✎ Scrivener: Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write.

The age old debate: plotters vs. pantsers. For a long time, especially when I started off writing on fanfiction.net, I was a religious pantser. If a plot bunny landed in my lap, I’d just run with it. I’d have some scenes planned in my head, but getting from point A to point B was pure instinct and luck. It was thrilling. I loved it. Just maybe not so much when I realised ten chapters down the track, that I’d parked myself in with bad decisions I’d made in earlier chapters.

If only I’d thought ahead, I mentally berated myself. I do that now. I’ve gradually become more of a plotter, though I still leave room for my innate pantser to roam. There are pros and cons to the two styles – or both – but that’s not the discussion here.

People outline in different ways. Some swear by pen and paper. Others like it digital, like me. I used Microsoft OneNote when I first started outlining. It was simple and worked wonders. Then, as I developed more layers in my story, I found I needed something more advanced and flexible. I wanted to keep all my research, ideas and profiles in one place. Last year, I hopped on a popular bandwagon and it’s been a smooth ride since. That’s right. I had discovered…



What is it?

Scrivener is a word processing and outlining tool in one. You can plan your story with it, or use it to write your entire manuscript. A famous feature of Scrivener is the corkboard view (see above) which gives you a fresh look on your content. It’s great for storyboarding, to arrange and rearrange the sequence of events you’ve planned out, or even written. As you can see, I like to cast my characters using a variety of images I found online and it looks pretty good on corkboard.

Scrivener is quite user-friendly, which ultimately made me choose it over Liquid Story Binder XE. Start up a new page and type away. Jot down scenes and notes. Compile all related writing in one place. If you choose to write your story on Scrivener, you can actually file it scene by scene, or chapters, for easy access and editing. Label your pages with tags. Colour code. Mark something Finished, To Do, First Draft, etc. Create folders and subpages. Format. Brainstorm. Insert media. Deleted something and want it back afterwards? Look in the Trash; it’ll be there waiting for you. There’s even a name generator filtered by culture, gender and first and last names!

It’s hard to describe exactly what Scrivener can do. You simply have to try it out (30 day trial). Above all, Scrivener is flexible with a straightforward purpose: to help you write. I reckon it does a pretty good job!

How is this useful?

This one is a no-brainer, being a writing software and all. Instead of sounding redundant, I thought I’d use this section to briefly go over how I use Scrivener to help me plan my WIP series.

To me, the most useful Scrivener feature is the most simple: the pages. Planning is no doubt a messy process. You’ll think of something, scribble it down somewhere and promptly forget about it as you hurry on with your busy lives. I have many folders to keep my notes categorised. With a good filing system, I always know where to find what I’m looking for. These are the sections in my file:

  • Manuscript: Usually you would write your story here. I write my chapters on Word and copy them here for safekeeping. Some other random things go in here (I don’t really have an organised criteria for these things).
  • Brainstorm notes: Self explanatory. I pop notes related to general storyline in here. It’s a great place for character arcs.
  • Characters: This section is my baby. I love creating characters. They are the lifeline of my stories. Each character gets their own page, a reference picture if I can find a good one, and profile notes. I edit this section the most, and I swear more plotting goes on in here than in brainstorm notes.
  • Groups: This section is for profiling organisations, groups or civilisations. I created this to look at the ‘group’ as a whole rather than on an individual character level. To be honest, I don’t use it much, although it’s a good place for random notes.
  • World: Notes on the story universe. I don’t use it for planning, rather for keeping random facts. It’s a good reference, though collecting a little dust.
  • Scenes: I have a knack of imagining scenes very vividly even when I’m nowhere near writing them. I write a whole novel just so I can use these scenes, so they deserve a special place. Here, I record specific scenes that come to me. Rough drafts and reminders. Half the time I don’t know what the scene is really about, only that I absolutely adore it. Baby #2, right here.
  • Research: aka, everything else. Soundtrack lists, possible names, pages that don’t belong anywhere else. This is by far my messiest section.

I label most of my pages; the character ones are a must. Labels typically include character name, home country/state, status and affiliated organisations. It makes it easy for me to find everyone related to one thing. For example, I type in ‘Brink’ and I will have anyone related to my favourite anti-demon division at my fingertips.

When I open Scrivener, I can outline to the point of obsessive. On days where I can’t get any creative juices flowing, I compensate by working on the project in Scrivener. The result is ridiculously detailed characters that will probably be squashed back into 2D when I write them, because I couldn’t stop giving them onion skins of backstory. It’s actually really fun!

