On Process: Getting to Love Scrivener

Have I said how much I am loving Scrivener?

I am loving Scrivener.

When I started writing my first novel, Owe Nothing, my initial tools were a notebook (the dead-tree-based, spiral-bound kind) and a variety of ballpoint pens. I wrote a dozen pages at a time, “long hand” as they say.I would write at home, at a cafe, and anywhere else I was when some inspiration or scene idea would cross my mind.

As material began to accumulate, I started adding little codes, yellow highlighter, page numbers, arrows and sticky notes. What a disorganized mess it became. Then, the fun task of typing in and organizing all those hand-written notes. Bloody hell…

Handheld Devices and Laptops

Later, I began using my PDA (a Palm Tungsten, then a Treo) and a little keyboard to write scenes. This worked pretty well but must have looked ridiculous, judging by all the looks I got and the resulting conversations with curious strangers.

Later still, I finally bought myself a little netbook and started moving text from the netbook to my desktop PC using a USB key or emailing it to myself and composing snippets of text into a manuscript later. The netbook was orders of magnitude better for sheer typing speed, but gave no relief in terms of information organization and consolidation. Blech.

Needless to say, while I think it’s fantastic to be able to write anywhere I can, whenever the fancy strikes me, it has sucked hard trying to keep all my raw material organized and centralized across different input sources. Man cannot live by Word(tm) alone.

Writing Tools That Have Helped Me Stay Organized

Next, I played around with FourSquare for almost a year, and it helped to centralize my manuscript and research materials better than before. I began to see that having digital research material adjacent to my working draft manuscript was extremely helpful and motivating. Unfortunately, I found importing and exporting my project to a flash drive to get it from one PC to another turned out to be a total pain in the neck. Because of that, I just didn’t sync my Foursquare project data all that often.

Recently, I discovered Scrivener. This tool is like a complete working environment inside one app: For research, I can import text, photos, and web links. For high-level organization and outlining, I can modularize my words as “index cards” or folders of text, and it’s easy to move chunks of my story around in order to get a flow that I like. Most recently, I’ve used the labeling feature to colour-code scenes according to the major plot to which they belong. This gives me a sense of the balance of the overall piece, and will make it easier to decide how to move scenes around if I want to contrast things against each other or change the flow of the story.

As for portability, moving my Scrivener project between my laptop (for those productive Starbucks sessions) and my desktop PC, it’s easy to transplant my project by dragging one folder into a common location. Dropbox is the best answer for that. Drag and drop. Boom. Done.

In terms of composition, Scrivener is a full-meal-deal editor, providing enough tools to format my text, but not so many that I’ll get lost amongst features that I rarely ever need (unlike Word).

For distribution formats or special projects, where a particular template is required, I can burp out my manuscript in a paperback novel format, an eBook, or reformat it as a screenplay or something else. I haven’t done this yet, but it sounds pretty cool.

But it can’t make me create…

…so, for that I use Write or Die, because no one tool can do everything.

I still keep a pen and paper handy too, just in case…


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