Scribbling in Scrivener

K. L. Schwengel

I’m loathe to jump on bandwagons, but I have a hard time saying no to gadgets and things that look like gadgets.  When I first started hearing about Scrivener, I passed if off as just another gimmick to get someone’s cash.  After visiting the Scrivener site, however, I downloaded the trial version for Windows.  I couldn’t resist.  The screen shots just made it look cool.

I’m happy to say, the screen shots didn’t lie.

I have to admit, when I tried to intuitively plow my way through it (being fairly adept at picking up new software quickly) I was a bit frustrated and disappointed.  That led me to dismiss it.  I was disappointed because I couldn’t force it to work with my completed (almost completed) manuscript the way I wanted it to.  I even convinced myself I wasn’t the kind of writer Scrivener was built for.

Turns out, I was wrong.

As I spent more time with Scrivener and actually went through the provided tutorial, I began to see how it may just actually be the next best thing to sliced bread.  At least for the early drafts of a manuscript.  Which is what its web site touts as its forte, “its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”  It keeps all your notes, scenes, reference, research. . . everything at your fingertips.  Easy to get at without losing your place in your current work.   No more searching through files.  No more digging through notebooks and piles of scraps of paper.  No more losing links or reference info you collected.  You can even store photos and videos.

Scrivener offers several different views while working.  You can split the screen either horizontally or vertically to have your notes or other sections visible.  This means I can have scene notes, reference, or in the case of the screen – character notes – displayed while I’m working.  If there’s a detail about a character I’ve forgotten I don’t need to go digging through the whole ms to find it.  I make the character cards as soon as I introduce a new character and any time I add a detail to the ms I may want to recall later, I add it to the card as well.  And it’s easy to switch between cork boards without losing your spot in the ms.

Another nice feature of the index cards is being able to color code them with a label color and a status watermark.

If you prefer a more traditional look, Scrivener offers an outline mode.  The color coding and labeling remain the same.  Any of the individual entries can be moved around or edited, making rearranging scenes a snap.

The Project Target feature is nice if you’re interested in word count or tracking words per day or per session.  Set your targets and the counters keep you aware of how you’re doing toward meeting them.

While working, if you prefer to write without seeing all the goobly-dee-gook around your page, Full Screen Mode gives you nothing but the page you’re working on, fading the background however much you chose.

The menu bar along the bottom (which disappears when not in use) allows you to change the fade of the background, the size of the page, text, etc.  Hitting the escape key puts you back into Scrivener’s main screen.  So you get to write with no distractions (at least on the screen.)

There are apparently some differences between the Windows version and the Mac version but, if you’ve never used it before, you won’t know so it’s not a big deal.  And, according to the Scrivener site, they’re working on it.

At this point, the only nit I have is minor.  I haven’t yet figured out how to get Scrivener to remember how my character’s names are spelled.  There is a “Learn Spelling” feature but it seems to only hold the name for the scene you’re working on.  I’m still learning the program and feeling my way through it but I definitely feel it’s worth the investment.

I liked it enough to purchase it before my trial ran out.  It won’t make you a better writer, but it will make you a more organized writer.

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