It started with a family holiday. My son and his wife came from Vancouver for a visit and The whole family drove up to Ottawa to play tourist. It was fun filled and interesting and enough to break my stride. All of my work developing a writing habit was done in. I’d even stopped writing in my journal.
After the kids all left, it was time to get down to business. I needed a support system, stat. Conferences are great but they’re too short and classes and writers retreats are expensive. A writer’s group would help but I needed support every day.
The Centre is in Korea Town along the Bloor subway line above a bank and a dumpling restaurant. I’d never been in the area before which added to the “away-ness” of it. I think that this physical and psychological distance from my usual life will help me focus more on my work without distraction.
I spent the day in the lounge and kitchen areas making myself available to meet the various writers writing and networking in the space.
It was comfortable and still quieter and more secure than the usual coffee shop or library outings but tomorrow, I’ll give the super quiet writing room in the back.
Even with all of the introductions and conversations, I was able to get more work done than my attempts at home and my writing felt loose and natural rather than the grind it’s been.
The best part came when I packed up and headed toward the door.
“See you tomorrow,” one of the writers said with a wave.
For the first time, I attended a major writer’s event – The Canadian Writer’s Summit which took place this year at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. It was a four day affair of which I went for one day only – Friday – because, in my opinion, it gave the most bang for the buck.
I was nervous before I arrived. I felt a bit like a wedding crasher even though I paid for my ticket. Typical imposter syndrome which may, in this instance, have been warranted.
After registering, I parked myself on a bench outside and went over the program trying to decide which workshops, panels, lectures, etc, to attend. It was no small feat. I’ve never seen such a program before. There was so much to choose from and I wanted to go to them all.
At 9am, I went to “Structure for the Unstructured” which seemed fitting as I plug away at my first revision which seems to be becoming an entire rewrite as much as a try to stick to what’s there.
This turned out to be a good choice because the panelists were working on rewrites themselves. This made be feel like I was on the right track and not going crazy after all.
The big question of the panel which really didn’t answered so much as acknowledged was: How do you keep going when you’re the only one who cares? Just having these words spoken aloud instead of rattling around endlessly in my head helped me feel better. I wasn’t the only one dealing with the angst of writing.
I was disappointed that funding wasn’t addressed at all in this one as the panel figured everyone had already heard enough about the topic from a previous panel (one I, evidently, didn’t pick)
As for research, it was interesting to hear about how the writers researched their projects. All were supported by institutions through Master’s and PHD programs as well as being professors themselves.
This raised the question of whether it is possible to succeed as a writer in Canada without an institutional link. They decided that it was technically possible but that it was more and more difficult.
This was disheartening and it was one thing that was glaringly obvious about the conference as a whole. I’m not sure if I was the only writer in attendance who wasn’t from a University writing program but it seemed quite likely. Perhaps that’s who the conference is for and I missed the memo.
We broke for lunch.
I thought I’d have to sit alone with my dry sandwich but I ended up sitting with a couple of attendees and having a lively discussion about poetry (in which I confessed that I can’t really tell if a poem is “good”) and our current projects. I think I spoke too much about my novel. I’ve read that you should tell what your story is about until it finished.
I’m such an awkward conversationalist with people I don’t know. I tend to blurt things out I probably shouldn’t in an effort to fill the silence. They say that this can be fixed through practice but the writing world is small and I may run through everyone in it before I finally master the art of tact.
An interesting exercise during revision was to include a paragraph between each paragraph of your draft in a different colour font, describing the subtext in the draft.
One of the panelists insists on completely rewriting his draft from scratch over and over until he knows the story inside and out. There was loud gasping and swearing when he added that he is currently on a twelfth rewrite. Yes, you read that right. I gasped too.
The importance of workshopping your drafts with others and how working with someone else on their draft can help you see your own with new eyes.
The final panel, at 3:45pm, was on “Writing Illness”. Not only was it about the importance and difficulty of writing characters who are chronically ill, the panelists themselves were dealing with health issues. This confused me slightly because I wondered if they were saying that these sorts of topics should only be written by people dealing with these issues. It wasn’t brought up so I have no insights in that area. What do you think?
