Scrivener: A Review

So… a few weeks back I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy the highly acclaimed word processing software called “Scrivener”.

If you’re a writer and not already using the software, then I know you’ve at least heard of it; there are very few writers who haven’t.  Scrivener has earned praise from some of the biggest names in the writing and publishing industry, and has even thoroughly burrowed its way into the “Writer’s Digest” archives.

Don’t believe me?  Google “Writer’s Digest Scrivener” and see what pops up.  You can also try googling “Outlining with Scrivener” or “novel writing with Scrivener”, and you’d be amazed how many familiar names show up attached to blog-posts on the subject.  I think its safe to assume that Scrivener has come prepared for the long haul and will not be going anywhere in the near future.

With all that said, I had heard a lot of good about the software but was skeptical of it myself.  I have been using MS Word for years in my writing and didn’t see any reason to pay more money for something I wasn’t really sure I’d like.  Besides, Scrivener is known to be the “Outliner” novelist’s best friend, and I was certainly not an outliner (or so I kept telling myself).  I journaled my story “outlines” (which is really to say, if I got stuck in writing, I brainstormed with myself on paper until something clicked) and that wasn’t the same as actually outlining.  I was perfectly fine using MS Word to write my novels and dedicating new folders in my drop-box to all the research and all the new attempts or failed scenes that came with my own weird writing process.

But after years of writing this way, just a few months back I was hit with a brand new, bright and shiny story idea.  It’s a Rumplestiltskin retelling with Rumplestiltskin being the protagonist, female, and a Zoro-type/Robin Hood character… and it is going to be EPIC!  Before I’d even started thinking of how the whole story would play out, I ended up writing a prologue and first chapter…

And then I was stuck.

Now, this is one of those story ideas that just won’t leave me alone.  You know the kind: they plague every free moment a writer has.  You find yourself working out plots in your head as you clean, or trying to figure out character names and histories in the shower.  You find yourself going over and over different scenes in your mind on your lunch break, and working through character flaws as you drive.

That was how “Golden” took me.  There was nothing subtle about it.  I came by the idea one day and it completely overwhelmed me.  But try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to be able to write on after the end of that first chapter.  Nothing felt like it was working.  The words wouldn’t come.  Even now, the story is there… but I can’t seem to write it out.  Not yet…

So I finally decided that it was time to try an outline.

Now, outlining is something I’ve looked into before, and even dabbled in — though its not something I do a lot of.  About a year ago I found a way to outline my main WIP, “Song of the Daystar”, and that really helped me organize my thoughts.  The outlining method I used for SOTD was simple and left plenty of room for “pantsting” (as I like to call it) during the actual story-writing itself.  It put the events of the story (and who those events belonged to) in neat little columns and kept everything relatively straight — while in my head the story still grew and twisted like a tangle of tree roots.  In fact, the method was so easy and worked so perfectly for SOTD, I started to think that after years of writing only by the seat of my pants, my writing process might finally be changing.

But when I tried to apply it to “Golden”, everything fell apart.

The outline I was using for SOTD was done in MS Excel.  Its a very simple method, and now that I think about it, it probably worked so well for SOTD because I know SOTD so extremely well.  I’ve been working on that novel for about 10 years now… I know it inside-out and backwards, and I know how everything has evolved.  I know the intricacies and the court intrigues, the characters’ biggest fears and weaknesses… even how the land changed over drafts.  I know EVERYTHING about that world, and its all in my head.  I didn’t need more than a simple outline to put my scenes in order… I didn’t need pages and pages written up explaining how everything works in this world because I’ve spent years memorizing all of that!

“Golden” though… with Golden I only ever had the barest hint of an idea to start with.  I have some character names, and others are left in shadow.  I have only the very basic idea of what the layout of the land is supposed to look like, and only the simplest idea of who my protagonist and antagonist actually are.  With Golden, I don’t know everything yet.  With Golden, I’m still learning.

So, with Golden I need something to help me find out more about this story and how everything works together, and what the world is like, and who the people are that live there, etc, etc, etc…  Mostly, though, I just want to get a sense of where this story is actually going.  I know the basics… but the basics aren’t enough.  And call me impatient, but I don’t feel like waiting another 10 years to get to know this story as well as I know SOTD.

