Magic Metadata: Using Scrivener for Drafting and Revising

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and end up buying something, I’ll receive 20% of sales. Why? Because Scrivener is amazing. I’ve used it for five years and love it. And I thought, you know, since I talk about it literally all the time, maybe I should have it help pay for this blog.

Scrivener metadata is one of my favorite not-so-secret tricks when it comes to drafting and revising.

I’ve seen some posts about the metadata options Scrivener offers, but none of them use it the way I do, so I thought I’d add to the noise.

For a person who likes to be crazy-levels of organized, this is a lifesaver on both ends of the writing process. But even if you don’t consider yourself borderline fiendishly obsessed with lists and colors, there are ways to adapt my insanity to the flexibility your methods (or lack thereof) require.

Metadata and Drafting: All About The Outline

First, let’s talk about drafting.

Context: My most recent WIP is on a quick turnaround, so I’ve had to do a lot of front work to make the writing faster. The basic gist is that my MC has to trade his way to $700. With so much to keep track of (characters, locations, dates, traded goods), I had to sit down and map the story or else risk getting hopelessly mixed up.

Here’s what my outline looks like under the Outliner view option:

Magic Metadata: Using Scrivener for Drafting and Revising

(Click to see the image bigger)

I’ll explain how I made this, but first let’s look at what’s here.

On the far left, the blurred out bits of text are my detailed chapter outlines. Each is about 200 words long (my entire outline clocks in at 5k). Beside that we have the status of each chapter marked (except where I’ve forgotten to update it, whoops). The colored bits of text are my metadata notes.

You can change what you want to display by clicking the little down arrow in the top-right corner. This allows you to look at whatever elements you want side-by-side. Here’s a picture of that:

Magic Metadata: Using Scrivener for Drafting and Revising

(Click to see the image bigger)

(Note: You can rearrange the different categories by dragging them across the screen.)

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How to Become an Expert (for Writers)Good writers are experts in many things – most of them eccentric, odd, and (let’s admit it) kind of awesome. One of my writer friends is an expert on life aboard ships. Another knows a bizarre amount about animal biology and physics.

As writers, we normally gravitate toward subjects we’re interested in. When I started Illuminate, I knew I wanted it to include illuminated manuscripts because I love looking at old books. Though I had some basic knowledge from my medieval literature classes and from exhibits in museums, I didn’t know much beyond the word “vellum” when it came to the craft of creating a manuscript.

So how do writers become an expert with only a limited amount of time to spend on research?

Here’s what I did.

Phone a Friend

Once I decided I needed to know about illuminated manuscripts, I immediately emailed my old medieval literature professor to ask him for leads. He was able to give me direction.

I also let a wider net of friends (fellow writers and non-writers alike) know that I was researching illuminated manuscripts. That way if they came across a book, an exhibit in our area, or a plaque on a vacation, they could share their findings with me.

Let’s be honest – an important part of being a writer is collecting people to call on.

What? You thought writers lived solitary lives in dark caves? Well, maybe some do, but I bet they also waste a lot of time looking for resources. They probably also don’t have interior designers, medieval archery pros, and Irish folklore nerds on their Facebook just a message away.

My net has led to a friend photographing a present-day bookmaker in Venice, and another friend’s mom designing me a period-appropriate landscape garden, among other things. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll be surprised what comes in useful.

Read Non-Fiction by Experts

Once you get your bearings, it’s time to go to your local library or bookstore (or the internet). Scour the sources you find, and keep a record of the research tidbits you collect. I’ve previously written about creating your own research archives, but in brief – make sure the information is accessible, even if the book has to go back to the library.

You can also cheat by riding on the coattails of others’ research. This is what I did with The Gilded Page: The History & Technique of Manuscript Gilding. This splendid thick book had a wealth of information, but when I finished it I was yearning for more. I peeked at the bibliography in the back of the book and marked all her sources that sounded useful for the gaps in my knowledge. Fantastic time-saver that took me to several primary sources I would never have found on my own.

