Sun, Oct

Why I like Scrivener

Sun, Oct 17, 2010


I have been writing stories since I was fourteen. Of course, when I started, I used a pen and paper. As the Information Age progressed and computers became more accessible, I gradually shifted over to word processing software. My handwriting, which was never good to begin with, suffered, but the changeover has allowed me to type things in faster, and with less strain on my wrists. For the record, I have an accurate typing speed of 85 words per minute. The Young City was the last manuscript that I completely wrote by hand. The thick wad of handwritten paper is one of my proudest achievements, but I’ve had no desire to duplicate this approach with my subsequent novels.

My choice of word processors has shifted around a bit over time. I remember Tandy’s word processing system before moving to Word Perfect 5, Wordstar, and I wrote my planning thesis on Microsoft Word for a MacIntosh. When I started having to pay for my own software, I opted to download the free StarOffice suite, and changed from there to OpenOffice. When I moved from a Windows environment to MacIntosh, the obvious choice became NeoOffice, which adapts OpenOffice for the MacIntosh environment more effectively than OpenOffice’s own Mac version of its software. Word processors today show me how my text appears on the virtual page. I feel as though I’m crafting a story just as effectively as if I’m typing it on a Smith Corona.

As a committed NeoOffice user, I was skeptical when my friend Cameron pointed me to Literature and Latte’s program Scrivener. Billed as a being a program designed to help writers write their novels, I couldn’t see what Scrivener could offer (and charge over $30 for) that I couldn’t achieve by myself on a free office suite. And when I downloaded Scrivener and tested it out, I found the interface to be different than what I was used to, and I had trouble figuring out how to access the features I needed. By rights I should have abandoned the program quickly, but I didn’t. In the end, I paid for a full license of the software, and I have since crafted no less than three finished novels using the program.

Scrivener is more than a word processor; much more. It combines features which not only duplicate the typewriter at your desk and an unlimited supply of paper, but the corkboard on the wall behind the desk. It helps you to plan out your stories before you write them. It lets you make notes your characters, and it allows you to move those notes about in ways that are most useful to you.

Straight from the beginning, the corkboard aspect of Scrivener appealed to me. The background of the program is made up to look like an actual corkboard, and you can plan elements of your story and tack them up as a series of index cards. Already I could see the advantages: the ability to plan out characters, make notes about their appearance or motivations. You can also import photographs, maps, drawings, whathaveyou, and organize them in a way that makes most sense to you. Everything is electronic, so there’s no binder bursting at the seams, with loose papers that can get lost. Everything is at your fingertips.


That’s one half of Scrivener. The other half is where you compose the story. The two elements are kept separate but together, as each of your novels are divided between research and your actual manuscript, as well as other categories that you might find useful in helping to plan out your novel. You’re able to tell the program what gets exported into an actual manuscript (with manuscript format applied automatically) and what gets left behind. The word processing aspect of Scrivener appears to be built around Apple’s TextEdit. As this offers fewer WYSIWIG features than your standard word processor, I at first found this frustrating, but I quickly got used to it. Remember, the program exports your story in manuscript format. It takes care of the appearance, and so the appearance of your “note paper” is less important, though it still can be altered however you like.

Scrivener also has no spell checker, nor does it have the ability to autocorrect. However, Scrivener is written for MacIntosh OsX, which itself has a spell checker and an autocorrect feature. Between the two, I’ve been able to write my novels as easily as on any word processor, while taking advantage of Scrivener’s planning abilities.

Best of all, Scrivener allows you to write your story scene by scene. Individual scenes exist as index cards, bundled in folds that represent chapters. This allowed me to move scenes about and test out different plot ideas, without fear of accidentally deleting text in an errant cut and paste. If I want to lose a scene altogether, I simply move it, out of the manuscript section and into research, taking the scene out of the manuscript without losing the material, should I happen to need it at a later date.

All of these features together really helped me along in writing my novels, and once I got used to the new interface and the new way of thinking, I flew. I still use NeoOffice for a number of things (and, once the manuscript is exported, you should do a final review in an actual word processing program to make sure it looks right), but I can’t imagine going back to composing my novel on a simple word processor.

The folks at Literature and Latte appear to have a good idea of how writers write and how to craft a program that appeals to them. Users include author Arthur Slade, Justine Larbalestier and many more. It’s hardly a surprise to me. Scrivener has a good intuitive understanding of how writers work, and it’s managed to incorporate most of those processes into the program itself. The result is that the writer’s work area can shrink, become a lot neater, and lose fewer loose pages.

Scrivener is about to receive a version bump to 2.0, and this upgrade promises new features, and new ways of viewing your material; the TextEdit-based compose screen will be swapped out with something that looks more like Apple’s Pages software. Also coming down the pipe is Scrivener for Windows, so that writers out there who don’t use Macs can get on board. I’m looking forward to all of it. I have a strong suspicion that the Scrivener community is going to grow.

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