If you’re active in the writing community, you’ve probably heard mention of Scrivener, generally followed by effusive praise. There’s a reason for that: Scrivener is everything I need in a writing program and so much more.
Since I constantly tell writing friends and writers in general about the program, some of them have asked me to write up something explaining why 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 in 2009, 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 betcha. 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 specifically for writers. You can use the basic program and get tons out of it, but there are numerous other features that simplify the writing process.
- Break 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—even worse—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.
- With one manuscript, I needed to compare two documents to figure out a rather tricky scene. The ability to view and edit multiple documents side-by-side 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 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’s also a feature that lists the most-used words in the document along with how many times that word appears. It is just so helpful when I use the word just a bajillion times when I’m writing, so all I have to do is just look at how many times it’s used in the manuscript and see that I just need to cut out a few hundred justs so my readers don’t throttle me.
- I don’t use the outliner mode, though I’ve heard others find it 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 . . .
- Full-screen mode puts Scrivener front and center, and blacks out everything else on the screen to limit distractions.
- Screenwriting and graphic novel/comic modes include presets for the various parts of the script. I can’t tell you how helpful this is for me when tinkering around with graphic novels.
- Cookbook mode is awesome for gathering recipes for a book or just compiling your family’s favorite recipes in one place. I use my computer as a cookbook more often than physical books anymore, so this is especially useful.
- As an agent, there’s a lot of data I need to track, and I’ve found that compiling it in Scrivener works so much better for me than a spreadsheet. It truly is less cumbersome and more user friendly than spreadsheets that contain the same data.
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.
Basically, I’m in love with Scrivener and would have its babies if it were human. While some writers who don’t like the format, for me it’s a godsend. So I say test it out with the free trial and see if it works for you.
Updated September 1, 2015 (originally written November 7, 2011)
Note: I’m participating in an affiliate program, but Scrivener is so helpful that I’d tell you about it anyway. Consider it a contribution to the “Michelle needs to eat” fund while also getting you a great program.