Friday, March 30, 2012

To Scrivener or Not to Scrivener?

Currently using MS Word for the bulk of my manuscript work and Dramatica Pro for outlining. On occasion, I'll also use the novel template in my screenwriting software, Screenwriter 2000. All of these are perfectly good programs (and I'm definitely not looking to "replace" my screenwriting software), but on the other hand I'm always willing to add worthwhile software to my writer's toolkit.

Lately, I've been hearing about Scrivener. The appeal seems to be that it unites a lot of the varied applications an author might use to create content. What do you, my writer friends, have to say about it? If you're using Scrivener, what do you like? What are its strengths and limitations?  Is it worth buying? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

18 comments:

Keith Robinson said...

Interesting topic! (at least for me)

I've been using Scrivener for half a year now and am perfectly happy. There are pros and cons to using it vs. Word or whatever. I personally don't buy into all those programs that allow you to catalog characters, scenes, thoughts, etc -- all those novel planning and referencing tools are pointless to me. All I want is to be able to write, but with SOME formatting ability.

Since each chapter (or scene if you prefer) is a separate file, there's a good word count function at the bottom that tells me in real time how far into a chapter I am. Seems like a no-brainer, but in Word I usually type the whole thing in one document and have to highlight the chapter before getting a word count for that chapter. In Scrivener, although each file is separate, they're always right there on call at the side of the page, already loaded and ready to edit. It remembers where you left your cursor in each file, which is great!

I don't use many of Scrivener's features. The really important one is the "compile" function. Your manuscript is viewed/edited in whatever style you want (ie, Times New Roman, single spacing, whatever size text you like) but your compile functions are set up the way you want. So I can press "compile" and the whole thing is dumped out as a formatted PDF manuscript file with double spacing and so on -- or as a Word file -- or as a text file. That rocks. However, Scrivener is not powerful enough to set up a manuscript as a ready-to-print "book file" for uploading to CreateSpace, Lulu, etc -- for that you need to import the file into Word, then do some formatting stuff, and finally export to PDF from there. So it's great for raw manuscripts without any special formatting, but you'll still need help for print-ready books.

There are some subtle niceties, eg. it saves in the background whether you press the save button or not. It's not like Word's auto-save (or recovery file); this is a PROPER save. I've now got used to typing a chapter and walking off at any given moment knowing that it's saved seconds after I get up. I can close it down and it reopens in the exact same place.

There's a really nice full-screen view/edit/write mode with all the clutter faded out. You can set this to any width, increase the text size, etc, without messing up any other settings.

Is it worth the money? Yes, I think so -- but whether you will benefit from it depends entirely on personal preferences and requirements. It's pretty solid though; I've never had a crash. The Mac version has more features than the Windows version. All in all, I would suggest trying it out before buying. Like you, I keep my eyes open for writing tools. Ideally, what I want is something simple enough that I can just type but with the ability to export in a format that I set up. Not found exactly what I want yet. I'd be interested to see what your own software is like!

Keith Robinson said...

By the way, there's another one called yWriter (for Windows) that's similar -- it was like the Windows alternative to Scrivener before Scrivener became available for Windows. Same sort of concept only free.

Hildred said...

I've used Word since 10 well, it first came out pretty much. I use a chapter per file (or something like that.)

that said, I bought Scrivener after last year's Nanowrimo since it looked really interesting. I used it for a whole five minutes before letting it sit and collect dust on my computer. The only thing I use it for now is to compile my flash fiction. Otherwise there's nothing for me to do with it that I don't already have with Word (and I'm more used to the sight of Word and Scrivener is just too distracting for me.)

So basically, I bought Scrivener but am too stubborn to use it~

agavin said...

I have a very extensive analysis here of why Scrivener is better for long form writers than conventional WPs. In summary, it isn't about the merging of programs but in structuring your work and separating content from formatting.

Roger Eschbacher said...

Keith: Wow. Thanks for the detailed analysis! You break down the program and describe a lot of the stuff that intrigued me -- the individual chapter files, for example. Of course, with Word I could do individual chapters on my own, but I think it would be nice to have a program manage that for me. The "compile" feature also seems helpful.

I downloaded and tried yWriter a few years back and found that I couldn't wrap my mind around how I was supposed to use it. I'm sure it was a deficiency on my part, but the UI seemed clunky and counter-intuitive on a number of levels. I've heard others rave about that one so, like I said, it was probably just me. The bottom line is that I'll probably follow your advice and take Scrivener for a test drive before purchasing.

As to what writing software I'm using now (beside Word): Dramatica Pro is a pricey and fairly complicated outlining program that I've used to organize the story points of just about any screenplay or novel I've written over the past 15+ years. They go into a lot of "story theory" kind of stuff, much of which I ignore, but I do find it quite useful for helping me to keep track of things over the course of a long project like a novel. Scrivener appears to have similar usefulness.

