Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Scrivener, FTW!

First, a small disclaimer. I am not affiliated with Literature and Latte, the creator of Scrivener, in any way, nor have I received any compensation from them (not even software, more's the pity). The following is my personal opinion, based on nearly 4 years of using Scrivener.

I know I've talked about Scrivener on this blog in the past. I'm writing about it today as my first Tech Tip because I think a writer's choice of software is just that important. For me, it's a make it/break it kind of choice.

Let me start by saying that, in general, I hate word processing software. The de facto standard, MS Word, is at the top of my hate list. It's bloated and cumbersome, and I find it entirely too unwieldy to use. Every time I've tried to create in Word, I've given up in frustration and headed for a (generally free) plain text editor. Word Perfect wasn't much better and neither was OpenOffice, but at least the latter was free. Apple's Pages software isn't bad, but it's really geared toward smaller tasks than writing a book.

So what was I looking for in writing software, if none of those programs were right for me? The bottom line was I wanted software that would get out of my way when I needed it to (while writing), but that would be a help at other times (outlining, organizing, etc.). And, at the end of the day, it had to be able to export the entire book to a Word formatted document.

There are several programs out there that can accomplish those goals in various ways. I researched most of them a few years ago and out of that research I finally settled on Scrivener. At the time Scrivener was only available for the Mac, but as of 2.1 it's now available for the PC, as well. And if you're curious about other software, so you can judge for yourself, Literature and Latte maintains links to Scrivener's competitors on their site (go to their Links page and click on "Writing Software"). If Scrivener isn't your cup of latte, one of the programs listed on that page just might be. You can also download a free trial version of Scrivener and see what you think first hand.

So. Why Scrivener?

Here's a (partial) list of features I find useful, in no particular order.

1. Manuscript Template
If you're writing fiction you can create your project using a manuscript template. You edit your documents using whatever font you wish at whatever size and style. When you're ready to "export" (print or create a Word doc, among others), you select standard manuscript and Scrivener formats your novel correctly (courier, double spaced, correct NAME/Title/Page# at top of each page) and even adds the cover page. A prime example of getting out of my way while I write, but taking care of me at the end so I don't have to deal with the nitty-gritty details.

2. Tools for Structuring/Organizing
Prefer to plot with index cards? No problem. Scrivener has a corkboard mode which allows you to see your work (scenes or chapters) as cards that you can easily edit and re-organize by dragging around. Rather work with an outline? Scrivener has you covered with outline mode. There's also the Binder view, which shows you chapters and scenes. You can easily move (drag) scenes around, create new chapters, etc.

3. Character and Location Sketches
Scrivener comes with templates for Characters and Locations. You can choose to use them or create your own. And if you like collecting pictures of people/places to inspire you when you create your characters/locations, you can add them to your sketch document with a simple drag/drop. None of this gets compiled in your final manuscript, by the way -- it's just there at your fingertips if you need it while writing.

4. A Place for Research
I used to create a separate binder for all the research I would do for a book. Then it became a folder (or, more like several folders) on the computer. Now, all my research goes into the Scrivener Research folder. Just about anything you can think of -- web pages, pdfs, images, movie/sound files -- can be added.

5. Full Screen Mode
At its core, Scrivener is a tool for writers. When you're ready to write--to get the words down on paper--put Scrivener in full screen mode and go to it. Scrivener darkens your screen to remove distractions. All you see are your words. A neat feature of full screen mode is "typewriter text" -- the line you're typing stays at the center of the screen, just like you would see if you were writing on a typewriter. It's amazing how that little feature helps keep you focused.

6. Backups are Easy
Automatic backups, sure. The feature I like best though, is the easy ability to completely archive my Scrivener project (including all the research information) in a single zip file that I can copy to a flash drive, DropBox, or from the desktop computer to the laptop. I've gotten into the habit of creating a zip file at the end of every writing session and I now have multiple snapshot backups of my current book.

7. Easy Exporting (Word, ePub, Kindle)
If you need an electronic version of your manuscript, rather than a printed or pdf version, Scrivener has you covered. You can choose to export to MS Word, RTF, HTML, or, if you're self-publishing, you can choose ePub or Kindle formats.

8. Tutorials and Help
Scrivener comes with a tutorial and I still use it on occasion. The Literature and Latte site has a series of video tutorials that are very useful -- they allow you to see the software in action. There are support forums, a wiki and an FAQ. So far, if I've wondered how to do something, I've generally found the answer in the wiki.

There you have it. I hope you found this useful, or at least intriguing. Scrivener is my writing program of choice. There's so much more to it than I could possibly cover here. If it weren't for Scrivener, I'd either still be writing in a text editor and then struggling when it came time to transfer my writing to Word. Or, more likely, I'd be gritting my teeth and writing directly in Word--and hating every minute of it.

Everyone has a different writing process and not everyone will find the same software to their liking. Do you use Word--and like it? Or do you have another choice that you'd like to share?


Sarah Raplee said...

I'm thinking of trying One Note, although I'm not a big Word fan. It sounds something like Scrivener. I'll check out the website. Thanks for the Tip!

Sarah Raplee said...

One more thing...What does FTW stand for? For The World? For The Writer? For the Winner? Help!!!

Paty Jager said...

I have enough trouble with the other programs I need to keep my writing world moving. I don't need another thing to learn. but this sounds like a really good tool for someone starting out.

Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Deb! This does sound intriguing. I've heard other people talk about Scrivener and really like it.

I don't especially like Word, though it seems to be most of the world's text software of choice--forced or not. :)

I write directly into Word and we seem to have come to an agreement of sorts. It won't screw up if I don't try to get too fancy.

In one of my other lives as a graphic designer I use Adobe's Creative Suite of InDesign, Photoshop, etc. So if I'm doing anything other than keying in plain text, I use one of those.

Maybe after my series is completed, I'll seriously look into writing software--and Scrivener will be at the top of the list or pretty close. However, like Paty, I have enough to do right now that I don't need to take on anything else.

But I so much appreciate your positive review of Scrivener. It reinforces what I've heard about it.

chanceofbooks said...

I liked your review a lot. If I have a word document already created for a project--with headers for chapter breaks etc, can I import to Scrivener without losing my formatting do you know? I think if I was working on a more research heavy project, I'd be more likely to buy the software. But, since I use word for everything else, using the comment/track changes features, outline/header tools (document map), it makes sense to stick with Word for the moment. But, like you, I dislike how bloated it is.