To #Scrivener or not…

I’m a visual learner and one of those people who recalls things much easier if I’ve written it down or seen it written down. So recently I was playing around with a program called Scrivener because it has a nifty cork board with note cards for scene notes or whatever. There’s even the ability to add a character’s picture along with a character study/worksheet. Participants in Camp NaNoWriMo get it free for the month of July, so I figured why not try it. There are a bazillion testimonies from authors who use it and some people seem to feel they’d be lost without it.

It’s really cool, but to be sure I’d use it, I’d have to play with it a lot more. That probably means buying it. It’s not at all expensive, but at this point I’m not sure it’s right for me.  The why connected with that statement lies in my experience with Word.

I guess I’d be considered a ‘power’ user of Microsoft Word, because I utilize a lot more of the features than most people. With my manuscripts, I work in Document Map mode with chapter headings and first lines of each scene as my outline. That way I can move easily from chapter to chapter without ever having to open another file. I’ve made style sheets to make that task easy.

While playing with Scrivener, I discovered that I really like having the character’s picture available during their point of view scenes, but I felt like moving about in the manuscript was more clunky than with Word. There were a few other things that were hampering my writing progress, so I switched back to Word, brought up a new file, added my hero and heroine’s pics, then told Word I wanted to view the two files side by side without synchronous scrolling. Bingo!

The picture file utilized is about the size of a blog sidebar while the manuscript file fills the rest of my screen. It works beautifully and I love, love, love seeing the face of my character as I write. It’s so much easier for me to look at that picture and know how the character would react or how they will say something.

What say you readers out there? Should I give the Scrivener program more time before ruling it out, or stick with what’s working for me now?

About Carol Burnside / Annie Rayburn

Carol Burnside is an award-winning author of "Sizzling romance with heart and humor." She almost always has a glass of sweet tea within arm's reach.
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8 Responses to To #Scrivener or not…

  1. I’m still playing around with Scrivener myself and the cork board was my favorite thing to use when organizing my poetry for publication. Now I”m set to write my next projects and I’m going to do them all in Scrivener. You can set up your own “mapping” with chapter headings and such as your outline. Sure it’s not exactly the same as with Word, but if you need to move between chapters, you can go to each part a heck of a lot easier in Scrivener than you can in Word.

    I’m going to keep working with this program to get the most out of it for me. If it ends up making me crazy while working on a full length novel instead of my poetry, then I may be going back to Word. I can do that at any point so why not keep up with Scrivener?

    How about you? Go on. I dare ya! 😉


    • I found it interesting that you said, “you can go to each part a heck of a lot easier in Scrivener than you can in Word.”
      I find it much clunkier in Scrivener than in Word with document mapping. But then, I keep my whole manuscript in one file. A lot of people don’t do that. I can go from Chapter 1 to 12 in a second, or from the 3rd scene to the 33rd in the same time.

      Even so, I’ll probably keep playing with Scrivener. I do like the idea of having my research files right there in one file drawer, so to speak. Hopefully, I’ll hit my Camp NaNo goal and can buy if half-price. That’s minimal cost for something that could really help me down the road.


  2. I have Scrivener, but I use Word. I’ve never gotten past writing one or two chapters in Scrivener. I’d love to know how you document map in Word and have character pics showing, too. Maybe you could write a blog post with instructions for that???


  3. Todd Lucas says:

    I’ve owned Scrivener since the Windows version came out, but I still haven’t managed to break through my resistance to using it. I am, unfortunately, quite OCD about the appearance of my tools (Scrivener is generic Windows chrome ugly and its text rendering is default QT hard on the eyes) and the ergonomics of their use (I prefer to keep my hands on the keyboard, Scrivener wants me mousing all the time). The one (appearance) isn’t actually important to the utility of Scrivener, but the other (ergonomics), I feel really hampers one’s ability to get a feel for it, to actually enjoy using it. I mean you’ve got to live with the thing for at least a million keystrokes just to finish a novel in it, so who wants to add tens of thousands of mousings to that?

