2. The Writing Process
First a caveat – as I’ve written over the past year, my process has changed, and like all writers, I continue to learn and mature my process to suit each new project. This is the writing process as it existed for my current work in progress, Blue Popcorn. I am only part way through also.
2.1 Preparation, Planning and Outlining to Create my Story
For my NaNo novel Blue Popcorn, I spent a couple of months playing around with ideas beforehand, then October to properly nut down on the storyline.
First, an Idea
This was the second novel in my series, so I already had the main character, and several supporting characters. For several months, all I had was one idea – there would be a murder in a movie theatre (hence the working title – Blue Popcorn). I didn’t know who was murdered, why, or anything else about the story, for that matter.
In September I started working on the idea, through a writing course here in Sydney for thriller writers. At the same time I also began to ramp up my writing crafts by reading up and exploring structural elements – which basically inspired me to start working out inciting incidents, the antagonist and their mission, the call to action, things like the night of despair, all that – the breakpoints or storybeats of the novel.
Many of these thoughts were jotted down on the spot (I took my iPAD to the course for that reason) in several note-taking and writing apps. Pitch and loglines were developed in that way, and later moved over into the novel project and series project in Scrivener. (You can see an image of the pitch files in the Scrivener Series images in the previous section).
October saw me get working in earnest, helped along by a couple of online writing workshops, which delved into these structural and character elements again, in various fashion. The workshop homework allowed me to conceive more than just an idea.
Index Card App (iPAD) and Scrivener (Windows) | Playing with Plot Points and Other Elements
Previously I would have thrown ideas onto a brainstorm or mindbubble type chart or app, but I had a little more linear structure than that, and couldn’t just have a central idea with random unordered ideas scattered around.
I’ve used card/notecard software before, and would recommend that if you’re in the market for these, either check out Minola’s Supernotecard, or Writer’s Blocks (or it’s new little brother, Writer’s Blocks Essence) – both have allowed me to structure novels before.
However, this time around I wanted to go mobile, and quickly produce some scenes which would later be eeked out more in Scrivener.
I used Index Card. It allows for stacks of cards and colour coding – I followed the commonplace 3 Act structure, and laid out the cards in that fashion. Once I had some rudimentary plot points, I exported them out of Index Card as a text file, and transferred that file into my new Scrivener project created for the novel.
Scrivener provides some templates to start a project off with. I chose a standard novel template, providing Acts and Scenes. Scrivener has multiple file formats, so I used the index cards / corkboard functions to copy/paste out each of my plot points, and start to detail out the scenes to a degree where I would have a little to go on once I commenced writing.
I also pulled in character profiles from my Series project, and began work on the settings, characters and other work / homework – many from the courses I was taking over October to prepare me for the NaNoWriMo effort coming.
3. Other Tools for Preparation
I used many tools to help me move from a high level concept to having enough ideas to start writing (with enough space for creativity within the draft). I read several books on writing craft, and took several classes in September / October which helped me prepare also. I also used several templates, spreadsheets and other documents available freely on the internet to come up with story beats, character profiles etc. (However, going into the draft writing, I was still missing my main antagonist, and had no idea of the climatic ending or how the novel would end at all).
One interesting tool for me was using Second Life to form the virtualisation of my fictional main character. I joined Second Life because I knew I might find some virtual communities of writers. I created my own self as a writer avatar in Second Life, then got to thinking – and created my main character too. It was interesting to see her come to life physically like that. In the image to the right, my writer persona is the brunette, with her fictional creation, the blonde.
A tool which didn’t quite work as I’d hoped was the creation of a journal for this fictional character also (created in a Journaling App for the iPAD).
I couldn’t get my head around some of the MC’s personality or thinking, so believed having her write a journal might help. It did, during the Preparation stage, to some extent – but once I moved into the actual writing stage, I found the upkeep of the journal limited my creativity and the possibilities coming out in writing. After a marathon of writing, it’s not what I could contemplate doing. So the journal was dropped.
