LaShawn’s Writing Update October 2014 (Or how to find time writing with a full-time job and life exploding around you)

This has been a year of change. February, my status at work changed to full-time. It’s been ten years since I’ve been full-time at a job. March, my inlaws, who had been living with us for 3-1/2 years, moved to their own place. May, FrenkelFail happened. July, my gall bladder was removed because they found a gallstone.

It is now October, and I can almost say the dust as settled. I know there are a couple of other things that are coming down the pike, but I’ll wait until they appear before I mention it. Right now, I want to write about how my writing life adjusted (and trust me, it was a huge adjustment.)

I did a guest blog over at Sarah Hans’s website (and yeah, it’s been so busy, I’m just now getting around to mentioning it). In it, I mentioned that I started getting up at 5:30am to write. Yeah, that didn’t last long. Turns out, I’m really not a morning person. I was only able to do it for two weeks before deciding I really, really like getting my sleep in the mornings. And when I did try to write, I would write well for about 15 minutes or so, run out of steam, then sit there staring blankly for the rest of the hour or so, writing whenever something came to mind.

Come to think of it, that was how I wrote. Period.

A couple of years ago, I was chatting with Sarah Monette about her writing process. Her method was to leave a story project open on her computer and work on it in bits and pieces throughout the day. At the time, I thought it was a slow process. After all, there are many creatives who say to schedule at least an hour to work on a project. Writing in shorter increments won’t work because it takes you 15 minutes to warm up and get into your stride and then by the time you are all warmed up, stopping kills the flow.

But…as I thought about it…that’s how I was if I was working with a time crunch deadline. When I don’t have that, or if I’m brainstorming, or revising?  It doesn’t take an hour and a half. Before, I would sit at my desk for an hour, slowly going through the text line by line. If I wrote in shorter time chunks, how would that work? How could I arrange things so I could write in shorter bursts? What I needed was more than just adjusting to writing in a shorter time period. I needed to change my entire writing process.

In a sense, it’s like going back to basics with Barbara DeMarco’s book: “Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within“. In it, she suggested to set aside 15 minutes to work on writing. I can find at least 15 minutes during the day. Can I write during my morning break at work? In 15 minutes, I sure can. What about lunch? 15 minutes there? Afternoon break? 15 minutes At home? another 15 minutes. Hey, that’s an hour right there.

Now that I’m writing now at odd times, I needed something that I could have accessible at any moment, at any time, where I could jot down thoughts and lines and words as they came to me throughout the day. Something so accessible, I could use it even when I didn’t have access to internet. Get ready, because this will blow your mind.
 
 
 
Ordinary pen and paper. Who’d thunk, RIGHT?
 
Having a physical notebook means that I can write anywhere, anytime. Which, if I’m brainstorming or jotting notes or playing with sentences, it’s awesome. I can be thinking about my work, honing it in my head, then jot a few phrases down. Get enough of those, and I got me a working draft.
 
Revisions are a little trickier. It’s easier for me to edit drafts on the computer, therefore I needed a way to do it so I can access those drafts anytime, anywhere. This meant changing the place where I stored my work from my local computer to the cloud. Currently I’m using Dropbox, and it’s nice. I still back up to local though, because backups are good.
 
This also meant I could no longer bounce between three programs: Writer’s Cafe, Word and Scrivener. I had to stick with something that could contain all my work and notes and word processing in one place, that I could access from anywhere. 
 
I loved Writer’s Cafe. I really, really did. I even wrote a blog post comparing the two programs, saying I couldn’t give up Writer’s Cafe even though Scrivener was the better choice. Well, that changed this summer. Scrivener was overwhelmingly better in keeping all my notes, drafts, storyboards, annotations and working drafts in one spot. And as I used Scrivener, I began to discover new ways to keep my writing on track: utilizing the outliner, working with meta-data. You know the best feature I’m loving right now? Color-coding the annotations in my drafts to show what needed to be done in the texts. A sort of to-do list, if you will. Parts I need to brainstorm are in blue, sentence rewrites in white, facts to research in orange–even if I’m not actively writing, I can open Scrivener, choose a color, and work on those in bits and pieces throughout the day. Then, when I’m done, I delete the note. It’s nice to see all those notes and comments vanish as the story firms up.
 
