The Flames of Guilt is my first novel. Sure, I’ve written probably half a dozen stories before it, but this is the first one I’ve taken to completion. I slaved over every word. Then I paid an editor to go over it, and I ended up rewriting half the book. Trust me, it was for the better. So here I was with a finished novel, or at least the inside was finished. Or, at the least the words were finished. What wasn’t finished was that dreaded thing called formatting. F-O-R-M-A-T-T-I-N-G. It looks even scarier when I type it like that, doesn’t it? It was not only scary to me, but very intimidating.
The first step on the road to scary formatting, for me, was to try and follow the directions on Create Space – the wonderful company that helps Indie Authors like me publish their books. CS gives you, more or less, step-by-step directions on formatting, and they even give you articles to read, a message board to ask questions on, and templates to copy/paste your work into. They try really hard to make it easy, and I can appreciate that. Every Indie Author I had talked to had said that CS was easy to use, and that the templates were handy.
So, with great expectations, mind you, I tried this, but it didn’t work. I mean, technically it “worked” but it looked awful. Words were over lines, and paragraphs didn’t line up and it was a disaster. Naturally, I started to panic. I began to have this ever looming fear that I had just spent the last two years of my life writing this novel, spent money for a professional editor, gave up more money to have a professional cover designed for it, and now it was never going to see the light of day because I suck at formatting. These were real thoughts going through my head. Every day. Many times a day. I obsessed over it. I began debating hiring someone to format it for me, but then that would be one more person I’d have to pay, and if I do it this time, I would have to do it the next time. And the next time, and the next time. So instead, I resolved to learn how to do it myself.
Somewhere around that, “oh crap” moment in this story, I realized that I didn’t need CS’s templates. My editor had suggested to me when we first started working together, that I should buy a writing program called Scrivener. Scrivener is something I had heard people talk about, but I really wasn’t sure what it was. My editor explained it as a way to help you organize your writing, and make outlines. My instant reaction to this (which was a stupid reaction, but I didn’t know any better at the time) was to say, “No, that’s not for me. I don’t plan anything anyway, I just write and it happens.” Now that was true at the time, but later down the road, I would come to realize the great value in outlines, and the ability to flip from chapter to chapter with one click, rather than scanning through your entire 400 page document to try and find that one moment or sentence.
So before I continue with this re-telling of my formatting nightmare, here’s my pitch for Scrivener: Go buy it. If you’re a writer and you want to take your work to the next level, invest in Scrivener. It’s an easy download, it will cost you $40 and it’s beyond worth it. Scrivener will become your writing buddy. It will be your friend while you’re creating your worlds. It will be the foundation of structure and the keeper of your character’s lives, backgrounds, and inner-selves. Here are some happy bullet points about Scrivener, just to save time:
- Choose your format from the start of each project – novel, short story, poetry, plays – it has something for everyone.
- Character profiles. These are more than useful, especially at the beginning when you’re mapping out who’s who in your story.
- Places. This is basically a character profile for the setting of your novel or short story. You can upload pictures, keep track of key elements and basically build your world its own little profile.
- Scrivener divides your book into chapters (each chapter gets its own folder) and inside those folders are your scenes. This allows you to jump from chapter to chapter or scene to scene with one or two clicks. It’s awesome.
- The note cards. This is such a cool feature, I won’t do it justice with this happy little bullet point. For each chapter and scene you get a notecard to fill out, describing what happens. You can then put these on a pegboard, and you can see in real time the flow of your book. You can do this before, after, or during the writing of a chapter or scene. It’s super cool, and super useful for staying on point.
- Notes. Not notecards, just notes. The bottom right corner of your Scrivener page gives you a notes sections. You can jot down things you don’t want to forget or things you want to add. I love this section, and I use it often.
- Compose mode. This. Is. So. Cool. You almost have to see it to get how awesome a feature this is. I mean, this is truly for writers. Hit the Compose mode, and Scrivener will black out everything on your computer screen but your manuscript, making it look kind of like you’re sitting at an old fashioned typewriter. It’s the most stellar thing ever. The point being, is if everything else is blacked out, then you’re less likely to be distracted and you can focus on your writing. It’s wicked.
- F-O-R-M-A-T-T-I-N-G. And this brings us back to the story. . .
So here I was, looking at Scrivener and remembering hearing people on a podcast talking about how they format their books using Scrivener and it takes minutes. Yes, minutes. So, I hit the Compile button (something I had done before, this takes your manuscript and transforms it into whatever you want, a PDF, a Word Document – whatever you need) and I started looking at the options. CS had given me the specs I needed to meet (size requirements) so I started clicking through each option one at a time trying to make The Flames of Guilt come out meeting CS’s specifications.
It took 37 tries.
That wasn’t 37 tries in a row. That was a couple of tries, and then giving up. Coming back later and trying again. That was submitting the PDF to CS three times before I actually got it right. It was trial and error. It was adding blank pages here and there to make this come out right or that go away. It was eliminating spaces, it was checking and unchecking certain boxes to make this or that appear or disappear. It was a learning experience, and I’m very glad I went through it. Now I can compile a novel to any spec I want in minutes.
Thank you Scrivener.
So that’s my story – the short version, anyway. Self-publishing has been a crazy day at the alien zoo, but I’ve grown from it. I’ve grown as a writer, and the more I learn, the less intimidating and scary everything seems. The Flames of Guilt will be up for sale soon, and I’ll get to dive into the wide world of marketing. I’m sure there’s a ton I don’t know about that either, but I’ll joyfully add it to my list of giants to tackle.
(screen shot from The Flames of Guilt Scrivener page)
(in Compose mode)