How Scrivener Makes my Writing Life Better

This morning I was writing away and I came to the end of a Chapter 3 and I realised that I had to move Chapter 2 after Chapter 3, leaving a big hole were Chapter 2 is. Apart from the problems that leaves me in having to actually write a whole new chapter with some dramatic tension, it reminded me of how much I love Scrivener so I thought I’d put my madd screenshotting skillz to use right here on my personal blog (usually they’re reserved for tutorials) and review the shit out of it.

What the Hell is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a content management tool for writers (they call it a content generation tool, but I generate my content, Scrivener manages it, geddit?). It can be used to manage long pieces of writing that normally become unwieldy in a Word document. Not only that, but they have stripped out all the crap that comes along with MS Word, and have included just the essentials that a writer needs. There are lots of useful tools that make writing a long piece of work much easier. I’ve been using it for my book and it’s a dream to work with. Let’s take a look at my favourite bits of Scrivener:

Organisation

When you open Scrivener, on the left hand side is the binder. Here is mine collapsed:

My Scrivener binder

You can see how I’ve organised my book and my information. I’ve got a folder for themes that are in the book. I can jot down ideas about themes that are central to the narrative. It’s important for me to have some sort of threads that run through the book that I can look at and think about. Then is the book itself, split up into folders – the book is in three parts and each part has a number of chapters. Below that is information about characters and places, a folder that I can dump research into, some preset template sheets and my outline.

Here is the manuscript with the folders open:

Manuscript in the scrivener binder

Each part is broken down into folders of chapters, and each chapter is broken down into discrete scenes. When I turned Chapter 2 into Chapter 4, all I had to do was drag and drop the scenes into another folder and it was done. This made the act of moving the chapter much less painful than the fact that I have to write a new chapter.

When I click on a part, it brings up lots of information in the main writing pane. Here is Part 1 with some of the individual chapters extended:

scrivener outline of my book

I’ve chosen to display label, status, word count, total word count (gives you the word count for a whole folder). You can choose other bits of information to display such as synopsis and modified date.

Labels

I find labels really useful because there are two main styles of narrative in my book – investigation and re-creation. I can easily see which are which using a color code. And if I want I can show only one type of label and it’ll just give me that. This is helpful for ensuring the narrative remains consistent throughout. You could also use labels for characters, themes, or whatever.

Status

Keeping track of my status is really important. My documents folder is scary because I have files called “4th draft – to keep!” and “4th draft – this is the one!” and I’m kind’ve confused about which is the right one. So long as I keep updating my status I know where I am.

I still want to keep copies of old drafts, however, so I can use the snapshot tool to keep a version of the document in each state. That way I can look back when I’m finished and laugh at how shit I was.

the scrivener snapshot tool

 

The Corkboard

One of my favourite things about Scrivener has got to be the corkboard layout. It was ultra-helpful when it came to putting together the narrative structure in my book, and continues to be helpful as I move stuff around.  Each section of the document has got an index card which you can write the synopsis on, or any other notes you want to make.

scrivener index card

Clicking on the corkboard icon will bring up the index card for each part or chapter, all laid out on a corkboard..

scrivener corkboard layout of a chapter

I actually use the index cards for the manuscript  to make notes for myself about things that I want to do directly related to the writing. And I keep a separate folder called “outline” which I use for plotting. I can add synopses and notes on a chapter, and scenes within a chapter, and then move them around until I’m happy. When it came to putting together the plot I made index cards for every scene and drag and dropped them into chapters and sections and it really helped with creating my structure.

a part of my book laid out on the scrivener corkboard

My book laid out in parts on the scrivener corkboard

Inspector

The inspector is a great place. I’ve already talked about snapshots, labels, status and index cards. The other thing that I find really useful is document notes. While I use the index cards in my manuscript to remind myself of things I need to do in a section, the document notes are useful  for dumping anything else that is relevant – links to websites, notes, and I always like to make note of the music I’m listening to when I’m writing . Here’s my inspector for a section that I wrote about driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fog:

scrivener inspector

You can  see how I organize things. Index card tells me what to do with the piece, I can tag it with meta-data and use the notes for other bits and pieces. People writing non-fiction and academic books would probably also find the document references section useful.

So that’s the most important Scrivener functionality to me, although a few other things to note:

  • Scrivenings mode lets you see the whole document in one go, by chapter, part, whole manuscript, whatever you’ve got selected
  • You can compile a document to Word format, PDF, or whatever else you need
  • There are built-in templates that you can use for writing screenplays, novels, non-fiction books, academic books, recipe cards, essays, or whatever
  • There is a distraction free writing  mode so you can write without all the junk on the screen.

The Not-So-Good

This wouldn’t be a balanced review if I didn’t talk about the things that annoy me about Scrivener. Here they are:

  • The default font on the Windows version is Courier. Not necessary
  • I’ve not figured out yet how to have first line of a section not indented and then every other paragraph indented. That’s probably me being lazy tho
  • I have a PC and a Mac so I need two copies (still on trial version on my PC laptop). This isn’t a problem with Scrivener itself, it’s more that I’m tight and don’t want to cough up the cash for two copies of the same software. On the plus side, I keep my project file on dropbox and there’s no problem moving between the two (apart from fonts which don’t transfer Mac-PC and vice versa).

Finally, and this might be a big one if I can’t figure out a way around it. My agent works using track changes on MS Word (he is so last century). This means I’m going to have to compile my draft, send it to him, make any changes he suggests that I like in Word and then copy each section individually back into Scrivener. And that is a whole lot of blah.

Conclusion

I would totally recommend Scrivener to anyone who is writing anything of substantial length. The tools are exactly those that writers need. You can quickly focus in on details, but also come out of the book to look at it as a whole. For me, that’s really important. As a writer, you need to move in very close to your writing in order to be able to craft it, but you also need to be able to quickly grab an overview of your work. Scrivener lets you do that, and more. It’s awesome. I love it. Thank you Scrivener developers.