Monday, February 18, 2013

Guest Post: Is Scrivener Right For You? with Naomi Musch

This month, welcome guest author Naomi Musch

Is Scrivener Right For You?

By Naomi Musch

Lots of writers are asking themselves whether or not they should invest in yet another writing program, but their friends are talking about Scrivener. You want to know, is it really worth it?

I didn't have to spend much time deciding after long-time friends gifted me with a Scrivener for Windows program last fall. I'm here today to talk about how that program is working for me and hopefully give you insights into why it might work for you, too. Yep, I'm a convert, but I'll fill you in on some cons as well.

Scrivener was created with novelists in mind. Though it can serve many purposes, its creators primarily wanted to build a program that attended to the specific needs of novelists. Not every program out there is like that. I've always been a "Word" girl myself. Though I've tried other methods -- story-boarding / outlining / snow-flaking / note-booking -- I've always tended to come back to Word and create file upon file that I juggle among for my research, outlines, ideas, chapter synopses, and so on.

But with Scrivener, it's all in one place, right there where it's visible while I am word processing, and I can refer to any tidbit of information I need in a snap.

With Scrivener, I can organize my work the way my brain thinks and still have all the features of a regular word processing program available. Here's what I mean -- I'm a messy writer. I fill notebooks here and there. I create character files, scene files, theme files, language files, history files. I jot highlights and scribbles in books I'm reading for research. I outline the whole novel in about fifteen points, but then I expand each of those points to further snarly outlines and scene ideas. These tend to all wind up in different -- or sometimes overlapping -- files. It's a mess! But it's how I work. Sometimes it slows me down, but I deal with it. If I didn't have a computer, it would likely mean a desktop covered with sticky notes and papers. In fact, it still does. (You gotta love the sticky note feature on Windows desktop!)

But with Scrivener, I can take all that mess and have it on hand in the same fashion you'd keep your work divided in a binder notebook. In fact, one of the main features of Scivener is the Binder.

Here's how it works.

In the center of your page is your word processor. On the left is your Binder. On the right is another feature called the Inspector. In your Binder you create your files, bunches of them if you're like me. It looks like you are holding a file cabinet drawer open and viewing them all in front of you. You can make as many as you like, on any subject you'd like. Because Scrivener was designed for the novelist, it provides a template where you have one binder full of Scenes, another for Research, another for Character details.

I use the scene portion of the binder to create a file for each chapter. I love being able to separate my chapters this way. Now, if I need to refer back to a previous chapter, I can just click on it and there it is instead of scrolling up or down to find it. I can hop all over the place without much effort. Later, it'll be a breeze to use Scrivener's Compile feature to put all these files together in an instant without having to cut and paste anything, and all according to an agent's, editor's, or publisher's specifications.

Now to the Inspector. On the top of the Inspector, under Synopsis is a note card. On it, you can jot a short synopsis of the file you're working on. I use it to write a brief synopsis of each chapter I can refer to at a glance. More on this later.

Below the synopsis card is the General Meta-Data section you'll use for compiling your work later. It'll guide you to compile it any way you want it, to suit the publisher you're sending it to.

Last, below the Meta-Data is a long section for Document Notes. Oh, I love this feature! As I work in each chapter, I can use this space to jot any notes that come to mind for what I have to do or points I need to remember. I can post links to websites or paste photos I need to refer to in my research. On the top tool bar in Scrivener, under Documents, there's a place to take a screen snapshot. Say you want to make changes to a scene, but you don't want to lose the previous version, just in case. Take a snapshot, and it'll show up in the notes section, as is. You can always pull it back in later if you don't like the changes you've made.

Primarily for a plotter like me, I can use the notes section to post my in-chapter outline. It's even handier than sticky notes! Pansters, take note, Scrivener has features you'll adore too.

Basic Scrivener Layout, Binder on the left of the word processor, Inspector on the right

Back to the Synopsis cards. Whether you're a panster or a plotter, one of the features that you'll love is the Corkboard. I've never been one for story-boarding, but I know a lot of folks who like to do that.

When you click on the Corkboard feature, all your synopsis cards will pin to a virtual corkboard. You can re-arrange them any time you want, and when you do, your chapter files will automatically rearrange themselves as well. You can add extra cards in between, thus adding an extra "scene" or "chapter file". You can use it to brainstorm ideas as you go along, or to rearrange an outline. In fact, if you're a writer who likes to write scenes as they pop into your head, out of order, then Scrivener's Corkboard is the ideal go-to tool for you to do that. There are numbers of ways to use the Corkboard feature, and creative minds will find a slew of them, I'm sure.

Corkboard with Synopsis Cards

This all sounds like a lot to absorb, and indeed, there's a bit of a learning curve. I'm discovering new things I can do with Scrivener every time I use it. Not everything in the word processor feature is arranged like it is in Word. I had to hunt to find out how to change my text format. There are buttons I haven't pushed yet. (Won't that be fun!) But if I can figure it out, you can do it too.

I don't particularly like the way the built in spell-checker works. It won't let me check the spelling on one word alone without going back to the top of the file document and starting there. In Word I like the way you can highlight a word or phrase and a little bar pops up to let you change the font, size, or switch to bold-face or italicize it. In Scrivener, you have to mouse to the bar at the top of the page to do that. A minor detail, but less convenient.

But those are all particular processing issues. The overall ability to organize is what really makes Scrivener work for novelists, and the $40 price tag is reasonable for those of us who haven't hit New York Times best-seller status. Plus Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener, lets you download a trial version for 30 days free. That makes it especially appealing. Do the free download when you know you're going to have the time to invest in exploring. Like I said, there's a learning curve.

One more thing about that learning curve, I recommend this video channel on YouTube full of succinct Scrivener tutorials. For a really quick jumpstart, try this one on Using Corkboard & Synopsis first. As for you Mac users, I hear there are even more Scrivener features with Scrivener for Mac. If you know about them and want to share insights, please do!

Are you a Scrivener user? What features do you love -- or find annoying? Which features did I miss writing about here that novelists are sure to find useful?

About Naomi:

Naomi writes both historical and contemporary women's fiction in which her aim is to surprise and entertain readers by telling stories of imperfect people who are finding faith and hope to overcome their struggles. Her most recent novel, The Black Rose, concludes her three-book Empire in Pine historical series. She invites you to visit her and investigate her series and other works at  on Facebook: or follow her on Twitter:!/NMusch

Add to Technorati Favorites
Bookmark and Share