Mind Maps Done Right–Scapple for Windows is Here!

I didn’t intend to do a post today, but got an exciting announcement via Twitter this week–Scapple for Windows is in a free open beta!

Those of you who’ve followed this blog know I’m a fan of Literature and Latte’s word processing program Scrivener–most Indie writers use it, or have at least tried it. But, it’s a MAC OS program, and took a while to come to Windows. The ‘port is extremely useful, though it lacks a few of the features of the MAC version. If you haven’t already, you can check it out here.

Scapple is the much-touted companion program to Scrivener. It’s mind-mapping software–you can jot your ideas down on the virtual page, connect them, move them around, and generally brainstorm to your heart’s content. I’ve been using Microsoft OneNote for this, and it works fine…but it’s lacking. It doesn’t integrate with Scrivener, I’ve had issues synchronizing files across computers, and using it alongside Scrivener is counter-intuitive.
Scapple does integrate with Scrivener (well, sort of…keep reading), and being made by the same company, the two programs are designed to work in concert. But Windows users have had to wait patiently while MAC users reap the benefits of this robust program.

Until now. If you’re a Windows user, you can go here to download the open beta, and try it for yourself.

My first impression of this product is that it’s…impressive. There’s a unique simplicity to it–there’s zero pretense. It’s brainstorming software, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Some people may not like that it doesn’t have a billion features, but I rather prefer it–it’s like an extension of Scrivener, and that’s all it needs to be.

Here’s what you do: double click anywhere in the program window, type your note. Double click elsewhere to type another note–then drag that to the first one to create a connection. (Press the Alt key as you do this to create an arrow). Do it again to remove the connection.

And apart from a few tricks, that’s it. But really, it’s all that’s needed. Very nice. Here’s a screenshot after I fiddled with it for a few minutes:

Simple!

Simple!

Now, keep in mind that this is a beta. I noticed that the spellcheck doesn’t work correctly (it would insert the correct spelling into the middle of a word, creating an extra-wrong spelling). More importantly, the Scrivener integration doesn’t seem to have been added yet.* You can export your Scapple file and insert it into Scrivener, but the Drag and Drop feature doesn’t work–probably because it requires you to use Scrivener’s “Free Form Corkboard” feature, which isn’t available in Windows.

*Marta posted a workaround in the comments below. Simply create a Scapple file then add it as a Project Reference in Scrivener. Whenever you open Scrivener, you cal right click on the project reference and open in the default editor–bingo! It’s not exactly imported into Scrivener, but it’s as good as. I’ve tried it and it works like a charm. Thanks for the tip, Marta!

Still, it’s an excellent tool to complement an already excellent tool. Definitely recommended! I’m going to continue playing with it, and will probably post about it again soon–in the meantime, try it for yourself, and tell me what you think!

Scapple is available in open beta until September 15 2013. Once version 1.0 is ready, it will go on sale, probably for the same price as the MAC version at $14.99. Here’s a features page–but keep in mind it’s for the MAC version.

Scrivener Templates

Scrivener Templates: making creating easier.

I don’t have a whole lot of time today to post, but in the interest of keeping my schedule, I promised myself I’d write something. So I’ve got a quick idea I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, but never found the right space for it: Scrivener Templates.

If you’re not using Scrivener for your writing, check it out. It’s amazing. It’s basically a more powerful version of your word processor–not only can you write in it, it will help you organize your thoughts, plot out your story, and convert everything into a manuscript or eBook at the end. It’s an extremely versatile program.

One of the things I like most about Scrivener is the way it helps you organize your work. Whether you’re writing a short story or a trilogy of novels, Scrivener can help you keep everything in one place. Along the left side of the program is the Binder, a collection of collapsible folders which is the backbone of your project. You have your manuscript (divided into scenes), notes for characters and places, and all your research.

 

Binder Closeup

What I want to touch on today is the Templates. At the bottom of your binder is a folder that has some templates. You can right click to duplicate one, and save it as a character or place. Then, just fill in the details and you have a succinct sketch of your characters and places. Easy.

