Scrivener: Becoming a Compile Power User.

In part one of this blog I discussed why I love Scrivener for version control. This time we are going to discuss compiling and formatting both ebooks and print books straight from Scrivener. It seems like a long process when you read this, but once your book’s details are set it’s really fast and easy.

Compiling in Scrivener

There’s an old saying, the devil is in the details. That saying pretty much sums up compiling in scrivener. It’s straightforward but there are details that have to be minded in order to have the finished product turn out the way you want. Setting aside a little time to go over your book’s details will save you a lot of time later. Don’t fret the time, once the details are right the rest of the formatting will be taken care of by Scrivener itself.

Some Basics

There are some basic issues that need to be addressed before you get ready to compile. These issues cover both ebook and print so they will be done together.

Cover art

You can insert your own cover into the finished ebook easily with Scrivener, but it first must be in the scrivener project in the right place. You need to drag your cover art into the sample output folder in the research area. Don’t try to insert it in the title page under front matter and don’t ask me to explain the logic of placing it in research. If it’s in the sample output folder it will be available in the compile menu and scrivener will do the rest.

coverart

Front and Back Matter

One of the great things about compiling from scrivener is front and back matter. These have to be done differently between print and ebook and often between different ebook retailers.

For example, you will have different ISBN’s for print and ebook versions. You might want to craft a different copyright page and dedication for each edition. It’s common to abbreviate the front matter on ebooks, ereaders want to open an ebook and go right to the story.

Scrivener recognizes this and has separate folders for print and ebooks. The bad news is that you have to fill out each folder separately. The good news is that Scrivener will keep the information separate from there on, so you don’t accidentally insert the wrong ISBN or front matter.

The back matter “About the Author” page is a great tool for selling the next book. If a reader just finished your book and enjoyed it, make it easy for them to grab the next book in the series by including a link to it. However, most retailers have picky rules about links in ebooks. They won’t let your book link to a competitor for example. So you want the link in the Kindle version to direct to the Amazon page for book two, but you want the Apple iBook to direct to Apple’s store. With Scrivener it’s easy to create three different About the Author pages with the same basic information, but one with Amazon links for the kindle version, one with Apple links for the epub and another with no links for the print version. I create these in their own folder in the front matter tab of the binder. You can click and drag the correct version into the back of the document before compiling.

$Authorname

The dollar sign inside of brackets is code. Anywhere you see these, Scrivener will automatically import some piece of information into that document when it compiles. Most of the time that’s exactly what you want, but there are occasions when you need to take control, and you can.

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.11.27 AM

One is the author name. It will import the name of the person who registered the software, just as Word does. However you might use a pen name or the Scrivener program you use might “belong” to a spouse or parent. No problem. You can simply highlight $authorname and replace it with whatever you want.

The same might be true of the copyright year if you are republishing something from a previous year. $year on the copyright page can be changed to whatever year you need.

 

Making these changes ahead of time will shorten formatting later on and help troubleshoot some of the most common problems.

Kindle books

For ebooks we are going to concentrate on Kindle files. Scrivener will handle epub as well and the same basic rules apply. The very first step to using Scrivener to make kindle books is to download Kindlegen from Amazon.

Kindlegen is Amazon’s own ebook creation tool. I don’t know many writers who use it, because on it’s own it’s not much to look at. It works but it requires some technical skill to fine tune. With Scrivener you can do that fine tuning with Scrivener and get really good results.

When you choose the kindle (mobi) option under the compile menu it will add a tab for kindlegen. The first time you use it you will have browse for kindlegen and tell Scrivener where the program is located in your computer. (Usually under applications, unless you put it somewhere else.) Once you’ve done this it will remember for the future.

Kindlegen

Each tab on the left side of the compile menu brings up a different dialog box and each has it’s uses and foibles.

Contents

Allows you to select what goes into your book. Typically you want to include everything in the manuscript folder and that’s Scrivener default setting. However you can use this dialog box to change that.