Screenwriter 2000, like Final Draft, is a MUST HAVE writing program for those writing spec screenplays and sitcoms (and, to a lesser extent, plays and novels). I own both and have used them over the years to produce countless scripts, both speculative and for pay. My recent animation scripts for Scooby Doo and the Littlest Pet Shop were both written using Final Draft, but I'm more comfortable with Screenwriter 2000 which I've used since the late 80's when it was called "ScriptThing." The beauty of these types of "template programs" is that your output looks exactly like what the industry expects to see. In other words, they are considered industry standard type stuff and you have to have one or the other in your arsenal in the same way that a car mechanic is expected to provide his own tools. There are also a few obvious similarities to Scrivener that stuck out from yours and Andy's descriptions, namely, the file opening up to exactly where you left off and the ability to move around your project and organize the components with ease.

Hildred: Yes, your experience with Scrivener seems a lot like mine with yWriter (see above). I can relate to your stubbornness, as, to be honest, I'm quite happy with Word and would have to be incredibly impressed by another writing program before I'd switch over. I suppose I'm looking for another version of Word that is specifically tailored for authors. Too much to ask for? ;)

Andy: Also a very good analysis of Scrivener and one that swings me back toward giving it a try. (Folks: I recommend following Andy's link in the agavin comment to read his helpful post on the topic).

Keith Robinson said...

yWriter is kind of ugly, yes. But also check out Literal, which is a much nicer looking program (although it doesn't seem to have the "compile" thing). They have a video walk-through which shows you everything you need to know about it:

http://www.professionalwritingsoftware.com/literal-software-for-writers/

I eventually became happy with Word after turning off all the auto-correct stuff and nailing how to properly use styles. The problem with Word is that it allows non-uniform styling to creep in, which bites you in the ass later! Other than that I'm pretty good with Word. I just like to try different things, hence why I'm giving a Scrivener a nice long try-out.

Scrivener is a friendly environment to write. I don't need all the "organize" tools these programs offer (what's wrong with a single text file for a summary, notes, etc?), and I wish the compile function was a LITTLE more extensive so I could set it up to export as a print-ready book file, but that's asking too much. I think I just need to design my own program... :-p

By the way, for screenwriters you must have heard of / used Celtx, right? It's free and pretty nifty. If I had a Mac I would like to try Bean, which looks really nice for novel writing.

I love trying new software... but ye gads it interferes with my writing!!

Chris K. said...

I'm still on the Scrivener free trial, and I've mostly been playing around with the index cards for the Holly Lisle 'How to Revise your Novel' course - Holly's big on physical cards and says that software can't match them, but scribbling in pen on actual index cards saps my energy.

I really like that functionality, there's a lot you can do with the cards, and each card can have a whole document 'inside' it (or on the flip side?) I'm definitely going to buy Scrivener before the Nano winners discount expires.

Please turn off the re-captcha. :(

Roger Eschbacher said...

Keith: Yes, all of this talk of writing programs seems like poorly disguised delay tactics when it comes to getting the actual writing done, doesn't it? Procrastination is an area I definitely don't need anymore help in.

Final Draft really is the gold standard of screenwriting programs and the one that's used most extensively in the entertainment industry. Sounds like Celtx is a good starter program for those who want to play around with the format before biting the bullet for a FD purchase. Although I didn't look too terribly deep into the documentation I didn't see anywhere about whether or not the two programs played nice together. This would only become an issue if the amateur script writer wanted to go pro and interact with entities in showbiz. Unless Celtx imports easily into FD (it might) it's more or less useless for the pro. Bottom line, you'd have to own FD anyway to work on a show.

For the hobbyist, Celtx should be just fine (although I did note that in some of the comments, users complained that it wasn't really free as you have to purchase ad-ons to get at some of the useful goodies).

And yes, I had to turn off a lot of the auto-correct stuff in Word, too. I'd love to hear your thoughts on "how to properly use styles." Perhaps a post on your excellent blog?

Chris K: Could've sworn I turned off word verification years ago, but I guess Blogger slipped it back in at some point. It's off again. Thanks for letting me know.

Physical cards are pretty old school (although, amazingly, are still used in showbiz writing rooms to plot out an episode). I don't use physical cards myself, but for some reason they work in a roomful of writers.

Didn't end up doing NaNo this year so, sadly, no winner's discount for me.

agavin said...

