Monthly Archives: June 2010

Why I Use Scrivener

I love Scrivener, a writing application from Literature & Latte. How much do I love Scrivener? I wrote the following in Scrivener:

  • My doctoral dissertation for the Dept. of Writing Studies at the Univ. of Minnesota,
  • Drafts of three feature-length screenplays, one of which I started in another (“screenplay”) application and migrated to Scrivener after much pain and suffering,
  • Drafts of two novels, which began in Word but needed to be restructured, and
  • Content for the Tameri main website.

Scrivener shines when dealing with long documents. It is an application that seems to anticipate how I work, which is rather impressive considering how many writing applications make that claim. Others bluntly proclaim you must change your ways and learn the applications’ supposedly better approach to writing.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS, I seem to be most productive with as few distractions as possible. Distractions come in several forms.

Wandering eyes, drifting focus. Scrivener’s full-screen editing mode means you see the current document and nothing else; you don’t even see the Mac desktop. Nothing comes between you and your text.

Formatting just because you can. Most word processors now double as a layout and design applications. The problem is that you can waste a lot of time playing with layout features that manuscripts don’t require. Manuscripts are in standardized formats, so there is no reason to experiment with text formatting.

Swapping programs to find information. The moment I open a second, third, or fourth program to retrieve research, I’m tempted to explore for hours. Scrivener uses a folder metaphor, allowing you to store research with your writing project. You can place documents and images in the Research folder. You can also create subfolders to sort your research. Everything in one place is a good approach for me.

My three great distractions are not a problem in Scrivener. When I’m using Scrivener, I am more focused on my writing than in any other application. I even use Scrivener for first drafts of stage and film scripts, which I still refine in Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. Yes, Scrivener can help automatically format a screenplay, at least all the major formatting issues.

Scrivener: Standard Editing

The standard Scrivener view shows the Binder (folders), current Scrivenings (text being edited), and an information panel. Folders and the text within them can be rearranged via drag-and-drop or via keyboard. I move things frequently, using the Binder as an outline.

I create folders in the Binder for chapters and sometimes for sections of chapters. These folders go within the Draft or Manuscript folder. When a manuscript is compiled, Scrivener includes only selected folders and text. The way I write, I sometimes include only some sections and not others to read and consider. Like many writers, I often compose variations of a scene and then read the manuscript to gain a sense of the flow.

The information panel on the right includes space for a synopsis, color-coded category labels, status indicators, and any notes. Honestly, I’m a bit lazy and only label those parts of a work I need to return to and review later. If something is marked, I know I’m not content with it.

Within the Research folder, in addition to text notes, you can place Web pages, PDFs, images, and even multimedia content. I like to create a folder for rough outlining and thoughts within the Research folder. I have not stored media files; I’d end up watching videos or listening to audio instead of working. I know writers who would use the Research folder to its full potential, but I’m admittedly not one of them.

Brief Tangent: I outline using OmniOutliner Pro from The Omni Group. Again, this is a single-purpose application that doesn’t try to be a word processor or text editor. It is the best outlining application I have found. Microsoft Word has improved a lot for outlining, and the Notebook View is useful, but I still prefer OmniOutliner.

Scrivener: Editor Settings

The appearance of text on screen during the editing process is independent of printing. While you can preserve any manual text formatting when you print or export a manuscript (called Compile Manuscript in Scrivener), I prefer to edit my writing in 14-point Optima, single-spaced, with gaps between paragraphs. Even with a large font, I magnify the text to 150% because I have poor vision.

Full-Screen Nirvana. The full-screen mode of Scrivener is even better than WordPerfect for DOS was. It epitomizes what a clean, uncluttered interface should be. Scrivener’s full-screen mode is elegant, with both a type-writer like mode to type at the center of the screen and traditional cursor positioning. I wish more programs offered clutter-free edit modes.

Scrivener: Full Screen Mode

Every writer has a unique approach to writing and editing. I love the full-screen mode and the Binder’s folder view. I don’t use the Corkboard of Scrivener often, but I know there are writers who love the index card metaphor. A lot of writing applications include visual index cards. The cards in Scrivener display the title of a text chunk and the synopsis.

Scrivener: Corkboard View

Though not pictured, I do glance at the Outline View. I would prefer something a tad more like OmniOutliner or a few more columns. If I could display word and page counts, that would be helpful.

