My novelist friend, Judith Starkston, has been posting on Facebook recently about a tool that’s simplifying the process of writing her second novel. I caught up with her to learn more and wanted to share what she taught me.
The tool is called Scrivener. It’s a powerful software package created by an aspiring novelist, Keith Blount, to help himself manage his writing workflow. To shar
e what he created, he founded Literature & Latte in Cornwall, England. His small team continues to further develop and offer the product in both Mac and Windows versions.
Upon Judith’s recommendation, I downloaded Scrivener for a 30-day free trial and went through the refreshingly-helpful tutorial. I also read reviews online and found recommendations from such successful authors as Stephanie Dray (best-selling historical fiction and fantasy novels) and Michael Hyatt (Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, which is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller).
What is Scrivener?
According to the company’s website, “Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”
How Does Scrivener Help Get to the First Draft?
While you need to go through the tutorial to get a full picture of what the tool offers, and then use it for a while to apply it to your own process, here is a brief sketch of what the package offers.
- Binder — Think of it as a hierarchical table of contents of whatever you’re writing. If you’re writing a novel and use the three-act structure recommended by Kris Neri, you could organize the binder into Acts, each with subdocuments that would be your chapters and scenes. If you end up wanting to change the order, no problem. Drag and drop them where you want them. The binder also can contain other documents, such as character sketches, descriptions of places and other research, including photos. It’s all in an easy-to-find location that you can view together or separately.
- Corkboard — Think of this as a place where you put ideas on index cards to organize and re-organize until you like what you see. You can also write notes to yourself and keep them next to the content to which your note applies.
- Outliner — This is a different view of what’s in your binder, showing you details about each of the documents and subdocuments (such as title, where it is located in the hierarchy, word count and more). You can customize what appears here.
- Keywords — You can customize this to track anything you want so that you can quickly find it later.
- Word Processor — This is the place where you do your writing and formatting. It’s intended to take you to first draft, but you could also come back later for your major editing, greatly simplifying the job of tracking plot, point of view, words that you overuse and more.
- Exporter — With Scrivener, you can export your finished draft into various file types, including Word, PDF, HTML and eBook.
This only scratches the surface of what’s there for you. Not everyone uses all the features, but they’re there if you want to use them.
What Some Users Say
Judith found out about Scrivener when she took class on plotting from Stephanie Dray through Romance Writers of America. While the course wasn’t about Scrivener, Judith learned how to apply what she’d learned about the plotting and writing process in Scrivener to be more productive.
She said that while writing her first novel, she had no idea what was going to be in each chapter before she sat down to write. She had folders of research, and spent a lot of time writing what ended up being a huge, unruly manuscript that took her a year to edit.
Thanks to the tools in Scrivener, Judith said, “I knew what this next book was doing before I started outlining. Rather than ending up with a manuscript that’s big, out of shape and needs pruning and editing for a year, it’s based what I want to say.”
Michael Hyatt, wrote on his website, “I now begin every piece of content—no matter what it is—with this tool. It has simplified my life and enabled me to focus on the most important aspect of my job—creating new content. I am more productive than ever.”
Not bad for the modest price of $40 (for the Windows version) and $45 (for the Mac Version).