Scrivener for Mac

A few days ago I added a Published Work page to the site and listed the three books that I have published over the years. I hadn’t thought about the first two in long time, but typing up each description got me thinking about the evolution of my workflow—the tools I use to write. Oddly, it’s been a different tool for each book.

The Hard Way In (Unpublished)

I’m only including this as one of the five books because I wanted to humblebrag that I’ve actually written a novel longhand. Pen and paper, baby. The Hard Way In was written in the wee hours of the night at a Denny’s in Boca Raton, Florida over a period of months during the mid–90’s. I didn’t own a computer at the time and laptops were uncommon and expensive. Though I still have the notebooks buried in a closet in my study, I did transfer the text to a computer years after I wrote it.

It’s a terrible bit of fiction and it will never be published, but I’ve got an inspirational quote stuck to my monitor that reads, “You’ve written your practice novel. Time to move on.” It may be terrible, but it still has value.

And I wrote it longhand[1].

Success With (2006)

Tool: Microsoft Word

I was a PC user until 2006, and writing this book using Microsoft Word was one of the factors that went into my decision to switch to a Mac. It was painful. Excruciating. Word was a fine word processor for short documents or works that didn’t require pictures. For anything book-length that required hundreds of screenshots with captions… look, I didn’t want to have to earn an MOS Master certification just to get up to the skill level required to lay out a technical manual in Word.

There have been at least three versions of Word since I last used it, so perhaps things have improved.

The Big Book of Spam (2008)

Tool: Adobe InDesign

When it came time to start working on The Big Book of Spam, I knew that I wasn’t going to use Word (I had made the switch to a Mac and didn’t want Microsoft Office anywhere near it). I looked around for an alternative and almost settled on the tool that I’m using today—but I’ll get to that. I needed an application that would properly lay out a book. InDesign was perfect.

The learning curve was a little steep; I had never used a proper page layout application. Between a number of online tutorials and a book, the name of which I cannot remember, I got the help I needed and got to work. Production was fast and easy, and while it may not be expertly formatted, I’m satisfied with it. I wasn’t, and am not, a publisher, after all.

I can’t imagine writing a novel in InDesign, though. It’s great for page layout, setting up frames, images, and complicated formatting… and I can definitely see writing the novel in one program then importing it to InDesign for layout. The actual writing though, no. Not in InDesign.

The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Podcaster (2012)

Tool: Scrivener, Pages, Word

This was a tough nut to crack. My first thought was to use InDesign again. The book is basically a technical manual, the same as the Cafepress book was, and InDesign should have been the go-to tool for that. The folks at NMX had other ideas. They wanted the final manuscript in Word format[2]. The page layout was up to them, you see. I wasn’t used to that, but then, I wasn’t used to having someone else publish something I had written.

I could have bought and used Word right from the start and saved myself a headache, but that would have been too easy. I wanted to use Scrivener. I had almost used Scrivener for The Big Book of Spam, but I didn’t like how it handled images and I needed an easier page layout tool. The Ultimate Guide was much the same, so at first glance, it might look like I would have the same problem, but again, I wasn’t responsible for page layout. It was enough for me to write the manuscript and sprinkle “[insert image #x here, with caption “blah blah blah”] throughout. Bliss.

I was able to dig in and learn how to use Scrivener, and now I seriously can’t imagine using anything else. A full feature review is beyond the scope of this little article, but here are a few I think are worthwhile:

I mentioned Apple’s iWork Pages and Microsoft’s Word. After writing the book in Scrivener, I needed to get the manuscript into Word format. While Scrivener does compile (export) to Word format, the editing phase would be difficult. I would need to compile to Word, send the file, get a Word file back with suggested changes and notes, make the changes in Scrivener, compile again to Word… not an optimal workflow. Being a Mac user, I had iWork installed and was pretty familiar with Pages already. Once the first draft was sent to NMX, I put Scrivener aside and used Pages.

For about a day.

