I am again defeated by Scrivener

I love Scrivener, or rather, the platonic ideal that Scrivener can represent.

The actual program inspires something less than love in me. I long ago adapted to its complicated, cumbersome interface and learned to ignore the long list of features I would never use. I write simple stories, I don’t need a lot of sophisticated tools for that.

I came to appreciate the Scrivener features I did use–easily dividing chapters into discrete blocks that could be moved around or removed, being able to set goals and see my progress (especially handy for NaNoWriMo), the corkboard for keeping track of scenes, and being able to set up my editing environment and have it complete separate from the compiling of the document. I realized I did not need the WYSIWYG approach of Microsoft Word and it was nice.

I’ve been thinking of doing a proper outline of Road Closed, then going back and properly finishing the first draft. I’d written the novel using WriteMonkey and earlier this year I took the time to convert it over to Scrivener. This is a somewhat time-consuming process as Scrivener would  import the novel’s entire text and place it into a single scene, from which I would then copy and paste the different chapters into their own Scrivener folders.

Now, my first mistake was using the Scrivener for Windows 3.0 beta. In November 2017 Scrivener 3.0 for the Mac was released, and at the same time the first beta of Scrivener 3.0 for Windows was made available. A final release date was never offered beyond “2018” and that, too, ended up not coming to pass, though it seems a release in early 2019 is possible.

All the caveats of using a beta apply, of course. And I already had the novel safely backed up and ready to go in WriteMonkey in the case of disaster striking.

Last night I updated to the latest Scrivener 3.0 beta,. with the intention of loading Road Closed so I could export it to the older Scrivener 1.9 format, allowing me to keep writing in a safer, more stable environment.

Except when I loaded Road Closed, all of the text was gone. The chapter and scene structure was preserved in the binder, but the actual story had vanished. I thought about why this might have happened for a minute or two. It’s quite possible–even likely–I had done something wrong. I considered my options.

And then I did nothing. Because I had a current version of the story intact and ready in WriteMonkey. I am not going to spend any time playing my own personal technical support. I’ll just wait until version 3.0 comes out of beta, then consider then if I want to invest in the upgrade.

This is not the first time Scrivener has gone sideways on me, losing or corrupting data, and if I keep using it, I would fully expect it would eventually happen again. And I emphasize once more, this may be my fault entirely. Maybe I just don’t get it.

But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I can’t trust Scrivener, or perhaps I can’t trust myself to use it, so I won’t. For now, anyway.

This irks me in another way, too, because last year I had what was close to the perfect setup, using Ulysses on my MacBook Pro. There were a few problems, though:

  • I came to strongly dislike the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard. Some people (tech writers especially, weirdly) love the shallow, clicky keys, but I ultimately did not. I ended up going to the other extreme on laptop keyboards by getting a Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1. This has one of the deepest keyboards you can get on a laptop. I very much like it. This is an issue for Ulysses because the program is Mac-only and Apple’s entire line-up of MacBooks now use the butterfly mechanism in their keyboards (my 2016 MacBook Pro is helpfully still eligible for free keyboard repairs for another two years, a testament to the issues that have plagued the design, even if you do love the keyboard).
  • The other issue was the decision by the developer to switch to a subscription model, which I have ranted about before. As much as I like the app, I don’t think it’s worth paying what amounts to the full purchase price every year in perpetuity.

But there is really nothing else like Ulysses out there. There are dozens of markdown and minimalist writing apps available on every platform and I’ve tried a bunch of them, but they all fall short in some way. The biggest issue for me is failing to support indents, something I consider crucial for writing fiction.

FocusWriter is lean and generally nice to use, but it’s almost a little too basic and its organizational structure is pretty bare.

The WriteMonkey 3.0 beta looks promising, but indents are still only a “might include” feature and the beta is moving so slowly I may be 110 by the time it hits official release. It’s a one-man project, so I’m not knocking the dev, just saying.

iA Writer has a wonderful minimalist interface, but it lacks indents and the Windows version lags behind the Mac version of features (even though the Mac version itself is not exactly feature-rich).

And on it goes, with other programs either getting abandoned, lacking features, not working well with cloud-saving (like Atomic Scribbler–though really, how can you develop and launch a writing app in 2018 and not plan for people wanting to save their work to cloud-based storage?) or just somehow not being the right fit.

It’s also possible I may be too fussy. Very possible.