One foible to watch for is the front matter check box at the bottom. Different options (print, manuscript, ebook) will have it automatically selected to its own default. If you have special front matter, this is where you can tell Scrivener to use that instead.

contentsmenu

Separators

The separators menu allows you to customize how you create scene breaks, chapter breaks, etc. The average user doesn’t need this on most projects, but some writers might use this. The drop down menu allows you to select an empty line, single return or section break. Or you can choose custom and enter what you want in the right hand box.

Cover

Allows you to select any image in the sample output folder.

Formatting

Scrivener uses a hierarchical formatting system. That means there are different levels and each level is treated differently. There’s a neat little trick to working with this system. When you select a level on the compile menu, everything on that level will be highlighted in the binder. This can be very useful when troubleshooting problems.

formatting levels

The average writer will only have/need two levels, chapters and text. Notice at the top there are a number of check boxes. For final formatting only title and text are important but if you were creating a proof for an editor you might want to play around with including meta data or synopses.

For today, we will only use title and text. Notice that in the screenshot level one, which if the folder level, is selected. Down below we see an editor screen with Chapter one: Title in it. This is a preview of what you will see when you compile. If you’ve named each folder with a pithy chapter title, all is well. If you’ve simply numbered your chapter, your final book will come out with Chapter One:Chapter One, etc. Or worse still you might end up with Chapter One: New Folder. If this is your case, uncheck the title checkbox for that level. The result will be that Scrivener will simply provide the chapter numbers with no chapter titles. “Section layout” will give you more options to change how the title will be displayed. The internal help dialog does a good job of explaining the options.

formatting menu

Title Adjustments

For those really wanting to fine control the chapter titles, you can read up in the manual about the title adjustment dialogue, but it’s not necessary for creating a good ebook, in my opinion.

Layout

For ebooks, there isn’t a lot of fine tuning needed for layout. However I would check this page over. Scrivener should default to checking the “generate HTML table of contents” which is what you want. That will create a navigation file that will let readers easily find the table of contents and the chapter they want.

Transformations

There are a handful of features under transformations that allow you automatically change portions of the text. I rarely use these myself and there is one huge foible to watch out for. For reasons that are beyond me, Scrivener by default checks the box “Convert Italics to Underlines.” I have no idea why anyone would want to convert every instance of italics into underlines, but it’s there and it’s checked. I always uncheck that box.

HTML settings, replacements, statistics and tables

None of these tabs should have anything you need for book formatting. For proofing you might want to include some statistics and non fiction writers might have tables to work with, but for our purposes these tabs can be safely ignored.

Meta-data

Metadata is information about your book that isn’t included in the actual book. It includes titles, a description and keywords. Scrivener always you to customize the metadata you include with your books files.

One important foible to note here is author name. If you are writing under a pen name, be sure you check this tab and correct the information.

 

That’s it, folks. It’s time to compile. When you hit the compile button you will be prompted to choose a destination file and Scrivener will do the rest. When you are done you can open the file with a Kindle app or share it to your favorite reading device.

 

Print Compiling

The basics of compiling for print are almost identical to ebooks. In fact if you’ve followed along with the above description of ebook compiling there are only three foibles we really have to deal with for print.

Compile for PDF, not Print

When you select compile for a print format, Scrivener will want to default to compile for print at the bottom. This will lead to no end to troubles. You want to compile for PDF. Why? Its the same issue I have ran into time and again with Word as well. When you compile for print it always wants to default to a standard 8 by 11 1/2 inch sheet of paper, which is what a standard printer uses. Createspace or other print on demand publishers will reject your pages, because each page will be a 5×8 printed page centered on an 8X11 sheet.

Instead you want to compile for PDF, which will create a correctly sized PDF, once we’ve handle the second foible.

