Monday, September 2, 2013

Scrivener and Me: A Love Story

As many of you know (if you’ve followed my blog or my work) I’m a pantser. An organic writer. Every time in the past that I’ve tried to create an outline I’ve felt it killed my work, and inhibited me from the freedom of discovery that I believe is a key element to my personal creative process.

No one could get me to plan a novel and, believe me, they tried.

Enter Scrivener. (Before I go any further, this is not an endorsement except of the most personal kind. Oh, and I’m a Mac user, and Scrivener was initially made for the Mac although there is now a PC version. But I can’t account for that one – so please sing out about it if you use it.)

But let’s take a step back, to the novel I’ve just finished as draft number 7.

This novel is a middle grade fantasy. The idea for it popped into my mind from the clear blue, and I wrote the first draft fast – so fast it was a blur. It’s a complex fantasy involving two points of view and two separate timelines that converge midway through the novel. When I was drafting, the POV was in fact omniscient with digressions into a closer third. I had multiple mini-chapters, and resorted to the old cut and scotch-tape in order to move one bit here and another there, to see if it made any better sense.

In other words, this document was a knotty, tangled mess.

It still has issues, and I only wish I’d discovered Scrivener before now.

I had just put this draft 7 aside for a rest when a new idea arrived (I love my muse - mwah!!). And I’d just finally bought myself a new computer, and while upgrading my software I thought, well, what about Scrivener? I’d had it for years and never tried it, so, what about it?

I decided that if I was ever going to play with new software why not at the beginning of a new project on a new computer, when I’m a bit in transition mode anyway.

Scrivener had eluded me in the past because it didn’t seem completely intuitive and easy, and I still think that’s true. But once I got started – even a little bit into it – I was hooked.
screen shot of the Literature and Latte site explaining Scrivener

Scrivener is like the ultimate virtual Trapper-Keeper. I do a ton of research for each of my books: I collect photographs and maps; I collect links within links; I draw and mind-map. All of these pieces of information can be stored within a single Scrivener document to be retrieved instantly while I’m working. No more closing one window to open another, no more logging on and off line to get back to something that I’m hoping I can find again, no more digging through that pile of print-outs to find the one picture or map or tidbit of information that I know is somewhere in there.

Furthermore, Scrivener’s corkboard tool is awesome. I have several whiteboards and corkboards – all awkwardly huge and cumbersome – and they were my mind-map places, with sticky notes or index cards that inevitably fell off or became jumbled. In Scrivener, I can create a virtual corkboard that goes wherever my computer goes. I can move and replace and add; I can annotate and highlight and transfer. I can color-code; I can change the size of the index cards so that more fit on my corkboard, or fewer. I can even use an outline feature – but, no, that will never happen.

One of my friends said that Scrivener is a program made for writers by writers. In other words, it’s the perfect left brain meets right brain tool.
screen shot of my corkboard

Here are several hints if you decide you want to try Scrivener.

  • 1.     Try it for free. The folks at Literature and Latte are really awesome and you can give it a test drive. And really, it’s not that expensive if you are willing to take a chance.
  • 2.     The written tutorials are good, but in my case my eyes glaze over with all that technical stuff. I just want to get on the road. So I watched the two introductory video tutorials, one short and one long (links in the Scrivener help menu), and they are terrific starters. I had to watch them twice but during the second run-through I had set up a practice manuscript, and I just paused the tutorial and practiced for a minute in the practice ms until I understood where to go and what to do.
  • 3.     Don’t make the mistake I did of filling in the template sheets without doing a save as first. I had to reconstruct the template sheets after I realized that mistake. (You don’t need the templates – but I thought they were rather nice.)
  • 4.     Figure out through practice how to toggle between the corkboard and your manuscript, and between showing the image and showing the synopsis in the sidebar. I thought I was going crazy – importing images that seemed to vanish – until I realized that they were waiting for me in the image mode.
  • 5.     Compiling seems to be one of the places people complain about. Compiling is transferring your manuscript to another platform, such as Word. I haven’t reached that stage; but I have copied and pasted a number of chapters of my new novel into Word without a single hitch or change in formatting (unlike what I’ve experienced in using Pages on my iPad, but don’t get me started on that.)

In essence, this confirmed pantser has become a kind-of plotter, thanks to Scrivener. The bottom line? I’m writing more words per day, more efficiently, and yet I’ve retained the creative flexibility that I cherish.

Now I need to go back to the fantasy and see if Scrivener will help me untangle those knots!


Tracy Barrett said...

I think you've just tipped me over the edge--I've been toying with Scrivener but wondered about its appropriateness for a pantser. It sounds like it might help me untangle my current WIP!

Janet Fox said...

Tracy - I can't imagine you'll regret it. It's so flexible that you can plot (or not) as much as you need to. The fabulous thing is that all my research is now in one place, and I feel like I can "see" the entire manuscript - even the gray areas!

LinWash said...

Sigh. You're about the fifth person to praise Scrivener. While revising a novel, I tried Scrivener. I probably should have waited until I started another novel. I already had my research files nicely organized. But I'll eventually work on another novel, so perhaps Scrivener is the way to go with that!

Janet Fox said...

Interesting that you should mention that, Linda, because I've been wondering just how hard it will be for me to use as a revision tool. I'll let you know if I try!

Anonymous said...

Janet, I can only underline your statement about Scrivener. My history and background are more on the technical side as an aviation instructor and training manual writer.

I said goodbye to the corporate world and work on a freelance base now. Nevertheless, I started to use Scrivener even for my non-fiction work, and a new excursion to the (aviation) fiction world will happen soon too.

Due to my technical background, I always had a Windows system and my current one is Win7 64bit. You wanted Win users to tout the horn, so here I am, promoting Scrivener. :-)

Scrivener is awesome for any kind of writing and I truly encourage anyone to give it a try. The latest Win version is now on 1.6 and may remain there for a while. Reason is the focus on their standalone mind mapping version (Beta available), that will be included in Scrivener eventually.

Because the Mac version was there from the beginning, the Win version number is lower at the moment, indicating that it doesn't have all features of the Mac version yet.

However, they try to catch up with Mac's 2.x version and they are pretty good at it.

- Hans

Janet Fox said...

This is a great response to have, Hans! Thanks so much for weighing in on both the Windows and nonfiction uses of Scrivener. All excellent information!