For now I’m sticking to WriteMonkey 2.7. It’s getting old, but it still works and it’s pretty solid. It only saves text files, so the possibly of data corruption is pretty low (insert GIF of Jeff Goldblum saying, “Nature finds a way” here).

Now I just need to get back to the actual writing. One of my resolutions for the new year. Let’s hope it pans out better than my attempts to get my weight down.

Oh yeah, writing

December is a strange month. You are forced to listen to Christmas music in every store you go to, the days are short so it feel like it’s dark all the time, everything is directed toward the end of the month and Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. People take stock, buy presents, make resolutions. It’s a time to reflect, even though you can do that any time you’d like.

It’s also a bad time to lose weight because people are constantly plying you with sugary, fat-filled goodies. The short days, colder temperatures and general sogginess also discourage one from going out and exercising (hence the resolutions). In general, there is a sense of winding down, of biding time until the calendar flips over to the next year.

For me, it has always been a terrible time to write, for most of the things mentioned above. It’s like the spark that makes me write–a fragile thing most of the time–gets snuffed out all but good until the new year. It’s an excuse, really, just like any other. But it’s also very consistent.

This is a roundabout way of saying I have not yet picked up on my unfinished NaNoWriMo 2018 project. I think about it, I nibble at its edges, but I never fully commit to actually working on it again. And I even have an exciting scene next–a car crash! The only thing better would be a car chase. And dragons. But still, I balk.

I’ll work harder to get moving. If I can start even a modest amount of momentum this month, that will help all the more going into the new year. Excelsior, and all that.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2018 update

This year I decided to dust off my 2009 NaNo Novel The Ferry because I actually finished it and could use this month to polish it into a second draft, then have someone else eyeball it. I set a modest 15,000 word goal, since I wasn’t expecting to greatly expand on it.

Then a few days ago I chucked all that aside. Am I mad?


What happened is I started re-reading the story after a long time away with it, so my eyes were “fresh” and it just didn’t grab me like it should have. There’s a newer prologue scene I added awhile back that I actually quite like, then it goes back to the largely unchanged text of 2009 and it doesn’t really gel, though I can see what I was attempting.

In brief, I was trying to set the mood through a long, slow burn where tensions keep increasing, without anything actually supernatural or weird happening. The ferry is late. It’s really hot. The terminal is crowded. Tempers are short. A stranger insinuates herself to the main characters in a way that is not entirely welcome. But nothing actually happens. And instead of things feeling tense, it starts to feel a little more like, “Is anything going to happen?”

And when it does finally start, I’m not convinced it’s even that interesting. Weird and deadly dog-like creatures appear to have gotten on the ferry and start attacking. There is a fear of panic. The bridge appears to have been attacked and is now empty. But still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading…and I wrote the thing!

I went back to Road Closed and in a way it has the same problem. There’s a lot of set-up in the early chapters before anything spooky or weird happens. Right now I’m deciding on how best to rework the beginning of the story and how to fit things together at the end (the middle is strangely fine). It’s already stronger than The Ferry, because it has the added bonus of watching a guy slowly self-destruct from drinking even before the ghostly shenanigans start.

Here’s hoping, then, that I can make real progress on Road Closed this year and maybe even self-publish the silly thing.

The Big Plan (for writing), 2018 Edition

I’ve decided it makes the most sense to take my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel The Ferry, and attempt to self-publish it this year. I’ve chosen it because it’s actually a complete novel, so it only needs another draft or two to be ready, vs. actually finishing one of my other novels. It’s not my best work, but it’s words on a (virtual) page and has action, romance and horrible monsters from some other dimension. And that’s not a sly reference to some political angle.

Steps in my plan:

  • Choose a novel to complete – DONE
  • Prepare the novel in the writing tool of my choice – DONE (I am using Scrivener, the story was originally written in Word)
  • Read up on self-publishing – IN PROGRESS (I’ve read a few books and will go back to review as the story gets closer to being ready)
  • Find an artist and pay them to create a decent book cover – TO DO
  • Find an editor to read over and revise my manuscript – TO DO (when I’m closer to ready)
  • Spiffy up my “serious” website (stanwjames.com) – In PROGRESS
  • Decide on pricing strategy, any marketing, etc. – TO DO

We’ll see how it goes, but if I don’t do something this year, I’ve decided I’m going to give up and spend all of my free time playing Diablo 3. ALL MY FREE TIME.

