Saturday, December 1, 2012

Organizing a Writing Project

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this, but I use a writing application called Scrivener instead of a word processor for my writing. Prior to starting with Scrivener, I used OpenOffice, a free office application that does everything I need and has good compatibility with MS Office. I still use it for many of my documents, especially spreadsheets, but for novel writing I have turned to Scrivener. Scrivener was originally developed for OS X, and my wife was using it on her MacBook Pro for a good year before they eventually released a beta for Windows, and finally a full release. It lacks a few features that can be found in the OS X version, but over the past year or so that I've been using it, I've found it to be a great application not only for pure writing, but for story management and organization.

And that brings me to the reason for this little blurb. Last weekend as I was approaching 70,000 words in my Balfrith novel, I got a little bored and started playing around with Scrivener's ability to compile my files and folders into a single PDF book. And that led to a complete re-organization of all my chapters, so that I got rid of the chapter numbers and replaced them with descriptive names, and then within each chapter (which is actually a folder) I have the text split into separate files, one for each scene.

Prior to this, I still had my chapters as folders, but each one was only numbered (not named), and then within each folder I had a single file which was the text of that chapter. It worked alright, but as the chapters grew past a few thousand words, it became more difficult to keep the whole thing in my head and keep the scenes sorted out. In addition, some of my chapters had gotten so long that I had to split them up anyway, so I had chapter folders 7, 7a, 8, 8a, 9.... I could have just renumbered them, but then if I decided to rearrange things later, I would potentially have to go through the same renumbering exercise again. Now, I can move an entire chapter to a different place if I want, and won't have to worry about renumbering them again. I just need to focus on story and timeline continuity.

Now that I have the scenes split up into separate documents, I can keep them better organized, and if I want to, I can easily move them around without even having to cut/paste any text. I just shift the document to a different position in the folder (chapter), or even to a different folder/chapter. It looks like this:


You will note that I still went with scene numbers for the individual files. I could just as easily have gone with brief descriptions like I did with the chapters, and in fact that might have been a better way to go (and I still could change over to that in the future). But since I was making some pretty big changes already, I decided to keep it simple, just in case I decided I didn't like the change after all.

Since I only recently implemented this change, I don't yet know if it will improve my efficiency or anything like that. But I do like the new organization, and specifically I like the fact that I broke away from chapter numbers, which of course I could have done at any time, but Scrivener made it so easy that I didn't even really have to think about it. If I were working with one large Word doc, or even individual chapter documents, it would have been much more work to split them up into individual scenes and rename them, meaning that I probably would not have gone to all the work of doing it.