Tag Archives: writing

Scrivener project targets

With nanowrimo coming up fast, it’s useful to know how to use the targets option in Scrivener. Please note: these instructions are for the PC version, but the process should be similar in Mac version.

To add the project targets option to your toolbar, click on Tools>Customise toolbar.


Choose the Main Toolbar as the destination, find the project targets button in the list on the left, and then click the right arrow to move it into the list. You can move it up or down to get it exactly where you want it.


If you don’t want the button on your toolbar, then it can be accessed at any time Under Project>Project targets.


The project target window looks like this – set up your draft target for the total number of words you’re aiming for overall. Tick the box for documents included in compile only if you don’t want to include any project notes you add.


The session target will count the number of words you add in any session – the session ends when you shut the file down. So if you jump from scene to scene, this will keep tally for you.


There’s also a document target. Click on the little circle on the bottom right of the window, and you’ll get the option to set a target for that specific scene, or document.


Once you’ve set up your targets, you’re ready to go!




Alpha reader or beta reader?

Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?

An Alpha Reader

An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.


An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.


An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.

A Beta Reader

A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?


A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.


Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.




How much does self-publishing cost?

This question receives many different answers, from thousands of pounds to nothing. So what’s really going on?


First of all, actually publishing your book costs nothing. Uploading files to Amazon and creating either ebook or print version does not involve a fee.


But it’s not as simple as that. There needs to be quality control of what you’re uploading. Has your work been reviewed, to ensure that it makes sense, that it’s well written, that it doesn’t contain silly typos or other errors that will put your reader off? Will your cover design attract readers to your book? Is your layout correctly formatted for whatever platform you want to publish on?


If you’re self-publishing, then all those quality control issues come down to you. It’s your responsibility to get an editor to go through your work, to get a good cover design done, to ensure the formatting is correct.


Some of these you can do yourself, if you have the skills, but editing is one of those jobs that must be done by someone else to be done well; you are too close to your own work, and just can’t see what you’ve actually written as opposed to what you think you’ve written.


Even cover design and formatting are worth paying experts for; while anyone can throw a cover together, books are a competitive market, and your book deserves a cover that will attract the reader. Likewise, formatting can be fiddly and frustrating if you’re new to it. Why not spend your time writing, and pay the experts to do their job?


There are publishing companies around who offer to do all this as a package deal, for a price. Be very wary of these; generally, they make their money from the services they sell to you, not from their share of the books sold (although they take a good slice of that too). You risk paying a lot of money for services you could have got cheaper separately, and losing control of your book as well.


What if you can’t afford to pay an editor, cover designer etc?


The answer then is not to just put it out anyway. The quality is likely to be poor, and that will put readers off anything else you write, and weaken the reputation of self-published books generally.


Traditional publishing involves a publisher liking your book enough to invest money in it. They keep part of the sales, yes, and you might lose some of the control over your book, but they are the ones who take the financial risk. Remember, if they ask you for money to publish, they are not a traditional publishing company.


So in the end it comes down to this: please either be prepared to invest money as well as time in your writing to ensure quality (after all, you’re expecting others to invest money in your books!), or find someone else who is willing to do so.



Within the first page, you need to catch the reader’s attention.

  • What does your character want or need? What’s in the way?
  • What are they like as a person? Does a real sense of personality come across?
  • Is everything happening in a vacuum, or is it solidly grounded in time and space?
  • Is there a sense of direction in your story?
  • Is there a sense of unease, of something wrong?
  • How does the writing flow? Silly errors will put the reader off.



I’ve finished my novel

I’ve finished my novel! I have a complete, readable story. So now I knock together a cover, upload the cover and Word file to Amazon and hit publish, right?




Now the real work begins.


It’s really important to understand that there’s a continuum in writing. There isn’t any bad/good writing divide. There’s a whole range of qualities between barely readable and compelling writing. Just because you’ve completed a draft, and maybe a friend has enjoyed it, doesn’t mean it’s ready to publish. It means you have something you can work on and develop.


In this age where we can literally type “The End” on a draft and then have it for sale within minutes, some people are tempted to do just that. The result is often a barely readable mess, with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, random tense changes and very odd, distracting formatting and a cover that screams Self Published!


If you just want people to read your work, then there are platforms where you can upload it and have a ready-made audience. In fanfiction particularly, writers can upload stories and be inundated with praise. That’s often not because of the writing, but because of the ideas they express about the characters people have already bonded with.


If you want people to pay for your work and feel so happy they’ve done so that they’ll tell others, then you need to put in a lot more investment – in terms of time, effort and usually cold, hard cash.