Apple will tell you that Pages can open, edit and save Word documents, and it’s true. To a point. Formatting, comments, revisions; few things translate perfectly when you’re opening a Word document in Pages, so what was the solution?

I installed a trial of Microsoft Office on my Mac[3]. I went through a few crash courses in Word basics, enough to get me up to speed for the editing process, and it ended up going really well. I still wouldn’t want to write a draft in Word, but the collaborative editing was fine. If you’re interested in trying Scrivener, I have a handy referral link that I’d love for you to use: there is a trial version for Mac and a trial version for PC users.

The Last King of Avven (working title) (2014)

Tool: Scrivener

I already gave the overview of Scrivener, so bounce back up to read it again if you like. Set in the year 501 on an alternate Earth, this is the first book in a trilogy spanning thousands of years. It’s a very, very large universe and Scrivener is the perfect tool to handle it. There’s the chapter and scene organization, the corkboard view, the research folders, asset management, full-screen writing mode, support for a million export formats and it’s intuitive (see the above list of tutorials and reviews for more details).

I expect I’ll have to export to Word and then turn the editing phase over to that program again, but who knows? If I self-publish it might turn out differently than if the book gets picked up by a traditional publisher.

For now, the tool of choice is Scrivener.

  1. I know I’m far from the first to write a novel longhand, but in this day and age, it’s fairly rare. I’m not patting myself on the back for it as much as it might sound like I am.  ↩
  2. You guys have no idea how sad that made me. Le sigh.  ↩
  3. Again, a sad day.  ↩

On the second Monday of every month, the Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Monthly Meetup takes place at Theo’s Restaurant on Westheimer downtown. Last night I had the supreme pleasure of attending my third meeting.


I learned about the ten-year-old group during several of the writers’ panels at Comicpalooza back in May; many of the panelists are members of the group. Writing can be a solitary exercise and it’s fantastic to get out of the house and hang out with writers in my chosen genre. Each meeting is led by Keri, the group’s organizer. She chooses a general topic of discussion as well as a writing exercise prompt. I have not yet participated in the writing exercise, but I will be next month.

Last night’s meeting format was different than the previous two that I’d been to. According to Keri, the changes were made at the behest of several members to accommodate an ever-growing attendance. Whereas the previous months found us in a back room at Theo’s seated around a great many tables lined up in an “L” formation, last night the room was arranged in small groups. Each small group consisted of around half a dozen people. We talked amongst ourselves for fifty minutes or so, then Keri turned the proceedings over to Dominick D’Aunno for the next twenty. He led the whole-room discussion based on what each small group had come up with.

The topic was “Maintaining your motivation: how do you keep going for the long haul? What inspires you? What discipline do you follow, or tricks do you play on your brain, to get the work done?”

Overall, the new format was a great improvement over the previous, I feel. The room did get rather loud at times, but that will happen with 39 people in close quarters. The information and inspiration were invaluable to me, and I tried my best to offer a few viewpoints of my own.

I find music to be a great help in focusing my attention on writing; without focus, motivation is of little consequence. I’m a Spotify user, which makes playlist management and artist discovery really easy. One of the most fun aspects of Spotify is the sharing of playlists. If you’re not a Spotify user yet, click my link here to create an account (it’s free)[1]. Once you’re signed up and you’ve got Spotify installed, check out my playlist, “Instrumentals While I Work”.

Next week’s topic is “Setting the scene, finding the right words. How do you use the language of your particular story (or POV character) to create the world in which it takes place? How do word choices impact the story, the genre, the characterization?” I love language, though that may not always be apparent in the style in which I choose to blog. I’m already counting the days.

In addition to the regular monthly meeting, writing workshops are being scheduled. The next one, September 29th, is closely related to the topic of the regular meeting: language. The workshop for October will cover editing. These sound great, and I’ve already RSVP’ed for the first.

The meetup is a bit of a drive for me, but absolutely worthwhile.

