Four Easy Ways to Make Scrivener Instantly Awesome

Scrivener 3.0Last week I had lunch with a writer friend who recently took the leap and downloaded the Scrivener app. I was so excited for her, because, well, I’m such a Scrivener nerd. I pulled my laptop out right there in the restaurant and showed her a few of my favorite little tricks, just enough to get her started without being overwhelming. And it seemed to me that others out there might be interested. So here we go:

Four Easy Ways to Make Scrivener Instantly Awesome

1. My number one favorite way in which Scrivener helps me with my writing is with the daily word count. Especially if you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo this year, you have to check this out. It allows you to enter your writing days (for example: I write Monday through Saturday and take Sunday off), and then calculates how many words a day you have to write to hit your goal. If you miss a day it recalculates automatically. It’s AWESOME for keeping on track with writing goals.

2. Second is Scrivener Snapshots. This has changed the way I organize versions of my story in ways I didn’t even appreciated when I started. Used to be, every time I changed something significant in my story, I would save a new version and my files were cluttered with drafts and I could never find anything. Scrivener Snapshots made all that a thing of the past.

3. Similar to how I used to save drafts, I used to have files stuffed full of research, both on my computer and in my web browser, and I could never find anything. In Scrivener, you can drag and drop whole websites into your research files and never have to go looking for shit ever again. You can even access them when you’re offline. Awesome.

4. Then, once you have all that research, you can open it easily without losing your place in your writing by using Quick Reference Windows. Sometimes I’ll use this function to open an image so I can look at it as I’m describing it. Sometimes I use it to reference historical facts, or orient myself geographically in a city. You can also use it to open another chapter and view it beside the one you’re working on. So handy.

Using those four basic tools makes Scrivener instantly awesome, but there’s much more, when you’re ready…

For Instance

You could just type “Scrivener” in to the search bar here on my website (top right there) and see everything I’ve ever written on the topic, but here are a few of my favorite, slightly more advanced, tricks and tips:

Color coding your files/chapters
Using the Corkboard View
Word frequency function (great for highlighting those pesky adverbs)
The handy name generator
Track your work history
Get nerdy with meta-data

And the coolest thing about Scrivener is that I keep discovering ways in which it makes my life easier (well, my writing life at least). To keep learning with me, consider signing up for my newsletter (to get these posts in your inbox every Friday), or follow me on Twitter (where I share links to all kinds of good Scrivener info).

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Google Maps Street View: An Awesome Writing Tool

Google Street View Writing Tool
Before I jump into this week’s post, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who gave an opinion on last week’s post. Your feedback is so helpful. It’s looking like the orange background is going to win it, but I’ll let you know when I make my final decision. Okay… onward!

Today I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I discovered while working on my novel: Google Maps Street View. It’s so obvious I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me so long to take advantage of it.

Using Google Maps to “See” a Place

Around page 98, my main character drives through a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.

I pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for my scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all tall signs and squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.

A Word of Caution

Researching a place this way, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.

That said, I would never have used this trick for getting to know the main setting of my story. If I had tried to portray an ostrich farm without actually going to one, the story would have surly rung hollow. Because it’s those precise details (the heat, the train whistle) that make a reader feel like their with their narrator in the world of the story.

Also, I think it’s one of the biggest perks of being a writer that you can go anywhere and investigate anything in the name of research. Show me a writer who hasn’t worried about the FBI scanning their browser history and I’ll show you someone who writers boring stories.

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Author Photo Decision Time

Author PhotoIt seems to me that one of the reasons authors do what they do is that they get to hide behind their stories. Unlike musicians or actors, we get to put our art out into the world without being the face of that art, which suits me just fine. I have never been comfortable in front of a camera. I just feel like photos never, ever, capture what I feel like, and so they are inherently wrong. No matter how good the photo, it’s a flat, still image. Blah. Not my thing.

That said, my publisher (I love saying that: my publisher) has asked me to provide an author photo. Given my anxiety around photos, I decided not to fuck around and hired a professional. Los Angeles is, as you can imagine, crawling with photographers offering headshots, but after much research I decided to go with Rob Greer. He was great. If you’re in the area and looking for a professional photographer, definitely check him out.

