Have you heard of Scrivener yet? Or have you heard of it and are wondering: is Scrivener any good?
Well, in short: it’s one of the best (read: unrivalled) writing tools there is. And if you haven’t heard about it on the writerly grapevine yet, first: where the hell have you been? And second: calm down—I’m not judging; I only began using it myself about two years ago. 🙂
Now, the sceptics among you are probably thinking:
A writing tool? A new-age techie piece of software that’s supposed to help you WRITE? Pfft. I spit on it. Charles Dickens didn’t use Scrivener and he did alright for himself.
Well… I hear you. In fact, I WAS you. Two years ago I came across an article about it and promptly ignored it. The second time it happened I checked it out… you know, for curiosity’s sake. Nothing else, of course. As far as I was concerned, the only thing I needed to write was my over-active imagination and a pen… I’d have written my entire novel on my arm if I’d had to. Of course, in this day and age when I say pen, I actually mean an over-priced laptop and two ridiculously over-priced Apple devices.
But yes, know that I ‘get you’. I, too, didn’t need fancy software. Microsoft Word was good enough for the last ten years so y’know, if it ain’t broke… Then someone shared a price deal: half-priced Scrivener!
I still don’t NEED this, I mumbled to myself as I clicked it. I’m a real writer.
What the hell did I know?
Scrivener has changed the way I write. The learning curve is a little steep and it isn’t a magical fix for writer’s block nor is it a fairy who will finish your novel overnight (wouldn’t that be great?), but Scrivener DOES have some brilliant features to make the writer’s job a little easier.
Here are eleven of many:
1. Organisation with the binder
Scrivener’s ability to organise your work will revolutionise the way you write. Gone are the days of highlighting chunks of words and cutting and pasting a scene into what you hope is the right place within your manuscript. Fifth time’s the charm, right? In fact, I remember actual cutting and taping during a hard-copy edit. *shudder*
Scrivener allows you to simply craft each scene as a new text document and drag-and-drop at will. Whilst you can recreate a similar setup with separate documents in Word, the difference with Scrivener is that having each scene or chapter as a separate document doesn’t mean having to click away and open each file in a new window. Everything you need is within a single screen; you need only select your scene from the Binder to view it. Another advantage of this is being able to tackle your story in bite-sized chunks instead of being faced with a 50K-word-strong document every time you sit down to write. Every little helps.
2. Research Folder
This feature is an absolute gem. All that planning, and brainstorming, and collecting of pictures and random notes—there’s a dedicated place for it within Scrivener. Once again taking organisation to new heights, the Research section means you have all of your random brain-sneezes in one handy spot while still using a hierarchy of files/folders which are accessible on one main screen. I use mine for character profiles and images, world-building and maps, plotting, outlining, actual research notes, website clips and screenshots and videos—there’s no limit to what you can keep in this section and no limit on the type of media either.
3. Labels, Status, and Custom Metadata
Here’s where Scrivener shows off, and rightly so. For every scene or chapter you write, you can label it and give it a status. I use my labels for POVs (point of view) and my status refers to the stage in the writing process—to do; in progress; first draft; first revision, etc. If the idea of this bores you to tears, rest assured, it’s entirely optional. If you’re anything like me, rest assured, there’s more… Alongside labels and status, you can also customise metadata. Meta whatnow? Basically, you can create a custom label for anything you wish to track. For instance, within my current manuscript, I track characters and location. This might seem excessive but if I enter this information as I’m writing or editing, I can come back to it later and with only a simple glance in Outliner mode (see below), I know exactly where each scene is taking place and which characters are involved—without having to wrack my brain or read the entire piece. You could also set up something similar for time of day/week to easily track your timeline. The possibilities are endless.
4. Versatile Modes
Scrivener has a number of tools you’d have to otherwise recreate outside of your manuscript’s file. For instance, I’ve seen other writers create storyboards using post-it notes, corkboards, flashcards—you name it. This is great if the manual act benefits your creative process. On the other hand, if you do it because you believe there’s no other option, I have good news: Scrivener will do it for you. And you need only enter your information once to view it in a number of ways—or even side by side.
a) The Corkboard
This is brilliant when you’re beginning a new project. Simply create a new index card on your corkboard for each new event and plot point in your book. As you progress, you can add more, outlining entire scenes and dragging-and-dropping to your heart’s content.
b) The Outliner
Everything you’ve written on your index card is viewable as a synopsis of your scene. You can select which additional fields are displayed by selecting from the drop-down arrow for everything from Title and Synopsis to Word Count and Status. This is where all that custom metadata comes in really handy, creating an excellent overview of your entire project.
