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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Old Dog, New Tricks by Kait Carson

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook may know that I fell in June and broke both bones in my left wrist. I’m right handed by courtesy of the Sisters of St. Dominic, and the bones were more or less fractured in straight lines and not displaced. If all stayed status quo, no surgery. My day job is a paralegal, my typical day is twelve hours, of that ten are spent typing. Keyboards (and typewriters) are left handed. By mid-July the handwriting was on the wall. I needed surgery, and I needed it fast. The bones were healing in some kind of fancy macramé pattern.

I kicked, I screamed, I begged, I pleaded. My doctor said, “You will need to take a medical leave.” I said, “Okay,” and danced a modified happy dance. Visions of hours of uninterrupted writing danced in my brain. Hours of reading without guilt. I’m not sure what planet I was on, perhaps there was something in the air of the doctor’s office, but I was completely on board. I was a tad optimistic, and a tad unrealistic, but overall, it was great. Let me explain.

Over the Memorial Day holiday, I had taken a webinar titled Story Engines. It discussed a modified method of outlining a book and then writing the book in 30 days. Okay, that’s unrealistic (for me), but as someone who has been looking for a way to put more structure in the plotting process, the method struck a chord. Best of all, it works with Scrivener, a writing program I’ve used since the early 2000s.

The writer brainstorms scenes to create story elements familiar to users of the Hero’s Journey, a beginning, a bang up ending, twists, a seeking phase, and a trial and error phase. These elements are put on index cards, then the author uses more index cards to bullet point the bridges between the elements. Easy peasy. If you are using Scrivener, the index cards are in the program, and—I love this part—you can color code them. I use red for my bang up ending, green for twists, pink for my false ending, orange for red herrings (red was taken), yellow for red herring resolutions, blue for clues, and plain white for my bridges. I can move the cards around to create a flow, add cards, or delete them.

Although all of my books and most of my short stories had been written in Scrivener, and I had always used the index cards as part of the Inspector, I had never used the outline feature. Other writers had raved about it, I’d tried to learn it from my copy of Scrivener for Dummies but it never stuck. Finally, as my mother would say, light dawned and day broke. I got it! Naturally, that made me want to use it.

As you can imagine, surgery hurt. My original plan of hours of uninterrupted writing was not happening. Not at first. Hours of hazy pain meds was more like it. So, I indulged in reading a ton of books from my Kindle shelf and fell in love with cozy serials again. I’ve mentioned that pushy twenty-something nurse who’s been driving me crazy, I’d even started the Florida Keys series, but now, I wanted to outline her story and the subsequent books, at least the first four or so, and the overriding arc of her series. Using voice recognition software, a headset, Scrivener, and the Story Engines method, I’m on my way to writing four books and publishing three in 2019. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I’ll be returning to work on Monday. I’m curious to see how that affects my word count. I’m currently writing a chapter a day in first draft, plus editing the chapter from the day before.

Writers, have you ever tried something new and found it to be so surprisingly successful?
Readers, how often do you wish your favorite authors would put out new books?


Jim Jackson said...

This old dog feels like he has no tricks. Better writing in earlier draft means it now takes me less time to finish a book, but I can’t get beyond my pantser methodology for developing stories with complexity, and for me that takes time.

Best of luck to you in all this, Kait.

Kait said...

Jim, what's important is that your method works for you.

I was going down too many rabbit holes in my first drafts, yet when I tried to outline, I got bored with the story. This method gives me enough structure to stick to the story while still letting me make changes. I think it helps me that it's also visual on Scrivener.

Annette said...

Wishing you all the luck in the world, Kait.

As for new tricks, I'm always trying something new or tweaking my process. At this point, it's just little changes in the way I do things. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.

To your last question, as a reader, I would love to have my favorite authors put out a new book every couple of months but I know, in reality, that's not possible. Nor would I want it to be.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

You go, Kait! And best of luck returning to work.

KM Rockwood said...

Hope your recovery is coming along smoothly.

My enthusiasm for new technological tools is long gone. I was quite willing to go along with advances for a while (remember when you got a new computer & sat down with a friend to enter all the things into it that made it work? One would read while the other typed.) I've been through enough incarnations of word processing programs to cringe every time a change is announced.

It's always been a sad fact that readers read much more quickly than writers write. I don't think there's a solution to that, except for the writers who decide to hire someone to do the bulk of the actual writing.

Warren Bull said...

My attempts to learn scrivener have been unsuccessful. My email just became NEW AND IMPROVED and I lost a whole bunch of messages. Grumble complain You kids get off my lawn.

Keenan Powell said...

I haven't tried scrivener, sounds intriguing. I just do lots of word documents: outlines, drafts, backstory, outtakes that I promise to visit when things are quiet (but I never do). Love the color-coding idea. One time I did a tension graft, grafting points for low tension (backstory) to highest tension (someone gets killed on the page) and that was helpful.

My surgery story: in my pre-op appt for having my shoulder overhauled, I told the doctor I was going to bring my laptop into recovery so I could work when I woke up and he laughed out loud. I did not, in fact, work for a few days after surgery and at one point, I found a full cup of coffee in the fridge. I can only surmise how it got there.

Hope your return to work is uneventful.

Warren Bull: LOL

Kait said...

@ Annette, As an avid reader of your Zoe Chambers mysteries, I would have to say your process works quite well! So looking forward to CRY WOLF. I preordered as soon as it was available.

Isn't it true, we would love to have our favs put out books monthly - sometimes I am happy to come late to a nice long series so I can give myself the gift of binge reading!

Kait said...

@ Margaret - Thanks - fingers crossed.

Kait said...

@KM - yes, I do remember. It used to take hours just to decide on which color scheme and theme you wanted. Knew the fun to was too good to last. Now, out of the box, if it works, use it. I cringe when I see the words "update." Never sure how the computer will operate on the other side.

Kait said...

@Warren - LOL - I feel exactly the same way - about the new and improved, not about Scrivener which I love mainly because it accepts that there was a time when I swung a carriage return at the end of every line and it's not going to force me to learn anything I don't want to know!

It's clear that you are an organized writer. Before Scrivener, I used to spend more time hunting for my notes and files - is it under characters or villains? Maybe it's in background since she's a minor character. I still hunt, but now I have the files where I can see them!

Kait said...

@Keenan - Ah, sounds like we went to the same school of writing. Scrivener is like Word only all your files are listed in the active window, the most you have to do is scroll. My husband uses two screens for Word when he writes, one active, one to show his directory tree. Writers more organized than I am are able to keep multiple files open and work that way. Moi, not so much!

Love the surgery story - I brought my Kindle to have something to do in the recovery room. Needless to say, I never opened it. Can't explain the coffee, but I can relate to the event!

Grace Topping said...

Kait, I hope you recover fully soon. In the meantime, enjoy the time it takes you to heal.