I took a break from the conference and went out to dinner with my partner and took a nice long walk to clear my head.Then it was back to listen to a talk by Tomson Highway who I’ve never seen speak before.
He put on quite a show and was entertaining. He likes to tell bawdy jokes and they were peppered liberally throughout, reminding me of visits with my great aunts and uncles and the stories they’d tell.
I left the conference feeling both tired and invigorated, and not quite so alone.
I took a long weekend off of my research and editing and I’m glad I did.
Instead of spending my time tired and frustrated and writing myself into corners I couldn’t see my way out of, I went hiking.
One of my ongoing goals is to hike the entire Bruce Trail from end to end, starting at the Queenston cairn near Niagara Falls. This weekend, I hiked from Rockway to Balls Falls with my partner. It was lovely – not too hot, clear skies, and nary another group in sight.
We shared are lunch space with this little fellow.
I came home exhausted and sore and ready to see my work with fresh eyes. Today, I sat down and got to work, coming up with stuff I was too dragged out to come up with before.
It’s slow going so far with my edits in my 85k90 manuscript as I work on big picture development. Along with editing, I’ve been plugging away at my story bible and it’s starting to look like a real wiki. It’s also proving to be a great way to flesh out my story and find the parts that don’t stand up to scrutiny. So, despite the time it takes away from writing in my manuscript, it’s been well worth pursuing.
I’ve been using one of my favourite tools to help me with my work – my Mac’s built in Dictionary app. It helps me find just the right word, define ones I sort of know but am unsure of, and get my facts straight using Wikipedia. That’s right. Wikipedia is built into my Mac. And yours too.
Finding Dictionary, Thesaurus and Wikipedia
Did you know you could easily access your Mac’s built in dictionary/dictionaries by highlighting a word in your document and right-clicking? Scrivener also includes this app under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Look up in Dictionary and Thesaurus. You’ll notice there’s also a link for looking up in Wikipedia but I don’t take that route because it sends me to Safari and I want to stay right where I am. I can stay in Scrivener with the dictionary app while still enjoying a complete wikipedia experience. That’s great, right? But wait! There’s more…
If you want a quick definition, you can choose Look Up... at the top of the list and get a pop up window with definitions from all of your dictionary sources (as well as App Store, Siri and iTunes results!) to open the Dictionary App itself, choose Open in Dictionary at bottom of the pop up or scroll down to Writing Tools -> Look up in Dictionary and Thesaurus in the right-click menu.
When the dictionary app opens, click on Dictionary ->Preferences in the main menu to be presented with a checklist of sources you can download into your Dictionary App. Now you can click on individual sources in the tab menu or choose All to see a listing of all available info.
I added all of the English speaking sources. One of them is Wikipedia which brings up entry pages from the website and is the quickest and easiest way to find info while writing that I know of.
Translations to and from English are also available in a variety of languages including French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese Dutch and Korean.
All sources will download individually to your computer when you check them off so pick only the ones you’ll actually use to keep it light.
Not seeing what you need?
You can find third party dictionary files to be found online (or, if you’re a real keener, make a dictionary yourself). With a bit of searching, I managed to find this set of dictionaries on GitHub. If any of these are useful to you, click on the green clone or download button at the top the list and choose Download Zip.
The entire folder of dictionaries will download. Open the folder you’re interested and find the file that ends in .dictionary. The icon will look like a lego piece.
In the dictionary app, choose File -> Open Dictionaries Folder and drag the .dictionary folder into the open folder. Add as many as you need.
Once you have what you need. Close the dictionary app and reopen it. At the bottom of the preferences checklist (Dictionary -> Preferences) you should see the dictionaries you added. Check them and they will appear in the app. You may need to widen the window to see them if you have a lot of dictionaries available.
And that it!
A wealth of info is now available to you where and when you need it with a simple right-click.
