Friday, February 12, 2016

To Scrivener or Not to Scrivener

There's been a lot of talk in my writing groups and on twitter recently on whether it's better to ditch Word and use a software tool meant for writers. I'm not here to give an opinion either way. What works for one is not necessary the right tool for someone else. Use what works best for you.

Instead I want to hear what you think and become informed on the choices. Which software do you like?

So many writers swear by Scrivener, saying it changed their life and made writing so much easier. From what I can see it allows users to move scenes more easily, split up chapters, and make notes about anything you want--like what feels incomplete about a chapter and what you need to come back and add. It lets you convert easily to Word or epub documents. It seems to have many benefits, including outlining. It's got bright and shiny gadgets.

My reasons against switching from Word comes purely from my own writing style. I don't outline. I don't need to convert my manuscripts to publish-ready formats. I rarely move scenes around because I write in a linear fashion. And I keep notes in my head or in another Word document that I just keep open.

Sometimes I go even lower tech and keep notes on paper. Here's the notebook where I list the POV used in each chapter for Faithful. It lets me find each character easily and doesn't cost a dime. When I got my new laptop, I had to pay to install Word again. I need convincing to pay more for another software package.

So opinions? Which software do you use? What functions of Scrivener make it worth the extra money?


  1. I love Scrivener. The ability to see scenes / chapters on a cork board is so useful. If I don't like the scene, I drag it to the trash can - done. I can see word count by scene. I can color code scenes by pov, etc. I can label scenes by draft, 2nd draft, etc. And there are so many ways to compile for other uses. I probably don't utilize 1/10 of its capabilities, but what I do know how to do is really cool.

  2. My love for scrivener knows no bounds. I don't have enough time to answer why I love it as much as I do, and I'll probably forget some reasons anyway, but I'll give it a go. I don't move scenes very much either, and my writing is pretty linear too, but it's just so nice to be able to label each scene with a description so when you want to adjust/double-check something/add you can go right to the exact spot.
    There's a research section. A character sketch section. Settings section. Each get their own little folder. ALL WITHIN THE SAME PROJECT. You mentioned keeping notes in a separate word document. No more need for that. It's all kept together. I put my synopsis/query/pitches in folders too. If you have deleted scenes, you can keep them in the project in the research section. There's also a split screen option so you can write while referencing those settings sketches or research notes. Honestly, having everything together and easily accessible is one of my favorite features.
    You can outline/corkboard your story.
    You can take a snapshot of your scene if you're about to make major revisions. If you like the revisions, great. If not, you can revert to the old. Or you can compare the two to see what you've changed.
    You mentioned tracking POV's on a separate sheet of paper. My WIP has multi POV's. I color-coded each scene/chapter folder by POV. One quick glance tells me what my POV balance looks like.
    I recently used scrivener to compare two version of the same, full-length manuscript (it highlights any/all changes and differences) and made the adjustments I wanted all within the same project.
    You can save pictures for characters/scenes/settings etc that you can view while typing.
    There are multiple view options, including full-screen with a customizable background so you can block out other programs.
    You can make notes for the entire manuscript, or for each individual scene if there are things you want to come back to. None of them need to be turned off or hidden - they don't get included when compiling.
    Compiling perfectly formats your ms, down to the cover page, without you have to do a darn thing.
    Each scene comes with a status box that you can choose to update: first draft, revised, final copy etc if you want to track your progress or ensure you've completed each scene.
    It auto-saves every five seconds.
    Bonus features: I recently started using Aeon Timeline (I have lots of call-backs to actual events in history for the WIP) and it synchs with scrivener so you can keep your timeline straight/keep a visual reference of dates.
    There are more reasons. I just can't remember them. I've converted many people with lengthy emails that include screenshots and glowing praise. And there are MANY features I haven't even learned how to use yet. Watch the tutorials - there's a learning curve, but it's worth it. Also, they always do discounts for NANO winners!
    I'm gonna stope now...I have a WIP to write. In Scrivener.

    1. I KNEW I'd forget something!
      Project and session targets! You can set your total manuscript word count, and your daily word-count goals and it puts a tiny little box (that you can move anywhere on your screen) and it tracks as you type. There are few things more satisfying than watching that line turn from red to yellow to green.
      Most used words. It compiles a word list with how many times you use each of them. Helpful for spotting crutch words.
      Name generator. Surprisingly helpful when trying to name characters.
      Also, I typo'd 'stop' in my last comment but I can't edit it. It makes me feel better to point out that I noticed.

  3. But do the fancy gizmos end up as more distraction from writing than aid? Is it like trying to write while checking twitter every three minutes and actually slows you down?

    1. Actually, there's "composition mode" in Scrivener where you can look JUST at the page and have everything else around it black. Really helpful for focusing.

