Scrivener Trial

I’ve recently been working on my latest novel again, having put it aside while there were too many other things going on for me to find the time. And I’ve been trying out some writing software. Called Scrivener, it is, according to its makers, ‘the go-to app for writers of all kinds’, designed to provide everything you need  to start writing and keep writing. You can download it for a free one-month trial (where rather than a calendar month, only the days you actually use the software count towards the trial). So how have I been getting on?

My first task was to work my way through the tutorial, which took some time. And then I was ready to create a new project, and start typing. I write the old-fashioned way, with pencil and notebook. It works well for me. I get to do the creative bit unencumbered by soulless ‘tech’. And then later, the process of typing up what I’ve written acts as an additional level of editing and proof-reading. I had nearly two full notebooks ready to be typed up. I created a new document for each chapter. They suggest you give the chapters titles, rather than  numbers, to save having to re-number if you either change the order or insert more chapters as you progress. This is a screenshot (snip) of Scrivener:


The main panel looks very much like MS Word – presumably this is what it’s based on – but without the full range of controls and options you get with Word. A column on the left, which they call the binder, is effectively the file structure; a list of the chapters, plus notes, research – anything else you want to put in there, you can just create a folder and/or a document for it. Folders can contain text, images, videos, sound – whatever you need. On the right, another column is for comments, notes, references, plus a synopsis of each chapter. This column is called the inspector. There are different views – you can look at two chapters or documents side by side (or split horizontally) which could be very useful when you’re referring to reference material or notes. You can have attachments pinned to a cork board background.

I had quite a few problems trying to get the program to give me what I wanted. Finding options was difficult, as it differs from Word quite a bit (and, as I’ve said, there aren’t as many options). It took me a while to find where to change the paragraph indents, for example. And I still haven’t found how to change the measurements for indents from inches to millimetres (maybe you can’t).

Some of the functions are rather strange and annoying. The spellchecker insists on starting from the beginning of the document, and won’t let you highlight a particular word. The comments look just like comments in MS Word, except that rather than aligning with their position in the text, they appear as a continuous list. The relevant comment is highlighted when you click into the text at the point it refers to (or, conversely, if you click on a comment, you jump to the point in the text it refers to). This doesn’t really work for me.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve really just been typing (I’ve put in one notebook worth of text) rather than making full use of the program. I have put most of my reference material and notes in too, but I just haven’t been doing enough with the various functions to learn how the software works. Plus, it’s now over a month since I went through the tutorial, and I’ve forgotten most of it. I can go back to the tutorial whenever I need to. But who wants to be playing that game when you’re deep in the creative process of writing?

Another problem is that I write on a tablet, with a keyboard attached. It’s small, and therefore portable, so I can carry it around with me (and occasionally go and write in a coffee shop while sipping at a long black – bliss!) But the screen is, of course, small, which is a disadvantage even with a standard word processor. But in Scrivener, with a panel to the left and right, and the option of splitting the screen to look at two documents at once..? Well, those functions just aren’t practical on a small screen. You can hide both left and right panels to give yourself full screen width. But that kind of negates the added functionality they give.

With the trial period coming to an end, I set about exporting the text I’d written in Scrivener, so I didn’t lose it. If I decide not to buy the program I’ll need to get it into MS Word. Scrivener has a ‘compile’ function, which allows you to export your book into a variety of formats, including PDF, RTF and MS Word. You can specify page breaks, font type and size, etc. Sounds great, but it’s complicated, and would need a fair amount of experimentation before you get the result you want. It reminds me of my days as a computer programmer. Adding an extra step (compilation) between writing your manuscript and putting it into a finished format seems to me like a retrograde step, compared to a word processing program, where you format as you go along, and can see the finished result and make corrections to it.