After my hour-long session, Greer sent me a zip file with 111 photos of my face. *sarcastic yeah!*

Talk about overwhelming. I started by scrolling through them all. Then I created a file called Contenders and moved about half of the photos there. Then I did a more critical pass, moving about half of the contenders to a Round 2 file. Then I called in the fam for some additional input and got it narrowed down to a file of Finalists, of which there are five images. I would love your input.

I’m calling them 1) Purple Landscape 2) Purple Portrait 3) White 4) Orange and 5) Black. Though I love the color, it also has to look good in black and white, so I’m giving those side by side. I’m also including a little social media square version, because that’s how most people will see it.

It’s worth noting that they could be cropped (like I might crop my arms out of the purple portrait one, or I might shift the orange one so that I’m not right in the middle), but I can’t zoom out (as much as I like the white one, it doesn’t give me much to work with in a horizontal space and the square sm icon looks a little close up for my taste).

Please cast your votes below in the comments. If you have the time, I’d love to know the reasons behind your choice.

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

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“142 Ostriches” Is Getting Published!

debut novel getting publishedI have been holding out on you, dear readers. For almost two months now I’ve been dying to tell you the news, but I didn’t want to jinx anything. I’m superstitious like that. But the paperwork has been signed, it’s all official. My manuscript was purchased and will be published by Kensington Publishing.

Shortly after the offer was made, I had my first phone conversation with my editor, Kensington Editor-In-Chief John Scognamiglio, and he explained how he feels my book should be released in the spring, and since they already have their spring slate for 2019, my book will be coming out in the first half of 2020. It feels like FOREVER away, but I know the time will pass quickly. And there are benefits to having such a long lead time. For one, my second book should be well on its way by the time the first one comes out, which will be fun.

Another plus is that I have plenty of time to prepare for promoting the book. Already I’ve spent a fair amount of time working on the six-page marketing questionnaire sent to me by my editor. It asks everything from “Who do you think will buy your book?” to “Are you a regular contributor to any magazines or newspapers?” It’s a surprising amount of work, and I’m only just getting started.

Right after I jumped into the questionnaire, I saw that Jane Friedman recently published a new book called The Business of Being a Writer. She’s one of the few writing/publishing experts I pay close attention to because she always cuts to the chase and seems to know what it is I’m hoping to learn. So I bought her book. And it totally delivered, so I gotta give it a plug here.

Not only does the book walk through contracts in a way that really helped me understand what I was looking at, she also talks about how royalties break down, how to build a platform and network to promote yourself, and what to expect overall when one is trying to build a career as a writer. Definitely worth a read.

Anyway, next step for me is to get an author headshot. Ug. I kind of wish I could just stick with the image I use on everything already, but it’s getting pretty old, and it’s only going to be older by the time the books comes out, so I’m biting the bullet and getting it done tomorrow. So tonight is all about the beauty rest… I even got my nails done. I’ll share my favorites in an upcoming post and get your thoughts.

I’m sure there will be much more to say about all this publishing stuff as time goes on, but for now I’m too busy celebrating to write much more. Cheers!

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Getting Your Word Counts to Match in Scrivener

I’m a big fan of the word count tracker in Scrivener. In case you’re unfamiliar, go to the Projects drop down menu, then click on Project Targets (shortcut: command shift T), and you get this handy little pop-up that helps you track how much you’ve written on any given day. Especially when I’m working toward a goal, I find the it super helpful. (FYI – you can also track progress in any given section of your project – check out my post on that by clicking here.)

But for some reason, the total word count listed in my word count tracker (the little pop-up window) never matches the word count at the bottom of the screen when I’m looking at the whole document. It’s always bugged me. Which count is right? Because that’s a 10,000 word difference…

Well I finally figured it out. When you’re looking at the Word Tracker pop-up window, click the little button labeled “options.” That gives you a second-level pop-up that looks like this.

You have to make sure those top two check boxes are UNCHECKED. Then go ahead and click “okay.” You may have to click around in the binder a little to get the changes to show.

Alternately, you can leave those two boxes checked and just make sure that your entire manuscript is included in the compile. What got my word counts all screwy was that, once upon a time, I compiled just a portion of my manuscript for printing and never went back to check those boxes again.