Page Settings

Under the page settings tab you want to select the page setup button in the right corner. It will be set by default to 8×11 and you will need to change it to whatever trim size you plan on using for your book.

page setup page setup 2

$Surname

A final foible to consider, if you are publishing under a pseudonym, is in the layout section. Scrivener will automatically create headers with the novel name on one side and your last name on the other. You can tweak that if you need to for a specific project.
That should be it. Run through the tabs, checking that you have the right About the Author at the back of the book, that the chapter headings are the way you want them and then compile.

Yeah, Scrivener, Part One

The more I use scrivener, the more I love it. There are so many reasons for the love, I can hardly count them.

Scrivener logo

I got my final clean version of Children of a New Earth back from my editor last week. I spend the rest of my writing time that day, nearly two and a half hour, re-importing it scene by scene into Scrivener and making sure all the scene breaks and other formatting stuff was correct.

Why spend that much time on it? One reason is version control. The other is that I spent another two hours or so doing formatting, and created both the ebook and paperback in that time. For those of you who have created ebooks manually using a word processor, or fought to get Word to create a proper print ready pdf, you know how much time I am saving.

Version Control

For both prolific writers and avid rewriters, version control soon becomes a major challenge. I learned this early on in my writing career when I was writing articles for a local LGBT paper. I had the editor take me to task for numerous errors in one submission. I couldn’t see the errors on my side. I later discovered I had accidently submitted a rougher version of the same article.

My issues with version control stem from three sources and each carries its own liabilities an solutions.

Tech

Back up your computer! If you haven’t had this drilled into your head, all it takes is a couple of major data losses and it will be. I’ve been through dozens of backup methods over the years. I used to print hard copies of everything. I still have stacks of moldy paper in my basement with crappy stories I thought were gold once upon a time. Then I saved things to floppy disks (yes, I am that old) and USB drives.

The problem with all these backups is they aren’t the same. Twelve different versions of the same story might be secure, but it’s also confusing. Trying to find the one you are currently working on can drive you nuts and lead to mistakes, like submitting the wrong version of an article. If you backed up an early version of your novel, it will be there after you lose the current version but you still lose hours of editing.

The solution: I now use an automatic cloud storage. I’m on a Mac right now, so I use time machine, synced to a personal cloud device. The device cost me a hundred and fifty dollars but it was money well spent. It sits next to my router, uses the same wifi network and acts just like an external hard drive except I don’t have to worry about backing things up, it does it automatically. It also re-saves the most recent version of every document, so I don’t have to worry about old versions floating around.

Editing

As a younger more hesitant writer, I had to save a version of everything before editing. I had novel A draft one, Novel A draft two, etc. I was worried that I would regret rewriting and want the old version back. Then I started getting involved in writers group. So now I have Novel A draft eight with x person’s comments. It got so I each novel had it’s own folder and even then those folders were packed with extraneous files.

Now I am more confident. If I change something, its because the change will improve the novel. I don’t care so much about keeping older versions. In fact I’ve gone to the other extreme. I hate having older versions of my writing around. It fill up your hard drive. And it’s drivel. I hate to be blunt, but it’s true. Do you really want an early draft of your novel with seven thousand typos floating around? And no, ten pages of run on sentences isn’t “your voice.” It’s bad writing. Clean it up and get rid of the old version.

The solution: Scrivener. I keep all of my writing projects in scrivener these days. I use the snapshots feature to save anything I am going to do a deep rewrite on. If I am moving or getting rid of whole scenes, I drag them out of the manuscript folder but leave them in the project in case I need them later. If I am workshopping something, I either import people’s comments directly into a separate scrivener file or make the suggested changes directly on the scrivener document. The Scrivener manuscript always remains the most recent, cleanest version of that project. And that is a thing of beauty.

Indie

The third source of too many versions is simply being an indie writer, though traditional writers may have their own version of this same problem. You get your clean edited manuscript back from your editor and you start formatting. Print formatting and ebook formatting are different beasts, so the first step is to create two new versions of the clean document, one for print and one for ebooks.

