Novelizing My Writing Process

I love trying out different tools for writing. Over the years I’ve written on all sorts of devices from pens to word processors, Palm OS PDAs, Alphasmarts, laptops, Chromebooks, phones, and PCs. I’ve used digital recorders to record dictation. My current obsession is my Freewrite (and waiting for the Traveler to come out).

All of these devices have used different software (well, not the pens, although I’m curious about using shorthand and software to convert it to text). I love trying out new programs and have used a variety of programs on all of the platforms. Today I still use Word for some tasks. I’ve used Scrivener. I posted previously about trying out Novlr online.

I was recently contacted by the kind folks at Novelize who offered me a chance to try out their online novel writing program. It’s been available since 2014 but I’d somehow missed it. Of course I jumped at the chance to try it out. I’m going to share my first impressions in this post. Later, after I spend more time with Novelize and get to know it better, I’ll share my experience.

My Writing Process (Currently)

My writing process changes with different programs and devices. I keep trying to optimize and improve my process. Right now I love using the Freewrite for its tactile feel, the e-ink screen that works in bright sunlight as well as inside, the simplicity of the design, and the distraction-free nature of the interface. It is very much a smart typewriter. (The design can lead to distractions when writing in public because people will ask questions about it.)

The Freewrite is all about moving forward, writing new words. You can backspace to delete text (I love NEW+BACKSPACE keystroke for taking out the previous word), but that’s it. You can’t go back and edit previous lines. You can read over them, but not edit. The Freewrite’s design pushes you forward to create the first draft.

This is an issue if you’re a writer that frequently cycles through a draft as you write, going back up and working back through the draft.

I tackle this issue by copying the text after the Freewrite syncs to Dropbox (you can also use Google Drive or Freewrite’s Postbox) and pasting it into a program to refine and cycle through the draft. Again, here you could use any program you wanted. I’m interested in using an online solution that I can access on any device.

That’s where Novelize comes back into the picture.

First Date With Novelize

First impressions matter and Novelize made a good impression with the clean design and interface it offers. I looked at the website and the tour video. It definitely looked like a program that I’d enjoy getting to know better.

The writing interface is simple with few distractions. Pretty much open it and start typing. The full capabilities don’t show up right away. There’s a lot of depth to the program that it reveals as you spend more time with it.

The interface uses a chapter and scene structure, but you can use those sections how you like. If you write in chapters rather than scenes you can ignore the scenes and click the Add Chapter button when you want to start a new chapter. A Notes section provides a space for scene/chapter notes. Or Add Scene to add more scenes to the existing chapter if that’s how you work. The window continues to scroll as your novel gets longer. With lots of scenes or chapters that might be a problem if it wasn’t for Novelize’s version of the TARDIS–the Panel.

The Panel aka TARDIS

Open the panel by clicking or tapping the Panel link in the bar at the bottom of the screen. The panel offers several sections:

  • Manage provides a space for metadata about your book and word count goals.
  • Summaries shows the overall summaries of your novel’s sections along with chapter and scene summaries.
  • Contents solves the scrolling issue by navigating to that chapter or scene when you click/tap. It also shows word counts for the book and the individual scenes and chapters.
  • The Notebook provides many more sections to save information about your book. I’m not going to dig into that in this post but I will mention that I love the fact that the notebooks can be saved and used outside of the novel itself. I imagine it’d be a great help for a series bible.

There is a lot to explore in the Panel. It’s optional. No one makes you use it, although I’d think the manage and contents sections would get used by most folks.

Modes

On the right side of the bottom bar is the Modes link which offers three fairly self-explanatory links.

