For the most part, I can sit down and write anything and maintain a fairly coherent train of thought throughout the story, blog post, or article. Blog posts or articles are fairly simple since they run in the 1200-1500 word count. The biggest challenge with them is communicating exactly what you want to say in such few words. Short stories are more challenging, but by their very nature, the story arc is quick, so it’s possible to carry the entire premise of the story and all its details in your head as you write. I usually knock out a short story in a few days from draft to edit. On the other hand, novels are a much greater challenge given their length and complexity.
In general, I spend about four to six months on a single novel from writing the first word on the page to the second round of edits I do before it gets to my beta readers. Not only that, but the details are often complex covering a rather large timeline and involving a whole host of characters and settings. To make things even more complicated, I usually only spend an hour a day, five days a week writing, so I’m adding layer after layer onto the story slowly over time. It can make for a rather discontinuous story sometimes. On some Mondays, I have to backtrack to remember exactly where I was in the story and where I want to go when I start up the writing process again.
Luckily for me, I happened to find some software that really helps me in this process. I use a program called Scrivener, which helps me organize my notes and ideas so that I can always stay on track with my novels. While it’s just as easy to write a novel in Word, Scrivener has many features that make it a better solution. The main area of the screen in Scrivener looks very much like a Word document, but beyond that it’s very different. The navigation pane to the left (see screen shot below) allows me to add documents that are not part of the novel. For example, I create character descriptions and timelines that help me avoid inconsistencies throughout the process (you’d be surprised how hard this is). The panel to the right has a space for notecards that summarize each chapter and a notepad to record random thoughts or ideas that pertain to each chapter. The combination of all these elements helps me keep the novel on track and gives me one place to focus all of my energy rather than hopping through multiple files during the process.
In years past when I had tried to write a novel, I found the process frustrating because I lost track of the storyline or confused characters, which made finishing a coherent story frustrating. With Scrivener, I can focus on the story and less on the process, which makes me a happier writer. Given my time constraints, I need all the help I can get. I’ve been using Scrivener for two years, and during that time, I’ve finished four novels. That’s four more than I ever finished without it. While the software may not be a panacea for all that ails a writer, it certainly makes it easier to bring a novel to life than other approaches I’ve tried, which makes me one satisfied customer.