If you have access to a university or a subscription to academic journals, you can also use Jenzabar or Galileo to find articles on the specific topics you’re researching. Occasionally there are good finds on Google Scholar or Google Books as well.

Depending on what you’re researching, I recommend staying old school with accredited publications rather than just browsing the internet. I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos and other posts I found about pigment creation that were just plain wrong when I checked it against my collection of research volumes. Be careful what you trust.

Read Fiction by Other Writers

Sometimes I find it helpful to read fiction about the subject as well, if you can find it. This becomes tricky, because you don’t want to fall consciously or unconsciously into plagiarism.

But if you want to know how others are dealing with the subject, it doesn’t hurt to read around. In one instance, I did this quite by accident – I was reading a book set in 19th century Philadelphia that suddenly became a heist to steal antique books from a baddy. While the characters were learning everything they needed to know about old books, I was in on the discussion with them – following it clearly, to the point that when a character made a joke about vellum vs. parchment I knew what she meant.

But sometimes I did intentionally seek fiction. My story’s set in pseudo-fantasy-Venice, so while I devoured books on illuminated manuscripts I also devoured books on Venice. City of Masks is obligatory reading for my book, and it was delightful to see where Mary Hoffman’s research overlapped mine, and where we diverged.

Creative non-fiction goes here, too. If you want to research settings, find travel books on the location. Read anything set in that basic environment. You’ll be surprised how it will inspire your own world.

Immerse Your Senses

When my friend wanted to research life at sea, she didn’t just read about it. She collected poetry and children’s picture books. She went to art galleries and examined paintings. She bought postcards, went whale watching, ate fermented shark, and listened to audio recordings of Eskimos’ songs.

Sometimes research can become very two-dimensional. It can feel like a final assignment in a long semester. Don’t let it.

Find ways to make the information new and exciting. Use every sense you have to make it come alive.

By engaging in different forms of experience, your writing becomes more vivid, even if you never actually put the research on the page.

One of my favorite finds for Illuminate was wandering into the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice. They had an extensive perfume exhibit – a subject that would not normally interest me. But it occurred to me that I could find the scents my characters wore, and I spent half a morning with my nose in one jar or another, taking notes. At the end, I knew exactly what my characters smelled like.

Weird? Yes. Important to the story? Not terribly. But fun, fascinating, and tactile? Definitely.

Visit Museums and Attend Talks

Museums are awesome. Loads and loads of research is presented to you, made to be interesting, often with some real-life stuff you can look at. When you start researching, begin looking for museums.

Writers, you’ll want to locate three types of museums:

  1. Local museums. What museums are in your town and what to they cover? Even if it’s a dinky, low-budget museum of your city’s history, there may be jewels inside.
  2. The best museums in your area. This could be the next city over, or a couple of hours away. You can take day trips to these cities, or a weekend at most. When you go on vacation, check out the museums around the spot you’ll be visiting, just in case.
  3. The best museums in your topic. I’m talking worldwide. What museum does your thing so amazingly, it has an international reputation? Sometimes these museums have online archives you can use from home. (I’m looking at you, British Library, heart of my heart, song of my soul.) Sometimes there are contacts you can make through the museum website. Or, at the very least, knowing it’s there can put a pin on your map of places to travel.

Don’t neglect children’s museums, or sections of the museum designed for kids. This is where the hands-on stuff comes to play. A friend researching Mars nearly fell over in the Smithsonian when she saw three flat screens and a control panel for Google Mars, which allows you to walk (or fly) across the surface. And let’s not even mention the lady I pushed out of the way in my rush to touch old bones in the Viking exhibit at the British Museum.

In addition to browsing museums near and far, don’t forget lectures. Get on the mailing list for events at museums and colleges around you, and keep your ear to the ground for anything important.

You have a lot more access to experts in the field than you think – don’t forget to use them!