If you really prefer to view your project in one long scary flow of words, there’s an option to do that. You still get the benefits of the Binder but with the familiarity of a Microsoft Word-esque interface.
d) Split View
For the writer who wants to have his cake and eat it, there’s Split View. Here’s an example of it—with a vertical split-screen between Corkboard mode and the Editor.
5. Distraction-free Mode
Speaking of work modes, there’s a handy little tool for full-screen mode. You can even modify your background with a picture of your own to keep you inspired. You can access a number of features in this mode, including the Binder for navigating between scenes, but ultimately, this is where you can knuckle down and bang out those words.
6. Progress bar
While you’re banging out words, Scrivener has a neat tool to track all that hard work—and provide a little extra motivation. The Project Targets function has two separate trackers. The first is for your overall project target and the second is your session target. For every session, the bar fills as you type, changing from red to green. Same goes for your overall project goal. This is a small feature which might not appeal to everyone but for those of us who love trackers, having one that’s already built into our writing program is cause for celebration. For me, word count trackers are like personal cheerleaders. Writing a book is a long, sometimes (be real, always) gruelling process; during the times it feels like I’m getting nowhere, trackers help to make my progress measurable. (I just recently passed my target for my current WIP: Immisceo, book one in a new fantasy series.) ← See what I did there?
7. Notes and Scratch Pad
Alongside comments and annotations (both of which work in similar ways to MS Word’s comment system), Scrivener also has a Notes feature at the bottom of the Inspector. For any given text document (scene/chapter), you are able to jot notes without affecting the text. You can also toggle between document notes (a single scene) and project notes (viewable from within any scene). Scratch Pad is brilliant in that all notes created here (in a separate smaller window) are stored independently, which means you can access them from within two or more separate projects. Handy for reference notes that pertain to multiple projects.
This is another feature within the Inspector. If you hit the + button on the Snapshots tab, it’ll save the current version of your scene (like a snapshot) before you whip out your ‘knife’ to begin carving. Does this seem redundant? Perhaps. But it also means that even after you’ve edited and/or deleted several paragraphs, even after you’ve saved and overwritten and backed up your project, you could still come back weeks later, having changed your mind, and be able to view or roll back to the initial version of that scene. Cool, huh?
This one might not be groundbreaking but I love it. Scrivener allows you to edit the icons of every document. There is already a lot to choose from (not all shown below) but you can also add your own custom icons. Within my research folder, I tend to choose icons based on the type of document—character, place, world, magic (custom-added). Within my manuscript, I find it handy to use icons alongside the status metadata. I do this with colour-coded flag icons or custom-added status icons.
10. Export Capabilities
Scrivener will export your work into multiple formats including MS Word docs, Mobi for Kindle, and ePub files. You can export your entire project, or you can select only certain documents for compilation. You can even compile a (detailed) synopsis based on your outline. When compiling your manuscript for ebook, you will need to tweak the formatting; and for print books, you will (like I did) probably need to do extensive formatting within Word (or InDesign). However, I’ve used Scrivener for KDP Mobi file output and it is absolutely error-free. So far. (Free tip: You might want to ignore that Times 12pt.)
11. iOS App syncing
Finally, as a bonus point: mobile functionality. The Scrivener app for iOS is relatively new and it has been a long time (apparently) in the making. It was well worth the wait. The app (I’m using it right now to write this post) is powerful and bug-free (so far). It syncs seamlessly with Dropbox so all your projects can stay up to date across all devices. While there are several features which, understandably, did not make the move to mobile, Scrivener iOS has all the main functionality of the desktop version and happily, it has put my novel at my fingertips whilst on the go (or—let’s be real—in bed). No more excuses!
So, is Scrivener any good?
Yes. It is a powerhouse of a writing tool. It can be daunting when you first venture in, and unlike most basic word processing programs, the learning curve is quite high. I’ve been using it for two years and there are still things I’m just learning to do or quite possibly, am yet to discover.
If you have it and you’re put off by the sheer number of functions, I’d say: muddle through anyway. The hassle is well worth it. Once you get to grips with it, you’ll wonder how you ever wrote without it.
You can get Scrivener at Literature and Latte.
For tips on using Scrivener, here are some helpful resources:
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