The Scoop on Scrivener

As writers, we’re known to seek comfort in the form of tea, complaining, and well, more complaining. It’s part of the process, which as of late has been somewhat revolutionized with the software writing program, Scrivener.

If you follow authors on social media or have a critique group, you’ve probably already heard of it. Praised by mainstream media like The New York Times and tech publications such as Wired, The Seattle Times even went so far as to say that writers “swear by” Scrivener — which over the years has received awards from MacWorld and MacUser.

A self-proclaimed “content management tool,” the software is designed to help writers “structure and compose” long documents such as dissertations, screenplays, essays and of course the ever-daunting novel. The “binder” section in the left navigational pane helps you find and edit specific portions of your document and hop to and from your research or other notes then back to your writing easily. Don’t like where one scene or paragraph is placed? Drag and drop it into a new location; no need to waste time copying, pasting, and re-formatting your text. Last, but certainly not least, the virtual index card feature was created to help authors determine the best sequence for their work. Explains Allison Martin, who used the software to redraft her YA fantasy novel, plot a contemporary piece, and write a short story:

“Often while writing I’d have an idea for a future event or couldn’t remember what I was leading up to in the scene I was writing. So I’d pop over to the corkboard and check or type a quick note in the side bar so I would remember. Being able to see a point-form version of my novel is extremely helpful for me. Scrivener catches all my tangents and afterthoughts and compiles them into neat and organized homes that I can go back to and actually understand what I meant in my notes.”

Lauren Morrill, author of the upcoming young adult novel from Random House, Meant to Beagrees about Scrivener’s organizational merit.

“I like the way it forces me to think in parts of a novel: scenes, chapters, etc. Word is just one giant, endless blank page, which can be really scary.”

Structure isn’t the only helpful Scrivener provides. The often updated software offers an outlining tool, allows you to switch to scriptwriting mode for screen or stage play formatting, and even exports your document into the format you need for self-publishing.

That said, there are some drawbacks, notably the program’s file exclusivity, meaning that it’s not possible to pull one’s Scrivener files into Word to do a read-through when not at your home computer. Although the company has stated on their website that they’re “hoping to bring a scaled-down version of Scrivener to the iPad (and possibly the iPhone too) eventually,” nothing has been announced just yet.

Those new to the software should heed advice from veteran users. Notes Allison Martin,

“Think of Scrivener as a ‘writing software program’ not as a ‘word processor.’ It’s not like Word or Pages where you just start writing. It’s meant to aid you in the ENTIRE writing process from research to outline to publication.”

Lauren Morrill concurs, and also advises users to “watch YouTube videos” to really understand how it works before diving in. Otherwise you may run the risk of reaping more frustration than reward.

Speaking of one’s experience with Scrivener, have you used it yet? If so, tell us what you think in the comments below.

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55 Comments

  1. Scribbler

    I love Scrivener. I use one Scrivener file for all of my short stories. That way, I’m not constantly retyping the front and back matter. Also, I keep an ongoing “Also By” list in each of my published stories, and updating the list by adding the latest to the file is simple and quick.

    And when a story is done, it goes into the finished folder. Unfinished or abandoned ideas go into an unfinished folder, and all of my stories are right there in one place, easy to get to. When I export, I create individual folders on my hard drive, so that if I ever need a specific .epub or .doc version of a story, I don’t have to recompile it from Scrivener.

    Scrivener is a very useful tool. Highly recommended.

  2. Morgan, Lulu

    @Scribbler – It’s GREAT to hear how you’re using the tool. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  3. I’ve used Scrivener for a year now. I’ve written three novels, finished one that I moved from Word, and written two novellas during that time. It came in very handy during NaNoWriMo, as I was able to have all my research right there at my fingertips; if I needed something, I went into split-screen mode and brought up the information I needed. I can’t write without it.

  4. Nathan S

    I’m a screenwriter and I adore it. Every time I turn it on, I feel my creativity woken up a little. Every character gets his or her own little section of Srivener, and I do scene-by-scene breakdowns before I start writing. I also use Index Card and Simplenote on my iPad to sync them up.

  5. Mick

    “it’s not possible to pull one’s Scrivener files into Word to do a read-through when not at your home computer.”

    Oh, but it is possible! You can export your project as a Word file. And then you can print it out, or save it to something like Dropbox.

    Scrivener’s awesome. Takes a while to get familiar with all the little nooks and crannies, but the nooks and crannies are terrific.

  6. I store my files in my dropbox folder and that way I can work on my project on any computer. Just have to remember to close the file before tryiing to open on another computer. Also if you are not going to have internet where you want to work, boot up first and let your device sync. Love Scrivener!!!

  7. All of the above, PLUS Scrivener is also the best tool I’ve found for compiling clean, compliant, and attractive e-books. It also makes the process of building them much easier than other tools, which require a lot of manual editIng.

    Might as well export an e-book from the program you wrote it in!

  8. Lee T.

    Surprised that Lulu did not include here any details about how best to export from Scrivener to a Lulu template.

  9. I just purchased Scrivener, and, indeed, it takes a bit of experimentation to really become familiar with its possibilities. That will come, though, and I look forward to much writing.

  10. Robbie

    I used to use Mariner’s Story Mill for all of management and writing, but after ditching OSX I had to find a new program. Scrivener has been pretty good to me so far.

  11. Katie

    Hi all, just wondering if it is easy to import it back into word and if you can use reference programs like Endnote with it??
    Many thanks!

  12. Tosh

    Scrivener is rediculously brilliant. It’s the ‘Ableton Live’ of text. The first time I used Live I thought, ‘Here is a program fo rmaking music that was actually designed by brilliant, uncompormising musicians.’ Scrivener is a writing application developed for writers, but most importatly _by_ writers. I’m done close to 200k words in the app since I bought it about a year ago, and it would have been _far_ more difficult in any other app

    My only complaint is that there are a few features (notably sync to Dropbox/Simplenote) that are Mac only. I have to spend more time than a Mac user cutting and pasting back and forth. An iPad version, supposedly on the way, will help a lot.

    Stil, those are quibbles, I can’t imagine doing big projects without it now.

  13. I’ve been using Scrivener for several years, since the beta versions. I can’t imagine writing a book without it. (I write other material — articles, blog posts — in Scrivener too.)

    The biggest benefit for me is that Scrivener keeps everything related to a book together. My notes, annotations, ideas and drafts are all in one place.

    This makes it much easier to think, and to write.

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