How to Create an Awesome Research ArchiveThis post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and end up buying something, I’ll receive 20% of sales. Why? Because Scrivener is amazing. I’ve used it for five years and love it. And I thought, you know, since I talk about it literally all the time, maybe I should have it help pay for this blog.
As a writer, I collect so much information I often find myself dreaming of an organized library archive. I’m constantly processing nuggets for my current projects – which can include anything from body disposal in 14th century Venetian quarantines to the household traditions of Afghan families to the most popular aiming techniques in Mongolian archery – while also on a constant stream of pirates, economics, star lore, and whatever other thing I’ve recently read about.

What I’m trying to say is, there’s a lot in my head.

The reality is, I’m not going to remember it all. Especially if it is not immediately applicable to the story – heck, even to the scene – I’m currently writing.

So I’ve started creating digital archives for the information. That way, when I need it, it’s only the work of a minute or two to find.

We’re going to talk about basic information to include in your archive, and then I’ll look at three different ways to build it: Word, Google Docs, and Scrivener.

Basic Archiving Practice

Whenever you input information, make sure you include the source. This doesn’t have to be a full-out citation, but you should at least include title of work the work you’re using and page number. If you’re citing from your travel notes, include the place you were and the date. This will make it easier to find the source again if you need to look at the information surrounding the quote you selected.

For my digital archives, I use the ScanMarker. The idea is that it can highlight lines of text and translate them into typed words in a document. The marker isn’t perfect, and there are always typos that I have to fix (depending on the book’s design, sometimes more and sometimes hardly any). But I like to think it saves me some time.

Dragon Naturally Speak is also an option – or even just Google Doc’s new Voice Typing tool. These will convert you reading into text for your document.

Or you can always just type up the passages (boringgg). It really doesn’t take as long as you think it will.

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Ways to Help a Friend's Publishing JourneyWhen your friends start to leave the nest and send out queries, sign contracts, and talk to publishers – or commission their cover, finish up formatting, and prep to self-publish – it gets pretty gosh darn exciting. Everyone’s on alert, waiting for the next tidbit of publishing news. Their dreams are all becoming real!

Highs and lows come hand in hand with the publishing journey. Sometimes a high can be just as stressful as a low – like when a friend of mine was caught between two amazing publishers in a bidding war. Though it’s an awesome problem to have, it was also very intense.

So how can you help a friend through their publishing journey, regardless of what that looks like? Here are a few ideas.

Be Available

Express interest in your friends’ work and their journey. You don’t necessarily have to volunteer to read the whole manuscript or know everything about it (though you can!). I’m always encouraged when a casual friend just asks how it’s going, and then actually listens when I explain my latest ups and downs.

If you want to really be involved, establish some pacts. Annie and I have a bloodpact that the instant either of us hears from our agents, we debrief the other. When we’re waiting for important information (like receiving feedback from an editor or publishing company), we occasionally remind each other of the pact, just to show how much we care. Because I will murder her if she does not tell me. That’s just the rules.

I also like to use a little thing called a “brag table” (coined by Jon Acuff). Basically, a brag table is a safe place where your friend doesn’t have to feel modest about sharing her successes. It’s a judgement-free celebration zone. I love it!

Offer to Help

If your friend needs another pair of eyes and you’d like to get in on what she’s writing, you can always offer to read. But there are plenty of other ways you can help without committing to a 80,000 word challenge.

You can help by proofreading emails before she sends them, if she’s the sort who’s terrified of emailing the first few times, or if she wants another opinion on a more complicated communication.

You can help by recommending books for her, if you come across something that reminds you of her project (whether it’s fiction or non-fiction). If a relevant book goes on sale for $1.99 Kindle copy, you can let her know about that.

You can help by going on research trips, museum visits, etc., and being patient while your friend takes copious notes. You can let her know if you see an exhibit she’d like.

You also can help by doing the other things on this list – like listening (perhaps with some tea?), getting excited, and assisting during the launch.

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How I Signed with a Literary AgentLiterary agent. Offers. First refusal. Revision. Contracts. Murder.

These are all words that could describe my journey to signing with an agent. (Except for that last one. I was just joking. Or was I?)

Readers of the blog might remember that I signed with Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary back on December 16. But like all stories, it doesn’t actually begin there.

