The New Love of My Life: Why Using Scrivener Makes Writing a Book So Easy

The new love of my life is not tall, dark and handsome, nor is it likely to bring me flowers every day. But it does something even better – it makes writing a book a breeze. And it’s name is Scrivener.

Scrivener is a program especially designed for novel writing, screen writing, any kind of long form writing. Hmmmm, I hear you think, I have a word processor for that. But if you use a word processor you are missing out! I have to admit, I was sceptical too when I began. Did I really need to waste time learning another program? Would the supposed benefits really be benefits or just window dressing? Well, let me show you what I’ve been doing and why I like it and you can make up your mind.

Easy to learn

Firstly, it takes almost no time to learn. I did the tutorial that comes with the program and it took me two hours and now I think I’m an expert. So don’t let the thought of time investment put you off. Scondly, even if you’ve started a book in Word or Pages, you can easily import it into Scrivener. I imported 15,000 words in a click of my mouse.

Scenes: The Cornerstone of Scrivener

Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 8.05.42 PMThe beauty of Scrivener is that you write your book as a series of scenes, not as a linear, chronological story. Before I go into why that’s so great, let me show you what Scrivener looks like. The pic on the left has three sections. On the far left, is a list of all the scenes in my book so far, broken down into chapters. In the middle is the word processing bit where I type the story. On the right is a little Synopsis card, which gives me a summary of my scene, and some other info which I’ll explain in a moment.

Writing in scenes is great because anyone who’s ever published a book knows how often scenes get moved around in the redrafting and editing phase of a book and Scrivener makes this process a cinch. I can pick up any one of those scenes on the left hand side and move the entire thing anywhere with one flick of my mouse. Not only that, but because you are viewing your book as a collection of scenes, I found it opened my mind up to the many different structural possibilities that I could pursue. Also, at the bottom of the word-processor section in the middle, Scrivener shows a word count for your scene. This is GOLD. Becasue I suddenly realised how short my scenes tended to be. That I had a habit of writing scenes of 300-500 words. Short little stop-start scenes that are probably a bit awkward. It made me see that I could so easily combine at least two scenes into one, and have a more substantial chunk of writing for the reader to really sink their minds into.

The Cork-board

The next thing that I love is the cork board. Having never been a novel-planner but nowScreen Shot 2013-05-08 at 8.04.04 PM having had a novel come to me that wants to be planned, I found I had a whole collection of scribbles in various notebooks, each of which was an idea for a scene. Well, hello Scrivener cork board. Now each of those scribbles is a lovely card on a corkboard that is automatically linked to its individual scene in Scrivener. Each card contains a short synopsis of the scene; you can also see this synopsis when you are working on an individual scene (it’s in the top right of the first pic). So you don’t need to hunt through pages of a Word document to find a particular scene. You just call up your cork-board and hey presto, you’ve found it in a few seconds. And I can colour code each of my index cards. In this pic that I have blue, yellow and pink tabs on the index cards on this board. Blue tabs are completed scenes, pink tabs are scenes I need to add more to and yellow tabs are just ideas. I can change those descriptions and colours if I want to, or add other descriptions that work for me. It means that every time I go into Scrivener, there’s something for me to work on. I just call up the next card that’s just an idea and turn that into a scene. If I have an idea for a new scene while I’m writing, I just create an index card, stick it in about the spot in the book where I think it might go, knowing I can easily move it later if I need to, and work on it when I’m ready.

On the cork-board, I can choose to display all the scenes from one chapter, all the scenes from the first three chapters, or all the scenes from chapters 3, 7, 10 and 21 – whatever I want to look at. I can move the cards into any order I like and review the synopses to see if that order makes more sense than the original. All the scenes are attached to the cards and so they automatically re-order themselves – no manual cutting and pasting of large chunks of text as in Word. If I don’t like the change I’ve made, I just hit a button and they all pop back into their orginal order. Never before has structurally imagining, playing around with and editing your book been so much fun!

You can also see that each card has a stamp across it. My stamps are First Draft, Add Info and To Do, which tells me the status of each scene. I can call up all the scenes I need to Add Info to, for instance, and just work on those. Eventually, I’ll add some other stamps that might say things like Revised, or Final so I can keep track of what level of work has been done, or needs to be done, for each scene.