Every author, whether indie or trad, knows the horror of seeing your book in print for the first time and spotting a typo. Argh! If you are trad, you complain to your publisher and then grumble in your writers group until they finally get around to fixing it. (And if it’s not POD, don’t expect them to be able to do anything.) If you are indie, you go back and change it yourself. Oh, but did you also change it in the mobi file? the epub? The original document? Personally, I am way too ADHD to get to them all. It’s a struggle.

Traditional authors aren’t immune to this problem. Every publisher/editor/agent has their own set of submission guidelines. By the time you have spent a year and half trying to sell a manuscript, submitting it to dozens of agents, you will have a pile of version, each formatted to this or that person’s taste.

Multiply each of these three issues by several novels and you will see what I am dealing with.

Solution: Become a scrivener power user. This brings us full circle to the original intent of this post, formatting and compiling in scrivener. This post has grown to the point where it might be best broke into two. For now, learning to use Scrivener’s compile feature means that you can create multiple versions, all based off the same document. A year from now when you need to update something, you do it in Scrivener. When you resubmit, you do it from Scrivener. You never have to wonder which version of your novel is the most current, and did you correct those pesky little mistakes in all versions or not? It’s all in one place.

Coming next: Becoming a Scrivener compile power user

Scrivener and the Pseudo-pantser

I’ve always hated the old saw about how there are two kinds of writers, pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants, letting the story take them on a journey of it’s own choosing. Plotters plan out their novel. The term is often synonymously with outlining, which is another reason I dislike this saying so much.

I object to the notion that it’s so black and white, that all writers must either be creative free spirits or studious planners. I also object to the notion that writing a detailed outline is the only way to plan a novel.

I have tried dozens of different approaches to writing novels and I’ve written entire novels in different approaches. I tried pantsing when I was younger and it didn’t work for me. I’d write myself into a corner within twenty pages and get stuck.

I finished my first novel with the marshal plan. Then I learned how to storyboard and things really took off for me. I’ve relied on storyboarding software like Storybook or Scrivener to help keep my stories structured and on track.

One “Plotter” stereotype that was true for me for several years was that I refused to start writing until I have the entire story in front of me. I couldn’t. I had to know every scene, every side plot and every twist or turn before I could start. Once I started, I wrote from opening to finish in one long monolithic document.

Two years of using Scrivener exclusively, I’ve been noticing a shift in how I write. It’s been a slow process.

The one drawback of Storybook, I’ve always said, is the lack of a robust internal editor. In other words, Storybook is great for planning your story, but you end up doing the actual writing in a word processor.

Scrivener has a great functional editor pane and it’s a snap to actually write in scrivener. Still I went on doing what I had grown accustomed to doing with Storybook, planning the novel in its entirety and then writing it in one long slog. For the first few scrivener based novels I would finish the novel and the export it into libreoffice to edit and format.

Then I started to study Scrivener and learned that some of it’s greatest features are only apparent in the editing stage. I started learning to use documents notes to make notes on things I wanted to re-write later. I started using meta-data to track point of view, characters in a scene, sub-plots, etc. I realized it was possible to use Scrivener to accomplish a deep re-write, the kind of rewriting that would have scared me before. I could add and delete scenes, alter characters and then go re-write every single scene with them in it.

That’s when I noticed my writing strategy had shifted. I was becoming a pseudo-pantser.

My current WIP started as a fifty thousand word science fiction novel. I realized one day that the same plot line would work as the backbone for a serial. I took the scenes I had already written and parceled them out over eight episodes. Then I’ve gone back and added in scenes and characters to make each episode it’s own story. Now I am “layering” it, adding small scenes and fleshing out side characters and subplots. It will be well over two hundred thousand words when it’s done.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

My latest work in progress started as a novel, then I decided it would work as a serial. With Scrivener the switch was easy.

