Scrivener: A Fabulous Writing Program
· · · · · · · ·

Scrivener: A Fabulous Writing Program

A glowing review of writing software Scrivener, sold by Literature & Latte.

What took me so long? Lo, the years I have wasted, toiling in Microsoft Word…

I’ve been drinking the Microsoft Word Kool Aid. A gazillion years ago, when my pet Brontosaurus would give me a ride across Central Park to the East Side, I used a program called Word Perfect. I preferred it to Word. Word Perfect just worked better, more nimbly. But no, Word was the standard in publishing, so I switched to Word. Reluctantly, yes. But still, citing the demands of my profession, I made the transition. Womanfully, I learned the program and grew adept at it.

Some years later, I made the opposite switch, from absurdly complicated to unbelievably easy: I left behind my Windows PC and bought an iMac. I’ve never looked back. The Mac computer was blissfully, stupefyingly easy to use. It just worked right out of the box. With this experience in my wheelhouse, why didn’t I realize sooner that writing a 60,000+ word novel could be so much easier than the way Word makes the task?

A month ago, I was scrolling through Cult of Mac Deals and spied Scrivener on sale for a little under $20.

The low price piqued my interest, and since I was 15,000 words into a new novel–which is about where the sheer ponderous drudgery of Microsoft Word kicks in–and man oh man was I tired of pushing that rock up the hill–I risked the $20. I bought Scrivener.

That may have been the best $20 I ever spent. There are so many wonderful aspects to writing with Scrivener that I can’t name them all. I’ll just say, if you write long documents, novels, non-fiction texts, or a PhD dissertation, BUY SCRIVENER!! You’ll thank me.

Once I opened Scrivener, I was immediately taken by the binder, which groups all kinds of files together for easy reference. It means I can work horizontally and vertically, which lubricates and enhances my writing life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in Chapter 22 and had to remember a detail from Chapter 11, or was it Chapter 13? I’d have to search and scroll to figure it out.

In Scrivener, the binder holds the Manuscript, which is broken into Folders, which are my chapters, and inside the folders are Text files, which are scenes within the chapter. The folders and text files can be moved around with drag and drop. Files inside folders can also be moved around.

Best of all, there are different ways of viewing your folders and files. You can work within an individual file, just typing into the page. I like to write in Scrivenings mode, which shows all the files within a folder (or all the files in the manuscript) vertically. Here’s a screenshot from the extensive tutorial that comes with the program:

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 8.06.15 PM

The Binder is visible on the left hand side of the screenshot. Notice it has three primary folders: Draft, Research, and Characters. The “Draft” is the manuscript with all its parts and steps, and only the files in it are compiled and then output into PDF’s or Word Documents or just about whatever form you want it in.

In my projects, I rename Draft to the name of the Novel. Instead of Parts, I have Chapters. And within each chapter I have a scene which I don’t number, I name with a tag for what’s happening in the scene: “Sarah argues with Scott”, “Babysitting”, “To the doctor’s office,” etc.

Naming my scenes this way makes it fast and easy to look up details when I need them, because I’m working both horizontally and vertically.

Notice in the screenshot above that Step 16 and Step 17, which are separate text files, are both visible and separated by a gray line. That’s because I took the screenshot in Scrivenings mode. Scrivenings combines individual documents into a single text for viewing and editing. You can work with the text files in a single folder, or you can group together a bunch of text files from several folders to work with–perhaps because those are all the scenes from one character’s p.o.v. or because those are the scenes in which a particular character shows up.

Here’s another screenshot in Corkboard mode:

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 7.51.34 PM

In this screenshot of Corkboard mode, all the text files in the folder named Part 1: Basics are shown as index cards on a corkboard.

It just boggles my mind to be able to switch back and forth between Scrivenings and Corkboard! Can you imagine how delightful it makes plotting a novel????

