Scrivener Love

imagesWhen I read that our theme this week was technology, I was fairly certain that my post was going to be just pictures of all my old, dead laptops that I am incapable of throwing away. When it comes to writing I keep things pretty simple—it’s just me and my computer. That’s something that I love about writing—it’s like walking—no gadgets or gear required. But I do have one geeky writing love, and that is Scrivener.

Scrivener is software for writers of all stripes. It has many helpful tools, like outlining and notecards, and has a place to collect research. I love it because it is easy to break your work-in-progress into scenes—making it easy to find passages you are looking for saving you from endless word doc searches and scrolling.

I am the kind of person who hates to read instructions—I just like to figure out what I need to get started, and I’m always convinced I will learn the rest later, which I never do. I know I am only using about 10% of the goodness that Scrivener has to offer, so I asked my friend Alison Murphy—writer, journalist, Director of Programs and Marketing at my writing center Grub Street, and Scrivener expert to list her top ten reasons why she loves this software. This is what she had to say:

  1. The layout. I am not, by nature, an organized person. This is especially true of my writing. So Scrivener’s layout, which allows me to go nuts writing and organize later, in an intuitive, easy to understand way, is huge for me, and may in fact be the only way I got my novel done.
  2. Index cards. My new rule: if I can’t figure out how to describe what happens in a scene on the index card, it probably doesn’t need to be there. Because probably nothing happens in it.
  3. Composition mode. Much less annoying than going full screen in word, composition mode is the closest you can actually get to a blank page. Terrifying? Yes. But also wildly productive.
  4. Snapshot. I tell everyone that this is the one tool you should know in Scrivener. It allows you take a snapshot of your scene so that you can go wild revising, knowing that if you fuck up the scene utterly, your old work is right there waiting for you.
  5. I am the world’s most disorganized person, so being able to link directly to a web page, picture, other piece of research directly within the scene it impacts is huge. For example: I have a reference to a map of Old City Jerusalem that I have referenced in a scene that takes place in Jerusalem. Through Scrivener, I can view it splitscreen while I’m writing, so I don’t have to stop writing to know whether my characters should turn right or left to get the Dome of the Rock.
  6. Keywords. Keywords warm my nerdy little heart. I use them to keep track of my themes, so that I can track which thematic elements each scene is hitting and then look at the whole to see where the gaps are.
  7. I am a procrastinator by nature, so the fact that Scrivener offers ways to productively procrastinate is a huge selling point for me. My favorite way to do this is the characters section. Tired of writing but still want to keep your mind in your novel? Google Image search for people who look like your characters and then add it to their character profile, along with all the other information you want.
  8. Outline view. I rarely use the corkboard, but I use the outline view mode all the time to get a bird’s eye view of my MS, adding in tools like keywords to track elements that I want to make sure are consistent. It’s impossible to keep an entire novel in your head at any one time, but outline view makes it a hell of a lot easier.
  9. Research section. Aside from actually storing all my research, I also use this as a depository for all my scraps –– pieces of writing I love, but no longer belong. It makes it feel less like killing my darlings and more like relocating them temporarily, like when your parents told you your dog was just going to live on a farm.
  10. Track progress. This one is kind of cheating, because I almost never set word targets unless I’m having a bad writing day and need something to feel good about. On those days, I set a target close to what I’ve already written for the day, and then feel AWESOME about myself when I reach it.

If this list doesn’t want to make you try Scrivener, I don’t know what would!

Thanks so much, Alison!

Boston area writers, Alison is teaching a Scrivener class at Grub Street in early March! Check it out: https://grubstreet.org/findaclass/class/introduction-to-scrivener/

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Louise Miller

Louise Miller is the author of THE CITY BAKER'S GUIDE TO COUNTRY LIVING (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking/August 9, 2016), the story of a commitment-phobic pastry chef who discovers the meaning of belonging while competing in the cut-throat world of Vermont county fair baking contests. Find out more at louisemillerauthor.tumblr.com.

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This article has 7 Comments

  1. I’m not much for fancy tools, but I do agree about the blank page. The closer to that, the better (I had a couple of decades on a typewriter before PCs came around).

    With one recent story, I did have the urge to outline — and for a good reason. Once I started to outline it, I quickly saw its flaws. But sometimes different projects require different tools.

  2. I’ve never used Scrivener — by the time I heard of it, I was too far into my novel to contemplate switching over from Word. But….I’ve only written two chapters of the second novel. I’m thinking I will give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion, Louise (and Allison)!

  3. Been a Scrivener fan for over a year now. I tell every writer I know about it. Just got back from a conference singing its praises. NOW, if only I were an actual representative of the company…hmmmmmmmm! Love it…every writer needs it!

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