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9 (or more) Things I Love About Scrivener

Therese barging in for a second to introduce you to our newest regular contributor here at WU: Scrivener guru Gwen Hernandez [1]. I am so excited to have Gwen here to help us all understand Scrivener better, and I admit to some selfishness here as I still have not wrapped my brain entirely around Scrivener, still feel confused and a little intimidated by it. With me? Then help me to welcome her into the fold. And if you’re already a Scrivener-devotee, please add your thoughts to comments: Why does Scrivener trump other options for you? Welcome, Gwen!

man in street on desk chair [2]

If writing tools were teachers, your word processor would be the one who admonishes you to color within the lines and always use green for grass. Scrivener would be the cool teacher who encourages you to draw your own picture and praises your purple sun.
~ From Scrivener For Dummies

For fifteen years, I was a word processor power user. I was certified as a specialist by the software company, I taught classes on the topic, I created indexes, I performed mail merges… I used it for business letters, term papers, memos, technical manuals, and even a graduate thesis.

But when I got serious about writing, I grew seriously frustrated with my word processor’s limitations.

And then a friend told me about this writing software called Scrivener. I checked it out and was so impressed I didn’t even wait for the free trial to expire. I paid for it on day three.

Why? Because Scrivener is designed to support the creative process from top to bottom (or side to side, if you prefer). What exactly is it? Imagine the love child of a word processor, an accordion file, a photo album, and a cork board, with a few twists. It lets you keep everything related to your manuscript in one place, right alongside your writing, for easy access.

Scrivener screen shot [3]

Yes, like any new-to-you software, there’s a learning curve. It looks so different from anything you’re used to, that some people need a while to retrain their brain. Others “get it” the first time they fire it up. I think Scrivener is worth taking a few hours to get comfortable with, because it supports your writing process—whatever that is, whether plotter or pantser or something else—in a way that a typical word processor can’t.

I use it to write fiction and nonfiction, compose and organize blog posts, create and plan class lessons, and keep track of public appearances. I think it would also make a fabulous agent/editor submission tracker.

Here are some of the features I love most.

1. Scrivener remembers your spot. When you open a project in Scrivener, it takes you right to where you left off, both within the project and within a document. Maybe not such a big deal when writing the first draft—especially if you’re a linear writer—but when you’re in the midst of revisions, it’s a lifesaver.

2. Your structure is easy to see. Scrivener lets you write in chunks (e.g. scenes, sections, or chapters) called documents. The Binder—like a table of contents showing all of the files in your project—gives you an at-a-glance overview of your entire manuscript, and thus the structure of your work.

Change your mind about the order of scenes or chapters? It’s a cinch to move them around and play with a different story flow.

Scrivener binder [4]

3. Color-coding. In Scrivener, you can color code your documents by whatever piece of data you want to track. For example, in the drafting phase I tag my fiction scenes by point-of-view (POV) character, using blue for the hero and pink for the heroine (original, right?). Instantly, I can see the POV of a scene and check my overall balance.

In the revision phase—and for nonfiction—I use the Label field to keep track of the status of each section (e.g. Not Started, WIP, To Editor, Author Review, Complete).

4. Saving epiphanies is easy. Muse gave you an idea for a future scene, but you’re not ready for it yet? Create a new document, write out your idea, then ignore it until you figure out where it goes.

5. You can leave notes for yourself. Can’t think of that perfect comeback line for you heroine? Need to research the proper term for a man’s undergarment in 1821 England? Simply insert an inline annotation (text in a colored bubble right in the manuscript) or a comment, and get back to writing. Annotations are also a handy way to mark sections that would make good excerpts, either for front matter or in your advertising.

It’s easy to find your notes again, but you don’t have to delete them before you share your work with an agent, editor, or readers. Scrivener lets you choose whether to include or exclude annotations and comments when you compile (export).

Scrivener annotations and comments [5]

6. Auto-save protects your hard work. If you’ve ever faced the Blue Screen of Death, or lost power after writing 3,000 words without saving, you’ll appreciate that Scrivener saves your project every time there’s more than two seconds of inactivity (this can be adjusted as desired). So while you’re pondering your next sentence, Scrivener is committing your words to memory.

7. Scrivener is like Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag. You can import research documents, web pages/links, and photos right into your project, so even when you take your laptop on the road, you have everything you need. You can also import any writing you already started in another program.

Plus, you can keep outlines, notes on ideas for changes and future scenes, and character and setting information all within the project. No more scouring your hard drive or that pile of sticky notes on your desk for a crucial piece of info.

8. Working without distractions. Scrivener’s full screen composition mode blocks out all distractions, making it easier to focus on your writing. Change the background color or image to suit your mood. My last book was set on a Caribbean island, so I used a photo I took in St. Lucia to set the scene.

Scrivener full screen composition mode [6]

9. Exporting to e-books is a snap. Scrivener is your one-stop publishing program. When your masterpiece is done, you can compile (export) it to an EPUB or MOBI (Amazon) file for easy self-publishing, or for perusing on your e-reader. You can also export to DOC/DOCX, RTF, TXT, PDF, HTML, direct-to-printer, and other formats, including Final Draft (screenplay software).

The beauty is that you can write in any format/font/color you want and then compile it into something completely different without affecting your original work. Produce a Word document, then turn around and create an EPUB. Totally different formats with a few clicks. Print chapter or scene titles in one version, leave them out in another. It can even auto-number your chapters or sections.

Getting the output right the first time can take a bit of trial and error as you learn how it works, but once you have it set up the way you want, you can save the settings for future use.

And there’s so much more. I could go on about my favorite writing software all day. The ability to set word count goals and track your progress. The Corkboard where you can view each document as an index card (perfect for storyboarders). Advanced searches that help you find anything, anywhere in your project. Snapshots for saving old versions of scenes…

TrackProgress [7]

Scrivener corkboard [8]

That’s just a small list of what makes Scrivener—available for Mac and Windows—too hot to resist. So, if you’re tired of your stodgy, inflexible word processor, why not give Scrivener’s free trial [9] a whirl?

What do you want to know? Hit me with your questions. Got a favorite Scrivener feature I didn’t mention? Please share.

I’m excited to be joining Writer Unboxed to talk about—what else?—Scrivener. Thanks to Therese Walsh and the rest of the crew for welcoming me to the WU community!

About Gwen Hernandez [10]

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies [11], Productivity Tools for Writers, and the “Men of Steele” series (military romantic suspense). She teaches Scrivener to writers all over the world through online classes [12], in-person workshops, and private sessions. Learn more about Gwen at gwenhernandez.com [13].