I can’t afford it, you might say. That’s where the traditional publishing market comes in. Find yourself a publisher, often via an agent, and they will invest in the writing for you, as long as they feel it’s good enough. Of course, they’ll take their share of the profit for doing so.


Failing that, you need to be prepared to put in the effort yourself. This means revising until you can’t see any way to improve it, asking beta readers to help, working on it some more, and then when you’ve taken it as far as you can, you enlist the professionals – the editors, the formatters, the proofreaders, the cover designers.


After all, the traditionally published writers expect to be put through such quality control, and they will be your rivals for sales. And you have not only your own reputation as a writer to protect, but the reputation of indie authors as a whole.


So now I have a full draft of my novel, I’ll be going back through to beef it up, and then seeking help, and I’ll be saving up for an editor, because even though I’ve studied writing and editing intensively, I know that I’m too close to it to edit my own work. And I’ll be making sure that what I do eventually publish will be the best I can make it, because I want my readers to want more, not to feel they’ve wasted their time and money on an inferior product.





Nanowrimo survival guide

Four days to go until people all round the world hit the keyboard or notebook for (inter)NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. But what’s the best way to achieve that?

  1. Aim to write every day. The target is an average of 1667 words per day, but it’s better to aim higher than that in the beginning if possible, as it can be very hard to catch up if you fall behind right at the start. Your enthusiasm may wane later in the month anyway, so bank extra words whenever you can.
  2. Use all your available time – not just that time when you can sit and physically put words down, but the time when you’re cleaning your teeth, or waiting for a bus, or sitting in traffic. Time spent planning means that when you reach the page you’re ready to start the words flowing. The best part of nano is getting totally involved with your story.
  3. Even if you are so hard-pressed for time that you can’t fit in your normal writing session, at least aim to open the file and look at it. That’s easier than ever this year, with Scrivener available on iOS. Letting the story drift from your thoughts, even for one day, can be hard to recover from.
  4. Don’t worry about the quality of what you write. You’re working out the story. There’s plenty of time to polish later. Sometimes you need to push through to figure out what your story is about.
  5. Don’t be afraid to change things as you go along – but don’t go back to fix earlier things. Just make a note to yourself for later and plough onwards. If you must rewrite a section, then leave the original there too for now – they still count as words written during November.
  6. Remember that everyone goes through a stage of hating and doubting their writing. Acknowledge that you’ve reached that stage and work through it. You only have 30 days maximum on the one project. After that, you can re-evaluate and do something else instead, but this project deserves its 30-day 50k-words of attention.
  7. Other ideas will rear their heads once you open yourself up to creativity. Thank them, note them down and promise them attention in December.
  8. If you have the chance, local write-ins can be great for motivation and companionship. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a table with other writers and just hammering out the words.
  9. Accept that whatever work you do will probably need to be redone or at least edited thoroughly, but remember that you’ll be that much better as a writer for the regular practice.
  10. Most of all, when you hit 1st December, don’t stop writing!

Opinions vary on the usefulness of nanowrimo as a writing tool. My opinion is that as long as you don’t expect to write in November, publish in December and then do nothing until the following October, then nano can be a fantastic tool.


Preparing for nanowrimo

It’s halfway through October, and all round the world, writers are preparing for the massive writing festival that is NaNoWriMo, or national novel writing month, the challenge that sees them aiming for a grand total of 50,000 words on a new project within the 30 days of November.


I have to confess that I’m one of them – each year for the past few years, I’ve bashed out a first draft of a novel during November, and then spent the rest of the year working on it. Each year, the draft I finish is a little more polished than the previous year, and I get a little further through editing. Eventually, my aim is to have several novels all nearing the finished product at around the same time, and then start publishing.


But how do you prepare for such a project? And should you be starting before 1st November anyway?


There are two types of writers, when it comes to nano – known as the planners and the pantsers. In fact, these are just two ends of the spectrum, and most people sit some way along the route between. Planners will plan out their story in great detail, world building, character building, plotting out their story. J.K. Rowling has released sheets showing how she planned out the Harry Potter stories in detail. Pantsers will fly by the seat of their pants, starting with a basic idea (or even less than that), and just seeing how it develops. Stephen King is a great proponent of that approach.


This is where I find Scrivener comes in handy: I’ll work out the rough outline of my story, often dividing it into three parts, corresponding to the three act structure. I’ll budget out the words for each part, and create sections for each scene I think needs to happen. The index cards hold a rough summary of the action for that scene, and I plan on between 1000 and 2000 words per scene.


Then when I get to November, I aim to fill in at least one scene each day, providing a structured journey from beginning to end but with flexibility should the story develop in an unexpected way – if your characters don’t rebel at some point in your story and do something you hadn’t planned, then maybe they’re not real enough!