2.2 Writing the First Draft
Finally, November 1st arrived, and I joined 300,000 other writers around the world in putting my first opening line to the novel, watching wordcount, and trying for 50,000 words to earn a badge saying I won NaNoWriMo this year.
Scrivener for Windows and Pages (iPAD) | General Writing Environment
The vast majority of my writing hours were spent tapping on my keyboard in Scrivener. I tend to keep to writing consecutive scenes – start to end, rather than jumping around. I followed my scene or plot point notes only weakly, letting new scenes and ideas creep through.
My NaNo efforts were also recorded in a weekly wordcount table in the novel journal section of Scrivener. There I recorded what chapters (scenes) I worked on, the daily wordcount, and overall wordcount. This was transferred onto a wordcount spreadsheet at the end of the day, and the figures were also used to update forums, the NaNo website, and my own writing blog diary of the event (where you can see a record of my whole writing month).
Half way through, note that I had a major disaster in having a hard drive crash – which may happen at any time again. After spending days recovering, and finally re-finding my manuscript, I have learnt the hard-way to backup, backup, backup. Scrivener projects now backup to two different external storage devices.
My hard-disk crash also necessitated the new installation of new windows software and new installations of all my software where I had licenses, and the purchases of different software where older versions were no longer compatible.
I was lucky, although it took days, and I am grateful I managed to save my manuscript.
On the occasion where I wanted to write away from my laptop, I had to transfer files to/from my PC to iPAD. See the File Transfer section on Page 2 for more on this. I wrote on Pages, a good writing app for iPAD, and transferred other notes created in other writing apps and Pages as rich text files. These were then imported in as new files into Scrivener, and formatted from there.
My writing process also includes some minor revisions and re-reading as I went, plus stopping to research when I needed. These break some of the NaNo recommendations, but work for me. I also kept copious notes through annotations in the scene files, and as separate files created elsewhere and imported into the Writing Journal folder in the project under Scrivener. Aside from the manuscript itself, this Journal folder is where I lived in while writing my first (half) draft.
A Few Words on NaNoWriMo
I personally work well under a marathon writing challenge like NaNo. This year saw me complete two first drafts of novels in Camp NaNo in June, and then November’s NaNoWrimo. Choosing to write in such an environment provides some further administration necessities however, which needed time, and in some cases, thought. Anything beneficial for my story – such as some challenges through the social NaNo groups, were added to my Journal folder in Scrivener.
2.3. Re-Visualising the Draft
Although most pundits advice to put the draft away for a little time after writing, I wanted to work with my enthusiasm still brimming. As a thriller writer, I know that the 50K (or in my case 57K) novel I had created for the NaNoWriMo challenge is only half-way to the expected length of a publishable novel. I also knew and had made notes that several scenes just needed a whole lot of work (discussed in my end NaNo post here, and further here).
Additionally, I’d started off with themes, possible motifs, and an act–>sequence–>story/plot point structure, but the process of writing plus the compile into Chapters for wordcount sake had broken all that. I wanted to check for gaps, flaws, and possible missing scenes which would be needed to be written before going into a full revision pass. Call it a pre-revision, if you like.
December (this month) became a re-visualisation of the novel. This process is being augmented with much reading, note-taking and thoughts. Some days I also take a break, and write something like this post.
Other days, without any real wordcount or time-bound goals, I simply write more towards the novel. On the corkboard above, I also want to add particular areas I want to focus on, such as adding more descriptive text, checking pacing etc. The program below helps a little in visualising what is needed.
Power Structure for Windows | Story (Re-)Development
I looked into several pieces of software which might help me out (having lost a good lot in my hard drive crash). What I wanted was a magical piece that could deliver index cards, timelines (missing from Scrivener), and templates to delve into everything from characters to conflict, and what needed to happen, with links through the scenes.
Mac users have an easier time of it, with a couple of excellent looking timeline programs which talk with Scrivener also. Windows users are less lucky. What I did invest in, as it was on special, was Power Structure. It’s expensive, but in my opinion, provides templates which helped me see the overall view of the novel.
