I grew up using a pencil and pen, and then learned to type on an old manual typewriter (Olivetti) that belonged to my father. (See image). Then I migrated to an electric typewriter using a ‘type ball’ (often referred to as a ‘golf ball’) and then later a model using a ‘daisy wheel’. Finally, in my first year of university, I bought my first computer - an IBM compatible desktop computer using MS DOS. Upon graduation, I switched to (Apple) Mac and have never looked back. Of course, my word processing package was always MS Word for Mac.
So what is Scrivener and why is it such an excellent writer’s tool? Scrivener isn’t just a word-processor and text editor but also helps with planning (and visualizing one’s story arc), plotting, organizing (scenes, places, characters, and so on), and is brilliant when it comes to compiling and exporting your manuscript to the desktop or printer. It has numerous features to assist you and offers various templates as a guide to formatting for specific types of writing. And for those writers who are so deeply ‘in the zone’ that they forget to back up their work, there’s no need to panic as Scrivener constantly backs up for you automatically.
The frustrating thing for me as a writer was always having to find previously written notes and open and close different documents in MS Word, or continually scroll down a long document to refer to some piece of information that would enable me to continue writing. However Scrivener gives you a lot more freedom to move around and see things without opening and closing numerous other documents. You can even work on different sections of your manuscript at the same time, almost simultaneously if you wish. The point is that Scrivener gives the writer so much more flexibility and creative freedom than any other word processing package I’ve ever seen.
Another feature I love about Scrivener is that if I just want to focus only on what I am writing, ignoring all the other features and distractions (including all the items on my desktop in the background), I can employ what is called ‘full screen mode’ or ‘compose mode’ (the name of the icon in the top menu bar). Suddenly my writing is all I can see. The rest of the screen is blacked out, although this background can be replaced by a picture of your choosing which may help to inspire your writing. There are now zero distractions on my computer screen. The only words I can see are my own.
One of the biggest worries I had recently was compiling my debut novel for distribution to agents and/or publishing houses. I had written all of my sixty-three chapters in separate MS Word documents. Then it occurred to me that should an agent or editor request my entire novel, I’d have to send my entire manuscript as a single document. Nobody wants sixty-three attachments in an email. I wondered what I would do in that case.
Should I start a massive ‘copy and paste’ operation in an attempt to consolidate the sixty-three chapters into one long document? A friend informed me that in their experience MS Word documents became glitchy after 50,000 words (especially when continually manipulating text). I then pondered buying software that would do the trick, but I didn’t know of any. It was at this time that my friend recommended Scrivener, which would compile my sixty-three individual chapters quickly and effortlessly into one single manuscript. Needless to say, I felt incredibly relieved.
Not only did it perform this task easily, it then gave me numerous options. I could print out the document if I wished, or save it as a PDF, change it into various formats suitable for Amazon, kindle, iPad and so forth as an e-book, leave it as a Scrivener document or an RTF (Text Edit) document or save it to the desktop as an MS Word document. Considering that most agents and editors work with MS Word, I chose that option. Now, if called for, I could send my novel within an email as a single document. It was at that precise moment that I became a die-hard Scrivener fan for life.
So what do you see when you open Scrivener? The screen is divided into three different windows. On the left is the ‘Binder’, which is a menu list of documents, folders and templates, set out according to which format you have chosen to use with your new project. In the middle is the ‘Viewer’ (aka the text editor) - the main window in which you enter and edit text. Above this, across the window from left to right, is the application’s menu bar. On the right is the ‘Inspector’, an optional window that allows you to view information, manipulate information, and write notes about your project.
The main screen or ‘viewer’ can be viewed in three different modes, too. Firstly, there is ‘view mode’, which looks very similar to how any document would look in MS Word. Then there is ‘cork board’ mode. This is great for longer documents and manuscripts with many chapters. Instead of seeing full chapters, there is a series of ‘index cards’ - one for each chapter or scene (depending on whether you are writing a book or a script for a play or movie). Let’s say, for example, that you want to change the order of some of your chapters or scenes. It’s very easy: you can simply ‘drag and drop’ as you like until the order is to your liking. Then when you go back to the main document in ‘view mode’, it will be in the order that you just arranged. The document can be saved (as a ‘snapshot’) before this happens so that you can revert to the original order if you wish. It’s marvelous for writers wanting to change things around to create a better flow for their novel, play, movie or whatever your writing project may be.
Lastly there is ‘outliner’ mode, which provides various data on your document and can also provide writers with an outline of their novel. Furthermore an author can view what the POV (Point of View) is in each chapter, or even what the status of each chapter is with regard to whether or not it is completed or needs more editing and so on. In the case of a play or movie, it will show a scene-by-scene breakdown. This is an extremely useful tool and allows the writer to see a summary of their work as well as the word count per chapter or scene. Scrivener has really helped me organize and control the structure of my book, as well as providing a much more useful and visually appealing word processor in which to write and edit my story.
If there’s one thing that may turn away those contemplating using Scrivener, it is that the application appears slightly complicated initially. This is true of any device capable of doing amazing things. However, do not fear, as there are many free videos available online instructing new users how to quickly become adept at using Scrivener. They can be accessed on the Scrivener website as well as on YouTube. I will attach some links below this article. If you want to purchase Scrivener (a modest $45 USD), or try out a free trial version, please go to the Scrivener website at this link:
Wishing you all the very best with your writing projects and your dreams for the future.
See you on the shelf!
Scrivener tutorial videos on the Scrivener website:
A website by Karen Prince on how to use Scrivener:
Tutorial videos by Karen Prince on YouTube:
Scrivener instructional videos from Joseph Michael and Michael Hyatt:
Two free PDFs on using Scrivener:
And for those of you with Mac, here is the Scrivener purchase/download link for Mac OS X:
Have a great weekend!