Layering is not something I would have even considered in the past. The thought of adding a new character or subplot after having written a story was absurd. How could you possibly go through a four hundred page word document and add new scenes and references to this new person wherever necessary to make their inclusion seamless? With Scrivener such work is a snap. Use meta data to track which scenes need rewritten with the new character. Click and drag to add scenes where you need them.

In the past I would have gotten so far into storyboarding an idea and thought, “do I have enough?” This was always a tricky question. Is the story fleshed out enough? Are there enough side plots and story action to make a satisfying read? I’d agonize over the answer and refuse to write until I was sure I had the story complete in my head.

Now when faced with this same dilemma I think, let’s just write it and see. There is an incredible freedom in being able to write the portion of the story I know, confident that I will be able to add to it when the rest of the story floats through my brain. When the developers at Literature and Latte claim that they built Scrivener around the creative process, rather than forcing the creative process to conform to the software, they weren’t kidding.

You can check out Scrivener for yourself here:

Arranging words in Scrivener

Regardless of whether you use Scrivener or something else, whether you define yourself as a plotter, a pantser, or something entirely different, you shouldn’t let others shame you for the way you write. There are hundreds of ways to plan and write a novel and none of them are. You should keep an open mind, there’s always new things to learn.

What is your writing process? How has it changed over time? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading.

 

The End of an Era (and a site)

 

 

Wiredthatwaylogo1

For nearly two years I wrote a column for Accessline Iowa called Wired That Way. The column was about the intersection of technology and the LGBT community. It was great fun to write. It was also my first experience with a real editor and I learned a lot about writing.

I set up a website to go along with the blog and to provide a space for extra writing. I envisioned it leading to a sideline as a tech blogger.

My mother used to tell me, you can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Funny how we never appreciate these tidbits of wisdom until we are older, right?

While writing that column and blogging on that website, I was also working on a couple of YA novels. I never forgot my first love, sci fi and fantasy, either.

My first novel came out and it got decent reviews and sales, enough to encourage me to put more time and focus into fictional writing. The Accessline went to an all digital format and I decided that was a good time to bow out of my column. The website remained and for a long while I continued to post regularly.

Can you make it a business out of blogging? Lots of people do, but it’s a full time job. Can you make a business out of writing novels? Certainly, but again it’s a lot of work. My mom’s words of wisdom have become increasingly important to my writing career. I could do one or the other, but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to both. So Wired That Way has taken a backseat to fiction. Contemporary YA novels are slowly taking a backseat to fantasy and science fiction. So it goes.

Wired That Way was hosted through a different company as my other websites. As of December 2014, my hosting account came up for renewal and I just couldn’t justify a two year contract on a website I don’t use anymore. So I’ve redirected the site here for now. This is the site I am most active on, and where what tech writing I do will likely go. Maybe in time I will create a new wordpress site on this host for Wired That Way, but for right now I am going to combine it with this site.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Scrivener in the Afterlife

A friend and former coworker passed away recently. She died in her sleep, unexpectedly. She was my age and had no health problems that I was aware of.

Amidst the sorrow, sorrow that the world lost a bright spark and the empathy I feel for what her husband and kids must be going through, I’ve been in a morbid mood.

You think about your own mortality at times like these. Forty five is young to be dying in your sleep. Still there are lots of ways you can die, at any age. You never know when you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Car accidents, house fires, mass shootings can happen to anyone, anywhere.

After my mother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and before she passed, I thought a lot about my writing. What were the most important things I wanted to say? If I were to face a similar diagnosis, if I had only a couple years left to live, which projects would really matter? Which would I choose to finish?

Not surprisingly I wrote three YA novels during that time period, all three aimed at kids who were different, bullied in some way. I wanted them to know it could turn out okay, they could get through it. Those three novels, Run, Clarissa, Run, The Case of Nikki Pagan and The Best Boy Ever Made represent something of a legacy, words I want preserved for the future.

This time around I thought mostly about my career. If I died unexpectedly, what would become of my writing, my career?

