COMPUSCHMOOZE: Scrivener writing software can help authors organize

Steve Lubetkin
Steve Lubetkin

For writers, the worst agony is probably after they’ve finished a book project, and know that it is soon time to start again.

So now that my book about podcasting (http://bit.ly/bizpodbook) has been out for a while, I know that I am going to need to start working on the next book. Staring at the blank Word document is not terribly enticing, but increasingly, I had been hearing about a writer’s program that puts a different twist–or multiple twists–on the process of writing.

It’s called Scrivener, and it contains a nice assortment of organizational tools all in a single interface, that most writers have cobbled together as bits and pieces of independent programs.

In its lavishly illustrated user’s manual, Scrivener’s creators observe that traditional word processing programs “assume the creative process will take place in linear form,” and that you plan and restructure your document after it’s written.

Scrivener is designed with standardized templates for such writing projects as fiction, non-fiction, scripts, and can be customized for other writing projects like “persuasive lecture” or “recipe collection,” two of the sample templates under the miscellaneous project category.

Once you select the type of writing project, Scrivener generates a framework document that’s formatted properly for the project and includes tools that will be helpful as you work on the assignment, such as character and location sketch sheets in the novel template, or proper styles for a BBC radio script or a screenplay.

For the actual writing process, Scrivener lets you look at your work in several different views, which should be familiar to writers, like an outline view that lets you create section headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings, and then rearrange them.

The Corkboard view creates a virtual bulletin board with each section of the manuscript appearing on a notecard. The cards can easily be rearranged visually, and this rearranges the structure of the writing project, so that when you change to the outline or manuscript view, the rearranged sections are exactly where you intended.

The nice thing about this approach is that you can tackle different parts of the work at different times; you don’t have to write from the beginning to the end and back again. But you always have a visual roadmap of your work so you can reorganize it as you go. I seriously wish I had been using Scrivener for the first book, as I remember the late-night, last-minute manuscript reorganizing sessions.

You can also set writing targets in word counts for the project, and the program will let you know if you are meeting your daily writing goals to keep the project on track.

Scrivener incorporates all the text formatting tools you’d expect from a program trying to compete with Microsoft’s ubiquitous Word software. It includes a spell-checker and a wide range of icons that can be associated with section headings for your document to make organization easier.

You can export your work into PDF files, plain text, Word documents, HTML files for websites, and even the open document format used by some free or low-cost word processors that compete with the Microsoft program. The Scrivener “compile” function lets you specify the formatting of the document before you actually export it into one of these file types.

Scrivener lets you customize the toolbar to include the commands you use most often. It also has built-in search capabilities for online versions of research sources writers used to keep on the bookshelf, like dictionaries and a thesaurus, along with Google and Wikipedia.

For novelists and short story writers, there is even a character name generator that will create random names or let you specify parameters for a name. The point is not to use the program’s suggestions blindly, but as a way to stimulate ideas.

Scrivener is available at https://www.writersstore.com/scrivener. It’s $45 for Mac, $40 for PC, and there is a passionate and helpful user community available with tips and tricks, all nicely available from the Help tab in the program, along with video tutorials and a clearly written manual.

Questions about technology? Email steve@compuschmooze.com. On Twitter, Clammr, or Periscope, follow @PodcastSteve. s

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