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Scrivener vs. The Inner Critic

August 24, 2013

And you thought you were rid of me for the whole month!
No such luck. Besides, I have something kinda cool to share.
I’ve been struggling with keeping track of multiple projects. It seems I like to jump around from project to project, a characteristic of the Muse I’ve come to love and accept. This does however lead to a very convoluted to-do list, especially because every time I change course I have to rearrange the list. Not only is it hard to measure progress spread across so many places, but it is also difficult to keep track of where I left off with each project. Worst of all, every time I take the top item off the list to replace it with something else my self-esteem takes a hit.
And my Inner Critic screams, “Failure!”
Just for fun, I opened a Scrivener document on my To-Do file and tried to list every single thing I want to work on in the next year or so: All the stories I want to write, the stories I want to revise, the works in progress, the chapters I want to post for critique, the books I want to read (and I like switch off between several at once; doesn’t everyone do that?) and even little projects like fixing up Ye Olde Blogge. Everything.Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng
The list was twenty-one items long.
As I stared at it, I was struck by an idea.
How about treating each project as its own Scrivener document, turning it into an index card and keeping track of progress inside the document? And then how about color coding each one according to project?
The Muse loves colors!
CategoriesI decided blue would be good for The Tempest’s Serenade (my revised novel), yellow for The Dragon’s Milk Chronicles, red for my other first draft stories, purple for writing craft stuff, orange for reading.
It didn’t take long before I had a pretty cork board with everything I want to do spread out in neat color-coded rows. I’ve sorted them into the order I want to work on things, starting at the top left corner. First: Finish posting chapters of The Tempest’s Serenade at Critique Circle. After that: Finish the first draft of The Way of Wolves.
I can keep track of where I’m at on the document part of the card and I can add images or links there as well. Making a new project is easy too. When I decided that I really don’t want to work on something as epic as the third book of my trilogy for NaNoWriMo, and work on a lighthearted romantic comedy called Karma’s Dragon set in the real world instead, I just make a new card and slide it into the queue in the order I want to do it.
No failure here. Just a rearrangement of priorities.Scrivener Index Cards
How about you? How do you appease the Inner Critic? And do you read one book at a time, or switch off between several?

Colored hearts image courtesy of Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng
  1. August 24, 2013 8:12 pm

    Good for you!
    I’ve heard several people say they really dig Scrivener. I only work on one project at a time, and I like to keep things simple, so it’s probably not a program for me.
    But you found a way to keep on top of your to-do list, which is cool.

    • August 25, 2013 3:02 pm

      Hi Alex,
      Scrivener works well for writers who work on one project at a time too. I was just thrilled to have figured out a way to use a program I’m already familiar with to create an overview of the chaos in my head. 🙂
      I agree, though, you’re doing fine just the way you’re working!

    • September 22, 2013 5:56 pm

      Scrivener works perfectly well in single projects. Far better than a simple word-processor. It still consolidates your research, allows you to do PoV searches of characters for consistency and plot lines, keeps multiple backups, and allows for editing far more easily than any word-processor. If you’re writing anything larger than short-stories, I’d say Scrivener is far superior.

      • September 22, 2013 9:06 pm

        Hi tariencole,
        Welcome to A Scenic Route! (and can I just add that you have the coolest avatar I’ve seen in a long time?)
        I don’t know how I ever wrote novels before Scrivener! (Well, I didn’t much, but that’s another story …) I’m STILL learning new features and I’ve been using it for three years now. 🙂

  2. August 24, 2013 8:20 pm

    Kirsten, I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!! I woke up today (my Sunday morning) ready to find a new system to keep track of my goals. I’ve tried butchers paper, online calendars, to-do lists, notebooks etc and nothing seems to stick. I can’t believe ALL this time I had the perfect tool and didn’t know. I cannot wait to pull out the colour coded index cards and go crazy. Such a unique idea. I love the idea of ‘sliding it into the cue.’ Makes all the projects much more manageable and ready to go. Thanks for sharing!