When most writers decide to go the route of traditional publishing, they start by querying literary agents. They send out a juicy story blurb, tantalizing first chapters, maybe a sexy synopsis (two words you never thought you’d see together). Eventually maybe an agent will be caught and a contract signed.

I’ve queried in the past myself, mostly back when I was nineteen and had finished my first complete manuscript. I received a lot of good feedback and some kind rejections (very kind, in retrospect). It was a positive experience because the life of a writer comes with a heavy dose of rejection – whether from agents, publishers, critics, or readers – and putting myself out there helped toughen my skin.

First Contact from an Agent (Or Three)

My quest with Illuminate was different from the norm because this manuscript was my MA thesis. I put an excerpt in our university’s yearly anthology and sent it off to some of the top dogs in the UK literary world.

Before and during the launch party, I was approached by three literary agents who’d been intrigued by my excerpt. I also pitched my way into two more requests for a full manuscript. Pitching is terrifying, by the way, and requires plenty of prep. I’m not saying that I hiked around Somerset with notecards of talking points, memorizing everything I could say with friend and co-conspirator Annie. But I’m not denying it.

Anyway, during the launch Amber introduced herself. I was immediately impressed by her enthusiastic personality and by how much she had noticed in my excerpt. After speaking with her briefly and passing her on to a classmate, a tutor from Bath Spa pulled me aside.

“Amber is interested?” she asked. Then she gave me a very knowing look. “You would do well with her.”

With that endorsement ringing in my head, I went through the next week in a frenzy of emails to and from agents. Another agent was really keen, and I still remember getting her offer of representation in my inbox during lunch in Northumberland.

It’s a courtesy to let other agents have a chance to make their own offers, so I descended into more madness as I gave everyone the head’s up. Some agents backed out, others (like Amber) asked for more time. In the end, it was between that first agent and Amber.

When Amber came back to me, she said that she loved my project but it was very rough. She offered to work with me on an editorial basis under a first refusal agreement. This meant that she would give feedback and I would make extensive revisions. At the end of it, we’d see how we worked together. If she wanted to make an offer, she could. If she didn’t, she didn’t have to. If we decided to part ways, I could take the manuscript elsewhere.

The Dramatic Choice

I had a choice: Sign with the literary agent who had made an offer, or put a lot of work into a less secure offer.

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How to Run a Remote Writing WorkshopBack in 2014, I finished my MA in Writing for Young People. Workshops were a vital part of the coursework, my love for them grew exponentially. We officially stopped workshopping for class in May of that year.

But unofficially? We never actually stopped.

Sure, people pop in and out of the group as schedules change, and we’ve added another writer in the meantime. But a year and a half after our workshops “ended,” most of us meet every other week to critique each other’s pieces, even though we’re now split across three different time zones.

How do we do it? Here are some of my tips.

1. Be Organized

When you’re initially setting up the group, talk honestly with your mates about what will work for them. If the schedule is too strict, people won’t be able to keep up and they’ll fall out. If it’s too loose, people will lose interest or simply forget.

Here’s the way we structured ours:

  • Split the group into smaller chunks. Normally it gets hard to workshop more than three people, maximum, because of the time required for the reading and the meeting itself. So your groups might look like: Group A (2 people), Group B (2 people), and Group C (3 people).
  • Assign a word count range. Depending on the size of your groups (and the time they have to read), this could go between 1500-2500 words.
  • Make a schedule. Again, this will depend on how busy your team is. We give ourselves a week for reading, which spaces out the commitment (and ensures we get every other weekend free). Check out the table below to see what I mean:
Group A Submits on the 1st
Workshops on the 8th
Group B Submits on the 15th
Workshops on the 22nd
Group C Submits on the 29th
Workshops on the 5th
  • Set a day and time. As I mentioned before, my workshop team is split over three time zones (GMT, EST, and PST). The time that works best for us tends to be 10 AM EST on a Saturday. If someone wants to come but can’t make that day/time, we might move it forward or back an hour, or switch it to a Sunday. Every week before workshop, I post on our Facebook group to confirm the day/time with everyone and see who’s expecting to make it.

