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The art of finishing

To do

At the beginning of the year, I was writing Blindsided, the forthcoming third book in my Men of Steele series (look for it in February!), while simultaneously creating a new training platform and expanding my Scrivener course materials to include more screenshots, more detail, and videos.

I set deadlines for both, happily announcing them to my newsletter recipients, thinking this would force me to meet them.

But my deadlines were unrealistic given the scope of each project and the number of significant events/changes going on in my life. I made myself sick trying to stay on schedule for both projects. If I was writing, I felt guilty that I wasn’t working on the class. If I was creating course content, I wanted to be writing.

It doesn’t help that I’m my own boss for both. I don’t miss working for someone else, but there are some advantages to the typical day job, one being that your non-writing work hours have already been prescribed to you. (Others include a steady paycheck and face-to-face human contact…)

Setting my own hours is the hardest part. I either don’t work enough or I never stop.

So, I was struggling until I read a short article that had a huge impact (I’m sorry I don’t remember who wrote it). The gist was this: You will never finish anything—at least not in a timely manner—if you constantly divide your attention. Instead, list your projects in priority order and work on the first one until it’s done. Then move to the second. Repeat.

Despite the fact that I knew this approach was more effective—and applied the same “single-tasking” idea to my daily priorities—I had rebelled against it because I didn’t want to stop writing for two months to update my classes.

But the reality was that if I didn’t, the courses wouldn’t be done before we moved to California, which meant they probably wouldn’t get done until fall, if at all. And the book probably wouldn’t be done either.

So I quit writing (so painful!) and focused on my class platform and lessons. Then I got back to the book. Now I have a new site and a finished manuscript, despite the huge distraction in the middle of my year where I accomplished very little.

Moving forward, I’m trying to set my schedule such that I can still work on training and writing, but one always has precedence. The other gets attention when I need a break.

Right now, my manuscript is with an editor, so my main focus has shifted to creating a Scrivener for iOS course. Research, craft reading, and fleshing out the next book are secondary activities that I do when I need a break. My plan is to finish the course before it’s time to work on edits.

The single-focus concept is simple, but my daily process is a perpetual work in progress, and I have to fight the urge to work on everything at once to feel productive. Occasionally I have to stop and ask myself which is more valuable: Many unfinished projects in various stages of completion, or a single finished project?

The answer is easy.

So, do you struggle to tame your project list? I’d love to see your tips for tackling it.

Choosing a Scrivener Project Template

windows project template screen

Windows Project Template screen

Which Scrivener template should you choose? That depends on what you’re trying to do and how you plan to set up your project. Here are some hints on picking a template for your next project.

(If you’re not sure how to create a new project, check out this post.)

What is a Project Template, Anyway?

A template is a framework on which something is based. A copy is made and then you can add your own elements. Most software works with templates. Even the blank document in Word or Pages is a template with properties like margins, font, font size, and spacing already set up.

All Scrivener project templates are based on the Blank template—which is nothing but the basics—and have additional files and folders, and different settings baked in.

The Blank Template

The Blank template is the most basic option for your project. Contrary to my examples in Scrivener For Dummies, I now think Blank is the best place to start for new users because there aren’t so many distractions and confusing files to figure out.

Blank comes loaded with the three core folders that can’t be deleted: Draft, Research, and Trash.

Blank project binder

To get you started, there’s an empty Document in the Draft folder. That’s it. Just click in the blank document and start typing.

The Compile format is initially set to “Original,” meaning that it will print everything as you have it formatted in the Editor.

I love starting here because it’s uncluttered, and I can add only what I need. (I’ve found that when people—especially less experienced users—choose other templates, they’re afraid to delete extraneous files which leads to a confusing mess.)

Other Templates

So, every other template is a Blank template with extra stuff in it. Like what? Things the developers thought might be handy for the type of work you’re doing.

For example, a renamed Draft folder (e.g. Manuscript, Screenplay, Short Story), additional folders like Characters and Front Matter and Notes and Template Sheets, each with their own special icon.

Scrivener project screen

A project based on the Novel template

Each template also comes with a format note, explaining how the project is set up, which compile preset is chosen by default, and how to make some key changes. There’s good stuff in here—worth the read—but when you’re done with it, you can delete it. Or move it somewhere else.

You can also delete the Sample Output documents in Research, if desired. They’re there to show you what you can create using the instructions in the format note.

