Friday, August 17, 2012

Beyond Sticky Notes: A review of Scrivener for writers

Author/bio: Amy is a writer and novelist, with a passion for writing words of hope for a hurting world. Her first of two novels, a sweet piece of southern literature, is slated to be published by David C. Cook in late 2013 or early 2014. A graduate of DePauw University, Amy lives with her husband, three boys and three golden retrievers in central Indiana. You can read more about Amy at her website,

Blog title: On Beyond Sticky Notes: A review of Scrivener for writers     

My first novel, slated for publication with David C. Cook in early 2014, involved hours and reams of research. I researched everything from fossils, to barbeque restaurants, the history of Haiti, pecan recipes, and more. I organized text and web links and photos into dozens of Word documents, which I then had to flip open and closed while writing and editing each chapter. Sometimes, I didn’t have enough research on a topic, so in addition to all the Word documents, I opened three or four internet screens, and flipped back and forth between those and my chapters, too.
At the time, I didn’t know any better, so I never lamented the process. However, I marvel at how I ever kept my sanity now that I’ve found Scrivener, a software program for writers of any genre.
            Now, I will warn you. What you’re about to read may sound like an infomercial, but it’s not. I downloaded the trial version, quite skeptical about how much easier this could really make my writing life. But after just two days, I bought the software outright. First of all, this little slice of computer engineering GENIUS only cost $45—a small price to pay for sanity. An even smaller price to pay for the time it’s saved me, and the fun it brings to the novel writing process.
            What’s so great about Scrivener? Below, I’ve summarized my favorite aspects about the program—so far. And I say “so far,” because the GENIUS software has so much depth of capabilities and bells and whistles, I discover something new and even more fun every time I use it. But for starters, here’s why I think it rocks:
1. Love me a Trapper Keeper!

I am a true child of the 80’s. When I took my kids back-to-school shopping last week, I teared up, grieving that they shall never know the true beauty of the Trapper Keeper. Oh, sure, we found imitation versions on the shelves, but nothing close to the ultimate office supply nerd’s dream machine contraption, which kept everything in check, even when the bully on the football team rounded the corner and flipped my books in the air, sending everything—including my fragile, Love’s Baby Soft ego—to the floor.

Well, never fear those bully’s again. Scrivener is your virtual Trapper Keeper. The GENIUS program holds everything you need for your novel—websites, photos, places to jot down random thoughts and ideas, references and notations—everything. And since it’s all in one location, nothing falls out.

2. The corkboard is adorable.

Say good-bye to sticky notes falling on the floor when it gets humid outside. Say hello to your floor you haven’t seen for months, since it’s been covered in index cards. Scrivener allows you to not only create index cards and post them on a virtual corkboard, but you can rearrange them, even when your manuscript is complete. Need to move chapter 30 back before chapter 14? No problem. Instead of scrolling back up and down through pages of text, just point, click and drag!

Better yet, each index card can function as a chapter synopsis, and you can attach various and individual scenes to each card, again, for easy viewing and rearranging, even within a chapter.

As the website says, “Make a mess. Who said writing is always about order? Corkboards in Scrivener can finally mirror the chaos in your mind before helping you wrestle it into order.”

Don’t like index cards? That’s okay, because you can do your writing (also with rearranging capabilities) via the outlining mode.

3. Don’t just think about Harry Connick as you write out your protagonist’s next love scene. See him on the screen.

Don’t just think about the New York City skyline as your villain creeps through central park. Keep a photo of it on your desktop as you write.

Character, setting and other research organizers allow you to attach photographs, charts, maps, and more all together and accessible as you write.

4. Worry about Word later.

It took me awhile to get over the fear of not writing in Word. But alas, the designers make it possible for you to compile all the text behind all those index cards and export it into one, seamless document which dovetails easily into Word.

5. Other cool features I love:

·         A name generator with every ethnicity imaginable!
·         Templates
·         Word count features, by chapter, whole document and more
·         Color-coding
·         Progress tracking
·         Keyword options
·         Formatting assistance

The website sums it up best:

“Most word processors approach composing a long-form text the same as typing a letter or flyer - they expect you to start on page one and keep typing until you reach the end. Scrivener lets you work in any order you want and gives you tools for planning and restructuring your writing. In Scrivener, you can enter a synopsis for each document on a virtual index card and then stack and shuffle the cards in the corkboard until you find the most effective sequence. Plan out your work in Scrivener’s outliner and use the synopses you create as prompts while you write. Or just get everything down into a first draft and break it apart later for rearrangement on the outliner or corkboard. Create collections of documents to read and edit related text without affecting its place in the overall draft; label and track connected documents or mark what still needs to be done. Whether you like to plan everything in advance, write first and structure later—or do a bit of both—Scrivener supports the way you work.”

As with any computer program, there are negatives. For example, while a PC version is available, the program was designed to operate on Macs, and the designers even admit it will probably work best on that platform. Try it before you buy it to see if it will work for you and your computer operating system.

Also, you do need to have at least a smidge of computer savvy. And patience. There is a learning curve to this program, and the designers have been kind enough to offer a thorough, interactive tutorial and instruction book. Those are helpful, but the program is so rich even I—a borderline computer geek—felt a little overwhelmed initially. And I don’t know if I’ll ever use all the functionalities.

That said, Scrivener has truly changed the way I approach my novel writing. I feel like it really frees my mind to focus on the prose, because I no longer have to remember where everything is on my hard drive . . . or if my dog ate a sticky note or a stack of index cards.