There are a million wonderful features to this program, but I’ll just mention one more: the Research folder is facile and will accept just about any old thing you drag into it. So far, I’ve dragged in Mail messages, PDF’s, and Word documents. There’s a way to drag in Web pages but I haven’t used that yet because it hasn’t been necessary. But how sweet it is to have all my references grouped together in the Research folder for easy access…

One Caveat: this is a feature rich program and there is a learning curve. I spent the first few days watching Youtube video tutorials. Literature & Latte has some good ones. My favorite is called “Scrivener Bootcamp” by Jason Hough. I recommend that tutorial because it got me up to speed pretty quickly. I recommend investing the time in learning the program because you will reap vast rewards for doing so.

I’ve been able to write better, more easily and more cleanly, since acquiring and learning Scrivener. I also know, to the word, how many words I’ve written at a session, because there is a Target feature that allows me to set my target number of words for the day, and for the entire novel, and track the progress. Now I know for sure when I’ve written 383 words or 1672!

Scrivener is a terrific tool for writers. I give it 5 Traci Stars*****!

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 7.59.04 PM


· · · · · ·

Bluehost rocks hosting

As an author, I want information about my books to be freely available on the internet. I’ve also seen firsthand how internet presence, especially in the form of reviews, can drive book sales.

I started with a sweet little site through the Author’s guild. Worked good. Then I wanted something snazzier. So I learned iWeb and built a more elaborate author website.

Then, well, iWeb was decommissioned. So I bought Rapidweaver and educated myself in that, and at the same time figured out that I needed web hosting. My first foray into that was with a service that was badly organized, expensive, and not user-friendly. Then a friend told me about Bluehost.

From the word “Go,” Bluehost offered tremendous customer service. Switching from the old hosts to Bluehost was easier than I dreamt possible, and help was available by phone, live chat, and email 24 hours a day.

A few months ago, I got a little miffed because it seemed like my server kept going down. Whatever that was, the issue seems to have resolved itself, and the techs couldn’t have been kinder and more apologetic.

Recently I have again had reason to appreciate Bluehost. After appalling email harassment by someone who was also ordering gifts online and sending them with my name and personal email, I decided to beef up my internet security as best I could. Bluehost technicians walked me through adding filters to my email accounts and blocking IP’s.

I decided to retire my old Blogger blog that I’ve had for years in favor of a blog on Bluehost. I installed a wordpress blog on my bluehost account, imported the old Blogger posts, and redirected to the new one. Once again, Bluehost techs were available at all times of the night and day to offer support and advice.

Today a technician got a little¬†too eager to help, spied an open ticket that should have been closed, and rearranged the settings for this new blog page. For a few hours, there was a chaos of “404 Website unavailable” pages, until I got on the phone with a different tech and straightened it out.

It hasn’t been quick to get things back the way they’re supposed to be, but the problem did arise from commendable zeal on a technician’s part. It shows how much Bluehost wants its customers to be happy. And the tech who helped repair the issue was absolutely lovely and polite and a pleasure to work with. I was really grateful for his patience and skill.

I recommend Bluehost to anyone.


· · · · ·

Google Etiquette

Google Etiquette

Of late I listen to an audiobook: Paramahansa Yogananda on the Bhagavad Gita, as explained by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda. The Gita is one of the great scriptures of enlightenment, a conversation between Krishna the God of Love and Arjuna the universal devotee, right at the moment when Arjuna beholds a civil war in which he is supposed to fight.

“Brother against brother, cousin against cousin, how can I fight in this terrible battle?” Arjuna asks, his heart breaking. Krishna has an answer, and Yes, Arjuna is supposed to fight. This life is a play of shadows, rebirth is a certainty, consciousness is evolving, at one level, we must live out our dharma.

I’m not sure I totally agree with Krishna’s answer. One scripture or another is always in hand, and I always debate with it in my head. I am on a journey and I don’t have answers, I have questions, and boy oh boy, do I have a lot of opinions. Just because some holy person centuries ago wrote something doesn’t mean I have to buy it. Used car salesmen, the lot of them. Prophets, scribes, proselytizers, and disciples, all selling their brand of God. As if God could be a brand. Or defined by any one person, one path, or one book.

My husband Sabin finally forbade me to read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at bedtime, because it riled me up. I’d try to draw him into a debate and then sleep restlessly, arguing in my dreams. But I don’t think we’re supposed to take any gospel literally. It’s my opinion that we’re supposed to struggle with the words of God, all of us like Jacob wrestling the Angel of God. Finally, a blessing is bestowed.

