Wherein I reveal all of the secrets of my writing process

Someone in one of the writers’ groups I belong to recently asked what we use to write our books, in terms of software. Although it seemed like a pretty straightforward question at first (don’t most writers use Word?), when I got to thinking about my own answer to the question, I realized that my writing process is actually quite complex.

I thought you might be curious, so I decided to share my process. This is how I go from the kernel of an idea to a finished book.

Getting Started: Scribbling Ideas

When I first get an idea for a new book, it usually happens:

  1. In the middle of the night;
  2. After a workout, when I’m sitting in the car waiting for my husband to finish up; or
  3. Any time I’m stuck somewhere with no pen or paper!

Therefore, I have taken to keeping a notebook on my person at all times. And one that glows in the dark by my bed, so I can find it when inspiration strikes at 3 a.m. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 3.55.28 PM

Aside from the fact that I usually get ideas in totally random places, I also like to start off writing things by hand. I’ve heard that taking notes by hand hardwires the info into your brain better, and when I’m writing a story, I definitely want to anchor those ideas into my head.

I am also picky about my pens. I’ve recently taken a shine to these 0.38 mm gel pens that look like pencils from Typo. (They’re 5 for $5, so I stocked up on them. My favorite are the purple ones.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-26 at 3.55.12 PM

So after I’ve scribbled down some kind of insane notes about what I want to write about, I like to do a rough outline by hand as well.

Like I said, this helps anchor the ideas in my brain. Plus I can doodle on the page if I get the notion.

Outlining is Important

As I mention in my book, Confessions of a 3-Day Novelist, the outline is the key to my success. I don’t write a typical academic outline, because I’m not writing academic crap. I’m writing a novel, so I’ll make lists of characters, ideas for settings, and any assorted items or images that I want to work into the book somehow.

I start writing down actions, too, which will eventually get turned into a start-to-finish outline of the whole book.

Fire Up the Word Processor

Once I’ve got my rough outline scribbled on paper, then I fire up my word processor and transfer the pen-on-paper outline to a Word document. I also type up my lists, and save those into other documents, which I will sometimes print out and hang up near my computer (particularly if I’ve got a ton of characters to keep track of).

Now, this is the kind of weird part of my process.

TextEdit: My Dark Master

TextEdit

When I get down to the actual business of writing my book, I typically open up TextEdit. Why? Because I hate how long it takes for Word to open up on my computer. Sometimes it’s so freaking slow that I actually lose my train of thought and what I wanted to type up before the damn thing even opens.

Also, it’s crashy as hell. And that is super annoying.

So, no, I don’t really write in Word. I use it for lots of finished products and projects, because .docs are a standard of the industry, but when I’m actually in the midst of the writing process, I will just use TextEdit. It’s faster, the files are smaller, and it doesn’t annoy me with all the bells and whistles of Word.

Scrivener: Wrangling Words Into Chapters

Once I come to the end of a scene or chapter in TextEdit, I will open up Scrivener. This is where I keep things organized for the final manuscript. I will cut and paste my scene or chapter into the Scrivener project for this book, and then add a one-liner explaining what the scene is about on the notecard display.

feature-corkboard-lg

I find the notecards (or “corkboard” as they call it) to be Scrivener’s most useful tool, because I love being able to shuffle my scenes around quickly. You just physically move the card wherever you want it and blammo, all of the text in that chapter moves too. How brilliant is that?

No more cutting and pasting things in Word. No more wondering where on earth that scene is, exactly. You just move a card.

This also works great if you don’t like to write scenes chronologically. I like to skip around, particularly if I am hitting a wall with one scene, so Scrivener makes this much, much, MUCH easier.

Flying High With Daedalus

In addition to writing in TextEdit, I sometimes prefer to write on my iPad. In that case, I will open up an app called Daedalus, which has all the basics I need: word count, new pages for new scenes, and the ability to quickly and easily export to email or Dropbox.

iPhone-stacks

I’ll write whatever I need to write in Daedalus, and then email myself a copy to cut and paste into the Scrivener file. Daedalus is only 99¢, and worth much more.

All You Really Need

That sounds like I have a ton of writing programs on my computer, but really I just use the basics in the ways that best suit my needs. I’ve got TextEdit, Word and Scrivener on my desktop and laptop machines, and Daedalus on my iPad. They’re all fairly inexpensive products, but if you’re planning on writing books, I would say Scrivener is the most indispensible in terms of plotting, writing and rewriting, and keeping track of very large products. It’s currently only $45 for Mac, $40 for Windows, or even less if you’re a student, and well worth the price. I don’t use it every day, but it is definitely a program that has made my life easier, so I recommend it to others – and no, I don’t get any affiliate kickbacks for saying that.

What writing programs or apps do you use when writing your books, and how have they shaped your writing process?

2 Responses
  1. Cassie says:

    Thanks for a peak into your process. I did enjoy the 3 day book, great tips. One tip for you: I just got a new smart pen a Livescribe 3, and loving it! It changes your writing into text and I’m thinking that writing out my first draft via notebook will help me to stay focused (time will tell). None the less, got love pens and this one is the Cadillac of them.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Cassie! I’ve heard of the Livescribe, and it sounds pretty sweet. I may have to save up for one for my next big purchase. :D