    So, I can totally understand where you’re coming from about feeling its much clunkier than Word, especially after you’ve gone through so much trouble to customize Word’s behavior for you own personal use. Myself, I don’t like Word, much, either (yeah, I’m one of those minimalist freaks, so don’t mind me on this count), but ever since Word 2010, its been much, much, MUCH better to use for writing novels and such. I can even get it to pass for one of my minimalist apps as long as it doesn’t misbehave (Word still exhibits performance issues as has the occasional data loss errors that most of us have come to fear from the old war horse, sad to say), and I don’t think a super amount of customization is necessary. First, the Navigation Panel is probably the best organization tools in a writing app when you’re using the single, monolithic file strategy. I once set up an entire series (5 books) in a single Word doc, with Heading 1 as novel titles, Heading 2 as chapters and Heading 3 as scenes, at which point I was easily able to just throw them down, then pop open the Nav Panel and order them as I wanted (the attendant text of each moves along flawlessly), and even this fairly obviously moused based behavior is keyboardable in a much more sensible way than Scrivener’s Binder. Then I set up a few keyboard shortcuts (in Word 2010, you can shortcut any function and you can customize all of them, including the ones that come with default shortcuts) for things like FullScreenView, or the ability to quickly set things for Headings 1 2 or 3 or Normal Text (you know just whatever I actually need, not the whole raft of thousands of commands) and then when I want to look all minimal, I just go into Web View and set the background for black which will automatically turn the black auto colored text to white so everything stays perfectly legible.

    If it wasn’t for stability issues, I might even be willing to work around everything like that full time and be using Word even today (I had written a couple novels back in the day on Word 97, and even a bunch of stuff earlier than that on the wordprocessor that came with the Windows 3.1 version of Works, which of course came after the Smith Corona “wordprocessor” daisywheel typewriter and pencil and paper from the decade previous). I stepped away with Word pretty emphatically by banging out a novel in Q10 (sheesh! that was years ago, now that I think of it) and while that app still kinda feels like home to me on the rare occasion that I fire it up, the author stopped supporting it and its is woefully featureless (simple stuff like some helpful ways to navigate longer documents would have gone a long way toward extending its useful lifetime, though now its just a pretty, nostalgic little bit of code). I’ve been through a ton of apps since then, and while there are a few of note (FocusWriter is a fun little app with great themeing and a cool scene management panel; SublimeText is a coders text editor but is by far the most gorgeous, not to mention the most customizeable, text editor in the universe that, even when you turn off all the chrome, is instantly recognizable by its insanely good looking and easy on the poor old eyes text rendering, which of course makes it hard for me to put up with standard rendering on pretty much every other app), I have written most of my stuff for the past few years in Writemonkey.

    Writemonkey, at first glance is just your average light on dark full screen, distraction free editor, kinda like Q10 or Darkroom or PyRoom or, or, you know, there’s a giant list of basically defunct clones of the original version of Writeroom on the Mac. Under the hood, though, is a beast that’s been learning and growing all this time (its author, Iztok Strznar is very open with his community of users and quite insightful about this tool he’s been fashioning over time).

    Most germane to this conversation though is that in Writemonkey, you can work with either the monolithic file or with the smaller chapter/scene file scheme, all without getting into a giant, over chromed monster of an application and without violating the whole “cult of TXT” thing where we acknowledge the facts that .txt files are smaller, faster, more compatible and more archival than pretty much anything else, digital file wise. It has something called a Jumps window that you and pop open with a keystroke. You can use the mouse at that point, but you don’t have to (I might use the mouse 5% of the time).

    If you’re using the monolithic file Jumps can show you your headings (all marked using some sort of markup language such as Markdown; # is Heading 1, ## is Heading 2, etc.), and recently that list of headings actually suggests the outline form of your various heading levels. You can’t move those headings and their text around directly from Jumps, but you can maneuver through them with lightening speed (if you like to use the mouse, holding CTRL as you mouse over the headings will scroll the visible main text to follow what you’re mousing over). What you can do, however, is put Writemonkey into a focus mode with a keystroke, one of which is a “heading focus” mode which basically only shows what lays between the beginning of the heading before your cursor to the beginning of the heading after it, at which point you can easily select all, cut, unfocus, then find the right place in Jumps, place your cursor and paste to reorder things. Sounds complicated to write down like that, but compared to the old version of that in Word, or pretty much any editor, its quick and precise.

