Scrivener tip: Lickety-Split

To quickly split the screen without leaving the keyboard simply hit:


This makes it particularly easy to compare two Binder documents, or refer to one pane – say something you have in your Research folder – while writing in another. When working with text documents the zoom can be set independently in each.

For my other Scrivener tips, click here.
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Scissors & Glue – top tips for writers


Over the years I’ve been given some great advice on writing by people I’ve met, and I thought I’d share a few examples in case they might help you along the way too.

1: Easing off
received from David Garnett, writer and editor

I met Dave at the first SF convention I attended in 1997. We chatted, got on well, and he introduced me to a lot of people. It was a great weekend. He was at that time editing the New Worlds anthology, and invited me to send him something to consider. When the story came back a few months later it was one of those enthusiastic rejections which, while issuing a no thank you, encouraged me to keep at it. His feedback included the following piece of advice:

“Don’t try to cram in so much.”

I thought about the story and wondered where I’d crammed. By how much. And how not to. What to leave out of any creative endeavour – writing, music, choreography – to avoid “over-egging the pudding”, to quote one of my former editors, can be difficult to judge. I think I worked out what Dave meant eventually, but it’s a process unique to every piece of work, every paragraph, every sentence. I’ve still got that letter. It’s in a folder full of others just like it.

2: How they did it in the olden days
received from Christopher Priest, author

I’ve always written to people whose work I’ve admired and asked politely whether they might have any advice. These included Priest, after I’d read his novel The Prestige back in the mid-90s. Our correspondence developed, and he told me he did have some advice, but that I wouldn’t like it:

“Print it, delete the electronic file,
then re-key the whole thing.”

When people wrote longhand or with a typewriter, multiple copies could be created using carbon paper. Cutting and pasting was just that, using scissors and glue – a process that still has its place in creative writing today. And a re-draft was exactly that: type the whole thing out again, dude. But by the time this tip came my way we were firmly in the age of the word processor. Surely such antiquated techniques were redundant, weren’t they?

He was right: I didn’t like it. But when I gave the re-key a chance its benefits were immediately apparent. Bored typing a certain section or paragraph all over again? Then your reader will probably get bored too. And without doubt the weaknesses in any text are somehow more evident on the printed page than on screen, so re-keying from hard copy has benefits there. Whether you actually delete the electronic file is a matter of choice (I could never bring myself to go quite that far), but without doubt, taking the time to perform a real deal, old-school re-draft pays huge dividends.

And while you’re performing your satisfying re-key, implementing my final tip will make a world of difference.

3: You move your lips when you’re reading
received from unknown

I honestly can’t remember who gave me this nugget. It might have been John Meaney. Or I might have read it somewhere. But the most important thing is that I came across it somehow, because this one makes a huge difference:

“Read your text aloud.”

You may raise your eyebrows, but during speech the tongue will stumble over words that seem to work just fine when reading them silently in your head. Rhythm – or more to the point a lack thereof – makes itself known. Problematic syntax or repetition emerge from their hiding places between the words. Sentences that fall short. Or those that run too long and leave you feeling a little out of breath as you try to keep up with either the message or the mechanics of the content or sometimes both.

You’re sceptical right? Right. But give this one a go and I’m willing to bet a whole pound that the changes you make to address the problems that become apparent will make your text more readable.

So there you are. Three gems that just might help improve your writing in some way. Feel free to share any tips of your own.

Addendum – 9 July 2017
Come to think of it, here’s a tip of my own, gleaned through years of attending conventions and the like…

“Got a light, mate?”

Smoking is increasingly unpopular and unfashionable. I’ve never smoked, but lots of people do. With the ban on smoking indoors, smokers now huddle in groups outside hotels, pubs and restaurants, taking a moment. There’s camaraderie, formality is dropped, a joke and a lighter shared. But if you don’t smoke – what then?

Go anyway.

Maybe one of those smokers is an editor or agent you’d like to work with, or a writer you’ve read and admired. Away from the formality and panels, new-build relationships can be cemented beside that smouldering metal bin.

