Writing of any kind is always a process. What that process is depends on who you are and how you approach writing as well as the type of writing that you intend on doing. If there is one tool out there that can meet the needs of all types of writers without compromising features for anybody, it’s Scrivener.
It’s writing software that’s available on both macOS and Windows and provides an incredible amount of customization and flexibility. While there are other software titles that provide a similar feature set, most of those are subscription-based, whereas Scrivener is a “buy it and own it” software. This does mean that when there are major upgrades you need to purchase the newer version if you want the feature set, but if you already own it, they generally discount the price by about 50% – and it’s still far less expensive than paying a subscription fee.
Upon opening Scrivener for the first time (or any time you want to write something new) you are greeted by a window that gives you options for the type of writing you’re planning on doing. Within each of these categories there are multiple selections you can make based on what you’re attempting to write.
As somebody who spends most of my writing time on creative endeavors, I typically use a Fiction template.
Templates are extremely flexible and provide a basis for how you want to work on your writing. If you’re especially picky about how you want things setup, you can use a blank template and build out all the parts and pieces that you want to make use of in the software.
When you first sit down to use Scrivener, it can feel incredibly overwhelming because of all the features that are suddenly available to you, but the great thing about Scrivener is that you get to pick and choose what features you use, and the ones that you don’t use don’t pop up and insist that you use them. They just fade into the background, allowing you to customize the software to meet your needs as a writer.
On the left, you can see the standard Novel template, and on the right you can see the Novel with Parts template. While this makes it easy if you know how your novel is going to be written, you don’t have to worry if you choose the Novel template and then realize you need to add parts. The software is flexible enough that you just need to add folders and turn those into parts and then move the chapters for those parts into the appropriate folders.
On the other hand, it is also quite easy to remove parts from a book that no longer needs them, but make certain you move the chapters out of the Parts folders before deleting them.
If you make a mistake and delete something you didn’t mean to, it all goes into a trash file within Scrivener until you empty it (I never empty the trash file in a project, but that’s just me – you will figure out you own flow).
For those who want to write scripts or screenplays, then there are templates that are specifically designed for those ventures as well, even separating out UK Scriptwriting from US Scriptwriting.
There’s no need to purchase expensive Screenwriting software as the features within Scrivener are more than enough to keep your screenplay correctly formatted and ready for submission to the big studios so you can get your millions (when that happens, please let me know so I know where to sell mine!)
If non-fiction is more your speed, there are templates that are ready to create Chicago Style Essays, work with LaTex, create papers in MLA and APA, and more. The possibilities of Scrivener are seemingly endless and can be tailored to your needs.
It is important to note before we go any further that every Template, with the exception of the Blank Template, offers a short “How to use this template” instructional document at the beginning of every new project. Once you’ve learned from that, it can be deleted in ever subsequent project you create.
Everybody will find their own way of working with Scrivener, but it’s setup in a way that helps writers to stay organized with their writing. Aside from the file structure that allows for the separation of chapters and parts, sections of a chapter can also be separated from each other by using a new text file within the chapter folder for an unlimited number of chapter parts.
There are a multitude of reasons this could be handy for an author to have use of, but the way I tend to use this feature is to move chapter sections around either within the chapter itself, or even move sections to different chapters entirely just with a click and drag instead of having to cut-and-paste.
Instead of having separate software titles for your writing, notes, and compiled research, Scrivener has all that built in. On the left sidebar of the interface window, you can see those options that will allow you keep notes, compile research, and for those who are working on more creative pieces, there are also options for character sketches and place settings. These latter two can also be helpful for non-fiction pieces that involve real life people and places.
Another handy feature is Autosave. While Word will only perform autosaves if you’re saving to OneDrive, Scrivener will not only autosave to anywhere on your computer, it will also create a backup file at a location of your choosing, including a cloud drive or external drive, so in the event the primary file is ever damaged or lost, you can still get most of your work back without much hassle.
A simple and yet incredibly useful feature is the Corkboard. It allows you to see the contents of a specific file laid out like notecards.
Within each of those notecards you can enter your own description of what that particular folder contains. When you’re viewing the contents of folder, it will default to the text that’s included within sections inside that folder, but that can be overwritten on the card from the corkboard view without removing the text of the file itself.
If you look at the screenshots above, you will also see a “Notes” section on the right side. Those are selection specific notes, meaning that if you’ve selected a folder, then any notes you enter will be attached to just that folder. If you select a document within the folder, the notes are only ascribed to that document. This is a great way of keeping little details easy to access and quickly making notes for something you want to go back to later in the piece.
Above the notes section you can see a synopsis area where you can enter a synopsis of the content you have selected. This is, like the notes, based on the selected item so you can create a breakdown of what happens in any scene, folder, or subfolder.
Collaboration and Compiling
Without question, Scrivener is not as ubiquitous as Word. That being said, Scrivener makes it easy to export your project, or specific parts of your project, into a variety of formats including Word, ePub, and Kindle. I’ve found that the ability to export sections of the manuscript are handy when working with an editor or beta readers.
When you’re done with your manuscript and ready to submit it, it’s easy to compile the entire document into a word file complete with a title page and any other documents you have created within the project.
One of the most frustrating things about Scrivener is starting out due to the sheer number of options and tools available to you. While there are not the same number of features as Microsoft Word, you can still open a blank document in word and just start typing, whereas Scrivener makes you consider what kind of project you’re working on, and then provides a number of possibilities for how you want to set that project up. If you can get past that, then it becomes second nature and I’ve found that it’s easy to work with once your flow is decided upon.
Track changes in Scrivener is not nearly as powerful or useful as it is in word, and the collaboration tools in Word around the Track Changes feature is far superior to what’s in Scrivener. When I’m at the point where it’s time to make final changes to a piece, I generally do the final rounds of editing in Word after compiling from Scrivener.
Despite its steep learning curve, Scrivener is a software title I find myself recommending anybody who spends any amount of time sitting at a keyboard and writing. If you need some training, there are numerous YouTube videos that provide how-to and training videos, as well as a dedicated support team who is quick to respond with knowledgeable answers.