Scrivener project screen

A project based on the Nonfiction template

Basically, you can move or rename anything you want, and you can delete anything except the three core folders.

The templates geared toward long-form writing are set up with the assumption that you’ll organize your work into chapter folders that contain scene/section subdocuments.

With or Without Parts

I see a lot of confusion around the templates that include “(with Parts)” in their name. Writers think, “My book has parts, I’ll choose this one.”

The only time I recommend choosing a template with parts is if you plan to organize your chapter folders into part folders (as shown below). It comes pre-loaded with that layout, and this often has writers thinking that they must work this way in Scrivener or they’re doing it wrong.

Binder

Project binder based on Novel with Parts

If you have Part folders, but every chapter is a single document (see below), don’t pick this template. Instead, choose the Novel or Nonfiction format and rename the Chapter folder to Part n, or use the Blank template.

Binder

What If You Pick the Wrong One?

There’s no way to change the template of a project once you’ve created it, so if you start writing and realize you’re unhappy, you can simply create a new project based on the template you want, and import your working project into it (File—>Import—>Scrivener Project).

Ultimately, It Doesn’t Matter

Once you get comfortable adding, moving, and deleting documents and folders, it doesn’t much matter which template you select. If you like the document templates in the Novel template but don’t use folders, simply delete the Chapter folder and start with a new document in Manuscript.

Or make your own document templates and Template Sheets folder.

If you want the project settings to be different, change them.

And when you have a better idea of what you like in a project template, you can create your own.

So, what’s your burning template question?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, check out Scrivener For Dummies, read more Scrivener articles, or ask me about private training.

Author In Progress: your writing friend in a book

Author in Progress coverAuthor In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published is officially out today from Writer’s Digest books! This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started writing (and still need today). It’s like a writer friend in written form, always there with exactly the advice you need, when you need it.

More than fifty authors from the Writer Unboxed community contributed chapters to this book. Mine is called “Light It Up—Don’t Burn It Down: What to do When You Think You Can’t Write Another Word.” In it, I give you my best advice on how to keep going when you start to hate your manuscript.

Others—including James Scott Bell, Therese Walsh, Donald Maass, Heather Webb, Jane Friedman, David Corbett, and Lisa Cron—tackle topics like choosing your story, finding your process, productivity, characterization, writer’s block, critiques, conferences, revisions, envy, health, finding writer friends, perseverance, and publication.

There is so much goodness throughout Author In Progress that I hope you’ll check it out. Maybe add it to your holiday wish list, or put it in another writer friend’s stocking. 🙂

P.S. Several of the AIP authors—including me—participated in a Twitter chat earlier today. If you’d like to read back through the Q&A, just search for #WDchat.

What part of writing/writing life do you struggle with? Which writing books have become your virtual friend?

A day in Berkeley

Oxford St

Oxford Street across from the Berkeley campus

As a writer who works from home full time, it’s easy to let inertia set in and never leave my house except to fill my cupboards. But I’m an explorer at heart—as is my husband—so we made a commitment to spend at least one day a month sightseeing or hiking somewhere within a few hours’ drive of our house.

Last weekend, we chose Berkeley. A few years ago, when I was visiting to give a workshop to the San Francisco Romance Writers, I ran along the water to the Berkeley Marina—and had lunch and dinner…somewhere—but I hadn’t been downtown since I was seventeen.

It was definitely time to go back. The decision was helped by the relatively short drive—about 75 minutes when the traffic is good, which it happily was earlyish on a Saturday.

I’m certain there’s lots more to do in this fun, pretty college town, but we started and ended with food—there are plenty of options for plant-based eaters like us (we chose Saturn Cafe and Flaco’s)—and spent the time in between visiting UC (Cal) Berkeley’s pretty campus, and exploring Tilden Regional Park, which borders the campus up the hill along the east side.

The park’s botanical gardens have native plants representing California’s wide variety of climates, and lots of quiet, green spaces to wander.

These are a few of my favorite shots from that day.

eucalyptus trees

I love the colors on the peeling trunks of the eucalyptus trees! Blue and gold are especially fitting since they’re the University of California colors.

