Changing Toolset

Since my early 20s I’ve completed at least 4 novel-length pieces1. While the genesis of each one was different, the creation of each one differed as well. Some of those differences reflect the technology of the times and some reflect the differences in me.The first novel-length tale grew out of my time at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, written in longhand in a series of notebooks in the late 80s before being transferred to the computer using a DOS-based word processor called XyWrite. I nibbled; rearranged; cut, revised, re-added over and over again until finally sticking that novel in the drawer for good many years later.

The second novel I wrote quickly, almost entirely in WordPerfect (yes, it still exists) with no notes, just a burst of creation that took only a few months to a first draft. With that one, the joy was in the creation and while I have some plans to do a deep edit with an eye towards publication, it was an anomalous blip in how I plan and write my stories.

My third novel — A Call of Moonhart — took me some 5 years from beginning to end. My research started when I read Guns, Germs, and Steel and 1491 but didn’t stop there. I put my notes in OneNote and wrote in WordPerfect (several iterations, since the writing took so long), spending hours and hours at various coffee shops and at the Union Terrace and other places not-home. Most recently, I’ve ported it to Scrivener to begin the self-publishing process which will be finished in Word because that’s how the world works, not because I want to use Word!

My fourth novel, Harmony in Three Voices utilized Evernote for initial thoughts and sketches, Aeon Timeline to try to get all of the stories to line up, and Scrivener for the writing. Not a word of it went into a notebook longhand and very little of it did I write outside my home. I needed the full-sized monitors on my desk, the ability to split the Scrivener screen so I can write one scene while referring to another, and the second monitor to have my notes ready to hand. I would compile the day’s work into a PDF file and do reviews on my iPad using iAnnotate.

I’ve begun the research for my next novel and I anticipate that my tools will stay the same: Evernote for the research and Scrivener for the writing. But as both of those have iPad versions, there may be more writing or researching outside the home, but who knows that the technology of the future may hold for me? I may go back to fountain pen and notebook, for that matter.

Each novel has been different and each one grew differently. I think that’s one of the most exciting things about being a writer. I’ve learned that I know how to write a novel, but do I know how I’m going to write this novel?


  1. That sounds uncertain, doesn’t it? I’ve abandoned the first novel, incorporating many of the events into my third. After completing the first draft of my third novel, I realized that I needed to cut it half because it was too long, so that’s sort of two novels, right? And as stated in a previous post my current novel project is over 150k words but the discards are more than a novel’s worth of words by itself. So how many novels have I written again? 

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