29-Jun-2010 Update: Tech support was kind enough to explain how to add the Word Count column in Outline View. I was right-clicking on the grid, which displays column choices in many programs. You need to find the ellipsis (…) in the right corner of the panel and click there for a column list. Not intuitive, but adds the column I needed. They also promise a new Outline View in the next release.

Compiling a Manuscript. After you compose the text of a manuscript, you then Compile the draft into a (ideally) properly formatted standard manuscript.

Scrivener: Compile Manuscript

I export articles and stories as Word document files and scripts as Final Draft 8 XML files. The reality is that Word and Final Draft are the dominant standards, and Scrivener handles these well. I have yet to have a serious problem opening compiled manuscripts in either major application, though a few minor quirks with Final Draft aren’t unusual.

You can download a 30-day trial edition of Scrivener from the Literature and Latte site. I only needed a few days to know it was the editor I wanted. The $39.95 is also among the best prices I have paid for any application.

Reading Habits

Susan and I share a habit, one I find common among “readers” of all sort. I am reading three or four books, each in a different location. Currently, the books I am reading include The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Texts on Type, God is Not One, and two Che biographies (Che and Exposing the Real Che). Because these books are really collections of short essays or stories, it is easy to read a chapter or story in a single sitting. I don’t know that I would read a novel in quite the same way. I tend to read novels in much larger chunks; it is hard for me to keep long stories sorted in my mind.

I have been told I should read one book at a time, but that seems nearly impossible. Does anyone insist on reading one book at time?

I (Sometimes) Miss WordPerfect for DOS

In college, I wrote software documentation for mainframe users, which meant I had the opportunity to use text editors and word processors on a variety of computer platforms. I composed documentation on everything from glorified typewriters (DEC VT102 and IBM 3270 terminals) to slick WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) Apple Macs.

I was probably not alone in being captivated by the Mac experience. Toss in PageMaker, a few fonts, and a LaserWriter for a complete desktop publishing system, and the Mac was hard to beat. Yet, I quickly realized that I wrote better on my MS-DOS 2.1 PC running WordPerfect 4.2 from floppy disks. How could this be? The Mac was easier to use and the papers I typed looked much better on paper. Why did I type so much more, and much better, on the PC?

I didn’t work on the Mac; I explored. I’d play with fonts, formatting options, and the nifty features of Word or PageMaker. I’d also play Crystal Quest, Lode Runner, and Dark Castle for hours. The Mac temptation at its worst for me. I still remember discovering Tetris on the Mac. More hours lost.

My PC was a typewriter. The sparse screen of WordPerfect, with little more than a document name and position information (“Doc 1 Pg 1 Ln 1″) didn’t beg to be explored. The screen was analogous to the paper in a typewriter. You had to type to fill the blank blue or black screen, the blank space demanding to be filled with words.

I am distracted easily. I think most people are, but especially creativity workers — artists. The Mac OS, Windows, and any other GUI experiences, are like playgrounds. That is great when your job is visual design, but not so great when you need to be focused on writing.

To circumvent my nature, I started writing everything longhand on legal pads and then typing and formatting the work. I still am more productive when I can’t point-and-click my way to something other than work. That’s one reason I liked typing on a laptop at coffee shops or bookstores — until they added free WiFi to the menus.

WordPerfect on a basic DOS-equipped system was the perfect typewriter. There was no multitasking (AKA multidistracting). You didn’t get lost in the Web conducting “research” for your latest assignment or creative work. You typed. And it was good. I keep trying new ways around distractions, but nothing seems to match those simple DOS days.

No, I am not going to give up my MacBook Pro, Pages, Adobe Creative Suite, and thousands of fonts. I love my Mac too much. I will write about some possible options in the near future and explain how they help me reduce distractions, at least a little. The key is to be immersed in writing, so I’ve been using applications that attempt to recapture the spirit of WordPerfect for DOS.

For now, I’ll reveal that my favorite writing application on the Mac is Scrivener. Visit Literature & Latte (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/) for more information on Scrivener. It is not a design program; Scrivener is for composing text. The full-screen mode does remind me of DOS: nothing but the text I’m writing, not even the Mac menu bar is displayed. It’s a distraction-free environment.

I need to get back to a writing project. It seems I got sidetracked.

- Scott

Copious Writing is More than Exercise

When I tell people that the key to being a writer is writing, a common response is skepticism.

Earlier today someone asked, “Do you really write 100 pages or more a month?” Absolutely. I cannot imagine any serious prose or dramatic writer produces fewer than 15,000 words a month and much closer to 25,000. Most of what I write is for myself, but a substantial amount is intended for future publication or production. Also, writing a page is not the same as keeping the page.