So there you have it. Just another little trick to help you use Scrivener like a boss.

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Setting Ourselves Up To Eat Well

I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing, I find it damn near impossible to answer the question: what should I eat? For that matter, I’m not a big fan of salads, but I know they’re good for me. For years I would just eat what was convenient when my stomach started rumbling. It was usually leftovers, or crackers, or whatever would allow me to get back to work ASAP.

Then, a couple of years ago, I followed a link online to a short video about this health nut who pre-packed salads for herself every Sunday. At first it looked like a lot of work and I thought I’d never be able to make it a habit, but as I started to put on weight and feel sluggish all the time, I thought I’d give it a try. (Apologies to the health nut – I wish I could remember who she was so I could share the link.)

Right away I loved how I didn’t have to think about lunch. Back when I was working the day job I just grabbed one from the fridge on my way out the door (saving time and money every day), and now that I’m writing full time I love that I eat well without having to think about it. When my stomach gets to nagging me, I just wander into the kitchen and grab one. My head can stay in the clouds and I can get right back to writing. In fact, I usually eat it in front of the computer.

Eating a salad every day has changed my life. Truly. So much so that if I get lazy and don’t prep my salads on Sunday night, I start to feel yucky from eating junk food all week. And like I said, I don’t even particularly like salads. So I feel a special victory in getting myself to eat one every day.

So this week on the blog, I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned over the years that make prepping salads easier. The first time I did it, it took two hours. Ug. Now I’ve got it down to thirty minutes (for 10 salads – I make them for my husband too), and they last a full week before they start to get soggy.

(Please forgive my crude kitchen photography – after writing this post I have a whole new appreciation for food bloggers.)

Step 1:
Buy yourself a collection of salad-sized plastic tubs with lids. I have found the Ziplock tubs to be really durable. Then, buy the pre-washed lettuce and pack it in. You’ll need a lot of it.

Step 2:
Prep the veggies you want to include. One thing I have learned is that you can’t include anything with too much water. I even go so far as to scrape the seeds out of my cucumbers. The more moisture you seal in with your salad, the faster it will go bad. Here’s what I use:
Cherry tomatoes (chopped tomatoes have too much moisture)
1 Can Chick Peas
Carrots
Celery
Cucumbers
Cabage
Cilantro
(Bell peppers would also work well, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

The tomatoes and chick peas I rinse separately and put in a big mixing bowl, usually with a paper towel underneath them to soak up some of the water while they wait. Everything else (except the cilantro) get’s trimmed and rinsed and put through the Cuisinart with the slicing blade in it.

Then I mix it all together in the big mixing bowl.

I chop the cilantro separately. It gives the salad a nice fresh taste and it’s so good for you. To save time, I slice the bushy top off a rinsed bunch and then just pick out the thickest stems before chopping.

Step 3:
Once it’s all stirred together I load it by handfuls (I actually use my hands here – it’s faster) into the bins of salad. They will start to feel full, but trust me, you can cram a lot of salad in there.

Step 4:
Fill small plastic containers with your favorite dressing and tuck them into the salads. I like olive oil and vinegar, but you can mix it up.

And for a little protein, I like to add an egg and a half to each salad. I also like how it looks, so inviting.

Step 5:
Make some room in the fridge and stack ’em up. (I’ll be honest, sometimes this is the trickiest part).

And there you have it. Healthy lunches for the whole week.

Sometimes I’ll toss some nuts on top when I eat them, or slice up an avocado, but if you add the nuts when you make the salads they get all rubbery and weird and avocado just turns brown after a couple of hours. So those have to be last minute additions.

I’m telling you, having good healthy food at the ready will change your life.

Do you have any ways you set yourself up to make good choices while you’re writing? I would love to hear them. Being a writer is so sedentary. It’s hard to stay healthy.

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Novels Are Marathons, Short Stories Are Sprints

When I was a kid, I HATED running. Hated it. Here in California, in middle school, we were forced to run with the goal of a ten-minute mile (which I never hit – not once) and every time I was pushed onto that hot, bleak track, I would spend the agonizing minutes imagining myself passing out so that the gym teacher would feel sorry. It never happened, but man, if thoughts could manifest…

Flash forward to me deciding to take up running after my son was born. I’m not sure why I thought I should run. Maybe because it was something I could do any time, right out the front door, pushing the stroller. Anyway, it took months for me to work up to a 5K, and I felt pretty good about that because it was hard. Then a friend of mine convinced me to do a Tough Mudder with her, so I started training for longer runs.