Right now, likely nothing. The books I have published would remain out for those interested in reading them. Without promotion they might sink into obscurity or they might grow an audience. It’s hard to say. Those not finished, those sitting on my hard drive, would most likely stay there.

But that might change. Heck, it might not even be true now. The couple hundred dollars I make each month in sales might be enough for my son to decide, why not send the rough drafts to an editor and publish them as well?

The point is, at some point those royalties might be enough to justify someone continuing my career on my behalf. At some point I might have enough fans for their to be an outcry of “how was that series supposed to end?”

It’s happened to other writers, though I can hardly claim their pedigree. Christopher Tolkien has virtually made a career of reconstructing his father’s notes into various manuscripts. Douglas Adam’s last book was found in the bottom of a desk drawer and published after his death. Frank Herbert’s son Brian has continued the Dune series aided by notes his father left behind and the help of another writer.

I thought about leaving behind some sort of document in Scrivener, something that could guide a future editor through my work, help them guess where I was going with a work in progress or why a project had been tabled.

I might be arrogant to think my writing would worth anyone else’s time, that some future editor would even care to dig through the mess of notes, works in progress and projects still in planning stages. But I thought about it anyway. And as soon as I thought about it, I realized that there was another, less morbid reason for undertaking the project.

I have a master publishing document. It’s a chart showing my published works, the works I am trying to edit, those I am writing and those I am planning. It’s kind of clunky, to be honest. I go through the list periodically and try to update it. I add a book to the published works chart and delete it from the works in progress. It doesn’t really mean much though.

So now I am experimenting with something new. I’ve created a scrivener project title “in the event of my death.” If I die unexpectedly, my editor knows where to look for it. But truthfully the file is much more than that.

This document is meant to serve two purposes. The first is for myself. I am working on replacing the “master publishing list” with a more interactive and editable format here. I can track projects that I am working, ones that I want to work on and ones that I have finished.

In the event of my untimely death, or as I grow older, in the event of my timely death, it might well be that my writing retains either some commercial value to my survivors in the way of royalties or literary value to my fans.

In either case this document can be used by whatever hapless writer/editor that is left to make sense of my works in progress. God have mercy on your soul.

In the event of my death. scriv

I have created folders for published works, works that have been written but not published, works in progress, those planned but not written, those I plan to do in the future. Each novel, story or series has a scrivening in the appropriate place.

Within the document I have the basic information about that work, where it’s at, what comes next and a link to the document itself. Underneath is the synopsis and if I have one, the beat sheet.

For example, One Strange Utopia is not in a series. It’s finished and ready for the editor.

One Strange Utopia

The best part of using Scrivener for this, rather than Word or Libre office to do this, is how easy it is to simply click and drag the document up as you reach the next level. Once One Strange Utopia goes to publication, I drag that scrivening into the appropriate folder. When the next work is ready to edit, up it goes into that folder, etc.  It will hopefully help me keep on top of my writing projects better.

The future works folder is pretty sparse, but that’s okay. I am not intending to make extra work for myself by adding a synopsis for every single story idea I have ever had. Rather I use this folder to track where certain series are going. Some series just head off into the future with no plan, but a lot of the series I am working on are going somewhere. I know the final story arc. Keeping track of that is important to getting the series right. So there is the information when I need it.

future projects

For whatever hapless soul ends up inheriting this mess, the dustbin is probably the most vital folder. Here are projects I have tabled, ones I stopped working on at some point. Why? That’s the critical piece for most of them.

Six months after finishing the rough draft of The Seeds of Doom, I re-read it. I realized that I had written something very much in the vein of Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! without intending it.

The Seeds of Doom

Is there a market for dated science fiction? Maybe. I’m not really sure. Re-reading it years later I also realized how weak the story is, how much work it would take to make it publishable. There may come a day when I want to invest the time in re-writing this project, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

A lot of the stuff in my dustbin is there because of focus. I have story ideas in a dozen genres, but marketing myself in two genres, YA and Sci-fi/Fantasy, is hard enough. That romance novel I was working on last year? Sorry. I just don’t have the energy to finish it, publish it and promote it. So it’s in the dustbin. That early fantasy novel? Great learning experience but now I can see too many flaws in the writing.

