top of page

Scrivener...part 1

Every author likes explaining the process, how they come up with ideas, how they write, all the effort they put into their stories, the blood, sweat, the tears, the joy! I think, it's a way we justify ourselves to people who don't write, to people who still see the mystery of being a writer. When I tell someone I write for a living, invariably the reaction is raised eyebrows and a smile.

"Oh, you write? Like books?"

Then it's my turn to smile. "No," I usually respond. "I write words."

So how exactly do I write? Well, one of the tools in my kit is particularly unknown among non-writers. Sure, everybody's heard of Word, the ubiquitous word processor (see what they did there?) that Microsoft created 39 years ago. [1] It's everywhere: in hospitals, in businesses, on schools on school campuses, even my kids use Word or Google Docs—itself basedon Word—to write their little essays and reports.

In fact, a lot of writers use Word. Like...a lot. It's comfortable. It's easy. You can use it on just about any device out there, from phones to tablets to laptops to desktops and just about everything in between.

But I'm not a fan.

Word stifles me—and many thousands of other writers. It doesn't have the ability to adjust and switch on the fly as much as my mind does when I'm writing a story. For that, I rely on a writing platform known as Scrivener. Some people will recognize me waxing poetic about this beautiful software from my previous blogs. For all you new people, pull up a chair, pop open a beverage of your choice, and sit back.

Okay, it's maybe not that exciting to non-writers...but anybody who pounds keys for a living has heard about Scrivener, whether they use it or not. It was developed in the UK by a company called Literature and Latte. Scrivener is designed specifically for creatives: people who write anything from small blog posts or notes, to big honkin' doorstopper novels...whether that't non-fiction—hey, you still have to create the document even if it's not fictional—to screenwriters, novelists, and poets.

On the face of it, Scrivener looks like an overly complicated application an overly-complicated version of Word. But there's so much more. Where Word is a word processor that if you tweak it and play with it enough, you can figure out how to navigate between chapters—assuming you know how to change style headings and all the intricate details of modifying all the stuff that goes on in the background...

Why I love Scrivener

With Scrivener, it's all up front with the click of a button. I can make the book look like it looks on the printed paper. On my main screen, the editor looks like Word. It's where you type, it's where you edit. But that's about where the similarities end.

On the left side of my screen I have what's called the Binder.

This is a list of all the individual documents inside the main file. Yes, with word you get one document split up into different sections based on headings. In Scrivener, I simply click the plus button and make a new page or new document. That one gets nested inside the folder structure—which is the file itself in Scrivener. It sounds really complicated, and a lot of people shudder when they see the layout, but when you're knee-deep in the weeds and you're trying to figure how to get your main character back on track, and you look up and realize that in Chapter 7 they should've jumped across the creek instead of walking down the road, you can easily grab that chapter with the click of your mouse and move it down to Chapter 15—or wherever—it makes sense. In Word, that is a tedious, time-consuming process that sometimes leaves the document a bit messy. In Scrivener, all the individual documents can be treated individually from the beginning and only compiled and put together into one document when you're ready to export the file to a PDF or a book or an EPUB file or whatever...even a <gasp> Word document.

The Corkboard

Scrivener also has a corkboard feature—I use this for outlining quite a bit and go back and forth between the corkboard and Plottr, my outline program of choice (more on that gem in another post). Sometimes I use a whiteboard with sticky notes, sometimes I use Goodnotes on my iPad, sometimes I use a piece of paper and pencil. But, if I'm in Scrivener, it's on the corkboard.

I create a half dozen or so index cards, then title each one with a chapter name, and write a sentence or two about what the chapter is about. That's it—I don't put in any details, I just want to lay out where the story is and look at it from a distance like reading a map. Then I can click and drag the chapter index cards into whatever order I want. It's no different than moving chapter titles around in the binder, but it's a little more visually satisfying. I'm a visual person, so I like the cards.

When I'm happy with the order, I switch modes—with another click of the button—and I'm back into the main editor.

Now that I have everything organized and I know what is supposed to happen in each chapter, I can pick and choose as the muse sees fit to inspire me exactly which chapter want to work on which particular day. In fact, most of my books are not written linearly—my first books I wrote start to finish. First this happened, then this, then this, then that. The end.

No more. Now when I sit down to write, I'll think to myself Chapter 13 looks like it's gonna be a fun one. I'm having a bad day today and this'll cheer me up. Boom. I write chapter 13, then I write Chapter 2...maybe I pick Chapter 15 next—it doesn't matter. As long as I get the words on the screen, I can mix and match and shift them around and put them wherever I want, all easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. As I go along, I can use the Inspector on the right side of the screen to add notes to myself about certain lines, words, paragraphs or entire documents. I'll get into the details of my writing process in another post.


All this is just scratching the surface of what Scrivener can do. One feature that I use a lot is called the Snapshot. When I'm in the editing process, I look at everything that I've already written, then start making changes—as editors are wont to do. When I'm done, I take a Snapshot.

Scrivener takes a picture of the entire document—not the file, which would be like the whole manuscript, but the chapter that I'm working on. The next time I come back, when I decide to make more changes, I can make those changes then review the Snapshot. Scrivener will display side-by-side the original, and the new stuff that I've written or deleted will be displayed in either red or blue font...all customizable, but that's what I chose. Then at a glance, I can decide if the stuff that I'm changing is better or worse than the original content. It has saved my bacon several times as I realized I was about to muddy the waters and it let me stay with the original content which turned out to be better than my second pass idea.

To learn more, you should totally check out the Literature and Latte website, where you can get an in depth look at the program and its features. Disclaimer, I'm NOT an affiliate or anything, so I'm not trying to sell the software. I just love it and use it every day and highly recommend it.

Next time, I'll wrap up my thoughts on this amazing piece of software. Until then, as always, keep your heads down and your powder dry, my friends!




[1] According to Wikipedia, Word was first introduced on October 25, 1983.

10 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
bottom of page