Sorry, Writer’s Cafe, but from now on, I’ll have to go with Scrivener.
 
So that was my summer–figuring out Scrivener and the new writing process. Write in bits and pieces, get them into Scrivener. Expand. Set myself a limit of 500 words. (Oh, yes! Scrivener is awesome for setting daily writing goals). Work on the text in bits and pieces. And, if needed, use a couple of vacation days as writing retreat days, go to a coffee house and write like mad all day.
 
All of this to say, October 1, I finished the first draft of a new 6000 word story. I didn’t think I would have time to do that, and I’m quite pleased with it. I’ve also been working on Willow (because oh gosh, that never ends), and now that I have everything in Scrivener, I find working on it much MUCH easier. 
 
I may have lost time with the expansion of the day job, but nowadays, I’ve been feeling way more productive than the past three 1/2 years. We’ll see how things go.
 

Writer’s Cafe vs. Scrivener: Which program is write for you? (Ha! I made a pun!)

As most of you know, I do most of my writing using Writer’s Cafe. It’s a great tool I found at the beginning of my writing career when I was looking for something that matched Scrivener, which was only Mac at the time. You can find my write up of that here.

A couple of years ago, Scrivener finally came out with a Windows version. By then, I had become a die hard fan of Writer’s Cafe, so I wasn’t looking to switch. But I was still curious, so I downloaded a demo and wrote a short story using it. There were some cool features Scrivener had that WC didn’t have, but other features WC ruled on that Scrivener was lacking. I decided I was happy with WC enough that I didn’t want to shell out $40 for Scrivener.

Flash forward to this summer. WC hadn’t been updated for a while, and I found that I really missed some of Scrivener’s features. So when I caught Scrivener on sale at Amazon for half price, I snatched it up. I’ve been using it since. But which is the better writing program?

So without further ado:

CAGE MATCH — WRITER’S CAFE VERSUS SCRIVENER. FIGHT!!!!!

(Note—I’m comparing Writer’s Café to the Scrivener for Windows version, which I know is a tooled down version of Scrivener for Mac. Yes, I know the Mac version is better, but seeing that I don’t own a Mac, oh well.)

Similarities: WC & Scrivener are both dedicated to the art of writing. You write a whole book in either of them, write short stories, or do screenwriting. You can import text, edit, and export to an external program. You can keep notes, pictures, websites for research, and both programs come with a "corkboard" where you can view outline of your stories.  And both have really good support, Scrivener with its forums and WC with its Yahoo email group.

Differences: WC has different ‘programs’ within itself that you can choose to do your work via different tabs and/or a desktop that has icons to different parts of yourself, whereas Scrivener keeps everything on one place. WC is geared from the brainstorming and structuring part of writing, while Scrivener’s emphasis is more on the writing itself. I’ll get into more detail starting with Scrivener.

Scrivener’s plusses: As I mentioned, Scrivener is focused on writing. It makes for a great word processor because it has everything there at your fingertips. Conceivably, you can open up Scrivener without knowing anything about how it works and just start writing, because the space is intuitive. You can also make it so that you can block out everything except your writing space. If you’re a writer who works by scenes, Scrivener makes this super easy. You can move scenes around, split documents into separate sections and vice versa. You can also write a story in a single text document without splitting into scenes. There are many shortcuts and functions that mimic Microsoft word, such as comments and footnotes, plus features Word doesn’t have, such as the document and project notes, which I use to store text I’m editing out of a story on the chance I might need to use it again.

scrivener

Another thing I really like about Scrivener is that you can make a "Scrivener Link" to point to any document in the program. So you can make your own wiki in scrivener, make key words point to notes. I really wish this feature was in Writer’s Cafe. It would make cross-referencing my research and notes so much easier.

I’m still working with Scrivener and discovering new things to do as I go, but I already feel I got more than my money’s worth. Scrivener as a word processor and writing tool outshines Writer’s Cafe, which also have a writing processor, but is buried and has bare bone features.

