See, Hear and Speak No Distractions


Now that our big day of cooking and eating is over, I’m back at slinging words, and because I have so much work ahead of me including book reviews, reports to write, drafting newsletters and interviews questions for a six article series coming in January, I need the power of distraction-free writing.

During my university days, I had this tendency to find the quietest and most isolated corner in the library so I could study. I avoided any spots with windows, near the elevator. I was lucky that there were a few places where there was one table and chair among the stacks that had little foot traffic. That’s where I’d go to study a week before a big exam would hit.

Later in graduate school, I was able to use the Graduate Reading Room for quiet studying. This area was like a large living room with a few sofas and armchairs. It was verboten to speak. I used to go there quite often, but I still found it too distracting with all the other students and ended up watching them and not paying much attention to my reading or notes.

But apart from those comfy sofas and chairs, the were also, what I called the confessional booths. These were built-in closets that you could lock inside was a built-in desk and with a lamp. It was sound-proof and offered the ideal distraction-free environment to read and write. They were so popular that a sign-up sheet was posted, and from what I recall, you were limited to two hours of study time.

The only time I’ve been able to duplicate anything like the confessional booth was when I had an office with no windows.  Unfortunately, I had a phone with an intercom and would be interrupted by phone calls.

Now that I work from home, the distractions are worse than when I worked in an office. The number  one distractions: a beagle with a voracious appetite who is always baying for more food, and a Jack Russell terrier who is always getting into mischief. However, once they’ve settled down, the house is relatively quiet.

When the husband is out running his errands or working on his writing projects this is when I can sit down and somewhat create my “enclosed” booth with a series of apps. Today’s Simply Scrivener post goes beyond what Scrivener offers. I’d like to show you how I use other apps with Scrivener that provides a distraction-free environment.

1. Scrivener’s composition mode: I’ve written about how to access and set up composition mode. If you need a refresher take a peek at the Composition Mode tutorial. After playing around with it for so long with different backgrounds to inspire me, I finally settled with the default settings: a black background and a white page. I have the page centered, and I use Bookerly font at 14 points. I also have the text scale set at 110 percent.  That’s all.

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2. If I have a full day of writing that includes numerous projects, I like to allot time to each project. I’ve become a big fan of the Pomodoro method. There are several apps that you can download, but I bought Pomodoro One via the App Store for $1.99. What I do is set each project for no more than 60 minutes with 15-minute breaks in between. During those breaks, I refill my coffee or tea; stretch; take the beagle and terrier out for a quick pee and so on.
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3. I recently discovered Spotify has an Intense Studying or Focus channel, so I  plug in my padded headphones and listen to classical music. There is a caveat, users can add songs, and I’ve noticed that one, in particular, likes more abstract instrumental music, which I find plain annoying. Because of that, I’ve started to use Banzai Labs app that’s available via the App Store for the iPhone and iPad.

The science behind the app is that it uses Binaural Brainwaves Entrainment to stimulate brainwave frequencies associated with different states of mind. You can read more about on the site’s home page.

4. Self-control app and turning off the Wi-Fi connection. I am addicted to Facebook. I belong to numerous writing communities, and because I live in a remote area in upstate New York, I tend to socialize with many writer friends on Facebook. I’ve wasted entire days reading through threads, responding to comments, or getting wound up in the too many dramas that take place in social media. How do I avoid it? I use SelfControl that locks me out of Facebook, Twitter, or email for a set amount of time. I usually set it for eight hours. Another option is to turn off your Wifi connection when you know that you don’t need to be checking email or flipping back and forth to research something on the web.

5. The To Do list. I like writing to do lists and find them helpful. Online I use WorkFlowy, but I also like write with a pen on paper my tasks for the day in my planner and cross out each one out when I’ve completed a task.


I tend to be somewhat ambitious and list ten things I need to do for the day, but I’ve learned to prioritize better and can keep it down to a minimum of three to five tasks.

Regarding planners, I was late to the game last year and didn’t order one until February. When it arrived in March, I used it for a few weeks and then abandoned it. Earlier this month, I ordered the Passion Planner, which will be here just in time for the new year.


6. Will Power. None of these apps will work if you don’t use them. Get in the habit of dedicating a time to write and work and block out the distractions to be more productive. Do this for a few weeks, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised that you formed a habit that’s productive.