Fellow writers, do you have a plan for what would happen if you died unexpectedly? Do you have a list of works in progress, or anything like this. Am I the only person who thinks this way? I would love to hear.

 

Icon and Scapple

Icon, the oldest science fiction convention in Iowa, is coming up at the end October. I am going to be one of many local writers in attendance and I am starting to get excited. They are still firming up the activity schedule but I am signed up to teach at least one class and to be on some panels.

The class I am teaching is about word processors, writing software and other programs for writers. Mostly it’s about how to use technology to help, rather than hinder, the creative process.

I don’t teach about the mechanics of writing. I consider myself a storyteller first and a writer second. That means that I dream up stories and write them down. Then I send them to an editor and they come back looking like this:

This is why I don't teach the mechanic of writing

This is why I don’t teach the mechanic of writing

What I do well, is playing around with technology. I can’t resist downloading and testing new software. I have used over a half dozen different pieces of writing software to plan novels and have played around with more than a dozen.

Lately, I have been branching out and learning about new programs that can help organize your writing, help you come up with ideas or help research them. I decided this upcoming class was a great time to really sit down and learn about mind mapping.

Scapple

Scapple is a piece of software put out by Literature and Latte. They are the creators of Scrivener, my favorite piece of writing software and my current go to program for ninety percent of my writing tasks. So I was already a little biased in Scapple’s favor.

Mind mapping is a visual way of organizing information around a chart. On a mind map new ideas and concept spread out from a central core. Mind mapping is not only a great tool for learning (studies show mind mappers have better retention than other forms of note taking) it’s also great for brainstorming. Which is why mind mapping has such potential for the average writers.

Here is a mind map of my upcoming speech. Done in Scapple.

software for writers example

The biggest downside to most mind mapping software I have looked at so far is that new notes come attached to older notes. That’s great if you already understand the central concept of what you are trying to do. Your first note is the key concept and other notes radiate out from that.

However, as writers this is exactly where we most often struggle. Scapple allows you to create notes wherever you want on the page. You can later attach them to other notes, stack them together or move them free form around the board.

For example, November is just around the corner and for many writers that’s Nanowrimo, National Novel Writers Month. Every year writers around the world join a month long challenge to write a fifty thousand word novel in a month. You want to write a blog post about this for October but you have no idea what to write. Scapple can help.

Start by writing a bunch of random things about Nanowrimo on a new Scapple board.Here is an empty board.blank scapple board

Here are some random notes on Nanowrimo:

random nano scapple example

This is a just a bunch of randomness, but now I can click and drag stuff to make some sense of it all.

organized nano scapple example

By clicking and dragging I’ve organized all of these random statements around two main points, reasons for doing Nanowrimo and things I wish I knew before I started. Reasons for doing Nano include getting that first novel written, learning to write fast, learning to turn off the internal editor, and going to write ins. Write ins have several subpoints, there is camaraderie, and support. This is also a great place to mention the website where more support can be found. You also learn at write ins that Nano writers come from all walks of life, they write in all kinds of genres and many don’t even write novels, they use the month to write their memoirs or nonfiction.

Could I have done this in Word or another word processor as an outline? Sure. For some writers that would work fine. But many of us would have spent hours banging our heads in frustration because outlines don’t fit the way we think. This example took me a matter of minutes in Scapple, whereas I could have spent a half an hour or more trying to do the same brainstorming with other software.

If you struggle with outlines, if you spend too much time trying to figure out what to write or have trouble organizing your thoughts around a central concept, Scapple is a great piece of software to check out. It’s deceptively simple and easy to use, but a powerful way to improve your writing.

If you live in Iowa or anywhere nearby, check out Icon. Come down if you can and see what else I have to say about writing software.