When I started my manuscript, it was a spur of the moment decision based on last year’s NaNoWriMo start and idea I had rolling around in my head only days before. I took no time for planning or research and now, as I begin my developmental edit, I’m suffering as a result.
So I’ve made the decision to veer off from my 85k90 timeline for research and to create a story bible to get and keep me on track.
Initially, I thought of using a wiki platform for my Story Bible and wasted a perfectly good writing day researching my options. Too much work, and for what?
It was only after scouring every other possible solution that I realized I already had what I needed. Scrivener.
*NOTE: Instructions and template are for Scrivener 3 on a Mac *
Why use Scrivener?
Using Scrivener, I am able to link existing files or create new ones on the fly. I can link text documents I created as well as anything I’ve put in the research folder. Not only can I link to files, I can also embed images, tables (although these are terribly finicky so beware), audio and video files into my text files to create a robust story bible filled with information on my world and the people and places in it.
I had a bit of trouble figuring out how to organize my files in the binder to make things as easy to find as I could. I’ve decided on an alphabetical structure (like an index) but I could also use a nesting folder structure based on subject (eg: characters, locations, cities, history, etc.). Here’s my structure.
*UPDATE* I’ve added an index along the top of my entry template as well as a HOME link so that I can Hide the Binder and use it as a single pane app. In my current project’s Story Bible, I also have added other important links as well as a table at the bottom of each page for links to research media. To add an entry rather than a blank page, right-click on the relevant section of the binder and choose Add -> New From Template -> Entry
To add content, I started creating file names in the appropriate folders. I then created a link list on the folder itself of every file that could be included. I did this by clicking on the folder to populate the editor and then dragging each item onto it and using styles to format the result as a list.
On the homepage, I can add a synopsis of the story and link to the most useful items, add images with links to other content, include research items, anything I’d like to use as a jumping off page for exploring content.
Besides the obvious character and setting/location information, there are myriad ways to enliven your writing with detail. Here’s a sampling of topics I’ve chosen to investigate:
In Scrivener, you can nest files as well as folders. You can also convert files to folders and folders to files using the cog icon > Convert to Folder at the bottom of the Binder. Whether you use a file or folder to convey the structure of your Story Bible is up to you. Do whatever makes sense for you.
Once you have your broad topics stubbed in, you can further break them down into subtopics such as Climate > Winter. Be as general or as thorough as you need to be to give yourself a solid grounding in your fictional world.
Creating Internal Links
To create internal links in Scrivener, select a target and right click to find Link to Document or find it under Edit in the top menu. If your target has the same name as the file you’re looking for, you will find it easily in suggested documents. Otherwise, you’ll have to drill into the folders to find it.
You also have an option to create a new linked document by selecting New Link… A pop up window appears for you to put in the relevant details.
What I have here is very bare bones. If you want to add any specialty template sheets, do so before filling anything out and then save as your own version this template by choosing File > Save as Template and renaming it.
This template and the following illustrations are for Mac users. If you have a Windows machine, Scrivener is available for you as well but you’ll need to find instructions elsewhere.
Templates are stored in the Application Support folder in the Library folder of your Mac. I had a hard time finding this folder. It turns out, if you buy an app from the App Store rather the company site, this Application Folder is tucked away in another section of the Library. These instructions offered on the Scrivener Forum cleared it up for me.
Did you buy either Scrivener 2 or Scrivener 3 from the Mac App Store by any chance? If so, because of the way the Mac App Store’s sandboxing partitions things, Scrivener 3 will not be able to see Scrivener 2’s project templates. However, if you bought both from our own store, Scrivener 2’s project templates should still show up.
If you bought Scrivener 2 from our store, the templates will be at this location:
(You can access the ~/Library folder by holding down Option/Alt when opening the “Go” menu in the Finder – this makes the “Library” item visible, which is normally hidden.)
You can then copy the templates to a different location temporarily, and then use the “Options” button in the project templates chooser in Scrivener 3 to access the “Import Templates…” option, and choose the files you placed in the temporary location to import them.