7. Top choice. These are all my favorite apps, but if I had to keep only one—you can guess what I’ll say, after all, this is Simply Scrivener—I would never give up Scrivener. Why? Review all the tutorials provided and you’ll understand why I love it so much.

So, my parting words are turn that internal will power switch, use these apps or others that have similar capabilities, and as I say in my Simply Scrivener tweets #getwriting.

Pretty Little Icons Sittin’ in a Row

I have a confession: when I get stuck on my WIP, I inspire myself and kill time (okay, procrastinate) by changing the folders in my project into pretty little icons.

If you’ve been following Simply Scrivener for a bit you know I like my visuals.Today, I thought I would show you how you can add icons and switch those boring folders into something with more panache. Below is my binder for Julius (remember to click on it to enlarge it). Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.14.35 AM

You see I’ve added several new icons. I found these via image searches on Google, templates from other writers, the Literature and Latte forum, and via Here’s what I did” I changed the Draft folder into an inbox and renamed it Draft for Julius. In that inbox is a bound stack of paper. I’ve broken out the three-act novel using Alexandra Sokoloff’s structure and have each act represented by a Mead Composition Notebook, which I found via Google. Next, I broke down the acts into sequences represented by a  Scrivener colored notebook icon that corresponds to the Mead Composition Book. In each of those notebook containers, I have my text files.

You might wonder why I broke down each act by a different color, and there’s a simple answer. So I won’t get confused should  I accidentally move a folder and I find my conclusion somewhere in the middle of the grid.

In the research section, I got a little more creative:

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I changed the notebook icon into a file cabinet. Then I chose a pretty pink Mead Composition notebook for Prep work, which is broken down into more icons. Premise is a Scrivener blue notebook; fleshing out ideas is Scrivener’s thought bubble tinted blue. Themes is a red Scrivener notebook, as is Conflict, but in yellow. I found a compass and map to replace Scrivener’s map icon, and I used a more detailed mask for characters. For templates, I figured an open file would work.

My timeline is a graphic of a timeline. Unwanted scenes were changed into Scrivener’s clapboard. Visuals, which is my freeform corkboard is a hatbox (the thought behind that was when I actually had an old hatbox and dumped photos in it). For the Lincoln Brigade, I chose the purple Mead composition book. For story structure, I have two formats: I used Scrivener’s icon for Structure for Three Act Novel, which is further broken down. For the Sokoloff method, which I wrote about in the Stacked Corkboard tutorial (and what I showed above) I used a film strip. Lastly, Sample Output is a monitor and Body Language I used the Anonymous mask.

How did I import these icons into Scrivener?  Go to the action menu (the gear wheel) at the foot of the binder and select Change Icon. From there, scroll all the way down until you reach Manage Icons. A window will open:

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You’ll want to add your icons in Icons in Project Package. Hit the plus sign. A window will open and select where you’ve saved your icons. Hit Okay.

From there, select the folder you want to change and scroll down until you find the icon you want and select that. Your folder will change automatically to its new look.

What’s the difference between Project Support and Application Support? Essentially, if you add all your icons to Application Support, you won’t have to manually add each icon for each new project.

A couple of items to note: When you import these icons, Scrivener will automatically resize them to 32×32. I try to download images on the large side, so I don’t lose details. I also like .tiff files better than jpg or png files because I think—I might be wrong on this—the detail is sharper.

Pretty nifty, eh? What’s even niftier is that I’ve uploaded my folder of icons that you can download (I hope it works) and make your binder razzle-dazzle.

Icons for Scrivener For Download.

A New Look

I’m late in the game about Scrivener’s recent update, but as you can see the Mac version (Scrivener 2.7) has a new look. The icons reflect Apple’s design and this new look makes it compatible with Yosemite and El Capitan.

What’s my opinion? Overall, I don’t dislike it. I tend to like a minimal design and it’s cleaner looking.

The one question I’ve been getting, though, is the corkboard background has changed to a whiteboard. Personally, I love it. To give it that more whiteboard effect, I’ve changed the font style of my index cards.

As you can guess, today’s tutorial focuses on the look of the corkboard and how to customize it to suit your aesthetics. For the illustrated examples, I’m using The World-Building Leviathan template, which you can find on Belinda Crawford’s website to download. Let me add that if you’re participating in NANOWRIMO in the next two days, this is a terrific template to use because it’s very comprehensive. I’ll be participating this year with the intention to finish draft 853 and I’ve borrowed several elements from it.

