Before starting this article, I asked my writer friends if they’d heard of Scrivener. Some had, others hadn’t. Several had even purchased it, but then did nothing more. The majority, however, admitted they were intimidated by Scrivener and, prior to my research, I fell into that category. I hope then that this brief introduction, meant to pique your curiosity rather than teach you how to use the software program, will get you over to their website, LiteratureandLatte.com, to see more of what Scrivener can do.
To allay any Scrivener anxiety, check out the program’s price first. I figured something capable of organizing and assisting writers had to cost a bundle. I avoided clicking any link that might commit me to huge sums of money. Yet, at $45 (or under if you catch a deal. Recently it has been seen for twenty bucks!), it’s less than two movie tickets, popcorn and a drink. Our careers are worth that certainly. And if you’re the type who waits until a movie’s on Netflix – consider downloading a free trial of Scrivener while enjoying some Trader Joe’s Kettle Corn.
Learning how to use Scrivener
Perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with Scrivener’s capabilities is by sitting next to another writer willing to walk you through their own work-in-progress. I had the good fortune of being prepped for this overview by Livia Blackburne with added input from SCBWI members Mia Turner, Clifton Tibbetts, and Mary Malhotra. Blackburne, a YA author, began using Scrivener in 2013. She wrote Midnight Thief, the first book in her duology using Word, then wrote the second, Daughter of Dusk, using Scrivener and admits to being a convert. She created the duology’s prequel, Poison Dance, an e-book novella, entirely on Scrivener. There are also some fabulous tutorials on youtube. Erin Bowman has a couple of great ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij_8y1lArIQ&feature=youtu.be .
Now, armed with a better understanding of Scrivener, I liken it to one’s home with each room being a program feature so you never need to leave your house when writing. The heart of your manuscript’s typed content, for example, is the kitchen, where you’ll likely spend most of your time. Pop ‘round to other rooms for anything else you require without being tempted to jump into the Sargasso Sea of distractions beyond your front door. The only difference is whether you’re in a Craftsman style house (for Windows users) or a California Ranch (for Mac users). Scrivener works with both.
Its designers use the term Binder for the area where a majority of the features that I call rooms, can be found. Those are in the left hand sidebar. On the right side of the document/draft in your “Project” is an index card that corresponds to it, showing the title and the synopsis.
As Blackburne demonstrated Scrivener’s many features, she said her favorite is Snapshot because of “the way it lets you see your scene by scene organization and jump around.” If you don’t like something you’ve changed, you can always retrieve your snapshot. Consider this a bedroom where you can play around with the décor.
Mary Malhotra, who claims she’s not yet an expert, loves using Scrivener. “It’s great for writers who like to outline, and it makes it easier for others to visualize how their outline could develop. I like that there is no wasted effort – your outline creates small documents just waiting to be filled in with your story. Or vice versa — as you write, you can start a new document for a new scene or a new chapter, and that new scene will be visible at the outline level. Because Scrivener stores your work in those small pieces (yet you only have to open one controlling Scrivener document called a “Project”), it’s simple to rearrange completed scenes or chapters at the outline level. If you like working with note cards, Scrivener will present your outline visualized on note cards that you can shift around. It’s easy to export your text (or subsets of your text) into a Word document or straight to the printer for critiques or revision.”
Both Blackburne and Malhotra agree that “the ability to import web pages and organize them into research folders within your Scrivener project,” is another huge time saver. “I hope never again to have to ask, ‘Now where the heck did I find that info on X? I’d really like to re-read it,’” adds Malhotra. While Scrivener is not necessarily simple to learn, Malhotra says it’s very logical. She recommends watching the text-based tutorial from the software’s creators that helped her get going in a day or two. Mia Turner suggests beginners watch the numerous YouTube tutorials and Blackburne refers readers to check out Marissa Meyer’s set of blog posts on using Scrivener for revisions here: http://www.marissameyer.com/blogtype/from-idea-to-finished-step-5-the-second-draft. Find more info in the Scrivener manual online.
Clifton Tibbetts, who started using Scrivener about a month ago, says that already it’s been a wonderful writing tool. “I write YA Urban Fantasy, so world-building and research is key. Pictures, links, and all of the support documents that I use are available at a glance. The Keyword and Meta-data functionalities have already been useful, although I expect them to transform my process as I move deeper into revisions. These functions allow me to organize and analyze by POV, by theme, by character reference, etc., all the while allowing me to easily move blocks of text around.”
Clipboard screens, according to Tibbetts, help him look at his manuscript in different ways, with “many other functions that I haven’t fully explored yet.” He says he’s an “information-and-structure type of writer, who loves complexity and highly developed characters.” Echoing the sentiments of the other authors, Tibbetts finds Scrivener “perfect” for helping him manage his story.
Like Blackburne, Mia Turner’s also been using Scrivener for the past two years and says “this customizable writers’ tool has helped in countless ways.” If for some reason she could no longer use it, she’d miss a lot of things, but if she had to pick only one, “it would be the corkboard.” As a self-described plotter, Turner loves being able to use the corkboard to plan every scene, identify each with a simple prompt, and easily move scenes at will within the manuscript.” Another advantage of using Scrivener over Word, “is the ability to have a split screen. This enables me to place a picture or research details on one side and the text related to it on another, so that I can quickly refer back and forth when I’m writing. With Word, I would need to find the relevant file on my computer and open it as a separate window on my screen. In Scrivener, everything is all together, only a few clicks away,” says Turner. The split screen is like sitting at your kitchen island watching your husband prepare dinner while also keeping an eye on the kids doing homework.
“It definitely was designed with writers in mind. It offers so much that I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of its capabilities,” says Turner who cannot speak highly enough of this program. “I can’t imagine using anything else when I write, and have even introduced my teenage son to it. He picked up enough to use it efficiently very quickly.”
Scrivener is the writing home of your dreams with rooms to contain all of your research, chapters and drafts. And it’s not just a one story house, you can work on multiple projects at one time. The features and capabilities of this tool seem worth every penny. When it comes to how you write, there’s no right or wrong way, but it’s nice to know that with Scrivener, there’s another way.
Ronna Mandel is Co-coordinator of the West San Gabriel Valley LitMingle. A frequent contributor to L.A. Parent magazine, Ronna is also a pre-published children’s book author. Find her at GoodReadsWithRonna.com, a children’s book review blog.