There’s one golden rule, though: no shop talk. None. Don’t mention that book or script, or that really brilliant idea for a TV show you’ve had. Certainly don’t offer a card. To take a leaf from William Gallagher, this isn’t networking – it’s notworking. For the smokers those fags are an escape from the hubbub and the pitching and the sell of whatever event you happen to be attending. Just join them to get some air, engage in some chat and get to know people a bit more. Don’t be a stalker – if you’ve been bending their ear all evening then be aware it might be you they’re trying to take a break from. But otherwise, next time you meet or email they might just put a face to the name, and five years down the line…? Well there’s no guarantee they’ll be interested in anything you’ve written, but you might have made a friend.

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Scrivener tip – an alternative to Compose mode

Scrivener has the excellent Compose mode, which I use a lot. The thing is, though, I tend to flit between documents in the Binder quite a lot too – comparing, cutting and pasting, that sort of thing. This means I’m frequently switching in and out of Compose. But I’ve found a handy alternative.

To get a super-clean look without going into Compose, do the following:

  • Use CTRL+CMD+F to expand Scrivener to full-screen.
  • In the View menu select Hide toolbar.
  • Use SHFT+CMD+R to hide the formatting bar.
  • Use CMD+R to hide the ruler.
  • With OPT+CMD+I hide the Inspector.
  • And with OPT+CMD+B hide the Binder.

Viola. This approximates Scrivener’s Compose mode, but I find it’s a little snappier and more convenient to use OPT+CMD+B to reveal the Binder when I need to, rather than dipping in and out of Compose mode when working on shorter documents. And as we already know the team behind Scrivener has already thought of everything, so simply positioning your cursor at either edge of the screen will result in the Binder and Inspector sliding into view when hidden – handy if you want a sneak peek.

You can find my other Scrivener posts here.

For content strategy, new writing or editing, please get in touch; alternatively, you can tweet me to say hi.

Mailshot Munch

I received a mailshot from Volvo, presumably a throwback to a time when we were looking at cars. When I unsubscribed I saw the following message:

I don’t want to receive any email communication from Volvo anymore

This is so poor. Use of “don’t” feels inappropriate, the sentence is clunky, and the two entries of “any” really grate.

Far better would be the succinct and punchy:

I no longer wish to receive email communication from Volvo.

Then in the main body of the mail:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met her to find out how the intuitive features of the XC90 help her make the most of everyday.

The first sentence is fine, the second is awful, clumsy, and use of “everyday” is incorrect (everyday low prices, low prices every day – see?). This paragraph would read much better as:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met Gundula to discover how the XC90’s intuitive features help her make the most of every day.

And further down:

Want to add something extra to your car’s appearance? That’s where exterior styling comes into play. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language of the Volvo S90 and V90 to truly bring out the cars’ unique characteristics.

Again, the first sentence is fine, the second is at best nonsense. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language… Have they? Reflected in what? Where? Furthermore, look up the definition of “language” and appreciate why “design language” is a ridiculous phrase. Unless you’re actually discussing design terminology. Which isn’t the case here.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the point. Dear Volvo (or anyone else for that matter) consider employing a professional writer to produce this sort of thing. It’s important. You dig?

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Note: this article was originally called Mailshot Massacre, but has been changed due to recent events in London.

GF Newman’s The Corrupted

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been catching up with series three of GF Newman’s The Corrupted, a superlative drama recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4. If you’re looking for an audio equivalent of gritty TV drama to listen to on your commute or when cooking (one of my favourite times to listen), then you should give this a try.

Continuing the story of the Oldman family, this series of The Corrupted is set in 1970s gangland London, all bent coppers, geezers and grasses, stitch-ups, slags and dodgy deals. Including news and celebrities of the day, The Corrupted skilfully merges fact and fiction in an absorbing 10-episode story arc, with superb writing, acting and production. (Episode 1 also includes the most spectacularly performed orgasm I’ve ever heard on radio. I went quite red in the face!)

GF Newman’s The Corrupted is another great example of why I love audio drama. At the time of writing episode 1 is available via BBC iPlayer for another five days, so download and enjoy the series now.

Click here for a blog by GF Newman on the BBC Writersroom website.
Click here to visit GF Newman’s website.
Read my previous audio drama posts.

For consultancy on content strategy, new writing or editing, please get in touch; alternatively, you can tweet me.