Tools for NaNoWriMo: Scapple

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I always say I learn something new every year of doing NaNoWriMo–something about myself as a writer, something about writing in general, or new tips or strategies for NaNoWriMo. This year, I’m already learning, and November hasn’t even arrived.

If you’ve been following my steps for preparing a story for NaNoWriMo from scratch, you may be doing the same thing I’m doing right now–trying to pull a plot together. I’m still in the early stages of that, and to be honest, I’m not sure that what I’m working on is going to be for NaNoWriMo.

I have maybe 2/3 of a completed outline for a story I was planning to write this year. But when I posted the first list of story seeds, I started thinking about how long it’s been since I’ve started a story from scratch. There can be a lot of joy in the discovery, and that’s something I haven’t had much lately. My current writing projects are all stories I started crafting years ago. Of course they’ve changed shape along the way, and plenty of new elements have been added recently. But that’s not quite the same as starting from scratch. Also, because I have two novels already written in the aforementioned story world, and both are still in revision stages, I figured there was no need to add another story that will just sit on the shelf for years while I finish the first two.

So I decided to take my own advice and do the activities in my own story seed posts, free writing in the hopes that a new idea would spark. After a few days of doing a few of those activities during my writing time, I realized that it was difficult to use my imagination on certain pictures in which I knew what was happening or who the people were. I still did my best, but I’m not sure it was as effective as it could have been. However, because of this issue, I went such an odd direction with one of the pictures that it just may have turned into something for me.

event 1

This is the picture in question…all because I was trying not to make it about the storm that actually caused that.

But where I had hoped to come up with ideas for a story that isn’t even in the same world as my others, this one really just ended up being an idea for events that would happen 1000ish years before my other stories. I really don’t seem to be able to get away from Pithea and its world (not that I mind too much).

So back to my original point, before I lose anyone, I discovered a new tool yesterday that has come in handy during this early stage. I have all sorts of ideas that have started to flow out of me since writing about the picture above. So I decided to give Scapple a try. It’s a free-form idea mapping program made by the same people behind Scrivener. I started putting my thoughts into it, and I really liked it.

So in my last NaNo post, I said that I thought the laying out of ideas and starting to form them into something coherent was best done on paper. Now, only a few days later, I’m suggesting that people download the free trial of Scapple and try it that way. It’s not that you can’t do everything on paper that you can do in Scapple, but…well, putting notes into the computer has its advantages too. (For one thing, I’ve already had to move notes around a lot and connect them differently after putting them in, so in that way, Scapple is better than doing it by hand.)

Here is a screenshot of Scapple in use:

Scapple example

This is a slightly altered version of what I’ve been working on, with some things removed or changed to avoid spoilers.

How about you? Have you ever used Scapple before? Do you have other programs you use for organizing notes? Tools and tips are always helpful for writing in general, and NaNo in particular. Feel free to share your own.

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5 thoughts on “Tools for NaNoWriMo: Scapple

  1. I’d never heard of Scapple before this and I’ve never used Scrivener before. I’m not one for the mind mapping though.

    I’m still a big fan of note cards and using the old plot outline sheets (I write all my events on one and then adjust and rewrite the sheets as I figure out where things need to be and where I want certain things to happen before my characters steal it away from me). I did try one software some years back. I think it was called something like Storybook maybe? I don’t even know at this point it’s been too long.

    Recently, a friend got me to try Evernote and I LOVE it! I’m finding it easier to make check lists in Evernote so I can see what I have left to create, answer, etc. so that program is amazing. And it’s also online so if I have a break at work or if I come up with an idea I have to write down before I forget I can log on and add it in without hassle. The mobile apps are easy to use, too.

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    • I’m still not sold on Scrivener. I’ve been using the free trial since May, and it has its advantages, but some of the features I was interested in aren’t available on the Windows version. So I’m still using it for various stages of writing to see how it helps. I’ve never been much for mind-mapping either, partly because of the rigidity and (for mind-mapping software) because it’s not always easy to make it look how you want. Scapple, so far, has been easy to use. And for organizing thoughts, it’s worked really well.

      I had to Google plot outline sheets. It makes sense, but I’d never really heard of that as a thing. I normally just outline by writing out (or typing, but only into Word, and then printing it) line after line of what’s going to happen. Pretty basic, but it’s worked for me so far.

      I keep hearing about this Evernote, but the website doesn’t really tell me much. It looks like it might be similar to parts of Scrivener (I use that to compare because it’s the only writing software I’ve really tried), with the added bonus of saving your stuff in the cloud instead of on a harddrive. I can see the benefit of that, but I’m not as mobile as most people.

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      • The mobility is a huge plug for me with Evernote. I wish I was more in one place and on one device (but with my luck said device would crash or come to life in an attempt to eat me).

        I’ve really been debating those free trials of Scrivener.

        Yeah, most people look at me funny when I mention the outline sheets. It’s just something weird that works for me and I was used to it from some classes I’d taken.

        I’m always trying to play with new ways to plot a novel.

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        • The good thing about the free trial is that it only takes a day away if you open the program that day. I’ve been using my free trial since May, because I only use it now and then when I have time to play with it.

          I wouldn’t look at anyone funny for their different ways of planning. (Well, I might initially, but it’d be more a look of confusion until I understood what they were describing.) Our minds all work in different ways, and like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s why I don’t force myself to do a formal outline or anything. My way of outlining works for me, so why try for something else just because someone else thinks it’s the right way to work.

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