The Back Up Game

How often do I back up my work?

It’s like the game.

And you just lost the game.

If you don’t know the game, do yourself a favor and don’t start. But if you must:

If you think about the game, you lost the game.

If you are thinking about doing a back up of your work, do it.


So I got startled awake this morning. It was nothing. But the first thought I had was not about my own safety. It was that my laptop was in the front room. I don’t care if a burglar runs off with my TV or whatever other valuables they can find in the front room, but don’t dare take my stories!

Remember the writer who ran back into his burning house to rescue his laptop. I think we can all relate.

So make a back up.

New to back ups?

There are are many options for both where to make your back up, what to back up and how.

There are three common places to store your back up:

Hard copies

Personal devices

The cloud

Hard copies

The old school solution is a hard copy. That means printed on paper for the younger writers. I know, it seems so antiquated. And in ways, it is.

My old hard copies.

Where you store your back ups say a lot about what you fear happening to your precious writing. If you worry about theft or hacking, hard copies are safest. No thief is carrying off reams of paper from your house and hackers can’t get to it.

If you are worried about a fire or some other disaster, you hard copies will be as vulnerable.

If you are paranoid, do a hard copy and then another version.

Personal device

Personal devices can range from a simple thumb drive to your own personal cloud device. They can range in price from a few bucks to a couple hundred dollars for a top of the line external hard drive.

A USB drive in the wild???

Again it depends a lot on what your biggest fears are. An electronic device is easily put in an out of way place, and won’t likely be sought out by a thief. But it won’t survive a house fire or similar disaster.

They can be invaluable in the event of a catastrophic computer failure, though. Unlike hard copies, which require you to retype thousands of words, you can plug the thumb drive into a new computer and copy all the files with the click of a mouse.

How far you want to go depends on how paranoid you are, and believe me I won’t judge. About once a year I back up everything to a thumb drive and put it in my lock box at the bank. But that’s my low grade paranoia at work and probably excessive.

Heck you might even want to shove an extra thumb drive in your bug out bag in case you are forced on the run by the zombie apocalypse. The survivors, trapped in some bunker somewhere, will make great beta readers! 😉

There might be beta readers, um, I mean survivors inside.

And I’m only half joking. My paranoia for back ups does include thinking about a major disaster. I don’t think the zombie apocalypse will happen, but a natural disaster or war could turn you into a refugee. Be prepared.

The Cloud

Many of my writer friends, being luddites, fear the cloud. They shouldn’t. It’s the best, easiest way to ensure the safety of your work. “The Cloud” is really just a fancy way to say storing stuff on the internet. Or at an even more basic level, storing stuff on someone else’s computer.

“The Cloud” includes many options, including some household names. Google Drive and Dropbox are both cloud services. Amazon offers a similar service.

The cloud is about the easiest, safest way to back up your work. Big companies spend a huge amount of money and effort on back ups and protections. The odds that Google or Amazon’s data farm crashes and takes your writing with it is infinitesimal compared with the odds of your laptop doing the same. If and when you laptop or home computer crashes, it’s as easy as signing into Google Drive or Dropbox and syncing your files to get them back. If you should have a house fire or similar disaster, you don’t have to go hunting through the wreckage for your thumb drive either.

What about hackers? Hackers are an ever present threat on the internet. But I think the average writer has an overblown sense of caution about this.

People don’t steal writers ideas, or their writing. Unless your name is J. K. Rowling, no hacker is interested in your new novel.

(If your name is J. K. Rowling — Oh my god, I can’t believe you are reading my blog! I am such a huge fan!)

The rest of you should get your head out of the clouds, and your writing into it. An unpublished novel takes so much work to publish and market that no hacker is interested in it. If you already have a successful career, they will be interested in your bank account, not your writing.

That said you should take reasonable precautions, things like strong passwords and two factor authentication. But beyond that I don’t think writers need to take special precautions around their writing. And the benefits of having it safe outweigh the slight risks.


There are literally hundreds of possible formats you could use to save your work and build an archive. I will recommend one and dis one. You can research other options if you are not satisfied with my opinion.

I have an archive folder on Dropbox, in Google Drive and on my Amazon cloud. (I’m not really that paranoid. I happen to have an Amazon cloud, so it’s easy. I use the other two regularly.) I compile my writing out of scrivener as an rtf file.

Why rtf? Because I am old and I am cheap.

I don’t use word docs for my archive because I am old. I have a pile of floppy disks from last century in a drawer somewhere. I don’t have a floppy disk reader. Who does these days? And they are very old doc formats.

Which is the real problem with doc formats. Word changes its format every few years and they have little backwards compatibility. Which means that even if I had means to access those old files, I doubt Word would read them anyway.

