I’m an unabashed plotter, with overtones of pantser. (Don’t worry, pantsers — there’s something in this post for you, too!)
But having an idea for a story, and then getting that story on the page, can be a chore. How do I keep going on the days I don’t feel like writing? How do I measure my progress without beating myself up? How do I stay on track to meet deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise?
To make matters more interesting, the novella trilogy I’m writing, The Sapphire Veil, is unusual in that its three stories run concurrently, and the characters wander in and out of each other’s books. So there’s an element of timing that I have to consider as I work through the stories.
So layered on top of the “chore” of the actual writing is the complexity of the structure I’ve decided to try. How the heck can I make this trilogy happen without driving myself nuts?
I like tools and strategies that help drive my success (rather my nuttiness) — even when I don’t feel like driving myself at all. [tweetthis]Panic is a great motivator, but not on an ongoing basis.[/tweetthis]
So I embraced some tools to help a daunting task seem less intimidating.
The first is Microsoft Excel. Yes, the idea of using a spreadsheet to represent a writing project is probably daft, but it gave me the opportunity to see the major plot points of all three books at once. And I do mean major — one sentence that describes the time-sensitive points I had to hit on specific days. This gave me a really broad picture of what needed to happen while counting down to the big battle crucial to the trilogy.
Now that I had a general picture of how the books would intersect, I needed to drill down into each scene. So I turned to the Outline tool in Scrivener. If you know Scrivener well, you’ll have discovered its quick outlining tool that lets you basically break a detailed synopsis into chunks that represent each chapter or scene.
Scrivener note: I’ve learned the hard way to outline at the file level rather than the folder level because those synopsis notes will be automatically attached to whatever “thing” you’re outlining with. If you want to have the synopsis handy to look at in the Document mode, write the synopsis at the file level.
You can see here that I have a synopsis for each scene, and I use the Label feature to define times of day, since timing is everything in this trilogy.
There are a few critical things about the outlining capability in Scrivener:
- It encourages me to think about the book as a series of scenes, and lets me include in each scene a synopsis of its specific action.
- It’s a lot easier to see that the plot has gone awry, or that I have a big ole gaping hole where action should be, or when I’ve plotted myself into a corner. It’s a lot easier to recover from a few lines of synopsis than 20 pages of lovingly-crafted manuscript.
- Every day I sit down to write, I know exactly where I’m going.
Pantsers, you can choose how deeply your scene synopsis delves. You can include just a couple of sentences to remind you of the general plot points, and then rely on your Girls in the Basement to take care of the details.
At this point, because I’ve outlined at the file level, the synopsis for that scene (or chapter) is automatically displayed in the Document view, ready for me at a glance, with no digging around in my files for it.
If you don’t have or want Scrivener, you can do something similar in Microsoft Word using Word’s outlining, as well. Or just make a manual page break for each scene and type in your synopsis at the start of each scene and then delete it when it isn’t needed anymore. I did this for my first published book. It was a heckuva lot easier to open Microsoft Word and look at the next scene’s mini-synopsis than to face a blank page.
So here’s the critical point about any strategy I use to “keep writing”:
[tweetthis]Each tool I adopt must remove one of my Reasons For Not Writing Today.[/tweetthis]
I’ll post next time on a handmade spreadsheet I wrote for myself that I call The First Draft Helper, which helps me gauge my progress in real-world conditions.
Do you use any tools or strategies to help you make your writing goals? We’d love to hear them!