by JT Ellison
I had to make an executive decision about my writing this week. As I’ve discussed here before, I switched from Word to Scrivener, and tried writing my 6th book in it. Things went well up to a point, but in the end I caved and went back to Word.
Then I went to Pages. Then back to Scrivener. Then back to Pages. Then back to Word. When we started revisions, I needed to restructure a few things, and I cursed myself, because if I’d stuck with Scrivener, it would have been so easy to just drag and drop to reorder the scenes…
I spent days pulling my hair out because I couldn’t figure out the most effective tool to use for my writing.
In other words, I was royally screwing around with my process.
I got the book done on time, and all was well. But for book the 7th, I decided that come hell or high water, I was going to write the whole thing in Scrivener. I started the outline, populated the character lists, dropped in research, even started a book journal. Looking back over that journal, there is a consistent theme – this isn’t working. Oh, I couched it in all kinds of different terms – Taylor isn’t speaking to me, the story isn’t holding up, I’ve been swamped with THE IMMORTALS book release – but what it really says is Scrivener is messing with how you write, drop it and go back to Word. NOW.
We all have different ways up the mountain. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make is finding another method that sounds cool, trying it, and suddenly finding themselves blocked because something isn’t right, something isn’t working. I daresay that with seven novels under my belt, people wouldn’t categorize me as a new author, but sometimes I feel like just that, a newbie who’s trying to find her way.
The joy of connecting with our fellow writers, with writing blogs and conferences and Tweets and books on writing etc., is finding out that everyone has a different way of doing things. I used to be intractable about my process. Open a Word Document. Put in the header. Start writing at Chapter One, and finish at Chapter Last. Plug away every day, 1,0000 words at a time, and poof, solid first draft in a few months. Then I started meeting other writers and hearing how they do it. I tried shaking things up. And boy, oh boy, was that a mistake.
When you’re thinking about your method, you aren’t writing.
And when you aren’t writing, you’re going to have serious problems. Because if you’re not writing, you just might be thinking about how to fix your method again. Cue roiling circle of hell.
I spent months telling myself that if I just tried harder with Scrivener, learned more about it, figured out all its little quirks that I’d be able to whip the manuscript into shape. Guess what? That’s not the case. There’s nothing I can do in Scrivener to make the software adapt itself to how my head tells a story. If I had only figured that out months ago instead of agonizing over the process, I’d be done with the book by now.
(Note: that’s the kind of thought process that starts its own roiling circle of hell in your head, whilst you beat yourself up for being stoopid. Stop that immediately. Pronounce Immediately with upper class British accent for maximum effectiveness – im-MEE-dgiat-ly)
The writing’s been on the wall for a while now, but I am loathe to admit defeat in any form, so I’ve been slogging away at it, hopeful that things will come together. Being mean to myself, taunting my fragile psyche with nastiness: Writers write. That’s what they do. Your equipment doesn’t matter, it’s just getting words on the page. You aren’t much of a writer if software is messing with your game. You suck. Etcetera.
But is that really true? Does the equipment matter? I know in golf it does. I was recently gifted with a heavenly driver, a Calloway Diablo Edge. This is a sweet club. It’s beautiful, like a newborn, all black and red and sexy. I paraded it in my bag proudly. But every time I hit the thing, it either sprayed off to the right or dropped well short of my usual spots. I tried all my tricks, but nothing worked. No matter what I did, I couldn’t hit it as far as I hit my current driver, a 460cc offset King Cobra 10 degree. Finally, I admitted defeat, went back to my Cobra and gave the club to my father, who promptly took it for a test drive, hit it straight as an arrow down the middle, with extra distance. What didn’t work for me worked perfectly for him.
But did that convince me? No. Physical prowess and mental acuity are two different things, right?
But then I took a large chunk of work to my critique group last week. As I was reading it aloud, multiple typos were springing up. Frustrating, and embarrassing – my group knows my weaknesses, but this level of mess isn’t normal. I’d read this all the material. I’d edited it. Yet I’d missed a ton of errors. Why? I was editing in Scrivener. Which doesn’t have the same kind of grammar and spell check system that Word has, which means my dyslexic typing skills were being hidden in the program. So now I had physical proof that the program was causing me double the effort, because I had to go back and fix all the stuff that Word would have automatically fixed for me. Grr.
I’ve also been having a terrible time keeping track of where I am in the story. Pacing is vital to a thriller, as is story structure and narrative flow. I wasn’t getting that in Scrivener, I was seeing the story as a whole broken into multitudes of scenes (I used Scriv to outline this one… another mistake. I get B.O.R.E.D. when I know what’s going to happen.) I figured that’s been my problem all along, this inability to get excited, when in fact it’s simply that I had no idea where I was in the story.
But the final straw came when Apple released Word 2011 for Mac. It is a glorious program, much more like what I used on my Vaio. I nearly cried when I saw the editing tools, and the beautiful floating screen that blocks all distractions, and the ease of reading two pages at once. I spent two hours moving everything out of Scrivener and back into Word, saw how many actual manuscript pages I have, knew where the transitions needed to go, and suddenly, I’m back working on a book like I should be.
I bring all this up because NaNoWriMo starts Monday, and Scrivener for Windows is just releasing, and the Scrivener 2.0 is releasing for Mac. I’ll probably buy the upgrade, just to see. I don’t want to turn anyone off of Scrivener, I know a bunch of writers whom I greatly respect who couldn’t write without it, and it’s a terribly cool program. But I’ve finally realized that my brain doesn’t work in segments, and never will.
Now maybe I’ll be able to make my deadline.
Have you ever tried to force your square peg self into a round hole? What was the result?
Wine of the Week: Bodegas Montecillo Crianza
Please bear with me if I’m slow to respond this morning – darling husband is having his wisdom teeth out. Send ice cream! And lots of Percocet.