So, here’s what the corkboard looks like when I selected the Story Bible container (click the image to get a larger view):

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Notice that my background is white, I’ve selected the cards that “stick” to the whiteboard and I’ve changed the font. The icons are part of the template. I didn’t touch those at all. What if I want the more conventional corkboard look AND I want to use the new San Francisco font that is now Apple’s new system font? Let’s first change the corkboard’s background. Go to Scrivener at the menu bar, Select Preferences->Corkboard. A window will open:

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Go to Corkboard background and click on the expansion arrow. Select Corkboard pattern and voila, you know have the classic corkboard.Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 10.09.26 AM

If you want to change the “sticky” index cards into pinned ones, go back into Preferences->Corkboard and change the Index card theme from rounded to either red and black or blue and black. You can change the position
of the pin to the right if you don’t like it centered.

Not crazy about the default typeface and you want that clean San Francisco font? Go to GitHub and follow their directions to upload it. Or maybe you want the new Kindle font, Bookerly. To upload that go to Reddit Kindle and follow their instructions.

Once you have your fonts downloaded, go back to Preferences->Corkboard. Go to Fonts and change Index cards title and index cards text.

My new corkboard now looks like this with Bookerly:

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Because I am a fan of the minimal look, I’ll switch it back to the “whiteboard” with sticky notes and use the San Fransico typeface.

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I like this so much I think I’ll stick with it for a while.

Split Screen Workaround in Composition Mode

Simply Scrivener reader Miles Bennette-Eaton emailed me the other day with a question whether it was possible to use the split screen function in Composition mode. The response, unfortunately, was “I’m afraid not.”

However, Miles was tenacious and came up with his own workaround using document notes, The gears turned in my head and I came up with another workaround. Together we have two possible solutions. Take your pick each one works great.

The Miles Bennette-Eaton Solution:

1. Select the text files you want to see in Composition mode.

2. Copy and paste text file two into Document Notes.

3. Go to View—>Enter Composition Mode.

4. In the footer, position the paper to the left.

5. Select Inspector and in the header’s dropdown menu, select document notes. You should see your copied text.

And this is how it looks like:

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The Simply Scrivener Solution:

1. Select the text file—just one—you want to see in Composition Mode.

2. Go to View—> Enter Composition Mode.

3. In the footer, position the paper to the left.

4. Now, take your mouse up so the menubar appears. Go to View—>Quick Reference and from the menu select the second document you want to work on.

5. Move the floating window to the right and resize it.

This is how it looks like:

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Using Quick Reference panels eliminates copying and pasting into document notes. What if you want to work with a photo or PDF? Can they be accessed via the Quick Reference Panels? Why yes you can! Instead of selecting from the Draft section, make your selection from the Research folder. Below are two illustrations for a photo and PDF.

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A big THANK YOU to Miles for the inspiration behind this tutorial!

Stacked! (Corkboards, that is)

A few months ago, I came across a blog post by Alexandra Sokoloff that detailed how she plots her novels using screenwriting techniques. For that post, she broke down her plot by acts and sequences using the index card and structure grid method.

I read the post several times and decided to purchase her book, Screenwriting Tips for Authors. If you have a collection of books on the craft of writing, you’ll see that much of it is repetitive, but Sokoloff writes in an engaging manner that no matter how many times you’ve read about character arc, you keep turning the page to learn more of how she gets the story down.

I consider myself a cross between a pantser and plotter. I like to have a general idea of where the story is heading. One way is to create a number of scenes and just title them and provide a one line summary (at some point nailing these summaries will be helpful when you begin to write your synopsis). Other than that, I don’t go into micro-plotting because, as in life, shit happens in fiction. In one version your leading man is this charming and funny guy and in the rewrite you realize the story is much improved if he’s a narcissistic prick.

So now that I have these various scenes, I need to organize them into acts, sequences, and climaxes. This is when Sokoloff’s method proves to be a gem. It’s the foundation of your story’s structure, and you can see where all the plot points are laid out.

[A loud voice from the peanut gallery]: So what does this have to do with Scrivener?

Ah, I knew sooner or later someone would ask that. First some history.

Crikey, not one of those long-winded explanations.

