Fortunate Finds: Scrivener

Ode to my precious novel-scribbling tool

Originally I never planned on including a piece of software among my “Fortunate Finds” posts, as I only intended to babble about music I love and books I may want to mention, recommend or “review”. However, as I continue plodding along as an “indie” author, I keep discussing things with other authors – either those I happen to meet online or those I had already known before I’d actually started feeling like one as well. One of the issues that has already come up quite a few times during various discussions is the traditional, recurring leitmotif along the lines of “Woe is me, for M$ Word is driving me insane“.

I know the sentiment. I’ve worked in Word for decades, first as a student; for a while, eons ago, even as a part-time typesetter (even back then, as a teenager, I was aware that Word wasn’t really a proper text formatting or desktop publishing tool, but I did not have any other means of doing it; besides, the texts I worked on were relatively simple and scarcely contained any graphics); and then for almost twenty years as a professional translator, with and without computer-assisted translation tools. So, knowing almost everything there is to know about Word (except for advanced macro programming and various bloatware options I’ve never used), I also wrote my first two novels in Word. Due to my diligence or even obsession with keeping (several redundant) backups I’ve never had any serious problems with it (though I’ve heard many horror stories). However, as most people trying to work on anything serious and complex in Word will surely know, Word can drive you insane. I will not go into details here, they are very well-known, even infamous, and this is not a Word-bashing blog post: it’s a “Lookie here, a great tool for writers!” post.

When I started working on my third novel it soon became apparent that Word would make the project very difficult. First of all, the novel will be quite long, full of strange names and foreign words, so the spell checker would sooner or later come up with the completely nonsensical message I’ve grown to absolutely detest over the years: “Too many spelling and grammar errors”, after which the spell checker would take the liberty of turning itself off and not displaying any typos anymore. I mean, pardon my French, but what the fuck? Word 2016 doesn’t seem to be able to digest any more spelling “errors” as the one back in the 1990s? I mean, really?! What, am I still working on an Intel 286 computer with 1024 KB of RAM and storing my book on a 5,25″ floppy disk?

Furthermore, the structure of the novel I’m currently working on will definitely keep changing as I type away – and it’ll change A LOT, at that: the envisioned ‘masterpiece’ will consist of an intertwining puzzle of two main story lines taking place at two separate locations roughly half a year apart, digressions into a teenage “novel” attempt written 30 years before and rediscovered at the time of the narration in one of the story lines, as well as some folk tales, rumours, hearsay and perhaps even excerpts from a long-lost journal as well… So making all of this click together into a fluent narrative of interchanging scenes in Word would have been an utter and insurmountable nightmare.

win-showcase-scrivener_headerCue in Scrivener. This baby was brought to my attention by other writers on various forums, so I decided to give it a whirl before I started pulling my hair out due to all the horrors involved in continuously editing and restructuring a 120.000-word (or possibly more, who knows where I end up?) chunk of text in Word. To make a long story short, I downloaded the trial version, got acquainted with it through the simple and clear tutorial that comes with it, and was typing away merrily the very next day. Just one day after that I “shelled out” the radically sensible amount of $ 40 for a licensed copy, and I’ll never write a piece of literature in Word ever again, period.

A few highlights – the main reasons why I love working in Scrivener:

  1. You can hide everything with a press of a button and just be left alone with your text, and you can set up gentle colours that don’t seem bent on poking your eyes out;
  2. While you’re in this “writing view”, the text can optionally scroll typewriter-style, so that you don’t have to keep staring at the bottom of your screen;
  3. You keep separate parts of your book in separate “sub-documents” that can be thrown around however you see fit without any danger of losing or screwing up anything;
  4. The folders/sub-documents make the whole structure of your masterpiece extremely visual and obvious: no more rummaging through hundreds of pages to figure it out, and no more manual outlining (you can use virtual index cards and corkboard if you’re so inclined, or a very clear “outliner”);
  5. You can “virtually stitch together” various sub-documents and see how they fit together, without jumping around the text or cut-and-pasting anything;
  6. The application is very secure; it keeps backups and “snapshots” that you can make before engaging in any in-depth editing, so you can store an endless number of “work-in-progress” versions (snapshots) of chapters/documents at various stages of development;
  7. You can store your research, notes, documents, files, even audio, in Scrivener without ever having to rummage around your hard drive to locate it;
  8. The spell checker doesn’t simply die on you because it’s “spent”;
  9. Project targets – yay! – so you always know (in real time, as you type) how far away from your daily “quota” and overall target you are (there is something extremely satisfying about that “progress bar” creeping along towards the “green”, which might motivate you to keep writing even when everything else might fail);
  10. The exported completed texts are tidy and clean, making further formatting a breeze;
  11. Last but certainly not least, it’s extremely sensibly priced, AND they offer a trial version, to boot.

So, what’s not to like? To find out more, head over to the Scrivener homepage.

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