From time to time, the tools we use as writers evolve. While William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrought their works on the classic Underwood typewriter, in this day and age there are a plethora of options in the digital space. One such tool that I am embarking on making my goto is Scrivener, a $45 Mac OS application (a $40 Windows version is now available as well) that aims to fulfill the tagline of “Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write”.
The application has a 30-day trial that is fully featured and truly for 30 days of use (which means that if, for some reason, you only use it once a week it would last for 30 weeks). There is an excellent interactive tutorial that is itself a Scrivener document which makes it very convenient to be up and running quickly. It took me about an hour to go through the tutorial and immediately afterward I created a new project which eventually became this blog post.
Scrivener is designed around the concept of the Draft which is all of the textual elements of your work, with each granular section being an individual file. This allows the author to visualize the work in progress as an outline, as index cards on a cork-board, or as individual chapters. The work can be fully annotated, footnoted, and categorized so that locating a particular passage or finding all of the items that you wished to revisit for cleanup is easily accomplished.
Power, close at hand
While going through the tutorial, it became quite apparent that Scrivener is a tool with a lot of powerful features that are close at hand when you need them but not in your face when you don’t. One powerful feature is the full-screen composition mode. When you engage this mode, it’s just you and your page: no desktop, no other application windows, in short no distractions. Great for cranking out the words.
Several features are aimed at providing the writer with the ability to customize the experience to their individual taste. Once you’ve got it to your liking, it will feel like a comfortable pair of shoes, the ones you can walk miles in without chafing.
Another powerful feature is the ability to save snapshots of your work and then compare revisions in a visual manner. Rework a paragraph to your heart’s content, safe in the knowledge that you can return to a previous version if things just don’t work out.
From working draft to publishable manuscript
Once your draft is ready to move to the next level, Scrivener offers the compile phase of the lifecycle. This is where your draft is transformed into a completed manuscript. Working on a screenplay that you want to send out in Final Draft format? No problem. Ready to e-publish your latest novel? No problem. Pretty much any final format you desire, Scrivener’s got you covered.
For this blog post, I compiled to plain text and then posted from that resultant document. The initial draft is four sections (this is the third) which I could have re-arranged per my whim.
It’s a wrap
So far, my experience with Scrivener has been great. I am looking forward to using it for longer works where flow and layout come into play, but I appreciate its simplicity when that is all that is called for. About the only knock that I can give it so far is that they don’t have an iOS version. I sometimes like to just take my iPad to a coffee shop and write. It would be great to have the same seamless experience on the mobile device, and I know that it is something the makers of Scrivener are working on.
 One of my absolute favorite short stories of all time is Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.