All the best,
Once it’s placed in the folder, it will show up in the Chooser under Miscellaneous.
You might think that filling out your Story Bible is busywork, maybe even a form of procrastination. I thought that as well but, as I work through it, I’m finding out lots of information, getting it down and linking it in ways I hadn’t thought of before.
Once it’s finished (and even while I’m working on it!), I’ll be able to search for relevant info, use it to check my manuscript for inconsistencies bring the details of my characters’ daily lives to life for both me the reader.
If you’re like me and you dove right into your story without first getting an in depth view your world, take some time to create your own Story Bible. Your narrative will be richer for it.
I did it. Despite the rain and and wind and the chill, I made my way to the Canadiana Restaurant near the Kipling subway station to the WEN Writer’s Breakfast Meeting.
I’m not sure what I was expecting.
When I first arrived, I was confused. The restaurant was empty. Had I come to the right place? Did I get the date wrong? After staking out the place for a good ten minutes, I saw people entering the building and not coming out so I went in as well. There were stairs at the entrance leading to the basement, a glow of light at the bottom. Down I went.
The popcorn ceiling was low, the lights incandescent. It smelled a bit musty as basements do. There was a podium off to the side with a mic attached. The round banquet tables were already nearly full.
I stood in line to pay the twenty five dollar fee and when asked for my name, the man nodded enthusiastically as if he already knew who I was. For a few brief moments, I felt famous. A woman strode toward me and shook my hand and the man gave her my name and she said I’d be sitting at table one with her and a couple of other people who, like me, found the event via Meetup. It was their first time trying out the site in a quest for new blood and they were excited by its success.
Everyone was quite friendly. The food was typical breakfast buffet fare – scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, French toast, pastries and fruit, etc and of typical quality as well. The buffet was run by a solitary women that everyone called by her first name. The coffee was good.
The speaker was Patricia Pearson and she spoke about the challenges that come with writing about people we love and how she navigates it with her own noteworthy family. She sat at table one as well where the conversation centered around the royal wedding, who saw it, what people wore, hat critiques, and the like.
Mostly, there was a lot of visiting. This was exactly what I had in mind – people to chat with that were involved in writing in one way or the other. No pressure to be “on”. No ass kissing or secret handshakes. It was nice.
I’m not sure how I missed the call for this short story/poetry competition put on by The Ontario Book Publishers Organization. I was probably busy with my manuscript as I should be. But, when I saw an ad for a set of free workshops and a reading of the winning works not far from home, I decided to head over and check it out.
I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something bigger, I suppose. The Etobicoke event was held at The Assembly Hall which I hadn’t been to before. I thought I’d be sitting in the dim light of a sizable auditorium where I could quietly blend into the audience and watch and find out more about the local writers.
Instead, we sat at tables in a small classroom and we did writing exercises and participated with the instructors and, although I wasn’t expecting to be so much on display, I was happy I went.
I like the challenge of following a prompt for an unexpected bit of writing. Like my snapshots, it gets me going.
I wish the workshops were longer – they were only about thirty minutes a piece – but I did manage to conjure up a little scene:
It looks like all of the other houses on the hill – red brick, worn away at the corners, bricks missing like baby teeth – old sash windows painted over, forced open in the summer heat, held up with books – the screen door ripped open which is how the bat got in in the first place.
I left as soon as the winners finished reading their stories, feeling awkward once there was no set structure. I’ve always been bad at that part. The introductions, the small talk, searching for questions to ask and answers to give.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to a writer’s breakfast meeting not far from here. I’m going alone. I imagine I’ll feel awkward and lonely and probably run out right after but I’m going to go anyway. I have to start finding my way into this new world. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve finally gotten into the habit of carrying my writing journal with me wherever I go. In fact, I feel out of sorts without it which I take as sign of growth as a writer. When I have a moment or two, on the bus, in a coffee shop, at restaurants waiting for my food to arrive, I take a few snapshots.