    • August 25, 2013 3:04 pm

      Hey there Anushka,
      I hope this works for you! Just like you, I kept trying different ways to track my progress and ended up shelving each one. It was always too much effort to keep changing everything around whenever a new idea took precedence over the others … (I hope this isn’t a bad sign!)
      I’ve got my fingers crossed that this idea works for me. 🙂

  3. August 24, 2013 8:46 pm

    Hey, welcome back, Kirsten! I love the Scrivener idea, and I’m tempted to try it immediately. As we speak, my desk is littered with sticky notes, full sized pages of bulleted points for synopsis, and a myriad of other scribbles. My Inner Critic says I MUST be done with synopsis before I begin learning Scrivener, and this time I agree with him.

    I concentrate on one book at a time, but I’m a fast reader. The other day I read an entire book at one sitting. It has been years since I had enough uninterrupted time to do that. Wonderful!

    • August 25, 2013 3:07 pm

      I’m only now beginning to see that my reading habits are similar to my writing flow! I must be in the midst of at least four or five books right now. A lot of it has to do with the continuous time crunch that is my life, but still the pattern is there.
      Good luck with your synopsis! It is an admirable goal. 🙂

  4. August 24, 2013 11:27 pm

    Love this post, and especially the screen shots–thanks for sharing! My muse loves colors too, so I’m definitely going to have to give this a try. I know nothing at all about Scrivener, though, so it might have to wait a bit. Or maybe I’ll go look into it right now!

    In the reading department, I always have several books going at once unless one really grabs me by the collar. It took me about four months to read the first half of Life of Pi, and then I read the second half in one night. Some books are like that!

    • August 25, 2013 3:10 pm

      Hi Melinda,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      I was so excited by this idea that I couldn’t wait to share it. Scrivener seems to fit the way I think in so many ways and it was a breeze for me to get started with it. The program is also pretty easy to learn.
      I agree with you about books that start slow sometimes. That’s why I hardly ever set a book aside for good. So often I’m rewarded for slogging through the first chapters by a breathtaking ending!

  5. August 25, 2013 1:54 am

    I have multiple books I am reading and multiple writing projects! I never used to have more than one book on a go but these days, if I don’t find the book unputdownable (is that a word?) from the first chapter, I find I drift off onto something else, especially on the kindle where I’m not staring at the line of broken spines in the pile by the bed!
    I wrote down all my projects recently, in a list on my ipad, and I was shocked at how many there were. I usually carry them all around in my head and work on whichever one I have most energy for on any given day! I’m not very organised!

    • August 25, 2013 3:14 pm

      Hi Writer/Mummy 🙂
      Yeah, it’s really easy to put aside a story on the Kindle. If it isn’t sitting there with a bookmark halfway through it, making me feel guilty, I’m more likely to read something different!
      I felt as if I kept forgetting about things that I wanted to do, and was drifting from one project to another without any sense of direction. I would try to write them all down, and then forget where I put them!
      I’m hoping having something pretty to look at will keep me more focused. 🙂

      • August 25, 2013 3:26 pm

        🙂 I hope it works (it would just make me stress about all the things I’d rather be doing than writing my daily blog, not that it’s starting to feel like a drag or anything!)

  6. Will permalink
    August 25, 2013 4:46 am

    :: grins :: So the question you’ve left unanswered is- does what you did count as DOING something? I’m guessing you’ll come down on the “yes” side- but put a bookmark in there somewhere to come back in six months and tell us how it’s worked out for you.

    I have heard several online author colleagues speak highly of Scrivener and this is one of its virtues. I have never tried it and am at heart too much of a technophobe (not fear, just dislike really) to want to. I do have a to-do list, and both the pace and simultaneity of it vary quite a lot. In the end, I’m never really happy with my progress unless I’ve cranked out 5,000 words in a day (rare, but not unprecedented)- reading and organizing are fun but don’t count in my heart, only writing. And I’m comfortable with the title dilettante about writing. But you go!