Rtf is an older but far more stable formate. There isn’t a word processor, text program or writing program that can’t read rtf. So I stick to it.

Besides I’m cheap. Rtf is so stable because it strips the majority of the formatting and extraneous code from the file, leaving just the words. Because of that, rtf files tend to be small files, even if there are a lot of words in it. For example I have a hundred and some thousand word novel that is a mere 626 kb rtf file.  The scrivener file is several megabytes.

That might not seem like much, but as your writing grows it adds up. How much does it add up? My documents folder is just over one gigabyte. My archive is closer to 65 mb. That’s a pretty big difference. Using rtf I can comfortably stick to free options on most sites even with other files (like pictures) in them. (One of the reasons I use multiple sites, they are all free. So I can have extra back ups at no cost.)

So that’s it. When you think of the game, you lose the game.

When you think of back ups, check them. It’s an relatively easy process to set up a dropbox folder and check it regularly to make sure everything is there. If you use scrivener it’s a matter of minutes to compile an rtf. And if something should happen to your computer or your home it will one less worry.

My Five Favorite Scrivener Tricks

I saw a blog over on, 5 Scrivener Tricks You’ll Love. They are some great tricks, too. If you are a scrivener user, they are some great tricks. Scrivener is like that. You think you know everything and someone comes along and shows you a new trick.

Scrivener logo

So with that in mind, here are my five favorite scrivener tricks I’ve learned recently.

1. Custom Icons

The little squares in the binder for scrivenings can get a little boring, plus there’s so many other options, and so many ways that customizing that icon can help you, depending on your writing style.

My current work in progress has a bunch of points of view. I want to see at a glance who’s point of view each scene is from, so I customized the icon accordingly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.23.59 AM

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.25.56 AMYou can change the icon by right clicking in the binder and selecting “change Icon” in the pop up. You can kick it up another notch by adding your own icons. At the bottom of “change icon” is manage icons which brings up a submenu. Click on the plus arrow and search your computer for any smallish png file and add it.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.27.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-11-11 at 4.27.24 AM


I downloaded a large, free, fantasy, icon pack here.

2. Copy between scrivener projects by simply clicking and dragging.

A great way to copy information from one scrivener project to another is to simply click and drag it from one binder to another. Open both projects side by side and drag away. It will create a copy in the target project, but leave the original project the same.

For example, the Bear Naked series now has four books. The characters are mostly the same. So for each new installment I simply drag the entire character folder from one volume into the next.

3. Drag pictures into document notes

Did you know you could drag pictures into the document notes section. Why would you want to? Some I struggle with how to describe a scene. I can use a picture as a prompt. Another Bear Naked example, in book two I was struggling with how to describe a Stavanger Church in one scene. I downloaded a picture and dragged it into the document note, so I could see it while I was writing. It really helped me.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.51.14 PM4. Not sure about a scene? Don’t delete it, just drag it outside the manuscript folder.

When you compile the manuscript at the end of your writing project, only things in the manuscript folder get added to the book. You can make that work to your advantage by dragging scenes out of that folder.

If you were unsure about a certain subplot, you could drag those scenes out of the manuscript folder and then compiling the document for beta reader A. Add them back in and compile again for beta reader B. Based on their feedback you can make a final decision.

Perhaps you write romance. Some of the publishers you submit to want super sexy stuff. Others want cleaner versions. No problem. Drag the sex scenes out for a cleaner read, or add them back in for more heat.

Both examples are levels of editing and rewriting that would be a major chore with a traditional word document, but are a snap in Scrivener.

5. Sync with Simplenote

Simplenote is just that, a simple note taking application. It works on ios and android devices. Scrivener has a built in tool for syncing documents with Simplenote.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.37.39 PM

The good people at Literature and Latte have been promising a version of Scrivener that works on the ipad. Until they make good, you can use this simple trick to carry some of your writing on your favorite tablet. Under the file menu you find sync–>Simplenote. It’s a pretty straightforward process, but there’s also a great video on the Literature and Latte website to help if you get stuck. The first time you do this, you will need to give Scrivener your Simplenote account information, email and password. Each time you sync a new project you will have to create a project keyword.

This trick allows you to sync a couple scenes to your tablet to take with you wherever. You can write, edit or share those scenes. When you get home you can reverse the process, replacing your old file with the newly edited one as easily.
Those are my current five favorite tricks with Scrivener. Ask me again in a couple months and I might have five more. Scrivener is like that. It’s intuitive and relatively easy to get started with, but the more I learn, the more I am in awe at what it can do.