Sather tower

Sather Tower is hard to miss

view of SF

View of the East Bay and San Francisco (across the bay on the right) from Grizzly Peak in Tilden Regional Park

view of san pablo bay

View of San Pablo Bay from Grizzly Peak (facing NNW)

Gwen at botanical gardens

At the Regional Parks Botanic Garden

redwoods

Redwoods in the botanic garden

Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden

Found this guy hiding in the ferns at the botanic garden

What are some of your favorite places to visit near you? (Or me, for that matter. I’m always looking for gems. 😉 )

Check out this page for more travel/road trip posts. Also, many of my small trips end up on social media instead, especially Instagram.

Get unleashed for NaNoWriMo with Scrivener for iOS

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Whether you’re stuck with a desktop computer, or don’t want to lug your laptop around, Scrivener for iOS can set you free. Since I expect many of you will be using it to lay down words for NaNoWriMo this year, here’s how to use my favorite features for NaNo (as covered in last week’s post for Mac and Windows) in Scrivener for iOS.

Before you start using the iOS version, I highly recommend you read—or at least skim—through the Tutorial. It will help you immensely, especially the parts about Working with Projects, Syncing, and The Main Interface. Okay, all of it, really. 😉

A few things to keep in mind about the iOS version.

  • If you return to the Projects list, you are closing the project you were working in.
  • Unlike the Mac and Windows versions, you can only have one project open at a time.
  • If you plan to work on both iOS and a Mac or PC, you need a Dropbox account (if you use this referral link, we both get an extra 500MB of storage) and must install Dropbox on all the computers/devices you plan to use with Scrivener. Then, move any laptop/desktop projects you want to work on into the correct Dropbox folder before you begin.
  • If necessary, sync your projects before you start writing.
  • Remember that when you finish working on a project on your iOS device, you must tap the sync button on the Projects page (see below) before trying to open the project on another computer. Likewise, ensure that a project on your desktop/laptop has synced to Dropbox before trying to open it on your iPad or iPhone.
  • If you don’t have Internet access, syncing won’t happen!

Sync button

Put New Ideas in Their Place

I recommend creating an Ideas document to store thoughts you have about future scenes, and a Change Log to keep track of changes you want to make to existing scenes. Both of these can ensure you don’t lose any fabulous ideas, while staying on track with your writing.

To create a new document outside of the Draft folder, do the following:

  1. Navigate to the high-level view of your project’s Binder (the header at the top of the Binder should display your project name, not the name of a folder).
  2. Tap the + button at the bottom of the Binder, give the file a name, and tap Add. The new document appears at the bottom of the Binder (see image below).create new document
  3. Tap the Edit button at the top of the Binder (see above).
  4. Drag (tap and hold, then drag) the file to the desired location within the Binder, as shown below. moving documents
  5. When done moving files, tap Done. new docs in binder

Make a Note and Move On

Don’t let yourself get stuck or distracted when you can’t think of the perfect analogy, or know you need to do more research. The iOS version allows you to use annotations or comments to make notes for yourself so you can get back to writing. Here’s how.

  1. Tap the comment bubble button in the predictive text row (shown below) to get a submenu of options and choose Add Comment or Inline Annotation.getting annotations and comments NOTE: For comments, your cursor must be next to text for the option to be available. Also, you can tap the comment bubble button in the extended keyboard (the row of buttons above the predictive text row) for quicker access to comments, but you may have to swipe left or right to see it.
  2. Type your annotation or comment.annotation ioscomment
  3. For annotations, repeat step 1 to turn off and return to standard text.
  4. To view a comment, double tap the highlighted word. view comment

Block Out Distractions

The iOS version doesn’t have the same full screen/composition mode that the Mac and Windows versions have, but you can hide the Binder and work only with your text.

  1. Tap the Full Screen button at the top of the Editor. full screen button
  2. To view the Binder again, tap the name of your project in the upper left corner. return to binder view

Headphones are optional.

Pre-Plot, or Don’t

Plotters: Create your scene documents beforehand either in the Binder or the Corkboard. If you like to plot using index cards, then do the following.

  1. Select the Draft (aka Manuscript) folder.
  2. Tap the + in the upper right corner to create a new card. Title it, add a brief synopsis of the scene, if desired. creating new cards/documents
  3. Tap Add.
  4. Repeat as needed.

Once you have all of your scene documents created it’s merely a matter of filling them with words starting November 1.

Pantsers: Show up on day one, select the Draft folder, create a blank document and start writing. Repeat.

Grouping Documents into Chapter Folders

Here’s how to group documents into chapter folders.

