I spent most of yesterday without Internet access — I'm reminded once again why a reliance on network-based Web apps is such an awful idea; why make the network your single point of failure when we can't even reliably guarantee how fast it runs, let alone whether or not it runs at all? — so I had time to muse over a few things about my writing workflow. Skip this post if you find writerly minutiae numbing.
First off, Welcome to the Fold's first draft was closed as of the other night. It's a rough enough first draft to take the skin off your palms and perhaps even debark a tree. The story didn't so much evolve as I was writing it as it kitbashed itself. I've been told my first drafts are a lot cleaner than some other folks', but that's only because at at this point most standards for the cleanliness of a manuscript are low enough that you can graduate at the top of your class just for having a consistent left-hand margin.
Writing is revising, and I know there are any number of inconsistencies, mistakes, errors in judgment, dead ends, false starts, and bullet holes in the feet yet to be excised.
This process of self-questioning runs parallel to the drafting of the work from the first Chapter One on out. I can't help but question myself as I go, and I find it healthy to keep those things, either in the draft or somewhere alongside. Microsoft Word lets you add in-line annotations to any part of a document, and so a finished first draft tends to look like the teacher has already gone over it with red pen and signed a dismayed See me after class! at the bottom.
After finishing a draft, I make a separate copy of the file, and do all of the editing on that copy with corrections turned on. For the draft after that, I make another copy, merge the changes, turn tracking back on, and continue editing. This way I still always have discrete copies of each draft, but I'm only dealing directly with the notes from the most recent draft. Bark up the wrong tree with a draft, and it's far easier to revert.
Sidecar notes go in a wiki I keep for the project itself. Said wiki is not a file drawer, but more like a ball made of multiple lengths, thicknesses, and colors of spliced-together yarn. This is a feature, not a bug; wikis are designed to just have things thrown into them, and to allow organization to spring up spontaneously around the contents. But such an approach has limits: for instance, I have a page in the wiki entitled "Next draft notes", into which I have thrown everything to consider for the next draft of the work. I find I have to go through each of those items by hand, tag them somewhere in the document itself for action, or just get rid of them entirely. It's tough to keep track of general directives that way, I find, because there's no real way to keep them all in front of you at once. (People who say we're better off not bothering to commit anything to memory are forgetting that the only way to truly think about something is to be able to remember it in toto in the first place.)
Using Tiddlywiki as my project wiki has been the biggest change I've made to the way I write since I started using a word processor. But for the most part, my habits have remained unspoiled by progress. I haven't bothered with Scrivener — or rather, I did, and found it so confining and uncomfortable to work with that I didn't even last a week with it. So many limitations came attached to the way it worked that I was no worse off sticking with what I already had. I suspect for people who don't have much in the way of existing work habits, it'll be fine — they won't have to unlearn anything. But for me it did more harm than good, in big part because it committed the sin of imposing a workflow dreamed up by someone else instead of letting me come up with my own and respecting that.
I know, I know: you could say the same thing about Microsoft Word itself: autocorrect, Clippy, the whole digital demonology of Boy Scout Software that tries to help the little lady across the street whether or not she wants to go. But you can shut off all of that stuff, and I typically do. I'm still not sold on using OpenOffice or LibreOffice as a replacement, in big part because I've already spent the money on Office 2010 (so why not use it?) and also because I'm just not comfortable with switching away to something that still only offers me most of the features. Maybe at some point, if Word for the desktop is no longer viable, I'll retrain myself on the open source competition, but I'm scarcely in a hurry to break habits that still serve me well.
What about the "distraction-free" applications like FocusWriter? They're fine — FocusWriter in particular is really well-made — but they're stripped down to the point of distraction for me. Not being able to annotate one's own work as you go is a deal-killer, I find. Plus, I find that most of the distractions I have when writing can be solved by simply closing everything that's, you know, not the word processor. Once you learn the discipline, you can apply it no matter what the circumstances, and so I find it more productive to just develop the discipline instead of hopscotching from one program to another in a vain search for something that I can only give myself anyway.
Amazing how productive you can be when the network is down, though.