I used to write as I went–by which I mean I let my characters develop as I wrote, without having decided ahead of time too much about them. This still works for me to a point–I love being surprised when my characters do something I didn’t plan for–but for the most part, you want to have all of that laid out in front of you when you’re starting a new project. It’s fine to have a general idea, but the deeper your characters are when you start writing, the easier you’ll find it to create three dimensional characters. And, to use an old writer’s cliche, places should be characters in your stories too–so treat them the same way.

Here I’ve filled out the template with the basics for Ahbinzur, one of my main characters. She’s a complex one, so I definitely wanted to have something down before I wrote too much of her. As you can see, the template is pretty straight forward: give the name, a physical description, personality traits, and so on. Something I found really helpful was an entry on Internal and External conflicts, one of the most important ways to make a fully fleshed out character. The things the template asks you to think about seem redundant–why should I have to write down what she looks like? I already know that–but they’re also easy to miss.

Doing a Place template is much the same. Far beyond what the setting looks like, you’ll think about what the sights, sounds and smells are, any special features you want to include, an so on. Getting it all out on paper makes inventing a living, breathing setting so much simpler.

Well, there you are. It’s a simple tool–really, it’s nothing more than a form you’re filling out–but oh so important. Something like this should go without saying, but missing these details will squash your book flatter than pancake–so hy not take advantage of it? As usual, Scrivener is taking the guesswork out of your project for you–all you have to do is hammer out the details, then sit back and write.

 

Scrivener on the Go

Scrivener

Scrivener: A great program just got better!

Last week, I mentioned that I was learning to use OneNote, and trying to find a convenient way to sync between computers. I’ll tell what I found below, but first, I want to talk about a happy accident I had along the way.

I discovered you can run Scrivener off a USB drive.

Now, I work a regular 9-5 job, and between that and family life,my typical writing time is usually Saturday and Sunday mornings. But I also get to work about an hour before my workday starts, so I’ve taken to writing or researching in the morning. This is great, except that I don’t have access to Scrivener at my work computer and doubt I could convince IT it’s a necessary program for my job.

So I’ve been using a combination of Sugarsync and/or Google Drive, both of which I’ve used in the past with great effect. But it’s an extra step: when I get home, I have to copy and paste my work into Scrivener. And when things get really busy at work, I sometimes forget to do this and end up with contrasting versions on both machines. Not efficient.

So in researching how to update OneNote conveniently, I found out that you can run Scrivener from a flash drive. You can actually install the program onto the drive, though the Literature and Latte folks (creators of the program) don’t recommend it because flash drives are generally slower than PCs. Instead, they suggest installing to your computer as normal, then copying your files over to the USB through explorer. Though I don’t use a Mac, I’m sure there’s a similar procedure.

Once you do this, you can open your Scrivener files on another machine through the USB stick. Voila: I can now use Scrivener on my off time at work!

A caveat: when you plug your USB into another computer and start the program, you’ll be asked to enter a registration number or use the trial version, even if you’ve already purchased it. This is only because Scrivener verifies your license through the ‘net, and the new computer won’t be registered.

Fortunately, the Scrivener license allows you to use the program on up to 10 machines (as stated on their Technical Support page), so all you need to do is input your registration number again and you’re good to go. If you don’t have your number (it’s not accessible through the program), you can go here to have it retrieved for you.

I’ve raved about Scrivener before–if you’re a serious writer, it’s one program you shouldn’t do without–but I really have to say that it keeps impressing me. This is an excellent tool for writers, and with this revelation, it just got a whole lot better.

OneNote

Now to OneNote. This is less of an issue for me now–the reason I was using it for gathering research was because I couldn’t use Scrivener on my computer at work. Now that’s moot–but it’s still a useful program.

OneNote 2010–which I have on my home computer–has a nifty feature where you can synchronize your workbook to Microsoft Skydrive, which will then synchronize it to your other computers. As long as they also have OneNote 2010.

