In last week’s musings, I mentioned how university work is often rather abstract. Most of it’s very interesting, but it can be hard to see its relevance for everyday life. However, it isn’t always like that. One of my modules this term has been a more practical, writing-based course, and in a recent class my seminar leader gave a piece of advice which has already proven incredibly useful – not only for my study, but also for my own writing pursuits. It was quite simple: download Scrivener.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Scrivener is a computer program marketed as ‘a powerful content-generation tool for writers’. It’s immensely popular, too, and I’m somewhat relieved to be able to say that I had heard the name before. A while back, when I was in the very early stages of this novel, I looked into downloading some sort of writing software, but at the time I’d decided against it. There are so many ‘tools’ out there – books, computer programs, online courses – all promising to be helpful for writers, and I have to admit, I’m rather sceptical about a lot of them. Of course, there are exceptions*, but I suspect a rather large proportion only make money because people want to find a ‘quick fix’ – some sort of magic solution that will suddenly make the task of writing a novel nice and easy. A little bit like the old revision guides, bought in the hope that their mere presence would make you understand everything (when the disappointing reality was that you still had to read the darn things).
No, I decided that I’d be fine with just a bog-standard word processor, and for a long time, I was. But recently, things have definitely been getting trickier. 30,000 words is a lot, and trying to organise everything, navigate between different sections and just keep track of all of it has been becoming more and more of a challenge. So when Scrivener came up in my seminar, I thought maybe it was a sign. I downloaded a free 30-day trial that same afternoon, and already, less than halfway through, I know I’m going to be buying my own license.
At this point, I should probably make it clear that I’m writing this entirely off my own back. I have no connection to Scrivener; I’m just someone who’s found the program helpful. Above all, it’s allowed me to organise my work in a much more practical way. It gives you all manner of different options for dividing up a project, and it gives you the chance to use levels in a way that traditional word processors don’t offer. For something as long and complex as a novel, it’s amazing the difference those things can make. Yes, there are still sections of my work that are a complete mess, but now it’s an organised mess – and trust me, that’s an important distinction. Everything is so much more accessible now and it’s a lot easier not only for me to move around, but also for me to move parts of my work around.
There are some nice smaller features, too. You can set daily word count targets, or even a total for your entire project so that you can see how you’re making progress. Another useful one is the ‘distraction free’ writing mode, which blocks out the rest of your screen to help you to focus. You can even edit the style of the background, choosing between block colour options or a ‘paper’ effect to get the experience you want. All the little things seem to have been thought of and it’s wonderfully obvious when you use the program that it’s been designed not only for writers, but by writers.
Perhaps what I like most though, is that the whole thing comes across as very honest. It’s upfront about what it’s intended to be (a ‘kind of “writers’ shed”’) as well as what it isn’t (a replacement for a dedicated word processor) and it doesn’t make any ridiculous claims or guarantees about what it’ll do for you. I really appreciate that. If there’s one I’ve come to realise doing this blog, it’s that writing is an incredibly personal thing; just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it’ll work for somebody else. I’ve certainly been finding Scrivener useful though, and if you’re a writer who’s struggling to organise a complicated project, it may be worth giving it a go. It won’t do all of your work for you, but it might make things a little easier to manage, and then you can get back to what’s really important: enjoying the writing itself.
For more info about Scrivener, visit http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php
*Roz Morris’s wonderful series of ‘Nail Your Novel’ books, being one.