With Scrivener, you compile, check through the result then, if it isn’t quite how you want it, you have to look at the settings, recompile, and hope that it works. That really does seem too much like hard work to me; particularly as Scrivener doesn’t do typesetting, so that when you finally get the result you want you have to import it into another program to typeset, before you can send it to the printers. It’s a process that’s just asking for things to go wrong. And they did! The screenshot (snip) that follows illustrates this perfectly. I compiled to a Word (docx) format, to include the comments. You can see that while some of it formatted properly, for a large chunk, the main text has migrated into the comments field:

I deleted all of the comments, to see what happened – whether that would put it right. As you can see, the text in the section that wasn’t formatted correctly then disappeared off the edge of the page!

If this is the kind of problem you get from what was only a basic export of what amounts to perhaps a sixth of a novel, I dread to think what awaits when I try to compile the full manuscript. There’s also the issue of confidence – you need to know the software is going to give you what you need, and not produce random unexpected results.

When I copied the text into my Word document, things got stranger still. Trying to delete page breaks, or changing the font size, didn’t seem to work. Clicking the option to show hidden formatting marks didn’t solve it – there was nothing I could see that would be causing problems. After a lot of messing about I think I may have put it right, but I’m not confident of what will happen when I start to edit the text further.

I think you can tell from the above that I’m not going to buy Scrivener when the trial period ends. The main function of the software is to have everything relating to your book – the manuscript, notes, research, etc. – in the same place. It is handy to be able to click through a list of chapters by title, and it saves time switching between different Word docs. But it also seems quite claustrophobic, and needs a reasonably large screen to work. Darius Marley commented on a previous post to the effect that software writing aids are not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. Thanks Darius, for that wise advice.

The time I spent testing Scrivener was not entirely wasted though. It made me think more about how I can use existing software – in my case MS Word and Excel – to better organise the writing process. MS Word may not be perfect, but at least it’s familiar and reliable (most of the time).

 

text © graham wright 2020

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Book Review – Letters From a Lost Uncle

Mervyn Peake has long been one of my favourite authors. So when, late last year, I discovered a book by him that I hadn’t read (or even known about), I was eager to get my hands on a copy. ‘Letters From a Lost Uncle’ was, according to my (then) local bookshop, unavailable. But when I tried again last month at my new local book shop (called Bookshrop – as in a bookshop in Shropshire – get it?) it was available. But I didn’t bother in the end. Only joking – of course I ordered a copy straight away!

Mervyn Peake is best known for the Ghormenghast trilogy – three novels (like most trilogies) based in a mythical realm, and following the central character of Titus Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of Ghormenghast. Peake wasn’t prolific. I remember a TV adaptation, many decades ago now, of his only other novel, MrPye. He did write poetry as well mind, and childrens’ books, and was a talented artist and illustrator.

Peake’s characters are somewhat surreal, but his powers of description and his creative imagination were, in my humble opinion, second to none. He’s able to draw you into worlds, and to have you believing in characters you know couldn’t possibly be real.  ‘Letters From a Lost Uncle’ is not so much a novel as a picture book. Each page consists of a drawing, or series of drawings, in pencil, with a typed (on a typewriter – remember those?) piece of paper cut out and stuck on over the top (cut and paste just isn’t the same nowadays!)

The style of writing is simplistic – narrated by someone who supposedly isn’t used to writing. It’s the story of an arctic explorer, told through his letters to a nephew he’s never met. I don’t know that it’s a childrens’ book as such, though it could well appeal to, and be easily understood by even quite young children. There aren’t any themes in it you would describe as adult, and it’s an easy read (and short, as there’s only a small amount of text on most of the pages). The real joy is in the artwork. The drawings are superb, and bring the story to life. The whole endeavour is a triumph of the imagination, the writing is funny and endearing, and despite the fantastical nature of the story and characters, really draws you in, building to a satisfying conclusion.

I read the book in three short sittings, with a smile on my face the whole time. I would say I was sad when I’d finished, but unlike most books, there really isn’t an end – I know I can spend plenty of time looking through it again and again because of those astonishing drawings. Who knows, maybe I’ll come across more by Mervyn Peake that I didn’t know existed? In the meantime, I’m thinking that perhaps I might re-read some of the books I do know about quite soon.

text © Graham Wright 2020

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Chick Lit

Our new house came with some unusual accessories – the previous owners left us some chickens. And to help us work out how to look after them; their collection of chic lit. Say hello to ‘Your Chickens’ magazine!
I can’t help thinking of ‘Have I Got News for You’, and their missing words round:

‘Life size sculpture of  Spitfire made from <What?>’[1.]

