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.

4 thoughts on “Why I Use Scrivener

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  2. avatarJonathan Savage

    Thanks for this excellent overview. I’m just at the start of my explorations of this software and it looks great. I’m proposing to use it for various writing tasks over the next year or so and will definitely post updates on my blog. But it’s good to read about how it has been useful for your work. Thanks!

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