The important thing when tackling nanowrimo is to remember that the aim is to create a first draft of a novel. It is not to create a polished, well-written manuscript that’s ready to send off to agents and publishers. There’s lots of work still to do once that first draft is finished.


Nor should you be worried if the story doesn’t achieve all you hoped for it. That’s what the rest of the year is for. The aim is to bash through your story, become completely involved in it and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Once you’ve finished, you might be able to work with what you have, or it might mean pulling it apart completely and restructuring. Whichever level it’s at, you’ll have had 50k words’ worth of work put into it, and you’ll have a much better idea of what the story needs.


So enjoy your nano prep and enjoy your writing – just be prepared to keep working on it for the rest of the year!


Reading as a writer

Stephen King, along with many other writers, is firm in saying that if you want to write, you also have to read a lot. So what can you learn as a writer who reads?


There are many books around that teach you who to write better, but one of the best ways to learn is to see the advice in action. You want to master Point of View? Study books to see how they handle it. I have a list of books that I turn to when I want to see how to handle First Person, for example, to see how they deal with transitions between the present tense and the past, or to see how they make dialogue sound like fiction and not memoir, or avoid telling instead of showing. You want to see how books handle description? You want to see how they handle pace? How long a chapter usually is in that genre? How long the book is? Find a book and read it as a writer.


There are different levels of reading. Firstly, you learn to read for information and entertainment. Then you start to notice the little tricks that the writer uses to create an effect, or to make a point. Then you reach the point where you can start to use those tricks yourself. How can you expect to use those tricks if you’ve never seen them in use?


It’s also useful to make a note of books that use specific techniques – for example, The Martian is a great book to study. It makes use of first person via logs. It makes use of third person when it needs to. And, of course, it was a self-published book that then attracted a contract and a huge movie.


Beta reading can work too; sometimes it’s even more informative to see a less polished piece of work, and try to figure out what the issue is. But don’t assume that beta reading is enough. The wider you read, the better, and enjoy what you read. Just keep at least half an eye on the tricks the author uses, and think about whether you can adapt them for your own use.


How do I write…?

The question I see asked most often in writing groups is a variation on “How do I write this?”, “How do I start my story?”, “Will writing it this way work?”, “What’s the best Point of View to use?”


It’s as though writers have a limited stock of words and have to get them right first time.


If you’re stuck on how to start your story, or a specific scene, then write your way into it. Start with “It was a dark and stormy night”, or “Once upon a time”, or “When he got home”. Then write the rest of the scene. Once it’s all down, go back to that opening that caused so much trouble. Chances are, you’ll find your opening, and just have to delete the waffle in front of it.


If you’re not sure how to tackle a particular scene, maybe because you’re uncertain whose POV to use, or what tense to use, or whether to write in 1st person or 3rd, then write it one way and then the other. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of the scene, and a better idea of which works better.


And above all, when you reach that point in your story where you feel everything is rubbish and not worth continuing, remember: that’s the point where you prove yourself a true writer. That’s the point when you plough on anyway, remind yourself why you wanted to write that idea in the first place, and just see where you end up.


Producing a book

Beyond the Beach HutsA writing group I’m part of is currently celebrating the release of its first book – Writers of Whitstable has produced a collection of short stories all set in the town. The collection includes a variety of genres, from around a dozen different writers.


The project started around September last year, when it was suggested we produce a book to release in conjunction with Whitlit, a local writing festival. We came up with a theme – all stories were to be set in the town of Whitstable or have some connection to it – and the title – Beyond the Beach Huts, suggesting an insider’s view of the town – and writers each came up with their own ideas.


Stories were brought to writing group for critique (we send stories around a week before the meeting, so on the evening we can discuss them) and then the writers continued to work on them privately, returning them for further critique if they felt they needed it. We had a few months for this process, with final copy being in by the middle of February.


My role in all this, apart from writing my own stories to contribute, was to accept final versions, give them a proofread/very light edit, send them back for approval, and then assemble them into a book. An editorial meeting between the leaders of the project led to a running order for the stories, and final proofs were sent out for everyone to check their own pieces and also glance over the rest of the book. I was also responsible for obtaining an ISBN and dealing with the publishing side.


Meanwhile, one of our members worked on the cover art, coming up with an eye-catching cover that we’re all very pleased with.


Once cover and interior PDFs were approved, we sent them off to a printer who specialises in books, and three weeks later we were proudly opening three boxes of books.


Minor adjustments to the files made them suitable for Createspace, Amazon’s Print On Demand service, and for ebook, so now as well as copies to sell at local events, we have the book available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions.


It’s been a really fun project to work on, and the big debate now is whether to do a similar project next year, and if so, what the theme should be.