It isn’t starting a book that’s hard, it’s continuing to write it

Book Three is starting to gel, but it’s been a tough few nights of writing to get to this place. See, I don’t find starting a book hard, it’s after I have the first 2 or 3 chapters written that I hit a wall. It’s at that very moment when I tend to step back and think “wait, am I approaching this the right way?”. As you can imagine, this tends to cause the whole process to come to a screeching halt. Now that it’s happened a third time, I’m getting used to it.

I think, however, that you might like some insight in how I even get to the point of looking at starting Chapter 4 and thinking … “hmm, I think we’re off track here” and then getting back on track (and finishing).

Although I eschewed outlines in school, I rely on them now to make everything come together. Yeah, all my teachers from High School on are all saying in unison “See, I told you…” and of course they were right.

Well mostly.

My problem with outlines in school was their finality. It was like when pencil hit paper and one item followed another, that was it, the die was cast. Yeah, yeah notecards. Uh huh, if you’ve ever seen my office or previous apartments you can see why having me rely on a stack of cards in a box to keep things organized isn’t a great idea (let’s not even get into the whole handwriting thing). Enter the world of computers, mindmaps and writer’s programs (Scrivener specifically).

My outlines now start with a mindmap if I’m really at a loss for how to start (big documents, larger books, tangly topics). My mindmap then becomes an RTF or DOC to be put into Word or Pages. If I can grapple with the concept well enough, I’ll start out in Scrivener creating “documents” and “folders” for ideas and bins. Scrivener is more than a word processor. Word processors think in terms of a document. Building connections between and among documents is pretty tricky. Scrivener is designed for writers. It looks at projects. Each book is a project. It has parts and a whole. I can export a single chapter as one file, or the whole darn thing. I can keep my notes, images, links, ideas … everything there.

But I digress.

So I have, essentially, an outline in Scrivener and I export the outline into Word or Pages. Of course before the whole export process, I have moved everything around (either in mindmap or Scrivener versions) so I’m happy with the outline (that for the moment makes sense). Why all the exporting? Well, I live in the real world and in this world my publisher does everything in Word. The book proposal form is in Word and that’s where my outline goes. This outline does have some detail to it so the reviewers will know what I’m planning for each section. This is, actually, an essential part of the submission process (making sure the reviewers know I know what I’m talking about).

At this point the outline is pretty solid in my mind. Sure my editor and I might tweak it here and there. Maybe add a section of reword a chapter title, but essentially that’s what goes forward.

Then the writing starts.

I write the entire book in Scrivener. Using WordPress is, in fact, the first book I’ve written entirely in Scrivener. I wrote most of Create Your Own Blog in Word, and after that torture, I’m not going back to Word (or Pages) for hardcore writing. I do most of my writing in Scrivener if I can (sometimes it doesn’t make sense to have to import/export all the time), though sadly I have to edit my books in Word (remember that “real world” creeping in again). Still the writing part.

As I’m writing I’m looking at what chapter or section I’m on and how it will fit in later with the rest of the book. Hitting the “well, if I talk about this here, what will I cover there…” is pretty common. Around chapter 2 or 3 I seem to hit the point where I go, hold the phone, this outline isn’t making sense any more.

This is where, as a writer, I fall in love with Scrivener a little more each time. Move a section (“document”) from one chapter (I use “folders” for chapters) to another? Not a problem, drag, drop, done. Add another chapter? Move chapters around completely? All just simple moving like you’d thing you can. If I really hit a wall (as I sometimes do early on) I switch into “corkboard” view and move the notecards around (yeah the metaphor works here). Because everything is together in a project, I can look at it all at once. When I wrote books in Word, I might be working on Chapter 3, but if I wanted to restructure for something in chapter 7 that file might not even exist yet! It would be back to the original outline to see how it fits together.

Efficient? Not so much.

Before finding Scrivener the process I went through in a couple hours this evening, where I pretty much reorganized the book from chapter 4 to 10, would have taken much longer. Actually I think I wouldn’t have done it. I would have fought through and dealt with the conflicts when more of the book was done. Now, I have a stronger book and outline from the start. Plus I now have a place to start tomorrow (chapter 4) that makes much better sense in context of the greater whole.

Well at least for now.



  1. says

    Interesting post. I've been suffering from writer's block for two years and have only just got back on track. I've never hit that wall before so didn't know what to do so I did nothing. At last I figured out what was wrong and got going again…a little wiser I hope.


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