Bristol Writers’ Retreat

I write this sat on the rather chilly platform 3 of Bristol Temple Meads. Not because I haven’t done writerly stuff today, more to thaw out my thumb. Yes that’s correct: I DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT NOT WRITING! And why’s that, Ed? COS I’VE BLOOMIN’ DONE SOME!!! I hate it when people on tinternet use all caps for emphasis, don’t you?

Today* I went to my first Writers HQ retreat in Bristol, run by Amanda Staples. And I got a whole bunch done. The setting was perfect – The Old Library in Eastville. It is a community-run library and basically a large room full of bookly wonder and lots of comfy seats.

Bristol writers hq retreat
The scoreboard. I wsn’t in it for the wordcount, but still managed to land myself a gold star for my efforts. GET IN (as they say)!

Unlike pretty much everyone else (but not because I’m special), I concentrated on structure rather than wordcount. Recently I’ve been pulling all of my notes from everywhere and popping them in Scrivener and Aeon Timeline to create a single source of truth. I’ve also been fleshing out story characters and relationships. I basically spent the day doing more of that, despite already having written a chunk of the novel. As a planned series, I’ll wager it’ll save me more time in the long run. And also help in those “what would s/he do in this situation given eveything s/he’s been through?” instances.

If you’re a fan of writing with other writers, check-ins to see how you’re getting on, lots of tea, scrummy food and chatting, this is for you. It’s less about guidance and more about getting on with it in a supportive space. Also: you don’t need to read a thing to anyone, which feels a lot less stressful. You can check out the Writers HQ here (be warned, it’s sweary!). For me it’s been the full-day kick up the arse I needed.

P.S. You also get a gold star for writing.

*I actually only wrote the opening to this yesterday, before getting distracted by Family Fortunes, then going to bed because I’D WRITTEN (eaten) TOO MUCH.

Tools of the trade: Aeon Timeline

As detailed on the official Aeon Timeline website, it is a tool for writers, project managers and legal practictioners to plan, visualise and analyse data.

Aeon Timeline
Participants and arcs in Aeon Timeline

I’ve always had problems recording and recalling dates and times for my story and characters, without losing my notes (and my shit), which is why Aeon timeline is such a fantastic bit of kit. For me it represents the missing piece of the puzzle. I can now record births, deaths, important story and world events and everything in between visually, all in one place and -I’m tempting fate here- without creating massive plotholes; or at the very least, having an easier way to root them out.

Alternative views in Aeon Timeline
There are several different views in Aeon that are useful depending on how you work.

One of the best features for me is that Aeon can link directly to Scrivener, another great writing tool, enabling you to drag across all of your chapters and plot them on a timeline. You can create “arcs” (e.g. a character arc) on the timeline, so everything can be compared, collapsed and exapnded fludily in one view. You can zoom into minutes and seconds and out to your heart’s content. You can jump between important story milestones in the form of shortcut buttons. Births/creation dates can be defined, and also assigned to locations and any other entity; so you can see how old anything is at any given time on your timeline.

Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline
Plotting tension in Aeon Timeline

I’m still learning the intracacies of the software, but I have it down for basic stories without crazy otherworldly calendars, although this is entirely possible and I’m sure there are plenty of comprehensive online tutorials out there if that’s what you need Aeon to do.

Managing entities in Aeon Timeline
Managing entities and birthdates in Aeon Timeline

Aeon Timeline is not free, but there is a 20 day trial period (link below). You don’t need to put in any card details to try it, so there’s no risk of forgetting and being hit with a sudden direct debit. At the time of writing a full copy is £42 ($54). It is a one-off fee and for my money, more than worth it for all of the time it has saved, and no-doubt will save going forwards.

Here are some ace videos that helped me get up and running with the basics of Aeon Timeline:

Setting up Aeon Timeline as a writer. This is a simple, practical and no-nonsense guide to getting set up, without going too bonkers or expansive!

A tutorial on synching Scrivener directly to Aeon so your chapters appear within it on your timeline.

If you’re not sold on Aeon Timeline or it seems a little too much like overkill, here’s a discussion around other timeline software.

Tools of the trade: Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing tool that allows you to organise your novel into chapters and scenes and format your manuscript for publishing (among a bunch of other stuff). It can be purchased out-right for either Windows or Mac, and for iOS there is an App for writing on the go, which will allow you to synch things up. For a more expansive explaination of what it can do, please see Apple Insider’s pretty rad article (and yes I’m bringing rad back).

I have a Mac, but unfortunately an Android phone so no app for me. However, there’s a workaround that involves synching to Dropbox as a middleman. It works pretty well, especially with a light wireless keyboard if you’re on the move (provided you don’t mind using it in conjunction with a small phone screen).

Check out Scrivener’s prices

See the Scrivener overview

I don’t work for these guys, and it’s always worth checking out the competition, so here’s a few alternatives you may want to try (and it looks like at least one of them is free, so may be a good place to start).

In time, I intend to join up the dots with these ‘tools of the trade’ blogs to present a bible of the tools and methods I use when tackling a novel-length (and indeed series-based) piece.

Of course, if you know any other great writing tools or tips, please give me a shout in the comments!