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The Writing Journey

Writing Journey: Scrivener

June 9, 2017

May was busy with the book launch for Field of Ashes, graduations, company, starting our summer focus at Forbid Them Not Ministries, and a host of other things. So Saturday, I finally got to sit down in the shade in my front yard, watch a hawk get chased by a raven who was being chased by the starlings—and write.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you about the process I use for outlining. (You can read about that here.) This time, since I’m working on the first draft of Book 3, I thought I’d share a little about a special writing software that I use. First, I should mention that I have no affiliation with this software (they aren’t paying me to write about it.) So, here goes:

Once my outline is complete, it’s time to start writing the story. For many years, I either sat down with a pen and paper for the first draft or just opened a new document in MS Word and started writing. But a while back, I learned about a program called Scrivener. Scrivener is specifically designed for writers, and I love it, especially for the first draft!

When I create a new project in Scrivener, it gives me several project type options: fiction, non-fiction, screenplay, etc. It is already set up to help writers create the front and back matter of the book, such as the acknowledgments or foreword. Oddly enough, I usually end up doing those on my own because I like to tailor them to the book. Still, if you are new to writing, layout, and publishing, this is a very helpful feature.

I set up Book 3 in a basic novel manuscript. Once everything was in place, I began adding File Folders to what Scrivener calls the “Binder.” Each folder represents a chapter. Like this:

Inside the folders are text documents. Each text document represents a scene within the chapter.

This is probably my greatest reason for using this program for first drafts. This feature makes it possible to move a scene if I need to, even from one chapter to another. Which in the early stages of a book is a scenario that is highly possibly!

 

Scrivener has multiple views of the project as a whole. One view compiles all of the above documents and allows me to see the entire manuscript as text, which is great for reading through long passages and keeping things flowing. But my favorite view uses “index cards” to represent each chapter. Like this:

Another tool, which I haven’t used a lot in the past, but will be using more with this book is the Character Tool. These allow me to create and save character descriptions, which will be especially helpful as the Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens story grows and new characters are added. Here’s a sample:

 

Similarly, the Places Tool allows me to make notes about specific locations in which major (or minor) parts of the story take place. This is an especially important tool for making sure scenes are consistent. For instance, the Bennetts’ rocking chairs ALWAYS give me trouble because they tend to move around the house, but they “live” in the common area.

These are some of the cool tools that Scrivener has to offer, but here’s my favorite—the Name Generator. Before Scrivener, I used to scour phone books, hymnals, books of poetry, etc., for names that fit my characters. In fact, I have a character in an unpublished book whose name came from a license plate!

See if you can pick it out:

“Matt contemplated the whole process. It seemed somehow too easy. Things didn’t usually come together this way. Sure, it had thrown his entire day off, and he was still up at a quarter to two in the morning, but it just didn’t seem right. Worse yet, his heart told him it wasn’t right. It was a good, quick, viable solution to everyone’s problems, but it wouldn’t last. It gave Marsh and Line a whole new realm of influence for good. It would give their employees opportunities to get involved in the community. That had been the point at which Raska and Chalmers had been most supportive. Raska in particular had been excited. He’d even sat down at the conference table in Matt’s office and thumbed through the list of charities, commenting on how they could get various departments involved in each one. That had, in turn, excited Matt. Even so, Matt knew he was taking the easy way out.”

Now, when I’m stuck on a character’s name, I can go into Scrivener, put in my criteria, and generate up to 500 names at once. Believe it or not, sometimes I still have to go through the process three or four times. That means 1500 to 2000 potential names before finding the right one!

Scrivener also allows me to set word count goals for each day. Like this…

As you can see, I haven’t gotten far today, so I’d better get at it. Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my writing process!

Did you find the license plate name? What part of the writing process would you like me to share about next? Do you have a first draft tip for other writers? Let me know in the comments below.

Featured Life

When It’s Okay To Be A Copycat

June 7, 2017

Did you know that Michelangelo’s first commission was a swindle?

I have a lot going on these days, including writing new material for our FTN Friday Bible Study, and participating in a book launch for author Jeff Goins, whose new book Real Artists Don’t Starve comes out today. These things are very different (so bear with me). Yesterday, however, I found a common thread.