  1. This is my personal referral link. For every five new users I send to Spotify, I receive a free month of Spotify Premium. For information about why I sometimes use referral links, see the Linking Disclosure page.  ↩

Last June, I wrote here about writing and a decision to focus on writing. It was all very lofty and well-intentioned. I was full of vim and vigor and rarin’ to go. Let’s do this!

Last July, I published a story called Dragonwatch. It’s a little flash fiction or vignette that I thought was fun to write. Mostly, I wanted to see if I could set up a couple of characters, get readers to click with them, and then pull the rug out and reveal that they weren’t who the readers thought they were. Based on the feedback[1], it was successful. Go me.

After that, I went back to focusing on podcasting for about two months. I diddled around a bit with some story ideas, and told anyone who asked that I was working on a few things, but I wasn’t making any progress with fiction. Out of the blue, a great opportunity fell on my lap. I was contacted by New Media Expo (the Artist Formerly Known as Blogworld). NMX wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a guide to podcasting. I’d been writing articles for their site for a while, and they considered me a good fit. The ebook was to be an in-depth look at podcasting, and they’d pay me.

This was me.

This writing took about two months in late 2012 and The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Podcaster was released on November 30th. It was very well received. And they paid me! Real money! Someone, a real company, paid me to write a book.

I am officially a published author.

And I put a page up about it at QAQN, but didn’t write about it here. There’s no good reason why I didn’t, but I think that, at the time, I felt that this site was supposed to focus on my original fiction.

Fast forward to early 2013. Something happened that I wasn’t expecting. I was getting burned out on podcasting. I stopped writing for NMX. In addition to some larger personal issues, I started to feel that the weekly task of producing a podcast was becoming a chore. After the book I hadn’t written a word, and that was frustrating as well. I decided to put the podcast on hiatus. April 10th was the last episode for the foreseeable future. I turned back to writing.

I started getting organized. I organized my computer’s hard drive. I organized my notes. I organized my Scrivener projects. An idea for a story called “The Dwarves of Kun Xilas” started taking shape. Another idea for a trilogy of novels crept in.

In May, I attended Comicpalooza 2013. The educational sessions for writers were fantastic, and I came away with many new ideas and inspirations. I decided that I would write a story spanning three eras involving time travel, which is always risky, but I think I can handle it. I also decided that by Comicpalooza 2014, next May, I would have finished work under my belt. Not necessarily published, but finished. I mapped out a very aggressive plan.

In the space of one year, I intended to write three novels and nine tie-in short stories. I know, right? Talk about zero to sixty in 0.5 seconds. Naturally, that would prove to be impossible, but I’m getting to that.

I had everything mapped out on a calendar. I’d work on the first novel until November, then I’d write the second one during NaNoWriMo, then write the third until May 2014. Each short story would get about a month, not including November. It was a great plan.

Turns out, I’m not a great planner.

The first month, June, was fine; I did write and finish (but for the polish) my first short story. I did work on the first novel. July, I crumbled. I was overwhelmed, I felt like the first story (“The Secret Tunnel” is the working title) wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t progressing the first novel (The Last King of Avven is the working title) as well as I needed to if I was going to stick to the plan. The only sort-of-upside was that I had a solid idea about the second short story, “Ghost Stories”, and work on it was moving along fairly well, but not well enough for the plan.

So I ditched the plan. I’ve spent the past month making a new plan. The goal date is still Comicpalooza 2014 next May, but I’d finish one novel and however many short stories I can reasonably come up with. I may or may not participate in NaNoWriMo. I gave myself breathing room.

The Last King of Avven is still the first novel, but after attending last month’s Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Meetup, I settled into a really great idea about that trilogy I wanted to write. I was able to nail down the characters and the story. The world building that I’d completed, coupled with the notes and backstory I’ve written since the meetup, totals about 30,000 words and a number of maps. My universe has been set in motion.

I’ve written 7,105 words for Avven so far. Only about 93,000 to go.

No problem.

After all, I’m a published author.

  1. Granted, the feedback was from friends, family and acquaintances, so it was hardly unbiased, but still. I’ll take it.  ↩