On Software for Writing: Scrivener

Kraken Attack by BenWootten at deviantart.com

Okay, writers.  Tell me if this seems familiar.

You have an idea.  You open up a Microsoft Word document, or whatever word processor you like to use, and start typing.  All is going fairly well, but somewhere down the middle, you’ve got a rogue plot spiraling out of control.  You can’t remember what your characters’ motives are anymore.  Sally forgets about the necklace she’s wearing on page 156.  When you look at the end of your draft, you discover you described your kraken as blue one page but green on another, and things just…

Turn to mush by the end.  Like a kraken attacking a ship.

And now you realize you have to rewrite the entire draft over again because of all the things you’ve forgotten to incorporate.

But not just that.  You realize you don’t know your characters that well.  So you need to make a document for each of them and give them character sheets.  Or you need documents for world building, and all of those other documents are just eating your hard drive space.  Or maybe you like to keep index cards for all of those things.

In any case, you’re under mounds of paper.  Confused.  Exhausted.  Demotivated.  Falling behind deadlines.  And you think to yourself, “There needs to be a better way to keep track of this stuff.  There has to be a way where I can keep track of my characters and their plot lines without having to open up so many documents.”


There is.  And it’s called Scrivener.  And it does more than just keep track of characters.

Though there’s a learning curve attached.


By far the big daddy longlegs in this industry is Scrivener, developed by Literature and Latte.  If you’re even considering looking up writing software, this will probably show up first.  In the same way Wacom dominates the graphic tablets market and Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for illustration, Scrivener is the popular choice for writing software, and reasonably so.  It has a ton of features, and once you get the hang of it, testimonials from writers claim they can’t live without it.

Admittedly, it’s a bit amazing and intimidating at the same time because off all the features you can do with it, like color coding for characters, moving scenes around easily, dragging and dropping internet links into your “Research” folder so you don’t have to go open the page again, etc.

And because of all these features, it’s why I’m having trouble adapting to it, and am becoming afraid I won’t actually get any writing done.  But there’s several reasons attached to this statement.

1. Scrivener challenges my love of routine.  I love routine.  I love consistency.  And for a very long time, I’ve used Word to type my stories.  I know Word better, and can get it to do what I want most of the time.  Scrivener is new.  New things are scary.  New things take time and energy to learn—time and energy I’d much rather be spending writing my next novel.  Dilemma ensues.

2. Scrivener has a steep learning curve.  I’m not kidding.  There are books written on how to use Scrivener.   There’s even a guy who has decided to dedicate his entire life on helping those learn Scrivener.  It’s a complicated beast of a program (don’t even get me started on compiling your work into a single file) that doesn’t really follow the WYSIWYG kind of template.

3. Scrivener is fun.  Yes.  Fun is dangerous, because Scrivener makes things easy that I never thought were easy.  Scrivener lets me have a template for documents like character sheets and puts them in one place.  It’s got me excited about making and developing characters.  And I don’t consider myself a character-oriented person.  This is why I’m so worried about not getting any writing done, because I’m afraid I’ll plan too much, even though on some level, it’s a good thing I’m getting excited.

And I’ll admit it.  Scrivener isn’t a WYSIWIG kind of program.  It’s designed to meet the needs of every writer possible, especially those that are working on big projects with hundreds of characters and plot lines.  Even researchers use it.  Though because it’s designed to meet the need of any writer possible, it does get a bit overwhelming.

But the people at Literature and Latte acknowledge that all the features don’t have to be used.  You can use the character thingamajig or not.  It’s up to you.

Because every writer is different.  Not everybody will want Scrivener and prefer something lighter, like the freeware yWriter5 or just want a space to write without the bells and whistles, like WriteMonkey.

I can’t tell you what writing software you should get.  That’s something you’ll have to discover on your own and decide whether or not to take the leap.  You’ll also need to figure out how you learn—whether through reading books on a subject, or through playing around with the software on your own.  For me, I’m finding that playing with the trial on my own and answering questions as they pop up in my head to be working.  It’s a slower method—to have to pause my use of the program whenever I don’t know what to do, but it feels less intimidating than knowing about every little detail upfront.

I might read a book on Scrivener, but even then, the information might not be catered to my specific needs.  It wouldn’t hurt to get to know the program fully, but in this stage of the game, testing waters is more important to me.

What about you, fellow writers? Do you like to use writing software? Or do it by hand with index cards? Or none? Or a completely different method all together?


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