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Making Progress

Photo credit: Burst on Unsplash

As we come to the end of a holiday weekend with undeniably spectacular weather, I sit on my porch and reflect on what I didn’t do:

  • I didn’t mow the lawn
  • I didn’t pull the weeds that are taking over the back garden
  • I didn’t put away the towels in the laundry basket
  • I didn’t go to the beach
  • I didn’t go to a cookout
  • I didn’t invite anybody to a cookout (which, admittedly, would be challenging since I don’t own a grill)
  • I didn’t organize my disorganized office
  • I didn’t empty the dehumidifier in the basement
  • I didn’t exercise (my Fitbit tells me I’ve walked 2,174 steps today)

And then there’s the list of things I need to do before the end of the day, but still haven’t done yet even though the sun is going down: empty trash, take can out to the curb, empty dishwasher, refill it, feed cats (as I am periodically reminded by those on the porch with me).

But all these nonachievements pale beside what my most remarkable achievement:

I figured out what my novel-in-progress is about.

Photo credit: Roven Images on Unsplash

(No, I’m not going to tell you today. Be patient.)

A lot of writers know what their books are about before they even start writing. If you’re one of those people, bully for you.

I’m what’s known as a “pantser” or a “discovery writer.” This means I don’t plan out the book in advance. Rather, I write to find out what the story is. I’ve tried working from an outline, but it’s simply not my cup of tea, at least not until the first draft is finished. Once I know the story, I can use an outline to rearrange and find the holes, but not until.

With this book, I’ve had so little idea where I was truly going that each time I had an idea for a scene, I started a new Word document. In some of them, I kept going for multiple scenes; other documents are standalones, a page or two at most. The deeper I’ve gotten into the story, the more challenging it will be to sort and organize and figure out what’s there, what needs to be there, and what should be tossed in the recycle bin.

Which leads to my other major accomplishment: signing up for a trial of Scrivener. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Scrivener is a software program that is meant to help writers organize their projects. Ten years ago, when I completed Camp NaNoWriMo, the prize was Scrivener. I don’t recall now if we were able to download it for free or at a reduced price. What I do recall is that the early version had an enormously steep learning curve for anyone who wasn’t technologically gifted, and I abandoned it early on.

Someone must have told the Scrivener people that their product wasn’t user-friendly, because they’ve done a major overhaul. The current incarnation comes with a read-through tutorial as well as several tutorial videos that show how people who are writing long projects can use Scrivener easily. Definitely more accessible than the older one.

Still hesitant, I read some reviews. Generally, reviewers seemed to like the current version. Probably the most useful thing I learned was that you can get a thirty-day trial that is actually thirty working days, not thirty calendar days. For example, if you use Scrivener on two days each week, your trial will last fifteen weeks. (Too bad gym memberships aren’t structured this way.) Considering that purchasing Scrivener for Windows after the thirty-day trial only costs $45 and it’s a household license (meaning that I can use it on my Surface or my desktop), I figured that if I decide it’s helpful after using it for thirty days, it’s a decent investment.

So I launched the free trial and started the tutorial. It was nearly as dry as I expected, but between it and the video, I could sort out the parts I needed. After creating new content today, I took the plunge and imported my Word documents into Scrivener, where I was able to move things around and break large documents into individual scenes. At this point, it looks promising, but I’m not marrying Scrivener yet. I still have twenty-eight free days before I need to make that decision.

What I did find out is that the sections I’ve written that seem usable (as opposed to the twenty or so Word documents that will likely be trashed) total 111,866 words. That’s already longer than most people’s finished manuscripts unless they write fantasy, historical epics, or legal thrillers. Luckily for me, it’s a familiar problem: at just shy of 132,000 words, State v. Claus was considered long for a debut mainstream novel. I know what I need to do with my current book: finish the draft with all the rambling and musing that entails, and then edit the living daylights out of it. But at least I know where I am now. So thanks, Scrivener, for that information.

My backyard may be shaggy, and the weeds may be taking over the garden, but I know what my book is about and I have acquired a useful tool for organizing it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfect holiday weekend.

At least somebody doesn’t mind my shaggy backyard

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