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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Top Ten Posts of 2014

I’ve been blogging pretty consistently this year. This site has slowly been gaining a bigger following as well. What’s been your favorite posts? Here are the ten posts that resonated the best with you, the readers.

  1. Six books that prove book banners don’t read.

Back in August I wrote a tongue in cheek post about books that conservative book banners have overlooked, because most are not avid readers. Apparently you enjoyed that post because it’s been the most viewed blog post of the year.

  1. Ten Adult Dystopians to read now that you’ve read Hunger Games

Dystopians are all the rage these days. Or maybe not, publishers and agents have been quietly spreading the word through writers conferences that “dystopian is dead.” I’ll believe that when the sales start to drop. Until then, many young readers don’t realize that dystopian is nothing new. I posted a list of classic dystopians for those who have already whet their tastes on the likes of the Hunger Games but want something more adult.

  1. How to Kick an Internet Troll, Right in the Freedom of Speech

After the gamergate uproar, I got so sick of trolls trying to justify their actions with the freedom of speech mantra, I decided to shut them down. I guess most readers must have been sick of it, too.

  1. Ten Problems with being a Werewolf

I am guessing that people already know the good parts of being a werewolf, because the ten best things about being a werewolf didn’t even come close to making the list. However a lot of you were curious about the problems.

  1. Hiding in Plain View

Not my favorite post of the year. I hate bringing the news that a heroine to many was far less of a heroine after all. But abuse likes to lurk in the dark. If we are to ever live in a better world, we need to face the truth about sexual abuse.

  1. Shield Maidens, Bell Curves and Strong Women

My post about viking shield maidens didn’t get many hits at the time and I was pleasantly surprised to see it so high on the list at the end of the year. As in ancient times, viking women keep on coming.

  1. Books Everyone Talks About but Almost No one Reads

Another tongue in cheek post, poking some gentle fun at book snobs. There are books that lots of people talk about, but they rarely read.

  1. The Suckiest Superpower

The suckiest superpower arose from a conversation with my son, and like that conversation it was a fun one. I still get a chuckle every time I think about Chicken Man, he can’t really fly but he can sort of flutter places.

  1. Reviving an Old Manuscript with Scrivener

Scrivener is my go to piece of writing software. I love scrivener. It’s so versatile and useful for all sorts of writers. This tip on using Scrivener to revive old manuscripts was well received. I guess my writer friends like Scrivener, too.

  1. Trivia Time: Florence Nightingale

This humorous post about the founder of modern nursing, ends my top ten list. I am happy you’ve enjoyed these and other posts throughout the year.


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 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.


Reviving an Old Manuscript with Scrivener

I said I would never be here with you again, not like this. I promised myself you and I are done. And yet I find myself here again. Sigh.

One Strange Utopia was the first novel I wrote all the way to completion. Before that I had dabbled, writing a few pages here and there. After that I was obsessed. That first novel is like your first love, for better or worse it is unique. There will never be a novel writing experience like it again.

Like your first love, your first novel is often rocky. You don’t know what you are doing or what to expect.

And often we look back at our first novel we often cringe. We made so many beginners mistakes. We can’t hardly believe we once thought this was the greatest novel ever.

The moment we realize our first novel isn’t perfect is the day we learn the value of rewrites. Rewrites are the real beautiful part of writing. Rewriting makes our story better. I rewrote One Strange Utopia a full ten times. Not just editing, full rewrites with scenes scrapped, new subplots, major facts altered. It was exhausting work.

I should also say at this point that I consider myself more of a storyteller than a writer. That is part of the problem with One Strange Utopia. Writing is a skill. It is not uncommon for writers to look back on their first novel and realize that its just plain crap. I almost envy those writers. Everytime I look at One Strange Utopia I see how much I have grown as a writer, how much is rough. But the underlying story keeps drawing me back. Beta-readers, critique groups and others who have read it, keep pestering me about it. It’s good enough, they tell me, to keep working on.

I swore I wouldn’t do it. Ten rewrites is enough. I might do some surface editing but no deep rewrites. And yet as I look at this novel again, it needs more work.

Luckily I haven’t just grown as a writer, I’ve gotten smarter. I’ve learned Scrivener.

Did you know that Scrivener can be used to rewrite old manuscripts?


A scrivener using Scrivener

Scrivener is an amazing program. It’s so flexible. There are just so many different ways to use Scrivener that just about anyone can use it, on just about any writing project.

Before we begin we need to prep the manuscript for import. You can do this after the fact as well, but I find it easier to do it before. I went through the entire manuscript and added hashtags (#) at each scene break.


Add hashtags

Once we have added our hashtags we can open Scrivener and start a new novel project for our manuscript. Once the project is open we go to import –> import and split. This will not only import the document into scrivener, it will divide the document at each hashtag into a separate scrivening.

