I bought Scrivener three years ago because I naively believed that it would help me get some words down on paper. After setting up and twiddling with the beginnings of about four different stories, I realised that the problem wasn’t the software, it was me. So before I begin this review I’d like to point out that Scrivener will not ‘fix’ you as a writer. It is a tool for writing, nothing more and nothing less and if you do not have it in you to write then it will not help you. Harsh, but true.
Ask a writer how they go about getting words down on paper and every one of them will have a slightly different technique. Some favour fountain pens and paper, some use Microsoft Word, some use ancient old word processors, some prefer dictation. The particular blend of tools that you use to write is an extremely personal thing and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. All those things being said, Scrivener is amongst the most useful writing tools you will encounter. You can look up the features of this software on the developers website, so allow me instead to tell you what I like about it.
The key benefit as far as I am concerned is that it makes organisation a breeze. The structure of the software is extremely flexible, enabling you to organise your writing in myriad ways. You can write a loose structure and then flesh it out. You can create a synopsis for every chapter. You can just start writing and see where it takes you. You can pull in all of your research, every web page, PDF, Evernote, Word document and URL and store them all in the same place. You can turn items into folders, assign them meaningful icons and drag them around in the hierarchy to your heart’s content.
I organise my writing by chapter (the folders on the left in my screenshot), with individual scenes within each. I can drop in and out of those scenes and edit them individually or I can click on the main folder to see a composite view of the entire chapter and then edit from there. If I click on a scene I can concentrate on that single section, if I click on the main chapter I can make sure it all flows properly. If I want to add a scene I can quickly go right to the correct chapter and just drop the new text in. If I want to move a scene I can just drag it from one location to another. It’s so incredibly easy that you wonder why you ever bothered using ‘flat’ writing software in the first place.
Everyone has very different tastes when it comes to software and Scrivener caters to pretty much all of them. The preferences screens are incredibly exhaustive, enabling you to tweak every tiny facet of the software from basic layout (editor, notes, binder) to the leading on the font you use in the editor. One of my other favourite bits of software is iA Writer and I have grown to love the font they used in it. So in order to feel more at home in the editor in Scrivener, I bought the font and installed it. Perfect.
The distraction-free editor in Scrivener isn’t quite as polished as iA Writer, but it has other benefits. In Compositon Mode, the software goes full screen and displays a simple page with a background of your choosing. I’d have liked a typer-writer mode, but the toolbar (that displays word counts and enables you to alter page width, fade the background and view keywords) kind of makes up for it.
All books go through myriad changes before they’re ready and Scrivener reflects this. You can set the status of any content to better work your way through its many stages. From a drop-down you can set a scene as first draft or a chapter as a final draft. This being Scrivener, in which everything is an option, you can also set up those categories in any way you like and to better reflect the way you work.
Then, once you’ve finished the difficult writing bit and you’ve edited, you can output it. Once again Scrivener comes up trumps here, enabling you to output your work in a huge variety of formats and styles. Using the Compile function, you can output as a simple text file, Markdown, Microsoft Word, Apple iBook, ePub, PDF, Kindle and even web page. You choose the format and what you’d like included (title page, notes, print settings, formatting, layout, footnotes etc) and it does the rest.
So yes, I’d heartily recommend Scrivener, but only if you’re serious about writing. It’s not going to do the hard work for you, but it does provide the writer with an excellent framework within which to work. It gives as much flexibility as possible in all possible areas and then it gets out of the way. It is now available on Windows as well as Mac, so you don’t even have anti-Apple sentiment standing in the way of using it – you’ll certainly be in good company.