A straight-through first draft

Since this section of the forum now exists, I think I’ll re-post what I posted elsewhere, about how I handle writing a NaNovel straight through, from start to finish.

This approach is not suitable if you prefer to write out of order, building your story in pieces then fitting things together. It’s only suitable for writing the first draft in order without going back at all, and is fairly specific to NaNoWriMo, as you’ll see.

In the draft, I have one group for each day, plus at the bottom a group called “Future”. Every day that I write, I only add text to that day’s group, although I may split the screen and refer back to older text. This allows me to easily export a single day’s writing, or get a single day’s word count.

If I start a scene on one day and finish it the day after, the scene is spread across two separate files, one in each day folder, but the files have the same name so I know to join them once november is over.

There is a minimum of metadata in the scenes I think of and write immediately - I set the status to “First draft”, and if I have multiple story threads (which I do this year) I set the label colour for the current thread. Apart from that, I just write; I’ll fill in the synopsis card later.

When I brainstorm and think of a scene that isn’t to be written yet (since I’m writing straight through), I’ll fill out the synopsis card and put it in the “Future” folder. The label colour is set, and the status stamp is either “To Do” or “possibility”, depending on how certain I am that the scene should be in the story. Synopsis cards for the future are arranged in the order I think they should appear. This may or may not change when it comes time to actually write the scenes.

When I finish a scene, I check the future folder in corkboard mode to see if it’s time to write one of the scenes I had brainstormed earlier, or if I think a different scene entirely is called for. If I’m using one of the scenes I have a “future” synopsis card for, I drag it into place in the current day’s writing, set its status to “First draft”, and write it; if not, I just create a new file and start writing. I’ll name the file once I figure out what the scene is about; sometimes I’m halfway through before I change the file name from Untitled to something more useful.

Janra’s post was interesting to me, since I’m in the middle (ok 80% through) my first National Novel Writing Month effort.

I am too disorganized to write straight through, chronologically. Instead I use the binder to hold folders for DRAFT, PLOT POINTS, CHARACTERS, and PLACES. I write synopses for each card, and have a card for each “chapter” under DRAFT, plus a card for each “main event” for future chapters under PLOT POINTS.

I can start writing anywhere, and when I do, I drag the PLOT POINT I’m fleshing out up to the DRAFT folder where it becomes part of the book. I can continue to work on it at any time, and I can move it up or down chronologically at any time. I can also edit the synopsis, of course.

The PLOT POINTS become fewer as the book moves along, and the number of chapters in the DRAFT folder increases. Some of the PLOT POINTS and characters will likely never be used, which is fine.

My story is a mess, but it’s an organized mess thanks to Scrivener!

Oh, I mentioned to a friend around Oct 29 that I was planning to make this effort of writing a novel by Nov 30, and that I was using MS Word, but I hate Word and wish I had an ORGANIZING/WRITING software package for the Mac. She sent me an email I had sent HER ages ago, with a link to Scrivener Gold. I had forgotten I had ever seen it, but had told her about it and she reminded me. Thank God. When the beta came out I switched from Scriv Gold. The software is great.


Thank you, bungalow1225. It is fascinating to hear how different people use Scrivener. What’s interesting to me is that janra writes her work straight out from start to finish - it never even occurred to me that Scrivener would appeal to writers who work like this - I thought they would stick with MS Word, so it is nice to hear that it can help writers like janra (a long-time user), too. I work more like you, bungalow1225, which is why I wrote Scrivener in the first place - my work and ideas are all over the shop, with some parts partially complete and other parts that exist as index cards that need fleshing out. I used to use real index cards and then lose the paper they were supposed to be associated with, or lose the index card when I wanted to write it up - hence Scrivener. :slight_smile:
Thanks again, and I look forward to reading how others use Scrivener.
All the best,


With regard to “writing straight through…” I often go into FULL SCREEN mode to just WRITE, for those sections that are either 1) so well-formed in my head that I won’t don’t need to refer to an index card, or 2) so vague, ill-conceived and absurd that there aren’t enough cards in the world to help with them.

Additional usage thoughts…For the first ten days of the novel writing month, I forgot that I could split the screen - I know, I know. Then I saw that little split box icon and clicked it and a choir of Angels sang and a shaft of golden sunlight rent the clouds and all was Light! So I put the current index card in the lower half, and the chapter I’m writing in the top and my world is filled with love and bad prose. But I never forget to include minor plot points, such as “Main character kills self.”

I haven’t used the color labels yet, I’m not organized enough to be consistent with it.


I have to say the first time I saw you post that sentiment, I stopped and scratched my head and said, “huh?” — having just imported a completed first draft (an earlier NaNo) into what is now Scrivener Gold so I could try out what I saw as awesome editing features.

Even writing straight through, I ditched Word ages ago and was writing in single scene files, which I had to manage on the filesystem. I had index cards hand-written with my scene synopses which always got out of sync with the actual writing and I was considering abandoning the whole “scene synopsis as organizing tool” idea. I had all my background information in a wiki. Ok, Scrivener hasn’t quite replaced that yet, but that’s mostly because I’m too much of a slacker to create scrivener links to replace all the wikilinks in my background information. (I did play around with VoodooPad, but while the links were all there I found the lack of structure within a single document a bit frustrating. I like my different header levels! That and the tables were a mess, but that’s an apple text system thing I’m sure.)

Also, just because I write straight through, doesn’t mean I plan straight through… I just know from experience that if I jump around in my story, by the time things connect I’ll just have to rewrite them anyway, because my characters will have changed and wouldn’t react the same way. Assuming the future scene ever was reached! With the index cards, if a scene idea doesn’t ever come into the story, all I’m throwing out is a couple of sentences…

Interesting method! If Scrivener was around when I did NaNoWriMo (I just did the NaNoWriMo cartoons this year :slight_smile:), I might have tried that. Thanks for sharing this info…

So far, I’ve found the following way to be effective in keeping track of my novel:

  1. Create Chapter folders (i.e., Chapter 1, Chapter 2…) in Draft folder.
  2. Write directly in the Chapter folder, using note section for laying out major plot points, broad time sequences.
  3. Create Scene text files in Chapter folders. Use these to lay out action, character motivation, capture snippets of dialogue, bits of description. Use note section to paste in photos of locales, aids-to-memory, etc.
  4. Create a Character folder (use text files for individual characters)

#s 2 and 3 give me macro and micro views in bulletin board mode.
When I output, I simply export the Chapter folders and not the scene and character text files.

Works for me, but they’re probably is a better way to accomplish same type of thing. If anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them.