Many of my writer friends have recently switched from WordToolOfSatan to Scrivener. Since the always trustworthy Holly Black and Lili Wilkinson recommend it so strongly I decided that I would give it a go.
I’m here to tell you that I am in love. Scrivener is the first writing tool for computers that I have ever fallen for.1
Before you race off to get a copy here are two key points about Scrivener:
- It’s only available for Macs.
- It is not a word-processing program; it’s a program designed specifically for drafting long documents (such as novels).
The second point is important. A few people I know who’ve tried Scrivener have given up on it because it didn’t do everything they expect a word processing program to do. They were annoyed by the absence of visible page breaks and all the fancy formatting they’re used to in Word.
What for them is a bug is for me a feature. I love that Scrivener has none of the distracting frufru-ness of Word. I have no interest in seeing page breaks. Scrivener gives me a word count which is all I need.2
Here are the three main reasons why I love Scrivener:
1. It allows me to have one interface where I can see all the documents I use when writing a novel.
When I write a novel I have my main document which is the novel. Then I have a whole bunch of other documents (eighteen for the fairy novel—which is considerably less than I usually have) which are usually notes and research for and about the novel. For the Fairy novel I had notes from my editor and others, a list of kinds of fairies, a rough chronology, a spreadsheet3 notes to myself about what I needed to do with various characters, scenes, chapters etc.
This is what it looks like when I’m writing a novel with Word:
A big ole mess.
Scrivener allows me to have all those documents clearly visible while I work so that any set of notes or ideas or research is one click away. Not only that, I can see exactly where each document it is. I don’t have to go madly searching through folders.
It also allows me to import webpages, sound, and image files. I found this extremely useful when working on a short story,
“Lammas Day” “Thinner Than Water”, based on a bunch of old English and Scottish ballads.4 I could listen to the ballads being sung, read the various different versions, all while working on the story.
Here’s how all my documents look like brought together by Scrivener:
The left-hand side bar reveals all my documents. The ones at the top are the various chapters of the novel and then below that is all my research and notes. See how neat and tidy that is compared to the Word mess above?
Notice also the neat split screen function, which allows you to look at two documents at once. While working on
“Lammas Day” “Thinner than Water” I had my story in the top half and different versions of the ballad in the bottom half of the screen. Like this:
2. I can flip back and forth between working on one chapter at a time to working on the whole novel.
This function has been a revelation. I’ve written all my novels to date as single (vast) documents. Word does not take kindly to large documents. But the one time I experimented with breaking them up into separate documents for each chapter it was a nightmare.
Word did not allow me to search & replace every document that made up my novel. So some of my chapters would have the original character names: Raisin, Bert and Maria, while others would have Reason, Tom and Jay-Tee. Maddening. There was no clean non-buggy way to work on a novel as one document (to make S & R changes etc) while also working on each chapter individually.
In Scrivener all you have to do is press one button and all your many documents are one document. Brilliant! So for the first time I’m able to write a novel with each chapter as a separate document. So far I love it. The flexibility of being able to go back and forth between one long document and smaller chunks is brilliant.
3. It allows me to block out all distractions and just write.
The full-screen button is my favourite. All the clutter goes away and I’m left with just this:
The one document I am working on. Bliss! This mode means I write more and bugger about on the internet less. I suspect this says more about my lack of will-power than it does about Scrivener. Whatever. I loves it.
I’m just beginning with Scrivener, thus far I’ve written only one story and part of one novel. But I’m really loving the different perspectives this software is giving me on my work. It’s a much cleaner interface than Word or any other program I’ve ever used. It feels like I can see through to my words in a way I couldn’t before.
But there’s still a lot for me to learn about the program. I’d be curious to hear about your experience with Word, Scrivener or whatever writing software you love/hate. I’m especially curious to hear from Scrivener users who want to point out other cool features to me.
Update: I’ve yet to figure out the keywords function. If someone could clue me in, that’d be grouse. I have a feeling it’s very useful.
- I’ve had some really beautiful pens. [↩]
- It actually does give you a page count and other stats if you so require. [↩]
- which unfortunately can’t be imported into Scrivener [↩]
- It comes out around September next year in an anthology called Love is Hell. Scott also has a story in it. The anthology is a follow up to Prom Nights from Hell which had stories by the likes of Meg Cabot and Stephanie Meyer. [↩]