October 30, 2012

NaNo Prep: What Writing Tools Do You Use?

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Today is my last “NaNo Prep” post, as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—write a 50K word novel during November) starts on Thursday. But stay tuned because I’m planning a big post on Thursday with a gift for all romance writers.

I’m excited about NaNo because this is the first year I’ll be participating. Of course I always have to be difficult, so I’m stepping in to my first NaNo as a Rebel. *smile* NaNo Rebels are those who tweak the rules a bit but try to follow the spirit of NaNo anyway.

For example, I’m finishing a story I started this past summer. I’ve made it through the first 23,000 words, and I’m now heading into the dreaded middle act. I figure another 50,000 new words will get me close to finishing the story. However, working on a story I’ve already started puts me into “NaNo Rebel” territory. So be it.

Believe me, Act One is always quick for me, and NaNo will be all about the tricky stuff. This is no “easy way out.”

I do want to follow the spirit of NaNo as much as possible though. So all new words must come from new chapters and scenes. I won’t be adding words to any of the previous scenes for my NaNo count.

In fact, I’m doing all my NaNo work in an entirely different program. I’m using NaNo to try out the writing program Scrivener (for Windows and Mac). As a NaNo sponsor, Scrivener offers a free trial for the duration of November. Then they give all NaNo participants and winners a discount in December. That sounded like the perfect excuse to finally try this program I’ve heard so much about from friends.

I spent part of this past weekend working through the Scrivener tutorial, and yesterday, I figured out how to set up word count targets for each of the story beats. So I’m feeling fairly prepared. At least for a pantser. *snicker*

My template for beats, word count targets, and progress bars in Scrivener

My template for beats, word count targets,
and progress bars in Scrivener.
(click through for larger image)

But I’m still learning Scrivener, so I’d like to hear from other users how they integrate the program into their writing process. Or if you use other writing tools, I’d like to know how you figured out what worked for you.

Are you a NaNo Rebel? What rules are you breaking and how are you still trying to follow the spirit of NaNo? Do you use Scrivener? For drafting, editing, or both? How much do you use the Research and non-draft sections? What other writing tools do you use and why? Any advice for a Scrivener newbie?

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Todd Moody

I actually bought Scivener for Windows last year, but it doesn’t work for me becuase I write on multiple platforms and it only lets you install on one system. Dropbox is my tool of choice, i can laod it on my iPhone, my iPad, and every computer in my house. All my kids use it too and we can write from any open computer and print to our LAN printer.

I am staying true to the NaNo rules for the 3rd straight time, and starting a new story nugget. I am more prepared than ever for this year, but yesterday I recieved info from my Master’s program that I had until 16 November to submit a piece of writing for critique for the January course. Perfect timing! So I sat down last night and pumped out 10 pages. I didn’t want that in my head when NaNo starts. Hehe. 😉 I’m getting excited, but I have to fly during the day on Thursday, so I am starting a little behind. Plus this weekend I am going to Bloomington to visit my daughter for her sorority Dad’s day. I am going to have some catching up to do unless I can get a big word count on Friday. Whew, I’m feeling the pressure already. 🙂

Damon J Courtney

Actually, Scrivener has a really generous “household” license. One of the only I’ve seen of its kind. This is straight from their website:

Scrivener comes with a generous “household” licence. This allows you to install Scrivener on multiple computers (of the same platform, so a Mac licence will not work on Windows, and vice versa) provided that you are the primary user or owner, and on any machines owned by members of your immediate family residing in your household. Businesses require separate licences for each user (site licences can be arranged).
* Not a spelling mistake—we’re British.

Use it on as many machines as you like within your family.

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Hmm, I’ve heard of Scrivner, but had no idea until now what it is.
It sounds cool, but I’m incredibly low tech when it comes to writing…Word works fo me, and I’m a creature of habit so I think I’ll stick to it.
Though I always amazed by your knowledge of tech stuff. I think it’s pretty cool that you’re so eager to try and learn new things.
I plan on beginning my new novel on Thursday. I have a blurb for it and some character bios, and thanks to your fantastic class I have some awesome planning know how and beatsheets to use (can’t wait)
I’m really excited about NaNo.
I hope I meet my goal.
Thank you so much for teaching your class, Jami. I got so much out of it!!
Best wishes on your NaNo endeavors!! 🙂
Have a great Tuesday,


I use Scrivener, but the way I use it varies a bit, depending on what I’m writing.

