Notes: Paper Vs Electronic.

by limebirdlizzie

I had such a varied response from my post “Organising facts and details in your writing” that I had to write about it again, this time factoring in Scrivenor. Now I will freely admit to not knowing that this existed until I started receiving comments on my last blog post to Limebirds. I had never looked into electronically storing my files further than a few word documents stored in different files on my hard drive. Personally I would it tiring to look through each one searching for what I needed which was why I preferred pen and paper.

I’ve since looked up Scrivenor and am considering giving it a try when I start the second book in the current series I’m writing just to see how it compares with the old fashioned method of note taking. However, I think what it comes down to in the end is the paper Vs electronic debate. Now I own a Kindle device and when I was at University it was extremely helpful because I didn’t have to carry around all the books I had to take to my classes but nothing compares with the feeling the weight of a book in your hands, just maybe not in your bag all day long.
In the same way I can see how Scrivenor could be an extremely useful tool to any writer who struggles organizing their facts. I will reserve my judgement on it until I have tested it out myself but I find that I’m very old fashioned in the way I write, even going back to basics completely and using pen and paper rather than the computer to write a few pages here and there. If I could take my laptop everywhere with me I would but having a three year old child doesn’t allow for this and a pen and paper can always be to hand.

Just this morning I was flicking through my giant folder and all the pages I had accumulated in just a few months of writing this novel and it felt nice to have so much at my finger tips, I could see everything I knew and more importantly I knew what was lacking and which characters needed a bit more meat to them to make them more real.
I don’t think anything will be quite as good as writing everything down on paper for me. If I ever switched to Scrivenor or any other software that’s similar I’d soon myself missing my gigantic folders and piles of paper lying everywhere covered in notes.

20 Comments to “Notes: Paper Vs Electronic.”

  1. Very interesting!

    I used to use pen and paper much more often, even taking a sturdy notebook to bed with me. (Though, my husband decreed pencils only after a gel ink pen ruined one pillowcase. 🙂 ) But, nowadays, I just hate the thought of using so much paper. I do usually keep my sketchbook handy, often just to doodle, but the influence of the “go green” environmental stability movement has made me give up a lot of my old wasteful writing and note-taking habits.

    Electronic methods are just more convenient, to me. I have what is essentially a notepad on my smart phone, and I can even recite bits of description or dialogue to it, to write down later. (That will get me funny looks on the train!)

    Like most aspects to do with creative arts, though, I think it all comes down to pure personal preference. So long as the process and the story works in the end, I think it shouldn’t matter how you organise your ideas or put them down onto paper.

    I do agree about the hardcopy book part, though. An e-reader is convenient, no doubt…but I love the *feel* of books.

  2. I got Scrivenor after Nano and my eyes glazed over at the tutorial so I just jumped right in. I really like it except I can’t figure out how to backup the documents that aren’t my novel (character sketches, research, setting notes, outline etc). I know there are screen shots, but I don’t want to do that. I tried backing it up, according to instructions online, but when I tried opening this backed up document there was nothing. If anyone knows how to do this, let me know. If I can successfully back my stuff up on and off site then I will have to say Scrivenor is the best tool I know of. If I can’t figure out how to do this, I may just move everything back to word.

  3. I stopped keeping paper notes back in 2000 when I got my first computer. Word is all I have – I never heard of Scrivenor either until just lately – but it works fine. Besides a number of oddball documents, I have categories: Illustrations (for my computer drawings); Languages (for my conlangs); Miscellany (with several subcategories, including Science Material and Working Document, each with subcategories of its own),;MS (for manuscripts); and Story Notes. Each of my stories, including the ones I haven’t started to write yet, has a document in that latter. My only problem of finding things is if I can’t recall which Science doc. or Miscellany doc. I put a particular item in, but the search feature in Word really helps. You can open a document and search for a particular word. I also make tables of contents on my more voluminous docs. Sure is easier to find things that way than in a whole welter of handwritten notes!
    Maybe all this propensity for organization comes from the fact that I was a catalogue librarian. I have a natural inclination to put information into pigeon holes.
    I still make some paper notes, but only for ephemeral things. And I used to keep pen and paper by the bed to write down my brilliant 2:00 am inspirations ( 😉 ), until a friend said to me, “Why don’t you get a little tape recorder?” So I did that and now all I have to do is grab it off the night stand and mumble a few words into it, and there they are, ready to be transcribed the next day. You could also carry it with you when you’re out and about, if you wanted to.

