Goodbye Word. Hello Scrivener

Scrivener LogoWriting’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.


  1. Marc Schuster says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m curious to check out Scrivener.

    • No problem. If you download the demo, use the built-in tutorial. I’m usually an in-at-the-deep-end guy when it comes to new software, but in this case the tutorial’s well worth it. Also quite witty.

  2. I still use Word for smaller projects, like articles and short stories, but find Scrivener absolutely brilliant for large projects like novels and non-fiction books. I particularly like the Meta-data options – I’ve set one up for Point of View and allocated the correct POV to each of my ‘scenes’. In my first novel, this identified scenes where I’d got POV mixed up – something I hadn’t picked up on, until I’d been using Scrivener.

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