I started researching the outlining methods of other writers.  Its easy enough to do these days, what with google at our fingertips and all.  I noticed in my research that a lot of writers whose methods I was considering used Scrivener to help them keep everything organized.  Then I finally found a method that suited me well, and sure enough, that writer used Scrivener too!  It gave me something to think about.  I could continue using the method of writing and organizing story ideas that I’ve been using all these years… but I’ll be honest with you, its getting rather cluttered and messy.  With each new project I start, I’m finding it more and more difficult to keep everything where I can find it.

And if I was planning to start a new story with a new method of writing, then why not just start everything new?  Why not try a new word processor and see how it went?

I went to the literature and latte homepage and pressed “buy”.

I have now been using Scrivener for the past 2 weeks, and these are my thoughts.

*****

PROS:

This really seems to be a well made program.  Its definitely a program made for those writers who like to plan everything out, but I’m not gonna say that’s a bad thing.  In fact, I currently think its pretty fantastic.

Now, granted, I’ve never really tried to “outline” before… not for realsies.  This is my first attempt.  BUT, with that said, I have created detailed character sheets, and documents of world histories, and maps of different worlds, and pages and pages of mythologies, songs, and poetry for other stories. I even have folders of nothing but pdf files of research saved from the interwebz. I have them all organized in folders within folders within folders on my drop-box account, and lately I’ve been really feeling the strain of trying to keep everything straight and remember where it all is at the same time.

Scrivener keeps all of that stuff in one place and just a button click away.  In fact, you don’t have to have 2 documents opened at once to keep your notes handy… with Scrivener, you can be writing your manuscript and reviewing your notes on the same page… AND you can toggle back and forth between sheets of notes without ever having to leave your manuscript.  It’s not hard to keep everything where you can find it at a moment’s notice… all of your research, all of your character sheets, your outline, your different drafts, your mythologies, even the pictures you use as character references and inspiration… EVERYTHING stays in a bar on the left-hand side of your screen, and it can be as clearly or as vaguely marked as you see fit.

It’s a beautiful thing, really.  I didn’t know if I would like Scrivener when I bought it, but this ability alone has proven worth the money.  I’m not even writing the full manuscript yet — just working on notes, worldbuilding, and an outline — but this program is worth it.

Another cool feature is the auto-backup.  It automatically saves backup copies of all of your files so that if something goes wrong with the original, you have something to fall back on.  Even if the worst should happen and the program suddenly space out, it still saves Regular Text files in your computer that you can work from in a pinch.  Granted, the files that I’ve been able to find (just to make sure the program actually does what it says it does…) had weird numbers for document titles… but once opened, I found that all of my text was in tact just the way I had had it, and there was even a document for all of the comments and footnotes.

Another nifty feature are the options for Scrivener tutorials.  You can choose from a hand-book style guide, youtube videos, or an interactive tutorial.  I chose to use the interactive tutorial.  It takes a little bit of time to get through (I played around with it for about 2 hours… and I’ll be honest, I didn’t finish the tutorial before I started using the program itself) but its worth it.  It explains everything beautifully, and I found the program wasn’t nearly as difficult to use as I thought it was going to be.  Yes, I’m still finding my way around… but I already have the basics down, and its not hard to find out the answers to any other questions I might have.

*****

CONS:

Even with all of the features I’m currently in love with, there are a few things I wish could be different in Scrivener… or at least more like MS Word.

  1. ]    I wish Scrivener had an auto-correct feature.

    My MS Word program has a feature that will sometimes automatically correct words that I’ve spelled wrong… if I accidentally add an extra letter to a word or flip two letters around as I’m typing, MS Word just fixes the problem and I move on without bothering.  It’s a feature I’ve come to really appreciate, especially while I’m typing fast.

