How I Learned to Give Scrivener a Chance

I’ve long been a holdout on the Scrivener front. I tried a free demo over a year ago, and I immediately bounced off the steep learning curve. Then in 2016 I bought a license when it was on sale during NaNoWriMo. I tried to use it–this time trying the introductory/training materials–but again I just couldn’t do it. I was too in love with my personal wiki for worldbuilding and Microsoft Word for writing my drafts.

It took a few tweets–with screenshots–from author John Hornor Jacobs for me to see how Scrivener could combine my worldbuilding and drafting documents into one program.

Armed with this knowledge, I dove back into the UI monster that is Scrivener. The program comes with some pre-made templates, but with a little bit of Google-Fu, I found out that you can import templates into Scrivener.

I found a few templates that were organized and had folders for worldbuilding, for outlines, and for rough drafts. As soon as I saw that, I had a faint inkling of hope–that this could work. That maybe this time I could at least get into Scrivener long enough to give it a fair shake.

So here’s what I did in case anybody’s in a similar situation.

Import Template

With Scrivener, you can create templates that can be used across different projects. So with some quick Google Fu, I found some templates I wanted to try.

Once you’ve downloaded a template you want to use (save it to somewhere easy to find like your desktop), go ahead and import it into Scrivener. Start a new project and then import that template under the options menu.

import template in scrivener

Import Word Docs

Once you have a template you like, there’s another crucial thing you need to do. If you’ve worked with Word documents in the past, copying and pasting into Scrivener is going to be a pain in the ass. You’ll definitely want to get accustomed to “paste without formatting” which on Windows is CTRL + SHIFT + V. (Mac I think is just APPLE + SHIFT + V).

But also Scrivener lets you import documents so you have them as part of your “collection.” Go ahead and import any Word docs you’ve used as your worldbuilding documents, outlines, or drafts. Once they’re in Scrivener, it’ll be a lot easier to copy and paste their stuff into your Scrivener files based on the template you’ve imported.

Go to Town

Once you have everything set up, all that’s left to do is to go to town! Personally I love working with the “vertical split” option enabled.

Split Vertically in Scrivener

That way I can have my current chapter open in one half of the window with my applicable worldbuilding or outline files open on the right half of my screen. Yes you can do this with multiple Word files, but what I’ve come to enjoy with Scrivener is that all of this is accessible within the same program.

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 3: Wikis

Last week. month. year. ohmygodit’sbeentoolong time, I covered mind maps as a tool for fantasy and science fiction writers can use to keep track of their worldbuilding. And we’ve already covered plain ol’ Word documents. Now we come to what I currently use: personal wikis.

You know Wikipedia, right? Or maybe you have a favorite show or video game that maintains a wiki? Then you’re familiar with the concept.

This method is like creating your own encyclopedia, but trust me–it’s more fun than it sounds! (Or maybe I’m just a big ol’ dork. Probably that one)


Flexibility. There are different programs out there that allow you to create an online or offline personal, private wiki. Building it online may require some light coding/markup knowledge, but you’ll be able to work on your worldbuilding anywhere you have an internet connection.

personally didn’t want to deal with any of that, so I went for the offline option. With a lightweight program, I was able to create a wiki and upload its folder to my Dropbox. (You can use other cloud storage services like Google Drive or iCloud too).

So while I need to have my wiki editor program installed on the computer I’m using, I’m still able to have almost all the portability offered by building an online version thanks to theeeeee cloooooooud.

Cross-linking is another pro for personal wikis. Each character, culture, continent, other things that start with “C” gets its own page in your wiki. And then the fun part! You get to link–same as you would with an internet hyperlink–between them.

So for instance, if I was making a wiki for The Tethys Chronicles, I’d make a page for all my notes and info about Jacquie Renairre. Then I’d do the same thing for her uncle Serge. I’d fill up his page with everything I’ve come up with for him (things that the reader may or may not ever see). I’d make sure to link his page to Jacquie’s, probably with anchor text that indicates he’s her uncle. Now you’re cookin’ with gas!

You get the idea. This is my favorite way to write down what I know about all the parts of my novel/world and not their relationships to each other without an overwhelming mind map that’s too big to use.


I already mentioned a potential con if you decide to create an online personal wiki–you’re limited by your internet access. You may be able to download an offline version of your wiki, work on it, and then upload it once you’re connected again. That would depend on the specifics of whichever platform you choose.

Another con–at least for the desktop wiki program I use–is that formatting options are rather limited. You can bold and italicize text, and there are a couple levels of “headers” so you can organize your info. However, color-coding isn’t really an option. This may be an issue for the more visual writers out there.