  • Outline. Exactly what it sounds like. If you like to outline, create chapters, scenes, and descriptions of your book. Even if you don’t outline before writing, I can see jotting down notes after each chapter/scene as I go. That might work well with the Freewrite, setting up sections as I finish them. I’ll come back to process later.
  • Write. I’ve already talked mostly about the write screen. You’ll spend a lot of time when in this mode creating your draft.
  • Organize. Use this mode to change the order of chapters or scenes. You can move entire chapters up or down, move scenes up or down, and even move scenes to other places. It doesn’t support drag and drop at this point, but it is pretty simple and works well on a phone (more on that too later).

Each of the modes provides useful tools to work on your novel. I’m still figuring it all out, so how I use it might change as I spend more time with the program.

The Menu

Finally, on the far right of the bottom bar, is a menu which provides links for your account, support, and more importantly the Dashboard.

It’s the Dashboard that shows all of your novels and notebooks. It’s where you go to download your work or create new novels. An important screen, but probably not one you’ll need to visit too often unless you constantly switch between projects.

Tap or click on your book or Novelize to quickly get back to your book.

Mobile Support

I’m thrilled that Novelize works well on my Pixel phone. I’m not at the latest phone with my Pixel 2XL, but Novelize is simple to use on the screen. It’s great to see the program support mobile use. It opens up the possibilities for working on the novel simply by taking out my phone, tapping Novelize on my home screen, and getting to work. It’s not an app, it runs in the browser, but it doesn’t need to be an app. It’s a good example of a site that works well in a mobile format. At least on my phone.

Writing With Novelize

Okay, so that’s all my first date impressions with Novelize. They did give me access to the program. Other than that, I don’t have any sort of affiliate relationship with them.

How do I plan to incorporate Novelize into my creative process?

I said earlier that I’m obsessed with my Freewrite. It’s a joy to use and keeps me moving forward on my projects. For my current work-in-progress novel Synthetic Pain, when I finish writing a chapter, I’m adding it to Novelize. Once in the program, I can cycle through the draft. I can add notes, or add things to the notebook.

I don’t outline an entire book before starting. I usually write down thoughts in my journal for an overall general idea of what I’m planning with the book. I could transfer some of those notes into the summaries in Novelize. If I’m thinking about the next chapter, I might add a few notes about it in the outline.

Although you can go back and read over what’s written on the Freewrite, it’s more convenient to pick up my phone, open Novelize, and look over the previous chapters or notes right there on the phone screen.

In fact, I imagine that’s going to be a major way I use the program. I’ve done some of that but expect to try out different options. Alternatively, I could open the novel on the PC while I’m writing on the Freewrite if I needed to refer to something.

Or just avoid the distractions and come back later to update the draft in Novelize.

Am I Going to Keep Seeing Novelize?

Absolutely. I want to give it time and see how well we work together. I’m still figuring that out. I like a lot of what I’ve seen so far with Novelize. We need to spend some quality time to really see if this relationship has legs and fits in well with my other tools. After I finish Synthetic Pain I plan to come back and report on how it all worked out, along with any suggestions for how we might work better together.

If you’d like to give Novelize a try, visit getnovelize.com and check out the trial period. Pricing is $5/Monthly or $45/Annually.​​​​

Dictation

Dictation Redux

One of the pleasures of being a librarian is sharing resources with people. When it comes to making recommendations on books, we tend to talk about “readers advisory.” I think there is also a place for “writers advisory” in libraries—librarians have a long history of working with writers and I think it is a relationship that we should cultivate. For this post, I want to suggest resources for writers thinking about dictation. If you haven't considered dictating your work, take a look at these resources to see how many writers today take advantage of speech-to-text technology to write.

My Experience With Dictation

I've used dictation to write short stories and one complete novel (which I plan to release this year). It hasn't become my default method for writing. I appreciate the advantages of dictating away from the computer, then using software to transcribe the recording.

So why have I fallen off the dictation track? Habit. My habit is sitting with a computer and writing by typing. It's easy to lapse back into those habits.

The Creative Penn Podcast: Christopher Downing on Dictation

This week I listened to Christopher Downing's interview on the Creative Penn Podcast. The interview helped convince me to give dictation another shot. I'm taking a look at Downing's books right now to see how I might use his methods to take advantage of dictation again.

Rather than go over all the points, I recommend checking out the show notes, the podcast, Downing's books, or watch the video.

Outline

How Bestselling Writers Outline (or Not) Their Novels

Few things divide writers more than the question of whether or not an outline is used in writing a novel. The spectrum of views on outlining shows that the best answer is the one that works for you. These books describe different approaches used by different authors to craft bestselling books.

By the Seat of Your Pants (No Outline)

Write by the seat of your pants, no plan, just dive in and tell a story. For some writers (sometimes referred to by the unflattering ‘pantsers'), this is the only way to write. Outlines feel restrictive and confining. An outline comes from the critical, rather than creative side of the writer's brain. 

Dean Wesley Smith is an enormously prolific bestselling author who advocates this approach. His book Writing into the Dark: How to Write a Novel Without an Outline covers the reasons why writers might choose to take this approach.

There are very few articles and books on how to just type in the first word and head off into the dark writing a novel with no plan, no character sketch, nothing but pure exploration.

This isn't a long book. Smith covers common myths about writing with an outline, the difference between creative and critical voice, the benefits for long-term writers, and hints on how to tackle a novel without an outline.

Whether you've written with or without outlines, this is a good place to start looking at other approaches.

Outline You Crazy Fools

As often as the debate comes up, there are always writers that fall into both sides. Typically writers are pretty mellow about the whole outline vs. no outline approach. Whatever works for you is fine. At the same time, each group is still quick to tout the perceived advantage of their method (or disadvantage of the other). 

Usually both sides lay claim to the same advantage. Case in point: In Smith's book, he makes the point that long-term novel writers get past the need for outlines, and are more productive as a result. Libbie Hawker, in Take Off Your Pants!, makes the same argument in favor of outlines saying that it is superior if your goal is a full-time writing career because it will increase your speed and volume of production. 

Hawker isn't alone in the outline space:

And many more! 

Can't We All Just Outline, or Not?

For the most part, writers recognize that different methods work for other writers. Some authors also write outline books that sit somewhere in the middle between no outline and a detailed outline. 

James Scott Bell, author of many books on writing and otherwise, introduces us to the “tweeners” that fall between plotters and pantsers. His solution to the conversation? Start in the middle! His take on the topic is Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell.

Another approach is detailed in Randy Ingermanson's How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. Although the snowflake method calls for what sounds like a very detailed outline, it's shorter than a 100-page detailed synopsis, so I guess it falls into this in between category? The Snowflake Method has been a popular feature on Ingermanson's website for many years. (You can also get a 50% discount on his Snowflake Pro software for buying the book).

Do I Outline? Do You?

I love reading books like these (and other writing books). It's fascinating to see how other authors approach writing. Over the years and many novels, I've written outlines for some books and I've written into the dark. For my current work-in-progress, I wrote a short 2-3 paragraph synopsis for each of the first three books in the series. I don't have detailed outlines. I am creating Bibliogalactica, an encyclopedia of characters, places, and all the other nifty bits from my novels. Some of that material is what people include in outlines. Even Dean Wesley Smith says that he sometimes outlines after he writes so he can keep track of the details. That's useful. I want to be able to pull up details about a character, a world, or a timeline when I start writing a new book.

What about you? Do you outline or not? Do you fall in between, or do you use different methods depending on the project? Share in the comments.

For the latest information, instruction, and thoughts, sign up for my newsletter and I'll email it to you when I get each issue out. It's always easy to unsubscribe.

Science Fiction Markets

4 Science Fiction Markets for Your Fiction

I love reading short stories. I don't ever have enough time to read all of the short stories that I'd like to read (or novels). Although I'm always happy to read an anthology or collection, I love reading science fiction magazines. I continue to submit my stories to these markets as well, and look forward to appearing in the pages of these magazines.