    Where the real magic happens is when you use the one file per scene scheme for organizing your novel. When you’re looking at your Files list in Jumps, it gives you basic project management. Anything in a folder is in a project. Every folder’s contents is the content of a single project. You can tag your files (basically putting the tags after a // comment mark as the first line of your file) for all sorts of things, one of them is to use a //repo or //draft tag that Jumps will interpret as text that is not part of the actual content of your work, so it will put that file below the untagged files and change the color of the listing so you know that, “hey, this is an old chapter draft,” or “hey, this is a character profile,” or “hey, this is research material,” or pretty much anything else you’d like to have on hand while working on your project. The big deal here is that you can either drag and drop or cut and paste (depends on whether you feel like mousing or not) these file in Jumps to change their order in a fashion that Writemonkey will remember (it generates its own text file and names it something like _.WMPROJ and inside that text file is basically a list of those file names so it can note to itself how you’ve set them; you can actually open that file and edit it out of context of Writemonkey and those changes will show up when you next open Writemonkey in that project). See? Fun, but nothing more than some text editing and some reading of files that aren’t technically open to give you visibility on some information you’ve placed there when you look at Jumps. To top that all off, you can have Writemonkey “compile” all of the normal content files (just like Scrivener does), and one of the options you have when you do that is to have it remove all the //comment marks from the files as you do that (doing it the other way actually adds comments, telling you where each section of the compiled TXT came from so you can find your edit points later; oh, and its important for it to give you an easy way to remove //comments; Writemonkey provides some limited syntax highlighting, the most dramatic of which is the color change for //comments; taken altogether, using //comments are very visible, very discoverable and easily removable notes to yourself during the process of writing).

    Sorry, got a bit evangelical there, but my point is even at default, right now I’d say Word 2010 or newer is easier to use with a monolithic file than Scrivener is in its normal mode of use, and that I’d say there are other options as well. All of these options present trade offs, but I’m pretty sure its not a sin against the gods of literature if you can’t make Scrivener work for you. I mean they’ve got my money already (I won the 2010 Nano and got my 50% off code there, so its really no big loss if it never happens for me, right?). So does Microsoft. Heck, so does Mr. Strznar. Now I have to make sure that I’m getting what works for me, right?


    • Todd, thanks so much for the comment and great overview of these programs! I was only marginally aware of Writemonkey, but it sounds like a powerful tool.

      I should have mentioned that I’ve worked with Word for ages, beginning with the 2.0 for DOS version back in the 80’s. Since I learned the keyboard shortcuts for commands most people use a mouse for today, I still use the shortcuts out of habit.

      We all have to find what works best for us. For instance, I can’t use anything that’s light text on a dark background. It kills my eyes.

      Good thing I like to play around with new programs and have no fear of technology!


      • Todd Lucas says:

        Wish I’d had reason or opportunity to get into wordprocessing back then, but I was mostly wasting my time playing games on my Commodores at home or programming them on the Apple IIs at school. My first experience with a real wordprocessor was on a first gen Mac at my mother’s office, and the that fancy gimick they were jokingly calling a mouse back then was just too alluring. I managed to get through college and even a few years into my working life without bothering much with keyboard shortcuts other than Ctrl+S or Ctrl+P. Now I hate reaching for the mouse (though I absolutely refuse to use a build in touch bad unless there is no other resort, and I’m already hating the constant tapping and flipping of “tablets”)..

        As for background/foreground colors of our editors, I’m just thankful that many (most these days, actually) allow for good control. I’m generally a “black as possible background” person, but I’ve built themes for many apps that, for example, look at much like IA Writer as possible without paying 80 bucks for a font (the secret to use the Cousine font with a generous, though not too generous, line spacing; I’ve actually been able to get the fancy blue cursor in SublimeText, though customizing that app requires more of a coder’s mindset which I can just barely muster anymore), because sometimes, you just need the light screen to combat ambient lighting conditions or to compliment my mood ;-p

        I don’t know if you’ve looked at David Hewson’s blog, but he’s a pretty big deal British writer of mysteries set in Italy (yeah, that looks right). He’s been around the block with Mac/Scrivener, Windows/Word 2010, Mac/Scrivener 2 now back to Windows with Word 2013 (and a secret install of Scrivener for Windows, you know, just in case). You might check around his site for some interesting discussion of the tools with a guy who has a bit more publishing cred than I do (seriously, the guy has TV cred, going both directions now, so I’m not likely to ever compete). He’s a pretty good guy, too, so you can probably engage him in the comments fairly easily.

        Anyway, I’m all too easily distracted by my tools, so nothing ever seems good enough to allow me to forget about it and just get on with the writing in peace. Actually kinda long for the old days of Word 97 where my only real option was finding the magic checkbox that made the whole affair look like Word Perfect ;-p


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