Scrivener: A Tool of the Trade

This is a guest post by Connor Boyack. Connor Boyack is a web developer, political economist, and social media consultant focused on advancing the cause of liberty. Best known for his blog at www.connorboyack.com, he currently serves as the state coordinator for the Tenth Amendment Center in Utah. He is a frequent guest on radio shows and regularly publishes opinion pieces in a variety of newspapers and websites. His first book, tentatively titled Latter-day Liberty, will be published by Cedar Fort later this year.

I’ve been a blogger for about six years, and along the way have used various pieces of software to Scrivener, writing tool, Mac, windowscompose and edit my articles. When I decided to begin writing a book last fall, I spent several hours doing research to determine what the best tools would be. Would I use Word, or use some other program? Would I do something web-based such as Google Docs, so I could have the content accessible at any time, or would I opt for something local to my computer?

More importantly, I was curious what others were using to write their manuscripts. Was there an industry standard I needed to brush up on, or were the options as varied as the interests of each author? A few things were important to me: I would need granular control over styling and formatting; I wanted the ability to have my research and my manuscript in one central location; and I wanted a program that was feature-rich, but didn’t get in the way of my writing.

After some exploration, I found what I was looking for: Scrivener.

This is an application that is both easy to use and extremely feature rich””an odd combination of characteristics that still makes me happy such a product exists. I’ve been using Scrivener over the past six months and readily recommend it to all authors for their serious consideration. The Mac version is the original product, but there is currently a public beta for versions on Windows and Linux.

As I began my manuscript, I quickly realized that Word wouldn’t work for me. Having to compose the entire manuscript in one linear document didn’t seem helpful when I wanted to be ensure that one subchapter was connected to another, or if I wanted to see the entire organizational structure of my manuscript in one view. Scrivener provides me a hierarchy-based list of sections, chapters, and subchapters so that each section can be worked on independently (or interdependently). I’ve found it very easy to ensure my book flows well by being able to break everything up into small pieces.

My Scrivener project. What, you think I’d show you my unedited manuscript? Think again!

Scrivener’s core set of features is pretty robust, but the latest version of their product adds several more that I’ve found quite useful. Fiction writers will love their name generator, and I’ve grown fond of the ability to add links throughout my manuscript to web pages, other sub-sections within my manuscript, and downloaded assets I’ve included for reference.

The different view modes have also been very helpful both for brainstorming (using the corkboard or outliner views) and writing (using the default, page, or full screen views). I can split the screen to view two parts of my manuscript at once (convenient when trying to reference one part of the manuscript from another). I can annotate, label, categorize, tag, and use all sorts of other metadata to manage my project and keep tabs on the status of each portion of the manuscript. Scrivener has so many simple, useful features that I haven’t yet come close to discovering or using them all. (And I’m okay with that!)

The need to export my manuscript in different formats has also been one of Scrivener’s strong suits. I can export a PDF for those reviewing my manuscript, or create an RTF file so I can get it into Word format for my editor, or HTML, ePub, and other formats as well. I have the ability to customize the font, line spacing, footnotes, headers/footers, etc., in order to ensure that what I deliver to my editor at Cedar Fort matches what they have requested I send them. (Admittedly, it’s not perfect; I’ll be manipulating things a tiny bit in Word before sending in my final draft.)

Rather than spinning a long thread of a manuscript by using Word (or something similar), Scrivener allows me to weave an intricate spiderweb. That many sound far more complex than the alternative, but in my experience, it makes the writing process both more easy and more enjoyable. I’m not the only one who thinks so! It’s been very helpful for me when working on my manuscript, and I’m confident others will find it beneficial as well.

As I continue to work on my manuscript, and ponder future books I’ll write, I’d like to continue learning how others write theirs. For those of you who have written (or are writing) a book, what program or software do you use? What did you like about it, and would you recommend it to others? Scrivener has been helpful to me over the past few months, but if there’s something better out there I haven’t yet come across, I’m all ears!

4 thoughts on “Scrivener: A Tool of the Trade

  • April 9, 2011 at 10:25 am
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    Just found Scrivener myself, and am finding it a joy to use for the same reasons you mention.

    Enjoyed the article.
    Alec

  • April 12, 2011 at 6:41 am
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    Among the many, many prolific authors of my acquaintance, most are content with ordinary word processing programs, which, nowadays, means Microsoft Word more often than not. I know one writer, however, who is still using Word Perfect. I also know an award-winning poet, and the author of dozens of mystery and Western novels whose garage won’t hold all his awards, and they both write on typewriters.

    Then, of course, there’s Wendell Berry, whose many highly acclaimed books of poetry, essays, and novels are written longhand with a number-two pencil on legal pads.

    The point is, the best authors are, and should be, more concerned with the quality of the words they put on the page, and not worry too much about the mechanical process of getting them there. It’s only a matter of arranging twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks. If you can put them together well, you’re a writer. If you can’t, all the gadgets in the world won’t help.

    • April 12, 2011 at 8:15 am
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      “It’s only a matter of arranging twenty-six letters and a few punctuation marks. If you can put them together well, you’re a writer. If you can’t, all the gadgets in the world won’t help.” Very good point and very nicely put. We must remember that it is skill and not technology that makes us good writers or not.

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