At work, I have 2007, so this isn’t an option. I’ve had trouble syncing the notebook between the two computers, and it’s getting a bit cumbersome. It’s a tad disappointing that the 2010 file can’t open in 2007, and can’t convert without additional software–after all, Word 2010 can be opened in an earlier version. The best I can seem to do is save my pages individually in 2007 format (I can’t seem to save the whole notebook in 2007), then open them on my work PC from there. It’s not nearly as streamlined as it really should be for a program whose whole purpose is to make and share notes, but maybe I’m missing something. If anyone has any tips to share, please leave them in the comments!

Ultimately, as I’ve said, this is now moot. If I can use Scrivener to compile my research from both machines, it’s simpler than using two different programs. OneNote still has its benefits, but I’m not sure I’ll continue using it for my projects. Sorry Microsoft–another case of a Mac product winning out!

Formatting eBooks–for Newbs

Last time, we spoke about the very basics of doing a book cover–today, another integral piece of the puzzle, formatting!

Before I got into e-publishing, I thought I knew what publishers wanted when you submit your manuscript. There are certain protocols you’re supposed to follow–name in the upper left corner, word count in the upper right, etc. The purpose of this is for the agent or publisher to have a quick reference, and for the editor to be able to easily get around your work. In e-publishing, though, the writer is filling most of those roles, so the game is completely different.

So why not just write the book in MS Word the way you want it to look, upload it to Kobo or Amazon, and press publish?

If you do that, I’ll guarantee you one thing: the end product will look horrible.

The thing is, a lot of the formatting in MS Word–or other word processors for that matter–is done in the background, where you can’t see it. Here’s an experiment: go to the View tab,

Word Formatting Marks

Formatting Marks: note there are even dots to indicate the space between words.

and find the option that shows your formatting marks. (In Word, go to Options, Display, and Show All Formatting Marks.) Your manuscript will be riddled with symbols; this is coding Word inputs into your file as you’re writing to determine what the output will look like. What many people don’t realize is that Word is not a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get program. Far from it!

Here’s another experiment. Copy a paragraph of your manuscript, open a blank file in Notepad, and paste it. The text should go, unbroken, on one line, and you’ll have to scroll to the right to see it all. This is because .txt files, unlike files from word processors, don’t have “Word Wrap,” meaning that the text will go on forever until a new paragraph is started. Looks hard to read, right? Surely we want our manuscripts to “wrap” when we format them for eBooks, right?

Actually, no. The thing is, there’s no standard for electronic books. Many–I’d even say most–go with the ePub format, while others–like the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle books–are .mobi files. There are several other formats; the point is, they’re all programmed differently. So when you upload a particular file to, say, Kobo, it might look vastly different when Amazon gets a hold of it. The difference comes in how those files interact with the formatting marks I mentioned earlier.

I haven’t experimented with every kind of file, so I can’t tell you yet which works best–what I can say is that, for the sake of your own sanity, the easiest thing to do is start with a raw file. I do a lot of my writing in MS Word through Google Docs–because it’s accessible anywhere, even on my phone–and copy and paste the text into Scrivener. Scrivener can output into several file types, including Real Text Format (rtf) or the MS Word .doc. Of, you can export it as a text file. This is the raw text–no formatting at all.

What I’ve been doing is exporting as a text file, then opening up a program called Sigil, a WYSIWYG editor (unlike Word!). Sigilis basically an HTML editor, meaning you’ll be coding in the same way you would a web page–or an eBook. It’s really simple to use, and you don’t need any experience with HTML. Just copy and paste your work, create headings (which will create a table of contents for you), and images if you have them, italicize and bold your text if need be. That’s it! There’s a handy tutorial here, and the whole process isn’t very long or arduous (though poetry is another story–it took a while to get Muzak for the Metro to look right).

It might even be simpler, though. I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine you could output your Scrivener files as an eBook, which would open in Sigil. This way, you do most of your formatting as you work in Scrivener, and use Sigil for touch-ups.

