Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Scrivener or not to Scrivener?

Any number of authors swear by Scrivener software, a word processor and project management tool that's designed specifically for long projects like books and screenplays.  I signed up for a free trial, and I just made my way through the tutorial.  So far I'm...dubious.

Basically, Scrivener gives you one big binder for a project.  Within it, you treat each chapter or scene of your manuscript as a separate file, though you can easily compile them into a single view. You can tag the scenes in various ways, e.g. by point-of-view character or setting.  You also have separate sections where you can keep character notes or research files.

I can see the good in all of this.  So why aren't I rushing to start my new project in Scrivener instead of good ol' MS Word?

It's purely a gut reaction.  I don't claim any of this is rational at all.  But it just feels WRONG to me to treat my manuscript as a bunch of discrete scenes or chapters rather than an organic whole--albeit a fluid one that can and should change right up until my editor and I agree that it's ready.

Believe me, I realize how strange this sounds...but the manuscript is sort of a sacred space to me as I'm working on it.  The Manuscript is the Manuscript, the Manuscript is one, and I don't WANT my research or my visual inspiration or my notes in the same file.  None of those are the Manuscript--they're commentary.  I even like keeping much of that not-the-manuscript stuff off my computer.  I like to plot on a whiteboard, and I sometimes use my whole office door as a sort of canvas for post-it-notes with scene notes and character arcs.  I'm a kinesthetic learner and thinker, and I need to step away from the monitor, pace, rearrange my post-its, pull a pile of research books off the shelf and spread them out on the coffee table, etc.  I'm sure the Scrivener corkboard and research files are more efficient, but it doesn't have that same physicality, and it just doesn't feel like ME.

On the other hand, I do want to learn to be a faster and more efficient writer, so maybe I'm being too quick to dismiss a tool that might help me move in that direction.  Yet...I wonder how much you can really force your process in a direction that's unnatural for you?


  1. Switching to a new platform always adds anxiety to one's project. And then to commit a new project to the new platform while simultaneously scaling a learning curve, well, it's daunting. So you have my sympathy.

    But Scrivener doesn't force you to treat your manuscript as "a bunch of discrete scenes or chapters". And even if you do so, you can simply select the root folder in the binder (mine is boringly named "Manuscript") and edit in the Group Mode's "Composite" mode: Voila! The entire manuscript (or all parts of it you have selected) as one, um, "sacred space".

    1. I see what you're saying, but if I'm not going to actually use features like treating scenes/chapters as separate entities and keeping my research & notes in the binder, I might as well save my money and stick to the software I already have.

  2. Hi Susanna,

    I'm the designer and developer of Scrivener, and I would say that if it doesn't feel right to you, then it probably isn't. :) It's great that so many authors have started using Scrivener, but to be honest, it didn't start out as a commercial concern, but rather as a hobby - I wanted to write some software that fit the way *I* write. And I do tend to write in chunks and move things around a lot. I was quite surprised - happily so! - that so many other writers did the same thing and found Scrivener useful. But it would be silly of me to think that it would suit all writers, when everyone writes differently. So Scrivener started out as an alternative to standard linear word processors (such as Word), allowing you to break things up - because I found it frustrating to be boxed in the way Word and linear word processors worked, seeing as that isn't the way my mind works. But I would hate to think that writers whose minds work differently to mine feel that they have to start using Scrivener just because others do, and then find themselves boxed in or overly constrained by Scrivener because it doesn't fit their mindset. We all work in different ways, none superior to the others, and I think it's great that there are so many tools out there these days that fit various different working methods. (And if Scrivener doesn't suit you but you want to try an alternative to Word, we have a number of writing programs listed on our links page: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/links.php )

    So, many thanks for trying Scrivener, and I'm sorry to hear that it didn't work out for you, but I would hate for Scrivener to hinder your process, especially when you already have a process that has allowed you to successfully complete novels. Of course, that said, should you ever change your mind or your working processes, we would love to have you as a customer and would be happy to answer any questions you have.

    All the best,

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for leaving such a generous and thoughtful comment, Keith! You've reminded me that I want to do a blog post at some point on finding your own path as a writer no matter how many authors tell you that you MUST outline or you MUST do character biographies or you MUST use Goal, Motivation, Conflict or you MUST follow the Hero's Journey or whatever. (Of all those, the only one I pay any conscious attention to is the Hero's Journey.)

      Also, even though I don't think Scrivener is for me at this time, it definitely impressed me as being a quality product, well-thought and well-designed.