BIRD BY BIRD. If you haven't read it, I recommend going out to the bookstore immediately and procuring a copy. It's a book that's as much about life as writing, and I find myself remembering things from it often.
The piece of her her advice I've always found difficult to put into practice, however, is the bit about creating the SFD: the shitty first draft. The ability to allow yourself, as a writer, to produce crap the first time around, so that you don't scare yourself out of putting something down on the page. I always think about it, and sometimes, I do better than others (NaNoWriMo comes to mind), but usually, I tend to get in my own way because the truth is I do produce better writing with relatively minimal attention to it. But it also means sometimes I get stuck, waiting for the next thing to move me forward.
However, after NaNoWriMo 2011 (and after they produced the Windows version), I bought Scrivener. At first, I just used it for revision, and preferred to produce my writing within Microsoft Word. But now I've transitioned almost completely to using it as my drafting tool.
And it's had a really unexpected effect: I feel a lot freer to make a mess.
Scrivener gives you the ability to work scene by scene, and to drag and drop those scenes into any organization you want. Currently, my method is to use the Blake Snyder beat sheet for drafting, and to organize my scenes into their beats, and then to go back and reorganize them into chapters.
Somehow, being able to drag and drop a scene anywhere has freed something up in my brain. Since it's not necessarily going to stay where I put it, I feel freer to write something that might not make sense right there. Or to jump to a scene I'm itching to write without writing the bridge (although I try to get to the bridge in the next writing session, lest I build up a writing project in which all the fun scenes are written and I end up with only the hard parts). I know that it's as easy as dragging the scene to "trash" to remove it, or back from trash to reinstate it, and somehow, that makes it much easier to write.
Additionally, I know I can tag the status of a scene. Scrivener's basic statuses are "to do" "first draft" "revision" and "final draft," but like all things in the program, they can be infinitely customized. So I have some statuses like, "WTF was I thinking?" or "Really great" to clue me in as to how much revision a particular scene is going to take and/or how happy I am with it (because happiness may simply be a factor of it being in the wrong place in the book, which is easily fixed!)
I find I'm drafting faster, revising harder, and that all of it is a lot more fun. I wouldn't have thought that I would adapt to a program--I'm a techie, if you can't tell, and so I usually find ways to make programs adapt to me--but Scrivener has finally brought me around to having the freedom that I first read in Anne Lamott's book almost twenty years ago.
I'm glad to have found it.
Do you use Scrivener or another noveling program? How do you like it?
And just for bonus kicks: here's my Scrivener template for the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. Feel free to use it and share!
Jessica S. Schley was once a pusher of very important papers for a small commercial nonfiction house. Nowadays, she divides her time between bookselling, being a grad student, and writing contemporary fiction for young adults.
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