Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

This colourful outline brought to you by Scrivener’s binder feature.

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who know me. Why would a non-outliner write a post about loving outlines?

It’s not that I’ve come entirely over to the dark side become an outliner, but I do recognize that sometimes they can be useful, whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool planner or a steadfast pantser. And in fact, this post has been co-written by my sometimes author assistant, Emily, who actually is an outliner and therefore knows more about the whole outlining thing than I do. Here’s what we’ve come up with in our collaboration on the topic.

1. There is No “Right Way” to Outline. Outlines can take on different forms depending on who is making them. Some writers use programs like Scrivener to create digital outlines, others prefer to use note cards or index cards. Any way you want to outline is a good way to outline. You might even find that you don’t have to go the full mile and outline your entire plot, but an outline of your main character’s arc would be helpful, or a timeline of historical events to set up your current world. You’re free to outline whatever will assist you and your writing, and pay no attention to the rest.

2. Outlines Are Inspiring. Whatever method you decide to use for your outline, make it not just helpful to you but visually or aesthetically pleasing. If there’s a color you find particularly inspiring, incorporate that into your outline. If you have images that get the creative juices flowing, represent your characters, or paint the picture of one of your locations, include them in your outline so you are always reminded of them when you return to your outline. Remember that no one else is going to see it; it’s just for you and it should make you excited as well as get you organized. Just don’t get lost in adorning your outline when you should be adorning your plot. Keep it simple and fun!

3. Having a Plan. The beginning of a story can be intimidating to write. So can the middle. And so can the end. Having an outline provides you with an overview of the plot, detailing how things start, how they progress, and how they end so you know where you’re starting and also where you’re going. There is no frightening blank space lying in wait just beyond that exciting first scene. You always have something to fall back on if you forget what you wanted to happen next.

4. Defense Against the Dark Arts…er, Writer’s Block. Every writer faces writer’s block at one time or another. A conversation isn’t working, an explanation requires some research before it can be written, a scene just isn’t interesting enough. An outline provides you with numerous distractions from that one difficult section; you can move onto another scene that you know needs to happen, but with a basic understanding of what needs to come before or after.

5. Structured Spontaneity. Outlines can, at first glance, seem to be an obstacle that will stand in the way of your creativity. If you know everything that’s going to happen in your story, is there really room for discovery or development? Absolutely! Think of your outline as a foundation; your action, characters, and themes all have their own jobs and interactions, and are probably not going to adhere to the outline indefinitely. Your writing will still surprise you, and on that note…

6. Outlines are Not Static. Sometimes characters do things that we don’t expect or a rogue plot point will plummet into the thick of our stories seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t mean that your outline becomes worthless. When things need to change, an outline can change with them, and you already have a platform to input new information and step back to see the whole picture in terms of this new development. An outline does not need to be restrictive.

7. Outlining is Pantsing in Disguise. Whether you do it before you write or as you write, you are still creating this storyline, these characters, and these events out of your imagination. Outliners are just pantsers who do more of their imagining prior to the actual act of writing, and write it down so they don’t forget it. So no matter which camp you think you fall into, it’s more a matter of perspective and style than anything else. If you’re a pantser, don’t let the prospect of an outline be scary or off-putting, because it’s not fundamentally much different from the way you usually tackle story construction.

8. Revision Tool There’s no better tool to have by your side when heading into a novel revision than your trusty outline. It gives you a necessary overview of the structure, pace, and logic of your story when you’re trying to ferret out where change is needed. To that end, if you’re not an outliner before you write, create an outline as you go. At the end of every writing session, briefly describe in a sentence or two what just happened. Even if you didn’t start out with an outline, you’ll have one by the time you finish the first draft.

9. Synopsis Tool Likewise, an outline can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to write the Dreaded Synopsis. Particularly if you’ve updated your outline to reflect changes that happened during the actual writing and revision of the novel, or created the outline in tandem with the novel and revisions, you have an accurate but brief reflection of the story from beginning to end, and can set to work polishing it up into a synopsis right away.

