If you spend much time around writers, reading Twitter or blogs, you’ll probably hear the name Scrivener tossed about a bit. It’s a word processing program that’s specifically developed for writers to be more than just a word processing program. Some writers love it, some hate it, and some, like me, go both ways depending on the circumstances.
Scrivener’s main advantage over a typical program like Microsoft Word is that Scrivener treats your manuscript as a collection of files instead of a single one. As a physical-world analogy, it’s the difference between having a notebook, and having a desktop/table covered in papers and notecards. You can feasibly work with both, but depending on your working style you may well find it a lot easier to be able to spread out on a table where you can organize and rearrange things and have references in easy reach.
Scrivener allows the author to break the manuscript up into units – parts/chapters/scenes, individually or nested – rather than working in one long continuous file. These units can be moved around easily. Given labels on a “corkboard” view for quick reference of what happens where. Deleted scenes can be removed to their own folder without having to open another file to save them in. A separate section saves stuff you want to keep pinned for quick reference – websites, photos, whatever – allowing you to work offline and/or not have to flip to another program. It can be set up to work with two viewpanes, one displaying the manuscript and the other displaying your reference material. And then it allows you to export your manuscript into a single Word document when you’re done. It does some other things, too, but those are definitely the headliners for me.
I have some writer friends who swear by the program. And I do too… for editing. I still do all my drafting in Word. This is partly because I’m a linear writer. I start at Chapter One and write in a straight line through to The End. I like the interface of Word, being able to set my screen view up to mimic a page of a book, having the quick-reference word count at the bottom of the screen, and more versatile formatting options. Scrivener is a good word processor, but I think Word is more powerful with that stuff. The special features of Scrivener aren’t necessary for me while drafting, so I just use Word.
Where Scrivener excels for me is in revisions/editing. Once I finish my draft I import it into Scrivener and break it up into its component chapters. This allows me to edit each chapter individually, quickly flip from one chapter to another to check or change something without having to search a huge long document, move chapters around (not that I do this much) or save deleted scenes easily. I can review plot arcs quickly using the corkboard view, or easily insert new scenes if I need to without worrying about the rest of the document. I revised Magestone in Word. I revised Secrets in Scrivener. It made a huge difference in the ease of the process.
The other place Scrivener excels (but which doesn’t apply to me) is for writers who are patchwork drafters. These writers jump around while writing their manuscript, writing scenes out of order. Scrivener allows for each scene just to simply be written with its placement worried about later, without having to deal with a huge load of files. Once all the scenes are written they’re easily shifted about or tossed in the deleted scenes folder.
Scrivener is $40 ($45 for the Mac version) to buy, but I think all patchwork drafters and many other writers would feel this a very worthwhile $40 spent. However, Scrivener is a sponsor of NaNoWriMo and offers a special NaNo deal to participants. First of all, they have a free trial version you can download that’s fully functional for 30 days. They have special discounts for NaNo participants: everyone can get the full version for 20% off… and if you won NaNo, you get 50% off. I won NaNo last year, and used my winner’s discount to buy Scrivener for $20. I don’t regret it.
There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve when you’re first testing it out – it’s easy to get annoyed if you’re just having a quick browse with the program. I tried it once a year earlier and only fell in love with it for editing when I gave it a second, more thorough, chance. Set aside some time, have some patience, find someone who can help answer your questions (such as me on Twitter), and give it a try. :)