Scrivener is a small-but-mighty piece of writing software that revolutionises the writing process for long manuscripts – book, script or academic thesis.
I hear you say, “I’ve got Microsoft Word, why would I need any other piece of software for writing?” I use Word myself, most days of the week. Word was created for business writing, and it’s very good at it. But long-form writing is different.
For long-form writing, Scrivener is now my hero.
It’s available for Mac and PC, and is cheap-as-chips.
Here’s my list of the top 3 Scrivener features that make writing easier…
1. Everything in one place
I’ll show you a screenshot first, from my thriller Poison Bay, and then I’ll tell you why it’s so remarkable (Scrivener that is, not the thriller, we can discuss that some other time 😉 ).
Friendly and unassuming, isn’t it? Here’s what I’m able to see in just one computer window:
All 130+ scenes of a 100,000 word novel.
- The scenes have brief labels in the left-hand pane, so I can remember at a glance what happens in that scene.
- Each scene behaves as a separate document, so that I can change scene order with a quick click of the mouse. And then change it back again tomorrow or next week, with another quick click of the mouse. (Try writing a book in Word with each scene as a separate document and see how much you enjoy it. And how quickly you get a restraining order from your editor! 😉 )
- The scenes are grouped in chapters (folders). I can view the MS as a single scene, a single chapter, or in its entirety as one long flowing 100,000 word piece.
- If I get tired of looking at all that text, I can view it as a corkboard instead, showing cards with scene summaries, modified and colour-coded to suit my needs. And yes, you can pick the cards up with your mouse and move them around at will.
- Another view is Outliner, which gives you all of the content of your index cards, but in a list.
Ever changed your manuscript and thought, “Dang, that was better before.” Yeah, me too. I take what’s called a Snapshot at significant moments in the development of the manuscript. That’s what you’re seeing in the right-hand pane, listed by the date they’ve been made and a short description. I can quickly dip into a snapshot to see and compare previous versions, and restore the whole shebang, or copy and paste small sections.
I’ll list some of the other things I also have available in that ONE COMPUTER WINDOW, to give you some inspiration for what you could include in one computer window in YOUR Scrivener project…
- Photos that I’ve taken to help me describe a setting. Right there in the window, so I can look at them while I write.
- Character descriptions.
- Audio interviews that I did when researching my novel. Yes, that’s right. Imported straight into the project as an MP3, where I can listen to it again anytime, or transcribe it. (Scrivener is now my favourite transcription tool – I’ll write another whole post on that one day, it’s become a star feature for me!)
- Pdfs of various background documents that I’m using for research. Yes, pdfs, right there to read in the same window.
- Reports from my beta readers.
- Scenes I’ve deleted. Still there and all collected in one place, so I can reinstate them, or just harvest handy things from them. Or use them later in another book or short story!
- Links to useful websites.
2. Distraction free writing
Do you ever settle in for a good long session of writing your book, script or thesis, and get distracted by emails, social media, the web or WORK? Yeah, me too. Take a look at this.
That’s called Full Screen Composition Mode. That’s the entire computer screen you’re seeing in the screenshot above, not just one window. No menu bars or popup notifications or digi-distractions of any kind. Even the Scrivener menu is hidden.
You can set it up however you like: tiny text, huge text (left the glasses at the office again, did we?), wide text pane to fit more words on screen at once, narrow text pane so you can scan the lines quickly, background image, no background image, transparent or opaque.
You can view just one scene at a time, one chapter at a time, or the whole book in one long, undistracted, uninterrupted stream.
I love this feature!
Poison Bay is about a bunch of people who get lost in the NZ wilderness, so I’ve set the background as one of my mossy-tree-trunk images from my research hike in the NZ wilderness. It helps get me in the mood for wilderness lostness. You could make it whatever you like, or completely blank. Whatever works for you and your brain and your manuscript!
3. So many output options
What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, but not so for Scrivener. You can output it into 20 different file formats using File > Compile. The ones I use most often myself are:
- Microsoft Word – to apply particular types of formatting, to submit it to a publisher/agent/client, or to email it to myself as an extra backup. (It also has .odt if you’re working in Open Office instead of Word.)
- Mobi ebook format – ready for publishing on Amazon, or just transferring to my own Kindle to allow me to read it with “different eyes” and see its faults and opportunities better. (The first time you use this feature, it asks you to download KindleGen from Amazon. Easy.)
- Epub ebook format – ready for publishing to iBooks, Nook, Kobo etc, or just reading on my iPhone for checking or showing to someone else.
File > Compile is a powerful feature. You can:
- Add meta data like author names and publishers and book descriptions.
- Format how the text will appear in the different file types.
- Add “separators”… for example, something like *** at the end of each scene, to signal to the reader that we are changing location or point of view. Yes, that’s right, you DON’T have to add the separators as you write.
- Insert the book cover image for an ebook.
- Generate a table of contents – especially useful in non-fiction.
- Convert links to HTML.
- Replace certain words and phrases – handy for international editions (e.g. “color” for USA, “colour” for UK and Australia).
Mac or PC?
I’m using Scrivener on Mac, which has a few extra options as the Windows version catches up. There is a list of differences on the Scrivener forum. I started using Scrivener in 2011, when Scrivener for Mac was about as advanced as Scrivener for Windows is now… and I fell in love with it back then! 🙂
Want to try Scrivener? Some useful links to get you started…
Screaming for Scrivener
I’m an Australian and very laid-back about most things. (It’s like the British stiff upper lip, adapted for hot weather.) But Scrivener brings me very close to screaming like a teenage girl about to meet Justin Bieber. 😉 It really has changed the way I manage long manuscripts. LOVE it!
Are you a Scrivener fan too? Tell us how you use it and what you love most about it.