Tips when using Scrivener

  • Scrivener has sponsored NaNoWriMo many years in a row. Winners are usually able to redeem a winner’s code to get 50% off Scrivener. I took that path and thought it was a great bargain. It’s something to look out for.
  • There is an option to backup your work to a chosen location. Direct this to your Dropbox folder if you have one, and give yourself a little piece of mind.
  • You may notice the program slowing a little bit if you store a lot of media in your file. You’ll usually notice when it takes longer than usual to save. While it doesn’t affect its usage much, it’s not a bad idea to migrate to a fresh file if you feel the lag is becoming a significant problem.
  • There is no need to hoard your information because of the special Trash bin. If you’ve since edited something and no longer need the old info yet would like to have it on hand just in case, delete it to Scrivener’s Trash. It won’t usually be emptied without your approval. Of course, this only applies for items you actually moved to the bin. Backspaced content isn’t going to show up there. You could try copying sections you no longer need into a new page, and moving that page to trash. It helps keep your workplace uncluttered.
  • Take the time to go through the beginning tutorial. There are many features in Scrivener, some you may never use, but trust me: you’ll want to know your way around.

Everyone has their own favourites. There are many writing programs out there and I will probably post about them as I learn more. So far, Scrivener is the one for me. I hope everyone finds their special niche, no matter what your writing style. Write like you know nothing else!

Next Symbiotic Saturday, I’ll be recommending a writing reference book. Keep an eye out!

munchkinwrites, signing out.

✎ 750 Words: Write every day

Writers need many important skills. It’s not so much the quality of the writing, whether it’s ‘good’ or not – well, it’s actually a big factor, but never forget that anyone can write. A five year old child can write a story. When you begin to take writing seriously though, like aiming for the completed novel, it’s consistency that matters most. “Write hard, write fast,” James Scott Bell says in his guide The Art of War for Writers. In other words: just write and keep writing. Push yourself to write every day; make it a habit.

… It could just be me but I find that ridiculously hard.

I have many excuses: I have no time! I have uni, I have assignments, I have social life, I need to sleep, etc. They bog me down like swamp men. Some days it is impossible to get any writing done. But there are also days where I have just a few hours of beloved free time and, and… and I lose it to YouTube, to forums, to music, to that nap I didn’t really need. Deep down, I wanted to write, so  badly, but I didn’t have consistency.

Buster knows this. Who’s Buster? Good question! He’s the developer of…

750 Words

750 Words

What is it?

The idea behind 750 Words is simple: you aim to write 750 words every day. You can achieve badges by writing several days in a row and maintaining a streak, or by typing fast and staying on task. The longer you manage to keep a streak, the more points you accumulate. What do you do with these points? You feel accomplished, you brag, you compete with friends. The whole aim is simply to write 750 words of anything at all.

750 Words provides a simple, blank canvas for you to type. It keeps track of your words, autosaves, and lets you know when you hit that 750 mark. Your writing is available in your own archives, and you can also view some nifty stats about what you just wrote. There are basic numbers like how long you were writing for, how quickly, how many times you got distracted and left the keyboard idling – and then there are the cool stats. Here’s a quick list:

  • Rating (G, PG, R, etc)
  • What you (or the writing) feel like
  • What you (or the writing) are concerned about
  • Your mindset when writing this – e.g. extrovert, negative
  • The proportion of tense: past, present future
  • Primary sense – e.g. touch, smell, hearing
  • Proportions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – i.e. perspective
  • Frequently used words

I found these stats amazingly interesting! Of course, they are not always accurate; in fact, they never were for me because I was wrote my novel’s scenes and I wasn’t feeling quite as violent as my characters were. But they are nice to look at and to reflect on; I didn’t realise I wrote so much about sight – my characters are always gazing, glancing, averting their eyes – until 750 Words spelled it out for me. Best of all, you get pretty badges for doing what you love: writing!

Note: 750 Words was free for a long time and sponsored by donations from the community. From what I understand, some recent changes were made and new accounts will have a 1 month trial period before they decide if they would like to purchase the service. So there’s plenty of time to decide!

How is this useful?

It encourages you to write every day. Some people are motivated by maintaining their streak. Some don’t care much about streaks and prefer to work at their own pace, meeting the mark whenever they can. You can even sign up for monthly challenges and aim for 750 words every day for a month. There are no punishments aside from those you give yourself.

Just like The Thoughts Room, you can write about anything you like. Writing about your day or anything that’s on your mind can clear the clutter and get you into the right mood for story-crafting. Make it a journal if you like. It’s always great to look back and see what you’ve achieved.