10. Aid to Discovery Your outline can reveal things about your novel or story that you may have included subconsciously, like themes and motifs. They’re revealed subtly throughout the story itself, but looking over your outline it may be more obvious that certain elements or objects repeat and resonate throughout the manuscript.

11. Series Tool Maybe you didn’t set out to write a series, but the first book or story has given birth to a followup idea. Your outline can be the first thing in your series bible, and refresh your memory on many elements of the previous story as you set out to write the next installment.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Did you think I was going to forget? Nope, here I am.

Terriermon completeIt’s been a not-so-productive week at the desk, since I’ve been laid low by a rather miserable cold and spent a good portion of my not-as-miserable time sewing. The sewing was definitely rewarding, however, since I finished this plush Terriermon for my daughter’s upcoming Digimon cosplay. He turned out to be quite a size and required a ridiculous amount of stuffing, but we are super pleased with him! The fabric is fleece so he’s very soft and cuddly.

I did manage to put the finishing touches on that little book trailer video for The Seventh Crow, and made it live today. You can find it here if you’d like to take a look. I also sent out my October writing news newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, you can find it here, but there’s a contest running only for subscribers, so consider signing up!

One nice aspect of the writing life is that one doesn’t necessarily have to be at the desk to be working, so I did a fair amount of cogitating on the plotlines of my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel while at the sewing machine. There are QUITE a number of things going on in this novel, and I’m not sure yet how they will all fit together, so a goodly amount of thinkage is required. Next I think I’m going to organize some index cards, either physical or in Scrivener, to sort out what’s been percolating this week.

Although it has nothing to do with writing, I’m so pleased that we have a new Canadian government as of this week, I can hardly stand it. Also not writing-related, I planted (with hubby’s help) all of my new bulbs and perennials–tulips, crocus, daylilies, oriental lilies, hyacinth, coneflowers, and astrantia. In a departure from the norm, I even marked where they are planted. I’m rarely that organized in the garden. Now to hunker down and wait until the long winter passes before they bloom in the spring. Sigh.cleandesk

Notably, I’ve kept my desk clean and tidy for over two weeks now. I expect that to change when November hits, since I’ll be writing like mad and also starting to run an online workshop.

Books I’ve been reading/listening to this week:

Read only one book at a time? Not me! :)

Next Friday I’ll be on the road to Hal-Con 2015, but if I’m really on the ball I’ll have my blog post ready to go before I leave.

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

my-tools-1239864-639x426So I had this idea to write a sort of weekly roundup/review post, and call it the Friday Desk Report. I envision it as sort of a brief review of the week’s projects, word metrics, links, and anything else notable that happened during the week. As much for myself as for anyone else, I suppose, but it could turn out to be interesting.

Will I be able to keep it up? Only the future will tell. Traditionally, I’m not so good with consistency, but it’s possible I’m improving with age. Come on, it’s possible.

So, what do I have to report? This week I did the most sustained new writing I’ve done since my mom passed away at the end of August. Still not a lot of new words, but it felt good to work like that again. I worked on a short story I’m writing about giant monsters who have laid waste to much of the continent and now threaten my protagonist’s small Nova Scotia farm.

I also worked on a book trailer for The Seventh Crow, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I’m waiting on a couple of images I need to replace some placeholders, and then I’ll be uploading it to share. Should be available sometime next week.

I wrote a book review I’d promised, and drafted a guest blog post I have to turn in by the 15th, so I’m well ahead on that. I also put together a new outline template for Scrivener and began using it to work on The Chaos Assassin, and this morning I sent out a short story submission.

I read far too much on Facebook about the upcoming federal election and decided I need to stop worrying about it and being disappointed in people. It’s far too negative. All I can do now is cast my own vote and encourage others to do so, and hope, hope, hope for better things to come.

NearspaceBibleToday I’m working on my Nearspace series bible, in preparation for NaNoWriMo and the novel I’m planning to work on in November. I already had such a thing but it was NOT well-organized or complete. I found this video from Kami Garcia to be quite inspiring in this regard and look how well it’s coming along!