Writer’s Cafe plusses: WC may not do so well for writing stories, but when it comes to researching, planning and outlining, it outshines Scrivener.

WC’s strength is its Storylines feature, which is similar to the corkboard in Scrivener in that you can have cards that show synopses of your story, tags. However, WC allows you to group cards according to "storyline". You can  hide storylines or create multiples storylines. For instance, I have a storyline showing all the plots in my novel, but I also have another storyline showing a timeline of current events, and I have a storyline showing a timeline of the distant past.

WC1

WC’s also has Scrapbook, which like Scrivener, holds notes and websites for research. One feature WC has that Scrivener doesn’t is the ability to double-click on a URL on a webpage and copy it to Scrapbook (very useful when you’re collecting information for research). You can also make a collage…not very user friendly, but good if you want to do a visual character sketch.

wc2

There’s the pinboard, which gives you a unstructured corkboard to brainstorm lists. And of course, there are the notebook and journal features, which allow you to freewrite to your heart’s content. You can use writer’s prompts and write using a timer.

If you’re a freewriter like me, Writer’s Cafe is excellent for brainstorming and planning before you get to the actual writing. WC gives a chance for your brain to play before you get down to the nuts and bolts of writing.

The winner? Scrivener (kind of)

I’ve used Writer’s Cafe long enough that I would go to bat for it in a heartbeat. And I still do. But I have to say, if it boiled down to only one program to buy, Scrivener would be the best program because it’s all self-contained. I’ve completed two short stories in Scrivener, and it was super easy to brainstorm, write, proofread, and export the stories into the right format. Julian, the creator behind Writer’s Cafe, had written about upgrading WC to include many features Scrivener has, including a better word processor to make it easier to focus on the writing of stories, but this has yet to happen. And now that Scrivener for Windows is out, I dare say that overall, it functions as a better writing tool than WC. If you don’t have a writing program and are looking for one, Scrivener is your best bet.

But I can’t completely endorse Scrivener for Windows. I don’t know how often Scrivener updates its Window version, but it seems many of the functions that make Scrivener a superior writing program has yet to cross over to the Windows version. And this is where Writer’s Cafe picks up most of the slack, because while it’s not a good writing tool, it’s an excellent brainstorming and planning too.

So…if you can get both, do it. I was able to get Scrivener on sale from Amazon a few months ago, and I found that while I do most of the writing in Scrivener, I still do most of my freewriting, brainstorming and plotting through Writer’s cafe. Sort of like a left brain/Scrivener vs right brain/WC sort of thing. Both work well together.

Ironically, I’m not using either program to write this blog post. I’m using Evernote, which is a whole different ball of wax altogether. But that will have to be another cage match.

Light Reading for the Writing Mind

Well, after all the fun of the past couple of days, I’m wiped out. I’m sure the blogosphere is piled with pinings and victory speeches and declarations of death, doom and destruction. Me, I’m happy overall with the way things turned out. I’ll be doing a lot of praying for President Obama (squeee! what a neat thing to write!) and his family. Theirs will not be an easy road for the next few years.

In the meantime, here’s some light reading to get you through the next few days:

The Rose and Thorn has a hilarious feature called “An Author’s Guide to Cover Letters” by Resha Caner. Apparently, it’s a number of cover letters sent by the author trying to see which one would be good to send with his unpublished novel. I especially loved cover letter #3.

I’ve been playing around with Google Notebook and for a writer, this is an awesome tool. It’ reminds me a lot of the Writer’s Cafe scraps feature, in that you can keep copies of websites or make notes to yourself–it’s just kept online. It’s wonderful for when I’m reading a webpage that I think would be good research for my book, but if I’m not at my computer, I can post it to Google Notebook so I can open it again later. It’s also good for pulling off recipes, noting writing contests and markets, even marking blogs and/or forum posts that I want to comment on later. Very nice tool indeed. Go try it out!

On his blog, This Writer’s Life, Kevin Alexander wrote about starting a novel over after being away from it a lengthy period of time. Seeing that I was in a similar situation, I found his post pretty interesting. Check it out if you’re a writer who wants to get back into writing a novel you started writing a long time ago.

And speaking about getting back to writing, I better do so myself.