A Note About Scrivener

I know that some people use Scrivener to write their manuscripts and keep track of their worldbuilding at the same time. Great! That’s a completely valid approach. I’m not going to write about that option at length simply because I have very little experience with Scrivener. I purchased the program, have tried it on a couple of projects, and found it just didn’t fit my writing style. If it works for you, awesome! If it doesn’t then maybe some of the alternatives in my posts will do the trick.


Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 2: Mind Maps

Last time we talked about using multiple Word documents as a system of keeping track of your worldbuilding. For some, that system is the be-all end-all. I used Word documents to keep track of the worldbuilding for my first two novels. But over time, as the series went on, trying to work with multiple, often conflicting documents didn’t work.

So what’s another system authors can use to keep track of their worldbuilding? Mind maps.

Maybe you remember using them in school during group projects, probably when your teacher wanted everyone to brainstorm ideas.

Simply put, they’re just a visual way to represent ideas, concepts, and the connections between them.


So how does this help you keep track of your fantasy or science fiction universe? It can let you group important aspects of your worldbuilding together, color code them, add notes, and then show their connections in a visual way.

There are a lot of free programs out there, but the one I used the most is XMind.

I used a mind map while writing Terraviathian, the unfinished third book in the Tethys Chronicles, an unpublished sword and sorcery novel, a fantasy novel, and partway through an urban fantasy novel. I got a lot of mileage out of my mind maps.

The Song of Siya mind map

With just a little bit of effort I was able to list characters on one side of the mind map while charting all my countries, cultures, locations, whatever on the other.

Plus color coding!! Using color to group certain things together appealed to the organizational freak within me. And it looked pretty.


It sounds like mind maps are the perfect choice for the budding (or experienced) author trying to keep track of their worldbuilding, right? To that I say “Maybe…?” and offer you a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Personally, my mind maps got more and more elaborate as I used the same file for multiple books in a series. As I added more and more stuff to them, they got too big for me to handle. There were hundreds of entries, and some of them became outdated as I wrote. So I tried to mark them to separate them somehow. Or others were placeholders. And there were duplicates. Plus I wasn’t sure where to put info sometimes. Did bits about the history of a city belong in the “Locations” section or in the “Culture” section?

Maybe you’ll have better luck tackling these issues. Or maybe you won’t put so many entries in a single mind map.

I’ve moved on from mind maps, but maybe they’re just what you need!

Come back next week whenever I get around to writing the next installment about…wait for it… personal wikis!

An Update

Quick update for you all. As of May 11, 2016 (which is when I received the signed paperwork), all rights to The Exile’s Violin and the unpublished sequel, Terraviathan, are mine. The series is no longer with PDMI Publications, and I have no further affiliation with them or any of their imprints.

So what does that mean for the series? It means The Exile’s Violin is now out of print, and I’m stopping work on Terraviathan for the foreseeable future. I may have a handful of fans out there who will be disappointed by this news. To you, I’m sorry. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t go into about all this, but finishing Terraviathan and then self-publishing the series is just something I cannot do anytime soon.

Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and loved the book. Thank you to everyone who bought, read, and hated the book. And everyone in between. I’m so, so grateful for all of you.

Moving on, I have lots of other projects in the works. I have a sword and sorcery series that got a tiny bit of agent and publisher attention. That’ll be revisited sometime soon. And I have another urban fantasy novel in the works. My sights are set on getting better as a writer, at not being fucking scared to find my voice.

I’ll come back to Jacquie Renairre and her steampunk world someday. I just don’t know when that will be.

‘Til then, I’ll be over here scribblin’ words and makin’ up worlds.

Keeping Track of Your Worldbuilding Part 1: Word Documents

It’s a beast that hounds all writers, but especially genre writers: how do you keep track of your worldbuilding? How do you keep it all straight?

Inconsistent worldbuilding (I’m looking at you Supernatural!) is one of my biggest pet peeves. And keeping everything in order, especially when you’re working in a huge multi-volume universe, can be tricky.

One method that I’ve used before (not anymore) is a collection of Word documents. A file separate from your manuscript can be used to catalog your worldbuilding efforts.


This method is easy to get started with. You just need to use the same word processing program that you write your drafts in. So you’re already instantly familiar with the interface and capabilities of what you’re working with.

You can write in sentences and paragraphs, or just keep track of everything in bulleted lists.


