The Scrivener logo.This week’s post is going to be a short one. But I have to share!

Scrivener is an incredibly popular piece of writing software. It has loads of features. Loads! It has so many, in fact, that you could use it for years and still find ones you’ve never seen before.

I had one of those moments last week. Scrivener has a name generator. You know, for coming up with names for your characters. And it’s ridiculously full-featured.

And now I’m going to show you where it is. Just in case, you know, you also had no idea it existed.

Note: these directions are for the Windows version of the software.

How to find the name generator

  1. Go to “Tools.”
  2. Go to “Writing Tools.”
  3. Optional: Boggle at the list of tools. Did you know those were there? I didn’t.
  4. Click on “Name Generator…”

That’s it! Super simple.

Screenshot of the name generator in Scrive

So what’s in this thing?

Just look at it!

The Scrivener name generator, with a list of generated names, genders, first/last name origins, and other fields.

You can:

  • Choose male or female names (or both).
  • Choose a culture for the first and last name.
  • Filter a little: do you only want names starting with the letter A? You can! Do you want a name that ends and starts with the same letter? I can’t imagine you’ll use that a lot. But you can!
  • Save the names you like in the shortlist.
  • Check out what the names mean in the “First Name Meanings” tab.
  • Import a list of names from somewhere else. Do you have your own list of names? Then plug them in!

And the “First name/Last name origin” tabs? Look at them. Look at them!

Scrivener's name generator with the "First name Origin" drop-down menu selected.

Not only can you choose names from many modern cultures, there’s also a large selection of ancient cultures. A list of ancient Aztecan names? That’s phenomenal.

Will this feature change your life? Probably not. But is it cool that it exists? Absolutely. It’s a cute, versatile little tool, and if you ever need it, it’s there. Go wild!

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I LOVE DATA.

I also love writing. Consequentially, I really wanted to find a way to better track my writing progress. I wanted more than the “X words out of XX,XXX” tickers that you see on message boards or the chapter-level or novel-level targets that Scrivener gave you. I wanted to map my work daily, showing exactly how much work I was doing and what kind of work it was. I wanted data that I could slice, dice, and display in different formats.

I might be a little nuts.

So I kept a record of everything I wrote all year. When I first started tracking my work, I recorded everything I did in a very simple Excel file. But last week, something happened. Something magical. Something wonderful.

I discovered pivot tables. And now I’m going to show you what I used them for.

(It gets more exciting in a moment, I promise.)

Step #1: Record Every Time You Do Anything Related to Writing

This is the only step that took any work. I logged an entry in Excel every time I did anything related to writing–so, basically, any time I wrote, edited, or outlined something.

I tracked everything. I didn’t just track words I wrote for stories. I tracked words I wrote for query letters, synopses, and outlines. Basically, if I was being productive and it was related to a story, I recorded it.

Here’s what my tracker looks like:

Screenshot showing what stories I worked on by day.
(January was a horrible month for me, but whatever. You can see what I’m tracking.)

It’s pretty simple. I track:

  • The Date: When I worked on anything writing-related.
  • The title of what I worked on.
  • The type of product. This can be a novel, short story, outline, query, or synopsis.
  • The total word count. This is automatically generated from the next two fields–“New Word Count” and “Original Word Count.” If I started a chapter or story from scratch and wrote 2,000 words, that “2,000” would go in the “New Word Count” and 0 would go in the “Original Word Count.” If I later picked up that piece and added 1,000 words, I’d have “3,000” (the new final word count) in “New Word Count” and 2,000 in the “Original”… Which would allow me to track how many words I added or removed that day.
  • The type of work. I use four categories here: writing, editing, outlining, and administrative (which I use for queries and synopses.)
  • The total words worked. This is a quirky and possibly not useful field. I hate it when I do a really good job editing, remove 10,000 words from a novel… And this file shows my monthly word count as -10,000 words. That’s what shows up in the “total” field. And, as you can tell from February 5, sometimes that looks nasty. So I made this silly field, the “total words worked” field. It’s a duplicate of the “total” field, except everything is a positive number.

Phew!

Step #2: Use that PivotTable Magic!

Everything else is done automatically. Using the data you’re tracking in step #1, you can ask Excel to create a whole slew of beautiful tables. Like this one!

Screenshot showing everything I worked on by month in 2015.

(Yes, these are my real numbers. Yes, I had an incredibly bad start to the year, including an abysmal April. It got better, though!)

This beautiful table shows exactly how many words I wrote each month, broken up by what I worked on. The only real quirk is that I didn’t track how many words I wrote during my outlining period between April and June, so my actual total is a lot higher than the zeroes you see there.

