Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Writing Tools, Organizing and Simplifying Your Writing Process

Many writers have a single biggest concern, finding the time to write. I want to talk about a few tools that I use that help me make the most of my writing time. They have helped me organize and simplify my writing process so when I do sit down to write, I spend less time on coordinating and more time writing. 

To note, one would not mistake me for a computer tech guru. My hope is to help others by sharing what I use to organize my writing. There is how-to help online that gives great specifics. I'm focusing mainly on how I utilize these tools. Alright, let's get started!

Outline and the TOC (Table of Contents)
Most of the time I am a freestyle writer, “pantser” as some call it. However, I decided to try doing an outline for one of my manuscripts, see if that style worked for me. I created the outline but then realized going between it and the manuscript was frustrating. So was scrolling though my ever-lengthening document. I’ve heard of others who create a separate document for each scene, but going between two documents (outline and manuscript) was more than enough back and forth for me. A document per scene? Not a chance. Gah!

Wait a minute, I can use the TOC (Table of Contents) function! I use it extensively in report writing, why not use it in writing fiction and keeping the story and scenes organized? Eureka! For some of you this is common practice, for others, like some of the writers I have spoken to, they had never thought to use it. It revolutionized my story organization, especially when I write from an outline. It is easy to change up if/when my story changes; adding scenes, taking some out, reordering them, whatever. And I didn’t have to buy additional software or gear, I just used the feature on my existing writing software. Sweet.

I work with both on Microsoft Word and Macintosh Pages, and both of their TOC (Table of Contents) tools are easy to use. I take my outline, name my scenes, and those are the headers that go into the TOC. By doing this, it integrates my outline into my manuscript so I literally fill in the scenes as I go. Also, when I am looking at my TOC, it has all the scene names there and I include who the POV is in, so at a glance I can get a feel of the scene flow and if my POV is balanced. I also include/add in the scene headings if I want to tweak or rewrite something. Sometimes additional story weaves or changes come as I get more into my story. Sound familiar? This helps organize that. It also gives me a great overview if I want to switch the sequence of scenes. It gives me a current list of where I am at. Creating a TOC is as easy as making your scene headings the style assigned to the TOC and then updating your TOC. It also creates handy hyperlinks within the document that you can click on and it will take you to that page in your document. 

Want to have quick access to that TOC, instead of scrolling through the pages of document, instead scroll through a sidebar of the pages of the document. In Word, under the View Tab, show the Navigation Pane. In Pages, under the View Tab, click on Page Thumbnails. They both will be on the left side of your screen and you can navigate from there. I'm all ears if anyone knows how I can have my TOC open in that sidebar only. It is quick enough to scroll there, but if I could just lock the TOC open instead of it going to whatever page I am looking at, that would be sweet.
And just a reminder, do not manually change your TOC, simply use the style needed and then click update. I update my TOC after any changes or tweaks so I keep it current.

Comments Function (built-in sticky notes, writing in the margin)
Again, this might be review for some, but if you haven't heard of or thought to use the comments function, it might facilitate organizing your story. I dig it. I use the comments function in both Word and Pages. These are notes I add to my document that act like sticky notes or writing in the margin of hard copy. I use them if I want to remember something to go back to and address, or note to think about further, stuff like that. I mentioned weaving above, it helps here, too. The comments function pinpoints a specific spot, not just a scene or chapter. Whatever you need to remind yourself, you can add a comment to help organize your thoughts or to remember something. 

Comments can be added or removed easily, and if you want to read your manuscript without them showing, that’s easy, too. Just hide them in the toolbar. When you want them back on, simply check the box to see them again. If you are at the stage of having beta readers and editors, it is nice to be familiar with this feature when their comments come in. To note for those who don't know, each commenter has a different color and tag. On any one document, you can have multiple people make their comments and each be labeled differently so you know who said what. Same goes for track changes, but that's another conversation.

Smartphone (as Recorder)
I heard Kevin J. Anderson speak at the When Words Collide conference festival in Calgary, Canada in 2012. First off, awesome sessions! One of the things he mentioned was he uses a recorder for when he “writes” while hiking and then has it transcribed. I thought brilliant! I love hiking, and it clears my head. What a great thing to be able to write and hike (or walk) at the the same time. 

However, I was hesitant to fork over cash to purchase one if it turned out to be something I wouldn’t end up using. But my cell phone has a microphone. I can talk into it and send myself an email of what I just “wrote.” Perfect. I am up and running. Again, my lack of tech savvy pops up here. I imagine there are apps I could search for that would help with this, but for now, this is working. ;) 

In Gratitude
I sincerely hope this has helped some of you out there. I have learned a ton from other writers and it is cool to be able to share a bit of what I have found that works for me. Cheers to efficiency and keeping things simple and organized. These tools have helped me do that with my manuscripts so I can make the most of my writing time and concentrate on the fun part, writing!

Happy Writing!

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