For me, it's not really about little things like the auto correct (being bad in Word) or the fancy flash card modes in Scrivener. It's about being able to see the outline of your book on the side and click on parts of it and see those instantly (i find myself flipping around in the book constantly). And it's also about outputting the book different ways quickly. The Scrivener compile mode has been making a lot of strides recently and I now have templates for straight to CreateSpace PDF and mobi/epub production. They aren't quite good enough yet for a final publication e-book, but they are fine for a great looking ARC. And I just pair the HTML output mode with my own style sheet to make a killer final product. I keep meaning to learn MultiMarkdown too to see if that will cover all my pro needs.

Still, the separation of formatting and content is key, and Word just doesn't do that.

Keith Robinson said...

Since my last post, I've played around a bit more with Scrivener and decided I CAN use it to prepare a print-ready PDF, so I'm very happy now. The trick is to recognize that it's not really designed to produce "pre-flight" PDFs and, with that in mind, to gleefully work around it anyway. Which I have.

Anyone who uses Scrivener already will understand when I say that I'm writing/preparing my manuscript in its "final form" with the actual book page size and margins set in the "compile" section, as well as the margins and font in the editor settings. Everything corresponds so that when I view the screen at about 150% with similar margins set, it appears exactly as it will print on the page of my self-published printed book. When I compile, I ignore all the headers and have only a page number at the bottom; the important thing is that I "compile as is" so that all my styles are preserved and used exactly as written. It works great and is so much cleaner than Word. I'll be producing the front and back matter as separate PDFs later and simply joining the PDFs together using a free merging tool.

But it's all too complicated to explain in detail here. Maybe in a post on my blog...

And regarding Word styles, this is another complicated subject, but basically you use the Format > Style tool and carefully set default styles, then apply that style throughout, rather than altering styles on the fly all the time. Again, hard to sum this up in a sentence.

I'm now firmly committed to using Scrivener for the foreseeable future even though there are a few small features I believe are lacking.

Now on with some more editing! :-)

ivanpope said...

I'd say the tool you need depends on how you write. Often people who are happy with Word are straight through writers - and good for them. However, there must be a lot of writers who appreciate the Scrivener approach. You only have to read the testimonials on the Scrivener site to see how much love there is for this program from professional writers.
I think it's down to the ability to pick and choose which tools you use to create a working environment that works for you.
Personally, I think the structural tools are ace. The ability to break a long work down into as many parts as you like and then to recombine them gives a view of the whole thing that you just don't get in a program like Word. I'm happy to move parts of my books around to see what works better and to try a lot of different approaches to things. Scrivener lets me do this (as well as tracking what I've done and make notes about what I did and want to do etc etc). Word just lost me again and again - I couldn't keep a 10,000ft view in my head as I wrote which meant I lost track of what I'd done and where I'd been.
Also, to show that I'm biased, I'm just finishing a book about Scrivener - Scrivner for Writers - http://scrivenerwriter.com

brain said...

I'd strongly recommend against using Scrivener. I installed it and tracked a few of my complex projects with it... one day the file backed up funny and stopped working. Each Scrivener file is a crazy frankenstein hybrid of folder and file. Asking for support I was told to not use iDisk to back it up.

Months passed, and I still used Scrivener for my writing, being careful to back it up with a different method. Here I am, a year later, and none of my files work any more. My multitude of Word files seem to clutter up folders, but they are still readable! All my Scrivener material is unusable.

Don't be like me. Don't lose your months of work.

These days I'm on
1) Word or Open Office. Convert to text to back up, just in case...

2) Celtx. Back up as text and PDF frequently.

Roger Eschbacher said...

Thanks, for the feedback, Brain. Sorry to hear about your data loss. What a drag. That's definitely a big mark in the negative column.

bertocorredor said...

Brain,

sorry to hear about your trouble. I agree that Scrivener's files are a bit of a Frankenstein, but if you open them you can find the rtf files and maybe try to rescue the content of them, as it's only text. Maybe you have tried it already, but just wanted to point it out...

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Steph said...

I haven't purchased Scrivener yet but I'm thinking about it due to how people seem to view it as a most helpful tool to writers however I'm the type of author who works on more than one story, or novel, at once. So whilst I have one of my works opened in a word window I have an entirely different one open in the next.
I was wondering if with Scrivener I could sill do that, as in work on more than one story at once?

Roger Eschbacher said...

Steph: Good question. Maybe some of the other commentators might have the answer to this. Hello? Someone? Anyone?

My update: Downloaded the trial version late last year, played around with it for an hour or two, got lost, decided I'd stick to my Word/Dramatica method -- with the additional step of now dividing the Word document into individual chapters when editing the manuscript. It adds an extra step (or two as I have to reassemble it to send out to beta readers) but I'm not bothered by that.

I think I'll eventually end up trying Scrivener again when I have more time to play with it.

jackharry said...
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