A Look at Scrivener

During my college years (e-mail was as yet all but unheard of, and kids could still smoke in dorm rooms, if that gives you a general time frame) I was mystified by the processes other students employed during their studies. I took notes in class and would review my textbooks, but that was the extent of it, and that worked for me.

For some students, however, studying seemed to consist of painstakingly highlighting so much of their textbooks that I wondered whether the few words left unmarked were in fact the ones of greater significance.

While mindlessly highlighting line after line of text, these students might not have been doing any real, actual studying, but in their minds they were following the processes of studying and so were in fact studying, even if it didn’t translate into the point of the whole exercise: learning.

I’ve always been wary (note the use or wary rather than weary, so commonly confused) of embracing processes that give me a false sense of accomplishment. People often spend so much time going through the motions and getting their processes in order that they never truly engage in the pure, undiluted work of whatever art it is they are practicing.

Get ready to accuse me of burying the lead*: The preceding paragraphs are meant as a (perhaps unnecessarily long) lead-in to my thoughts on a tool I have approached cautiously but am nevertheless finding myself excited by.

Scrivener software is a content-generation tool for writing and organizing documents such as novels, screenplays, research papers, and nonfiction works. The software allows writers to view their work in a number of different ways and allows writers to break their work into separate scenes. Writers can therefore open the program, go to their work in progress, and select a specific scene to work on. Scrivener provides a corkboard, index-card view as well so that writers can view the arrangement of their scenes and rearrange them with ease.

The program is also notable for easily accessed folders where writers can store research and character and scene sheets. At any point, writers can compile their scenes and format complete documents.

Scrivener is available on a thirty-day free trial, and I downloaded the trial software yesterday. The price of the full software is $40, and even with only a few hours of testing, I am certain it is a purchase I will make.

Another reviewer, who writes long, research-heavy nonfiction works, noted that the software has become almost indispensable for him, even though it won’t do the hard part of actual writing. This brings me back to my introduction, in that writing is always core, whatever methods one employs. No one wants to fall into the trap of thinking and talking about writing more than doing the actual work of writing, but I can see the benefit of this software.

Visualizing one’s work is often difficult if it’s viewed as one unwieldy mass and not as a collection of parts that work together to create the whole, so this index-card view of one’s work could be beneficial. There are certain works I would want to lay out on the corkboard, scene by scene, before diving into the actual scenes themselves. Having written primarily with Word, the ability to go to a certain scene without managing different files or locating it within one large file is extremely attractive. Scrivener also allows users to import and export one’s work easily with programs like Word and Final Draft, so it isn’t necessarily the only software one would use when working on a project.

In short, whatever one’s method, I think this software is worth a look.

* The introductory section of a news story is also called the lede, but, and I would appreciate someone with a more extensive journalism background correcting me if I’m wrong, I believe the expression is more properly burying the lead.

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