Things I usually do for novels:
• Break down planned scenes by chapter or day.
• Make sure I have a “To Do” and an “In Progress” status (for scenes) and a “N/A” status (for folders).
• If I’m using multiple POVs, I might create keywords for that.
• I set up the word count targets.
• If needed, I create template pages for what I’ll need to know about characters, places, groups.
• I put any such pages in a “Template” folder (it’s a function), so I can easily make new ones.
• I create two folders above the project folder: “MISPLACED” and “DITCH”, for use when I write or plan a scene that doesn’t fit or doesn’t work at all.
• I might import the cover mock-up and web pages and images and songs that make me think of the story—but I tend to prefer importing the on-computer images, linking to web pages, and making iTunes or Grooveshark playlists.

Um, that’s what I can think of.

I also use Write or Die, when I need a kick in the pants to just get words down and not worry about quality.

Sonia Lal

I love scrivner! I like it because I am not always a linear writer and it lets you move scenes around as you like

Sonia Lal

I did that last year. Finished, but after the new year. LOL

This year I am considering five 10000 word stories, which I suppose makes me even more of a rebel

Dasher Harton

There’s nothing wrong with being a rebel!

Damon J Courtney

As every new writer these days, I too use Scrivener. Combine it with Dropbox and use its External Folder Sync feature, and you have some really powerful, portable writing gear at your fingertips. I use Scrivener on two different laptops (one at my desk, one in bed) and have Dropbox sync my project between them. It works really well, but if you’re actually keeping your project in Dropbox, you’ll need to pause Dropbox syncing while you’re writing since Scrivener is constantly auto-saving and writing files. Dropbox gets really angry when things are changing every second. 🙂 I also do some writing on my iPad from time to time. The Scrivener guys are actually working on an iPad version of their software, but in the meantime, if you’re on a Mac, you can sync your project as plain text files to an external folder (also conveniently located in Dropbox). I edit plain text files on my iPad using iA Writer, which get synced back to Dropbox, and then Scrivener will happily import all of my changes when I load my project up. I move around a lot when I’m writing. 🙂 As a major plotter, I tend to outline everything before I start. Even whole series if that’s what I’m working on. I use WorkFlowy these days for the outlining since I can do it from anywhere. Once I have the high level beats done, I’ll move them to Scrivener and start piecing the whole thing together with scenes and notes.…  — Read More »

Stephanie Scott

I am in awe of this whole piecing together scenes from predetermined plot points. Some day, some day…


All hail Dropbox! My favorite piece of technology in recent years…

Stephanie Scott

I bought Scrivener for Windows earlier this year after hearing about it from Nano back in 2010. It has a lot of cool features but some of it is a bit trial-and-error. One thing I haven’t been able to change is when you compile the docs and save it as a word doc, the font is courier. I always select all and change it immediately. If you do a lot of saving over to word you do have to adjust the word doc a bit for headings, margins etc. But I think that scrivener’s other features outweigh this. I’m probably only using 30-40% of what scrivener offers, but I’m learning more with each new project.

I may also be a Nano rebel this year; I have a project I wrote maybe 5k-10k words on earlier, but it’s essentially just scenes and character notes and not a structured story. Like you, I figured if I wrote 50k NEW words this is legit, even though it builds on an existing idea.

I really had designs on outlining for my new project. I am just not an outliner. I get SO ANTSY to write! I’ve been more or less brainstorming character traits and potential plot changes. I tried to write out a sample beat sheet but I feel like I need to write more to get to those later plot developments. I may be a pantser for life.

Thanks for the great thoughts on Nano, I’m going to check out your other posts.

Damon J Courtney

The formatting going out to Word depends on what compile preset you’ve chosen. If it’s going out as Courier, you probably picked “Standard Manuscript Format”. As in the format you would use to submit your MS to an editor or agent, which is generally required to be Courier. Which is awful. 🙂

Choose a setting like “E-book” and then change the output to a Word doc. That should give you a better start. You can also select the Formatting tab under “All Options” and change the font formatting for everything. Pick new fonts for your chapter headings, title, etc… If none of that suits your fancy, the “Quick Font Override” option basically lets you blow away any crazy fonts in your Scrivener project and forcibly output the whole darned thing as whatever font you want.

