Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Maybe I don't suck. SF novel update and a WRITING SOFTWARE review

Cute panda says I don't suck

This cute panda says I don't suck.

Okay, I am over getting all twisted up by people who leave unconstructive criticism.

Now let me point out here that I've gotten really nasty reviews for my fan fiction before, and they didn't bother me, because I knew they were mostly drive-by trolls who simply hate the very concept I was writing. The one or two people who've written nasty excoriating but intelligent reviews because they hated the very concept I was writing actually made some valid points amidst all the "Fucking fucker writing about a fucking American witch and fucking characters I fucking hate" fuckery, and I took what value I could out of those valid comments and brushed off the rest, since it was based on hating the concept I was writing.

When I got flaming criticism of my original fiction, though, on a site explicitly intended for constructive and intelligent commentary by and for writers, I will admit it got under my skin a little more. When I found out that the reviews weren't "real" ones but a butthurt recipient of one of my less than laudatory critiques, it put things in perspective. She and (I suspect) a sock and a couple of other non-socks but people who thought I was too blunt in my own critiques had decided to "teach me a lesson."

So, I did learn my lesson: I assume now when writing a critique that the recipient might be really thin-skinned and prone to throwing a tantrum, so I am working on kinder ways to say "Please stop using words because your writing makes Baby Jesus cry."

(That's a joke. I did not ever tell anyone their writing makes Baby Jesus cry.)

Anyway, aside from the Be Nice Police, all the other critiques I've gotten have been more or less positive. And I now have a few dedicated beta-readers who are critiquing each chapter in detail. One of them has already read the entire first draft and judged it Pretty Good. In fact, says it's better than some published novels he's read. (In the same genre.)

Now, this means diddly squat about my actual publishability. Just like all you nice people telling me my fan fiction is awesome and that I'm good enough to be published is great, but doesn't count for beans when I actually write query letters. Lots of writers who can write as well as I can don't get published. But my ego has recovered from its bruising and I'm back at work polishing and rewriting.

Originally, my plan was to be ready to start submitting by the end of the year, but then I remembered that NaNoWriMo is coming up, and agents and editors apparently are beginning to dread year-end submissions because so many naifs are submitting their freshly-written NaNoWriMo manuscripts. So maybe I will let my draft sit and cool a while while I start writing AQ5. We'll see.

Writing Software

If you start hanging out on writing forums, you will see that there are a lot of software tools "for writers."

If you're like me, you're pretty skeptical of anything that purports to "help writers write" or any nonsense like that. What can all these "organizers/mind-mappers/outliners/writer's workspaces/etc." fooferaws with all their bells and whistles do for me that a plain old word processor can't? I mean, the word processor alone is a revolution in writing that I don't think anyone who's ever written a novel without one can appreciate. I shudder to think of how much harder it was for Tolstoy or Joyce or Proust to do revisions BY HAND. Really, the reason "tightness" and "polish" is valued so much in modern prose is because you can fiddle endlessly with sentences and move paragraphs around and rearrange chapters with an ease that earlier writers would surely have envied. Even Stephen King has become tighter and more polished in his later books, and I suspect a lot of it has to do with his moving from typewriters to word processors.

(Of course, kicking the booze and coke undoubtedly helped, too.)

Anyway, back to writing software. I have sampled a lot of it. Occasionally the siren song of some piece of software that says it will help me outline and make timelines and keep my characters straight and provide handy links to notes and stuff will lure me to distraction away from the job of actually writing. Fact is, most of this software does very little that a word processor and a private wiki can't.

I have sampled yWriter and WriteItNow, and I also spent quite a bit of time looking at Dramatica, which is a very intriguing piece of software but just about requires a course in using it, and is way too expensive. Also, I decided I don't need software that "analyzes" my writing and tries to sell me on a particular dramatic "theory."

What I have realized is that the optimal writing tool is what best fits into your workflow. And this is highly particular to each writer. Someone who takes lots of notes and likes storyboarding is going to appreciate different features than a pantser who just wants a full-screen text editor that will remove distractions.

So anyway, I've mostly remained skeptical about writing software, but I've found one program that was so highly recommended by so many writers that I tried it out, and only a few days into the trial period, I'd already pretty much decided I was going to buy it.


Scrivener screenshot

Scrivener does have a bit of a learning curve. I actually downloaded it last year, played around with it, and decided it was just another glorified word processor. But this time, I went through the tutorials and actually learned all the features. Like lots of software trying to be many things to many people (but not all things to all people, a mistake Microsoft has repeatedly made), it's got lots of features that some other users probably love but which I'm unlikely to ever use. But it has several specific features that have made me fall in love with it for my own novel-writing.

