Falling for Scrivener

I’ve been flirting with software programs for years, having little flings with one system or another but always returning to my long-term commitment to Word.

Many of my Mac-using writing friends swore by a program called Scrivener, but it wasn’t available for PCs.  When the first version for Windows was released about a year ago, I was too involved in finishing a novel to notice.  What with one distraction and another, I didn’t give Scrivener for Windows much thought.

But on October 1 I jumped back onto the 100 Words/100 Days wagon (day 38 as I write this), meaning to get back into a story I started months ago.  I only had the first chapter written, so it seemed like a good time to try something new, and there was Scrivener for Windows waiting for me.

Scrivener allows you to download the full program for a free thirty-day trial at Literature & Latte.  If you decide to keep it, the cost is only $40–hard to go wrong at that price.  The program comes with an excellent interactive tutorial that runs you through the basics of the program, and leaves you gasping at the complexity and flexibility of Scrivener.  There is also an included (and rather technical) 267-page user’s manual in pdf form.

For my last novel I had files spread over several programs: the manuscript in Word, scenes outlined in Action Outline, a time line in Excel (that one was probably overkill), and pictures and research stored in OneNote.  I have also used Writer’s Blocks for its storyboard function.  Scrivener combines all these functions seamlessly into projects.  You can use as many or as few of these features as you like, organizing your novel by Parts, Chapters, Scenes, or any combination thereof.

I had done enough on-paper editing of my work-in-progress that I typed it into Scrivener rather than using the import feature.  I found the chapter and scene structure very easy to work with, and the word processing feature very smooth.  It is a trifle disconcerting, after so many years of working in Word’s page view, to type in a format that is not meant to represent the eventual printed page, but I was surprised to find it rather liberating.  (I did have to turn off the auto-correct feature; it was just too imaginative.  The spell check is perfectly well behaved.)

One of my favorite features is the Project Targets box, which you can set up to float on your screen.  Set a goal for your overall Manuscript Target (80,000 words for my WIP), and it shows your progress on a bar graph (7,608 words at the moment).  Below that is the Session Target.  Set it for whatever you hope to accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, and watch your progress.

Scrivener has too many handy features to list.  I’m color-coding my scenes by point of view character, for example, and using the card view.  I imported an entire manuscript that I want to revise, and I’m using the document notes feature to start marking scenes that need specific changes.  I’ve discovered that I can work on scenes out of order and plan a chapter or two ahead with ease, because Scrivener makes that simple while keeping everything in view and available.

I’ve also run into confusion, like the time I moved my scenes around in the storyboard view and sent them scurrying off like foraging squirrels.  It took referring back to the tutorial to see what I’d done and how to fix it.  Playing with the program will no doubt be the best way to learn it, but I did find two good references.  Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson is available only as an e-book (I read it on my computer’s Kindle app, with Scrivener open beside it).  Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez is available on paper or in digital form (I prefer paper).  Both of these books cover both the older Mac version (which has more bells and whistles) and the Windows version.

I’m writing this article in Word, and when the time comes, I will “compile” my manuscript in Scrivener and export it to Word for a final polish into a format I can send to that eager agent or editor waiting for it.  I think Scrivener, Word and I may become a permanent threesome.

Kay Hudson would have loved software like Scrivener when she was writing academic papers in grad school, but back then computers were programmed with punch cards and she wrote those papers with index cards and carbon paper on a portable electric Smith-Corona typewriter.  These days she writes on her computer at kayhudson.com.

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sherrey Meyer
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 15:48:38

    Great review of my favorite writing software!

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  2. Trackback: Falling for Scrivener | Everything Scrivener
  3. Ady
    Nov 19, 2012 @ 17:40:24

    It’s great to see so many people ‘discovering’ Scrivener. It really is an excellent application.

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  4. Jessica Aspen
    Nov 25, 2012 @ 06:50:37

    Thanks, Kay, for a nice review of Scrivener. I definitely will have to check this out soon. I too am using a variety of spreadsheets, synopsis, and outlines. I’m a big Word fan though, it may be tough to teach me new tricks! 🙂

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    • Kay Hudson
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 10:54:25

      I feel the same way about Word, but I see this more as a partnership than a takeover. And unless you plan to use Scrivener to go straight into e-book format, you’ll end up moving your manuscript into Word (or some other word processor) for the final polish.

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  5. MamaRed
    Nov 25, 2012 @ 10:10:43

    Interesting article Kay…appreciate it muchly. I write non fiction (so no characters…smile) and was looking at Writer’s Block 4. Can you share any more of why you would use Scrivener vs. Writer’s Block? Thanks and many blessings!

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    • Kay Hudson
      Nov 25, 2012 @ 11:05:16

      I haven’t written non-fiction (longer than essays, anyway) for years, but at one time I was a regular contributor to environmental impact statements, and I survived graduate school, so I know the non-fiction drill. I would think the capacity of Scrivener to store all your (digitized) research material in one place would be invaluable. It looks like Scrivener handles footnotes (I haven’t explored that), although I don’t see any function for automatic indexing using the keywords.

      I have used Writer’s Blocks, and it’s an impressive program, but I found myself spending way too much time trying to find or understand various functions, I couldn’t make it retain its desktop appearance with any regularity, and I didn’t find it comfortable to compose in. It did generate a summary of the blocks which was useful in synopsis writing, but I had to fight with the print formatting.

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