Writing group, week 8 and 9: Words a-plenty and organization

Somehow I missed writing about last week’s writing group. There were only four of us but it was a good group and I was productive again, finishing off the new chapter I have inserted after Chapter 2, cleverly called Chapter 2b for now.

This week I cleaned up some stuff near the end of the chapter to better align my intention for the chapter with the actual words. Having done that I next worked on some organization of the novel in two ways. The first was in Ulysses, where I moved the story into a manuscript folder underneath the main folder, then added a Notes folder also separate from the story. I find this easier than using Ulysses built-in notes function, at least on the MacBook Pro where screen real estate is more limited and you can’t have a bunch of windows open without reducing everything to “must have the eyesight of a 20-year-old.”

Having done this I next worked on hashing out some ideas on how to fix inconsistencies early in the story because even though I know it’s better to just forge ahead now and fix this stuff later, I’m the kind of person who hates the idea of leaving large-ish sections of the story in a state I think of as “wrong” and if I don’t go back to fix them now, they will serve as constant distraction.

Also, there is the possibility that in fixing these I may come up with other zany ideas that might work.

As for the group itself, there were six in total, though only four had confirmed, including several people I hadn’t seen before. I was early as usual but the previous group had cleared out, so I set up in my usual spot and began clacking away almost immediately.

The men’s washroom was out of order so I had to use the women’s. It’s pretty much the same, except it had a shelf holding a dangerous-looking (because it had the word DANGER on it) yellow plastic box labeled “BD Sharps Container.” It had a line on it that said not to fill it past that point. I could tell by the shapes pressed against the translucent casing that these sharp objects were needles. It looked to be nearly full.

One thought was “ew” over how many people apparently shoot up in these washrooms. The second was more about what a weird place to keep a box full of needles. Shouldn’t they be stored in the back out of reach of customers? Maybe customers are expected to safely dispose of their needles in the box, as civilized junkies would do. I don’t judge, I just ask questions.

Anyway, the writing session was a success once again. I am going to try to get more into a regular writing habit during the week but for some reason, it’s been even more difficult than usual this month, as the number of blog posts attests. Between having a billion things to do at work, health concerns, starting up with running again and other stuff, I have a lot on my mind and it’s been tricky to clear out the head space to just sit down and write.

Excuses, for sure, but there you have it.

Just two months until National Novel Writing Month 2016!

It’s only two months until National Novel Writing Month 2016 rolls around. Will I take part? Most likely. Will I succeed? Odds are trending toward 50/50 (at best). My current plan is I have no plan, but this year I will definitely make a plan and have it in place one full month before this whole thing kicks off on November 1st.

I’ll report back at the end of September on the status of the plan, possibly while weeping in despair.

Yesterday I spent some time looking at various distraction-free writing programs but didn’t find any that really clicked. I still prefer WriteMonkey and am hoping the sexy new version launches soon, though I am doubtful of that. I could use the current version of WriteMonkey and probably should. Or Word. Or a notepad and crayons. Or anything. It already feels like I’m making excuses. I wrote my first (admittedly unfinished) novel by hand–using a pencil! Well, several pencils. I don’t need the newest, shiniest writing software in order to write.

But I want it.

Anyway, the proto-plan still in development is to have both the tool and story idea nailed down a month in advance. If I don’t I will officially give up before I even start.

Here’s to my maybe success in a month and my maybe greater success in three months!

Post-NaNo recovery, step 1

Picking up my writing post-NaNoWriMo flame-out will involve a few things. My first step is organization.

Thus I will be doing the following:

  • converting The Ferry over to Scrivener format. I think this will prove illuminating as I continue to work on the second draft.
  • prioritize the short stories I want to use for my collection, discarding weaker ones or pondering whether they are worth reworking.
  • outline my post-Ferry novel.
  • convert last year’s NaNo project (Low Desert) to Scrivener format and consider whether it is worth continuing.
  • decide on the future of thenwrite.com.

That’s enough to keep me busy this month. I also plan to actually write, too! Any progress made will be recorded here.

Only two days until NaNoWriMo!

I just like saying NaNoWriMo.

That would be National Novel Writing Month. I’m signed up and ready to pound out my 50,000+ word masterpiece* over the next 30 days, starting Sunday (no day of rest here).

I intend to keep writing here on a daily basis as well. Perhaps my novel will be about a guy struggling to find work who finds himself trapped in his own blog. It could be called The Blog but in big scary wiggly letters and 3D and stuff. You know.

* my definition may differ than yours…or the dictionary’s