideas, and what if he made house calls? I knew that I was saving what ‘M’ stands for until the very end of the story. I’ll give you a clue though: It’s very hard to pronounce.

I set up the main character and what she is facing, but did it in the form of a narrative. Then I stopped writing, and waited, turning the idea over in my head for a day, then sat down to write again. The idea grew.

A cat wandered onto the set. The name of the cat became an important turning point in the story.

I wrote four hundred more words and put the story away.

Dr. M changed from a man to a woman. She carried a suitcase full of feathers and a metal box marked Tea.Image courtesy of gyvulius @ stock.xchn

Four hundred words later, my main character was a costume designer at a fancy garden party.

Her husband arrived.

I did this for a few days in a row and by the time I was at fifteen hundred words, my ending came into focus. Four hundred more words and I summarized the rest of the story in eight or so sentences. I wanted to pace myself but from there a quick seven hundred fifty word session and I was done!

The coolest thing had to be looking down at my Scrivener word count and seeing that my story had skidded to a halt at 2460 words, forty words below the upper limit of 2500 words! Since the entries are paid in proportion to word count, and being of the wordy persuasion, I had decided to push that envelope as far as I could.

The beginning doesn’t quite match the end anymore, but that’s what revision is for and fortunately, I know a bit about how to do that. I have until March 30 to get that in. Wish me luck!

How do you approach writing a short story? Do your beginnings match your endings?

And, did I give too much of my story away?

Images courtesy Chris DoDutch @ BigStock.com, ilker  and ‘gyvulius’ @ Stock.xchng

IWSG: Every Word Counts

Hello Insecure Writers,                       

It’s time for more rants about my writing insecurities, courtesy of the inimitable Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you’re not already part of the horde of Insecure Writers that is taking the literary world by storm, click this here linky, where you’ll find some of the nicest writers on the world-wide web.

Now for this month’s rant.

I’m determined to keep this post under five hundred words, and I give you permission to stop reading at word five hundred and one. Why would I do that?

I’m a writer, dammit. I have a lot to say. Is that bad?

Actually, yes. Because I’ve discovered that in my quest to fill the screen with words I’ve  gone a little overboard. I’m wordy, otherwise known as verbose, loquacious, long-winded, flowery, garrulous, chatty, and overwrought. I’m the most talkative person at the novel-writing party. I’m the windbag that talks your ear off, eats the last of the crudités, and won’t go home, even after the party hosts have snuck off to bed.

That was okay for a while. I knew I wasn’t a short story writer, and because of that I even concluded I wasn’t a writer at all. But when I sat down to write the story that I always wanted to read, I ended up with a 126k first draft of a novel. I went on to win NaNoWriMo three years in a row, with a word count of 75k, 122k, and 107k each year. A hundred thousand words in a month doesn’t even make me break a sweat.

I used to think that was a good thing.

But now that I’m trying to revise my novel into something marketable, my hefty word count has come back to haunt me. As part of the process of rewriting, I did some calculations based on what I thought were my better developed scenes and estimated that my average scene length would be about 1400 words. Using that figure I went on to sketch out my scenes for revision and charted a course of sixty-nine scenes for a completed novel of about 97k.

Enter Ms. Wordy.

It turns out my scenes average closer to 2000 words, so if I’m not careful, my mainstream -with-elements-of-paranormal novel will clock in at a bloated 138k words.

Arrgh.

Right now, I’m flirting with 115k, and really hoping some of my upcoming scenes lose some words and stay below their projected length.

I did some homework with Scrivener in Outliner mode to see where things went wrong. (And don’t you just love Scrivener? All those features … but I digress, and the clock is ticking on my five hundred word post—)

Here’s a sample of what this looked like: (click to make it bigger)

(The ‘target’ word count is the count for my first draft of the scenes.)

Does this mean my novel is doomed? Will my word count woes spell the ultimate collapse of my fragile publication dreams?

And, how do these bounteous word counts befall me, anyway?

Allow me, before this post’s word count kicks my prolific butt, to give an example.

Before revision:

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the water. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. “But tell me, what’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice before the night of the accident.”

(54 words)

Warning: My post crossed the 500 word mark in the middle of that excerpt. So, you can stop reading …

But, like the blabbermouth I am, I decided this was choppy and sounded somewhat unnatural. I revised it to this:

Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the surf. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. She caught sight of Nick’s eyes in the moonlight before he turned to hide his face as if in shame.

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. “And I don’t know if I should even tell you this. You’ll think I’m nuts.”

“I would never think you’re nuts.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart. So tell mewhat’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice, before the night of the accident.”

(99 words!!)

Oh, dear. My five hundred words came and went about two hundred words ago…

What do you think, insecure writers? How do you make every word count? Anybody got a weed wacker in their novel revision toolshed? I could really use one right now!

Fifty Thousand Words and What Exactly is a NaNo String?

It feels as if I just woke up from a long and exciting dream. I look around bleary-eyed and confused. Wait, what just happened? Where was I?

Oh, yes. I was writing. And writing. Until I forgot who I was and why I’m here. This is what I love about NaNoWriMo.

But yesterday I finished my fifty thousand words, and am trying to take a breather. Not that fifty thousand words does a novel make, and there’s plenty of revision coming up before it’s fit for anyone to see. (And, who are we kidding, no one sees my work anyway!) But I did get the words, and actually wrote most of them according to plan.

Yes, I had a plan. I’ve won this challenge this twice before, and while I had lot of fun writing my story and exploring my characters, I pretty much ended up crash landing the stories on or around November 30. I think my prospects of ending gracefully this year are much better, thanks to my outline on Scrivener. Here it is, in all its blue, lilac and cork board glory:

See the pretty colored index cards? I have them sorted by point of view, and I’ve done my best to include the conflict and the twist on each, along with the setting. All of these are happily subject to change should something better come along, but if not, at least I have something I can write that takes me on the path to my ending.

Lastly, I bet everyone’s wondering, “Just what is a NaNo string?” It’s something cooked up by my brilliant regional ML’s and here is what it looks like, when it’s done.

For each day one completes their 1667 words one ties a knot in the string, until the string has thirty knots in it and the fifty thousand words are completed. I will be proudly displaying it at the write-in today!

Why, you ask, am I going to a write-in, when I’ve completed my fifty thousand words? I reply; for the companionship, to cheer on my fellow writers, and…to write a few thousand words more.

Because I don’t want to stop. Ever.