If you’re active in the writing community, you’ve probably heard Scrivener mentioned in passing, generally followed by effusive praise. There’s a reason for that: Scrivener is everything I need in a writing program.
Since I constantly tell writing friends about how great it is, a few of them have asked me to write up something to explain why people think it’s so amazing. All right, here goes:
A Little Background
Scrivener was developed by a writer who wanted software that would do what he needed it to—especially on a Mac. While Word is great for shorter documents, it’s cumbersome for writing book-length projects. There wasn’t a great program that did everything he wanted, so he created Scrivener in 2004, and in the years since has put out a 2.0 for Mac and a version of the program for Windows.
Why I Love It
When a writer friend introduced me to Scrivener three years ago, I instantly fell in love. For a while I’d tried to figure out how to conceptualize my book, to see it in a visual form that would help me wrap my head around the overall story. I’d heard the advice to write out each chapter title and a basic synopsis on a index card, then lay them out on the floor to work with them that way. Cumbersome? You bet. Fortunately, as I was just starting into that process, someone mentioned I should give Scrivener a try. The moment I saw the corkboard feature, I was sold.
How It Works
It’s basically a souped-up word processor for writers. You can use just the basic features and still get tons out of it, but there are so many other cool features to make your life easier. Here are some of the features in Scrivener that simplify my writing process:
- Break up a book into individual chapters or scenes. The handy bar running down the left side of the screen lists each section clearly so I can jump right to the spot where I want to work. No more searching or skimming the text to find the chapter I need.
- Once the chapters are broken up into separate documents, they link to individual index cards on the virtual corkboard. (See image above.) The best part? In corkboard mode, you can pick up an index card and rearrange it on screen, and the chapters will reflow into that order once you set it in place. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve torn apart and rearranged. I shudder at memories of doing that in Word and—yikes!—by laying pages out on the ground. Trust me; it’s not pretty.
- Snapshots. You can click a button and a current version of the document is saved, archived, and labeled with the date. My anal-retentiveness is appeased so much by this. If I accidentally screw up the entire manuscript and forgot to save a previous version, resulting in the loss of ALL THE DATA. (Oh, yes. I did this pre-Scrivener and panicked until I figured out how to recover most of it.
- One recent manuscript required that I look at two documents side-by-side to figure out a rather tricky scene. The ability to view and edit several documents at the same time was a lifesaver.
- Once the manuscript is done, there are several options for exporting it into a Word, RTF, or other file. There’s even a new feature that will export it to Kindle or ePub for writers diving into the self-publishing world.
Other Cool Features
- Word count, statistics, and goals. There is also a feature in stats that lists the most-used words in the document along with how many times that word appears.
- I don’t use the outliner mode, though I’ve heard others find it really useful. The outline links directly with each document/index card, so switching from one view to the other is simple, depending on what information you need at the present moment.
- Importing pictures and photos into document notes, which is incredibly handy when visual cues are needed.
- The research section lets you collect all of the source or reference material you need in one place. Images, videos, text, screenshots . . . So handy.
- Full-screen mode, which puts Scrivener front and center, and blacks out everything else on the screen to limit distractions.
- Screenwriting and graphic novel or comic mode, which includes presets for each part of the script. I can’t tell you how helpful this is for me as a graphic novel newbie.
- Cookbook mode is awesome for gathering recipes for a book, or even just compiling favorite recipes in one place. I actually use my computer as a cookbook more often than physical books anymore. That can be a bit tricky to avoid damaging the computer, but using it on iPad might well be an excellent solution for that.
The Nitty Gritty
There is a free one-month trial to see if it really works for you. I knew within minutes of downloading Scrivener that I’d be buying it, but it’s a great thing for writers unsure if this would work well for them.
The software, basically everything you need, costs $45—more than $100 cheaper than Word (which I have to purchase separately since I use a Mac). There’s also a discount for educators.
While Scrivener was originally developed for Macs, Scrivener for Windows just launched. I had friends using the beta version but haven’t heard from anyone on how well it works for PC. I’ll update later as I hear more.
Update: Now available to purchase for Windows!
Basically, I’m in love with Scrivener and would have its babies if it were human. I say test it out with the free trial and see if it’s something that works for you.