I honestly don’t know why more folks aren’t using and/or raving about the software.

Try it for free for 30 days.

I can’t throw in a set of steak knives, but I’d be willing to wager you’ll like the program, too.


Unknown said...

I've heard so, so many good things about Scrivener. Must take a look at it! Thanks for the info...

Unknown said...

Love Scrivener! I often write my scenes out of order and rearrange scenes - so it works well for me.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of buzz about Scrivener, but it just seemed so confusing. You made it seem clear and concise and honestly, you had me at Trapper Keeper. I'm deifinitely going to try this out!!! xoxox

Heather Sunseri said...

So perfectly timed, Amy. I just tweeted earlier this week asking who uses and loves Scrivener. Got so many responses telling me it would change my life. Thanks for this review!!

Anonymous said...

I've heard of Scrivener,but I haven't tried it. I love all the features you described, especially being able to pull up/post pics to help with storyworld and setting. I'm going to have to look into this, even though I work from a PC. Thanks, Amy!

writingsofrosie said...

I love Scrivener!! I have the PC version. I've only had it for less than a month and I still haven't figured everything out. :D

Cait London said...

I've heard that Shrivener is great. I've been using PageFour Outliner for years and love it. Not very complicated, does not do as much, but these organizer programs do help.

CJG said...

I was hesitant to buy but my writing was stalled and I thought it would be a diversion so my husband wouldn't hound me for not working. Now that I've had Scrivener for a month I can honestly say, my writing wasn't stalled it was buried under a pile of random text files, website bookmarks and scraps of paper... not to mention voice memos on my iPod! I have accomplished more this month than any other month, and that includes my learning curve! I just received Gwen Hernandez's Scrivener for Dummies and leave for vacation tomorrow, can't wait!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for this information! Now that I'm writing historicals as well as contemporaries, I see a real need for this. I have all these websites bookmarked, taken books out of the library, and then forget where I got what piece of information!

Love the idea of the corkboard!! that alone might make it worthwhile!

I've heard about Scrivener but worried it would take me (a somewhat slow learner) too long to figure out. How long before you felt comfortable with it?

I think I may have to try the 30 days!

Thanks again,


E. Arroyo said...

I've heard a lot about it. I'm just scared I might press the "red" button by accident and the thing'll explode. I do have to check it out. I still use paper and pencil to document my thoughts. =)

Joanne Sher said...

This sounds SO helpful. Wow. THANK you for the information! May have to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Okay - I'm going to be a little downer here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I've tried Scrivener and I like all the features but that's one of the problems - soooo many features. I find myself wasting time utilizing features that I don't really need, trying to incorporate all aspects of the program... instead of writing. And going back and forth from the features to my text is time-consuming and clumsy. I prefer my actual corkboard, and my actual legal pad, and my actual index cards because I can have them all large as life in front of me at the same time. No squinting required. Maybe I just need a bigger screen....

Or maybe I just need to catch up with the 90's. What year is it?

Perhaps I'll try it again - often when I give something a second or third chance, I find it much more comfortable.

Thanks for the post,

Beth K. Vogt said...

Amy, let me say again I'm so excited about your book coming out! Yay!
And I tried Scrivener (for PC) and didn't have such a grand experience -- it lost some of my stuff.
But my son uses Scrivener -- he's a full-time freelance editor and writer -- and he raves about it.
Now that I've gone Mac, I may have to try it again.

Amy Sorrrells said...

Super thoughts, folks! And yeah, it's not for everyone. It's nice they allow a trial period. I think it only takes most folks a few days to determine if they love it or hate it.

Also, I'm not sure about Evernote. I might have to check that out. For now, I'm content with Scrivener. For some nerdy, writerly reason, it seems to parallel the way my brain works.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, everyone!

Casey said...

Thanks everyone so much for stopping by today! It's been a crazy day, so I wasn't able to be as active as I wanted to be on the blog. Bummer!

Amy, I think you sold me. I'm going to look into a bit more and see if I can't get a version for my PC, it seems too good to pass up!

Thanks so much for posting here on the Alley today! We will definitely have to do this again once your book hits shelves. :D

Shannon said...

I love Scrivener, but I wish I knew more about all of its functions. I probably don't even use a 1/10th of its capabilities. On the plus side, I'm getting lots of writing done.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thank Amy. It does sound like a good program to look at.

fannyfae said...

I am new to your blog, and found you via the Everything Scrivener blog. As someone who has an intense loathing of Word, I didn't think anything could ever get me off of WordPerfect, having been with it since the days of MS DOS

After so many glowing reviews, I started using Scrivener for about nine months.I have to say that I am absolutely enamored of the program! I love reading how others are using it because I learn so much about tips and tricks I haven't even discovered yet! :)

Anonymous said...

I discovered Scrivener earlier this summer. After the trial period, I was hooked. As you said, it's a virtual Trapper Keeper. Never again will I forget that a character's name was Konrad and not Kurt, because I now have a character sheet where I can not only list vital stats, but write down his conflicts and motivations.

I took a scene-writing class recently, and Scrivener is great for making me focus on individual scenes. What do I want to accomplish? Whose POV is this from?

And if those scenes happen to need to be moved, it is so easy. The first time I did it, I nearly cried. So much better than hunting through a giant Word document, cutting, and then pasting - and hoping it's right!

I was hesitant to use Scrivener, but now I don't think I'll ever go back to authoring in Word.