There’s a lot to learn about compiling the different formats, but I hope that helps going out to Word. Feel free to drop me an email if you want some help, though the guys over at Scrivener are really good and quick to answer. I don’t work there or anything, I just happen to be a computer guy who wants to be a writer. 🙂

Stephanie Scott

Thanks so much! I have customized the compile tab but the manuscript setting doesn’t have an option to change the font from courier; I never thought about trying the E-book option, though so I might do that. After a google search I finally tracked down how to change the overall font setting within Scrivener, which is better than default Courier. Not sure why I hate Courier so much but it’s just wide and ugly seeming.

Thanks again!

AJ Bradley
AJ Bradley

You say, “I’m finishing a story I started this past summer. I’ve made it through the first 23,000 words, and I’m now heading into the dreaded middle act. I figure another 50,000 new words will get me close to finishing the story. However, working on a story I’ve already started puts me into “NaNo Rebel” territory.”

Which is SCARY because it could be me writing that, even down to the word count (I’m at 26,584 and have been since August). I guess I’m a rebel too, yay! Best of luck Jami, see you in NaNoLand.

Stina Lindenblatt

I use it, but I cheat since the PC version isn’t as good as the MAC one. I copy my scene into Word, do my edits with Tracker, then paste the new version in Scrivener. 😀

I like that I can keep all my research and planning in one easy to find place.

Jordan McCollum

I wish you’d had this post yesterday! I had to Google a bit to figure out how to change the default font, and then I turned off the auto-indent (I will never stop tabbing!!!) (and it takes like 5 minutes to take them all out of the document and get it properly formatted).

I *see* a comment feature in Scrivener, but I don’t really know what it does. I’m trying it out this year for Nano, but I’m honestly a little worried about how minimal the formatting options are. Of course, I don’t use them when drafting (or really that much, ever).

So far I’ve just been playing with character files. Which is fun 🙂 .

I’ve actually been thinking about the same thing: writing in Scrivener, editing in Word (I definitely can’t give up my macros!) and compiling from Scrivener. Funny.

For me, the jury will be out on Scrivener until I’ve really started writing in it.

Jordan McCollum

New questions: what kind of template did you use for your project? (I went ahead and used the Nano template.) I usually divide my plotting into parts like you have in your example. Are you using folders within these folders for chapters?

I . . . uh . . . kind of haven’t put the actual plot into Scrivener yet. Holy crap, it’s the 30th. Yeah. Laundry? Yeah.


I love Scrivener, but I’m relatively new to it as well. I love making the character sketches and attaching pictures to them, and I also love that I can flip flop from my plotting and character documents to the actual manuscript without leaving the program–it’s all right there for me. The book I’m writing for NaNo will be my first project using Scriv, and I’m excited, but like you, I’m a rebel! I’ve already written the first chapter (not the whole first act!). I started it a while ago and decided it was the project I would finish for NaNo.

As far as Scrivener, I haven’t used the “research” section at all, but I have used document notes. I put all my plotting documents in it, as well as my character sketches, and I even created a chapter outline to keep me on pace.

The only thing I can’t decide is if I’m going to like having a separate file for each chapter or if I would prefer to have one solid manuscript. I’m going to try it their way, though, and then decide. Good luck this year!


NaNo Rebels, unite! While I have Scrivener, I’ve always used the My Writing Spot website ( to do NaNoWriMo. It’s tied to the Google ID, and cloud-based, so I can pretty much hop on any computer anywhere and work. While the manuscript I’m finishing is in Word, I’ll use this program for the “new” stuff this month. There are even companion apps for iPad, iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire, etc. etc., so fewer excuses for not keeping the word count up. Hope this is useful for some of you! (Did I mention it’s FREE?!)


[…] From Jami Gold: Write Romance? Get Your Beat Sheet Here – NaNo Prep: What Writing Tools Do You Use? […]

E.F. Blevins

So glad to find this post, and to read about the existence of NaNoWriMo Rebels! November is really the worst month for me, in terms of trying to write consistently every day (especially this year, which started off with a hurricane, my basement flooding and no electricity for a couple of days!)–besides Thanksgiving, there are several school holidays, etc. I am planning to write 50K words, but over the course of three months instead of one. But I really do like having that NaNoWriMo meter to put my word count into–it reminds me to write on a regular basis. Does anyone know where I can find an ongoing, online word count meter? [Any chance that the NaNoWriMo meter will still operate after Dec. 1st?]

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