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Dictating your manuscript for increased word count (and reduced pain)

dictation headset overlaid with blog titleToday, I wrote almost 1700 words in less than an hour. More precisely, I dictated them. While working out on the elliptical at home, no less. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love efficiency?)

Are they perfect words? Hardly. Do I have a scene that I didn’t have yesterday? Yes!

I’m still amazed at how much I can progress if I dictate instead of typing. I think it works for me for a few reasons.

I can be in motion. I don’t have to sit, my hands don’t have to work, I can even do things like fold laundry or chop vegetables (though usually, I just walk around or get on the elliptical).

I can produce words without typing. I started dictating because all the time I spend on my computer was exacerbating my tennis elbow (from snow shoveling in my Boston days). Talking instead of typing gives my overworked arms, hands, and fingers a break.

Standing on the cross-trainer wearing my headset with an hour of dedicated time ahead of me forces me to think out what has to come next in the story and just get started. It’s similar to doing a writing “sprint.”

Also, like a writing sprint, dictating means I can’t edit as I go. This is huge for me, because I tend to write a few paragraphs, edit them, write a few more and so on. Very slow and inefficient, especially since I often end up completely changing or even deleting a scene later. Yes, the words I produce during dictation might be ugly, but I’d have to edit regardless of how I produced the scene in the first place.

If I lose my place after a long pause to think, I just start from what I remember and fix it later. If I have an idea for a change that needs to be made to an earlier section, I add it in parentheses and keep going.

Okay, but it can’t be all perfect, right?

It’s not. There are a few drawbacks.

I’m reluctant to dictate if anyone else is in the house.

I sometimes feel like I haven’t accomplished anything because I wasn’t in front of a computer. I can easily get over this one. 😉

When I’m done dictating, it often feels like very little has happened in the story, and yet I’ve laid down a surprising number of words and moved things forward. And when I read it, the scene is usually much better than I expected.

Despite the overall positive aspects of dictating, I still sometimes have to force myself to start. I’ve associated writing with being on a keyboard for such a long time now, that changing my process so drastically is an adjustment. I think the adjustment is worth it.

Have you ever tried dictating instead of typing? What was your experience. If you haven’t tried it, would you?

My Dictation and Transcription Process

I dictate to an iPhone app called PureAudio Live Recorder, which is super easy to use and currently only $5. From that, I can download the .wav file via Wi-Fi to my computer and have Dragon transcribe it. I save the transcription as an RTF which I then import into Scrivener.

I’m using Dragon Premium 13 for Windows, but I write on a Mac, so I save the RTF to Dropbox so I can import it to Scrivener on my Mac (File>Import>Files).

Where to Get Help with Dictation and Dragon

A good place to find more info is the dictation group on Facebook called Dragon Riders. Start with the pinned post at the top, which has a collection of the most commonly asked questions and their answers. The group has great info on how to get started, the best equipment, best practices, troubleshooting, and so on.

For more help, you might try Scott Baker’s books The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon and Quick Cheats for Writing with Dragon (free on Amazon). I haven’t looked at them yet, but have heard good things from people in Dragon Riders. Apparently, Scott also offers classes.

[Edited 8/18/17 to include my process and additional resources]

Scrivener for iPad and iPhone is here (TLDR: I love it!)

corkboard with picture cardsFinally!

For years now, iPad® users have been begging Literature and Latte for a Scrivener app for iPad and iPhone®. It took a few years longer than planned (for a variety of reasons), but (I’m guessing you’ve already heard) the Scrivener app is finally here, and it’s pretty awesome.

The app combines the familiar, easy functionality of iOS with the best of Scrivener’s features.

And it works with both the Mac and Windows versions of Scrivener.

extended keyboard and adding annotations

What’s In It?

The Binder, Corkboard (iPad only), and Inspector are there. You can set goals and track progress (with a cool new look), add comments and annotations, color code your documents, apply Label and Status values, add document notes, and even compile your work. And lots more.

In many ways the app is more intuitive than the original software, though some of the best editing features may elude users until they discover the extended keyboard.

progress bar

Honestly, I wasn’t one of those who craved Scrivener for iOS—I’ve always preferred writing on my laptop when on the go—but this app is a game changer. Assuming I’ve already synced my projects through Dropbox (and have wifi or cell access) I can simply open the project on my phone or iPad and tap out my thoughts.

I can even create a new project right in the app and sync it with my computer later.

So now I can leave my laptop at home when I want to travel light and still get some writing done. I’m already seeing the possibilities, especially after spending the last month moving/traveling (with a couple more weeks to go before we’re in our house).

the inspector open

The Deets

Interested? Search for “Scrivener” on the App Store® (beware of imitators, you want the app from Literature & Latte) and buy it today. Or click here for a direct link. At $19.99, I think it’s more than worth it.

