It’s November which means I’ve been working on my novel for a year, ever since I had an inkling of an idea for NaNoWriMo last year. One year of sprints and stumbling, false starts and about faces. I’m inching my way through my first rewrite which has been slow going as I work out problems with my initial plot, adding and subtracting entire chapters and spending a significant amount of time spinning my wheels.
I’m told that all of this is normal, part of the process. I’ve met writers who have been worked no on the same story for five years or more. I sat in a lecture listening to a published writer talk about his process which involved twelve complete rewrites. That is not a typo. Twelve.
This makes me feel both better and worse. It means I’m moving along at a typical pace but I may be only at the beginning of a very long journey.
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’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.
If you’re a writer who hasn’t looked around Pinterest lately (or at all), you’re in for a treat. How to articles, word definitions, quotes, you name it, you can probably find a board dedicated to the subject. You can save your favorite images and articles to your own Writing board for a tailor made info bucket to fit a variety of writing needs. Looking for a few good words? Curious about how other writers use their writing journal? Looking for handouts for your writing group or medieval clothing ideas for your historical novel? Pinterest has got you covered. Or maybe, like me, you just want some inspiring quotes and how to’s for those can’t get started days. My writing info bucket is full of writing tutorials and quotes to give me a kick in the pants.
I love word definitions and have a board specifically made for Definitions that tickle my fancy. Sometimes I find story ideas in the definitions that I’ll use later.
The best part of Pinterest is it’s related pins section visible on each pin’s page. Using this feed of related materials is like surfing an internet filled only with the stuff you’re interested in. Save liberally to an existing board or create multiple boards for each topic. Access you saved pins on your profile and quickly add more from the related pins. It’s a researcher’s dream.
If I have one criticism, it’s how addictive surfing pins can be. Once I get started, it’s very hard to stop. With constantly changing feeds of related material, it’s easy to get carried away for hours “researching instead of writing”. When I feel myself getting sucked in yet again, I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone. In fact, there are boards dedicated to the condition which fills me with a sense of belonging.
I am in love. How have I lived my life unaware of the existence of this miraculous binding system?
It started with a trip to Staples. I had in mind a binder to use as a writing journal/planner to help me generate and organize my writerly thoughts. Nothing extravagant, mind you. A generic three ring, some paper, maybe a pocket or two. Big and bulky but reliable. A classic.
Then I saw it. The ARC display. A system for creating notebooks of any size, geared to my needs, expandable, and endlessly customizable. If you notebook gets to big for your discs, simply swap them out for bigger ones.
A handful of accessories such as pockets, tabs, zippered pouches and paper inserts were available but the best part was the punch. With the punch, I could create my own inserts. All the inserts.
I gotta say, it’s been tough sitting down to write when all I want to do is make notebooks, planners, manuals, etc. I’ve also made a half dozen or so templates that suit my needs and the creative juice generated by workers no out my system has sparked my writing in a big way. I’ll share my templates once I’ve tried them out for a while and worked out the kinks.
The picture above shows my current three book set up. The big blue leather one is my writing planner. I keep track of my writing goals and schedule and track my progress in there. In the middle, my writer’s notebook is my creative space for brainstorming, novel notes, story ideas, etc. the final book is my craft notebook. That’s where I put notes on the craft of writing – lecture notes, workshop assignments, writing tips, etc.
If you’re familiar with the ARC system, you’ll see some additions not offered by the system. The book bands were found on Amazon and work perfectly. The silver discs are from a clearance Happy Planner I got from Michael’s. I also cut down the month tabs from the Happy Planner to use in my writing planner, thanks to the punch.
Oh yeah. I made this cute little notepad that fits in a pocket or purse for those times when I’m traveling light. It holds 3×5 notecards as well as paper.
That’s a bit of the old Happy Planner cover, cut down and punched.
The tabs sticking out of the notebooks are from Levenger, the Cadillac of discbound systems. I drool over their site several times a day. I find that the ARC tab dividers stick on the discs while the Levenger ones provide a smooth turn. Same goes for the clear covers I’m using with my writing journal in the centre. Those are Levenger too. I’m going to pick up another set for the craft notebook.
If you’re like me, constantly changing your notebook needs, if you hate being constrained by fixed bindings, and love to customize, discbound books may be for you too.
Yesterday’s cut and pasted scenes from the past couple of days really needed to be dealt with today. I had to stop cutting and pasting and start going through the material with fresh eyes, rewriting much of it and fleshing out the scant details from the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo version. I thought it would be a chore – messy, hard to pick up. I’ve had that experience in the past working on another manuscript during an earlier NaNo attempt to write a novel. It was dismal and I soon gave up.
This time, it wasn’t bad at all once I got going. In fact, it came together well, thanks to my ongoing novel journaling and Scrivener‘s ability to cut up blocks of text into individual scenes. If you don’t know how to do that, let me give you a little tutorial.
First, I cut and pasted in a large section of text into one of my scenes. After reading it in this new context, I saw that the second half of it needed it’s own scene – perhaps even it’s own chapter – and that I needed to add a scene between what I had previously written and the first half of the pasted text. No problem.
First, I placed my cursor where I wanted to split the file in two. Then I went to the menu at the top under Documents ->Split -> at selection for a simple splitting into two documents in the binder.
If I’d wanted to, I could select some text and split with the selected text as the title of the new file but it’s not necessary here. I had a new scene to work with and it was already started!
I also needed another scene before the new one so I created a new scene file and tucked it in between. I added synopses to these three scenes to remind myself what I wanted from each of them and I was ready to go.
Right now, I’m still working on the first of the three new scenes in which one of my characters, Steph, arrives at work and chats up her friend Wanda. Because I’ve organized the cut and paste into three distinct scenes, I have my writing sorted until the weekend.
Today was an average writing day. I ended up with about 1000 words although a lot of that involved copy pasting from my NaNoWriMo draft. Mostly, I wrote in my Novel Journal which, as it turns out, is what the writing I’ve been doing in my Planner Pro notes is called.
If I wanted to, I could do this work within my Scrivener project which I have done in the past, creating a Notes folder outside of the Manuscript folder for this purpose. For some reason, however, I’m finding it easier to focus my thoughts when I’m away from the project space. I feel free to write whatever comes into my head without trying to fit into the current logic of the piece.
I have tried something similar to this in the past, free writing by hand before each writing session as an brain exercise but, while fun, didn’t seem to help me, when it came time to working on a specific project.
Bell quotes Sue Grafton explaining her process in using novel journals which is where he first learned of the idea:
The day’s date and a bit of diary stuff, how she’s feeling and so on. This is to track outside influences on her writing.
Next is notes about any ideas that emerged overnight. I especially like this part, because the writer’s mind has been working while I sleep and I want to pour out everything I can. The trick here is not to think too much about what you write. Just let it flow.
Third, Sue writes about where she is in the book. She “talks” to herself about the scene she’s working on, or problems that have arisen.
This is exactly what I’ve been doing and it’s making a big difference both in the amount of work I’m able to accomplish and my ability to focus on where I’m heading in the story.
Choose a format that works for you and give novel journaling a try.
A busy day that involved a trek to the grocery store and a dozen broken eggs meant that I didn’t start writing until after 4pm, throwing me completely off schedule. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get going at all and the whole day would be a write off.
But it wasn’t! After cleaning up a disastrous egg incident which left my kitchen and myself covered in raw egg, I sat down and got to work and I had such a good time writing I didn’t want to put it away when it was time for dinner.