All I had to do was:

  1. Create a new tab in Excel.
  2. Go to Insert > PivotTable
  3. Put “Date” in the Row Labels.
  4. Put “Work Type” and “Story Type” (in that order) in the “Column Labels.”
  5. Put “Total” in the “Values” section.
  6. Click the little arrow next to “Total,” select “Value Field Settings,” and set “Summarize value field by” to “Sum.”
  7. By default, it displayed all this data broken up by individual days. To get the month-by-month view, right click any day, select “Group,” then make sure it’s grouped by “Months.”

That’s it! Now it shows all the words I wrote this year, organized by the type of work I did and the type of product I created.

I have a different tab that shows this same data broken down by week. It’s glorious!

Step #3: Experiment with Different Data Sets!

There are all kinds of ways to display data! How about month-by-month breakdown of what projects you worked on? That’s another fun one!

Screenshot showing what products I worked on every month vs. the number of words I produced.

Isn’t that awesome?!

So data is awesome. Awesome. I could graph this stuff. I could look at it a zillion different ways. I’m addicted to numbers.

But I also find these numbers soothing. It shows me that I’m getting work done. It helps me see, in a very easy-to-read format, just how productive I’ve been this year.

Also, it looks really cool. What more could you want?

Cover of the Twitter for Writers novel.

Hotlinked from Goodreads.

My full review’s on Goodreads!

I’ve had a Twitter account for a couple years, and it never made any sense to me. Saying that makes me sound like I’m a zillion years old (and, well, maybe I am), but really, I’m a nerd. I’ve been online since the early 90s and I’ve gotten hip-deep in every stupid trend. But Twitter was a mystery to me–it was obviously not a good way to keep track of people or what they were saying. Everything everyone says goes by too quickly and is buried too fast. So what’s the point?

I ignored my Twitter feed for years. I used it to passively stalk agents. That’s it.

But then I picked up Twitter for Writers. It’s an exceptionally thorough overview of everything a writer might do on Twitter. It starts out with the painfully easy things–setting up an account, tweeting, and following people–but then dives into deeper concepts, like Twitter parties and automated tools. Best of all, it’s for writers, so it talks about things writers need to know, like how to promote your work without shoving it down your readers’ throats.

It also introduced me to some of the truly obnoxious things people do with automation. Did you know some folks use automated tools to force you to confirm that you’re human? Or to remove people who unfriend them? Or to create and send out tweets? Thanks to this book, I didn’t have to figure it out for myself–and I immediately started avoiding people who did these things.

This book is a little cutesy at times. It’s also extremely simple. (Though hey, Twitter isn’t exactly brain surgery.) The book is divided up into simple and advanced tips, but there’s no reason to read them selectively. They’re all easy.

If you know anything at all about Twitter, this might not be particularly useful. But for someone like me, it was great. I’m tech savvy, I just never cared about Twitter. But I get it now. I do. And thank goodness, because Pitch Wars (and now WriteOnCon) are both extremely Twitter dependent. This book was the kick in the butt I needed to get in there and start using Twitter properly.

I tested out Scrivener a while back and was ambivalent. It was OK, I guess. But I didn’t like it enough to pay money for it, especially when I had already sunk a lot into Microsoft Office. Then I ran into this:

yWriter5 – Free writing software designed by an author, not a salesman

And it’s… actually pretty interesting. Most of the features are standard: You can break a story into chapters and scenes, which you can tag and flag and label in detail, and then the program’ll combine them into a single file when you’re done. But some of these things are pretty cool:

  • It keeps track of your per-chapter and overall word count and lets you set writing goals around these.
  • You can plug in all your characters, flag which chapters they participate in, and then see how many scenes each one is in (and how often they have the POV.) It also can generate a storyboard showing what scenes happen when and from whose POV.
  • You can keep track of time, so you can write down when a scene starts and how many in-world hours it takes to finish.
  • You can plug in character goals, conflicts, and resolutions for each scene.

You can outline right in the program, too, though it seems a little clumsy. (But that’s probably because my outlines are really, really detailed. My Wiki just works better for keeping track of it all.)

But overall, it’s actually pretty cool. And it’s free!

Logo that reads, 'Scrivener for Microsoft Windows.'

Hotlinked from Scrivener.com. Also linked there.

Since I just startged a new story, I thought I’d peek at a trial copy of Scrivener.

And… I haven’t really used it. I loaded it up, went through the tour, and haven’t used it seriously since. I think it’s just too hard for me to change my habits. Dropping Word files on SkyDrive works for me. For whatever reason, this incredibly primitive system is hard for me to break.

But tools are exciting! And Scrivener does seem to have a few cool features. Here’s what I noticed in my brief, brief trial.

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