A big welcome to author Heather McCoubrey, who talks about two of my favorite programs, Scrivener and Evernote (which I’ve only recently discovered!).
I started writing when I was thirteen and back then we didn’t have fancy word processing or even computers. I know, can you imagine? The way I learned to write was by using a pencil or pen and writing it down in notebooks. I sound old, don’t I? I’m not really, I’m thirty-six… but when I think back to being thirteen and writing my first poem and short story, I feel old. So many people I’ve talked to have told me they hate hand-writing, they love the ease of typing, of auto-saving, of spell-check, of quick searching, of being able to type faster than they could write (even with short-hand). And some of the younger authors, well, they’ve always had computers. Why would you write it out when you can type it?
It’s a question I get asked often, even from my husband, who is the epitome of new-age technology. He lives and breathes computers, computer programs, and everything technology. But try as I might, I cannot break away from hand-writing parts of my novels or short stories. I love writing by hand and have several million notebooks to attest to this. And the reason I love it – besides it being more personal, an extension of myself and a testament to the heart and soul that goes into my writing?
It’s convenient. You’re sitting there right now, confused and dumbfounded. This woman is crazy! Convenient, is she daft? No. I’m not daft, I am perfectly serious. Since Microsoft Word has been available, I’ve used it for all my writing needs. And I’ve hated every single minute of it. For years – more than two decades! – I’ve wished for a program that mimicked my notebook obsession. A program that didn’t make me scroll for hours looking for a passage I needed to reference. And I hated having several different files for research and notes. I wanted it all in one place, one “notebook”. The time I spent searching, closing programs, opening files and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling – it put a huge damper on my writing.
For me, writing is not a fluid thing. I don’t write and write and write until I’ve exhausted my muse. I write, research, write, reference, write, write, research, reference, write. I’m constantly flipping pages back and forth, back and forth – but that’s just my writing style. I am the writer who lets the story ebb and flow on its own. I rarely outline – my outlining is me fumbling in the dark when I wake up from a dream to write down the idea and supporting sentences. When I’m coherent, I start the story and I let the characters, plot, and emotion take me through their story to the end. So by doing it this way, you can see my need for constant research and reference.
Now skip forward to the beginning of 2013, I’ve finished my first novel, To Love Twice, and I have sent it out to my critique circle and beta readers. As their input comes back, imagine my frustration with trying to sort it all out and make it work. Word is impossible for this, at least for me. So I started doing research on novel writing software. I started with my pals over at the NaNoWriMo forums. I’ve participated in NaNo since 2011 and I knew that if anyone would have an opinion, it would be them. Almost immediately I received responses. Scrivener, Q10, FocusWriter, Liquid Story Binder and ZenWriter were the most popular. I checked them all out faithfully, carefully reviewing all the pros and cons I could find. Some were out because I use a Mac and the software wasn’t compatible with the Mac iOS. Some didn’t seem to fit my needs and some just seemed too hard to figure out. I didn’t want something that was going to add even more stress to my writing.
I finally settled on Scrivener and worked with their free trial for a couple of weeks before buying the software for approximately $40.00 (US). I made use of their tutorial program, which took me approximately an hour to complete. It was full of useful information, not just on how to use the software, but all the extra goodies inside. What I immediately loved about Scrivener was that it so closely resembled my notebooks. Scrivener uses a table of contents like tree and you can separate your novel any way you’d like. For me, I make each chapter their own folder and I put each scene inside its appropriate folder. In this way, if I need to change a scene placement all I have to do is to click on the file and drag it to its new spot. SO easy!
Another feature I love: It has its own branch for research! All of my research goes into my Scrivener project file and it’s right at my fingertips when I need it. Bonus: it will open in a little box that floats on top of your current work. You can move the box around and reference it as you type!
Yet another feature I love: A branch for character charts and description. You can create your own character template or use the one provided. I love having the character descriptions so easily accessible; being able to reference them at any moment is priceless. For me, I have three to four novels going at once and sometimes I forget whether this particular heroine’s eyes are green or blue.
Scrivener will also compile your manuscript into different forms: eBook, Paperback, Screenplay, etc. When you’re finished with it and ready to print it out to send to an agent, publisher or editor, Scrivener makes that so easy. It has branches for all the front matter, a place to hold photos and cover photos. And your whole project is in ONE file. It’s amazing.
Now, I’m not going to lie and say I never write in notebooks anymore. I do. But it is less and less often as I get acquainted and comfortable with Scrivener.
I’m completely in love with Scrivener, so why did I reference Evernote in the title? Well, my Mac laptop died a horrible death. I did have all my files backed up, so thankfully I didn’t lose anything. When I went to replace my laptop, I decided to try a different approach. I got a Mac Mini and a Chromebook to replace my laptop. Do you see where I’m going? I have the Scrivener app on my Mini and I use it when I’m down at my desk. BUT often, I’m out and about and I bring my Chromebook with me wherever I go. Any of you who have a Chromebook know that it is web-based and you can’t have “apps” on it. So, no Scrivener for my Chromebook. That’s when I found Evernote.
Evernote is Scrivener-like in that you can make “notebooks” for your projects and then have notes inside these notebooks. It’s great for me when I’m away from my desk and Scrivener and have some writing to do. When I’m back to my desk, I just access Evernote and copy and paste my updated work into Scrivener. Granted it’s a bit of a hassle to do it this way, but then that’s my own fault for doing this whole Chromebook deal. A nice feature of Evernote is that it does the auto-save and you can access your Evernote files from any computer connected to the internet. What I dislike about Evernote is if you aren’t connected to the internet, you can’t retrieve your files… and that’s where my trusty notebook still comes in handy!
I know this probably sounds like a plug for Scrivener and Evernote, but truthfully these are the writing programs that work best for me. Several people have told me how much they love Q10, Liquid Story Binder and FocusWriter. It’s all about what YOU need as a writer. Find what works best for you and stick with it. And Microsoft Word? Nothing beats Word in my opinion for the formatting, fonts, and just plain making it look nice. Once I compile my manuscript, I definitely paste it into Word to finalize it. Like I said, whatever works for you as the writer.
Once you have the environment you need, nothing can stop you. Happy writing!