In other Nearspace news, I also put up another free Nearspace story on this site today, which you can find here. It’s a peek into Nearspace and the first contact story between humans and Lobors, before wormhole travel was possible.

Some cool things from the internet this week:

Okay, I’m impressed. That’s a pretty good report! So back to today’s project…

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

No, this is not a post about knitting or weaving…at least, only figuratively.

This week I’ve been struggling to pick up an unfinished manuscript and get it moving forward again. I wrote over 50k words of a second Magica Incognita novel last November, and expected to finish the first draft early this year with an eye to rewriting and editing in the spring, and maybe a publication date this past summer.

Well, due mainly to consuming family issues, nothing beyond projects I had outside commitments for happened from early spring to fall this year. I’m very pleased that I was able to keep all of those commitments…but other projects fell by the wayside.

I’ve said before that the key to a really successful NaNoWriMo draft is getting to “the end.” It doesn’t matter how much work that manuscript will take in revisions and rewrites and adding new subplots and taking it apart and putting it back together again–it’s all easier if you have a finished first draft that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Well, I didn’t get anywhere near “the end” of The Chaos Assassin. And the intervening ten months or so have effectively blurred the progression of plots and clues and conversations in my mind so that I sat down at my desk this week not really knowing where to start. Reading through the existing manuscript was a good place to start, of course, as well as reviewing all my notes and mind maps. I also made a timeline of the existing events in Aeon Timeline, a program I recently purchased. Seemed like a good way to try it out, and so far, I like it.

But even all of that didn’t get the story back in my head the way it was when I was writing that first draft. I still feel like I’m floundering around with a fistful of plot threads and no clear idea what to do with them.

So I am going to try making an outline.

Yup, me. Making an outline. Weird, right? Not just of what’s already written–I usually do that anyway, after the fact or as I go along, because it’s invaluable for rewrites later. No, I’m going to go further. I’m going to catch up to where I have written and keep going. Plan out the rest of the novel and then write it.

My head’s almost exploding at this point.

Since I’m not an outliner by nature, I decided to get a little help by looking at various outlining methods online. I wasted  spent a fair bit of time perusing articles, charts, worksheets, etc., but in the end came back to one I’d looked at before and that sort of spoke to me: Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Actually, an enhanced version of it by Tom Gowan. And a little bit of Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure and a Scrivener version thrown in for good measure. No, I’m not dedicated to following it rigidly–just to using it as a guide to help put the manuscript back into perspective for me and assist me in finding my way forward.

So here we go. If nothing else, it’s colourful and pretty!

BeatSheet

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

For a long (LONG) time now, I’ve been looking for the perfect way to track manuscript submissions. I used to keep file folders and enter everything by hand, but it was cumbersome when I wanted to look something up, and the out-of-sight out-of-mind rule would also come into play; I could forget what I had out at any given time.

Then I started looking for a software program that would do the tracking for me, but after many (MANY) hours of searching, I could not find exactly what I wanted. Every one I found was either

  • too simple
  • outdated
  • not customizable enough
  • only online (which I didn’t want)
  • too complex, or
  • too expensive

At one point I thought I’d found a good one, paid for it, and spent hours inputting information. It has worked reasonably well, but has also been software-buggy to the point where I no longer trust it. And there’s a newer version, but I’d have to pay for it again. No, thanks.

Not long ago, I discovered the wonderful flexibility of Scrivener. I used it to re-organize and rewrite a novel, and found it extremely helpful for that. I’ve been doing all my writing in it since then. And the other day I had an idea–could I create a submission tracker with it? It seemed possible that I could, so I set about to try.

And, I love it. It takes full advantage of Scrivener’s Binder and Inspector features, as well as the folder/subfolder/text structure. Once set up, data entry for a given work or submission takes no more time than it would in any database program. And the setup is infinitely customizable–once you start thinking about it, you may find you want a setup that’s somewhat different from mine in the details, and that’s perfectly okay and easy to do. It’s the overall idea I want you to take away from this post. I’m no Scrivener power-user; this idea uses only basic techniques and features.

