I’ll always think of November 2011 as a critical turning point for my writing life. No, not because of the immense desire to play the newly released ElderScrolls:Skyrim for hours on end and lose all that writing time, as tempting as that may be, but because for the first time, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. Linked with that was the opportunity to try out the NaNoWriMo trial version of Scrivener. I’ll never write the same way again.
In the past, I typically wrote approximately 1,000 words per evening. I curled up with my lap desk, stack of blank paper, and fountain pen, and wrote that way every day for years. I’ll never abandon that method entirely, but adapting to creative writing on the computer was not as much of a challenge as I first thought. Once I got into the rhythm of it, productivity boomed.
I tried the beta version of Scrivener for Windows over the summer and loved it, but wanted to wait until the full version was released before I really dove into it. At first glance, I didn’t think that I would get as granular as they allow a writer to be. I imagined setting up one document per chapter. Why would I ever want to have folders for each chapter, and separate documents for each scene? Seemed like overkill. Then the pressure of NaNoWriMo intensified. I found myself struggling to finish a scene, so I jumped to another. I had a gem of an idea about a scene, but didn’t want an ever-expanding Word document where it’s too easy to lose such little boons granted by the Muse. The ability to create a separate folder for miscellaneous scenes that hadn’t yet found their place in the novel was one of the most important and welcome changes to the process. Gone were the random scraps of paper in the real-world folder.
Of course, there are other elements in the equation. I have a wonderfully supportive boyfriend who encourages me to write, and if I’m spotted distracting myself with aimless ventures such as picking dust out of the cracks between the floorboards (not really, but tasks truly just as tedious), I’m directed to go write. And I do.
Writer’s block has been transformed. I used to let perfect be the enemy of good. I toiled as I crafted each sentence, sometimes forgetting where I was going with a scene. Now I just write. It took me a very long time to learn that the first draft is pouring it all out on paper. Revising and rewriting is where the story takes shape. Then, browsing through NaNoWriMo’s archive of pep talks from well-known authors, I read Neil Gaiman’s advice. To excerpt: Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
By writing so much in so little time, I also had an easier time keeping track of themes and little threads that helped to weave the plot together. New scenes that never would have come to my while writing by long-hand appeared in a 12-hour marathon in front of the computer. The overarching lesson for me was this: Both forms can work together, but they are two different types of writing, each with its own pros and cons. Maybe this will change for me over time. We’ll see where I am next year, when I’m working on the revision of my new novel.
If you want to get focused as a writer, sign up for National Novel Writing Month. Follow their various Twitter accounts. @NaNoWordSprints will help with often-humorous and always encouraging nudges to get you thinking. And at $40, Scrivener is a very worthwhile investment (and you get a discount if you complete NaNoWriMo!). The biggest investment comes from within—committing the time and energy to write. For me, it’s always been as vital as eating and breathing, but now, it’s undergone a phase of evolution, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. And I already have an idea for what I’ll work on for NaNoWriMo November 2012—the first draft of my fourth novel.