To be honest, even though I wrote two novels using this method, it’s not my favorite. No matter how careful I tried to be, I always ended up with a dozen different worldbuilding documents. Outlines, character sketches, worldbuilding bibles, timelines. It was too much. Too many contradictions.

But for some writers this may be all they need! A single file that lists important aspects of their story world. Maybe your book is set on Earth in an era or place you’re intimately familiar with. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who makes things up as they go along and keep it all straight. More power to you!


For those of us who can’t make this method work, don’t fear! In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about some alternative methods I’ve tried including mind maps and personal wikis.

2016: Refocusing on Art

Bear with me here. This is 100% going to be one of those New Year, New Me but Not Saying the Word “Resolutions” Totally Navel Gazing-y posts. I’ll do my best to make it not be insufferable.

2015 was a rough year, for reasons that you don’t want to hear. And quite frankly some of them feel whiny–or at least according they feel that way to that nagging voice in the back of my head.

So instead this whole post, this whole year is dedicated to looking forward. And what do I see in front of me?


Capital A to the RT.

art harder

Image from

In 2015 I let my writing slip away from me. I got too focused on individual projects–even just bits of individual projects–that weighed me down. Writing and more importantly creating stopped being a fulfilling outlet. It was something I dreaded.

No more, goddamn it!

Creating, Not Projects

The process of creating is what I love most. I love coming up with new worlds, new people, new histories, and stories to tell about them all. That’s the fun part. Individual novels and short stories will come and go. Some will be harder than others. Some will be better than others. But the crucial thing is to stay focused on the biiiig picture: I love doing it. I love sharing that with people.

And fuck it. I write science fiction and fantasy novels. Some of them have airships that defy physics, or faster-than-light devices. Explosions. Lasers. Horrors from dimensions beyond the stars and our scope of understanding. Will some people turn up their noses at me calling this stuff art? Probably. Fuck ’em. A book’s still art even if it’s got spaceships or fantasy creatures running all willynilly through it.

I got plans for my books. And those aren’t going to come to fruition if I just sit on my hands and stop creating.

Kameron Hurley put it in black and white this morning: we’re all gonna die someday. That’s why you have to make the most of your time now. And for me that’s writing stories that hopefully give people some enjoyment and will be remembered after I’m gone.

To borrow a phrase from Chuck Wendig, beard-man extraordinaire, 2016 is 100% dedicated, laser focused on this one idea: Art harder, motherfucker.


A Tale of Awkward Handshakes

I’m not a cool person. I like “dad jokes”, puns, portmanteaus, chiptunes, and pretty much everything else that’s the antithesis of youngcool, or hip. Do the kids even say those words anymore? I have no idea.

And yet, I think I have one of those faces that says “Yes, I am down to attempt to a weird handshake high-five gesture-thing in this serious business context.”

This has happened twice now in quick succession, and each time I’ve walked away from the experience cringing and wanting to die from embarrassment.

Continue reading

Let’s Talk About: Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

I have some thoughts about Aftermath by Chuck Wendig and the state of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in general. On the one hand, it’s kind of exciting to start with a fresh slate; the byzantine EU of decades of comics, books, RPG tie-ins, video games, and more is gone. So the post-Return of the Jedi universe is brand new for everybody. But on the other hand, I have some questions and thoughts about what Disney’s doing. And finally, I have some specific thoughts about Wendig’s book–the first official canon, post-RotJ story that’s going to help set the stage for The Force Awakens.

The New Expanded Universe

I wish I could be a fly on the wall inside Disney. I want to listen in on their Star Wars-related conversations and meetings. And I wish I could get a behind-the-scenes look at the communication between Wendig and Disney. Because the entire old Expanded Universe is now marked as “Legends” then it stands to reason that pretty much everything was thrown out.

But at the same time, in order to keep a sense of continuity between this new canon and the old canon, some stuff’s been retained. For example, Aftermath makes a reference to a Carrack-class cruiser. If I remember correctly, that ship was first introduced as part of an RPG sourcebook. Wouldn’t that be part of the old, discarded EU canon?

What gets to be included in the new canon and what is truly gone? Or are things like ship classes not really gone, just on a back shelf until an author, comic book creator, video game company gets permission from Disney to resurrect them? The nerd in me wants to know!


This is especially poignant when you consider the epilogue to Aftermath. I won’t give it away because spoilers, but if it turns out the way I’m hoping… then it would be really cool and another instance of something from the huge Ex-Expanded Universe finding its way to the new canon.

Sidebar: It was hilarious and a bit of a trip to open Aftermath and go to the page where it said “The DelRey Star Wars Timeline” and there were only like 10 things. It listed the 7 movies, Rebels, and a couple of other official books. For somebody’s who’s used to the two-page spread that goes from 10,000 BBY to over 100 years AE seeing such a short timeline was weird.

