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[What's Next?] Scrivener
Written by
Cait Levin
July 2014
Written by
Cait Levin
July 2014

The last organizational software test on my list is finally here: Scrivener. I’m not sure why I saved it for last – maybe because it looked like there was more to it than the previous two programs I tried and I was being lazy, or maybe because I just happened to look it up last when I was researching all of the tools you all mentioned in your comments to my original post. Either way, it’s last, and the time is nigh!

The first thing I had to do was download the free trial of Scrivener from their website, which is pretty cool. They have a trial period that equals thirty days of use, which can last however long it takes you to use the program on thirty different days. If you use it every day, that’s a month. If you use it twice a week, that’s quite a bit longer.

When I opened the program after it installed I was brought to this home screen, which gave me a sense of what I was in for. There are three forms of tutorials: interactive, written, and YouTube videos. I won’t go into the details of use, because the tutorials are all very thorough. For the sake of diving in, let’s look at the fiction interface!

Once you choose the type of writing (for me, fiction), you get sub-types. I went with novel. I want to pause here and point out that if you choose non-fiction, you get everything from research proposals to “undergraduate humanities essay”. Where has this been all my life!?

Each template has it’s own introduction page to show you what you’re in for, which is great. On the left you have a navigation pane, on the right is a spot for your synopsis, and at the bottom right is a post-it colored writing spot to make notes to yourself. When you open the “manuscript” window, you get this really excellent interface that looks like a corkboard with index cards stuck to it (this is already calling to me).  Each moment within the chapter is called a scene, but all of the text on the card is editable, so you can re-name it whatever works for your brain. If you right-click on the corkboard you can open another menu of options, including the ability to add character and setting sketches!

Any of these choices opens another corkboard screen for you, where you can basically make virtual post-its, but organized and not falling off your walls all the time. Within each chapter you can then select the scene you made notes about and be taken to a basic word processing page, where you can get to writing!

As someone who helps people make books, I really liked the “front matter” category, which gives authors little cards for each page they’ll need that they often don’t think about, like a dedication, copyright page, and title page. Not sure why there wasn’t any back matter, but I bet I could add it!

The program has a bunch more fun little features, but not as many as WriteItNow has, as far as organizational detail. I didn’t mind that, because WriteItNow was sort of overwhelming to me. Scrivener does have a few templates for character and setting organization, but for the most part it allows Post-it people to take their madness and make it digital, which is not only more practical but creates less waste!

You can probably already tell, but I’m drinking the Scrivener Kool-Aid over here. Something about that corkboard background….

One big negative for me is that, again, there was no cross-device functionality here. You can’t sync Scrivener to your tablet or phone, and you can’t access it online if you’re on the move. So I do suggest, if you’re using it, to have a supplemental web-compatible note jotting program happening as well, like Evernote or Google Docs.

But what do you all think? Also, as a teacher, I wonder if any of you ever use this as a tool for getting your students organized for paper writing? Let me know in the comments below!

Cait Levin is the Community Manager at She Writes. You can read more of her blog (when she stops watching so much Dawson’s Creek and actually writes more of a blog) here.

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  • I used Scrivener for my novel and while it was hard to get going, I LOVE it and totally depended on it. I used dropbox to work on multiple devices, too. 

  • I love Scrivener for organizing. I break chapters down into individual scenes so I can move stuff around more easily. (I also love being able to search by keywords and characters). Precisely because it *is* so easy to move things around! and I might out something in the wrong place, I duplicate what I do on a side with a word doc.

    I cannot watch the tutorial by the creator. His mellifluous voice and slow, steady pace would easily put me to sleep. I have, instead, searched for spot-help, which is maybe why I can't use scrivener for my final draft, either. All my spacing came out weird, and wherever there was a page number, it bumped some material. I'm sure a less Luddite writer could manage it. For me, I just out it all back in a word doc, straightened out spacing (which it also screwed up) and found those stray few sentences per section and used that as a chance to do a final polish, as my eye could not skim across the page no matter how many times I had read it before--it had to fix spacing on every line!