Outlining Your Book

The thing I love most about Scrivener is that it creates the outline of your book for you. Because neither of my first two books were planned out prior to writing, I had no idea how to create an outline for a book. With Scrivener, I just put my ideas on cards and move them around when I need to and the outline becomes organic; it takes shape along with the book and never ties me down or constrains me. I have never written a book so fast before – and I’m sure using Scrivener is one of the reasons for my speed.

Okay, I could talk about this all day. Instead, I’ll leave it there but I’ll be back next week with a post about a few other wonderful things Scrivener does, which are especially fantastic when you’re writing a book that has required you to do a bit of research, or if you like to be motivated by daily word targets. In the meantime, are you using Scrivener? Which bits do you like best? What have I missed here? If you haven’t used it, do you think you’ll give it a go?

35 comments

  1. I loaded Scrivener on to my laptop about a month ago, have had 2 plays with it, transported 3 chapters into it and keep meaning to do more. Most of my novel is in chapters that I know I need to move around, so I should spend a day just making best friends with Scrivener as you have done, Natasha xx thank you, I will just go and do that!

  2. Hi Rashida – glad I’ve inspired you! It certainly does take a couple of hours to get the novel loaded in and looking how you want it, and to do the tutorial, but once that initial couple of hours of set-up/learning is done, it is very easy to use. I was imagining the initial set-up phase might be more time intensive, but a couple of hours wasn’t too bad. Good luck with it and let me know how you go.

  3. Ooh I think I will have to try this! Thanks Natasha.

  4. Hello! You have absolutely sold me on this – I downloaded the trial when you first talked about it on facebook last week and have been playing ever since – so far, so great! Thank you x

  5. You’ve inspired me to try it again! I must say I never did the tutorial, just jumped straight in, and I did the first draft of my current novel in it, then put it into Word just because it didn’t seem to look right as a collection of scenes! But now that I’m redrafting and adding scenes, I know it will be useful again. Thanks!

    Dawn

    • It makes moving things around so easy – I don’t think I would be as adventurous in Word as I’m being in Scrivener. It’s so easy to see what different combinations of scenes and different orders look like that I’m seeing my book in a different light. Good luck if you do try again!

  6. I love Scrivener. Haven’t yet purchased it though… I don’t really have the money right now. It’d make a good birthday present, no?

  7. i had a go at this last year, but found it quite hard to follow, maybe i should try it again

  8. I’m a committed Scrivener user – I happily describe myself as a ‘scrivener slut’ 🙂 I love the way I can hold all my notes and pictures and research and everything to do with the manuscript all in one place. It’s fantastic.
    The other feature I really love is the way it compiles my manuscript. It makes fantastic epub files.

  9. I just started using Scrivener a few weeks ago. Like you, I went through the tutorial, and then dove in. At first, I thought I’d just use the outlining tools—and really, those are enough to make it worthwhile!—but I recently started trying out a few other features, like word targets, composition mode, and others. Every new thing I try rocks!

  10. Glen Hunting

    I wonder if Tolstoy would have welcomed this technology before sitting down to bash out ‘Anna Karenina’…

  11. Thank you for posting this. Before now I was hand writing my outlines on paper or losing them. I would have never known about htis amazing software, it’s so much easier to use.

  12. Struggling a bit with learning scrivener – it would be great if it came with some “listen to” tutorials, as I learn best that way.

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  14. Hi Natasher
    Scrivener sounds really great … how much does it cost ?
    Ingrid

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  16. I’ve bought this too. One day I’m going to finish that memoir of my beloved piano teacher, the first draft is 75% done and I think Scrivener will help me with the last part. I’ve got to learn how to use it first though, and the problem is that I downloaded it onto my laptop which is running *yikes* Windows 8.
    So *sigh* I’ve got to learn that first…and I keep skulking off to the desktop with Windows 7 instead of knuckling down to it LOL.

    • Hi Lisa. Memoir of a beloved piano teacher – sounds intriguing. You would have read Anna Goldsworthy’s Piano Lessons I expect? I loved that book. Well, I can definitely recommend Scrivener – I’m on a Mac so it’s been very easy for me and the more I use it, the more I love it. Good luck getting finishing the draft!

      • Yes, Piano Lessons was one of my very early reviews:)
        But Anna Goldsworthy is a talented pianist, I never was, just someone who loved playing, thanks to my wonderful teacher. Born in 1914, she was a child prodigy and one of our first home-grown concert pianists, rather than an artiste brought in from overseas. She deserves a memoir, and I was helping her write it as a project when she was bored out of her brain in a nursing home, when she suddenly died. Since then I haven’t quite been able to pick up the pen yet, but I will…

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