Aftermath: The Book

So that was Aftermath as a cultural artifact, but what about Aftermath the book? It was okay. I appreciate what Wendig is trying to do with the use of present tense, but it’s not really my bag. It’s definitely a “Wendig book” through and through, but with the inventive curses from the Miriam Black series replaced with Star Wars sanitized versions.

Sidebar: He really likes the phrase “pistons a fist” to refer to somebody punching somebody else. “Character Y pistons a fist into Character X’s side…” It was really prevalent in the last few chapters. 

My biggest complaint about the book is that it felt long. And for being a Star Wars novel, the first new one post RotJ, the action felt confined–makes sense as the book was set mostly on one Outer Rim planet, Akiva.


Wendig attempts to give a more galactic perspective with numerous interludes, but to me they just slowed things down. Hopping from world to world–many of them not featured in previous books/comics/etc. (at least as far as I know) and spending a brief few pages with random characters… It was hard to care.

The more successful interludes were ones that focused on Mon Mothma and Admiral Ackbar.

Another thing that bothered me–and will probably be addressed in future books–was how vague everything was. With only interludes giving glimpses of the galaxy at large, I was left wondering:

  • How long ago was Endor?
  • Have the Rebels taken Coruscant?
  • How long does it take to get from planet to planet?

The last one is more important than you might think. It’s an important plot point where Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane is figuring out whether to withdraw. She says that the New Republic could have a fleet to Akiva in a few hours, a fleet large enough to take on her three Star Destroyers. And it just made me think? Where would they be staging from? I was under the impression that it sometimes took days in hyperspace to get from place to place. It was just a potentially incongruous bit to the novel.

As for the other two points: the interludes try to give you a bigger picture, but most of the time the only other hints you get are exposition from characters. Over and over characters mention Imperial governors have been defecting to the New Republic. It’s also mentioned that somebody within the Empire has been feeding intelligence to the New Republic to facilitate their string of victories, but what string? How many? Where? When?

Here’s a thing I had 0 problems with and want to point out with a big ol’ fuck yeah: Three of the main characters are women. Admiral Sloane is a woman of color. Multiple characters are gay. Yes. The Star Wars galaxy is a big fuckin’ place; it’s characters should reflect how wide and diverse it should be.

A lot of my issues with Aftermath’s pacing come from the fact that it’s the first book in a new trilogy, and the first new canonical book in the timeframe leading up to Episode VII. So it’s gotta spend some time setting things up; I just feel like it took a bit too long to get there. I mean the Inglourious Basterds vibe I got at the end where a second book might go was super cool. Admiral Sloane is super cool too. Give me some space battles! Give me the Empire turning into an insurgency. Cool stuff. Personally, I’d love to see his new characters interact with the OT heroes a bit more. The glimpses we got of them in the interludes weren’t enough!  (But please never refer to Coruscant’s city as Coco-Town ever again. Please.)

All things considered, I can’t wait to see where Wendig goes next. It’s a big ‘ol galaxy of narrative potential out there waiting to be explored.


Leveling Up as a Writer


Being a writer can be a mentally and emotionally exhausting profession (especially for those of us who work full-time jobs, have families, have kids, have other obligations, try not to be crusty shut-ins who do nothing but write, etc. etc.). Writing, editing, and polishing manuscripts and then sending them out to publishers and agents. You play the waiting game, and then you deal with the hundreds of rejection letters–more emails these days than actual letters.

So how do you keep it from getting you down? I try to celebrate every little success. I think of it as some sort of experience points bar–really it’s the one from Pokemon because they have such fun sound effects as they fill up.

Each word I write, each book or story I finish, each one I edit and polish, and each manuscript I send out on submission–all those things fill in the bar.

And then whenever I hit a new milestone in my career, it feels like I’m leveling up as a writer. I hear a little ding in my mind, celebrate for a minute or two, then get my ass back to work.

So what were some of the milestones that I’ve celebrated?

  1. Finishing my first short story
  2. Getting my first story acceptance
  3. Finishing my first novel
  4. Making that first novel not suck*
  5. Getting that first novel published
  6. Finishing a sequel
  7. Making that sequel not suck*
  8. Writing a novel in a completely new genre, new style, and new series
  9. Making that novel not suck*
  10. Getting form rejection emails from agents
  11. Getting partial requests from agents**
  12. Being asked to submit directly to a publisher**
  13. Getting a personal rejection email from a publisher and being told to reach out directly with other projects**

These last three are huge to me. Getting agents to request something based just on a query letter feels like a big deal. But also my experience submitting Gifts of the Earth has been a huge step forward.

