Switching To Scrivener

Apologies for the extended time between posts. As I mentioned previously, I’m visiting family for two weeks, and my laptop hasn’t gotten a lot of love.

Today I want to talk about writing software. When I first set out to write a novel, I went with the tried and true Microsoft Word. There’s nothing wrong with Word, and it has its uses, but I struggled significantly with it. I had some formatting issues, but mostly my struggle was mental. My story was a huge document, I had to scroll through it to find my chapter headings, and it was difficult to remember what was taking place when. I remember sitting down with my (old, slow, college) laptop and staring at my Word document and being completely intimidated.

When I began Origins, I found it much easier to write by hand. The entirety of that story is contained in a series of notebooks, with random sheets folded in from when I didn’t have the current notebook handy (like at work, shh!). I really enjoy writing by hand, but my hand doesn’t write nearly as fast as my brain moves. It was a slow process, impeded by the need for transcription. Every couple of chapters I would break, and take several hours to transfer the new work into the Word document. It was handy, because I made small corrections and edits as I went, but very time-consuming and frustrating.

When I began my new fantasy project, I started out writing it by hand, but I quickly grew tired of it and knew it would take me a long time to do this story the same way I did the other. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer, so I discussed it with my husband and we agreed that I needed to buy a new work laptop. The one I have now I bought in January, and I absolutely love it. At the same time, I began researching my options for writing software. I didn’t know if I could get over my difficulty writing directly to a computer screen, but Word wasn’t working and I had to try something new.

I don’t remember what all programs I looked at, but Scrivener stuck in my mind and refused to budge. It was incredibly affordable; the license only cost me $40. For that price, it was worth it to find out if it was what I’d been searching for.

There’s a learning curve to Scrivener. I know very little outside of the basic day-to-day things I use it for, but whenever I need to learn something I just google it and usually find step-by-step instructions or sometimes a video. My first few days I spent transcribing the few chapters I’d completed and adding in my note pages. I’m not a fan of outlining, but I did have many notebook pages listing out the rules for my fantasy world and what plotlines my characters were going to follow. It was a lot of content, but I think that information is safer now than it was written out on pages that I’d flipped through so many times they were falling out of the notebook.

Things I love about Scrivener: Each chapter is its own separate document. There’s a box on the left side called the binder where all of the chapters are listed out, so it’s easy to switch back and forth between them. You can even split the screen and view two chapters (or an outline and a chapter) at the same time. There are digital index cards, where you can write a  brief description of what happens in each chapter. There’s a screen where all of these cards are pictured and you can easily track your plot. Both cards and listed chapters can be drug at will and re-ordered.

Scrivener contains templates for indexing character sheets, locations and scenes, research, and plotlines. I don’t use most of them, but it’s cool that they’re there, and I do have regular documents inserted into the files so I can keep track of those things.

The most important thing: I can write into Scrivener. The individualized documents don’t feel so scary and imposing. I’m not setting out to write a 100,000+ word book; I’m sitting down and writing a 5,000 word chapter. It’s a much more manageable goal. Seeing the chapters always in view tells me exactly where I am, and my notes on the index card tell me what that chapter needs to accomplish. If I need to re-read something to refresh my memory on  a scene, it’s easy for me to find without scrolling through endless pages of flashing words. The bottom of the page also tracks my word count, so I know if I need to hurry up and conclude my thoughts or if I have room to stretch the scene out.

It’s possible that the ease of writing into Scrivener is simply a marker of my growth as a writer. Maybe if I switched back to Word I wouldn’t face the same issues I did the first time around. But I have no desire to test that theory. I like Scrivener, and it’s working for me, so why would I want to jeopardize that?

What writing software do you use, and why do you love it? Let me know in the comments!

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