  • @Caitlyn If you have a single file that you are modifying across computers and using scrivener on each device, my solution was to store the file in a shared medium such as dropbox, opening and saving it from/to dropbox. Then, when I use my desktop, I go to my dropbox and open the .scriv file and I'm right back to editing. I setup the backups so that each device backs up that working copy to the individual machine, while the copy that I work on/edit is stored in dropbox.

  • Brook Blander

    I have been using Scrivener for several years and I LOVE IT! It is the one writer's software that I have stuck with and I feel is beneficial to my writing process. Ive even recently ventured into finding a few Scrivener Templates online. Its a great product! Thanks for sharing this post. 

  • Sherrey Meyer

    I've been using Scrivener at least two years now, maybe almost three, and I LOVE it! My WIP is a memoir so I'm using a nonfiction template, which is working just great. My favorite feature is the corkboard which is a virtual storyboard. And there are many other features I've used in researching, adding images, etc., and all have gone smoothly. 

    For those looking for a Scrivener community where lots of information flows and questions get answered, check out the Scrivener Users community on Google+. All levels of users from advanced to newbies are welcome, and I learn something new every time I go there. There are some so smart they even create new templates, some of which I've found useful.

  • Ruth Raymer

    @ Caitlin: If you have Scrivener on more than one PC you can link them via Evernote or other cloud based storage but cross platform is where the problem is - in going from PC to Mac or vice versa.

  • Cait Levin

    @Diana and Ruth: I have a question about this second computer business. When you install the software on another computer, are you saying that you have to manually transfer everything into the new computer? 

  • Nina Gaby

    Not that I love Cloud as it lost hundreds of work related documents from my iPAD when I bought a new Apple laptop- but is there any way to cross devices via Cloud? That sounds like a big problem. Right now I still trust the big paper pad I keep with my laptop (and serves as my cross device, lol) but have heard such good things about Scrivener. I wonder if it would be easy enough for someone as unlucky and clumsy as I am with computers to adjust to? 

  • Ruth Raymer

    I LOVE Scrivener... I use for writing essays, non fiction and short fiction but I have also used it for screenplays and other scripts and I am using it for my novel.

    Just a wee heads up - If you are a student you can get a discount on the already low price.  Only downside for me I wish the Windows and Mac versions would talk to one another... I write on my Mac but do Uni work on a Windows machine (which I hate with a passion so lord knows why I do it!).

    Scrivener is the bees knees!!!

  • Evalyn Lee

    I would love a webinar on this -- find I do better with people than video/instructions...keep trying, friends are loving it.

  • Susan Holck

    I am a Scrivener convert. Totally. It has helped me keep my various bits of writing -- scenes, ideas, chapters, character sketches, research results -- manageable and easy to access (and change). I did install it on a second computer -- which Scrivener lets you do for free. I had no problems with that, though the actual content I transferred using a memory stick. Not sure that's the best way, but it worked for me. The tutorial is overwhelming, but very thorough. I invested in Scrivener for Dummies and am glad I did; it's easy to look up something I'm confused about. It was relatively easy to figure out how to use the basic tools of Scrivener.

  • I absolutely love Scrivener, but I have to give a heads-up on one serious glitch that happened to me.  I bought the software, after using the free version, because it eliminated the headache of "dumb" index cards, namely, you can reshuffle and search keywords and themes effortlessly on Scrivener, instead of color-coding and dropping, let alone losing, index cards you find essential.  However, when installing Scrivener onto a second computer, there was a bug--which eliminated ALL of my 200+ hours of new revisions!  What a mess!  Scrivener had saved the older version, over and over again, for a month before I discovered the problem.  (Previous chapters were saved in old form, while I was revising later chapters.)  Because I had backed up daily, I recovered all of the edits.  But, I had to de-install and re-install Scrivener, and then re-input the new material into Scrivener which took hours and hours, and is confusing.  That said, back-up and back-up some more--in Word.  Check Scrivener often.  I will never go back to the non-digital, index card method--but Scrivener is notg 100% fool-proof, but then again, what is?

  • Amy S. Peele

    I am just starting to use this new software so really appreciate the detailed walk through. Not sure if this topic would lend itself to a webinar or not but thought I'd put that out there. Thanks for taking the time to document all the steps.

    Amy S. Peele