Michelangelo’s first job was to copy another artist, make the sculpture look old, and then sell it as an antique. He was caught in the con, but it worked out in his favor, for the Cardinal who had originally wanted the piece—hired Michelangelo!

Now, I would certainly never condone cheating people with cheap knockoffs. However, this story brings to light a very interesting fact about apprenticing artists during the Renaissance:

“During the Renaissance, apprentices were taught to copy their master’s work so precisely that the copies were indistinguishable from the originals. Being able to reproduce an earlier work was not something to be ashamed of—it was a point of pride. In the words of author Noah Charney, it was ‘a sign of ability, not duplicity’ to be able to copy the work of a master.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pp. 27 and 28

I have seen the benefits of a similar approach in my own writing. I started writing at a very young age. Among other things, I had finished the first draft of Winter’s Prey, Field of Ashes, and books 3-5 of the series by the time I went to Russia at 19. But if you went back and read those drafts today, well, you’d probably laugh. I was a novice. I had not honed my craft, found my voice, or learned from others. A Russian friend once looked at me compassionately and said, “Rachel, you write like Tolstoy—long sentences.”

Ten years later, I returned to the States. I found myself needing to fill the evenings while my grandparents watched classic movies, so I wrote. But then I started noticing the difference between those classic movies and many contemporary movies. The classic movies truly told stories. They had plots! Character and dialog driven plots! They didn’t have to blow things up, drown the movie in excessive music, or go where they shouldn’t go simply to get ratings—because they knew how to tell a story. So I started watching, but not watching for the sake of entertainment, watching for the sake of study.

I also started reading again, which I hadn’t had a lot of time for in Russia. As I read, I started noticing twists of phrases and how authors I adored built their sentences and paragraphs. The authors I liked best wrote with rhythm, or what I like to call lilt. The more I read their work and listened to it on audiobooks, the more I realized that was the voice I was looking for. No, it wouldn’t be an exact match. My voice would have its own tone, but whatever that tone was, it had to have lilt. So I listened and read and practiced—and it worked.

As I read Real Artists Don’t Starve, Michelangelo’s story got me to thinking about this practice of being a copycat, but it was the story of dancer Twyla Tharp that started to bring things together for me.

“When she started dancing in New York, the dancer dedicated herself to studying every great dancer who was working at the time. She patterned herself after these professionals, learning what she could from them, copying their every move. ‘I would literally stand behind them in class,’ she said, ‘in copying mode, and fall right into their footsteps. Their technique, style, and timing imprinted themselves on my muscles.” — Real Artists Don’t Starve pg. 30

Anything we do often or repetitively (like typing or shifting gears) probably involves some degree of muscle memory. This is what Twyla Tharp was doing. She was copying the movements of the greats, training her own muscles to do what the masters were doing, so that it would flow naturally out of her. The brain and writing work similarly. Many writers copy out the work of great writers in order to learn from them.

This is the point where Jeff’s book and my own work intersected this week.

The material I have been writing touches on the importance of the example we set for others. Before we are required to set an example, however, we are given an example to follow. 1 Peter 2:21 says that Christ left us an example and we are to follow in His steps.

Check out the meaning of the Greek word translated example!

“A writing copy, including all the letters of the alphabet, given to beginners as an aid in learning to draw them.” – Source, BlueLetterBible.com

In other words, if we are to be like Christ, then—just like the writer or sculptor who wants to become like the great artists who have gone before them—we need to sit down and study His work, His words, His actions, His responses, and His attitudes. We need to practice what He practiced until it becomes as much a part of us as those dance moves that flowed out of Twyla Tharp or as that sculpture that came from Michelangelo’s hands. We need to sit as a child with a copy sheet and trace the lines of His life over and over until His grace, kindness, love, righteousness, and forgiveness flow from the pen of our lives onto the paper of our circumstances and relationships, creating a genuine copy of the Master’s work.

