scrivener and letting go

scrivener-logo-300x300Scrivener is software developed specifically for writers. I started using it in 2007 (that is, when it first launched), and I’ve upgraded as the software evolved. I’ve stuck with it so long because it does some important things really beautifully.

There’s no better way to gather and organize the kind of complex research material that I use writing historical fiction. If you’ve read any of my Sara Donati novels, you may have a sense of how much I get into, from Jamaica sugar trains to 18th century refining furnaces to battlefields outside New Orleans and commercial greenhouses in 1880s New Jersey. So this I have always loved about Scrivener, the fact that I can keep a lot of diverse material close at hand and look through it without leaving the manuscript aside.

However. I’ve written five+ novels starting out with Scrivener and about a quarter of the way through, I’ve had to give up and transfer over to Word. And here’s the reason.

Scrivener prides itself on being flexible enough to meet the idiosyncratic needs of every writer. To achieve this end, there is a  ‘compile’ process. I say to Scrivener, Hey, I need to print out chapters 1 through 20 in draft form to pass on to a reader. Could you pull that together, simple page numbers, chapter numbers, etc?

In theory this is simple. In fact, it is probably simple in most cases. But in my case it’s not, and despite  more than five years of trying to get an upper hand on the compile process, I now declare myself defeated.

On the surface it seems straight forward. I have

(1) front material including title page, character lists, timelines, map legends (not the map itself), author’s note, dedication, epigraph

(2) a prologue

(3) 50+ chapters divided into Part I, Part II, Part III

The page numbering needs to start after the title page, and stop before the Prologue. Then start up again with ‘1’ at  the prologue, and continue, not showing up on the “Part I” “Part II” pages. The chapters need to be numbered, but not the prologue.

There is a lot of documentation to help the writer set up the compile process to get what s/he needs, and I have read it all. I have also bought a ‘dummies’ type guide and read that, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading on the user forum. But no matter what I do, I can never get the manuscript to print out in plain draft form (that is, no fancy formatting) with the numbering handled correctly.

I tell myself, eh so what. So you’ll have to do a little extra work when you export the draft. But what happens is, I get completely distracted by the process of numbering pages and chapters, and I get derailed for at least one day. Sometimes more. That is, Scrivener is supposed to make the writing process more streamlined, but in my case, it’s disruptive.

No doubt a lot of people will tell me that I’m being computer illiterate or phobic, but anybody who knows me knows that I am very comfortable with all kinds of software and web machinations. I’m not dumb. I can handle Photoshop and InDesign and a lot of other not-simple software programs with a decent level of proficiency. I did in fact post on the user forum about this larger issue. I did so very carefully and politely, but I got no constructive responses. At this point I should point out that Scrivener is not free. The mac version costs $45, and while there is a huge and active forum, it’s staffed by volunteers who have lives beyond helping hapless writers number pages.

If you search you’ll see that Scrivener has a great reputation. I have come across only one review that mentions the issues that frustrate me:

So Scrivener stops supporting publisher workflow once you have submitted the manuscript. And arguably it stops an hour before then, because figuring out how to modify the output format generated by the Scrivener “Compile” menu option is a black art … I found it easier to slurp the resulting Word document into LibreOffice for final tidying up and reformatting before I submitted it. Scrivener doesn’t support Word’s paragraph style mechanism as far as I can tell; it simply emits styled text. So it’s output isn’t a direct product you can feed into an unattended turnkey pre-press package: you’ll still have to pay someone to drive InDesign for you. [emphasis added]

So I have to leave Scrivener behind. I’m not happy about it, but I just cannot spend anymore time fiddling with the complexities of the compile process.  It seems to me that the software developer has lost sight of a writer’s larger goals and is too enamored of  technology for technology’s sake, but I can’t follow that lead.

If you have software you use that you like that allows you to write and keep track of your research at the same time AND you work on a mac, please tell me about it. I’ll have to do some serious window shopping and trying-out before I decide how to proceed and how much time I’m willing to put into the learning curve. Thoughts? And be nice.

 

 

 

PW likes Pajama Girls

The Publisher’s Weekly review of Pajama Girls is already in print, and it is really good.