I know you’ll be disappointed if I don’t show you the chickens, so here they are:

The two littl’uns at the front are Lavender Pekins; Lola on the left, and Charlie the cockerel on the right. The punky one behind is an Arakoon, who we’re calling Ari. The big hen on the perch is Ollie, and I believe she’s a breed called a Plymouth Barred Rock. It’s fitting she’s on top, as she really does rule the roost – she’s a bit of a bully.

A bit of a diversion from the literary theme of this blog, I know, but I couldn’t resist the pun.

[1.] The answer is egg boxes – from Your Chickens  May 2013. It was made from ‘Eggs for Soldiers’ egg boxes to support the charity ‘Help For Heroes’, and was at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford (and who knows – maybe it still is).

 

text & images © Graham Wright 2020

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When is a writer not a Writer?

Answer: when they’re not writing!

I’m sad to say that for some time, that’s been me. It’s not writers block – if such a thing exists – just that I had to put my latest novel on hold when other things took over. First, I was so busy self-publishing, and then promoting, my last novel Moojara, that I didn’t have enough time to work on the new one. And then I was moving house. And not just house: I’ve moved all the way from South Wales to Shropshire. I can tell you that moving is definitely as stressful as has been reported. Stressful, and very, very time consuming.

The move is done now though, and despite being surrounded by still-to-be-unpacked cardboard boxes, I think it’s time to re-familiarise myself with the latest WIP (work in progress) and get back to work. And I’ve decided to try something new. While trying to find software for typesetting that doesn’t cost a fortune and require a masters in typesetting to operate, I came across a program call Scrivener. It’s really a writing aid, but I had hoped it might include some typesetting functionality (beyond the limited capabilities of MS Word). Having downloaded it for the trial period, I now know it doesn’t. But it does look as though it might be useful for the writing process.

Writing a book generates a  huge amount of information. Beyond the manuscript (which itself makes for a very large Word document) there’s notes and ideas for the characters and for plot development. You may need a  calendar to keep track of when things happen, to avoid continuity errors. For the locations you may have photographs, maps, train and bus times. I find myself switching from one Word document to another, then to file explorer to look at images, or Excel to check facts. The idea of Scrivener is that everything is kept as a set of documents within the same software, so you don’t have to keep flitting about from one place to another. Sounds good, but will it work? I’ve run through the long tutorial (they say it should take 2 hours, and it did). And now I’ve created a new project for my latest novel, and begun to load in text and reference material.

I’m a little bit lost at the moment, staring at the screen and struggling to remember what I learnt from the tutorial; trying to work out the right way to import text and images, and whether it’s actually possible to call in a spreadsheet. So far, the software is just proving to be a barrier between me and the writing, which is no good; no good at all. But it’s early days. Hopefully I’ll get to grips with the program soon, and  then I can properly assess whether or not it’s going to work for me. I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

 

Text © Graham Wright 2020
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Marketing Your Novel

I’ve been through all the stages of publishing my novel, and I’ve done almost everything myself, from editing, to typesetting, to designing a cover. If you haven’t been following, you can read how I did it here: An Idiot’s Guide to Self-Publishing.

Actually, I did get some help with proof-reading and with editing, from friends and family. I called in the professionals for the actual printing of the books, which is the one thing it’s just not practical to do yourself. Up until now I think I’ve coped quite well. But I’ve hit a bit of a block when it comes to marketing.

It began well. I persuaded my two local bookshops, somewhat reluctantly, to take some copies. And their lack of enthusiasm melted away when I managed to get the local paper to run a story about the local author who set up his own publishing company Well, it’s technically true, even if the company so far exists only to sell my own books (that may change one day).  My article, complete with a photo of me printed frighteningly large, made page three (and I didn’t even have to take my top off). I sold a few copies off the back of that article. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up the momentum. Two bookshops were never going to get me enough sales. So I made Moojara available by mail order, and also set it up as an ebook for sale on Amazon. But availability is not enough; people need to know it’s available, and that requires marketing.

