Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Scrivener Experience

I decided that when I started writing my next Esme mystery that I'd take a break from the old typewriter (joke!) and try out the writers' software tool Scrivener.

The program was written in the UK with a specific aim to help authors when writing long creative texts. Originally built for Mac users it's now available for Windows too.

I downloaded the trial version some while ago but hadn't really spent much time on it until recently. Fortunately, (and sensibly) the trial period is not measured in real time but by usage time, so you get 30 non-consecutive days to play around with it before having to decide whether to buy a licence to adopt it permanently.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the program after seeing a sample, was the nifty cork-board facility. As an index card user in ye olde fashioned way of doing things, this really appealed. I plan out my scenes on cards by writing a sentence at the top of each to summarise the content, adding more detail below. These I use as prompts for when I begin writing the novel proper. The Scrivener system allows me to work in exactly the same way but with oh-so much more.

I can use colour coding on my 'cards' (for different settings, alternative POVs etc.) and - a particular favourite - I can change the order of the scenes by simply dragging the 'cards' around on the screen, which a lot less hassle than using the paper version and having to rub out my pencilled notation in the corners and re-number everything!

Once the scenes are decided, click on the card you want to work on in the list on the left-hand side and a blank page will open up ready for you to write the scene's content. You can add new scenes at any time and write them in whichever order you wish. Great for authors who like to write out of sequence.

The list on the left, known as the binder, also holds every other sort of file you might wish to create during the writing process - character files, research information, settings, photographs, maps etc. - and a bin for your rejected work, which is only emptied when you're ready.

Once your scenes are written, it takes a few clicks of the mouse to compile all the individual pieces of writing into the full piece of work, as opposed to the long-winded cut 'n' paste procedure I've used in the past when writing in Word.

However, Word is not completely redundant, as should you still want to use it (and I do prefer Word's thesaurus than the online version linked to Scrivener) it's apparently possible to import Word files into Scrivener, though don't ask me how yet - I'm still a beginner!

These are only the basics and I'm still finding my way around the many clever tricks the program can do. One extra bonus for me is the ability to organise my thoughts, notes and ideas into an easy-find, easy-read format. Usually I'm in danger of drowning in reams of paper, notebooks full of disconnected scribbles and computer printouts. Although I did start out that way (which I always is a good way to get the writing brain engaged) now that I'm up and running I've been able to transfer the key information over to Scrivener files - a useful process in itself, enabling me to filter through the chaos and sift out irrelevant information.

There's a heap more I've yet to discover, I'm sure but, as the tutorial says, many authors don't go any further than learning the basic elements - it still serves as a very useful tool.

If you fancy taking a look for yourself, you can find out more by watching the demonstration video below or taking a look at Scrivener's website.


(If you have any problems with the video link, you'll find it on YouTube or via Scrivener's website.)

If you use Scrivener yourself and would like to share any tips or experiences, I'd be most interested to hear from you.


I've just come across a genealogy website called The Armchair Genealogist, advocating using Scrivener to write a family history, so I'm just nipping across there now to read how I might get even more use out of my new writing tool!


  1. Thanks for this, Wendy. So pleased to find such a readable introduction to Scrivenor. In NaNoWriMo-Land, lots of writers seem to swear by it and I have often wondered about it. The index card facility looks like it's worth its weight in gold.

    1. That's the bit that attracted me in the first place, Susanna, but I've discovered much more. However, I'm sure it will take me a while to get to know everything it does - if I ever do!

  2. This is very interesting Wendy - I haven't looked into using this at all and am continually swamped by the scribbled (and mostly indecipherable!) notes I randomly put on post its and scraps of paper - I shall keep this post in my file of important things to check out for my next project I think - thanks :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Georgia. It certainly makes me feel a bit more in control, I have to admit. The biggest challenge in the short term is setting aside the time to get to know how it all works but it doesn't take that long to learn the basics, and then you're away!