  1. In the Binder, tap the Edit button at the top. The button changes to Done.
  2. Tap the circles to the left of the desired documents to select them. grouping documents
  3. Tap the Move button at the bottom of the Binder (see above) and choose Move into New Folder.
  4. Tap Done at the top of the Binder to exit Edit mode.
  5. Tap and hold the New Folder to get the Inspector so you can rename it, then tap Done.

Keep Research Handy

Though importing is generally best done while on your Mac or PC, you can import files in the iOS version. This works for both research and text with the same rules as Scrivener for Mac and Windows (no images, PDFs, or other non text-type files in the Draft folder).

  1. Select the desired folder (outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder) and tap the Import button at the bottom of the Binder. importing files
  2. Choose the source for your imported file—yes, you can even choose Camera and take a picture of something!—and select the desired file. imported file

Track Your Progress

Your goal is 50,000 words. Scrivener makes it easy to track your progress, even in iOS. Maybe even easier. As with the original, you can set a target for the entire manuscript, as well as one for each writing session.

  1. Choose a text document.
  2. Tap the word count at the bottom of the screen. NOTE: If you’ve tapped inside the document and entered edit mode, the word count will be at the top of the screen. project targets window
  3. Tap the word Draft to set a manuscript target and use the spinner to select your goal.
  4. Tap Targets to return to the main Project Targets window.
  5. Tap Session to set a session target.
  6. Tap Start New Session to reset the Session word count (your progress) to zero. project targets with goals

Have Fun!

Whether you’re using Scrivener for iOS for NaNoWriMo, or just to be untethered from your computer, have fun with it and enjoy your newfound freedom!

For more help with Scrivener, check out Scrivener For Dummies, sign up for an online class, peruse my Scrivener articles, or ask me about private training.

Scrivener and NaNoWriMo for the win

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Are you ready to NaNo? If you’re not familiar with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it’s a writing challenge where people from all over the world try to write at least 50,000 words toward a novel in one month. Specifically, the 30-day, family-commitment-laden (in the U.S. anyway) month of November.

NaNoWriMo is about quantity over quality. If you’ve ever wanted to kick the internal editor off your shoulder and try your hand at one of those “shitty first drafts” Anne Lamott is so fond of, now’s your chance.

If you’re up for the challenge, you only have a couple of weeks to prepare. So if you’re planning to write in Scrivener, now’s the time to make sure you have the tools and strategies that will help you make the most of your writing time.

Getting down 1667 words a day requires some serious focus. You won’t have time to stop writing for anything, especially not to edit or do research.

Here’s how to stay on track.

Download the NaNoWriMo Template or Trial Version

Current Scrivener users can download a special NaNoWriMo template that comes loaded with predefined project statistics and compile settings, including an obfuscated format that turns your words to gibberish without changing the final word count.

For those who are new to Scrivener, the awesome folks at Literature & Latte have put out their annual NaNoWriMo version of the Scrivener free trial that gives you extra time to play with the program and includes the template I mentioned above. Take the next two weeks to go through the tutorial and get comfortable. At the very least, you need to know how to create a document and start typing.

If you decide you love Scrivener, wait for the NaNoWriMo discount (for participants) at the end of November before you buy.

Put New Ideas in Their Place

Ideas are wonderful and necessary, but they can also be a distraction. What you need is a place to put them so you can get back to the scene you’re currently working on.

Consider creating two documents outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder (so they won’t count toward your 50K) before you start:

  1. A place to jot down concepts that come to you for future scenes. When an idea hits, you can make a note of it and get back to work. Mine is cleverly named Ideas.
  2. A log to keep track of changes you want to make to scenes you’ve already written. Don’t stop forward progress to make the revisions—that’s what December is for—just make a note of your proposed changes in the log and keep writing as if you already did. In another dazzling display of brilliance, mine is named Change Log.

Make a Note and Move On

Next time you get stuck trying to figure out your heroine’s witty comeback, the ideal name for the landlord’s vicious dog, or the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow, create an annotation (Format—>Inline Annotation) or a comment (Format—> Comment) to make a note of it and keep writing.

Later you can use Edit—>Find—>Find By Formatting to search for annotations and comments when you’re ready to work on them. You know, in December.

annotations

Block Out Distractions

Free yourself from distractions with Full Screen/Composition mode. Called Full Screen in Windows and Composition mode on the Mac (to avoid confusion with Mac’s full screen option), this feature blocks out everything but your blank page so you can just write.

