Writing on Google Docs

So I started something new, this past NaNoWriMo (yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m like 5 months late, I know). What with working full time, the train not always having a seat during my commute, and being too exhausted after work to actually do anything creative, I’ve been frustrated with my writing progress. Recently, I started implementing a new writing tool that’s shifted my writing process. And it’s been interesting.

If you remember, I mentioned the newest twist in my writing career. Since then I’ve been determinedly working to rewrite and revise my manuscript, though it’s taking longer than I expected (who’s surprised?). The revision so far has been equal parts awesome and terrifying, as I wrote in my last post.

Last November, I decided that I should use the energy that NaNoWriMo inspires to get a chunk of these revisions done, as I knew a decent portion of the manuscript needed to be totally rewritten (new words = word count for NaNo). That being said, I also knew I’d need to implement a new writing process to make any progress, what with the above mentioned full-time job and general exhaustion.

So I started writing on my phone with Google Docs. On the train, in the bathroom at work, even sometimes at work if it was slow. I didn’t think I’d ever be someone who wrote on Google Docs, let alone my phone. I have a problem with not being able to see my whole manuscript at once, or bounce between sections if I need to, and the narrow-view of Google Docs (especially on a phone) sounded stifling.

I’d previously tried it out a few months earlier on a different project I was playing with, and had quite a bit of success with it. It was so nice to be able to write on the train when I didn’t have a seat, in the checkout line at the grocery store, or waiting in the car to pick up a friend.

But this other story I started from scratch, just let the fingers fly when inspiration struck. The manuscript I’m rewriting is 115k words and a complicated mess of plot-lines, emotions, and motivations. I needed to be able to jump between scenes and move around sections with ease in order to rip it apart and put it back together again.

But I wanted to try it. So I started implementing a bit-by-bit process. Instead of uploading the whole thing and slashing through it, I uploaded sections at a time that I knew I’d have to rewrite. I’d tear the scene apart, keep a few segments I felt were good, and rewrite the rest, using the skills I’ve gained in the past three-odd years. Then, at the end of the day, I’d paste whatever I’d finished back into the main document to save (and for word count purposes; which got tricky as I had to separate previously-written from now-written, but that’s another subject).

Churning out rewritten scenes was also helpful because writing transitions to merge scenes or fill in a hole of information is often a nice, concise section to get done when time is limited. It set up the time where I ‘sat down to write’ (on weekends or the rare evening where I wasn’t exhausted) very nicely into smaller pieces. Plus, there’s a satisfaction to getting a hole filled that isn’t found as much when writing linearly.

And honestly… that worked out really well for slamming out sections. For NaNoWriMo and getting a big chunk of the manuscript rewritten, it was perfect.

Then about two months ago I found myself in a sticky situation. I am ripping apart this manuscript, taking it in a new direction that (I hope) is both different and more true to the original story. But especially in the midst of NaNoWriMo, where I would skip brand-new sections where I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet, I left critical scenes unwritten. Reaching the culmination of those scenes farther along down (as I left big holes where things scenes were, to focus on rewriting scenes and slamming out word counts), I was patting around in the dark without the proper detail that those previous scenes would provide.

So I turned my attention back to those scenes I skipped before in my effort to keep up momentum. I needed to write sections that are whole new scenes intricately connected to the events around them. And this has made it much harder to utilize Google Docs as a tool.

I kept freaking out that that sections were going to ‘feel’ different, written in isolation from each other. Or the logic/thought processes won’t flow. Or. Or. Or.

I definitely flashed back to previous writing habits, where I had to see everything all at once or I can’t write anything ahhhh. When in actuality, I just needed to chill and get the damn thing on the page, and worry about smoothing it all together later. (In fact I’m pretty sure Delilah Dawson wrote a thread on Twitter about this, something about her #TenThings on first drafts.)

So for the past couple months I’ve been stealing snippets of time during lunch break or in the evenings to get things done, where I can see the whole document (I’ve been using Scrivener, if you’re interested). The process has been very slow, but it has been steady. It’s gotten me to a place where I’ve been able to focus big picture and figure more out about how the littler pieces fit into the whole.

Now the manuscript resembles swiss cheese. But, it’s pretty easy to tell what needs to be done to get it done. So it’s back to Google Docs again.

I think the trick is (at least for me) is organization. If I know the main thrust of what I’m writing, and how it fits into the chapter/arc/whatever, it really works. The method that seems to be working for me best is to copy+paste the whole chapter along with the ‘hole’ or section I need to work on. Then I have the lead up, which starts me writing, and where it needs to end, which helps me aim.

This works less well for me in a crux scene, where I have to weave several things into each other. If I can’t jump around to make sure I’m covering everything I need to and have all the details right, I feel metaphorically blind.

Yet in other cases, I think it’s been beneficial to write in the narrow-view of one-section-at-a-time. With only one scene to write on, it makes me focus. Despite my wanting to see-the-whole-story-all-the-time, that can end up fracturing my attention and making me spin in circles. With only one thing to focus on, I’ve got to push through. (I think this could also be used with something like Word or whatever you like, but at least for Scrivener, it’s too easy for me to bounce between sections and start spinning, as I mentioned.)

So after all of that, I wanted to try to condense my whole experience into something actually helpful. Here are some bullet points I think we can glean from all of this:

  • Organization is key
  • Don’t worry about the whole; focus on pieces at a time
  • Don’t stifle yourself to one tool if it’s not working; switch when needed

At the end of the day, like ANY writing advice, this is going to be helpful to some and not to others. It all depends on your writing process and how your creativity works. My hope is to give some ideas on how to use tools to your advantage, but this is entirely dependent on you!

And on that note… I’m going to go finish a fancy ballroom scene where my MC is wheedling an internship out of a hospital CEO so she can sleuth to where she thinks there are victims of her sister’s killer…

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About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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