A New Way to Write

I’ve been using Microsoft Word since the days when it shipped with a printed manual (which I still have, and which is still extremely useful). I’ve grown very comfortable with it, to the point where I can make headers behave the way I want them to after only two or three tries. I can alphabetize lists. I create forms with abandon using the table feature, and can also make tables behave like simple spreadsheets (and the cells are big enough that you can actually read what you type in them!)


So it with some amazement that I find myself immersed in tutorials for a different word processor, Scrivener, which works a lot like Word for Mac as far as the basic commands but is specifically designed for long, often messy writing projects such as novels that do not necessarily present themselves to the author in sequential chapters and scenes.

It took me about six months to decide to take the plunge. Inner Editor kept saying that Scrivener was just a shiny new toy that would give me an excuse to avoid the current Work in Progress, which is not going especially well (see messy, above).

Inner Editor also pointed out, at length, that many great novels have been written with Word, and even more good to acceptable books, and that this was also true of mechanical typewriters, and ink and a sharpened goose quill, for that matter.

Don’t you just hate Inner Editor sometimes?

However, a lot of the writers I hang out with online have been saying good things about Scrivener, so I finally took the plunge and downloaded it a couple of weeks ago.

Scrivener is not a replacement for Word, but a supplement. When you’re finished with the project and ready to submit (to your beta readers, to agents, to publishers), you export the file to whatever full-featured word processor you use for the final formatting (adding headers, page numbers, indexes, whatever). Scrivener’s gift to writers is its flexibility.

Take the corkboard feature, which makes it easier to try out scenes in different sequences. Toggle a switch and you can write–and view–a synopsis linked to each chapter, and each scene within a chapter if you want. You can drag the “file cards” around in any order and the change is reflected in the text itself, and you can even assign colors to the “push pins” to denote characters or whatever other schemes are helpful to you.

Corkboard view from Scrivener's website. This image and the icon above are used with permission from the developer.

I liked the corkboard so much that I didn’t even bother with the free 30-day trial for the software but paid the $40 licensing fee along with the download. (Scrivener is only available for Macs at this point, although a Windows version is in the works.)

So far it’s working as advertised. I’ve been through most of the tutorials a couple of times, both the video ones and the hands-on version. I managed to import my text without incident, and I’m about halfway finished turning the three chapters I’ve finished into scenes, with associated scenarios.

I’d be done with this entirely if I hadn’t gotten distracted yesterday afternoon rummaging through the Blueboards for models of character worksheets, which I’ve decided I want to work up for each character this time around. It was a task that needed to be done, but it would have been better first to wrestle with the notes for the remaining chapters.

So that’s what’s planned for the rest of the week: breaking down the rest of the text into scenes and writing synopses for them, and maybe adding cards with notes for what I think ought to happen in between the material I’ve already written. The character development worksheets will just have to wait.

© 2010 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

This entry was posted in Product Reviews (writer stuff), Productivity Tools, Tech Tips, The Writing Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to A New Way to Write

  1. Anne M Leone says:

    Ohhh, sounds like you’re diving right in! I hope it proves useful to you.


  2. jessica shaw says:

    Sounds neat! I’ll have to wait for the Windows version to check it out.


  3. You see, it’s that #*/^ inner critic of mine (isn’t it nice to have something to blame)—I have Scrivener and attempted using it once, but got lost. I have a hard time with linear tutorials. I think I’ll check out the video ones (I’m much more visual, anyway) and give this another try. Thanks for this post, Anne…


  4. It looks like a great program, I’ve heard great things about it, too. I love that corkboard! Hopefully the version I can use will come out soon. Keep us posted on its uses as you go through your novel.


  5. Jan petrie says:

    The program is really worth the effort expended on it and if you look at the newest version 2.0 coming at the end of October, you’ll swoon at the new goodies and improvements.


  6. I took my time getting into Scrivener: playing around with old material, yes, and trying it out for a long-term project that I wasn’t going to commit to completely. You can move text in and out of it easily enough, especially in RTF, though expect to take time reformatting.

    I started my latest novel on it from Day 1, though I’m still keeping an actual set of index cards as well as the ones on the lovely Scrivener corkboard, and updating each from the other as I go. I write a lot in longhand, far away from the keyboard, so it makes sense.

    So far, so good. There are dozens of features I’ve ignored and am sure I’ll never use, but I love the clarity it affords, and yes, Anne, as you say: flexibility.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      I bet a lot of people learn it the same way you are, Colin. I’ve never used the index card approach before because once I learned to compose on the keyboard, longhand seemed soooo slow! Virtual index cards work much better for me.


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