Over the past few months, I’ve had several people ask me about the tools I use to put papers together. I maintain a page of resources somewhat grandiosely headed “Writing and Presenting Social Science”. Really it just makes public some configuration files and templates for my text editor and related tools. Things have changed a little recently—which led to people asking the questions—so I will try to lay out the current setup here. I will also try to avoid veering off into generalized noodling about the nature of writing or creativity. (That’s fine for Merlin.) This is mostly because although I am not a bad writer, I am an excellent procrastinator, and it is embarrassing to write about how to write papers when you could be actually writing papers. My excuse today is that I have a headcold.
So, first I will say a little bit about the general problem, and then I will tell you something specific: how to take the draft of a scholarly paper, typically including bibliographical references, figures, and the results of some data analysis, and turn it into nice-looking PDF and HTML output. The hopefully redeeming thing about this discussion is that it will help you use the various resources I make available for doing this. If you want to copy what I do, you should be able to. But I am not saying you ought to. Nor am I making any claim that what I do is right, rational, efficient, productive, or psychologically healthy. As in an earlier discussion of mine on this topic, my chief counterexample to taking anything here as advice about writing or productivity is my wife, who—as I type this—is seated opposite me at the dining room table, putting the final touches to a book written in Microsoft Word. I think MS Word is unpleasant to use for all kinds of reasons, and perhaps you agree. The fact remains she just used it to write a book that will be published later this year by Oxford University Press. On this side of the table, meanwhile, I have this blog post.
Here, in case it’s of any interest is what a Scrivener project looks like for me when it’s heading into the final straight. And below this very large screenshot I’ve pulled out the important component parts.
Someone asked about Scrivener the other day, which is one of my favorite programs. They wanted to know if it was good to use for longform news articles. And it is.
But it got me thinking that the program – which is heavy-duty story outlining and structuring software – can be used for shorter stories, including audio and visual scripts. I went back into my files and found a story I worked with students on where we built a script using Scrivener.
First: Scrivener is a powerful outlining and compilation program. You can use it to organize a novel, a magazine article, a legal brief. It’s so powerful that I don’t think most people scratch the surface of what it does; they use it to form chapters, move stuff around and write. Every student that I’ve shown it to as an organizational tool thinks it’s amazing. It’s especially useful if you think in stories in terms of modules.
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.
When the first version of Scrivener for Windows came out in 2011, I put off following up on it because I was busy, and because it was the first version, but last fall I decided to take the plunge. Even though I’ve only scratched the surface, I’m glad I did. I have always been a very linear writer, and I think that’s largely because of the structure imposed by a novel-length file in any word processing program. Scrivener breaks a project into manageable pieces, and lets you work on them in any order without losing control of the whole. The option of jumping easily from one section (or scene) to another is one of the features I am fast coming to love in Scrivener.
…the programmer in me cringes every time I find myself repeating a certain action. I move something on the whiteboard, and then go into my writing software and move the scene. It violates the DRY principle: Don’t Repeat Yourself. I believe this holds up as well in writing as it does in programming. If you’re going to do something, do it once and only once. So I looked for a way to get my writing software (the fabulous Scrivener by Literature & Latte) to take the place of my equivalent of Emma Darwin’s novel-planning grid or Alex Sokoloff’s whiteboard and Post-it notes.
Wish you could keep everything associated with your writing in one easy-to-access place that’s portable and searchable?
Consider giving Scrivener a try. Scrivener is writing software—with versions for both Mac and Windows—that’s customizable to the way you work.
When a friend recommended Scrivener to me several years ago, I wondered what it could possibly do that my standard word processor couldn’t. Boy, was I shocked! Happily so. I bought the software immediately and haven’t looked back.
This is the first entry in what will be an ongoing series on “The Tools of the Trade.” You can produce good writing with a stick and some sand, but it’s so much easier to write – and most of all, to revise – using the right tools that you’d be a fool to ignore the wealth of gadgets we are fortunate enough to have at our disposal these days.
I am kicking this series off with an entry on the program at the heart of my writing workflow: Scrivener. This entry is neither a beginner’s manual nor a definitive guide to Scrivener’s features. Rather, I simply highlight a few of the key features which have 1) simplified my workflow, thus freeing up mental energy to think and write, and 2) helped me to see the key themes of major writing projects as they begin to take shape.
Back in June, I published several posts on my experience with Scrivener (here, here, here, and here). At that time, I was still in my trial period phase with Scrivener and mostly I had imported a small project and done some tinkering.
Since then, I’ve purchased Scrivener and done several full-length projects, including some novellas, short stories, and novelettes. And I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.
Scrivener is a great place to stash your ideas for writing projects along with the bits and pieces associated with them. You might have a folder just for brainstorming project ideas. When you’re ready to develop that idea a bit more, move it into its own folder. At this point, you might want to give it a folder in Research too. Once you’ve decided you want to carry this idea forward, create a project for it and move your notes to it.