Using Google Docs For Novel Writing

I recently got a request to do a post about how I’m using Google Docs to write my novels. Looking back over some old posts, I already covered this a year ago, and you can read that article here. I’ve now written two novels and I’m currently working on a third using the Google word processing software. I’m pretty much doing the same thing I started out doing except I’m no longer stitching together chapters to make a whole manuscript. I’m just writing linearly, the same way I used to write in Word. I can hear all the Scrivener users gasping. People still write this way folks, it isn’t so crazy. It’s also how you read a novel.

I still outline pretty extensively before starting a first drive. By using Google’s spreadsheet program I can have them both open in tabs and easily see them with one click. I can also keep all my images and notes in a folder and access them from any tab of my browser. The biggest reason I’m using Google Docs instead of LibreOffice is because during the first draft, I don’t want a dead laptop to kill my draft. If my lappy dies, I can grab a nearby Chromebook and carry on cranking out the word pies.

You may recall that I use Linux as my operating system. I normally run Ubuntu with the Unity desktop but this week I’ve switched to a more minimal look with the Gnome Desktop. Still running Ubuntu 16.10 under the covers. Anyway, in the above screenshot you can see my browser and a PDF of a screenplay that is my first draft outline for Betweos, my WIP.

I have found a add-on for GDocs that offers a TOC or Table Of Contents on the right. I like this because it lets me easily jump to whichever chapter I like. I set the size of the editor to Fit and it leaves me a gutter in which to jot notes.

I also use Jamie Todd Rubin’s word count and tracker program that you can read about on his blog. I have it set to record my word count at two in the afternoon which is well past my normal lunch hour writing sprints. It lets you know all the days you didn’t write by filling them with zeroes. But it’s nice to have a record without actually recording it into a spreadsheet after each session.

Above is part of the word count tracker spreadsheet for Betweos.

Because of the way Jamie’s software works, I have to keep my active WIP in a folder called SANDBOX. I have that located in my Fiction folder along with all my other stories. You can see the tracker spreadsheet lives there too, along with programs provided by Jamie.

My Betweos novel folder holds all my notes, outlines and misc stuff. You can look at images in the folders using this screen shown below.

Because I’m using a screenplay as my outline for Betweos, I have the screenplay up as a PDF and I Alt+Tab between them as needed. Below you see the same scene in both formats. I wrote the screenplay when I was in my early twenties. That was a loooooonnng time ago.

My novel outlines are exactly the same as they have always been, I just didn’t use one for this novel. My next novel is going to be a Mystery under my other writing handle – Johnny Batch. I’ll be back to a regular spreadsheet style outline for that novel.

I started writing Betweos in mid October of last year and as of now, late February of 2017, I’m only halfway through it. I need to buckle down and get this draft completed before summer. That’s when I’m supposed to start writing the next novel. I hope this short update post was informative for you. Ask away in the comments if you have questions.

Betweos Origins

My latest WIP is called Betweos. It’s an original Sci-Fi story that dates back to the eighties when my brother, Byron, told me an idea he had for a science fiction tale. We tweaked the idea off and on for the next thirty years. While I was in college, I wrote the story as a screenplay. That screenplay is the structural basis for the novel I’m writing now.

Of course the story continued to evolve and hopefully the novel version will contain all the ideas and inspirations that we’ve collected over the decades. But it’s nice to have something to read as I pound out the outline for the novel. Screenplays are much less dense in detail than novels and thus the novel version will have more scenes and probably more subplots. Such is the nature of film vs book versions of stories.

This novel will be my primary focus for next year. I don’t anticipate writing anything else. If I finish a first draft before summer, I might start the next Star Saga novel, but I can’t promise anything. The more likely scenario is that I’ll push Betweos out to beta readers and try to collect their reactions in time to finish a second draft by the end of summer. That leaves fall and early winter to edit it.

Betweos is a stand alone novel and I’ll be taking it to agents for traditional publication. It could be years down the road before those efforts result in publication. If nobody wants it, then I’ll throw it out there by myself. In the meantime, the Star Saga will regain my focus until that series is complete.

Something Different

Having finished the first draft of my novella, Corvette and moving into the editing phase for my novella, K’nat Trap, I’m ready to start moving on to the next novel. This one is a stand alone SF novel not set in the Star Saga. It’s called Betweos and the story originated with my brother, Byron some thirty odd years ago. This is the novel I’ve been waiting to write for about a decade now. All the novels I’ve written to date are just practice for this one. Hopefully I’ll be able to do the story justice.

What’s it about, you ask? Well, that’s hard to say, exactly. I hope to have a decent description or pitch line for it soon. Here’s a possible back cover tag line – “The first casualty of war, is the truth.”


This novel will be shopped to agents and traditionally published. So even after it’s completed, it could be years before anyone reads it. But if none of the Big Five publishers want it or I can’t get an agent to represent it, I’ll release it myself. Rest assured, it won’t be trunked.

My Next Novel

Being an Indie novelist I usually don’t hold many secrets about the stories I write. It seems counter to the cause, which is to get known. If you never talk about your work, nobody will ever know about it or you. So I often prattle on about my works in progress and build models of the ships in my stories and share them here and there and everywhere. But for my next novel, I’m going black with it. You’ll likely get progress reports, but probably not any screenshots of my writing program. You’ll know when I finish drafts and when I finish edits but then you might not hear about it anymore for long stretches of time. In that time though, I’ll be writing other stories and talking all about them.

My next novel is a stand alone, Science Fiction story that I’m just not going to say much about. It’s got a killer premise and theme and it will be the most layered story I’ve ever written. The idea for this one came from my brother nearly thirty years ago. We’ve been collaborating on it ever since in private conversations. I’ve written a few chapters of it over the years and I’ve even written it as a screenplay. But the story is very complex and unique so I’ve never felt confident enough as a writer to be able to pull it off. Until now.

The only thing I’m willing to say about this project at this point is the title (below) and that I’ll be sending the finished manuscript to traditional publishers until every last one of them says no to it. So if after a few years from finishing it they all reject it, then I’ll put it out there myself, but I want to give them a chance to see it first because I think its the kind of story that Traditional Publishing is asking for and would do well by.


Future Writing Plans

Counterattack at 09-21-48

I’m at the 60% mark of the first draft of Book 3, Counterattack, the final book in the Starforgers trilogy of the Star Saga series. I have one more book to write in this series – Devon’s Blade. Then I’m done. Five books total in this trilogy plus three other books set in the series. I’ve been writing in this fictional universe for close to a decade now with about eight books to show for it. Next year I don’t plan on writing any Sci-Fi. I’m taking a break from it.

I won’t stop writing though, that’s my sanity check for reality. I need to be writing to be happy. I just won’t be writing books set in the Star Saga. Most likely I will start a new Joshua Jones Mystery novel. After that, I’ll either do a vampire novel or a stand alone SF novel. Not sure how long my hiatus from the Star Saga will be but it likely won’t be more than a year or two. Because I still have so many more books to write in that series. But I think this break will let me recharge my creative spirit and hopefully when I get back to the series I will be ready to roll.