Planning (Just a Little)

24155520_sIn the little time after I returned from my conference, I worked to plan my novel. I wanted to be a planner, but in November I would mostly be writing by the seat of my pants. I knew I had valuable information but I had no road map. I did what I could in the time I had.

The first thing I did was scan all the materials I collected. The originals were old and precious and I didn’t want to damage any of them. Some were already in bad shape and there were a few pages from the log that were folded, partially mutilated, and unreadable. I saved them, but I didn’t try to unfold them for fear I would damage them further. Scanning also made it easy to share what I had with my siblings, my father’s other children.


I printed out everything I had scanned. I could have stored it all in Scrivener, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the program then to feel comfortable doing that. Now I realize it would have been really helpful to have everything in one place.

After that, I created a timeline. It was the beginning of my rough plan. At first, I used Excel to make the timeline. I’ve since discovered a program called Aeon Timeline and expanded my timeline there. (Maybe I’ll discuss Aeon Timeline in another post.)

My timeline gave me enough information to create the project in Scrivener. I used those events to make a list of scenes I planned. I knew that as I wrote, I could easily add new scenes that would be necessary to develop the plot.

This was the extent of the planning I was able to do before November 1.


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When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I learned about a computer program called Scrivener. It’s designed for writing. It’s not a word processor and it doesn’t have powerful formatting features to generate an attractive document. Once a writing project in completed in Scrivener, it can be moved to Word for formatting.

Where Scrivener excels is the ability to plan, develop and re-organize ideas. I can plan the scenes I envision in the novel and then easily move from one to another. If I have an idea for a scene I’m not writing now, I can make a note of it right where I will see it when I start that other scene, without losing momentum.. If I realize I need to plant a seed in an earlier scene for my current scene to make sense, I can do that without opening a new document, making my work flow much smoother.

Within my Scrivener file, I have places to store and easily access research, character studies, and settings for my story. I keep all my discarded scenes in case I want to add or modify them later. Everything is at my fingertips, without needing to open multiple files or programs. The program also takes a ‘snapshot’ of my project regularly so I never worry about back-ups while I’m working. I still make sure to back up my work in the cloud at the end of each session to be protected from machine failure.

When I want to review the flow of my story, I can look at the chapters and scenes like note cards on a corkboard. It reminds me of the 3 x 5 note cards I used to prepare term papers when I was in school. The best thing is that I can re-arrange them, just like I used to shuffle my note cards back then.

Probably my favorite feature as I was writing was the ability to set a daily word count target and easily monitor my progress right in Scrivener. If I had been working in Word, each file would have had a separate word count and edits or additions to existing files or scenes would have needed to be tracked manually.

I love the Scrivener features I use and I know there’s more to love that I haven’t yet discovered. I’ll continue to use it for my novel through the editing and re-writing process. I’m also using it to plan and keep track of this blog. I want to be sure to tell the whole story and not miss any key ideas!

For more information about Scrivener, go to

Full disclosure:  I have no connection with Scrivener or the company, Literature and Latte. I just love the program and writing 50,000 words without it would have been much more difficult!

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And Then I Found . . .

Shortly after committing to NaNoWriMo, I left town for a week long conference. After the event, I planned a visit a nearby cousin afterward. Since she is the daughter of my father’s sister, I shared my writing plans with her.

As we talked, she mentioned she might have some information that would be helpful. Her mother had been the keeper of all the family documents once our grandfather was gone. When her mother downsized, my cousin took possession of everything.

Together, we went through some of the boxes in her attic. We came upon a treasure trove – letters sent by my father to his father during the journey. There were seven of them and they provided a wealth of information about his route, his schedule, and, most importantly, about his feelings. They are fascinating and will be invaluable to me in my writing. I scanned the letters with my portable scanner.

She also had a copy of the report from the private investigator who was hired by my grandfather after my father disappeared. I wanted to scan that, too, but it was held together by a rusty staple I was reluctant to remove. She encouraged me to take the report and the letters home. I was eager to read everything!


nanowrimologoLast year, a colleague introduced me to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Each November, over 300,000 people worldwide attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day for 30 days.  The four day weekend that is Thanksgiving falls in November, last year ending on November 30. We drive ten hours each way to spend the holiday with family.

I was reluctant to participate because I’m highly competitive and I wasn’t comfortable making a commitment like that and not finishing. I also knew that besides Thanksgiving, I was going to be out of town for two weeks. I could write a lot of that time, but some of it was vacation and I had to take the rest of my family into consideration.  Still, in early October, I took the plunge and signed up for NaNoWriMo. Then I left for a weeklong conference.

As I found out later, of the 300,000 who sign on, approximately 12-14% actually get to 50,000 words. People who do finish are considered winners. I knew that not everyone made it, but I’m glad I didn’t know the success rate was as low as it is. I think I might have given myself permission to not finish. As it was, I didn’t consider coming up short an option. (Note to self: forget those statistics for next time!)

Once I made the commitment, I had to figure out what I was doing. Writers will tell you there are essentially two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan ahead, figuring out how the story will go, preparing character studies, determining settings, and creating an outline. On the other hand, maybe they have a vague idea of their story or a character whispering in their ear, but mostly pantsers sit down to write ‘by the seat of their pants.’

People who know me realize I would be a plotter. Unfortunately, the schedule I committed to did not afford me the luxury of a month or more of planning. I had the beginning of a story idea and some characters and some scenes in mind. Mostly, though, I would be writing by the seat of my pants. At the end of November, I hoped to have a 50,000 word rough draft. A very rough draft, but at least a start.

For more information about NaNoWriMo, visit