  4. One of the neat things about Scrivener, is that I can find an image of what my characters look like and have it in a folder ready to stare at (in the case of my male lead, who bears a striking resemblance to Gerard Butler — yum) or look back at if I’ve forgotten hair/eye color etc. Also, all my notes in one place instead of multiple folders, notebooks, and assorted post its. LOL

  5. The older I get, the worse my eyesight and handwriting, but I still love the feel of a notebook and a pen in hand. I think better on paper.
    Oddly, I prefer writing directly to computer when producing nonfiction. For fiction, the notebook, complete with strikethroughs that may or may not stand when I’m ready to do the first edit as I type it up on the computer. With Word, when I change something, it’s a pain in the you-know-what to find the original word, sentence or passage if I decide I don’t like the rewritten part.
    Notebook, extra-fine point gel pen, several comfy pillows and a good lamp next to the bed, and the world is my oyster.
    Enjoyed your post!

  6. I like to have things organised but end up with bits of paper shoved into my note book. I recently downloaded the trial version of Scrivener and am ploughing through the tutorial. I might take buddhafulkat’s advice and just dive in. In theory, it sounds perfect but only time will tell.

  7. I tried a few writing programs in the past, and never did figure out how to use them properly. I just use the word processor on the computer, and save things in folders to the desktop.
    Although I still have a lot of notebooks, I’ve finally (after much work I tell you this today) stopped buying them every time I pass them in the store. There’s magic in opening a notebook and seeing that fresh, lined page – just full of swashbuckling heroes, dark blind alleys, bright crisp coral reefs and alien planets – all waiting to be coaxed out to the surface. It took some work, but I’m finally able to see the same potential with my white word processor screen. More so (for me), since I can switch screens and look up “gravity on Jupiter” or “types of fish on the reef in Australia” instantly.

    I still can’t resist picking up those lovely little lined journal books though, love those and they look so nice on the bedside table!

  8. I think you have to factor in the way we learn…some of us are more visual, others tactile. It’s not practical to lump us all into one bag of thinking and doing. I’m tactile…I want the paper. I want to hold the book. It makes me anxious to have everything visual–on the computer, on a Kindle, whatever. In the same way, we each have our own ways of re-charging our batteries–some need the stimulus of interaction, others need less. We are unique and thank God for it. There is no one size fits all. Like this post! 🙂

  9. I haven’t used Scrivener – what advantages does it offer over a well labelled Exel / Word document? (This is more a question for someone who’s used it rather than you Lizzie!)

  10. I like pencil and paper bette,r too. I like to have those papers at my fingertips when I need to look up something. I never even heard of Scrivener.

  11. Not heard of this either, but very useful to note, I like the idea and see how it could be useful, I don’t think we need necessarily stop handwriting or notetaking, but it’s true I often have a .hard time remembering which versions of printed copies are the most up to date

  12. I’ll jump in on Scrivener’s advantages over Word/Excel/etc. I wrote my first two novels in Word, using one file for each. I kept an Excel file for character and place sketches. (Admittedly, I also use paper and notebooks for jotting down ideas as they come. And I’ll write out a scene longhand if it comes to me while I’m away from my computer.) A friend did hers in Word, but in multiple files, creating one for each scene, character sketch, and whatever else she needed.

    When your novel starts reaching 50,000 words, it gets a lot harder to find things in a single Word, even using the search feature. If you can’t remember an exact phrase, search isn’t going to help much. Similarly, it’s hard to move from one scene to another that might be 20 or 50 pages away.

    If you create separate files for everything, it gets hard to find the right ones, even if they’re well-named. And if you want to move between 10 of them in one session, well, that’s a lot of open files on the desktop.