Import and split

If you didn’t add hashtags, you can still split the document. Read through the document in Scrivener and at each scene break right click and select “split at selection” to divide the manuscript into scrivenings.

Why divide into scrivenings at all?

Scrivener is a great tool for rewrites. First we need to break the story into component bits. There are some strong advantages already. Got some scenes you aren’t sure about. With scrivener you can easily click and drag them outside the manuscript file. They won’t appear in your book. If you decide you do want those scenes later just drag them back in place. Makes it easy to play around with various subplots.

You can also rearrange scenes to improve the story flow, but let’s not do that just yet. There is something else I want to do first.

The Inspector Pane

The real power user features on Scrivener are mostly found on the right side of the screen, in the inspector pane. Beginners and writers writing original work can be content with the binder and task panes, but rewriting is another matter.

The first step in a major rewrite is to go through your old manuscript and do some planning. Project notes apply to the entire document and that is a great place to record general notes about what you hope to achieve in your rewrite.

The top of the inspector pane is the scene title and synopsis. It is possible to auto-generate a synopsis by clicking the button in the upper right corner. That will import the first few lines. That isn’t helpful to me. So I create a title and synopsis. These will show on the index cards in corkboard mode, making rearranging scenes later a snap.

The general tab just under the synopsis has some basic information about the document. I don’t use it a lot. The status field allows you to designate the document “to do” “first draft” or “revised” and can be helpful.

The bottom of the screen has the real cool stuff for re-writing. It can be toggled through a multitude of choices, many of which were designed with these sorts of heavy re-writes in mind.

Document notes apply only to that scrivening and can be used to record notes about what you want to change to re-write in that scene. References allow you to enter the URL for any research sites related to that piece. Keywords allows you to search by keyword. Custom Meta-data is a tool I use a lot. I set up custom fields for point of view character, major subplots, story elements and timeline markers. For example I can set up a custom field for “timeline” and record which events are a flashback and which are after the triggering event.


Planning the Re-write

Once you’ve set all that up I start through the document. As I read each scrivening I do several things at once. I use notes, in the inspector pane, and toggle between project notes and document notes to write down things I want to change.

If a new character or place is described I copy and paste those descriptions into a new character sheet or research folder. In this way I compile the same kinds of notes about characters and research I would for an original novel, without any re-writing of these notes.


Did you know the task pane can be split into two?

You can set the top pane to have the scrivening you are working in displayed and the bottom to have a character sheet, another quick way of recreating your notes in Scrivening. It can also be used to compare information between two scenes to make sure it’s all consistent.

Another thing I do while re-reading is to fill in the custom meta data I decided to use. I record whose point of view, where I am at in the timeline and any other story elements I want to use in my re-write.

When I am done with this initial re-read I have a compiled a wealth of information. I have recreated most of my character notes and research. I can inspect the custom meta data at a glance. I can see whose point of view predominants, which subplots are heavy and which are weakly covered.

The biggest challenge with re-writes is consistency. If you decide to change a key point in one place, it must change everywhere. That is where Scrivener comes in. Let’s say you decide that a character just doesn’t work. You have to do some major changes to that character. He has to be meaner, taller, more motivated, or perhaps he would work better as a she. Making the change means changing every single reference. The first step is to set up a custom meta data field for characters and then when you reread the project note every scene where that character occurs.

Timeline meta data works the same way. If you intend to move a lot of scenes around, you need to know where each scene fits in the storyline. Once a scene is moved, you need to be able to make sure that scene is not referred to before it happens. Believe me, readers will notice. Just like they notice when a character’s eyes change color or they go from being a huge man to a cute woman.


Then the Work Begins

Rewriting is a big chore make no mistake. Even with Scrivener there is a lot of work to do. What Scrivener does is to give you confidence. You can rewrite fearlessly and once. With your custom meta data and notes in hand you don’t have to worry about consistency, you know which scenes need rewritten and how.

The final Scrivener trick before you get started is snapshots. Snapshots create a copy of your current document for history. Select Document–>Snapshots–>take a snapshot to take a snapshot. You can see the snapshot in the inspector pane under the camera icon.


Take snapshot

Snapshots let you experiment with your scene, knowing you can revert back to the old manuscript at any time. So if you think the big black male character would work better as a spunky Latina woman, go for it. Use custom meta data to identify the scenes you need to change and snapshots to record them.

Scrivener is an incredible versatile program. Have you used Scrivener to plan rewrites? What tricks did you use? Let me know in the comments.

Update: The novel One Strange Utopia has now been released as Children of a New Earth