Category Archives: Scrivener

Why I’m A Draft Packrat

roughdraft_finaldraftI miss college.

In the five years I’ve been writing this novel, I’ve done everything you’re not supposed to do. I let things sit for weeks or months, until I “felt” like writing. I wrote slow, under the misguided assumption that the words had to come out perfect the first time. I edited, edited, edited well before I ever had a first draft done. Don’t feel much like writing today… I’ll polish that last chapter I wrote! Only to have to cut the chapter later, and feel like a jerk for wasting my own time.

Plus, plot and characters changed so many times mid-draft that there were several drafts I abandoned entirely to start over from page one. That happened, oh, four or five times. Nearly every scene in the book has existed in so many different permutations, I sometimes forget what “version” I’m favoring currently.

And yet, I’ve never thrown any of it away. I have folder upon folder of draft discards: deleted lines, deleted scenes, the full drafts abandoned midway through.

Why? Because, even when I’m sure that what I’m cutting is best destroyed for the sake of mankind, I often find myself missing a certain description or scene later, and wanting to add it back. Fishing through earlier drafts spares me the angst of having to write it anew!

Even better, I eventually switched to writing in Scrivener, which made my packrat behavior much easier to manage. One of the main reasons I favor Scrivener over other writing tools is its snapshot feature. I can take a snapshot of any scene before I change it. That snapshot is then preserved for all time. I can go back and pull lines out of it- or revert back to the snapshot version wholesale.

snapshotThese are just for my first chapter…

The only problem is remembering to take a snapshot before I make changes- which I usually do, but occasionally I’ve forgotten. It’d be nice if Scrivener had an option where it prompts you to snapshot the first time you start typing in a scene. Not a big deal, though; I’ve never lost anything I couldn’t recover from.

Along with the snapshots, I also maintain a special file of cut lines/dialogue/etc. that I still like- just in case I might have use for those lines elsewhere.

If you don’t have Scrivener, I recommend keeping a folder or file of your discards. You never know when they might save your butt, and you can always delete them after the book is done! Of course, you should also be backing up all of your files on a regular basis.

Do you keep your discards? Or do you prefer a different system of retrieval? Let me know in the comments!

Word Abuse: Accentuate Your Bad Habits


I’m in the throes of heavy editing at present, still trying to hammer out a process that works best for me.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned thus far, it’s that even after you think you’ve gotten your prose as pretty as it can possibly be, there’s something wicked lurking in there to which you’re completely oblivious.

One example is unintentional repetition of certain words and sentence structures. I didn’t know it until recently, but I abuse the hell out of […], and […] and […], but […].  See?  I even did it just now, two sentences ago.  It’s not something to completely eliminate from the manuscript, but (ugh!) multiple times in the same paragraph is a no-go.  The sentences all start to sound the same, and (crap, not again!) the prose turns boring.

Let me be clear: in a first draft, it doesn’t matter.  Get your thoughts down, however they come to you.  It’s while you’re editing that you have to worry about this stuff.

If you don’t know you’re doing it, how can you avoid it?  You need more eyes on your manuscript, human or mechanical.  My spouse alerted me to the and/but problem.  At first I was skeptical, but (!!) when I went back and looked again, I was shocked at how bad it was.

Even the best beta reader can miss things, though.  That’s when I turn to AutoCrit.  You need a paid membership to use it, but (shoot) I deem it money well spent.  Among many other things, AutoCrit can highlight commonly overused words, and (sigh) recommend how many of those repetitions to remove.  This is Autocrit’s default word list:

  •  “ly” adverbs
  • that’s
  • look
  • maybe
  • had
  • have
  • was/were
  • gerunds (“ing” verbs) at the start of a sentence
  • conjunctions (ex. and, but) at the start of a sentence
  • could
  • feel/feeling/felt
  • hear/heard
  • it/there
  • knew/know
  • see/saw
  • smell/taste
  • watch/notice/observe
  • just/then
  • that

If you have a Professional account, you can set up custom searches.  I don’t, so I can’t add “, and” and “, but”.  However, now that I know I have this problem, I can go into Scrivener and perform a find on a scene, chapter, or manuscript (CTRL+F, for those who love keyboard shortcuts as much as I do):

scrivfindI use the “whole word” option just to be safe.

I click Next through every instance found.  For each one, I manually highlight it in orange, my color for flagging repetition.  If I see too much orange in any one location, I know I need to rework what’s there.

Sadly, this is pretty tedious.  I’ve not found a way in Scrivener to say, “Find all occurrences of ‘XXXX’ and highlight them.”  If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know!

If you happen to use MS Word, a one-stop mass formatting is easy:

  1. Hit CTRL+H to bring up the Find and Replace window.
  2. Type the word/phrase you’re looking for in both the Find What and Replace With boxes.
  3. Click the More button.
  4. Click inside the Replace With box so your cursor is blinking there, then click the Format button.
  5. Choose whatever formatting options you want.
  6. Make sure your choices appear under the Replace With box (ex. “Format: Highlight”).
  7. Click the Replace All button.

wordfindThe only time I will ever admit Word is superior at something.

I utilize a rainbow of highlight colors in my manuscript.  This is my own personal system- I’m not saying it’s what everyone should do, just that it has served me well so far:

  • Yellow: “Needs work.”  Stuff that’s not yet in sentence form, or a word I don’t like that I want to replace with a better word later.
  • Orange: Repetition, excessive use of pronouns, words/phrases I overuse.
  • Green: Subordinate clause words.  Rewriting these can be rewarding in terms of crafting more interesting sentences.  I don’t look to eliminate every single one, rather ensure they don’t get out of hand.
  • Pink: Stuff I’m considering deleting.  I like to give myself time to decide whether it truly deserves the axe.

My manuscript looks like a paintball massacre, and (GAH) I often have to comb through and re-highlight after a round of editing, but (I give up) the eventual result is prose that’s more deliberate and varied.

I used to be a technical trainer for all of the MS Office products.  If you’re interested in more fancy Word tricks, let me know!  I’m not as deadly with Scrivener, but I’m also glad to post what I know about it, if so desired.

Are there any words/phrases you abuse?  What tricks do you have for dealing with them in your editing phase?