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.

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Author: C. Scott Wyatt


4 thoughts on “Why I Use Scrivener”

  1. 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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