Scrivener – Ideas, Research, Writing and Editing

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Scrivener site logoScrivener takes time to learn. Time you could spend writing, no doubt about that. But you’ve probably heard writers talk about the software and wondered “How can software help me write?”

Scrivener has attempted to take the mechanics of writing – generating idea lists, gathering research notes, URLS, images, storyboarding and reorganizing, and more – and put these tasks into a robust management system.

If you compose anything with more than two parts, or ever had to search your browser history to find out where you read that fact you want to double-check, then Scrivener will help. The more complex your project is the more it can help.

On Top of That

Then they added on bells and whistles because technology allows it. You can color code documents, mark them anything from draft to final, assign keywords, track footnotes, sort out scenes and chapters by labels, and other what-you-put-in-you-will-be-able-to-pull-back-out features. There’s also an interruption free-mode that will turn off the Internet distractions. Plus a typewriter mode that keeps your current line of typing mid-page. If screenplay’s your thing, it has a mode to indent and format as you type.

Or, if none of that is useful to you, you don’t have to use any of it.

Color coding is a feature I didn’t think I’d find all that useful. I was wrong. I color code by the point-of-view for each scene. As a project gets increasingly complicated, I find being able to read only one “color” at a time immensely useful for continuity and tone.

On shorter projects I use color coding to show which scenes are “rough,” “augment,” and “polished.” These labels can be anything you want.

Scrivener has the most thorough and painstaking tutorials and documentation I’ve ever seen. To the point of it feeling really overwhelming at times as it explains every possible use of the software.

Pet Peeves

Lack of an effective find-and-replace

“Find next instance” doesn’t work as expected. This could be more helpful especially when many results (as when scanning for favorite overused words) are highlighted but there’s no way to hop to the next instance.

Styles that don’t Retro change

It’s also a basic word processor with styles, but those don’t work the way a long-time Word user will quickly realize. Essentially, if a style is revised the new style isn’t retro-applied to paragraphs that already use it. I learned that consistent use of very basic styles was essential. That means when I output to Word I won’t have a lot of work to do to convert the output to the practices my publishers require. (Spacing, margins, chapter/scene breaks, etc.) I learned that an entire fiction manuscript really doesn’t need much more than styles for

  • CHAPTER
  • HEADING
  • BODY
  • INDENT
  • SCENE BREAK.

Spellcheck is very clunky

While the spellcheck works well as you’re composing, running it as a process has some real drawbacks. You must go document by document – choosing a folder checks only the first document. Got 100 documents? Yeah, that gets old. Also, to check a document, you have to cursor at the very top because when the spellcheck gets to the bottom of the document it doesn’t cycle to the beginning. The Scrivener provided dictionary lacks up-to-date tech words and common loan words like “pancetta.”

Windows platform is languishing

The Windows version lacks some features and little niceties that the Mac version has. At present, the Mac version is 3.0. Windows is 1.9.9.2 and Windows version 3.0 has been promised for a very long while, so long that they’re skipping over the 2.0 number altogether. (This lack of updates may explain the Scrivener dictionary having a corporate name like “Barnes” of Barnes and Noble but not “Instagram.”)

The lack of attention to the Windows platform does annoy, especially when a search for a solution from fellow users is explained in terms of Mac menus, and no such menus or features exist for Windows, and screensnaps show off sleek IOS design features. The Windows interface screams 2008.

Most annoying of all: there’s no app version for Android, which means syncing work done on a mobile device to your Window desktop is a pain. It can be done, but it’s not pretty.

Hidden Bonuses

I store my projects in the cloud, which means I will likely never lose work again. Plus I have the cloud storage set to keep as many previous revisions as space allows. That means I can revert to earlier versions. Scrivener’s built-in backups add a security blanket too as they are separately kept in cloud storage from the main folder of documents.

It supports an on-the-fly creative process. There is a main manuscript area for a project. Any time I cut something I think significant, it’s a snap to copy it to a note outside the manuscript area. All such notes and scribbles get backed up too, and their contents will show up in a search, so good-bye to that feeling that if I cut it I might lose it forever.

And this is something I increasingly rely on:

project and session targets sample from Scrivener

Decide for Yourself

Have a visit at their site, see what it offers. The price is incredibly reasonable, even if you use it just for research organization and outlines.

Even with my pet peeves, it has become a far more useful and essential tool than I ever thought it would be.

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