Is Scrivener the Right Solution for Your Writing?

This article appears in the AUGUST POINT OF VIEW e-Magazine!

By Amy Harrop

Is your writing as good as it possibly could be?
Would you like to make your writing easier, more efficient, and take it to the next level?

Well, perhaps it’s time to consider graduating from Microsoft Word, to software just for authors: Scrivener.

So, have you heard of Scrivener? If you haven’t, here’s a very quick introduction:

Scrivener is a writing, idea management, note management, research management, and text organization tool specifically designed for writers.
Here are the particular strengths of Scrivener, when it comes to your writing:

The longer the document, the more Scrivener shines. Instead of desperately trying to keep track of notes, ideas, research, and storylines over dozens, even hundreds of pages, Scrivener helps keep everything organized and on track for you.

With Scrivener you can have notes and research right next to your writing. So rather than jumping between documents, or sticking dozens of Post-it notes to your monitor, the notes on whatever you might be writing about right at that moment are always directly next to each other. This helps you stay productive, and keeps your writing as accurate as possible.
Scrivener makes it an absolute cinch to move large or small sections of your document around. So if you’re reorganizing chapters, or even sections of chapters, Scrivener makes this incredibly easy with just a little drag-and-drop.

And here’s one further huge benefit – the software exports into multiple formats convenient for authors, so there’s no need to deal with multiple pieces of software or pay extra for format conversion. Plus all of the guesswork is taken out of the process for you, so you can easily export directly from Scrivener into ePub and Kindle format.

Sounds great, right?
It is! But, it’s not necessarily all smooth sailing. There are some things it’s vital you keep in mind:
Scrivener isn’t free. Well, we all need to eat, right? Even the authors of fantastically useful software! But, there is a remarkably generous free trial. You can try it out for 30 days. But – not 30 days from the moment you install it. 30 actual days of use. So if you only use the software once a week, you can then end up using it for over half a year before you actually need to buy it!
And it’s not the easiest software to use in the world. But along with this article, there’s also tons of free tutorials on YouTube, so just with a little investment of time you can get up to speed very quickly.

Here’s a Crash Course Into Scrivener…

So now that you’re convinced that Scrivener is a much more suitable (and productive) solution for you than Word, especially for longer documents, let’s dive into some of its easier functionality that you can start benefiting from immediately…
Let’s run through some key features…

Organization of Chapters

Whatever you’re writing, it will be broken up into chapters of course, or at the very least, sections.
Scrivener allows you to create an outline of all your chapters, and the sections that make up those chapters, and easily rearrange them however you choose and whenever you choose.
Now, at this point we’re still at a level of functionality that’s also available in Microsoft Word. But, that will very shortly start to change, as you’ll see…
So not only do you get a clear outline of your book/document and can re-arrange it very easily, it allows you to set “flags” for your chapters/sections so you can clearly mark the current status of each.

For example, once you’ve written your first very rough draft, you may choose to change its color to yellow. Then once you’ve created the second draft that’s ready to be sent to an editor (or for finalization if you’re doing it all yourself), you may flag it as green.

As mentioned, a chapter can be made up of any number of sections. A section could be as big, or small, as you like, depending on you like to write and organize your content. And since each of those sections can be set up with flags too, with a simple glance you know the exact status of whatever it is you’re working on.

Notes and Other References

Your research has its own section in Scrivener. Here you can write notes to yourself, include links to resources, or even copy and paste straight off the internet and into Scrivener, so you have the contents of a web page right there for you to refer back to at any time without having to click out of the application (since there lies the danger of being distracted).
Plus, just like every part of Scrivener, your notes section can be organized into categories, so however you like to structure and refer to your notes, the software will quite happily accommodate that.
And importantly you can have the research section of Scrivener and your writing window open at the same time. So no need to constantly click from one part of the software to another, you have your research directly in your eye line as you write, which makes referencing a lot easier and quicker.

Your Characters

When writing fiction, you need to have a very clear idea of your characters – their characteristics, their look, their history, and anything else you need to know to fully flesh them out in your writing.
Well, Scrivener offers a section for this too, so that as you write, you can have a reference right in front of you about who you’re writing about. It helps you avoid getting details mixed up between characters! Plus, you can include photos (even just of celebrities who look like who you have in mind), so that you can see them clearly, which will help guide your writing.