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square
Rosina Lippi. Putnam, $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-399-15466-9
Southern hospitality and sweetly loose-lipped neighbors ooze from the pages of the sparkling latest from Lippi (Homestead). John Dodge is a traveling man, rescuing small businesses around the country to flip for a profit. When he finds himself in Lamb’s Corner, S.C., to take over a stationery store, he is greeted by some kooky Swedes building an automotive plant and an observant young girl who is determined to uncover his past, among others. Dodge, as he calls himself, befriends Julia Darrow, the owner of a fine linens store who is always in her pajamas. Julia is secretive and mysterious, but Dodge cannot ignore his attraction to her. He doesn’t plan to stay in Lamb’s Corner very long, and it becomes apparent that Julia can’t leave. Lippi’s characters are heartfelt and pricelessly named (one 10-year-old boy is called “Bean Hurt”). While the novel moves slowly, it’s never shy of drama: Lippi makes a great story out of how a hardcore wanderer and an agoraphobic come together. (Feb.)

They got some facts wrong (Bean is short for Beatrice and Scriveners specializes in antique pens) — but I’m really pleased with this review over all.

We’re off to a good start, review wise.

Cranky Consumer Report

When I run into a really good piece of software, I post about it here. For example: Scrivener is really working well for me, and so is Curio (if you’re really interested you can look for my original posts on these two). When I’m writing (which I will be doing as soon as I finish this post) I have only these two applications open, and they work very well together. I recommend them highly. If you are visually oriented (as I am) you will really like Curio.

Cliphanger Black Small
In the same spirit of sharing information, I have a complaint. Have you heard of the Cliphanger? It’s a system for keeping cell phones, pdas, ipods, etc easily within reach. You put the removable hanger on the back of the phone, put the hook on the wall or the dashboard, and voila.

Simple ideas are often the best. I’ve been struggling for years to find a good way to stow the phone while I’m driving — so I can see the caller ID, and hit the speakerphone if I need to. So I ordered the Cliphanger — which is not cheap, we’re talking here about mass produced plastic parts and small bits of adhesive, after all — with some extra hooks.

At first all went well. Hanger attached to cell phone, no problem. Clips onto purse strap, no problem. Hook attached to study wall. I let it sit 24 hours, as recommended, no problem. So I was very cheery when I went to put the hook on the dashboard of my car. In fact I was going to put on two hooks, one for the phone, one for the ipod. I had hopes of never again hearing that sickening crunch of stepping on a very expensive piece of plastic and metal.

I get the first hook ready, I prepare the surface, I study the dashboard for the perfect spot. I apply the hook.

The hook falls off. I pick it up. Maybe I did it wrong? But no, the hooks on the office wall went on without a problem, exactly the same way. I try again.

The hook falls off and rolls underneath the seat to a place unreachable by grasping human fingers. So maybe it was a one-time defective hook. I get the other one ready, very carefully. I place it on the dashboard firmly, hold it there for thirty seconds.

It falls off immediately, bounces on the open door and flies off into the grass beside the driveway.

So I did what any reasonable consumer does: I went back to the website, found the email address for assistance, and I wrote. Two days later I wrote again. Nothing.

Today I decided to file a claim. I filled out the online form, explained (again) the situation, and hit the send button. Now this is what I got:

We have received your submission. Please reference the above RMA # and return all available broken Cliphanger pieces to the address below. For most returns, a small padded envelope and a first class stamp via the USPS are sufficient. Replacement parts will be sent when we have received your return.

Cliphanger, LLC
695 North Kays Drive Suite #9
Kaysville, UT 84037

Email any questions or comments to: questions@cliphanger.com. Remember to include the RMA # above in all correspondence for best service.

Cliphangerredcross
A suspicious person could postulate that this company has programmed those little buggers to go skittering off to remote spots, so there’s nothing to return and you’re just out $5.99 for a pack of three. Worse, you’ve got a hanger on the phone but nothing to hang it on. Worserer: nobody from customer service gets back to you.

Time, money, effort: wasted.

So fie upon Cliphangers. Fie.

secret weapon revealed

photocollagesix-tm.jpg
In my usual superstitious way I have kept Curio to myself for quite a while now, but Jenny has been gushing and so I’ll fess up. At this time I have two applications open when I’m writing. Scrivener, where I do all the actual writing and keep text-type notes; and Curio. Curio is a way to organize material for any given project, but it’s more than a filing system. It lets you organize visual cues and mix them with text, add in maps and scribble over it all if you need too. This is great for me, as I am so visually oriented. Here are two exported idea spaces, as they are called.

Paradise(49BA2C4B)-tm.jpg


I can add to and edit these as necessary. When I find a good image I just drop it into the library and then I can find it easily when it occurs to me, at three in the morning, that Elizabeth is now wearing reading spectacles.