Once that’s done, you use Calibre to tweak things like metadata and making sure everything is “just so.” But that’s a topic for another post.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eBook formatting, but it’s a start, and it’s a lot easier than some might lead you to believe. If you want to check out a sample of just how this turns out, you can go to Amazon to find the eBook I created with this process (including a cover) this weekend, Muzak for the Metro. It’s only $0.99, and it includes a poem that wasn’t in the original collection–plus an excerpt from “Room With a Corpse,” a short story which will appear in my forthcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories. Check it out!

Scrivener and Snapshots

I had a conversation with a writer friend recently about Scrivener and backups, and the subject of Snapshots came up. I’ve since learned that Snapshots aren’t really useful as a backup–Scrivener gives you a different option for that–but they’re still really useful.
The big idea here is being able to change your manuscript while being able to refer to a previous version…but I’ll let the article below tell you all about it:

Editing your Scrivener Project Through Sugarsync

Today I want to give a quick tip about Scrivener. I’ve started following them on twitter (here), where they send tips and shortcuts. One that I’ve seen a couple times from them is how you can back up your work in the cloud by using Dropbox–which is a great idea.

Click for a larger view

But I’m not a Dropbox user–I’m on the other side of camp with Sugarsync. It works the same way: in Scrivener, go to File>Backup>Backup To, and it will prompt you for a folder, as seen here:

You can save it as a .zip file, and you’re good to go. Do this regularly.

But I mostly don’t use Sugarsync for backup; I use it to synchronize my work between computers, so I can work anywhere. One of my first questions about Scrivener was if I could open a project on a different computer, work on it, and see that work updated when I got to my home machine. Of course, normally you can’t do this unless you have Scrivener on each machine–but I’ve found a way to make it work.

Scrivener saves each project in a series of .rtf files. If you go to Windows Explorer and open up the folder containing your project, you’ll see another folder called Docs. This folder contains all the information for your project, including the little blurbs on your index cards, how they’re linked together, and the actual text files for each chapter or scene.

Click for a larger view.

And here’s the trick: if you open one of those .rtf files on another computer through Sugarsync and make edits, those changes appear in Scrivener as soon as it updates in the cloud–and because Scrivener saves your project automatically, the reverse is true. So working on your Scrivener project on the go is as simple as finding the document you want to edit and going from there.
There are two caveats: the first is the way the files are named. Scrivener names those files automatically–or, rather, numbers them. If you try to change the name of a file to something you’ll more easily recognize–for example, Scene 1–it will show up in your Scrivener project as blank, because the program is looking for particular file names. So there is some trial and error in finding the file you want to edit–but really, it’s as simple as opening up .rtf files until you find the one you want. After that, it’s smooth sailing, though it might be inconvenient for really large projects with dozens of files.
Secondly, you won’t of course have access to all the wonderful options and tools of the program–you’re just editing a word file. If you have Scrivener on another computer, synchronizing should work even better, and you’d have full access to the project on both computers. But this suits my purposes; when I write I like to just bang it out, and go over it later when I edit. I can do the really rough draft on the go, and edit and play around with it in Scrivener when I’m on my main PC.

So there you have it. It may not be for everyone, but I’ve found it tremendously useful! And although I’m not a Dropbox user, I imagine the whole process works in just the same way with that program.

P.S. You can follow Sugarsync on Twitter as well, right here.

Scrivener: the Ultimate Writer’s Tool.

Scrivener

So you’ve got a way to gather your research, a place to hammer out your 750 words a day, and a bunch of handy web resources at your fingertips. The next step, of course, is to write your project. And by many accounts, the best tool for that is a program called Scrivener.

Scrivener is a project based writer’s tool that aims to help you get past your first draft. It’s an organizer, a compiler, can build your manuscript into publisher accepted formats, and can export the final project into a number of file types, including an eBook. It’s a one stop shop for the self-publishing writer!