Another of the great scriptures that has a longtime spot on my nightstand is The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. I like Patanjali’s work because it’s methodical. He gives a practical curriculum for advancing in consciousness. I want to get there from here–don’t ask me where ‘here’ and ‘there’ are, what progress consists of, or how it is measured. I’ll send a postcard when I’ve arrived. Meantime, there are these paths. Ahimsa, nonviolence, is one of the crucial ones.

For the last few years I’ve undertaken ahimsa in my language. Specifically, refraining from the violence of dishonesty. Honesty comes easily to me, but sometimes too bluntly. I tend not to tell lies. But I can tell truths with a sharp edge. So the deeper, more textured layers of this issue fascinate me, eg, the small dishonesties that pass for social courtesy. Because kindness matters, too. Kindness is the crux.

How do I tell a scrupulous truth without hurting someone’s feelings? For example, how do I refrain from saying that a haircut or dress is flattering, when it’s butt ugly? How do I negotiate my simultaneous responsibilities to the truth and to kindness?

Which put me in a sticky situation recently, when I visited with someone who I knew had googled me. This person asked me what I did, as if it were unknown. Well, the spouse had googled me. Marriage being what it is, I assume the spouse had shared information about me.

There is a crude but effective invisible hit counter on my website. It gives useful stats about visitors to my site: how many page loads, what state or country. Usually the information is pretty anonymous. I can tell that someone using Verizon internet in New York state was on my site, for example. It’s great fun to see hits from distant countries.

Sometimes a large company or institution names their ISP network after themselves, so the name of that institution or company appears. For a while, my middle daughter had my website set as her default Safari page on her macbook. I knew when she took her computer to school and played on it, because a user on her school’s network would pop up on my counter.

The day before the visit with my new acquaintance, who is a lovely person, my counter showed the name of the company where the spouse works. Now, this isn’t a small company; it took me a while to figure out who at that company might have been interested in me. But it’s not that hard. I went to the company’s website and took a look at the page on their employees. One of the names matched a name on a list of people I’d been given, some of whom I’d also googled.

So, out of truthfulness and kindness, what am I supposed to do when someone pretends they know nothing about me, but there’s an indication that they’ve googled me?

In this instance, surprised, I opted to play dumb. I said that I was an author. And then eventually the conversation came around to spouses, and since I’d taken that first step into the shadows, I asked what the spouse did. As if I didn’t know. It was distressing to be in this position, holding hidden information like a steaming potato. I felt like a liar. That’s not who I want to be.

But if I admit to googling, do I seem like a stalker? If I admit to googling and the other person doesn’t, do I position them as dishonest, which is unkind? If I mention that I know that they’ve been on my website, is that a violation of privacy, another unkindness?

What are the rules of kindness and honesty in the world of immediate information via google and statcounters? What would Krishna or Jacob’s Angel have to say about the virtual world?

The day after that visit, I had a business meeting with a married couple who told me straight out, up-front, no BS that they’d googled me, been on my website, and watched the video clip. It was a great relief. It made me like and trust them. It seemed to me that the universe had sent me this latter experience as a foil to the prior one, to illustrate for me the way that I was supposed to follow. The Universe works that way, with care and great intelligence, for seekers and strugglers.

From now on, I’ll confess straightaway to my nefarious googling and statcounter information. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it with courtesy and tact. That’s my growing point.


Life and Hope Haiti

My friend composer Jan Carter, who wrote the musical score for the documentary HAITI’S SMALL MIRACLES (Little Voice Productions), called me today. She’s been involved with relief efforts for Haiti for years, and tomorrow she’s heading there on a cargo plane with a load of medical supplies donated by various organizations.

“How do I help?” I asked.
“Send money to Life and Hope Haiti, a wonderful organization founded by Haitian Lucia Anglade,” Jan said. “They’ve been doing good work for years and now they need every penny they can get. Even $5 will buy clean water for a child for a week.”
So I donated, and I urge my readers to do so, also. Here’s the link to the site.