This is a cross-posting from my new blog, word-watcher, where I am struggling to configure a new premium theme (too clever for me, by the looks of it!). So, while I do battle elsewhere, here’s hoping you find this interesting:
When it comes to writing a big, hairy, scary report – anything from 10,000 to 30,000 words or more – I find there is only one way through it: plan the thing out, in detail, and – equally important – tackle it in small, digestible chunks.
Not only does planning it out, and breaking it down, help keep you focused, it makes the task more manageable and keeps the panic at bay, giving you at least a semblance of control. Tackling it in chunks, and not letting yourself be distracted – or intimidated – by the enormity of the beast in front of you, makes it easier also to keep in mind the most important question – what is it, exactly, that I am trying to say here? – instead of losing yourself in the detail and in the wealth of material you have accumulated, as part of your research or preparation.
Of course, you will still want to be able range freely backwards and forwards across the overall construction, looking for linkages and connections, checking the flow and consistency of the argument, confirming facts and references – and reminding yourself of the overall picture, and final destination. Sort of a zooming-out, zooming-in kind of thing.
In practice, I find that I tend to work simultaneously at different parts of the project: as I step back from the work, and the little piece of the puzzle I am currently busy with, I make a connection, or remember something, or a new insight or perspective leaps into view, and so – before it is lost, or diluted – I plunge backwards or forwards in the text, to make a note, or sketch it out in some detail, or even, perhaps, shift my entire attention to it for a while, while I nail it down. This means that when finally I sit down to tackle a new section, often there are notes, thoughts, reminders, already in place, helping me to pick up the thread, connect what I am about to write with what has gone before and what will come after, and providing me (if I am lucky) with an argument, an anchor – or a sail – to get me into position, or send me on my way.
Here again, having a detailed structure already mapped out makes it possible to leap forwards and backwards at will.
Even better, if you can drag those headings around, when you need to, with all their associated parts – content, footnotes, references, research data – following in sync. And better still, if you can read, from within your document, in a separate panel or window, all of the documents, reports, papers, chapters, web links and so on that you have gathered as backup, as fodder, as compass.
Not many text management or word-processing programmes that I know of, can do all of this adequately, let alone with elegance and fluidity. But one programme does. It’s called Scrivener, made by Literature and Latte, and it’s a writer’s dream: any kind of writer, actually – fantastic for a novelist, for example, who needs to keep multiple drafts and versions available, to compare and restore them as necessary, and (even) to build up a library of character sketches, scenes, settings, historical information and sources on which to draw as he (I am speaking of myself, here) charts his lonely course across the oceans of blank white pages. Although it was designed, originally, for Mac (of course!) there is a version for Windows, too. And it costs only $45 US.
Check it out, if you are busy with a writing project, or are planning on starting one. The learning curve is modest, but the ascent is worth it.
Disclosure: I have no financial interest whatsoever in recommending this product.