Thursday 12 July 2012

Scrivener: The Verdict

I'll say up front that this is probably going to be a slightly contentious post but...I don't think I get all the fuss about Scrivener.

After everyone told me how fantastic it was, I downloaded the trial copy. I've still got fourteen days left, but if I'm honest, I don't think I'll be purchasing the full version. I've written my last few projects, including two novels, my weekly serial The First Tale, my novella The Guns of Retribution, and countless short stories, using Word, and I really can't see any reason to deviate from my system now. Before you throw your hands up in horror or leap to the comment form to tell me I'm wrong, let me explain (and please bear in mind that there are as many different ways to write a book as there are people writing them).

Everyone told me that Scrivener's big advantage was the note card system. Sure, it's a good idea, and I can see how others might find it useful, but with regards to my work in progress, I've almost found it restrictive, and I find myself changing the content of the cards on a regular basis as I find more story that I want to write than the cards might otherwise allow. It makes for a fluid outline, at least. Instead, I write out a list of scene headings, and a brief description of each scene, in my Word document. I use the paragraph style 'heading' to highlight each scene, meaning I can whizz between them using Word's Document Map option (2007 - in 2010, it's under Navigation). Next time I write a novel, I'll probably put my notes on ACTUAL note cards.

I like the fact that Scrivener keeps all of your work in one place, but to be honest, I already had separate documents for character sheets, location sheets, story arcs and other pertinent info. OK so Scrivener keeps them all in one place but that's no different to me having a folder on my hard drive (that's backed up regularly) containing the files I need. I might need to access them individually to retrieve information but I'm pretty good at remembering things. I just haven't colour coded anything in my Scrivener project as it doesn't suit my way of working.

Scrivener likes to keep scenes separate, and this leads to an awful lot of the Blank Page Syndrome. Sure, I can flick back to the previous scene to see where I left off, but I still have to come back to an empty page. At least if I write in a single Word document, that's simply broken into scenes using headings, my page is never blank, and I never feel like I'm starting from scratch.

I should also point out that I don't just write using a single machine. Sometimes I write on my laptop, especially if I have other things I need to do in a given timeframe, such as using Photoshop etc, and that's where I keep Scrivener. But I also write on my Netbook, as well as my PC at work if I want to write on my lunchbreak. It's difficult to do that with Scrivener, unless I work from a different file and copy and paste back into Scrivener whenever I get back onto my laptop. To be honest, I've been using a Word file containing all of my work in progress so far for the past couple of weeks and I haven't even noticed that I'm not using Scrivener at all.

I've seen some writers announce, in a somewhat patronising and supercilious way, that real writers don't use Word, as if the software used somehow influences the quality of the end product. Well I'm pretty sure Jane Austen didn't use Scrivener, and it didn't do her too much harm. I know a lot of people swear by Scrivener, but I just don't think it's for me. Sure, Word has a lot of issues and it isn't perfect, but it suits my particular methods for now. And before anyone says anything, I'll be formatting my next story collection (hopefully due out by Halloween) in InDesign before conversion to e-book...


Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I don't get it either, Icy. We write with what feels most comfortable. You wouldn't believe how many people I know who write novels in long-hand and type it later.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I was talking to a couple of writers on Twitter and they still use Word, too. The right software for the right person can make all the difference but essentially they're all just tools for getting the story down.

Nick Bryan said...

I like Scrivener's organisational features a lot, and I'll probably continue to use it for anything I wrote longer than 2000 words or so. But the actual word processing element really annoys me, I'm finding it very hard to get formatting to work without just going through and doing it manually.

And I don't even do it anything particularly complex. Ah well.

Larry Kollar said...

Not trying to change your mind, but you can ditch the Blank Page Syndrome by clicking the left-most "View Mode" icon, then clicking on a folder (to view an entire chapter) or the top-level book (to view the entire book). In this mode, unwritten scenes appear as a blank line between two horizontal rules. Any notes you have on the current scene (i.e. where your cursor is) appear in the column on the right.