Writing is not a race. I certainly don’t expect talented poets to consider word counts a sign of greatness. If anything, poetry is a concise art. But other forms of writing are judged by word and/or page counts.

How can you write 100 pages a month? And should you write that much?

Let me answer the should you question: Yes, if you can. Why? Because drafts are meant to be edited. I think the more you write, the better you write. You learn to edit in your mind, as you type or write each sentence.

You learn to be concise, which means the words that do remain on the page are valuable. Writing a lot doesn’t mean what you write survives the revision process. I’m a fan of short stories, 1000 to 5000 words. I’ve read that most of these are cut by a third during revision and editing passes. Personal experience mirrors this.

There is no one way to write 100 pages.

I have averaged more than 300 pages of “non-personal” writing each six months for the last two years. Most of this has been academic, since I was completing my doctorate. Since January, I have written three full-length screenplays, totaling 297 pages (excluding title pages), and six magazine columns (1000 words each). I’m also working on several other projects I hope to complete before the end of June. Add my personal writing, blogging, presentation handouts, and website content and the amount of writing exceeds 1000 pages every six months.

I need deadlines. I need feedback. For this reason, it helps me to be in contact with other writers.

There are books offering to help you write a novel or a screenplay in a month. I have no idea if those guides work or not, so I cannot suggest any books.

To write a novel or screenplay in a month, you need a schedule. You also need to realize that the month will produce only a draft 100 pages, not a final product. You may need three months, six months, or even a year to create a final draft. During the revision process, you need to keep writing.

What is a good pace for writing? I would suggest a three-page minimum (750 words) with no upper limit. If you can write three pages a day, five days a week, that’s roughly 3750 words a week and 15,000 words a month. To reach 25,000 words means writing 1,250 words each weekday or writing on weekends.

Again, writing is not a race, but you should at least have a pace in mind. Some days you will exceed the goal, some days you will fall short. One tip: do not “reward” yourself for surpassing the goal by writing less the next day. Cutting your target starts bad habits.

These are only some random thoughts, which I will refine for our website. For now, I hope the suggestions help.

- Scott

eBooks and Design

My collection of works on typography and general design includes some of my favorite books. The art of placing words on a page, or screen, is something I admire. The designer’s choices, which once appeared with some frequency in colophons, shape the reading experience. Nothing appalls me more than a publisher giving no thought to the typography of a text. Books should have personalities, adding to the meaning without harming legibility or readability.

A font can be legible, but not readable — meaning the letters are clear as units, but words or sentences are a challenge to read as a text. Typefaces are designed for specific sizes and for specific purposes. The face at a given size is a font, and in book publishing the preferred fonts are serif faces of 9.5 to 12-point. For nearly two centuries, the traditional book face in the English-language press was Caslon. During the last century, other faces have risen to dominance. Examples of popular book faces include Bookman, Goudy, Palatino, and Times Roman.

The reason I offer this lengthy intro is that I am bothered by one aspect of many eBook formats: the lack of design control.

There is a technological limit: most hardware has only a limited number of fonts. Some eBook readers only offer a serif and a sans-serif face. It’s a luxury to have three or four serif faces and two sans serif faces. The book designer has no control at all over the reading experience. The reader controls the appearance of the book.

Because screen sizes and resolutions vary, the book designer doesn’t control pagination. Spacing, tabs, and line breaks are beyond the control of the designer, as well. In literary works, especially poetry, this is a serious detriment. Poems meant to reside on a page might end up on two or three screens. Visual poetry, in particular, is nearly impossible to support within an eBook.

Someone asked me if I dislike audiobooks. I think some books work as audiobooks while others do not. Obviously, visual poetry does not work as an audiobook, but poetry that was meant to be performed is ideal for audio. I’m sure a great many works are design- and form-independent. But, there are books that are best experienced visually.

An art book is certainly an example of a text that should be designed carefully. Any visual book should be itself a work of art.

It has been suggested that PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) eBooks could be a solution. The problem is that these are larger files and, while portable, would still present a problem for smaller hardware. Zooming in and out to read a page on a small screen is a hassle, even if it allows the designer more control.

I’m not sure what the solution will be, but the migration to eBooks is inevitable. What this means for design is hard to predict. I hope there is a solution, a way to maintain book personalities in the digital age.

- Scott