Which leads rather nicely into the next step…

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50 Questions to Ask your AntagonistAntagonists are tricky. Too little work, and the antagonist comes across flat. A flat antagonist is easy and boring, because he or she won’t push the protagonist hard enough. Plus there’s that practice of making fleshed out characters and having interesting three-dimensional people, blah blah.

We all know the saying: Every villain is his own hero. Though I wrote these questions and prompts with famous antagonists in mind, you could actually pose them to your protagonist or other characters (just switch out the protagonist-themed questions for antagonist-themed) and it will still work.

I’ve always found it most helpful to answer questionnaires in my character’s voice, so I have written this addressing your antagonist directly. Try to answer in the way he or she would. You’ll uncover hidden backstory, depth, and softness in your antagonist.

But remember – even something “soft” (like empathy) can be a terrible motivator.

Your Antagonist’s Backstory

  1. Hurting people hurt others. What hurt you?
  2. When was the first time you were frightened by something you did?
  3. When was the first time you experienced pain?
  4. What is the most painful thing you have ever gone through?
  5. Do you have a mentor, or someone you’ve modeled yourself after? Who is it, and why are they so compelling?
  6. Have you killed anyone? Who was the first person you killed? (Alternatively: Who is the person you’ve hurt most?)
  7. When did you feel the most humiliated by someone else?
  8. Tell me about a time you faced rejection.
  9. Is there something you’ve said or done you wish you could take back?
  10. Who (or what) do you miss?
  11. What’s one thing you can never forgive? (Could be an event in the past, or a character trait like lying.)
  12. When did you feel the most accomplished or successful?
  13. When have you felt helpless?
  14. What was the first lie you told? What do you lie about most often?

Your Antagonist’s Habits

  1. What do you do to relax?
  2. Where do you go when you want to feel like you belong? If you can’t get there, where would you like to go?
  3. What do you like to read? What shows do you watch?
  4. What do you daydream about?
  5. What is your weapon of choice? How did you learn to use it?
  6. When you feel uncomfortable, what do you do to cover it up?
  7. What sort of clothes do you wear? Would you make changes to your wardrobe if you could?
  8. Do you have any unusual or advanced skills?
  9. How do you like to approach a problem?

Your Antagonist’s Personal Life

  1. Who are your parents? Do you have any siblings? Are they still alive?
  2. Who (or what) is one person (or thing/ideal) you would never harm?
  3. Who (or what) do you love? Would you call it love?
  4. What is one secret you’ve never told anyone? Would you consider revealing it to another character? If so, who?
  5. What lie do you tell yourself?
  6. What is one silly thing you’re afraid of?
  7. Tell me about your dream vacation.
  8. What is one fault in others you just can’t stand?
  9. What type of people do you like to be around (if any)?
  10. What do you feel other people misunderstand about you?
  11. Do you like kids? What about animals?

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My S.M.A.R.T. Goals for 2016New Year’s Resolutions! I still remember doing them for homework in the second grade, only to inevitably lose the piece of paper and forget what it was I meant to change. So this year, I’m writing down some S.M.A.R.T. goals.

If you haven’t heard of it before, S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. I admit I’ve been partially inspired by a fellow freelance hustler Raye Rice. Her goals are so shiny and beautiful, I wanted to make a few of my own.

My word for last year was joy. My word for this year is wonder. I want to broaden my mind by reading more, asking more, and pushing myself more. But I also want to work on being present. On learning how to marvel again, whether over big things or small.

That said, here are some of my main goals for 2016:


  • Illuminate. I’d like to complete two more rounds of Illuminate revisions. The due dates partially depend on when feedback comes in, but I’m hoping to have everything set to go by Fall 2016 at the very latest.
  • Popinjay. I want to finish the second complete draft of Popinjay by April 2016 (possibly with Camp NaNoWriMo?). Depending on my schedule, it would be nice to get through a chunk of deep revisions before the end of the year.
  • Letters. I am planning to do the initial rounds of revisions for my joint project by July 2016. At that point, I want to send it out to beta readers.
  • The next one? This year, I need to begin plotting and/or drafting whatever will be next in line on the publication list after Illuminate (whether that’s a sequel or another third person fantasy standalone).

