Scrivener, the Software that Divides Writers


And I started writing this post in November. I want to finish it now, but it contains some timely content. I am going to leave it as it is and put this little note of explanation at the top.

It’s November, so Republican or Democrat, right? Wrong. Who cares! It’s Nanowrimo and writers are writing-in in droves. The real choice to be made this month is Scrivener or Something Else (usually Word, but Google Docs or something will also land you in the non-Scrivener camp). I am being facetious (do go and vote), but I have been to several write-ins and events this month and no one was talking politics. They were, occasionally, talking about what program they used to write novels. When that conversation begins, it is always basically the same. Are you using Scrivener, and why? Are you using Word, and why not Scrivener?

I am using Scrivener. Over the summer, I finally caved and tried it. The main reason writers give for NOT using Scrivener is the steep learning curve, so I was intentional about it. One of the great things about Scrivener, though, is a free trial period. They say 30 days and—how very un-American of them (it’s British)—they actually mean 30 days of use. So if you don’t use it every day, this trial period can stretch out over months. It gave me ample time to decide if I was going to purchase a copy which (again, very un-American) is not cheap at $60 but is not a subscription and I’ll only have to pay again when I want to update my version. I went through the Scrivener tutorials and even looked some up on YouTube as I got to know the software which did take the hours that other writers warned me about, but I saw it coming and I did the thing thoroughly. There are many more features I could be using, but I think I zeroed in on the ones that would really serve me. I think.

I’m not as big a fan of the corkboard feature as some others (and as much as I thought I would be) though I am considering partnering this software with Plottr later this year. (Keep your eyes peeled for that review.) There’s something about the limitations of a screen that make notecards feel utterly maddening when I can’t pick them up, spread them out, and move them around in actual space. So I don’t really use that so much, after the first few months (though I do use physical notecards that I just list out in a file for when I am away from these notecards). And that’s about all I have to say in the (barely) negative.

What do I like about Scrivener? Why did I end up paying for it and why do I use it daily? Because, yes, I did end up purchasing it and I now use it every single work day. I have not gone through all the steps of book-writing at this point, while using it, but I have planned a novel and written almost an entire novel (plus the end of another) since I converted several months ago.

Scrivener’s deal, if you don’t already know, is that they are more than word processing. They are writing software and therefore contain many features for writers, and have rethought the existing features with the writing process in mind. While you can open the program to see your current document full-screen and therefore make it look like word processing (or old-school typing, just virtual), you’ll usually open it to a suite of boxes and individual files. It is highly customizable (and there are even templates that you can purchase, like, from other places, or sometimes get for free. I used a free Nanowrimo template for Nanowrimo and it allowed me to update my word count to the website straight from my file). Otherwise, you start with the basic setup and figure out how you want to customizee from tutorials and your own experience, and hone that over time.

Along the left side of the screen is usually all your individual files. That is the main point of Scrivener, I think: that you can keep all your files organized and in one, easily-accessible place. Not only do most people organize their chapters, scenes, or daily writing in individual files on Scrivener (so that they can be easily moved around), but there are other options (sometimes with templates) to stack up files for notes, research, world-building, character development, front matter and cover copy, and other randomness (like playlists and related TBRs, concept covers and checklists). One of my favorite perks about this system is that as I edit I can save “snapshots” of different drafts and as I start shopping the book (or story) around, I can keep various version of the cover letter, writing samples, and synopses neatly labeled and right there. Until now, I’ve had to search my computer and open many files at once in Word every time I wanted to send something out or submit, sometimes getting really confused about which file was which, which version was which, and often relying on the date I last opened files instead of something more reliable. I don’t hear this talked about, but seriously, if you are sending stuff out, Scrivener can really help you juggle all the submissions files in one place.

Image from Literature and Latte

Other features that they like to toot their horn about are the corkboard I don’t really use, exporting tools that allow you to pick and chose files and export in various styles (and in the regular ways), the ability to open and work in more than one window at a time, outlining capabilities, color-coding (for, like, POVs and what draft each file is on) and very customizable views. They also refer to it as like a 3-ring binder, but on your computer. I think this is apt. Imagine shoving everything you have done and acquired in one writing project (from research photos and articles to table of contents, different edits, notes, planning…) and organizing it in a 3-ring binder. Yes, that’s it.

And that’s why I really like Scrivener. It’s all right there, a concept I am a fan of in so many areas of my life. Not only can I get more of an overview of a project and get way more organized than in typical word processing, but I can access everything from my “brain dump” to my pitch (in three versions) from one screen. Know that it takes some time to learn new software (and rewire your brain from the old way of doing it), but it’s worth it, at least for me and many others. And with a free trial, you might as well give it a try, keeping in mind the bigger picture of moving through the steps of novel planning, writing, editing, and, hopefully, publishing.

To trial or buy Scrivener from Literature and Latte, click HERE.


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