Ready to give it a try? You should be able to do the initial setup in under half an hour if you are at all familiar with Scrivener. I use Scrivener for Windows, so if you’re on a Mac, things might be slightly different (click any image to see it larger).

1. Open a new Scrivener project, and name it Submission Tracker (or whatever you’d like).

folders2. Create a folder for Manuscripts, and one for Publishers. Inside my Manuscripts folder, I also created a few subfolders: Novels, Short Stories, Reprints, and Sold/Retired. Depending on what you write, you may want to divide up your manuscripts even further; perhaps with subfolders for Non-fiction or Poetry. Your goal is to make it easy to quickly locate any given manuscript, so make whatever subfolders make sense for you. (Think about what you want to be able to see at a glance or find quickly when you open the tracker. Use as few or as many subfolders as you like. You can add new subfolders and move manuscripts into them at any time.)

If you wish, you can divide up the Publishers into subfolders, too–Open, Closed, Temporarily Closed, On Hiatus, etc. You can also simply color-code them with labels. More about that later.

3. Now, inside your Manuscripts folder, create a new text document and name it Template.

In this template, you’re going to set up whatever manuscript information you want to record/track. I’ve decided to keep it simple: Word Count, Genre, and a place for Notes. You don’t need to enter the title of the manuscript here, because in each manuscript document, the title will appear where this one says “MS Template”, just under the formatting bar. If you want to use this as a complete Manuscript record as well as a submission tracker, you could record dates (started, finished, etc.) or whether you wrote the piece for a particular market, how much you were paid if it sold, or any other information you want. This template is completely customizable; include whatever you want on it, but don’t forget the KISS principle. Only include what you really think you’ll use.

Below this general data about the manuscript, add a table for entering submissions (you can add a table easily from the formatting bar or the Format menu). Again, track whatever information you wish. I’ve set mine up with Date Submitted, Publisher/Market, Expected Reply, Reply Date, and Outcome. You could just have a Notes area here instead of a table, but I like things NEAT.MStemplate

4. Now create a template in your Publishers folder as well. I’ve kept mine simple: Contact Person, what the market Accepts, and Notes. (Again, you don’t need to add the name; it will already be at the top of the page). You could add things like pay rates, etc., but to save time, I’ll just include a link to submission guidelines in my notes. In my opinion, this is a better idea because you always want the most up-to-date information on any given market.

In my table I have a spot for Manuscript Submitted, Response, and Response Time. That’s all I really need here, because the Manuscript page itself will have all the other information about a particular submission, and there’s no need for me to input it twice. I do want to be able to link manuscripts with publishers in a search, though, so that’s why the manuscript title is included here. Response times matter to me, so I’ve set it up so I can see at a glance how a publisher rates in that department. Include whatever information you want in your table.PUBtemplate

5. One more bit of setup: labels and status. Turn on your Scrivener Inspector (if it’s not on already–the blue “i” button in the upper right corner), and under the View menu, make sure “Use Label Color In Binder” is selected.labelinbinder

Now set your Labels and colors for Manuscripts. I’ve chosen to mark my manuscripts as either Work in Progress, Revision, Ready to Submit, In Submission, Sold, or Retired. Create as many labels as you want. Use them in conjunction with Status information to further detail works that are in draft stages, with beta readers, need line editing, final proofreading, etc.–it depends only on how detailed you want to get and what you want to track.labels-status

I’ve also created a set of labels and colors for Publishers: Currently Open, Reading Periods (for those that are only open to subs at certain times), and Closed (later I added a few more, as you’ll see in the last image). Again, use what works for you. You may choose not to use any labels for Publishers, or you could use labels (or Status) to identify markets you’ve sold to, ones with the best pay rates or response times, publishers where you have a pending submission–whatever information you want. Each manuscript and publisher data sheet can be assigned both a label and a status, AND sorted into a specific folder, so you have many options. Remember that you can change the label color assignments anytime if you want a new look, and add more labels and statuses if you are inputting data and decide you need more.

