For several years now I’ve wanted to try out Scrivener. I’ve heard so much about it and know so many writers who swear by it. This year I finally did it. What prompted me to do it was starting work on a solo fiction project. Every time I opened up Google Docs, I felt like Wendi should be there. My mind was in collaborate mode. After all, five years is plenty of time to build a strong habit and this was no different. Writing story in a Gdoc meant Wendi had to be there or else my brain wouldn’t dive into the zone.
I tried a Word.doc, but that wasn’t any better. Word felt dull and uninspiring.
That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Creatives are a strange breed though, we thrive on bright, shiny objects. They excite us and fill the creative well.
As much as I wanted to dive in and buy Scrivener off the bat, I didn’t want to be impulsive and buy a program I’d end up not using. I had no idea if it would be complicated and difficult or if it would be overly simplified and useless.
So, I started with the trial version. For 90 days I had Scrivener to play with. I downloaded it for Windows (this was originally a Mac program and they offer both versions) and installed it.
What Is Scrivener?
Scrivener is a program for novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction authors and anyone with a writing project. It’s more than a basic word processing program. Scrivener allows you multiple ways to organize your chapters, characters, notes, and research with outline and cork board views. It has a built in name generator, links to a thesaurus and dictionary, the ability to store images and website links associated with your research, and so much more.
Rather than have a bizillion Word or Gdocs all over the place, it keeps everything connected inside one project. If you’re an organizer like I am, the color coding, status labels and outlining capabilities are sheer nirvana.
I must confess, I’ve never been one to pay attention to directions. I’m the kind of person who buys a new piece of DIY furniture or electronics, or software, and I skip the tutorials. I look at them, see where stuff fits and do it. Only when something doesn’t fit do I mutter a few curses and delve into the instructions.
This time though I made an exception. Scrivener comes with an interactive tutorial that tells you at the start to be prepared to spend a couple of hours learning. That may sound daunting, but it sucks you in. They’re easy to follow and the interactive exercises add to the experience, building your confidence each step of the way. I felt like I had a Scrivener expert sitting right next to me the whole time holding my hand through the process.
And I had to watch the same episode of Mad Men three times because the tutorial had all of my attention.
Halfway through the lessons I was already sold. I stopped and bought a license, installed the full version and continued on.
By the time I was done with the tutorial (two or three hours later…I was so absorbed I lost track of time) I couldn’t wait to set up my first project. This was exactly the spark I was looking for. I started with the solo WIP (Work In Progress). I ran into a few glitches here and there, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t find help for in the PDF handbook that came with the program. In no time I was breaking ground on the first few chapters.
Scrivener has several project templates, some for fiction (novels and short stories), some for non-fiction (books, research proposals and undergraduate essays), others for scripts (film, radio, comics and stage), miscellaneous templates for lectures and recipe collections, and a blank template for custom templates.
As an experiment I exported some files (called “compiling”) using their ebook function. Formatting to ebook, or any final product for print, takes a little more doing. I only touched on it briefly without going down a rabbit hole. I had to tell myself not to become obsessed with it yet since I don’t have a finished product I want exported.
But…doing so showed me the importance of setting up my chapters and such while I’m working on the project. I’m confident that when I reach that stage I’ll be able to do it with minimal hair loss.
Pros and Cons
The pros are this program offers some serious organization. If you like that, you’ll love Scrivener. There’s also a function where you can fade out your desktop and focus only on the words in front of you. I found this helpful too. I’ve been using it and it sets off a trigger in my brain that the office door is closed and it’s time for writing.
You’ll also enjoy having all your notes and research in one place. Can’t remember what color your character’s eyes are? Open up one of your character sketch sheets (there’s templates for those too, or you can make your own). Need to shuffle around your chapters? It’s as easy as dragging and dropping one of the virtual index cards in the cork board view.
Scrivener also has an automatic backup function, which is a boon.
If you have more than one computer in your house, like I do, you only need one license (unless you have two different platforms. You will need separate licenses for Mac and PC). See their notes on licenses and usage here.
The cons? The learning curve, but don’t let that deter you. Take the time to do the tutorial and you’ll have all you need to know to get started. You only use what you need when you need it.
Scrivener isn’t free, but not to worry. At $40 it’s a bargain. I did a search for coupon codes and found one for 20% off and bought the program for a few dollars less. You can also wait until November and join NaNoWriMo and get a bigger discount, or join up with AppSumo. Both of these run $20 specials once a year.
Are You Ready to Write?
I’ve only scratched the surface of this program and I’m sure as time goes on I’ll find more uses for it, both with my own projects, those for the business and for clients. In addition to the fiction WIP I’ve also started a non-fiction project you all will love and you’ll hear more about it in the coming weeks.
Check out Scrivener here. Download the free trial and take it for a test drive. This program definitely gets the Blue Sun Stamp of Approval.
The only thing that would make it perfect, in my opinion, is a way to collaborate in the projects live like Wendi and I do on Google Docs (are you listening, Scrivener developers?). A Scrivener Cloud would be glorious. The heavens would open up and the angels would sing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do. While I’m doing that, tell me what your favorite writing programs are. Have you used or do you currently use Scrivener? What was/is your experience with it? Let us know in the comments!