    Both the friend and I got Scrivener and are using it for our new works. And it combines the best of both worlds. Its default is to have you work in separate scenes. You can change that to chapters if you’d like. But all the files are kept in a single project “folder.” You have a binder on the left that shows your larger chapters with their individual scenes. Want to work in a scene in Chapter 1? Just click on it in the binder. Want to then work on one in Chapter 15? Click on it in the binder.

    We both love it! There are also templates for place and character sketches, or you can create your own that meet your particular style. You can upload photos to include in a work or to use as reference. If you’re an organized outliner, it has an outlining tool you can use. But it’s also great for a “pantser” like me. You can create notecards for scenes, for example, and there is a corkboard where you can lay them out and move them around.

    And if you like paper copies to work with, you can always print them out 🙂 I do. It’s far easier for me to edit from a hard copy.

    You can compile your final files into a single manuscript that can be exported to Word, or an e-publisher, for example. But you can also save backup copies of the Scrivener files.

    Some people have noted problems in formatting when they compile the files to create that final manuscript file. But that happens with many programs when you convert from one format to another. The documentation tells you up front that you should carefully edit the compiled manuscript. But we should do that even when we print a document from Word into an Adobe pdf file format.

    Long answer, I know, but I would definitely give the trial version a test run.

    • Ah, cool, thank you so much for all the detail JM, that’s so helpful!

      In the conversion my tip as with all conversion between programmes is to paste the compiled manuscript into wordpad first as this will strip all the formatting, then paste it into a brand new word document and manually add in all your formatting. That will make it consistent and allow you to add only the formatting you want and is more effective that changing existing formatting as it makes sure there’s no underlying formatting you can’t see. Remember to use the paragraph setting on the tool bar rather than tab indents if self-publishing (and basically just follow the smashwords style guide for a fail-safe method).

  13. I pretty much gave up on paper several years ago. And when I got Scrivener, that solved all my organizational problems. I don’t understand why buddhafulkat had a problem doing backups. You set the location for the backups, and the entire project is saved, notes, research, and all. A Scrivener project is like a file folder with sub folders, so everything is kept in one place. My usual working method is to write a novel or story in one file, setting a marker where I think I might want to begin a chapter, and set up the separate chapters later. The draft of the book is a folder. If you create separate files for each chapter, right from the beginning, you can still see them as one continuous file in the folder. If you want to change the order of the files, you drag them around in the binder. If you have an outline, it will reflect the changes.

    I would say that whether you used pen and paper or a computer program is very much a matter of taste. But just the thought of having to copy my own handwriting into Scrivener gives me the chills. Why waste all that time and energy? I scribble down notes now and then, but that’s about it for paper.

  14. buddahfulkat, I tested the Scrivener backup file by saving it to my desktop. The file name looks like: (where “title” is the file name, and 4 is the backup number). I double-clicked it and another file appeared, title.scriv. I doubled-clicked it and Scrivener opened with my novel, characters, research, photos and everything else. Go to Scrivener – Preferences on the top toolbar and click on the Backup tab for more info. Hope that helps.

    I purchased Scrivener after NaNo and love it. Don’t just read the manual — take the tutorial that’s included, and then just dive in. Paper v. Electronic: I’ve been using a keyboard for years. For long writing projects, paper and pen were set aside long ago. I still use them for note taking, but as soon as I can afford an iPad, they’ll probably be set aside from that task, too. A text doc typed emailed, copied, and pasted instead of retyping handwritten pages will save me time. Plus that iPad3 is such a beauty, I’m trying to come up with an excuse to get one!

  15. Don’t you think a chaotic person will always be chaotic, no matter which tool they choose to use to try and organise? You still have to sift and sort, and know where things are. Whether electronically or on paper. How you work is a personal choice, and down to how your brain is organised. My notes are usually meaningless questions and answers, or cryptic notes, but they make links for me, in my mind. No one ever used my revision notes, they made no sense. Everything you use only helps in your own system. It cannot do it for you.


  16. I usually keep character information electronic but I prefer paper for plotting, world-building details, and story boarding. I have not tried Scrivner because I was told the MS version still had major bugs.

  17. I’ve got the best (or worst) of both worlds–written and electronic material. I don’t know what form is better to work with. Right now it all seems too overwhelming to deal tackle with any efficiency. And I thought I was an organized person… 😐

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