In fact, the functionality is so good, you could use it as a standalone program, without syncing to a computer at all if that’s your preference.

Before You Start

I strongly recommend at least skimming through the built-in tutorial, especially the part on syncing. Most of the questions I’ve seen in user groups about syncing today could have been answered with a quick read-through. We all want to jump in and play, but you’ll have much more fun—and less stress—if you take a few minutes to educate yourself first.

A few notes:

– Before you try to sync, you must update your desktop/laptop software to the latest version (Mac and/or Windows).

– You also need to have/get a Dropbox account (if you use this referral link, we both get an extra 500MB of storage, but no pressure!) and install Dropbox on all the computers/devices you plan to use with Scrivener.

– Remember that when you finish working on a project on your iOS device, you must click the sync button in the navigation bar before trying to open it on another computer/device. Likewise, ensure that a project on your desktop/laptop has synced to Dropbox before trying to open it on your iPad or iPhone.

– Probably obvious, but for syncing to work properly, you must have an Internet connection on all affected devices.

Have fun writing on the go!

Are you using Scrivener for iOS yet? What do you think?

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, check out Scrivener For Dummies, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session.


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Filling my toolbox

My writing education has a theme. I cannot learn and apply a new concept or technique until my brain is ready for it. I’ve read book after book and taken numerous classes on all aspects of writing. Characterization, point of view, dialog, plotting, and so on. But often, even if I see the value of a lesson, it doesn’t “take” without some basic foundational knowledge that I don’t yet have.

In basketball, they don’t practice three-pointers before learning how to shoot from the key. (I hope.)

For example, I’ve been exposed to Dwight Swain’s ideas on using the scene and sequel technique for writing several times. (I hear Jack Bickham’s book aptly named Scene and Sequel, is a must have.) But for some reason, the concept didn’t click for me. Until now.

I’m taking a Pacing class with Mary Buckham. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to take one of her classes, run to get in line. Two of her lectures covered the S&S concepts, and all of a sudden it made sense. I give a lot of credit to Mary’s easy way of breaking ideas down to the basic, important points, and her willingness to answer all manner of dumb questions. Many of them mine.

I had a similar experience with Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks. I’ve mentioned it before. But looking back, many of the things I learned early on didn’t make complete sense to me until I understood the basic parts of structure. I took classes and read books that either ignored it, or assumed I knew it already.

As I move along on my learning journey, I’m acquiring the basic skeleton on which to hang everything else. It’s a heady feeling to see it all coming together, and be able to better identify where my areas of weakness are. I mindmapped my view of the writing process and the business and it turned out as shown below. You could probably argue different placement of some of the points, but I’d be most interested to hear what you think is missing.

Some elements of writing craft

The business of writing


Yes, I don’t know what I don’t know. There’s more out there that I haven’t yet discovered, I’m sure.

But I can also see how far I’ve come from that eager writer who knew nothing at all and just wrote for fun. Sometimes I miss the ignorance of those days because writing was pure joy. But the excitement is back as I start my new WIP knowing that my toolbox is filling up and I can use those tools to get my stories closer to the end product I want.

What’s in your toolbox?

Full screen, label and status, printing synopses and notes

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you know I use–and adore–Scrivener for writing my MS. I use it for first draft, revisions, and pretty much until I’m ready to send it out. I export to Word only for the final formatting, read-through, super-fine polishing, and buffing.

Here are a few handy things to know. First of all, the Scrivener website has video tutorials that are very helpful. Also, if you’re on Facebook, become a fan of Scrivener and you’ll receive daily tips and tricks.

1. Working in full screen mode. Full screen mode is intended to take away the distraction of everything around what you’re typing so you can focus. It offers the additional benefits of allowing you to change the background color to something you find pleasing, and keeping the line you’re writing in the center of the page.

  • Click the Full Screen button on the toolbar.
  • Move mouse to bottom of the screen to get a disappearing tool bar where you can change some of the preferences, and exit.
  • You can also exit Full Screen by hitting the ESC key on your keyboard.
  • To change preferences such as background color, click Scrivener on the menu bar, choose Preferences, click the Full Screen button.
  • To work on more than one scene or chapter at a time, select them all using shift+click (for contiguous selection), or command+click (for non-contiguous files). Click Edit Scrivenings on the tool bar, then click Full Screen.

I’ve read that blue is a good background color for creative activities like writing, and red backgrounds are best for detail-oriented tasks like editing. Both are supposed to be good for boosting productivity.

2. Customize the Label and Status settings. It’s easy to personalize the Label and Status drop-down menus in the Inspector window. You can change the name from Label to something else (I use POV, here), change the list items from things like “Chapter” and “Scene” to “Steve” and “Libby”, and change the colors used (I use pink for the heroine, blue for the hero, and other colors for any additional characters who get a POV scene).