And here’s the weird thing – I started noticing that, without fail, running got easier after the third mile.

If you had told my chubby 12-year-old self that running actually felt good once you’d been at it for forty minutes or so, I probably would have thrown up at your feet. I mean, who knew? Right around mile four I am flying. I’m floating. I’m in the zone. I feel like I could go forever.

And it struck me the other day that this is an awesome metaphor for my writing.

When I was in grad school there was this myth that we all bought into that we would publish a few short stories, then write our novel. Like short stories are all so easy to write. Like they are nothing more than warmups for novels.

I just want to say for the record: they are not.

Short stories are hard. They are an art form all their own, not to be confused with novels. Having written both, I feel like short stories are harder. They are like those first few miles of a run.

To extend the metaphor even further, I can acknowledge that sprints certainly do have their place. Even though I sometimes run shorter runs, and sometimes write short stories, I know enough now to say that these will never be the things at which I excel.

I need a nice long story to find my groove and I wish someone had told me that I didn’t have to master the art of short stories before jumping in to write a novel.

So if you want to write a novel but feel like you have to prove yourself by publishing some short stories first, allow me to be the one to tell you – it’s just not true.

Write what you love. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
There are no cardiovascular benefits to writing.

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Scrivener Drafts

Today we’re going to talk about saving whole drafts of your WIP (work in progress) using Scrivener. This post assumes you’re working with Scrivener 3.0. If you haven’t yet upgraded to 3.0, check out this post for a basic overview of the software update. 

Small Changes

In a previous post, I talked about how to track line edits using the Scrivener Snapshot function. In short, it’s an easy way to save a copy of the section you’re working on, before you start messing around with it, so that you can revert back to what you had if things go terribly awry.

This is a handy little trick, but when you’re doing massive overhauls, it can feel a bit piecemeal.

The Challenge of a Second Draft

If you follow along with the blog, you know I’m working on Novel 2, and that I’m just embarking on some massive edits. Basically, I’ve been typing away at this baby for years, and now it’s time to transform it from a collection of pages into a real story.

While I don’t want to start editing without saving what I have, it feels a little tedious to do a snapshot of each chapter. Also, I tend to forget to do things like backing up my work once I get rolling creatively.

So I devised a super simple way to keep my first draft, in the same file as the second, so that it stays as it is and I can always come back to it. It’s really pretty simple.

Saving Drafts in Scrivener

Step 1. To start, click on “Manuscript” at the top of your binder. Then click the little dropdown icon next to the plus sign in the top menu bar and select “New Folder”.

Scrivener Drafts

Step 2. Name that new folder “Draft 1.”

Scrivener Drafts

Step 3. Select/highlight the folders of your first draft and move them to the new folder.

Scrivener Drafts

Step 4. While they are still selected/highlighted, copy them by going to Documents -> Duplicate -> with Subdocuments and Unique Title.

Scrivener Drafts

Step 5. Repeat steps 1 and 2, but name the new folder “Draft 2” then move the copies you created in step 4 into that new folder.

Scrivener Drafts

Notice how, under “Manuscript” I now have all my folders organized in the Draft 2 folder, but at the bottom, I also have the Draft 1 folder. It will just sit there, out of the way, in case I ever need to go back to it.

I could even move it down into the research folder if I wanted to get it out of the way.

Now I can hack away at my draft without any fear of not being able to find something from an earlier version and without cluttering up my files on my computer.

This, once again, is the brilliance of Scrivener. Everything to do with this project, stays in this one file, no matter how big and sprawling it gets.

Give it a try. Let me know what you think.

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Five Good Sentences – The Key To Getting Unstuck

I’ve been struggling with my new story. I just can’t seem to find my way into it. I have an instinct that having some kind of structure to work into might help, but I can’ seem to crack that nut. Yesterday, I spent two and half hours of precious writing time just staring at my computer.

This has never happened to me before.