Snapshots are small bits of location specific text, much like snapping some pics on your phone when you run into something interesting. Sometimes, these snapshots will be incorporated into existing stories or spark the beginning of a whole new story but even if I never use them for anything else, I consider them vital to percolating some creative energy.
I’ve printed out specific sheets for my discbound journal for taking snapshots with a small amount of space for each one to force me to distill my thoughts and I include location and date to help jog my memory later. If this is something you’d find useful, feel free to download my Lecture Notes printable in PDF and give it a try. It’s in a half sheet format 5.5″ x 8.5″ – a journal size I find small enough to carry with me and big enough that I don’t feel cramped writing in it.
Here’s an example from an afternoon visit to a local pub:
Location: Albatross Pub. Date: April 20, 2018
Everything is some shade of honey – clover, orange blossom, buckwheat wood heavily coated in resin. The beers on tap are red ale, pale ale, lager and Guinness.
And this one from a writing session at a local branch:
Location: Mimico Public Library. Date: April 26, 2018
The buzz of the lights, feet padding up and down the carpeted aisles, zippers being zipped and unzipped, the shuffling of chair legs.
They’re not Shakespeare and they’re not meant to be but I’m often surprised by the tiny details that emerge and how even a single word can be the inspiration for something big. Everything is material.
I think the hardest part of writing a novel is the middle part, where you don’t remember why you started and can’t imagine how you’re going to finish. – Sarah Rees Brennan
I don’t like referring to my first draft as my First Draft. I prefer Rough Draft like when you rough out a shape in a painting that you hope to fashion into a tree or a building or a face. A bit of shading, a line or two, maybe a single colour – red or blue or green. That’s where I’m at with my novel manuscript. Cluster. Even the title is a placeholder. And the middle? It’s rough alright.
I still can’t believe I finished the first draft of my manuscript. This is the furthest I’ve ever gone with a piece of long writing and I have to admit, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting this far. Usually, I would have given up by now. So I thought I’d take the time to go over some of the things I’ve learned through this process – some things I already knew without knowing, some things that came as surprises, good and bad.
After the initial heat cools off from the first writing sessions, writing is damned hard. There will be days when it seems easy again. Don’t be fooled.
Keep going no matter what. You may feel like you’re walking on mush, slipping and sliding on what used to be solid ground until you were too far along to turn back. Keep going. Run if you have to.
Don’t miss days. Write every day if you can, by a set schedule if you can’t. Whenever I miss a day, I inevitably miss another and another and another… Too many days away from the story and I start to forget – if not the story, then the feeling of the story. It’s hard to get the feeling back.
If you do miss days, don’t quit altogether. So you didn’t make your daily word count yesterday. That was yesterday. I’m a perfectionist. If I miss a day in my diary or flub the dates in my agenda or make a mistake in my notebook, I want to throw the whole thing out and get a new one (which is why Discbound notebooks are saving my skin)
Word count goals are merely something to shoot for. In your daily writing and in your manuscript word count, write the number of words you need to write to get the story told. If the story is told in fewer words, don’t add filler. It will only make editing a nightmare.
Starting with some kind of outline is easier than starting with none. With an outline, I have an inkling of where I’m headed next. Since I started paying more attention to my prep work, I’ve had less of an issue with writer’s block.
Outlines are made to be broken. Go where the story takes you even if it’s into the mush (see number 2). Outlines are not scripture. Rewrite it as many times as you need to. Yes. Outlines also have drafts.
Somewhere in the middle, your story will become a many tentacled beast. There will be multiple story lines and alternate versions. POV and tense will flip and flop all over the place. This is normal. This is ok.
The first draft (the Rough Draft) doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Scenes may be working against each other. Characters may sprout out of nowhere or disappear after the first chapter. That weird dream you had the other night? That was a Rough Draft.
That said, try to get as close to a beginning, middle and end as you can so that you have less work later, both in your scenes and in your story as a whole. This is something I’m learning right now, the hard way, as I begin my first edits.
BONUS: No matter where you are in the process and how long it takes to get there, be proud of yourself. You should be.