Learning Organization and Planning as a Discovery Writer

While writing for various classes throughout my K-12 public education, I was always told by most teachers to create ‘an outline’. The cryptic advice was about as useful as saying “Just write well, okay.” In high school a few advanced placement teachers finally put forth outline strategies. Most of these strategies were so rudimentary they were useless. Then there was the dreaded MLA format, where teachers graded you mechanically by the “official rules” that some organization deemed to be “the way.” Whenever I wrote, it was typically spontaneous. Maybe it was 9:00 pm the night before the paper was due, or maybe it was the day the project was assigned and my inspiration and motivation happened to be flowing.

A few years after graduating college I got back into reading fiction, after being a consumer of primarily other forms of media (music, television, cinema, video games) for over a decade. Then, I began writing for kicks and giggles November 2012 after hearing of an annual event called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The work I started during this event extended past the month of November for over a year. Every once in a while I would sit down and write whatever came to mind, whatever felt fun and interesting. I would comb through older parts of the piece and polish the grammar, prose, and dialogue. I used Evernote to keep all my ideas/notes in line, and still do. It is one of the most valuable writing tools I have come across.

In May 2013 finished watching professional published author Brandon Sanderson’s entire BYU “Intro to Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writing” class for free on YouTube. I joined my first writing group in October 2013, and to my surprise they tore my 50,000 word baby apart like a rabid pack of wolves. Humbled by the realization that I still had much to learn, I decided to put my project on ice. I spent twice as much time reading novels and eventually I read Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I felt inadequate. I felt like an amateur. I felt like the scrawny kid on the kickball field who was always picked last. Defeated, I didn’t write for almost two months.

From the end of January 2014 to the middle of May 2014, I wrote a new short story every month. Each story felt stronger and than the last. I felt like I was beginning to internalize a part of the writing process which enabled me to construct a more coherent and meaningful narrative. During this time I had also been using a new word processing program named Scrivener. The software makers call the program “writing software”, which is accurate. The program’s skeumorphic design shows each project as a binder. Within each ‘binder’ is a list of folders and files. One can choose to make each file a scene, adding a scene break between files when the program ‘compiles’ the document into the desired filetype (.pdf, .rft,. doc)

binder-screenshot

This simple organization alone is incredibly useful when making story and character tweaks which propagate throughout the story. Combine that with many other possible productivity tools I don’t want to bore you with listing. If you’re on the fence, it’s free to try. After the tutorial and a start of a project in a new file, I was convinced that the program was worth the price, especially compared to Microsoft Word. That’s really where I’m at right now. I’ve tried some spreadsheets and other black magic, but I’m not yet convinced they are worth the trouble. Scrivener, even when only a few features are utilized, seems which helps organize one’s writing well worth the ‘input time.’ The input time, like screwing up a text message seven times in a row because you’re thumbing at a piece of glass.

As I find new and better ways I will be happy to share. Until next time.

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