It’s difficult. I’ve got a rough idea of what needs to be done, but it involves an awful lot of work of the kind I’m not really suited to, never having been a ‘people person’. I don’t like to impose on friends, because that’s not what friends are about (although the feedback I’ve had so far would suggest any unhappiness with being press ganged into buying a book would disappear when they started to read it[1.]) Although I don’t actually have many friends. To quote the Mark E. Smith song, I can count them on the fingers of one hand. Even my dog hates me. It’s OK, I’m only joking (I don’t have a dog).

I’ve given copies of the book to my local libraries (Penarth and Cardiff). I’ve tried independent bookshops further afield, in places like Brecon and Crickhowell, but they didn’t want to know. I haven’t even tried Waterstones, as I’ve read that self-published authors stand no chance with them (although perhaps I’m showing a lack of ambition – nothing ventured, nothing gained). Social media is, apparently, an essential tool for self-promotion, but to say I’m not great at social media would be an understatement. One of the most essential ingredients for social media success is time, and that’s something I don’t have much of.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve been distracted by an impending move from South Wales to the North West. We all know how stressful moving house is. I suppose I’ve sub-consciously made the decision to hold fire with the book promotion: it probably isn’t sensible to do a lot of work to promote my novel here, when I’ll soon be moving away. Perhaps my New Year’s resolution will be to take it up again with vigour once I’m settled in my new home. In the mean time, if anyone can offer some encouragement or advice, I’ll be very grateful. Only remember, this is very much a DIY affair – I don’t want to spend more money than I have done already…

 

  1. There you go – blowing your own trumpet isn’t so difficult after all – you just need to channel your inner Poirot.

 

text & image © Graham Wright 2019

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This Poem is Rubbish!

Or at least; it’s called ‘Rubbish’. As you can tell, I’ve been thinking about the environment quite a bit recently (maybe it’s the influence of the inspirational environmental protest group, Extinction Rebellion).

They say the oceans are full of plastic,
But you should see the front gardens where I live
On a windy recycling day;
Scenes of carnage and dismay,
The kind of heart-sinking mess
That’s sure to cause distress;
Make you feel like doing something drastic,
Like devoting your time to collecting it anew,
Something you know you’re not going to do,
Leaving you contaminated by guilt,
Blowing through your mind,
Like plastic bags blowing through the streets.

Where does it all come from?
The rubbish that accumulates in drifts,
Against fences and gates, under hedges,
That wedges in crevices,
Or flies aloft in the breeze,
Catches in trees, or floats in the canal,
Journeys along rivers,
Maybe all the way to the sea,
To wallow like jellyfish,
Be swallowed by many fish,
Seals, dolphins, whales and birds,
The situation is too absurd:
Should never have occurred.
But we human beings are profligate,
With no regard for the environment on which we, too rely.

I blame McDonalds – those golden arches get everywhere.
They don’t seem to care that they’re the cause of so much litter.
See, I reckon they view it as a kind of publicity;
All that discarded packaging is like free advertising,
A subliminal reminder that whenever we’re greedy for a cheap meal,
They’ll always be there with a special ball-burger deal.
But it’s too easy to look for scapegoats,
To blame governments and multi-nationals
For the degradation of the land, the air and the sea.
But while that may be rational,
We too must share the responsibility;
It’s not just the big guys who are tossers.

We need to change the way we live.
No excuse for single use;
Don’t take that plastic bag, for goodness sake,
One day it could spell the demise
Of something that lives in the sea.
Bubble-wrap, shrink-wrap; no way, sorry to be a nag.
They say’s there’s no planet B,
Actually, there is (probably)
But we’ll never see it;
Never bridge the millions of light years.
We’re trapped here, on our own planetary sphere,
Drowning in trash.

