When the Light Comes On. The Authors Collection.

David R. Stokes
David R. Stokes

Sometimes I wonder if I would be a writer if I lived—say—200 years ago. No keyboards, no grammar checkers, no font choices, no copy and paste—no Internet. Yikes! Of course, the ubiquitous distractions of modernity were nowhere to be found, so maybe I’d have more time for quiet thought. But then again, what about saving copies of our work? I remember reading about a Bible teacher who had labored long over a project to publish an edition of the English Bible with copious notes, diagrams, and a built-in concordance—features quite common today, but unheard of as the 19th century gave way to its successor.  Then the notes were lost in shipping (literally lost—as in the ship sank) and he had to start over. Bummer.

I seldom long for the good old days, because they probably weren’t all that good, after all. Give me cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, my Mac Air, and a high speed wireless signal, any day. But at the age of 57, I know that my capacity to learn new stuff is limited. I often call on my grandkids for tech-support. It’s cheap, usually just a promise to look the other way while they raid the forbidden snacks in the pantry. So when I started hearing and reading about a computer program for writers called Scrivener (and its companion, Scapple), I was both intrigued and intimidated. I saw the potential, but I dreaded the journey along the learning curve.

Over the past several months, I tried to figure it out. I’d spend an hour, or two, or three, and all it did was fuel a sense of frustration and personal irrelevance. But then I’d read another review, or some knucklehead Facebook “friend” would sing Scrivener’s praises, and I’d convince myself that I should give it one more try. Being a Christian, not to mention a minister, I try to avoid bad words, but I confess that many such words were making their way from brain toward tongue. I never used them, but I know that if someone nearby had written them down, I would have signed the document.

Walk on a roof edgeThen, in a moment of indescribable insight the breakthrough came. Like Archimedes the day he stepped into a bath and discovered the principle of “displacement,” I too exclaimed, “Eureka” (“I have found it”).  I had crossed over from the darkness to the light, from ignorance to bliss, and to a new method. I may never use pen and paper again. All of a sudden, it all began to make sense.

How do such breakthroughs come—whether in learning something new, or in coming up with ideas for a writing project? I think they tend to come after a period of formative frustration.  I think we most often must go through the valley before we can scale the mountain. But the reward of that moment of crystal clarity makes it all worth it.

Leo Szilard was a 35 year old Hungarian theoretical physicist in London in 1933. And like most people in his profession during those days, he was wrestling with the problem and potential of the atom. One rainy afternoon, he was waiting for a light to change near the British Museum. When the light turned green, he began to walk. As he took his first step, everything changed. He later recalled that “time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future.”

Admittedly, my breakthrough in learning a new computer program isn’t as significant as the splitting of the atom, but still—it’s a wonderful experience when the light comes on.

Please click the book cover to read more about David Stokes and his books on Amazon.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    I don’t know how to use Scrivener to its fullest extent, but it is a wonderful tool for converting manuscripts to Mobi and ePub files for eBooks. The learning curve is indeed steep. But, as you know, David, it is worth the climb. In everything we do, the magic moment appears when we finally get it and the light comes on.

  • David, I first encountered the trial version of Scrivener, then gave up on it when it didn’t seem intuitive, I’d been a Word man for a long time. But then, like you I tried it again and decided to stick with it until I learned it. Now I seldom work in anything else. But if you think the Scrivener learning curve is steep, just wait ’til you try to narrate books using Pro Tools. You ain’t seen nothing yet. And by the way, at 57 you are a mere child.

  • Darlene Jones

    Question: Are the benefits of Scrivener only in relations to converting manuscripts? I’m intrigued, but not sure I want to face that learning curve, even with the potential of that proverbial light bulb.

  • Scrivener is worth it. I switched over this summer – and it took a couple of months to do so, plus I had to get an upgrade to my 2006 Macbook, so the whole process was discombobulating – and the time it has saved me since, just trying to find stuff that would have taken ages in Word (and I got the Word 2011, too), is worth the time I spent.

    I keep telling myself it is also marvelous for the brain: think about that every time you let a grandkid do what you need to be forcing yourself to figure out.

    My brain has gotten a real workout this year, what with the blog, and serializing my novel-in-progress, and all the rest of the writing uproar. I hope it all helps me get the revisions done so I can publish next Sep. on my 65th birthday – when it is permissible for me to do so (long story).

    Meanwhile, putting writing out into the world for free give me feedback, and I very much enjoy it. Try the Scrivener. Take a course (I took Gwen Hernandez/ online course – she wrote the Scrivener for Dummies book; there are many others). Find someone close to you who uses it and is higher up the learning curve – or get good googling for answers.

    My favorite part is the ability to keep the basic text separate from the formatting, so that I don’t have to keep fiddling with the Word files when what I need is a different format. It keeps the text safe. Also: use the Snapshot feature – it is really useful to compare two or more drafts of something (as long as you saved them with snapshots) with ease and speed.

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