    • August 25, 2013 3:18 pm

      Good idea Will!
      I think I’ll end up putting the completed cards into another folder, and a few months from now have a look back at them to see how I’ve fared.
      Five thousand words! In one day! That is quite the word count, my friend! I resist the organization part myself, but am beginning to see the necessity for it. If I can make the process painless, even fun, that’s progress for me. 🙂

  7. August 25, 2013 4:55 am

    OH my goossshhhhh… I am soooo impressed you can keep track of all those projects… I’m with Alex, I can barely do one thing at a time, but you have something that works for you, so more power to your elbow, as they say 🙂

    PS: Welcome back, too 🙂

    • August 25, 2013 3:20 pm

      Hi Mark,
      You might be surprised to know that I envy writers who work on one project, finish it (and that’s the key isn’t it?) and move on to the next. I needed a way to feel that I’m making progress too, even though finishing something completely hasn’t happened yet.
      It will though!

  8. August 25, 2013 8:36 am

    I love the look of this within Scrivener. I have Scrivener, but I really need to get to grips with it more. As I said, I love this colour coding and organisation!

    • August 25, 2013 3:22 pm

      Thanks Rebecca 🙂
      I’ve been using Scrivener since 2009, so I’ve had a long time to become familiar with it. Still, there’s always some new feature that takes my writing to an even better place!
      Take your time, and I’m sure you’ll find great ways to make it fit your writing as well.

  9. August 25, 2013 9:56 am

    I love Scrivener, though I use it more for wrangling my complex story/timelines into order. My inner critic is um… Hm. My inner reader is identical to my inner writer, so I don’t really appease it with anything other than a story that pleases my inner reader.

    I read books however they come and however I’m up for. I’m not that good at reading serials the whole way through while they’re still posting, though I’m usually good once they’re all the way up. I flip between print books all the time. My reading habits are flexible at best. It’s probably true enough to say they were formed by fanfiction, where there are a bunch of one-shots, completed epics to blow through in a couple days, and a whole lot of WIPs I adore and read promptly as they update. I’m still like that.

    • August 25, 2013 9:57 am

      Come to think of it, my writing habits mirror my reading habits. That’s a disconcerting thought!

      • August 25, 2013 3:28 pm

        Hi Liana,
        This is something that I got while I was writing this post and then reading some of the comments, including yours. That casual aside (doesn’t everyone switch off between several books at once?) lead me to the conclusion that maybe I write several stories at once in different stages of development because that is how I read.
        Hmm ….
        That makes me wonder: If I started reading books one at at time, could I start writing them that way as well?

        • August 26, 2013 10:33 am

          Aha! It’s funny–I tend to think I’m working on “one” project, but your comment here made me realize (duhh) that that “single” project is made up of eighteen stories, and although a few are in “first draft finished” stage, the rest are all over the place, and there’s nothing linear at all about the way I approach them. So apparently I do indeed write the same way I read!

  10. Dyann permalink
    August 25, 2013 1:04 pm

    Power to the multiple projects peeps! I’m like you in that I always have tons of things going on – in my writing life, reading life, academic life, and personal life. I need things that help me sort it all out. I love Scrivener, but never thought of using it in this fashion. Color coding is our friend. Right now I have colored push-pins in my story projects that show scene, chapter, setting, or character, but I had no idea you could change the whole card to a color. I am on a PC. I’ll have to check it out.

    Also, I am always reading ten books at once it seems.

    I guess I worry that life is too short to do just one thing at a time! 🙂

    • August 25, 2013 3:32 pm

      Hi Dyann,
      I think your last thought might be a large part of why I hop around as much as I do. There is this underlying fear that I might not get to all the stories I want to write. There is no basis for feeling that way, I assure you, but still, not having enough time is a big factor in my daily life.

      The funniest thing is, I always thought that I only had one book in me and that I could be happy having written it the best I could!

  11. August 25, 2013 5:05 pm

    I keep my drafts in Scrivener. I’ve written a lot of new words in it, but for about the last year I’ve been writing in a paper notebook with fountain pens because I like to experiment with different tools, then about once a week I sit down and type my words up in Scrivener.

    Do you use Scrivener to keep track of your notes and stuff for writing projects? I’ve been using Tinderbox, which is pretty cool, but it probably does more than I really need and it’s expensive to keep up with updates. I’m also not sure I like the idea of having my writing stuff spread across two proprietary programs.