Now, you probably noticed that I broke my streak pretty early… I’m the type that works like hell for the streak and deflates the instant I lose it.  For a long time after that I wrote without 750 words, but the site helped me taste consistency for the first time. I didn’t have to write the actual scenes of my novel (that took too much thinking); I could write a random short story using my characters, I could reflect on my writing, I could write a character voice journal (one of James Scott Bell’s tips in his book). I now hop on whenever is convenient, and aim for the mark. I don’t make it some days and I’m not as consistent as I’d like, but I’d gladly take it over nothing.

So go for it! See if consistency is what you’re lacking in your recipe, and even if 750 Words isn’t for you, try to take the lesson away with you. If you’ve already got a routine all figured out, kudos to you!

Tips for using 750 Words

  • Hit F11 (on Windows)/whatever the fullscreen key is on Macs, to eliminate distracting tabs in your browser. Switch off social media if you can. Don’t get distracted!
  • Just let the words flow. Don’t worry about editing. Think of it as your first draft; get it down first.
  • Keep your keyboard going even if you’re thinking, even if you’re just typing the same word and backspacing it. Keep the cogs in your mind turning.
  • Feel free to keep writing past 750 Words. First give yourself a pat on the back, then see if you can keep going.
  • Check out the stats afterwards. It’s fun.
feature image from bigamericannight

✎ The Thoughts Room

There is a lot of noise in everyday life. There’s school, work, family, social media, unexpected catastrophes, bad moods, and don’t forget procrastination – to name just a few. It’s almost an Olympic sport, expecting anyone to be able to escape from this claustrophobic world to channel and write a fictional one. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything that can take away the noise around you with the same magic as Dumbledore’s Deluminator. But I’d love to point you towards something that might be able to help you empty the noise that’s inside your mind, and feel lighter for it.


The Thoughts Room

The Thoughts Room

What is it?

The Thoughts Room is a branch of the quiet place project (which I also recommend checking out) by Amitay Tweeto. The project is very much about finding inner peace and giving yourself room to contemplate the issues of your busy life. For example, the quiet place (its lowercase styling already breaks away from ‘loud’ capitals) encourages you to just spend 30 seconds doing absolutely nothing. You’ll soon realise how strong the urge to do the opposite is.

The Thoughts Room gives you the night sky on your monitor, soft music, and a special bar to type anything you like. This is not a writing program or anything of the sort; the room will not save what you write. It does quite the opposite, allowing you to watch the words crumble and fall to the bottom of the screen – literally breaking down your thoughts.

How is this useful?

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to concentrate with so much going on around us. Cars hooting, assignments to finish, babies crying; but quite often, it is our own state of mind that keeps us restless. Try using The Thoughts Room before you sit down to write. Remember that you don’t have to write about your writing. The aim is to clear all the signals jamming our mind by releasing them into the room, and by doing so hopefully feel a little more comfortable. At the same time, you are also getting words down and engaging the creative side of your brain. You’re warming up those bunnies on the plotting treadmills.

The room might help you find focus when writing your story; it might not. That’s for you to decide. I’d only encourage you to give The Thoughts Room a try, simply because there’s no harm in it.

Tips when using The Thoughts Room:
  • Try not to think about writing at all. Treat the room like a diary. It’s a form of release, not a chore. Don’t drive your inner quiet place into a corner by making it feel obligatory. Use it whenever you feel you need to.
  • Do as the project suggests and turn off all social media and silent your phone. Write in a quiet room if you can, even for just a few minutes.
  • Sometimes the animation and music will get jittery and lag after a while using the room. When this happens, you can easily refresh the page, skip the introduction and continue on if it bothers you.
  • If you find that you can’t type in the box, try clicking into the area of the ‘room’ rather than the surrounding borders.
  • Don’t forget to write about good things! It’s easy to feel like The Thoughts Room is for releasing pent-up negative emotions, which it’s great for – but you don’t have to think of the room as ‘that depressing place’ :)

I hope this first Symbiotic Saturday post was useful. I’ll admit that I don’t personally use The Thoughts Room much, not because I dislike it but because the idea to use it as a springboard for writing only just occurred to me! I realised that I spent all those hours procrastinating just trying to get into the ‘mood’ for writing, and thought I couldn’t possibly be the only one. Please give The Thoughts Room a try; I’d love to hear what you think of it. If you love it, don’t forget to thank Amitay Tweeto for creating it!

Happy writing!

munchkinwrites, signing out.