Better do what we can; eschew all packaging,
Re-cycle, re-use, don’t fling cigarette ends out of the window,
Dropping litter is a no-no; pick litter instead.
There’s something to be said for getting yourself in rubbish credit.
But when all’s said, it isn’t you and me,
But all the other buggers, who won’t see,
Who can’t be told; who won’t involve themselves
In the battle to save our world from free range plastic.
So where it will end, I’d rather not say,
But sooner or later, human kind will have had its day.


Enjoy your weekend everyone…

Text & NSW poster photo©Graham Wright 2019
Beach photo by Javardh on Unsplash

 

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Stupid Human Part One – Burning the Amazon

We are the third most intelligent species on the planet [1.] our big brains a miracle of evolution. We’ve developed vaccines to defeat disease, held nature at bay, created incredible machines, landed on the moon, and sent satellites out into space beyond our solar system. But this series of posts, which I’ve entitled ‘Stupid Human’, celebrates human kind’s greatest talent – our infinite capacity for stupidity.

We need plants. If someone tells you they’re more of a city person, that they really do prefer concrete, steel and glass, that they don’t do all that horrible green stuff; don’t believe them. They may think that’s how they feel, but studies have shown we have a profound psychological relationship with, and need for, plants. Without them we could perhaps get by at a psychological level. But physically – no chance. Those of us who are concerned about the environment, and particularly the effect that human activity/stupidity is having on it, have been bleating on for years about CO2, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans, etc., etc. Could it be we’ve been missing the point; that the real threat is a little more direct, a bit more simple – oxygen?

We breathe oxygen, and expel carbon dioxide. Plants do the opposite. Without us, there’s more than enough CO2 in the atmosphere to keep plants supplied [2.]. The other way around is a very different story. The only reason planet earth has oxygen in it’s atmosphere in significant levels (i.e. sufficient to support large animals like us) is because we were preceded by plants. Before plants evolved, the atmosphere would have been toxic and could not have supported life such as ours.

The Amazon rainforest has been famously referred to as ‘the lungs of the planet (so famously, I don’t know who said it). It’s been estimated that it produces around twenty percent of the oxygen in our atmosphere. [3.] Burn the Amazon and, quite apart from all the other environmental problems it would cause, we will reduce the oxygen producing capacity of the planet by around a fifth. We could blame an individual, but it took the majority of an entire country of humans to elect a mad-eyed fascist as their president.

Here in the UK we throw our arms up in horror (well, some of us do…), but forget that, before us stupid humans arrived, our tiny island was pretty much entirely forested. Now, we’re down to thirteen percent (ten percent in England) [4.] And the plant loss isn’t just historic. Successive governments boast about planting large numbers of trees, but for the truth, look around you. Around the country, front gardens are being levelled for parking, street trees are being chopped down to save on maintenance costs, ever more green land is being lost to development. New roads in particular, and bonkers projects like HS2 (which stands for Holy Shit 2 – as in ‘Holy Shit, I can’t believe a government could be so stupid as to do that’) are resulting in what remains of our precious ancient forests being destroyed. We can’t in any way claim to be part of the solution.

As the quantity of oxygen producing organisms (i.e. plants) continues to diminish (because of us), how long before we begin to see a thinning of the air we breathe? Could it be that our great grand children/grand children/children won’t meet their demise (thanks to preceding generations) at the hands of rising seas and changing climate – they’ll simply suffocate for want of oxygen?

[1.] After dolphins and mice (according to Douglas Adams in his ‘Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy’)

[2.] Actually, thanks to us there is literally more than enough CO2 in the atmosphere!

[3.] Taylor, L. (1996). Saving the Rainforest. Retrieved 08 30, 2019, from The Raintree Group, Inc: http://csc.columbusstate.edu/summers/Outreach/RainSticks/fRainforestFacts.htm

[4.] Forest Research. (2019). Woodland Statistics. Retrieved 08 30, 2019, from Forest Research: https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/statistics/statistics-by-topic/woodland-statistics/


Text © Graham Wright 2019
Image © Igor Lepilin on unsplash

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