Quick and easy reorganization

Section and chapter breaks are kind of a pain with most word processors. There are tools to divide your document into pieces, of course, and create TOCs, etc., but let's say I decide I want to split a chunk of text into two sections, and then I want to move the second section to another chapter, and then I want to merge the first section with the following chapter. And then I want to delete a chapter and renumber everything accordingly, and then I want to move a chapter...

I do this all the time while I am writing, and in Word or Open Office, it basically requires a lot of cutting & pasting, and being careful with where the section and chapter break markers are, and sometimes winding up with unintended reflows of text. It's kind of a hassle.

In Scrivener, you have a browser window in which Parts and Chapters are "folders" (you can have as many arbitrary levels as you like) and moving a section, a chapter, or an entire chunk of the book around is as simply as drag & drop. Splitting and merging sections and chapters is a right-click.

This feature alone is just about worth the purchase price to me.

Collections, Keywords, and Labels

You can attach searchable Keywords to any chunk of text (down to individual words), for example, to assign POV, locations, specific characters, or whatever else you find useful to search for to different parts of the book.

Labels are assigned to sections and chapters, very helpful in Outline view to see what stage of revision I am at with each chapter.

"Collections" are something I have not made full use of yet, but basically you can save any snippet of text to an arbitrary Collection (for example, "Things I might cut") to view them in their own outline, while leaving them untouched in place in the main manuscript.

Compilation options

Most word processors "Save" or "Save As..." or sometimes "Export as..." Scrivener "compiles" a manuscript. Some users complain about this as non-intuitive, but I find it pretty easy. Of course, like any compiler, there are many, many options and it takes some practice to get exactly the right output exactly the way you want it, but then you can save your configuration settings. Scrivener will output in all the usual formats (Word, Open Office, RTF, PDF, HTML, Postscript, etc.) and some fancy ones for advanced markup and print layout. It's got preconfigured settings for standard novel manuscript submission format, and also for generating ebooks in epub or Kindle format.

Particularly nice is the fact that, if for example I only want to print chapters 11 and 12, I can just select them as the ones to output rather than copy and pasting them into a separate document. And your output settings can be independent of your display settings, so you can write in whatever font you like and use smart quotes and italics and so on, and not have to change it before printing.

There are a few other bells and whistles that are nice, and I should note that I have mostly been using the Windows version, which is actually less full-featured than the Mac version, but the above features alone, and the fact that as a plain old text editor Scrivener looks and feels just as polished and featureful as most word processors, makes it worth the purchase price for me.


There are only a few things I don't like about Scrivener.

First, I am just a little uncomfortable with everything being saved in the proprietary Scrivener folder format. Even though it saves into a Dropbox folder just fine, it still means I need Scrivener to open and read it. Of course it's easy enough to save my current draft into an Open Office file each time I close the program, which is what I do.

There is also a loss of cross-platform compatibility. One of the nice things about Open Office is that I can save a document in Windows, Linux, or Mac, and open it again on a different machine. (And yes, I do use a Windows machine, a Linux machine, and a MacBook.) This makes an Open Office document in a Dropbox folder something I can easily open and work on no matter which machine I am using.

I can do this between Windows and MacBook (I've tried it with the trial versions), but it does mean I'll have to pay for the Windows and the Mac version. There's no Linux version; supposedly, some people have made it work under Wine, but that's a lot of hassle.

Some of the features (particularly compiling) do have a bit of a learning curve. And I have found global searching (and search and replace) to be a little less intuitive and more cumbersome than I would like.

Nonetheless, the convenience of the features I do like and the overall polish of the produce has convinced me to shell out the money for at least one license, and I'll probably end up buying one for my MacBook as well.

YMMV. Any of you tried any other writing software you like?

I should note there is one other piece of software I looked at that tempted me: Liquid Story Binder XE. It seems to do a lot of the same things Scrivener does, slightly differently. I've already decided Scrivener fits my workflow, but Liquid Story Binder is priced about the same and has some nice features of its own, so it might be worth looking at too.

Tags: adventures in critiquing, i can be real writer?, reviews, software, writing

  • AQATWW: Mid-Year Progress Report

    I thought Alexandra Quick and the World Away was a little bloated. There were definitely readers who thought that some sections could have been…

  • AQATWW: A Big War and Big Fat Books

    After a bit of slacking, I have been picking up the pace recently. 202,000 words and 36 chapters, with 56 in my outline. Eep. I was determined to…

  • AQATWW: The Canon of Fan Fiction

    So who could have seen this coming? My word count continues to inflate and the final chapter, while within sight, continues to recede like the target…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened