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Refining the Novel Writing Process – Outlining in Scrivener

by Jonathan 0 Comments


I’m about halfway through the first draft of my second novel and it’s been a pretty cool experience so far. It’s been fun not flying totally blind like I did on my first novel, more like 1/2 blind with some things in focus, like the gentleman above.

As with my first go round, the biggest challenge is to get this first draft down without worrying overly much on its myriad warts. For me, a big part of that is due to taking steps to lay the groundwork before actually pounding out words. I find that when I have direction, it’s much easier to focus on the story instead of being distracted by every little imperfection.

Last Time Around

In writing the first draft of my first novel I just wrote and figured I’d see what came out, let the story reveal itself so to speak. That didn’t work so well. I read about thirty pages of that draft and then shelved it. I probably should’ve burned it.

For draft number two, I outlined the first five chapters or so in great detail, got impatient and started in on the full draft.

Better, but still, well … *grimaces*

Finally, I wrote a 50 page summary/outline of the whole story for draft number three. That draft became the backbone for the novel I’m querying now (another four drafts later).

Okay, sounds exhausting, right? That’s what I thought, too. I figured there had to streamline this process at least a little bit.

Using Scrivener as a Planning Tool

I decided to roll with Scrivener to help with getting thoughts down in a linear fashion. I’d used it in previous drafts of my first novel, but not as a planning tool.

I went with a chapter by chapter timeline to get down the logic of events keeping in mind that things would likely change as I actually wrote. The main reason I did this was to understand how things would end. I feel like having a solid end point in mind makes it easier to know where I’m going, even if the end is more like a vague shape just at the edge of my vision in a torrential rain.

I provided a brief summary of what would happen in each chapter, doing my best to keep in mind two things:

  1. What were the stakes of this particular chapter, and;
  2. How did this fit into the larger story?


I did my best not to dig too deeply into any one chapter summary so I’d have room for characters and story to evolve through the writing itself. Basically, I created a framework. From there, I jotted notes (in the notes box, no less!) for things to possibly incorporate in any given chapter. I’ll revisit those after the first draft.

So far this process has provided structure and still allowed room to change things and enjoy the freedom of the first draft. It remains to be seen if I still feel the same once I wrap up this first draft, but, truth be told, the key is to actually wrap up the first draft in a timely manner. If I get that out of the process, I win!

Ultimately, I’ve gotta keep after the writing and the process with an eye on improving all the time and have faith things will in place.

Note: As much as I enjoyed using Scrivener, there are plenty of other tools to organize your writing, from note cards to Google Docs to geocaches spread throughout the city.


My First World Fantasy Con

by Jonathan 0 Comments


I’d been planning to write this post for a few weeks, but I don’t think I’d really been able to process the whole experience.  Now, I can say without a doubt, my first World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs a few weeks ago was everything I hoped it would be.

I’d been to Capclave in 2013 and 2014 and after a great time there, Paolo Bacigalupi was kind enough to recommend I attend World Fantasy Con to really immerse myself in the writing scene. I figured if he was recommending, I should probably go.

And so I packed up the car and made the 10.5 hour drive north to Saratoga Springs.

I met a bunch of authors, both published and unpublished. For the most part, everyone was supportive and encouraging and willing to engage. In many ways, it was the perfect pick-me-up for my writing.

The first night I settled in in the lounge, beer in hand, and took in the sites. Over time, others filled in the seats around me. A few authors–Sherry Peters, Gerald Brandt, and Jeff Lyman–help set the tone for my first WFC by being easy to engage and straight up fun to talk with.

I returned home–after an unexpected stay in a Clarion Inn while I figured out how to get my alternator replaced–fairly well pumped to write (more so than usual).

The highlight for me had to be hanging out at the ChiZine Publications Book Launch/Room Party and getting to dig into discussions on horror, writing, and random bits of silliness. The ChiZine folks were super nice and welcoming, as was Gemma Files who left this nifty inscription in the copy of Experimental Film I bought there:

“See. Be Seen. And do your work!

In truth, I didn’t see it until today when I began reading the book. I don’t know if it’s Gemma’s standard inscription, but it seemed apropos of my attending WFC and continuing my writing. A third of the way into my next novel, it’s nice to get a kick in the pants.

I met a few folks from the Seton Hill writing programJennifer Della’Zanna, Luke Elliot, and Amber Bliss–who provided great conversation around writing and books and movies and were nothing but encouraging.

After attending the Old Weird, New Weird, or Just Plain Weird panel on Saturday, I had the pleasure of chatting with panelist Scott Nicolay (author and host of The Outer Dark podcast), panelist Anya Martin (author) and Gemma Files about weird (both small and capital letter weird) at the bar and in the lobby. Fantastic.

In addition, I enjoyed the change of pace offered by the Richard Powers art exhibit as well as the rest of the WFC2015 Art Show. I met some great folks there and talked immersive theater with John Koloski and Kathe Koja (I now have Wuthering Heights on my to-be-read list) and took in some great art. It was pretty amazing to see the original works of Powers’ art and the finished covers they became.

I don’t include all these great people in this post to name drop but in order to show how kind and inclusive the writing. As for my first WFC, I’m glad I went and have already filled out the form to register for next year’s event in Columbus, Ohio. Should be a blast.

I Had No Idea

by Jonathan 0 Comments

DofossWe said goodbye to this little creature yesterday. Her name was Dandelion and she had our hearts.

