Last week I downloaded a trial of Scrivener, which is writing software I had heard about but never got around to trying. Scrivener is on my mind becausee I recently started a “content audit” of my past writing to create a “best of davidseah.com” section. However, after reviewing just two articles, I was horrified by how disjointed my wordsmithing can be, particularly the earlier articles. I have vowed to write with clearer intent and structure.
There’s one big problem, though: it’s slow going because it takes more passes to create writing of this nature. This post, for example, is the third simplification of the article I started to summarize the “two-week productivity reboot” I’ve been doing. I’ve probably put 7 or 8 hours into it so far, and I’m writing this blog post just so I can get something posted. Producing frequent-yet-shorter updates that helps communicate my ongoing interests is part of the 2013 Dave Seah Website Reboot; I also think this increased discipline will be good practice for writing a book. Scrivener is the software that I believe will make wrangling the hundreds of ideas related to the writing much easier.
Scrivener, if you’re not familiar with it, is a word processor that makes it easy to work with a document that is made up of many smaller chunks of text. Each chunk of text can be reordered with drag-and-drop, annotated, and tagged in many ways. That makes it possible to really play with the order of paragraphs and words without fear. With a word processor like Microsoft Word, you deal with a single long roll of text, perhaps broken up into chapters and section heads, but still one long document. Changing the order of paragraphs requires tedious and error-prone copy-paste operations. Scrivener by comparison organizes multiple text documents as easily-moved chunks in a list. You can focus on an individual section to clarify and decide where it goes later, or you can show the text in context with the overall flow. I’m just starting with Scrivener, but it already seems like it will be a great tool for organizing my “thinking-in-text”. If you’re familiar with using non-linear film editing software, you might think of Scrivener as Final Cut Pro for words: you are selecting, ordering, and combining many clips into a single linear presentation.
Anyway, much of my writing to-date (here on the blog, at least) starts out as an exploration, probing the root of an initial thought to see what conclusions might fall out of it. Because it’s an exploratory process, I rarely start with a conclusion or finding because I haven’t figured it out yet. Because of that, my writing can be very confusing if you don’t already have some context about my daily activities. I’d like to fix that, which will help new readers figure out what the hell I’m talking about. Blogging in this more-structured, to-the-point style is a bit new for me; I naturally tend to like winding conversations that eventually collide with insights to produce a useful takeaway, and I like to share the moment of discovery as opposed to packaging it as if I’ve always known it. The new approach will process those conversations into succinct, benefit-focused prose that is easier to understand and test, once the discovery has passed the Dave tests for authenticity and truthiness.
The real trick will be to produce interesting content regularly despite an increase in writing time. We’ll see what happens!