Stuck

If you follow along, you know I have been working on this project, I’m calling it Novel 2, for a long time. Whenever I would get frustrated with Novel 1, I would stick it in a drawer and work on Novel 2. Then, in 2016, I took a month-long break from Novel 1 and did NaNoWriMo, so that was another 50,000 words there. Over the years, I have amassed a lot of pages. One might even say a first draft, but then… but then…

First drafts can only go so far. Then it’s time to start rewriting and I was effing stuck. I don’t believe in writers block, but getting stuck is real as a mo-fo. To try and get unstuck I had a little gripe session with my bestie, then took a step back. How can I be so stuck when I have so many pages of writing? I told myself (without considering if it was really true) that somewhere in those pages, there must be SOMETHING I can work with.

Getting Unstuck

And then I remembered something I heard Tom Barbash say while I was at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He said something about a writer who would read his first drafts hoping to find five good sentences he could work with.

As luck would have it, as I was googling Tom so I could share a link to his bio, I came across this video of discussing this very topic. Check it out:

I thought to myself: five good sentences is a pretty low bar.

Five Good Sentences

So I put aside all judgements and all worries about how and the hell I’m going to structure this story, what the POV will be or how our narrator knows what she knows, and I just read it.

And you know what? It’s not all bad. I mean, it’s pretty bad. It’s a crappy first draft, but there are way more than five sentences that I can work with. And that is really encouraging.

Just like that, I’m unstuck. I still don’t have answers to all those questions I mentioned, but I’m just going to keep writing and trust that the answers will come. Because writing is kind of magical like that. Our job, as writers, is just to show up, put our fingers on the keyboard, and make space for the magic.

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The Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Four writers I fell in love with (left to right): Kirstin Valdez Quade, Tom Barbash, Peter Orner and Elizabeth Tallent, with Zzyva editor Oscar Villalon

I am exhausted. In the past month I’ve slept at home, in my own bed for only four days. It’s my own fault. I planned this summer’s schedule, but honestly, when I did, I didn’t expect to get into the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. I had applied before and not been invited, so I didn’t bother planning my summer around it. So when I did get in (high five!) I had to rearrange my plans and things got a little hectic. I regret nothing.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers is a conference. Every day starts with writing workshops. After a lunch break, participants come together for craft talks, panels, and readings. Basically, as a participant, you start with your workshop group at 8:30am, eat, then get back to learning and absorbing until well after dark when the authors do readings under the stars. Then you race home to read and make notes for the next morning’s workshop. It’s a marathon of a week. Not for the faint at heart.

Squaw Valley Community of Writers

Edan Lepucki reading early in the week.

I learned so much, and met some amazing writers, but since I usually try to keep things focused on the practical here, I thought I would share a few things I learned (or learned again) about workshopping. These ideas apply to anyone giving or receiving feedback on their work, so don’t feel like you have to go to a conference to use them. Just grab a writing buddy and start helping each other out.

Here they are:

1. Before giving feedback, read the work at least twice. The first time through, just read. Don’t even hold your pen. If you can, take a break after the first read, then come back with your pen and set to work.

2. Aim for four comments/notes per page. I like to put check marks next to things that work for me, and sometimes that’s all I have on a page, but it can be hard to get feedback, so hearing about what works is just as important as hearing about what doesn’t.

3. Don’t push your own expectations onto the story. Pretend you’re reading the New Yorker. If you don’t understand it, consider that maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re not getting what the author is going for. Maybe they are jumping POVs on purpose, or slipping around in time to represent a character’s state of mind. Don’t be too quick to judge.

4. If you get conflicting feedback from readers, see it as a sign that something isn’t landing on the page. The analogy, given by (the incisively thoughtful) Charmaine Craig, was that of a fever – it is just a symptom of infection. You have to be the doctor and get in there to diagnose and then cure.

5. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t figured something out (like theme or who the murder victim is). Your confusion will be your reader’s delight because the story won’t be telegraphed. As you discover the answers, so will your readers. Your story will be better for it.

Those are some of the highlights.

And with that I will simply close by encouraging everyone out there to apply to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. And if you don’t get in, keep trying. It was such a great experience.

And one more photo from a little hike I took mid-week. So pretty:
Squaw Valley Community of Writers

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