  4. I like that with Scrivener, the file doesn't take too long to open even when you're far into a book. With Word, it seems to take a while to load 50k+ words.

  5. I'm somewhat curious about Scrivener, but hesitant as well. I have several notebooks for my current project--one for research, one for character sketches, loose outlining, and random thoughts. I also keep a separate word doc for editorial notes--things I'll want to revisit later. As I write I create tags, that way I can easily find it later. For example, I've got several cliche phrases tagged to rewrite in the next round of revisions. They have the same tag--easy to search/find. I like being able to see all of this at once. I like having the notebooks opened on my desk, I like flipping through pages. For some reason I like that more than clicking through tabs. I tried a free trial of scrivener but was overwhelmed. I might-maybe-give it another try on the next project. Maybe.

  6. I don't find anything about Scrivener distracting. I like that I can hide the side columns so that the document is all I see. I can use a font and line spacing that appeals to me as I'm writing and then compile into Word with a more standard font/spacing.

    But there are other features in the tool -- such as a name generator and a character map. You can label scenes and generate an outline. I rarely use the corkboard, but I do use the notecards to add things that I need to keep straight -- like what day of the week is it? Where are the characters located? Things that help me with consistency. And I add icons to all my scenes in the binder so I can see at a glance what POV it is. The binder lets you label the scene however it makes sense.

    As for compiling -- you can set your cover sheet up once and let it generate or not. You can create a compilation that lets you include parts in addition to chapters. You can choose to let it compile your chapters with just Chapter 1, etc or use the name you put on your chapters in the folder. It makes it easy to be sure not to have duplicate chapter numbers, etc. It can be set up to put your name/title in the header. And then you never have to think about any of that again. You just compile at will.

    There are some flaws with the software. It's not easy to copy paste from Word to Scrivener and back without running into formatting issues. But this only comes up for me when I'm at the point of fine-tuning since I don't compile to Word until I'm pretty sure I've got my MS in good enough shape for a read.

    Also, there are tons of tutorials on YouTube, so if anyone is stumped by the software, there are resources. I don't use all the tools available myself. I think it's very easy and intuitive once you use it a bit.

  7. I *like* Scrivener, but I don't love it. I find it much easier to move scenes and chapters around and to give chapters numbers (and change them!) in Scrivener. I think not loving it comes in part from me not taking enough time to understand all the features.

    One thing you should know: if you decide to get Scrivener, the Windows version (which I have) has less features than the Mac version. So I hear about amazing features, and then end up not having them - frustrating!

  8. I have to agree with what someone said on twitter that I like being able to touch my notes in a notebook. What about that aspect? How safe is scrivener from hard drive crashes and viruses?

    1. Regarding hard drive crashes, etc, it seems pretty stable for the most part, and saves your work every three seconds. But it's got a relatively unique format that makes it less convenient (for me, at least) to back it up and save copies elsewhere, because then you usually have to compile it and put it elsewhere, etc. So if that particular set of data gets corrupted, you're toast. If you can't use Scrivener itself for whatever reason, you can still find your work through the file folders... but the way it's arranged in the files is really weird and difficult to figure out, so that can be irksome.

      So that's my take on it-- if you do get it, compile and back up your work on a somewhat regular basis and you're fine.

      But this is coming from a pretty big lover of Scrivener.

  9. I'm another of the Scrivener faithful. I first came to it when I was editing a project, and what had been a daunting task when working in Word (I used to save each chapter as a separate file) suddenly seemed so manageable when I could see both the entire thing in outline AND work on individual scenes side by side in Scrivener. I continue to find Scrivener good for drafting - outlining and note-keeping and word-target-setting and all - but invaluable for revisions.

    Which features I use changes from project to project according to need. On one project, being able to move scenes around was a life-saver, as I tinkered with how my storylines meshed together. On another, I would have gone crazy without colour-coding my character arcs when I was checking continuity and flow.

    I also find it great for auto-backup peace of mind. It autosaves the project constantly, so no worry about crashes. And I have mine set up so that every time I close the project, it saves a backup to my dropbox. (When I started out, Scrivener didn't sync well to dropbox for project files if you were switching computers, but I'm told that's been smoothed out.)

  10. There are a couple of features of Scrivener I like, but I don't see any reason to pay $40 so I get a graphic when I hit my target word count. I wanted to love it, and I actually thought I would, but I didn't. After I compiled my MS, I wound up spending hours fixing the formatting. And when I'm editing, I get into a flow. Being interrupted at the end of every section so I could switch documents distracted me and frequently led to going to check Twitter or get up.

    If it had a regular word processing function so I could also use it as a total MS Word/Pages replacement, then it might work for me. But for now, I don't see a need. I also admit to being turned off by all the rabid fans. It kind of scares me, which may be a side effect of living in Boston and rooting for a team other than the Red Sox.