    I’ve discovered that Scrivener has something similar, but instead of automatically correcting words I’ve already spelled wrong, it has a tendency to auto-spell words as I’m typing them… which means the words that Scrivener chooses are not always the word I meant to type.  I find this annoying so I’ve turned the feature off.  However, with the feature off, I’ve come to find that sometimes I type way too fast and leave a slew of errors in my wake.  I can go back and fix these errors of course… Scrivener does have the feature that allows you to right-click on a misspelled word and choose the correct spelling to change it, so that’s a plus.  I just wish that I didn’t have to go back at all… call me spoiled. *shrugs*

  2. ]   I miss my offline Thesaurus and Dictionary

    Scrivener gives writers the option to hook up to both dictionary.com and thesaurus.com, but it doesn’t seem to have any offline dictionaries or thesauruses of its own.  Or at least, if it does, I haven’t found them yet.

    For me, this is annoying on several levels.  #1) I often work offline or in places where I can’t get the internet, so not having something handy when I need a definition or alternative word and don’t have google at my fingertips (barring the use of physical books, of course) can be extremely troublesome.  #2) to use either the dictionary.com or the thesaurus.com options, the computer minimizes the window you are in and brings up a web-page.  I find this extremely distracting.

    Now, I can find ways to get around the “no-in-program-dictionary-or-thesaurus” problem.  In fact, I already have an offline dictionary downloaded to my computer, and I’m pretty sure it has a built-in thesaurus as well…  BUT, I really loved the in-program thesaurus in Microsoft Word.

    Even though MS Word doesn’t have an offline dictionary, the thesaurus can be accessed instantly by simply pressing shift+F7, and it shows up in the same page as your document on the right hand side.  There’s no need to copy and paste a new word in… if the cursor is on the word you are trying to change, Shift+f7 will automatically bring up synonyms for that specific word, and if you right-click on the word you want to replace the old word with, you simply click “insert” and you’re done.  There’s even a quick option: just right click the word you want to change, roll the cursor over the word “synonyms” and click on the chosen synonym you want to use.  Easy Peasy.  And if you’re like me, then a thesaurus can be almost as good as a dictionary in many cases… I’ve been learning the definition of words by associating them with their synonyms since I was 12.

    So yeah… not having an in-program thesaurus at the very least has proven to be extremely bothersome for me.

  3. ]   Its a bit more complicated to format your documents in Scrivener than in Word.

    One of my FAVORITE features in MS Word is the toolbar at the top of the page.  Everything is laid out nice and neat, and you have all of the formatting tools you could POSSIBLY need right at the tips of your fingers.  If you don’t like the way your document is looking, you are only a click away from fixing the problem and making it look just the way you want it to.  This feature is absolutely irreplaceable when it comes to formatting for book publishing. (trust me… been there, done that.)

    Scrivener is a bit more complicated.  After playing around with the program for 2 weeks, I’ve more or less figured out how to change the formatting and adjust things to the way I want them, but its definitely not as simplistic a process as in MS Word, with Word’s big and easy to understand toolbar at the top of the page.   Scrivener has a basic toolbar at the top of the page that allows you to adjust the font size and style, and whether or not you want the text to be centered, or on the left or right side of the page.  If you want to do anything more complicated than that — like use double-spaced lines, or adjust the margin size, or even adjust paragraph indentation — you’re going to have to do some digging and poking around to find what you want and use it.

    There are a few handy tools you can use by selecting text and then right-clicking… my favorite so far is being able to change text color.  But otherwise I feel like Scrivener has something to be desired when it comes to formatting text.  Of course, that could just be me, after years and years of using MS Word instead.

*****

Even with all the pros and cons lumped together though, I still think that Scrivener was worth buying, if only for its organizational abilities (I think it was worth buying for more than just those abilities, but those are definitely at the top of my list right now!)  I plan to go on using it to write Golden, and hopefully to write many more stories.  I may even decide to put all of my documents for SOTD into a scrivener file and see if I can’t get the story done faster!!  Who knows!!!

If you use Scrivener, what do you think about it?  What are some of the pros and cons you’ve dealt with involving the program?  What would you change?

If you use a different word processing program, which one, and why?  What do you like about it? What would you change?

Feel free to tell me in the comments below! 😀

God bless, and Happy Writing!!! ❤

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