Scrivener is really flexible. The drawback is that it thus seems incredibly complex. Me, I faffed around until I found a combination of things that worked for me and then left it alone. ;-) I don't try to keep world-building stuff in Scrivener, because I do something different with just about every project. (For example, I used a wiki for one and a mindmap for another. A third, I just kept the details in my head.)

And, as with any writing tool that tries to separate structure from format, getting the formatting the way you want it can be a real pain in the @$$. I'm willing to put the effort into making it work the way I want, so it does work for me. I think if I didn't have Scrivener, I'd use Sigil (which uses ePUB as its native file format).

And if I ever said "real writers don't use Word" in public, I was trolling. Such statements are demonstrably false, although I cringe at the thought of trusting my own work to it. I'll spare everyone the old-man rant about how much better Word was when it was Version 5.1…

Tony Noland said...

First off, kudos for giving Scrivener a try. I get tired of writers who say that they hate Word, but are simultaneously too lazy or stubborn to actually try out something different.

The note card view is perennially touted as a huge feature of Scrivener, but I guess I'm just not as visually oriented as those writers. I looked forward to trying that feature out, but it left me cold. I don't embed pictures as inspiration, either, another thing that Scrivener does well. In the end, I didn't see enough additional features in Scrivener to get me to change.

I'm a more tactile person. yWriter ends up looking much more like a spreadsheet in its organizational screen: lines and columns, text entry boxes for notes, etc. You can literally get a feel for the various chunks of the work. Like Scrivener, it's extremely flexible in the data it generates and the ways it lets you manage it all. It might also have a learning curve similar to Scrivener, but I've climbed it and love it now.

I don't see that I'd ever go back to Word for writing big documents, or even small ones. However, I know some very successful authors who use Word and only Word, from initial idea through drafts, edits and finals.

As with anything, as long as the tools you use aren't holding you back, keep working. It's the hallmark of a professional that they are always open to new (and possibly better) practices, but changing solely for the sake of change is no better than resisting change out of blind recalcitrance.

Me? I still long for the days of WordPerfect...

Tony Noland said...

I should also note that Scrivener made my netbook choke and stall, while yWriter runs beautifully. It's MUCH thinner and lighter, software-wise.

Anonymous said...

I see it as a tool, a method a writer can choose to use if they see that it fits their idiosyncrasies. I don't buy into the "us vs them" mentality, which I also see when it comes to technology.
Use the power of the tool if it suits the purposes of the writer.
The tool for the writer, not the writer for the tool.
Adam B @revhappiness

snemmy said...

Scrivener is my main writing tool. I love it but I know I'm not using it to its fullest. That doesn't matter to me though. I disregard the notecards completely. It's the file tree and all-in-one-ness that works great for me, whether it's my novel WIP or RPG characters/campaigns or anything else my brain comes up with.

Along with Scrivener, I use Evernote at work and on my iPad. The syncing across all computers/platforms is great. Then I'll copy it over to Scrivener when I'm using it.

Dead tree and ink are also my tools. Sometimes I find it so much easier for my brain to let things flow when I have to slow down and physically write rather than let my fingers fly on the keyboard. It tends to feel as if correcting mistakes can override my train of thought.

Word (much like Windows) always feels so bulky when I use it. Like I have to dig through its interface before I can write. I feel I never have to fight when I use Scrivener.

However, I feel that you need to use what works best for YOU. No single program will ever work for every one in any field.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I LOVE Evernote!

To me, Word is just an electronic typewriter. It's a way for me to get the words into my head into some sort of recorded format. Maybe I'll try Scrivener again and find I like it, or maybe I'll stick with my system. Just, for now, Word does the job.

Unknown said...

Ever hear of this little "add-on" for Word? It gives you the ability to organize your Word documents in a project-based tree structure, merge them if you need to, and even has the ability to view your outline in a "corkboard" mode. Hmmmmm.....sound familiar? Looks like someone is trying to Scrivenerize Word:)

Anonymous said...

I use a combination of ywriter and evernote and I'm sticking to them. I tried Scrivener and the tools are hidden behind stupid menus.

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