I had no idea how much we would come to love her the day we brought her home for my daughter’s seventh birthday, almost three years ago. She was curious, social and sweet. We got to know her sounds and body language. Scratched between her shoulder blades and behind her ears. Handpicked her namesake greens from the yard and took great joy in watching her eat her “lettuces” and “deliciousnesses.”

One of the things we read when preparing for Dandelion’s arrival was that guinea pigs should be family pets. My wife and I took that to heart, caring for Dandelion day in and day out, trimming her nails, cleaning her cage, petting her cheeks, keeping her in hay and fresh fruits and veggies. That daily connection became straight up love.

You see, guinea pigs hide their illnesses as they are prey animals. Show any weakness and you’re a goner. By the time you see symptoms, it’s not unusual for it to be too late. We were way too late. First thing in the morning, my wife took her to the vet. By 4:30, Dandelion was gone. There was no time to get used to the idea of her dying.

It hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks, or freight train, or [insert heavy, fast moving object here]. Right in the feels, as it were. This morning was rough. When we make our daughter’s lunch is when we would set aside apple slices and carrots to bring to Dandelion. We’d go into the room and open the shade to let the sunlight in. Today there was no need.

We had fish for a while and, while I was distraught at each one of their passings (five in three years), they didn’t have that innocent, precarious trust that shows up in picture above. We joked that she didn’t know from day to day whether we were going to feed her or eat her. We like to think she was pleasantly surprised day after day that it was the former, kind of like Westley and the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. This little cutie–we would remark how in certain profiles she resembled a “D” on its side, or a watermelon seed, or a drop of water–became a point of reference for so much of our daily language that today feels like there’s a big old hole in our lives.

Despite her size and the relatively short time she was with us, Dandelion’s death is every bit as painful as when our 14-year-old dog, Greta, and 14-year-old cat, Harriet, died in the last few years. I had no idea it would be like this. And I wouldn’t trade our time with her for anything.

I know the feeling will grow smaller in time, but maybe writing this post might help a little today. There’s still a hole to dig and a sweet little body to lay to rest.

We’ll miss you, Dandelion.

5 Ways To Clamp Jumper Cables on Your Gray Matter

by Jonathan 0 Comments


Some days the ideas feel stale. Sometimes you find yourself telling the same story you already told, just with different window dressing. All of that can lead to the “why-the-hell-do-I-even-bother” crisis.

Look up once in a while. Look out beyond writing and publishing and books and you’ll find inspiration (ideas, solutions to writer’s block, rejuvenation, whatever) in all sorts of places. Seriously. Inspirado? That shit is everywhere. Check it out, here’s some low-ass hanging fruit to send a jolt into your stagnant gray matter:

Music – If you haven’t dug into music as a way of setting mood, now is the time. Pull music from your the soundtrack of your favorite movie. Better yet, find a soundtrack to a movie you’ve never watched. Dig into electronica or classical or metal. Play it either super loud or low, but not right in that “I’m listening to music” volume range. Mix it up from time to time and listen to something you might not normally go for. That’ll get the synapses firing.

Visual Art – Man, between Google Images and Deviant Art, there are endless possibilities. Looking for a bleak cityscape, tippity-tap those terms in the ol’ Googlyzer and let the results wash over you like warm summer rain. Mess around with search terms on Deviant Art and belly up to the visual smorgasbord. You’ll have ideas popping up in your brain pan like mushrooms in that dark, moist corner of your crawlspace.

Nature – Do you ever look around when you go outside? Do you even go outside? You should do both. The outdoors has it all: texture, odor, colors, temps, sounds, fractals, whatever you need. Hell, sometimes you can even taste it. Get out there and get all up in nature.

Science – There are tons of great resources on science. For real. They’re out there. There is no shortage of noggin fodder, people. Go forth and slather science butter all over the nooks and crannies of your brain. Mmmm, mmmm.

ExerciseThis works. It may not take your mind exactly where you want it to go, but that’s the point, innit? Sometimes you need a break. In the immortal words of Chicago (80’s edition), even lovers need a holiday. Go out, burn a calorie, fire up some endorphins. Slap in some earbuds and go for a hike and you can get the inspirado trifecta: music, nature and exercise! Feels good, doesn’t it.



What Artistic Growth Looks Like

by Jonathan 0 Comments

Check out these two videos from Nathaniel Rateliff, one from 2010 and one from this year.

They’re both pretty damn good, right? That first one, though, Shroud, it’s pretty raw. Now, truth be told, I love music like this, but you can only get by on raw for so long. For an artist (writer, painter, musician) to endure, evolution is key otherwise the same old same old is just that. No matter how talented an artist might be, trotting out the same stuff year after year will eventually get stale.

Watching the second video, there’s still that rawness, but there’s a whole lot more going on, there’s showmanship, a true stage presence that wasn’t there before. Rateliff owns the stage. He’s gone from singer songwriter to full on entertainer. The music itself is testament to that fact as well. The song’s a complete effort by the band. And it’s glorious.

The beauty of growth is that not everyone’s going to like it, but it’s critical for the artist to keep on keeping on. Think of the Beatles or Bob Dylan or U2. Love ’em or hate ’em, they kept the flame alive by exploring their medium. Look at Picasso or Van Gogh or Rothko over time and you’ll see their work changing on different scales.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Rothko:

The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer…to achieve this clarity is, inevitably, to be understood.