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:


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)!


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.


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


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.


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***

Published by

Thaddeus Hunt

Writer, Dreamer, Web Designer, Gardner, Neo-Hippie, Horror Movie Junkie, Hiker, Traveler. This acct is not a reflection of anything (ie: my employer) except me.

17 thoughts on “Writing: a System I Used to Write a 508 Page Novel…”

  1. An author who incorrectly uses an apostrophe loses credibility. “Small things done well” is the mark of a true professional and an engaging writer. Hopefully your book was/is heavily-edited before release. If not, I guarantee you will find errors in subsequent readings; that’s just how hasty writing goes, my own included.

    HINT: “…it easily get’s out of your way…” IS INCORRECT. And frustrating to see in print. And the eye is immediately drawn to this glaring error.

    Sorry if this seems unfair, but this is the unflattering view of the educated public.

    1. Hey Chris!

      Received LOUD and clear and I am genuinely sorry the error bothered you so much. I do appreciate you pointing it out though. It’s since been fixed! Hope you are enjoying the rest of your day!



    2. Whoa whoa whoa…

      Calm down, man!

      First and foremost, a “professional” recognizes the difference in tone and formality between a published, printed work of fiction and an personal blog entry.

      Yes, an error like that would be frustrating to see in print and lose the author credibility. But the problem is… this isn’t print! This is a blog. Electronically posted to the internet.

      So my advice to you, sir, is to tone down the adversarialism and recognize that “professionalism” also reflects on you, who chose not to post in a constructive, polite, professional manner, but rather in a rude and adversarial one.

      And your last line is really an “unflattering” attempt to force your particular brand of poorly stated criticism as a standard for the rest of the “educated community.”

      Lastly, as this posting is an electronic entity, your scathing criticism would have been best issued privately via email so that the author could correct it (since it’s not “in print” and therefore easily fixed). As opposed to this pathetic public attempt to make yourself look smart at his expense.

    3. I am, myself, something of a pedant (I blog for a living, and when I find errors in my own work, I go and correct them, even if it’s something as basic as the lack of a hyphen in a compound adjective that precedes a noun.) However, blog posts are usually written quickly, and with the volume one has to produce, there usually isn’t time to make every single clause gleam. Furthermore, it is my opinion that what is more important than proper grammar is proper manners, in all areas of life; this includes discretion, or, you know, not calling someone out in public for minor sins. A private email would have sufficed, or even a simple shrug of your shoulders. Comments like this just make you look like an ass, sir. “A true professional and engaging writer”? For heaven’s sake, man. Also, I try never to comment on blog posts, but this just demanded a smack. If you do not have anything nice to type, then why type it at all? To make yourself feel better/superior? In conclusion, plz. stop being a gerk SMH LOL.–Yours Truly, Everyone

  2. Really, Chris? Mistakes and typos happen. Tad’s a storyteller, not an editor. There is a difference.

    Tad, I ♥ Scrivener. I’d probably love it more if I had time to learn all its secrets. Scapple is the perfect companion to Scrivener. ♥♥♥♥ them both.

    1. You and me both Lexus! I am always amazed by just how much functionality is buried in Scrivener. It is hands down one of the most robust programs I have ever had the pleasure of using. And I absolutely agree with you about Scapple, they fit perfectly together!

      Thanks for sharing in my enthusiasm Lexus and thanks even more for stopping by! Hope the rest of your day is wonderful!



  3. I have been using this software for years. First I used it just to outline, the corkboard feature is amazing! Then as I learned more my writing took off. It is truly intuitive once you begin to use it. Take advantage of their free trial and then if you decide you like it you can get 20% off Scrivener by clicking the link on my name. Check out the free short story and novel templates. You won’t regret it!

    Looks like I need to try Scapple now too :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, L&L really took the entire concept of word processing to a whole new level IMHO. I can’t imagine writing on another platform honestly.

  4. Great post, Thad. I’ve just started using it, but in my case, the novel had already been written a year ago and I’ve been using Scrivener to do the latest series of revisions. It’s been a dream. The novel had scenes occurring all over the place in time and when I decided to tell a more linear story from past to present, it was a snap. Nice blog!

    1. Thanks George! It’s funny, there are a few real “game changers” for me as far as software is concerned. Scrivener is definitely one of them for me. I write about it a lot because it’s changed a lot of what I do.

      Glad to hear it’s helping you as well! :)



  5. Thanks for this informative post. I’ve been loving Scrivener since 2009. I’m still learning how to make it work for me, and I’m enjoying the ride. Until Scrivener, I tended to lose notes, bits of story, drafts, links to resources, bits of research, and hours in writing time because I’d spent too much time wrestling with MS Word’s fascist interference. Using Evernote, Simplenote, and Scrivener (I will buy Scrivener for iPad as soon as its available), I’ve gathered almost all of my stray bits together, and re-organized them in Scrivener binders. Scrivener’s also made plotting and organizing long stories easy. Perhaps most importantly, I don’t have to fight auto-anything, allowing me to focus on writing.

    1. Completely agree with you on every level! As I mentioned in a comment below, Scrivener has been a game changer for me. For all of the reasons you stated and more! Glad you are getting the same mileage out of it! :)



Leave a Reply