a blog on the craft of writing
The last two Moonday Mania’s I’ve been discussing the Snowflake method of plotting and how it’s changing my pantsing ways. You can read the first post HERE and the second HERE. And today I’m going to talk about a tiny piece of the Snowflake method that has expanded my non-techie universe just a little more.
(cue scary music) DA-NA-NA-NA!
Here is what Randy Ingermanson says about writers and spreadsheets in ‘How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method’:
“For some reason, this is scary to a lot of writers. Oh the horror. Deal with it.You leaned to use a word-processor. Spreadsheets are easier. You need to make a list of scenes, and spreadsheets were invented for making lists. If you need some tutoring, buy a book. there are a thousand out there and one of them will work for you. It should take you less than a day to learn the itty bit you need. It’ll be the most valuable day you ever spent. Do it.”
I read those words and I thought; ok, Randy says to just do it, I can do it.
Now like a lot of writers I have avoided the Excel side of life. I took a class, many moons ago, and about the only thing I remember is that you plug in rows of complicated formulas into the cells and they work their math magic all by themselves. But writing isn’t math, so how the heck is this going to work? Can I plug my scenes into the cells and my story will automatically write itself?
I do have a little more experience withe Excel. I am part of an investment club, The Queens of Green, and we have been blessed with a woman with a masters in accounting. She created amazing spreadsheets for our stock evaluations. Every month I go to the Excel spreadsheet for my stock (until recently, Target) and I open up a two sheet multi-column spreadsheet with detailed instructions from the CPA goddess on how to plug in numbers.
It goes something like this:
I open the spread sheet and read the first instruction. Copy last column and paste. Ok, I do that. Then each color coded square has similar step-by-step instructions on where to find the correct numbers online. What site to go to, which tab to click. Go to this page and plug in that. Very detailed. I stumble through, and at the end I have some idea of what’s been going on with my stock. The color coding tells me if we want to retain it, or dump it.
And each month I have to figure it out again. Why? Because I’m non-techie (read: resistant to change.
But Randy says I need a spreadsheet. So last month, I bravely opened up Excel and did it. I, all by little old lonesome, created a scene spreadsheet for my new novella (working title Snow and the Seventh Wolf). And guess what? It was way easier than I thought it would be!
You see, I’ve been getting very cozy with Microsoft Word and Excel is its kissing cousin. Yes, they look very different on the surface, but underneath they are more similar than I thought. The navigation bar at the top looks almost the same, and there are many things you can do that are the same. So I started to play.
Yes play. I think the main thing that keep us non-techie writers from using Excel is fear. Fear I will make a mistake. Fear I will lose all my work. So the secret is to back it up, and back up frequently. Once you start doing that you realize that you can play in the sandbox with the other kiddos without being scared.
I now have a lovely spreadsheet where I can cut and paste my scenes. I can easily add extra scenes by adding a row, or cut them with a ruthless click of my mouse. And how has this changed my pantsing, um, plotting? Well, I’m figuring out my plot before writing. And even after I started writing (when those darn characters changed their motivations on me) I was able to shift scenes and change the plot.
The end result is a detailed list of chapters with an approximate word count, so my plot can stay on target. One line per scene, not too onerous for a pantser like me, still leaves lots of room for flexibility with my writing. And an entire book plotted in just a few days.
Is it life changing? You bet! I’ve never been one for shuffling the notecards, but here is an easy way to do it, without all the pesky hand writing. I know there are programs out there to do this for you, in fact I bet Randy’s Snowflake program comes with something to do it for you, but I’m glad I am doing it this way. Because I am also learning (although in tiny baby steps) how to work Excel. One more step along my road to writing as a career and a personal celebration of overcoming my fears.
One more note. Randy’s program, Snowflake PRO, is one of the most affordable writing/plotting programs out there. It only costs $100. And he is running a special. If you buy his book Writing Fiction for Dummies, he’ll cut the price to $50. Go to his website for details on how to get this amazing special HERE.
Have you used Excel in your writing? Or maybe a writing program that utilizes spreadsheets? What about new skills, have you ever taken on a skill that you were terrified to do? What made you try?
Enter my Little Red Riding Wolf contest HERE. Still lots of opportunities to enter and win! Contest will close at the end of February, so jump on and win some chocolate or the best sticky notes ever! And check out Romance and Beyond for my interview by the fabulous Sherry Isaac!