I’ve spent the last week working on an novelette, the first significant fiction-writing I’ve done using the Scrivener 2.1 update. I’ve gushed before about how much I love Scrivener as a writing tool, and the improvements in version 2.1 are well worth the upgrade. By night I write science fiction and by day I am a software developer, and when I look at Scrivener from both of these perspectives, it impresses me all the more. What makes Scrivener successful is how well the folks developing the software listen to writers; how well they understand what writers a looking for in a tool; and how good they are at implementing those things without overloading the user with too much stuff.
Scrivener’s main success, in my opinion, is that it allows writers to write using whatever process they are comfortable with. And then it gets out of the way. It exposes only those things that make writing easier. It doesn’t try to be anything more than that. It doesn’t suggest plot ideas or prompt you when you’ve entered your fourth act. It allows writers to be creative without worrying about the technology. Let me illustrate using my own process as a short fiction writers.
For me, there are four things that I spend doing in constructing a story:
- Plan the story
- Write the story
- Revise the story
- Produce a manuscript
It is not exactly a linear process as you can see from my crude diagram below:
The features and enhancements in Scrivener 2.1 touch on most of these areas of my writing process.
I am a big fan of the corkboard because that is the way I think. I often start my stories with a brief line for two or three critical scenes and then add other scenes as needed to make the story work. I like being able to shuffle the cards around into an order that makes sense as I go along.
Version 2.1 boasts a corkboard feature I’ve wanted for some time now: 2 lines in the title area of the index cards. What can I say, my “brief lines” describing the scene are brief, but they don’t always fit on one line of the card and something as simple as this–which allows me to read the entire entry–makes things easier for me when I am planning out my scenes.
I don’t always know how long a story will be but I start out with a rough idea. The novelette I’m working on at present will be roughly 16,000 words when the first draft is completed. I often use writers group meetings as an arbitrary deadline for having a draft completed. So I can set a target word count and then set a target completion date for the draft and Scrivener will tell me how many words I need to aim for each day. In version 2.1, they’ve added the ability to select which days of the week you write, and those days are considered in the calculation as well. For instance, I tend not to write on Wednesdays because I have a writers group meeting. When Scrivener tells me how much I have to try to write in order to make my deadline, it does it based on a 6-day week instead of 7.
New writers might not find the deadline-planning feature as useful, but as you sell more stories and work with editors you’ll find that it will help you better manage your writing schedule.
2. Writing and revising
Writers write and it is here that Scrivener really leaves other writing tools in the dust. When I sit down to write, I don’t like distractions. I rarely listen to music for instance. My desk faces a blank wall and all I want to see on the screen is what I am writing. In version 2.1 Scrivener takes full advantage of OS X Lion’s “full screen” feature. This, combined with Scrivener’s composition mode gives me just the kind of screen that I want when I am writing: a clutter-free one like this:
Scrivener is virtually invisible in this mode and all I am left with is the screen and my thoughts and I can write and write and write. And when I reach my quota for the day, a Growl message will appear to let me know, so I don’t have to constantly check my progress.
I love the fact that I don’t have to worry about formatting my document. I can just focus on writing, compile the document when I’m finished, and get the manuscript into the mail.
One small way in which version 2.1 has made this even easier is by adding some document information to the Project Meta-Data screen. I can now give the project a title, author name, etc. and if the corresponding tags are using in my page header, those will be reflected on the compiled document. This was a particularly useful enhancement for the short fiction template that I created and use for my stories.
Each of these features makes my job as a writer easier because I don’t have to worry about this stuff. I can just write. I don’t have to get distracted fiddling with formatting. I don’t have to have a cluttered screenful of stuff that I don’t need to see when I am writing. And I can still reorganize things on the fly substantially faster than I could in, say Microsoft Word.
So I am completely satisfied with the latest release. And I am already wondering what is in store for the next one.