Even though the publisher passed on it they said the “quality of the book wasn’t in question” and that I should reach out directly the next time I have something to submit. Anyone who’s trying to submit manuscripts knows that being able to bypass the slush pile is an enormous advantage.

Rejections are never fun, but the important thing is that there’s a trajectory here. I can’t help but celebrate that. And now if you excuse me, I have more books to write.

What about you, fellow writers? What milestones count as “leveling up” to you?

Gender-Swapping Writing Experiment

Author’s Note: this is a very, very simple thought experiment I’m throwing out there. Obviously these sorts of issues have to consider intersectionality as well. So this sort of thing can, and I’d say should, be done across multiple axes of oppression. I purposely chose a high level example for this post.

Another Author’s Note: Gender is not binary. But discussing the fluidity of the concept is beyond the scope of this post and what I was trying to accomplish with this little experiment.

You’ve all heard of the Bechdel Test, right? It’s not without flaws nor is it necessarily a quality benchmark. At the very least it just tells you that a particular work has two women who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.

Tying into that is: how often as writer do you make secondary or tertiary characters men by default? Until it was brought up to me a while ago, I had no idea I even did that. I always thought I was pretty good about making sure I had women in my books and stories. But then I went back to my WIP at the time and saw that almost every time I needed a:

  • restaurant owner
  • business person
  • guard
  • solider
  • police officer
  • friend
  • colleague
  • doctor
  • random passerby
  • etc. etc.

These characters would be written as “he” in my outline. Even if they didn’t have names or more than a line or two of dialogue, almost all of them were men by default. It blew my mind to realize that. It wasn’t that I was trying to actively exclude women characters, it was just I was conditioned to think of and create men characters first. As if it had been ingrained and reinforced across multiple spectra–especially pop culture–that men were the important pieces in a story.

As I’ve gotten older and have attempted to be more aware of these issues regarding representation  and intersection, I’ve wanted to fix my shortcomings. Not only does it help a tiny bit to improve the field, but it also helps me grow as a writerThis kind of thing–unconsciously emphasizing men and just writing the same things over and over–requires no effort. It’s lazy. And lazy writing is boring writing. Lazy writing doesn’t challenge the creator nor the reader. This kind of lazy writing accidentally “punches people in the face.” And I don’t want that.

So going forward I decided to do a little experiment. In my current WIP, the main character, Itjani, is a woman detective, and the women in her family are all major characters (mother, aunts, and grandmothers). But there were other characters in the first draft of the outline that were men, including a character that teams up with Itjani outside official police channels to move the plot forward. Let’s call that character K for right now.

I stopped halfway through my outline and went you know what? This book already emphasizes interpersonal relationships between women in a post-colonial context (i.e. how do they form communities and identities going forward and dealing with centuries of colonization in this secondary world fantasy), so why not make K a woman too? How would that change the dynamics of the relationship I’d written into the story? I changed absolutely nothing else about K’s personality or actions other than their gender.

All of a sudden tons of new nuances entered into the story, themes that resonated with other more personal, familial sections. Itjani already had a male partner on the police force and they had a whole slew of interactions (based on gender, tenure at work, political power, ethnicity, social status, etc.) so it made the story better to give a counterpoint to that. Itjani and K interact across those axes in completely different ways (plus a few more that I can’t talk about right now without giving away too much plot).

I continued the experiment throughout the outline. A god became a goddess, a police coroner with a few lines became a woman as well. And so it went. Not every character was changed, but the majority of them were. And you know what? Even just re-reading my outline, it feels like a stronger story with more nuance, more subtext, more everything. I think part of why things felt better goes hand in hand with what Liz Bourke discusses in “How Do We Talk About Strong Female Characters?

This isn’t revolutionary stuff, and I’m not claiming that consciously changing a bunch of characters to women will somehow give this book a free pass. Or that these characters won’t be problematic in other ways. Nope. Chances are I’ll manage to screw something up, but that’s part of being an artist–especially one in a privileged position. It’s how you react to learning of those screw ups, listening to marginalized voices that’re telling you how you screwed up, learning from those mistakes, and not repeating them in the future.

Still, I’d rather make these choices than play it safe and churn out the same face-punchy science fiction and fantasy you’ve seen for decades (see Puppies, Sad & Rabid). This experiment is a small step, but it’s one I’d urge other writers to take too.