  • If the Inspector window is not visible, click Inspector in the tool bar.
  • Expand the General pane, if needed, by clicking on the gray triangle.
  • Click the drop-down arrow next to Label (the box should have the words No Label in it if you’re just getting started), and choose Edit…
  • In the Custom Title box, change the word Label to POV (or whatever you want to track).
  • You can then double-click the name of a specific label to change the text (say from Scene to Steve).
  • Double-click the color of the label to change its color.
  • Click the OK button, and you’re ready to start assigning labels to your scenes.
  • You can repeat the above process with the Status drop-down menu, if desired.

Once you apply the label to a scene, the synopsis card, the file icon, and the index card will change to that color (if you have tinted icons or index cards turned on). If you’re trying to determine quickly which character has the most scenes in their POV, color-coding can help.

UPDATE 3/23/10: I changed my Status menu to list the day and week to track my timeline. It’s been very helpful to quickly see in the Corkboard where I am in the story (for example “Mon-1” for Monday of week 1). The options here are limited only by your imagination.

3. Print synopsis (or notes) only. Finally–for today, anyway–you can print your synopses. They will not come out looking like index cards, but instead like paragraphs.

  • Click File, Compile Manuscript.
  • On the Content tab, under the Document Elements section (bottom right), uncheck everything except the Synopses check box.
  • The default will include the # symbol between each scene (file). To change this, select the Text Options tab and change the separator under the Sections area (top left corner).
  • Choose Print…
  • UPDATE 1/15/10: This works for printing Notes, too. Just follow the steps above, but select Notes instead of Synopses.

Just like any software, you can learn a lot by exploring. Don’t be afraid to check out a new button, or search Help.

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

Happy Scrivening!


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The written word…without Word

You’re probably intimately familiar with some sort of word processing software, especially if you’re a writer. But, while Microsoft Word and similar programs are great for formatting a finished manuscript, business letters, and other documents, they may not be the best software for writing a story.

There are several programs out there for writers, and there’s a good reason for it. Traditional word processors force you to write linearly, or cobble together multiple documents if you don’t.  Good writing software can free you to write in the way that works best for you.

At a friend’s suggestion, I tried Scrivener (UPDATE 1/13/11: Which now has a Windows version in the works) and ended up buying it well before the free trial ended. Each writing project is organized as a collection of files, all accessible from the same screen, much like being in Finder (or Windows Explorer).

I can write a scene–or an outline of a scene–when inspiration strikes, and save it for later (see Unused Scenes below). I can easily move scenes around, create scene cards for them, search for terms across all scenes, search by keywords, keep project and scene notes, import research documents and web sites, and so much more. I don’t know how I ever lived without it!

I use the Resources section to hold links to research web sites, a file where I keep track of my daily productivity, a character list, photos of places or character inspirations, character questionnaires, and most important of all, a folder called Unused Scenes, where I store cut scenes to scavenge for useful bits, and potential future scenes.

For those who are easily distracted, Scrivener even offers a full screen mode. And, in the end, you can export the whole project to Word, or another program, either fully formatted, or ready to format.

If you’re serious about writing, consider switching to software that works with your writing style, not against it.

The main writing screen…


Resources Section…


Happy Writing! (No Daily Squirrel today, this post is already long enough…)
[tweetmeme source=”yourtwittername” only_single=false]

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

 

 

 

 


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tea mug and chocolate barIt takes a lot of mint green tea and dark chocolate to fuel these posts. If you found something helpful, please consider a small donation to my pantry. Thank you!

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My Aha! Moment with GMC & BIF

In August, I had the good fortune to attend a workshop by Mary Buckham and Dianna Love based on their great book, Break Into Fiction (hereafter called BIF). I read the book beforehand, and went through the workshop thinking how great all of the templates are because they force you to answer the tough questions about your characters and plot. But, still, I struggled with filling them out. They get into details I wasn’t ready to produce yet.

I had an “Aha!” moment yesterday when I realized that filling out the GMC charts for my characters provided me the macro view of their lives and story that I needed to have in order to complete the micro-focused BIF templates. By completing the GMC work first, I can make sure I’m not spending my time on the BIF templates until I’m fairly sure my story will work.

So, after moving 20K words (ouch!) into my Unused Scenes folder (a topic for another day), I’m pretty much starting over.  But, this time I’m going to try it with the help of the GMC and BIF tools. The great news is that I’m pumped up about my story again. My goal is to have a completed rough draft by January 31. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Chalk it all up to lessons learned and, like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep moving.”

BTW, if you ever have a chance to take a class from Mary or Dianna, you won’t be disappointed. Both of them are incredibly giving of their time and insights, and will answer endless questions with patience.