Saturday, 20 April 2013

Writing for the time-impoverished (using Scrivener)

It's been a while since my last post. Family, my day job, my band, and working on the novel have all taken up my time. Nevertheless, I am making good progress on the book. First draft was completed on schedule before Easter and I have spent the last couple of weeks on rewrites and adding extra content. Soon I should be ready to send a draft out to a few test readers for their feedback. If you are interested in being a test reader, leave a comment on the blog, email me, or send a message on Facebook.
Until I'm ready to send out the draft for some people to read, I thought I'd put up a post about how I have approached the process of writing, in particular how I have used Scrivener.
I only have small windows of time to sit down to write (an hour while my kids are at an after school club, a couple of hours in an evening after the kids have gone to bed, that kind of thing). I don't have the luxury of being able to sit down for hours on end allowing the ideas to flow, so I have structured my writing process around small chunks of time.
Here is what I do:

  1. Map out the overall synopsis of the novel. This is a rough story at this stage. General ideas about which characters there will be, what they will do, significant events, and the overall story arc. I did this as a text file and it coalesced over days and weeks into something that approximates what I have at the end of the first draft of the novel. At this stage I wasn't using Scrivener (but I will for the next book).
  2. Break down the synopsis into chapters. I write a mini synopsis of each chapter. I wrote the first five chapters in MS Word and it was all one big document. This got pretty unwieldy.
  3. I then moved to Scrivener (and the next novel I will start in Scrivener). I imported what I had into Scrivener and broke it down so that each chapter was a single file. I added files for each of the other chapters and added synopsis info for each one.
  4. I work chronologically (i.e. I write chapter 1, then 2, then 3, etc.), so, as I get to the next unwritten chapter, I assess whether the original mini synopsis is still accurate, making any necessary changes. As it is all quite loose, new characters can have appeared, or events can have played out slightly differently that I originally anticipated, so there are normally quite a few changes, but the general gist of the chapter is usually still intact.
  5. I then break down the chapter I am about to write into smaller scenes, each one with a small description (this can be just one sentence, like "Character A discusses the battle with Character B"). Each scene is something that I can hopefully write in one short sitting and usually ends up between 500 - 1500 words. Most chapters break down into 5 or 6 scenes. In Scrivener, each scene becomes a file - a child of the chapter file.
    I have blurred some of the content so as not to give away too much of my story.
  6. When I sit down to write a scene, I first re-read what I wrote in the last sitting and do some minor editing. This helps polish it up and also gets me back into the story. This step is then repeated for each scene. 
  7. At the end of the chapter, I move to the next and go through steps 4 - 6 again, and so on.
Along the way, things change from the original ideas, and I make notes in the Research and Notes folders I have in my Scrivener project. 
If I get stuck on a point (i.e. a name, or a historical detail), I put the section in square brackets [like this] and carry on. In this way, my flow is not interrupted, and I can go back at a later date and think about those bits or carry out more extensive historical research. This is what I have been doing over the last few weeks since I completed the first draft.
So that is the process I follow to get the first draft down. I'm now working on rewrites, so hopefully I'll be adding a post soon about getting to the next stage in my novel.
See you there!


  1. Do I get a free read :-) are there beards?

  2. I've just done a search on the manuscript and surprised myself by how many beards there are!

    You can read it for free, if you provide constructive feedback. :-)

  3. The Google Plus Scrivener User community is a public community with over 100 members. You do not have to join the community in order to read the community page. All Scrivener users are welcome to join and participate.

    Here is the link:


  4. Sorry that should have read over 700 members, not 100.

  5. if you're still after test readers, count me in!