Consider adding a custom background color or image to keep you in the right frame of mind.

Add a pair of headphones or earbuds—with or without music—and you’re ready to rock.

full screen/composition mode

Pre-Plot, or Don’t

If you’re a plotter, consider creating your scene documents beforehand either in the Binder or the Corkboard. If you like to plot using index cards, then select the Draft (aka Manuscript) folder, make sure you’re in Corkboard view (View—>Corkboard if you’re not), then click the green Add button on the toolbar to create a new card. Title it, add a brief synopsis of the scene and repeat.

Once you have all of your scene documents created it’s merely a matter of filling them with words starting November 1.

corkboard view

Pantsers can just show up on day one, create a blank document and write a scene. Repeat.

If you want to group documents into folders, select the desired documents and choose Documents—>Group.

Keep Research Handy

Don’t spend your precious writing time searching for a key piece of information. Before November rolls around, import any research documents, images, or references that you must have in order to write. Select the desired folder (outside of the Draft/Manuscript folder) and go to File—>Import. For web pages, you might want to use References instead.

Track Your Progress

Your goal is 50,000 words, and Scrivener makes it easy to track your progress with project targets. Go to Project—>Show Project Targets (Mac) or Project–>Project Targets (Windows).

You can set a target for the entire manuscript, as well as one for each writing session. The session target is nice because it lets you track your word count either over the course of a whole day, or in smaller writing “sprints”.

project targets window

NOTE: The NaNoWriMo site calculates word count slightly differently than Scrivener. For example, Scrivener counts a hyphenated word as two, while the NaNo counter looks for spaces to identify each new word and only counts hyphenated words as one. So, you might want to shoot a little beyond the 50K finish line just to be on the safe side.

Or don’t hyphenate. Hyperventilating is optional.

What Were You Thinking??

Don’t forget that NaNoWriMo is intended to be fun. It’s supposed to be a challenge that forces you to re-evaluate what you’re capable of. 4000-word writing days? You betcha. Writing for three, four, or eight hours in one day? I know you can do it.

Five minutes of daily meditation might help.

And in the end, even if you don’t reach 50K, you’re still a lot further ahead than you were on November 1st. That makes you a winner in my book.

Are you signing up for the challenge? If so, good luck!

Check back next week—or sign up to receive my blog posts in your Inbox at the bottom right—for tips on using Scrivener for iOS for NaNo.

For more information on the features mentioned in this post, check out Scrivener For Dummies, sign up for an online class, peruse my Scrivener articles, or ask me about private training.

Cool features in Scrivener for Windows’ recent updates

mouse cord spelling out "update"Scrivener for Windows has had several updates in the last few months. Even if you bothered to skim through the list, here are a couple of cool changes that might have skipped your notice.

Highlighting Affected Documents in Compile (version 1.9.7, October 2016)

I’ve been waiting for this one to come to Windows for a long time because it makes understanding the Formatting tab in Compile so much easier (great for teaching too).

What happens is that when you select a row in the Formatting tab, the documents or folders affected by settings for that row are highlighted in the Binder. No more guessing if you made changes to the correct row.

NOTE: If you choose “As Is” for a document in the Contents tab, it is not affected by the settings in the Formatting tab even though it’s highlighted. Same for documents not selected for inclusion in the Contents tab. I’ll be surprised if they don’t fix this eventually, so keep an eye out.

docs highlighted in Compile

folders highlighted in compile

Support for Non-printing Characters in Project Replace (version 1.9.6, August 2016)

Need to get rid of extra paragraph returns or tabs in your project? Doing so in the Windows version used to not be so easy. Now, with support for non-printing characters, it’s a cinch. You can use keyboard shortcuts to enter the desired non-printing character when using Project Replace.

Check out this post for the full procedure.

project replace

There’s more! Reading the change logs can make your eyes cross, but there are often gems in there. You might also find that a bug plaguing you was fixed. It’s worth a look.

The update to 1.9.7 is highly recommended as it purportedly fixes an issue “that could lead to the loss of text annotations during sync with iOS.” If you’re a couple of updates behind, no problem. You can skip straight to the latest version. Not sure if you’re up to date? Go to Help—>Check For Updates.

Anything other recent changes you’re excited about?

Want more help with Scrivener? Check out Scrivener For Dummies, my online courses, my Scrivener Tips page, or contact me about private training.