More…

A Selection of Science Fiction Markets

With so many science fiction publications, online and in print, there are many options to publish your stories. This isn't an exhaustive listing of markets, just my picks of markets where I'd like to see my stories published.

Asimov's Science Fiction<img class=”tve_image wp-image-957″ alt=”Asimov's Science Fiction” width=”400″ height=”570″ title=”Asimov's Science Fiction” data-id=”957″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ASF_JanFeb2018_400x570.jpg” style=”width: 100%;”>

Asimov's Science Fiction

Asimov's Science Fiction has topped my list of target markets for many years.

Each issue typically features many of my favorite authors, e.g., Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Allen M. Steele, and others.

Asimov's publishes a range of science fiction stories up to 20,000 words long. They don't usually publish stories shorter than 1,000 words. Many award-winning and year's best stories have come from its pages.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact<img class=”tve_image wp-image-960″ alt=”Analog Science Fiction and Fact” width=”400″ height=”570″ title=”Analog Science Fiction and Fact” data-id=”960″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AFF_NovDec2017_400x570.jpg” style=”width: 100%;”>

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Right along with Asimov's, Analog has long been a favorite magazine. I'd love to have stories appear in Analog.

Analog publishes science fiction where the science or technology is integral to the story's plot.

Clarkesworld<img class=”tve_image wp-image-962″ alt=”Clarkesworld” width=”227″ height=”350″ title=”Clarkesworld” data-id=”962″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/cw_138_350.jpg”>

Clarkesworld Magazine

Another favorite of mine, Clarkesworld Magazine publishes both science fiction and fantasy magazine by a range of terrific authors. 

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction<img class=”tve_image wp-image-965″ alt=”Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” width=”250″ height=”376″ title=”Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” data-id=”965″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/cov1803lg-250.jpg” style=”width: 100%;”>

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I started submitting to MF&SF back when I first started writing stories when the magazine was under the editorship of Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

MF & SF publishes fantasy and science fiction

Learning About ConvertKit | The Stealth Writer

I'm new to marketing. My focus has always been on writing and publishing and unfortunately, without making much of an effort to make my work visible. I haven't used email marketing to reach out to readers and make those connections. Between working fulltime as a librarian and leading a busy creative life, I hadn't prioritized the marketing side of writing and that has hurt my writing career.Continue reading

Resource List | Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn Podcast

Joanna PennLibrarians love resources. We collect them, catalog them, add them to lists, and enthusiastically share them. I'm no exception and this week I want to share The Creative Penn Podcast by Joanna Penn.

Podcast episodes are posted every Monday and include interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship.

Why I Dig This Podcast

The Creative Penn is smart, funny, and brings in many other voices for interviews. Joanna Penn's timeline to indie fame covers the past decade of her progress. She shares lessons learned in her podcast. I appreciate her transparency and willingness to share information with the audience. Although she is the author of many successful books, the podcast doesn't feel like a sales pitch for her books. She is (to use one of my son's favorite new words)—genuine. Simply scrolling through the list of episodes, I want to go back and catch up on ones I've missed.

Don't Envy—Learn

I started thinking about indie publishing around the same time as Joanna Penn. I remember seeing her name in various places, but she wasn't someone that I followed. Big mistake. Back in 2009, I started to get serious about my writing career but I wasn't sure about the indie route. I started trying a few things and began publishing much more material in 2010.

I made every mistake possible on the indie publishing side. I like being a librarian (and my son was still a baby at the time), so giving up my day job wasn't going to happen. It'd be easy to look at Joanna's timeline and feel envious. I don't. I find it incredibly inspiring and helpful. I started this blog to share my journey because it hasn't gone the way I wanted and I'm in the process of restarting my writing career while continuing to work a day job. Many of the writers I talk to are in that same place, balancing writing with a career and family.

The Creative Penn podcast offers so much for writers, whatever your goals. I highly recommend it.

Five stars graphic