Writing Tools ~ Organizing Creative Thought into Creative Product

Photo by CC MacKenzie
through WANA Commons

Anyone who has tried to compose a literary work of more than a few thousand words knows that the hardest part is not always the ideas: it’s keeping track of those ideas and finding ways to organize them in a cohesive and interesting manner.  Sometimes I think the problem of writer’s block is partly due to that feeling of “where did I put that?”  This is a function known as project management.  If you look that up on the Internet in hopes of finding something useful specifically designed for the creative process, well, you’ll find a lot of appointment calendars and deadline tracking software.

While participating in a thread in a writers and authors group I belong to on Facebook, I was introduced to this new and interesting concept.  Document/project management software designed specifically for the writer.  Oh my, could it be true?  Yes indeed!  Welcome to the world of electronic story boards, a modern magic wand that puts the creativity back into writing.

First, let’s look at just what project management is when it comes to a creative literary project whether or not the subject is fiction or nonfiction.  Why does an author need any more than a fairly decent word processor?  After all, literary works have been produced in longhand for centuries!  True, but the monks of the ancient abbeys of Europe didn’t have the competition for audience that we do today.  They also didn’t need to write nice tight manuscripts to attract agents or publishers or readers.  Enter, the age of computer-aided writing.

Have you experienced paper-tsunami syndrome?  Have your ideas taken off and hidden themselves away with the car keys?  How about these scenarios?  Character A seems to change eye-color between page 25 and 56.  The house or building that you so meticulously describe at location A suddenly materializes at location B.  Have you inserted a “fact” that you promised yourself you would check later but forgot which or where or when that snippet is?  These are the types of issues that can doom a project to the land of the walking dead; wonderful creative ideas that die in the process of birth.  And all it needed was a little organization.

The thread I mentioned earlier introduced two programs, both of which I found of great value.  Even though I tried to search for something similar, nothing else was easily found.  So, here is a brief synopsis of two wonderful tools and the features they offer.

Scrivener from Literature and Latte – originally for the Mac but now quite functional in the PC world.

This was the toy that really caught my attention.  I’m afraid I skipped right past the 30-day free trial and paid my $40.00 up front.  That means that the rest of my day was spent getting to know this new world.  I even went through the interactive tutorial in part because I didn’t know what to expect from such a program.  Here are some of the things I learned.

  1. This tool allows you to break your manuscript up into bite-size pieces.  There is a corkboard function that displays the titles (or first lines) from each of these pieces so that you can rearrange things as you develop your idea.  No more writing and rewriting outlines: drag and drop allows you to reorganize the order of the manuscript without tedious cut and paste operations.  If you don’t number things you don’t have to rename.  There is also an outline view if this is more helpful to your thought process.  These bits and pieces can be edited individually, as a group or as a sequence.
  2. Footnotes and endnotes.  How often do you stick your reference in the text so you don’t forget what reference attaches to what point?  Then as you reach final draft you try to shape endnotes or footnotes that stick with that thought and don’t drift all over the place?  With Scrivener you insert the reference as a footnote or endnote and when you export the file to a word processor for final formatting it ends up in the right place with the reference designation in the right place.
  3. We mentioned characters and places that changed.  This program allows you to catalogue those things and then run searches based on that category.  So, you can see how each character develops throughout the book and whether or not the character remains consistent.
  4. Each bit of prose can be labeled with a number of searchable labels such as draft, to do, done and/or labels such as idea, notes, research, chapter, so you don’t forget where that spot is you really needed to check.  A search brings up all those bits so you can review, edit, or drop.
  5. The draft portion of the program is the main text; however there is a research folder where you can set up the links to reference material with drag and drop.  So, if you have a whole list of files of any type that you are using for reference, drag them into the research folder (original location and format do not change) and you can open that reference up in a split screen to verify quotes, name spellings, or other information.  This feature can also be used as a transcription device.  That means if you tend to tape thoughts and notes driving down the road or on the deck in the morning, import the .wav file and start transcribing.
  6. These types of programs also have another important feature for writers: snapshots.  In other words, sometimes we don’t want a previous version destroyed when we save a file.  We may want to go back to the previous version and maybe even reinstate that piece of work.  Scrivener uses snapshots, yWriter uses a form of saving to create this trail of revisions for later use.

These are only the basics of what this type of program can do.  It is not a word processor.  Although there are formatting functions within the program it is created primarily to get you to final draft form.  You can then export the product to a variety of formats and polish things up with graphics, photos or more complex formatting.

In just the short while I have been using this tool, I find my project taking shape in a manner that I can control.  Yes, the initial set up is taking me time; that’s because I didn’t have it in the beginning!

yWriter by Spacejock Software   Is another program of the same type that I explored.  This program was written by a computer programmer that is an author and who understood the issues we have already discussed.  It was written for Windows.  yWriter is free.  I think that the abbreviated list of functions provided by Spacejock Software tell their own story:

Organize your novel using a “project” and chapters.  The chapters can then contain scenes or any number, with any number of characters, items and locations.
Displays the word count for every file in the project, along with a total.
Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total. (Tracks your progress).
Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals.
Organize viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene.
Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work.
Reorder scenes within chapters, or chapters with the project, or any bit of information with drag and drop. Automatic chapter renumbering.

Well, now you start to get the picture!  yWriter is written primarily for fiction authors.  That doesn’t mean that it can’t be adapted to the nonfiction genre.  It is good to note that Spacejock carries a recommendation for Scrivener for Mac users.

So, there you have it.  Fun, fun tools that make the writing process creative and not the function of a file clerk.  What sort of issues do you face when trying to get the incredible vision in your head onto paper (or screen) so other people can get just as excited?  I’m pretty good at finding things, so I’m happy to look for answers and check out the ones I have!

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2 Comments

Filed under Stuff about Writing ~ Tips and Tools

2 responses to “Writing Tools ~ Organizing Creative Thought into Creative Product

  1. Great descriptions! I’m about to start a new project. I’ll have to check one of these out.

  2. a superb breakdown of all the software attributes and their shortcomings in relationship to a writer’s needs. many of the tips you have offered are welcomed for all of us who wield a quill!

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