The Main Export Formats

Scrivener offers many export formats including even Microsoft Word format, if you decide you’d prefer to temporarily work on your manuscript in Word for whatever reason.
The two formats that will save you a ton of effort, be used again and again (if you’re a prolific writer), and that you’ll find absolutely indispensable are exporting to ePub and also Kindle format.

Further Benefits of Scrivener

Let’s dive a little further into some of the more advanced functionality Scrivener offers and how it helps you be a more productive and efficient writer, whatever type of content you may be creating…

Distraction Free Writing

It’s so easy when writing at a computer to get distracted. Emails coming in, Skype messages appearing, and Facebook just needs to be checked that second, right?
Well, what if you could hide all that, and only have the text you’re writing visible on the screen? Scrivener offers exactly that. Everything disappears except what you’re working on, until you’re ready to return back to your regular working environment.
Now, this doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be tempted to check your email and see what’s happening on Facebook, but it certainly helps hide all that away from you, to help minimize distractions as much as possible.

Speaking of which…

Setting and Meeting Project Targets

Do you have an idea of how long your book is going to be?
Well, let’s say 50,000 words, give or take.
Next question:
When must the first (rough) draft of your book be written? Well, let’s say April 29th, and let’s imagine that’s 20 days away from now.
Okay, so how many days a week would you like to work? Monday through to Friday, or perhaps the weekend too?
So let’s say in this instance you’re going to go flat out with this and have decided on writing seven days a week. Okay, so what does that work out as?
It’s 2,500 words a day.
Sound realistic?
Or how about if you choose to take one day off a week?
That roughly increases your required daily word count to 3,000.
Scrivener helps you stay on track with your writing goals by keeping you accountable to meeting your daily writing target. This is called the Target Tracker.
And it’s been said that Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, day in, day out. And it works for him, right? So perhaps there’s something to writing consistently rather than the feast or famine approach of waiting around for inspiration.
And remember, this is your first draft. You can’t improve what doesn’t exist, so get something written, and then your review, editing, and finalization cycles are where “okay” even “terrible” writing becomes great. But it has to exist in the first place, so don’t get hung up on the first draft.

Scrivener Always Remembers Where You Are

Each time you open up Word, you’re back at the top of the document, right? Well, Scrivener takes a different, and more helpful approach. Wherever you were when you closed the software last time is where it opens up next time. This makes carrying on where you left off, from one day to the next so much easier.

The Corkboard

The corkboard in Scrivener is another way of viewing and affecting the outline of your document. Instead of just being presented with a long list of chapters and sections, you can see each chapter, and each section, as a (virtual) piece of paper pinned onto a corkboard.
Plus in this screen, you don’t just see chapter/section titles but also brief overviews. This is great for planning, and great for rearranging your content visually.

Using Scrivener for Blogging… Too Much?

Scrivener doesn’t just have to be for books and long documents, it can work for blog posts too.
Of course, if you tend to write and publish 500 word blog posts, using Scrivener might be like using a sledgehammer to pound in a nail. But if you tend to write in depth blog posts of 2,000 words and up, and you find you’re not as productive or effective a writer as you believe you can be working in Word, then perhaps it’s time to make the move to Scrivener.
You can in fact use the software to map out your writing for weeks ahead. For example, you could outline all of the blog posts you’re planning to publish in April. Within Scrivener, each chapter can be a separate blog post, and then of course within each post there’s multiple sections.
Then the same tips as above apply – it’s easy to structure and re-arrange your posts, you can easily keep notes and research in front of you, and you can make clear at a glance the status of each post, or even of each section.
Or you could of course if you prefer create a new Scrivener project for each blog post, or for each batch of related projects. If you’re working on a series of related blog posts, or blog posts all on a similar topic, then each of these batches of posts, even if they’re not published in sequence, could be bundled together into a single project.
So since Scrivener does have a free trial, and if you’re a prolific blogger (or would like to be), try out the software and see if it helps you write more effectively and productively.

Scrivener – Beyond the Basics
This article has been a quick dive into Scrivener and how you can start getting productive with it very quickly. However, really we’ve just touched the surface here, and once using the software becomes a habit that’s working for you, you’ll want to explore functionality beyond the basics to help really make your writing time as effective as possible.

Check out my blog for more publishing tips. Amy Harrop Blog