It doesn’t stop there. In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul tells Timothy to be an example of the believers. The word translated as example is the Greek word typos. Not typos as in mistakes in typing, but typos as in:

“The mark of a stroke or blow…print.” — Source, BlueLetterBible.com

All the copying we have done of the Master should now flow out in strokes, or be stamped out in images, which can be copied by others. And as the strokes of our example scribe their lines across our circumstances and relationships, they should always point our copiers to the Master.

This is when it’s okay to be a copycat. In fact, it’s more than okay. This is when it’s the preferred course because in being a copycat, we become the real thing.

Have you ever copied another artist’s work? What practices do you maintain in your Christian walk that allow you to copy Christ? Please share in the comments below.

Check Out Real Artists Don’t Starve
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Featured The Writing Journey

How A Book Comes About

May 9, 2017

When I was a little girl, I used to pick up books and wonder about where they had come from. Who drew the pictures? Who wrote the story? What were those people like? What was the process like? My dad worked in a print shop at a Bible institute for a short time when I was about nine. I was amazed by the presses and the processes. When we moved to Montana, he worked in various print shops for several years. I joined him during high school and in-between trips to Russia, working in both pre- and post-press operations. The beauty of the process never got old.

There is something intriguing about seeing a book move from an idea to a manuscript to a printed product. But it’s not just the product that’s so special. It’s the fact that the product can bring smiles, make us laugh or make us cry, give us insight into the past as well as the present, teach us something we’ve never known before, remind us of things we’ve forgotten…and can even change our lives.

Obviously, I don’t have a printing press in my living room, but I thought since I’m starting out on a new book, this would be the perfect time to share the rest of the process with others who, like me, have ever picked up a book and wondered, “Where did this come from?” Creating a book is more than just writing a story. It is a craft, which requires as much creativity and WORK as any other craft or trade. I hope through this journey to share with you the joy and labor of writing, the process of turning a manuscript into a book, and the beauty of the finished product. I hope you’ll come along!

Where a Book Begins

Once the general idea comes and the initial thinking and mental plotting is done, where do you go from there? The answer can vary depending on what sort of book you’re writing. It also varies based on what approach the author finds most helpful. Some authors, especially those writing non-fiction, might start with a mind-map or point-by-point outline. Other authors use storyboards, outlines, sticky notes, or any one of a host of other techniques.

When I first started writing, I outlined by scene, and then wrote an expanded outline, which had a minimum of a paragraph under each scene heading. This created pages and pages and pages of outline and was cumbersome to use.

A few years ago, while tutoring, I found a new method, which I have come to love. It puts the basics of the entire book all on one line, while at the same time showing the story arc (stasis, inciting event, growing action, climax, and final stasis). Like this:

 

But, as you can see from the picture, the overall plot of the new book required three story arc lines: one for Jess, one for Marc, and one for Wesley! Something could get missed that way. I wanted something that would pull all three together, so I combined the three into a handwritten, vertical timeline:

Then I went back (for the 3rd time) and looked over the parts of the book that have already been written. (The Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens series was originally one book…it was really long!) I discovered that the book couldn’t be left in the same order that I had already plotted, and that I might need to be able to move a few things around as I write. My handwritten timeline was three pages long and not flexible enough. It was also still incomplete. So, I set up a document in Pages and recreated the timeline using moveable text boxes. Each color represents a specific character or group of characters:

But, as you can see from the picture, I realized there was a thread missing from ALL three of my attempts. I also realized that I needed to do a little Montana research. I found some old maps online and began plotting. Unfortunately, the maps I found weren’t very accurate, so I went back to my original plan based on my own knowledge of state geography. After a lot of thought and prayer, I carefully penciled in the remaining thread, and then added a new set of colored text boxes to the Pages document:

Finally, on my fourth attempt, the outline is complete!

Some people ask if an outline is necessary. In my opinion—absolutely! An outline is a road map. You can detour along the way, but you always have a way to get back on track, to make sure you make it from start to finish.

So that is where the journey begins. In the next blog, I’ll share about where the writing starts. Not the physical location, but the process. It’s pretty cool. Enjoy the journey!

 

Are you a writer? What plotting/outlining methods and tools do you use? Share in the Comments below!

 

Here’s another approach getting a story started from my best friend and fellow author, Anna Huckabee. Check it out!