On Writing: From Blog to Book with Scrivener

I emailed a complete book manuscript to my publisher yesterday, a full day ahead of the deadline specified in my contract with Globe Pequot Press. The book, Smaller Stories of Greater Yellowstone, is an anthology of seventy-two tales of early adventures in Yellowstone Park by the people who lived them.

Smaller Stories MsThe stories in the book span the period from 1807, when John Colter first discovered the wonders of the upper Yellowstone, to the 1910s, when tourists started speeding between luxury hotels in their automobiles. The earliest stories recount mountain men’s awe at geysers hurling boiling water hundreds of feet into the air, and their gun battles with hostile Indians. The latest stories are set in a time when matrons felt comfortable taking their children to the park without an adult male accompanying them.

I conjured the idea for Smaller Stories of Greater Yellowstone while signing copies of my first book, Adventures in Yellowstone, at Old Faithful Inn. People there told me they were looking forward to reading the 6,000-word tales in Adventures, but they really wanted shorter stories they could complete while driving between sights or sitting around their evening campfires.

I figured it would be easy to oblige them. After all, I’ve been collecting accounts of early Yellowstone travel for more than a decade. And I’ve been excerpting tales 400 to 1,500 words long for my Humanities Montana presentations and for my blog. All I needed to do, I thought, is assemble blog posts, sort them into chapters and write introductions.

The task was a lot easier because I use Scrivener, which is described as “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows them to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” Since the tales I wanted to use were already written, the structuring part of Scrivener was the most useful.

First I harvested more than 200 blog posts and dumped them into separate files in Scrivener in the order they had been posted. Fortunately, it’s easy to reorganize files with Scrivener. They’re listed in a column at the left side of the display called the “Binder.” Files in the binder can be rearranged simply by dragging them to where you want them.

The program also provides several ways to sort files including placing them in folders. I created a folder called “Non-Stories” and put all posts that I knew weren’t appropriate for the book there, things like reviews of my first book and announcements of book signings. That left about 150 blog posts—far more than enough.

I moved the Non-Stories file from the Draft area where Scrivener keeps material headed for the final manuscript, and put it In the Research area where Scrivener keeps supporting materials. Then I looked at the number of words in the Draft area and came up with about 150,000, twice as many as I needed. So I created a filed labeled “Outtakes” and began putting weaker stories there.

While I was reading items to decide if they went into “Outtakes,” I began creating new folders in the draft area to organize the “Keepers.” For example, items about fur trappers went into a folder called “Mountain Men,” and items about fishing in a “Fishing” folder.

My goal was a book of a dozen parts, each contain five to seven stories totaling five or six thousand words, so there was a lot of rearranging and inventing of new categories. For example, when I found I had too many items in “hunting,” I pulled out the stories about bears and created a new folder including bear stories about other things.

When a folder contained too many items, I searched them for weak stories or stories that were similar looking for candidates for the Outtakes folder. On the other hand, when a folder contained too few items, I searched the outtakes folder looking for candidates to add. Some stories I really liked didn’t fit into any category, so I created a folder called “Travelers’ Antics” and put them together there.

I finally got a dozen chapters the right length and began the tasks of writing introductions and editing. With the help of a couple of friends, I finished a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve been polishing and I emailed the manuscript yesterday.

Doubtless, my editor at Globe Pequot will be getting back to me with suggestions. When that happens, I’ll be able to locate the offending sections and fix them quickly using Scrivener.

Shorter Stories of Greater Yellowstone should be out in the spring of 2015.


—You also might be interested in my post, “Using Scrivener to Manage Multiple Threads in Narrative History.”

2 thoughts on “On Writing: From Blog to Book with Scrivener

  1. Congratulations, Mark! I suspect you’ll have more work before the book hits shelves, but the hardest part is done. Yea! Thanks for the description of Schivener. Wish such software had been available when we were publishing academic materials.

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