6. And now you’re ready to input data. Right-click your Manuscript template and make a duplicate from the menu (don’t enter data into your template! You want to keep that blank, and only enter data into copies of it.). Rename the duplicate with the title of your first manuscript, and fill out the appropriate data about the work, and about a submission, if you have one. Bonus idea: use the synopsis area of the Inspector (the index card) to include a brief–you guessed it–synopsis of the work, publication info, or a tagline, pitch, or keywords if you like. You can also use the Document Notes section to store such information, a longer synopsis, etc. sampleMSIf you want to get EVEN MORE FANCY, you can use Edit>Link to insert a link directly to the manuscript file on your computer here. The link will appear wherever your cursor is located in the document. (NOTE: Later, I talk about storing your tracker project on Dropbox or a similar service; naturally, this link will only work on the computer on which the file is actually stored.)

link

If you entered a submission, leave the manuscripts folder and now go to the Publisher template, make a duplicate, and create a sheet for that publisher. In the table, enter the manuscript you’ve submitted, and set the publisher label and status, or sort it into the proper folder if you’ve decided to use them. Again, you can use the Synopsis area to record anything about the publisher you think is notable. And once you’ve entered a Publisher, you never have to do it again; you’ll just be adding new manuscript submissions to the table after that, or possibly updating the publisher status or information in future. samplePUB

If you’re going to populate the tracker with all your past manuscript and submission data, this could take quite a while. But if you keep at it, you will end up with a nice, comprehensive system. Once you’re caught up, you can simply create a new manuscript file whenever you begin a new work, and add a publisher file whenever you submit somewhere new, in addition to entering each new submission you make.

Another cool thing to note: the Binder also shows you, at a glance, how many manuscripts are in a given folder, and how many publishers you have in your system (the little numbers in grey circles).

Suggestions to get the most out of your Scrivener Submission Tracker:

  • Keep manuscripts that are in submission at the top of your list, and always move the most recently-submitted manuscript to the top, inside the Manuscripts folder. This will provide you with a quick visual clue to manuscripts that have been out for a while (they’ll have been pushed further down the list) and may need a followup note
  • Although Scrivener is not, strictly speaking, a database, you can use the search function to make it mimic one. By searching a particular publisher, for instance, you will see in the Binder all the manuscripts you’ve submitted there. Likewise, when you search a manuscript title, the Binder will display all the markets you’ve sent it to. Use the search function creatively and you’ll be able to locate data quickly. If you can think of data you’d like to be able to search, include it in your templates or labels.
  • Labels are meta-data and included in searches, so if you search the name of any label, for example, Work In Progress, the Binder will display all manuscripts with that label.
  • Move sold or retired manuscripts into the appropriate folder so they aren’t cluttering up your list of active works. You’ll also see your numbers of sales at a glance.
  • Move sold manuscripts that may be eligible to reprint into the Reprints folder so you can find them quickly. If you make Reprints a subfolder of Sold, your number of works sold will remain accurate
  • If you want to get really fancy, create a folder (or just a document) at the top of your Binder for keeping notes about calls for submission, deadlines, story ideas, etc.
  • If you use a cloud storage service like Dropbox or one of the many others, save your project file there. Your data will then be accessible from any computer where you have Scrivener installed.

So what does it look like when populated with some manuscripts and publishers? This is only a start on my data, but I think you get the idea (I think I will also be tweaking all the colors so it’s not quite so…garish!). I’ve highlighted some of the features:final

One more thing: Scrivener’s corkboard view. If you click on any folder (say, Short Stories), and you’ve used Statuses to identify what stage each manuscript has reached in the writing process, you can survey them at a glance on the corkboard:corkboard

I have no doubt that an experienced Scrivener user might come up with improvements or ways to make this system even more useful, but this is working for me. Maybe it will work for you, too!

Please feel free to add comments or suggestions!

 

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