When I was doing NaNoWriMo back in 2014, they had a discount code for Scrivener. I saw it and I thought to myself: what the hell is that? Didn’t Google it, didn’t click on it, and I forgot all about it.
But back in 2014, I was writing using the notes section on my iPhone and iPad. I also didn’t plan. Like, ever and my only goal was to see if I could write 50k words. They didn’t have to be good words. In fact, most of them were utterly terrible words strung together into even worse sentences.
But that was my 2014 goal. Write 50k words. Which I definitely achieved. And all I needed for that was Notes, occasionally Microsoft Word, and a metric shit-tonne of tea.
And if your goal is just to write words, then a standard word processor is absolutely fine.
But by the time NaNo 2015 came around, I had a new goal.
50k words are all well and good, but if those words aren’t forming a coherent narrative, what’s the point?
So this time I decided I was going to do it properly and. Y’know. Plan. A bit. A smidge. I would, at the very least, have an idea of who my characters were before beginning to write.
And my friend suggested I look at Scrivener. So this time I Googled it and I thought gosh no, that looks complicated. That’s for professional writers. I’m just a November writer. A novice.
Fast forward three years and I’ve got maybe nine short stories, one full novel and the bones of a trilogy under my belt and I can honestly say: I would never go back to not having Scrivener. And here’s why:
1. It has EVERYTHING you could ever need
Scrivener is like the swiss army knife of writing platforms.
Its templates give you everything in one place: setting cards, character cards, research sections, notes sections, trash sections (which it doesn’t delete, either. HUGE bonus if you’re anything like me and delete a paragraph only to realise you need it two scenes later.)
It lets you drag and drop images straight from Google (great for the research phase) and it backs it all up to your Cloud, G Drive or Dropbox, so you never have to worry about losing all your work.
Put it this way. If there’s a feature that I need that Scrivener doesn’t have, I’m yet to find it.
2. It sorts all the formatting out for you
I didn’t appreciate how beautiful this feature was until it came to submitting my first short story for publication.
In Word, you’d have to go through, change all the formatting, sort out the line spacing, change the font to Times or Courier, make sure you have your headers, your word count…
Scrivener does all of this for you.
And not just for short stories, either. It does it for e-books, full novel-length manuscripts, scripts, screenplays and more.
So if you’re anything like me and your writing looks like a cut-and-paste job that would rival Frankenstein, don’t worry. Scrivener’s got your back.
3. It’s great if you’re a planner
The corkboard feature is awesome if you’re in the first stages of planning out your novel. You can stick all your ideas down into handy little boxes and then drag and drop them around at will, with a lot less cutting, sticking and overall mess than if you were to do it with post-it notes.
Not only this, it allows you to set word goals for your outline and watch the little blue line creep up to it before it turns green and gives you the visual equivalent of a pat on the back. (Although, great post here from K.M. Weiland on why you shouldn’t make word count your be-all and end-all.)
4. You can write in split-screen as well as full-screen composer mode
Split screen mode is awesome when you’ve written out a long winded plot outline and now you’re trying to write it up as creatively as possible, whilst still hitting all the tick boxes you need to make your scene really pop.
Once you know where you’re heading with your scene, you can jump straight into “composition” mode, which clears away all the clutter of your screen and allows you to focus on just writing.
5. It has some awesome meta-data options so you can keep track of your work
Scrivener allows you to add in keywords to each scene, so that if there are themes you want to pull out strongly in your work you can make sure they’re hitting their quota of images, colours: whatever it is you’re using to symbolise the undercurrent of your story.
It also allows you to run a search on your most commonly used words: great when you’re in editing mode and trying to rectify any bad writing habits… or perhaps that’s just me!
6. It autosaves and backs up to the Cloud/GDrive/Dropbox (and probably others)
We all know the feeling. Your mouse stops moving, and then the whole screen freezes and the next thing you know you’re force-quitting and resigning yourself to starting again from whenever it last auto-saved.
Sometimes, life will throw another fly into the already pretty-shit soup of losing your work and just corrupt the file completely.
Which means all those hours you’ve spent toiling away are now in the hands of the poor guy at the Genius desk standing there awkwardly while you try not to cry.
Now, I’m obviously an advocate of saving regularly and backing your work up somewhere, whether that’s emailing it to yourself, sending it to a friend or making sure you can access it on multiple devices.
Scrivener auto backs-up to the cloud at the end of every session, meaning even if everything was to go horribly wrong with your laptop, your .scriv files are safe.
They are saved as text files so you will be able to pull the content straight from them, just be aware that you’ll need Scrivener in order to open them again in their full glory.
7. ‘Revision Mode’ is an awesome function
Revision mode allows you to take as many passes of your edit process you want: with different colours for each edit.
Now this might not sound awesome, but trust me, it is. You can see what got added in each round of edits, and it allows you to keep control over what you’re editing and how.
It also means (if you’re so inclined) you can add in edits based on your beta-readers in different colours and then make a decision which ones to keep and which ones to trash.
Also having different colours for something automatically makes it a bit more fun. After all, editing is painful on the best of days.
8. The templates are a great starting point
Especially if this is your first book, and even more so if this is your first creative writing venture full stop. The templates include everything from character sheets (in which they detail all of the pertinent questions you need to be able to ask about your character) to setting templates (same thing, but this time with places) to overall manuscript templates, which sets out what notes you should be making, where everything should go and how you can structure your story down to the very chapters.
When I first looked at Scrivener I baulked because I thought it was aimed at professionals, but the truth is it’s aimed at newbies too. The vast amount of pre-populated template sheets and their massive help section is a testament to that.
9. It doesn’t start to lag when you’re 100k words deep
I wrote my first novel (or at least the first draft of it) on Google Docs. I thought it would be a good way to make sure I could pick up and drop the book wherever I was, on whatever device I happened to have with me at the time.
Which was very true.
But Google Docs aren’t really set up to handle over 100k words in one document. They slow down. They lag. There is a delay between you typing the words and them appearing on the screen (which honestly is the most infuriating thing in the world, especially if like me you tend to backspace and self-correct as you go along.)
Google wasn’t really ready to handle my novel, and it certainly couldn’t handle having multiple tabs worth of notes open at the same time.
My Master Scrivener document, on the other hand, is well over the 300k mark (with all the notes I’ve been making) + the outlines for three books in the a triology, and it takes it all in its stride.
With no delay between me typing and the words appearing on the screen.
10. It’s value for money
The thing that stopped me from downloading Scrivener the first time I heard of it was the cost.
It was $45, which equates to about £31. Now that’s not a huge amount of money when you think about how much you spend on your weekly shop, or down the pub on a Friday night, but when you’re funding a hobby that you worry might never earn you a penny, it feels like a big outlay.
I promise you, it is worth it.
If you compare the cost of lifetime access to Scrivener versus just one year of Office 365, (£79.99 per year) suddenly £30 looks like an absolute bargain.
When you add into that all of the awesome features it gives you that Word simply can’t…
Well. It sells itself!