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2015 has been full of change – most of it very good! Here’s my year in review.

Launch Party

1. I launched an anthology in London!

I finished out my role as co-editor for Bath Spa University’s Class of 2014 anthology, Beautiful Lies! It was amazing to see the book come together, and to watch my classmates connect with agents and publishers on the big night.


2. Sarah and I drove the Ring Road in Iceland!

In five days, we rounded the majority of the island. With our trustworthy steed (aka car) Thorny the Bold, we traversed unpaved roads, braved mountainsides, and had many an adventure.

Also: I didn’t get sea sick when we went whale watching, despite rough seas and 3 meter waves! This is my superpower.


3. I finally went to Portland (and Washington)!

As soon as I landed back in the USA, I boarded another plane bound for the west. I reconnected with the Hankins (aka, my adopted family from the Berry College era), helped my mom through her first kidney stone (not fun!), met my second book BBF (after the British Library): Powell’s Bookstore, and dragged my brother around Seattle.

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playlist cover popinjay

NaNoWriMo is around the corner! I’ve participated for the last several years, and I’m planning to have a go again.

Over the summer, I pounded out a (very) rough draft of Popinjay, reboot edition. My plan for NaNoWriMo this year is to retype the whole thing, fixing the biggest problems as I go. I’m looking forward to exploring Talvas’s dialect more, and emphasizing the Mongolian influences in his culture. But mostly, I’m just anticipating writing a character voice that is so jaded and dry and basically the opposite of most of my other guys. It’s fun to dabble in something unusual!

To commemorate the event, I’ve made a new playlist for this WIP. Archery songs! Adventure songs! Etc.

Archers Never Make Good Kings from midenianscholar on 8tracks Radio.

Archers (The Ballroom Thieves) // Longshot (Nevertheless) // Secrets (OneRepublic) // Run (Snow Patrol) // Blow Away (A Fine Frenzy) // Follow the Arrow (Rosie Golan & Human) // Step Out (José González) // I Lived (OneRepublic) // I Bet My Life (Imagine Dragons) // Wrecking Ball (Jared & The Mill) // War in My Blood (Fiction Family) // The Woods (Hollow Coves) // The Longer I Run (Peter Bradley Adams) // Empty (Ray Lamontagne) // Dream (Priscilla Ahn) // The Violet Hour (The Civil Wars) // Cripple Me (Elenowen) // First and Last Waltz (Nickel Creek)

I talked previously about finishing a first draft of my joint project (tentatively called Letters) via Google Docs. I’ve finally put together my miscellaneous instrumental tracks to create a faux soundtrack–which means you get not one, but two new playlists! This one even has story quotes in the annotations. If you’re into pianos and cellos and violins, you might enjoy it:

Letters & Spells from midenianscholar on 8tracks Radio.

Interstellar Theme – Cello Cover (Nicholas Yee) // Prelude (Joel Grainger) // Childhood (Ilan Esherki) // Pilgrims On a Long Journey (Coeur De Pirate) // Arrival of the Birds – Violin cover (Amy Lee) // Locke’ing Horns (Michael Giacchino) // Strange Waltz (Benoit Groulx) // The King’s Speech (Alexandre Desplat) // Nightbook (Ludovico Einaudi) // The Cascades (Fleet Foxes) // No Reservations (Philip Glass) // Rondo – Allegro (Richard Tognetti) // Father (David Mahler) // A Game of Cricket (Adrian Johnston) // Damaged (John Lunn) // The Gammy Bird (Christopher Young) // Giving the Kii (James Newton Howard) // London Calling (Michael Giacchino) // Copper and Tin (Anne Dudley) // Daydream (Grégoire Hetzel) // Don’t Let It Get You Down (Johnnyswim)

I will probably end up splitting NaNoWriMo with some more Illuminate edits, but that will depend on some feedback I’m expecting soon.

Adieu, October! And hello, November!