How I Write My Novels – Pt. 2 (Software to Finish)


I’ve got some sweet organizational software that works for me. It might work for you, too.

This post is all about the production and software side of a novel. We already talked about novel ideation in part 1. If you’re interested in pen and paper inspiration, I suggest you check out that post.

To re-disclaim: I’m not saying this is how you write a good book. I’m not sure who’s qualified to tell you that. I’m just telling you how I turn my ideas into novels. Also, I’m going to wax poetic about my love for Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. I have not been paid, and I’m pretty sure they want nothing to do with me.

So I picked up a few characters and have some setting info. Once I have a loose plot, it’s time to get the events into a timeline.

Taken from
Image borrowed from ScribbleCode. I don’t think they’ll mind, since they’re trying to sell this product.

Aeon Timeline

Aeon Timeline is, for my money, my favorite plot/setting time tracking tool. It has a customizable calendar for you sci-fi/fantasy nuts who want to call Wednesday “Day of Light” or some such. You can tell it when the beginning of time is. It has relationship-tracking tools to give you time differentials and character ages at the moments of events. Most importantly, it exports to Scrivener.

A word of caution: you can get deep in the weeds on this product. If you want to plot out every setting event since the Odin Allfather first struck the forge, you can make that happen. Hardcore genre authors will find themselves consumed by it, never to re-emerge. You have been warned.

I generally try to lay out my main character’s major life events (birth, death, marriage, loss of friends, etc.) and maybe one or two others. What’s important is that you stick to things that are relevant to the story.

Next, I throw my plot, as loose as it may be, onto an Arc (those are like mini-timelines). How long does it take the star cruiser to travel between galaxies. Are the main characters doing anything during that time? Timeline works with days, hours, centuries and millennia, so whatever your plot is, you can fit it into a file.

Once I’ve got that sorted and figured out the characters’ relationships to the years, I sync to Scrivener.

Image borrowed from Literature & Latte, who is trying to sell this product…


Scrivener is my favorite thing. The main thrust of it is that someone made a word processor that’s perfect for novelists. It has a variety of features that make it a killer app for me, including:

  • Store a number of documents inside a database, with the ability to re-order them at will. That means your scenes can be written in any order you want, then assembled as needed.
  • Tons of searchability, including a way to make subfolders out of your searches.
  • Distraction-free writing mode for those with poor self control and good playlists.
  • And a lot of other great stuff. Seriously, download the demo and go through the interactive tutorial.

I’m not going to waste everyone’s time by re-making a Scrivener how-to. For one, they already nailed it. What I’ll say is that the product speaks for itself. Now back to my workflow.

When Timeline syncs with a Scrivener database, it creates a series of events inside the Scrivener file. These events can be placed just like any other document and filled with text. That means that you can write your scenes into them and drop them where you want them to go inside your manuscript. If you reorder your scenes, the timeline remains the same, but is still linked.

You can change Aeon metadata on files inside Scrivener and sync, and you’ll see those changes reflected in Timeline. It’s a sweet deal.

In Closing

Both products are awesome, and can really help you put words on the page, but remember: your plot will improve as you write. You’re going to get caught up in a new train of thought and you’ll have to throw out part of your original plan. When that happens, I urge you not to get tangled up in revising your Timeline file, but to just go for it and gun your engines for the finish line.

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

7 thoughts on “How I Write My Novels – Pt. 2 (Software to Finish)”

  1. My only problem with most programs is the cost. I still work a time consuming job to take care of a family and the cost just seems too far out of reach at times. I beta’d a product called Novlr a little while ago that I thought was pretty interesting in terms of a word processor that you could access your writing through from any pc or capable device, but even it was based on a monthly subscription.

    Still these seem like great tools for anyone who can get their hands on them. Great post!

    1. I completely understand that, and I don’t have a truckload of extra cash, myself. I’ve had to give up a lot of things to buy these tools, but they’re paying off in time savings. BTW, they were $74 (with coupon codes).

      I must sound like a total snob after my post about fountain pens…

  2. Aeon sounds awesome but Scriviner has been on my list for a long time. Lauren Beukes and Deon Meyer swear by it. But $40 is a lot for me but I’ll get it eventually.

    1. Actually I live on a very tight budget because all I get is my Social Security Disability and some dependent benefits for my daughter who will turn 18 in a few months. When you consider that Microsoft Word all by itself costs between $79.99 and $109.99, depending on whether you are using it for home or business, and it can’t do a fraction of what you can do with Scrivener, $40.00 is a bargain. The following link will take you to a coupon good for 20% off making it only $32.00.

      If you’re still not sure if you want to spend that go ahead and go to the Literature & Latte website and download the free trial for your computer, either Mac or Windows. It is good for 30 days of free use of the entire program so you can evaluate if it is for you or not. Mind you that is 30 days total. Assuming you only used it say 5 days that month you would still have another 25 days in which to use it before having to purchase a serial number to activate the program again. Potentially you can stretch that 30 day out over several months depending on how often you use it.

      I love Scrivener and am finding new ways to use it all the time. Even my wife is using it now to keep a journal (and she’s not a writer).

  3. I bought Scrivener after a guy in my writing group explained about the powers of rearrangement is has. I find it useful when sorting out chunks of my NaNoWriMo results. Aeon sounds cool; I have spent hours charting detailed chronologies in favorite novels and always thought keeping it straight as one writes must be a chore.

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