Now, I’ve only started using Scrivener, so I don’t as yet have a comprehensive view of all the tips and tricks. It’s a remarkably robust program; you could work in it for months and not use half the features that are available to you. The the thing is that, unlike a certain Microsoft based word processor, not knowing all these little features doesn’t get in the way of using the program–but when you find them, the program gets more and more convenient to use.

Scrivener is based on an framework set to help you organize your project. When you open a new project, you’ll see a series of folders on the left hand side, each of which represents a different chapter in your book. On the right is a corkboard, where you can “pin” index cards to outline the chapter or–if you click on the chapter in question–indicate separate scenes. These cards can be shuffled around in any order, labelled as concepts, ideas, first/revised/final drafts, or moved from folder to folder. You can outline your entire novel in one place, and shuffle things around as you please. This makes organization simple, but also means that one of the messier parts of editing–rearranging things so your plot flows smoothly–is solved with a click of your mouse. You can even run a search for specific keywords to filter a certain group of cards; if, for example, you have a subplot that weaves through your main story without interfering with it, you can pull all of those cards in sequence to see that it makes narrative sense.

The main corkboard

If that was where the program ended, it would be worth trying out. But Scrivener does so much more.

There’s a place for you to keep notes and plot lines for specific characters or places, and even general concepts so they are at your fingertips, but don’t interfere with the manuscript. There’s a pane for research where you can add images, text, full webpages, and even video to reference as you write. You can re-size this pane to show as much or as little of either side as you like. Likewise, you can bring up a pane to show your index cards, so you can write scene by scene and rearrange the entire structure as you go. I think that Debrief, shown earlier this week, is better at handling all your research in one place, though Scrivener seems to have more options in terms of including media. I’m still playing with both.

Scrivener research

You can do research in Scrivener too!

Scrivener can show you at a glance how many pages, words and characters are in the entire document, or just parts of it; how many pages it would be if it were printed as a paperback or 8.5X11 paper; it can calculate word frequency in the document; and you can add word count targets for each chapter, or the project as a whole.

Scrivener also gives you access to a few simple–but useful–tools, such as looking up a highlighted term in Google, Wikipedia or Dictionary.com; translating the word into other languages; and even a name generator. (Though the name generator has a lot of options as to race, nationality, number of names, etc., I still found it to be a bit generic. Though I prefer character names that reflect character, so I won’t be using this feature anyway).

Of course, once your project is finished, you’ll want to do something with it. You can compile your project and export it in a variety of formats, including .pdf, .rtf, .doc, ePub and .mobi. Each format gives you a number of options as to what to include in the final output, and when you compile as an eBook you can edit the metadata. Conceivably, you could write a book, export as an ePub, and have it ready to upload it to sell in your favourite eBook store all with the same program.

Scrivener Compile

Compile your eBook with ease!

Because Scrivener is such a large program, it can seem daunting to use. As I mentioned, you could skim the surface of the program and be perfectly happy with it, but the deeper you go the more useful it is. Fortunately there are helpful tutorials at your disposal. These tutorials are set up as projects, so you can open one (for a novel, for example), and work through it as a hands on example of how to use all the program’s features. It will take a couple of hours to go through it, but it’s worth it to get the full scope of the program. For those who want a quicker look, there’s also a series of video tutorials on their website that will give you a good idea of how to use Scrivener.

Did I mention you can also take “snapshots” of different edits of your work and compare them side by side? Or type in full screen mode with no distractions–though you can add a background image for inspiration? Or (on the Mac) edit multiple pieces of text simultaneously, dragging and dropping bits into each, in Scrivenings mode? I’ve also figured out how to synchronize my files with Sugarsync so I can work on them away from home, even though I only have Scrivener on this computer.

Scrivener is available for the Mac (for which it was originally written) and Windows. There’s a lot more documentation about the Mac version, but the Windows version is catching up. It comes with a 30 day free trial, though to be honest, the $43 price tag ($48 for the Mac version) is a steal for as much as this program can do. If you’re serious about writing, this is a great program to help you achieve your goal.