    So I’m thinking about doing all my note stuff in Scrivener, even if transferring everything into Tinderbox would probably be a big, big job 😦

    • August 26, 2013 9:43 pm

      Hi there Mike 🙂
      Yes, I keep everything in Scrivener. I had a brief affair with something called VoodooPad, which I really enjoyed using, but ultimately keeping everything in one place won out over the coolness of the program.
      I should add though, that I’m not the best at keeping notes organized to begin with, no matter what program I’m using. When the words are pouring out, all I do is write and sort things out later.
      If I were you, I might make the transfer gradually, keeping newer notes in Scrivener until you devise a good system, then bring the rest into that. I would hate to see you spend precious writing time sorting things out that you already have reasonably organized.

      • August 26, 2013 11:06 pm

        Yeah, I’m not exactly in a hurry to dive into some huge migration thing where I try to put everything in Tinderbox into Scrivener as quickly as I can. A gradual move would be better, and give me more time to make sure I want to use Scrivener more than I already do. Besides, I still have a bunch of handwritten notes I haven’t even typed up yet–just doing those will keep me busy for longer than I care to think about…lol 🙂

  12. melissamaygrove permalink
    August 25, 2013 6:21 pm

    What a great idea! I bought Scrivener but haven’t yet used it. I’ll keep this in mind when I finally get brave enough for a new learning curve. 🙂

    • August 26, 2013 9:46 pm

      But Scrivener is super easy! Don’t be intimidated by all the cool pictures. At the most basic level, it’s just a screen and some documents on the sidebar– a lot like iTunes if you use that.
      If you can blog, (and you do that beautifully) you’ll be a whiz at Scrivener. 🙂

  13. August 27, 2013 1:08 am

    This is brilliant, must try it. My to-do list has just begun to spin wildly out of my control.

    • August 28, 2013 7:44 pm

      You definitely should give it a shot! More projects=more card colors=equals happiness. 🙂

  14. August 27, 2013 4:35 am

    I love scrivener and like you, I put every idea on a new file… it’s kind of addictive:) And I usually tend to swap between books I’m reading…

    • August 28, 2013 7:45 pm

      Ah, so I’m not entirely breaking new ground here. It was just so easy to get going, and I think it will be easy to keep up with!

  15. August 27, 2013 6:05 am

    I’m a total multi-project person as well and when Texanne mentioned your idea on a HTTS forum thread, the first words out of my mouth were “That Larkk is one smart cookie!”

    I decided to pull all my fragmented writing “pieces” into Scrivener and see not only what’s worthy of salvaging/expanding but just to get a sense too that I actually HAVE written things and look, they could be worked with! I totally understand that sense of un-accomplishment. It’s like I write something and move on and then it drops out of my short term memory and I think, ‘god I’m so unproductive…”

    Thanks for this tip that will help me keep track and keep motivated. Like Mike, I’ve got a fair number of things handwritten in notebooks that, when transcribed to Scrivener, will hopefully get the inner critic to shut up a little while and stop telling me I haven’t been productive. 🙂

    • August 27, 2013 8:09 am

      and I’m completely mystified as to how you made your card/document icons in the binder colored – when I label mine the colors affect the text, not the little icon… and I like yours better! 🙂

      • August 28, 2013 7:51 pm

        Hi Wendy,
        I’m so glad this idea is working for you. 🙂
        To color code an icon, you can try going to the Inspector pane. Under ‘General’ you will see the ‘Label:’ category. Click the bar next to it and your categories will open up. Go to ‘edit’ at the bottom to set up your categories and colors. From there, you can assign the colors and the categories you’ve set up to documents and folders.
        Now I’m just wondering how you get the text to change color!

      • August 28, 2013 10:48 pm

        I had trouble with color too:

        Use Label Color In… is on one of the menus. It lets you set what changes colors.

        If you don’t like the exact color of a tag or something, double-click the little color box to open up a color picker dialog.

      • August 29, 2013 3:13 am

        Liana, yes! I wasn’t able to get there following your directions so I just plugged “Use Label Color In…” into the help menu and I found the options under “View”. Oh boy! more to tweak around with instead of doing the actual work of writing!

        not really… but… 🙂

        Thanks again Kirsten, for the great idea.

  16. August 28, 2013 10:07 pm

    I’m a multi-tasker . . . Maybe b/c I get bored so easily? So I’m always reading/writing more than one book.

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