Writing: a System I Used to Write a 508 Page Novel…

This last spring I finally finished the first draft on a NaNoWriMo novel I started back in November, 2011. Spanning several years, computers and locations, I thought I’d share the software/hardware system I used for writing it.

The Software:

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It’s quite simple really (with a few twists), I used Literature and Latte’s Scrivener for almost all of it. Scrivener’s superior handling of MASSIVE documents in tiny chunks (in my case, chapters divided up into individual scenes) is solely responsible for me completing this novel. Period. The ability to manipulate your manuscript on a modular level – dragging and dropping individual chunks to where ever you see fit – completely changed the way that I write long and short form documents.

But it doesn’t even come close to stopping there! Nope, no way! There’s also a place in the app for character descriptions, corkboards for resources, images, notes; anything really. Word and page counts (along with goals), a mind-blowing set of preferences, full screen modes, support for several different coding languages (!?), a character name generator, the ability to add inspirational pictures as backgrounds whilst in full screen mode… the list is genuinely exhausting (in a good way) and I haven’t even brought up the various ways you can export your manuscript once you are done with it (epub, Kindle, pdf, MS Word, rich text, plain text, you name it and Scrivener can export to it)!

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Scrivener’s main strength however has always been in the way that it easily gets out of your way and lets you write. Sure, you can do everything I mentioned above (and WAY more), but you also don’t have to at all. It’s as complex or as simple as you want it to be. It easily and elegantly adapts to you and your workflows. It simply enables you to write.

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A lot of care clearly went into the making of this software and you can see this attention to detail when you use it.

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For the more complexly layered scenes I also used L&L’s mind-mapping software Scapple. I’ve already written an overview about this software on this very site in the past, so I won’t reiterate it but I will say that if you have any scene that contains a lot of moving parts, I can’t recommend Scapple enough. It really succeeds in getting your thoughts and moments organized and in order. I formed the climax of my novel entirely in Scapple before I wrote it. Because of this, writing it wasn’t nearly the herculean task I thought it was going to be. Sure, working the scene up in Scapple was additional work on top of everything else, but in the end it was absolutely worth it and that scene was much, much better for it.

Add in Scapple’s drag and drop compatibility with Scrivener and you’ve got a one-two punch that’s hard to beat.

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Those two programs alone did about 90% of the heavy lifting, the rest spanned across two iOS text editors that I took notes, or wrote a few scenes in. In those instances I used Agile Tortoise’s “Drafts” and Second Gear’s “Elements 2”, both of which I have mentioned and written about several times here on this site. What can I say! When I love something, I like to write about it! With the syncing capabilities of these apps, I was able to transfer scenes, notes, outlines, etc… very easily and in plain text/markdown, to where ever I needed them (mostly Dropbox, where I also stored a periodic back-up of the entire manuscript). They played a small role, but were vital to the process nonetheless.

Hardware used:

The novel at any given time could be found on a 7 year old iMac, a Mac Mini and a retina Macbook Pro when I worked through OSX. A small portion of it was written on a 3rd gen iPad with a bluetooth keyboard.

Other tidbits:

  • Music-wise, I wrote this book almost entirely while listening to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ “The Social Network” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” soundtracks. It was a work of science fiction and those soundtracks suited the scenes in my head so well that they never got old. They are a good length too, so you know when to take a break when one finishes.
  • When I originally was writing I was compiling weekly .epub’s so that my wife Melinda could read along, but she caught up too quickly and I couldn’t write fast enough so I eventually stopped. She loved the process (and the story) though.
  • I finished the final scene on an Amtrak train heading back home to Durham from Charlotte. I certainly hadn’t planned it that way, but that’s how it happened. Trains here in the states are rarely used when compared to other forms of transportation, so it was a pretty cool and unexpected moment.

***All images in this post were supplied from Literature and Latte’s Press Kits for Scapple and Scrivener***

Software: Drafts

If you haven’t guessed by now, you’re probably new to this site, and if so, welcome! If not, you’ll undoubtedly know that I am an iOS text editor enthusiast to the umpteenth degree! I really love what developers out there have done to create such robust and fun ways to create words and text on such tiny screens and devices!

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One that I’ve been playing around with for a good amount of time is Drafts. Drafts, on it’s own, is a very elegant and clean text editor that’s UI is completely spartan by design. It main function is for you to launch it, jot a note or idea down and close it. The app saves your work in a plain text format and the next time you open the app? It starts a new note. This wash, rinse, repeat philosophy is what got me to first buy and try the app. But, it’s only when you open up Drafts and use it for a bit, that you realize that this text editor quite unique and powerful.

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Aside from the impressive collection of fonts that the kind folks at Agile Tortoisebaked in, you also get the requisite font size selector and two other themes to mix things up a bit (white text on black and a “Sepia” toned dark brown text on tan based theme). There is also a new view in the latest version of the app that is quite handy called “Link” mode which makes all the links that you type in to a note, tap-able! URLs would be easy but this view also includes phone numbers and even addresses! Think about it, you get a phone number from someone, put it in Drafts, and instead of holding down on the text, making sure it’s selected, opening the phone app, copying it into the dial field and tapping dial, now all you have to do is tap the “Link” mode in the note, tap the number, then dial. It’s that easy!

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It also has sync but the folks at Agile Tortoise didn’t want to jump through the myriad of hoops that Apple makes you go through to hook your app up to iCloud so they went with the well-thought-of sync project “Symperium“. In my using of both Drafts apps for iPhone and iPad, I’ve found the sync to be almost instantaneous and, most importantly, reliable. Which has been a little bit of a sticking point for me with the somewhat recent implementation of iCloud sync in apps. The only catch though with going with Symperium is that it doesn’t allow you to sync with your Mac (or PC, yet…). Presumably, going with the more “open” Symperium service, would afford the opportunity sync cross platform/device, but that hasn’t happened yet, so the only way you’d be able to get your notes out of your respective iOS device is through the sharing options provided to you.

The good news? This is definitely where Drafts shines! When you use Drafts you could almost overlook the sharing button in the toolbar of your notes, but after you tap it… man… there are a ton of options!

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Here’s a rundown of the current list of services that Drafts hooks into, most of which I use (some of which I’ve reviewed on this very site):

  • Post to Facebook or Twitter
  • Email your notes anywhere
  • SMS
  • Save and append to Dropbox
  • Send to iCal (Calendar)
  • Create a Reminder in iOS “Reminders” app
  • copy it to the clipboard in iOS
  • Print
  • Save to Evernote (can also save as Markdown)
  • Send to Tweetbot (twitter client)
  • Send to Day One (journaling client that I love)
  • And last but not least you can choose “Open in…” which allows you to open the note in any other text editor that you have on your device.

That’s quite a list! And they keep adding more with each version that drops!

With these sharing options, Drafts has become a my springboard for whenever I even have a whimsy about sharing a piece of text in more than one place. They’ve made it too damn easy to not see it as your default app for that. If I wasn’t such an iOS text editor junky, I’d probably have this as my sole go-to editor.

Add in it’s full support of Markdown and it’s really a no brainer.

To date I’ve used it for quick notes (movie names, phone numbers, etc…), calendar events, to do lists, entire chapters of the novel I am writing, Tweets, Facebook posts (when I actually am on FB), blog posts (though not this one), and the list could go on and on but you get the point, this app is a tiny juggernaut.

So go get it! Highly recommended!

Where to get it:

  1. iPhone – $1.99
  2. iPad – $2.99

What about the guys that made it?

All images in this post were linked from Agile Tortoise’s own website.