Writing’s all about the words. It doesn’t much matter what tools you use, just as long as you get the right words in the right places. I used to write with pen and paper, and sometimes still do. I’ve consigned the typewriters – both manual and electronic – to the scrapheap. These days I’m most likely to be found using a laptop. Until recently, the tool on that laptop would have been the hateful but useful Microsoft Word. Not any more.
I started hearing about Scrivener through the writing community on Twitter. It’s a nifty piece of software that markets itself as ‘your complete writing studio’. When I hear a claim like that, I’m sceptical. I’ve tried a number of word processors or outlining tools that purported to have the professional writer in mind, but none of them cut the mustard. But Scrivener’s different.
To begin with – and most importantly – Scrivener puts the actual process of writing first. It’s as easy as pie to just get down to it and join the words together. ‘So what?’ I hear you ask. ‘I can do that with Notepad.’ Well, in addition to being a smart, clean word processor, Scrivener’s got a number of special features that make it, in my opinion, an essential tool. I won’t list them all here – if you like the sound of it just download the demo and try it out for yourself. But I will tell you about two of them.
The first is the deceptively simple way Scrivener allows you to break your writing into sections. Now, I usually like to write novels in single documents, because I can’t bear chopping back and forth between separate chapter files. But a long novel can get unwieldy, and searching through it when editing can be a pain. Scrivener, however, has a clever trick that allows you to write chapters as individual files, but merge them into a single document whenever you choose. You can switch endlessly between these two modes; then, when the first draft’s complete, you simply compile the entire thing together as one correctly-formatted manuscript (and yes, you can export this in Word format so your editor can actually read it).
The second thing is the way you can set up a complete hierarchy of folders and files that sits alongside the actual manuscript, all within a single Scrivener window. Here you can store things like research material and character lists as text files, multimedia files, PDF – whatever. If you really want to get clever, you can do things like tagging your files to link locations to chapters, or track the through-line of individual characters’ stories through multiple-POV narratives. And so on.
I’ve been using Scrivener for just a few weeks, but I’m already a convert. One of my current works-in-progress is a novel I need to complete by February. I had three chapters and an outline saved as Word documents, and it was a simple process to import the files into a new Scrivener project. I’ve also imported all the historical research I’ve done, doing away with the need for multiple reference files. And off I go.
Having everything in one place like this means I don’t have to leave Scrivener to check something in the reference material. Which saves time. I’m writing in convenient separate chapters now, but with the knowledge that I can flip to my favoured full-length manuscript any time I like. Most importantly of all, I’m using the full-screen mode a lot. That’s the best part, because then it’s just me and the words. In short, Scrivener lets me get on with the job, helping me out when I need its extra features and politely getting out of the way when I don’t.
Oh, and it’s also got a rather cute random name generator too. The default name database leaves a little to be desired but you can install your own lists, which is a nice feature. I’m not sure how useful it’s going to be, but when it comes up with names like Aubrianne Kibble you can be sure you’re in for some fun.