Ironically, for me as a lover of index cards in timelines, the timeline portion of Power Structure is too limited for my needs. The rest of it was helpful, however, allowing me to go through every single scene I’ve written and check it adds value to the story in providing conflict, pace, or events that must happen.
I made connections, and saw missing areas, and have noted these down in Scrivener for my revision / rewriting stage.
Other Software Worth a Look
- Outline 4D provides a depth of outline and timelines that looks interesting.
- Liquid Story Binder – until last year I was a happy user of LSB. I’d long heard of Scrivener for Mac Users, and when it was offered at a price discount during 2011 NaNoWriMo, I tried the newly engineered Windows version, and have stuck with it. However, both offer pros and cons –
- Liquid Story Binder offers several functions which Scrivener is yet to incorporate, including a rudimentary storyboard space, and a timeline space. It even allows for the creation and linking to an audio playlist for your novel writing.
- Many users find all those LSB functions, and the free-form ability to use as you please, overly complex, however, and the software hasn’t been updated or fully supported by the developer since Feb 2011.
- LSB works very well portably – you can have the full program and files on a USB keycard, for instance, and take your novel with you, operating portably without impacting your host computers.
- LSB doesn’t provide the up-to-date compiling abilities that Scrivener for Windows does – you can’t compile for Kindle or iBooks, for instance – and that is a function most indie authors consider a necessity.
- Scrivener remains in development, with a large user-base, and there are hints about a coming version for tablets like my iPAD.For two years now, L&L have also been sponsors, offering discount pricing for NaNo participants and winners.
- LSB, on the other hand, is available for sale at a very reasonable price, and with export ability to rich text files etc, so if you’re on the lookout for software that may do most of what you need, take a look.
- Supernotecard or Writers Blocks (or Writers Blocks Essence for a cut-down and cheaper version) – As mentioned above, re-visualising back into index or scene cards where you are forced to write a quick synopsis of what happens, and think about the links between plots, subplots, characters etc, can be more easily done if you do it in an index card or blocks software.
2.4 Revision, Editing & Rewriting
My final process currently in the planning / task thinking stage, is my rewrite/revise pass stage. This is scheduled for the new year, and will basically be done in Scrivener again, using the version image functions to keep copies of older scenes.
I will also be using my file transfer / compile to different formats to allow myself a fresh look at the novel all up (see the file transfer section above). I will be compiling to ebook formats and reading on my e-reader apps on my iPAD. Another well-known trick is to read out loud, which I will do – when nobody is home.
I may also send my final draft as PDF or ebook form to any first-up beta readers. At this point, I have a limited corkboard of thoughts on this revision and rewrite schedule. It looks like this –
Coming up, I will also have similar corkboards and processes for 2.5 publishing and 2.6 marketing/promotional work. And of course, there may well be several tools used for this, but this has been a long post, as a roundup for this year, and it’s time to publish (the post, that is).
- Corkulous (iPad app) – corkboard used for organisation and thoughts at a project level
- Scrivener – for Mac or Windows – used as my overall writing environment and organiser of materials. Overall series project to contain series data, individual novel projects for writing / research and notes.
- Evernote (PC, Web, iPAD, everywhere) – used for overall research notes and snippets.
- Dropbox – used to transfer and share many file formats between systems. Many apps on the iPAD support Dropbox also.
- Simplenote (MAC, iPAD) – one of the best (imho) simple text note takers with synching.
- Resophnotes – (PC) – synchronises with Simplenote.
- Gumnotes (PC) – synchronises with Simplenote.
- Pages (Mac and iPAD app) – writing app which can export as PDF, or rich text file.
- Manuscript (iPAD app) – another excellent writing app for iPAD
- iAnnotate PDF (iPAD app) – excellent notation on PDF files on the iPAD.
- Kindle App (Available for everything, so find it for your system – link is for iTunes)
- Index Card (iPAD app)
- Power Structure (PC & Mac) – used for re-visualising the elements of my novel.
- Liquid Story Binder (PC) – full writing and project workspace for writers.
- Others mentioned – Supernotecard, Writers Blocks or Writers’ Blocks Essence, Outline 4D.