I’ll ignore that for now. I wanted the same flexibility, but also the visual quality, of a traditional whiteboard or corkboard. With that in mind, I first turned to Tinderbox, which is a powerful application, but has one helluva learning curve. Visually, it provided what I wanted—

Wait! Are you telling us that we need Tinderbox?

No. I  wanted to play around with the application because it helped me see how the story was broken up. If you like to use another application, Literature and Latte’s Scapple works well as do other mind-mapping applications. Tinderbox has more oomph under the hood, and I wanted to see what it does. However, it can be cumbersome and it took me a long time to set up my digital corkboard to look like this:

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If you click on it, you’ll see how I’ve broken down, using Sokoloff’s index card technique, by acts, sequences, and climaxes for each act. It looks cool, but it is clunky. The downside is that if you need to add a scene to a sequence, your notes (index card) aren’t locked in place in the container, and they end up moving around. To see them, you end up having to zoom in and out to find them (unless, of course, I figure out a better way to rebuild this).

But I wanted to do something similar in Scrivener where I have this visual. So fiddled with my scenes in the Binder and broke it down into acts, sequences, and climaxes:

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As you can see, Sequence 1 in Act I, I’ve expanded it so you can see the scenes. The numbers to the left indicate, Act 1, Sequence 1.

I love this! What a neat idea to break it down this way in the Binder.

The next step is to see it as an index card. Presumably, each scene has a blurb in each text file, so it appears in the Inspector’s synopsis. I want to see the sequences laid out in the corkboard—similar to what I had in Tinderbox.

[Rubbing hands in glee] Yes!

Okay, now I have to manage expectations because the next step is a Mac-only feature.

[Head in hands, wailing] Noooo!

[Another voice from the peanut gallery chirps] I have the Mac version. Please continue.

To see the structure of your story on the corkboard, you can use the Stacked Corkboard feature. Select each sequence by pressing Cmd+clicking on the sequences with your mouse. The Editor will turn into the Corkboard; you’ll see that each selected sequence has its corresponding Corkboard—each one stacked on top of another. At the bottom right of the Corkboard, you’ll see that you can change the layout. I have it vertically stacked with the index cards wrapped.

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The result is I have a visual both in the Binder and Corkboard, plus I can make my changes all in one place without having to switch back and forth between applications.

Looking at the Bigger Picture

[Note: This is a Windows for Scrivener Tutorial]

Hooray! Another just for Windows tutorial. What gems are you sharing with us today?

Let me preface this that Scrivener Mac users can benefit from this lesson as well. The only difference is  how Project Notes looks in both versions.

You mean that this isn’t a Windows-only feature?


Before you kvetch over features one version has, and the other hasn’t, let’s take a look at how you can create notes that are specific to the project.

Okay! Ready, set, go!

That’s the spirit….Okay…you know how much I love the Research section. My second favorite feature is all the options in the Inspector, especially the Document Support panel. With just the click on an icon at the Inspector’s footer, I can change the function. Today, we’ll take a look at Project Notes.

Um, I don’t see those. How come I don’t have them? I only see Document Notes. Do I have the right version? Do I need to uninstall and reinstall? Are you sure this isn’t a Mac-only version?

You just can’t help yourself, can you? There are two ways you can access Project Notes. The first one is simply going to the menu bar. Select Project=>Project Notes. A window will open. As you can see, I have a tab that’s labeled General Plot followed by what will be tabs for each of the characters’ arcs. To add a new tab just hit the plus sign to the extreme right. To delete a tab, click on the tab’s red X. A window will open, confirming whether you want to delete it. To rename a note, just double-click on the tab and a window will open, allowing you to rename it.Hit OKAY when you’re done.

Project Notes Image

The second method to reach Project notes is through the Inspector. If the pane is showing another function, just click on the notepad icon to switch over to Document Notes. Via the up and down arrows, you can toggle them to get to Project Notes.

Project Notes Inspector

Just select which Project Notes you want to work with and the selected tab in the Inspector’s Project Notes Pane will appear.

Project Notes Inspector pane.

If you select Manage Project Notes from the drop-down menu, a window will open with all your Project Notes tabs.

Can I drag and drop images into Project notes?

Yes, and you can change the font, color, and even add a different background.

Neat! What about printing them out?

That’s not an option offered. If you want to print your project notes, you’ll need to copy and paste them into a text file and compile it.

And there you have it. Now get writing!