Saturday, February 5, 2011

Scrivener as a Writing Tool

Around the first of the year, I asked for suggestions for plotting techniques and writing software, as I was toying with my Shiny New Idea.

Well, I didn't get too far with the new idea, but I did learn a lot about Scrivener and outlining.

I HIGHLY recommend Scrivener for Windows (the Mac version has more features, but the Windows version has the basic functionality that makes it such a useful tool). It's free in beta-mode until the official version comes out. Scrivener is not a plotting technique so much as tool to organize all kinds of writing activities.

While I was reading McKee's Story, I took detailed notes in Scrivener. Because of the organizational structure of the files, I can quickly access my notes about say, the Inciting Incident or Crisis/Climax/Resolution.

Then I copied my entire MG MS into Scrivener, chapter by chapter, because I wanted to re-write the opening. Because I had all my McKee notes in the same story project, it was easy to flip back and forth between my notes, make new notes about ideas for the rewrite, and eventually to use the corkboard to diagnose and redesign my opening. It looks something like this (the different cork pins are different POVs):

Now that I'm starting Draft 4 of my YA novel, I'm once again using Scrivener to organize my thoughts, analyze the plot structure, and embark on the rewrite. Scrivener makes this gargantuan task very manageable.

By the time I get back to Shiny New Idea, I'm going to be a Scrivener Pro, and it will be well worth the $40 when it is released (and will hopefully have more of the Mac-Scrivener features as well).

The one thing I wouldn't recommend using Scrivener for is actual writing.

The word processor in Scrivener is not very powerful, and I like having my entire MS in one document (although breaking it into chapter-file-chunks for reorganizing/rewriting was very instructive). Even though I was designing the rewrite in Scrivener, I did all my actual writing in Word.

Once I get back to Shiny New Idea and work on plotting from scratch, I'll report back on which plotting methods (Snowflake, etc.) I end up using, and how that works out!

If you'd like to get information about more awesome tools for writers, check out this blog post on INSTRKTIV.


  1. Oooooh... I like that tack board. Reminds me of the one I have up in my cove. And the colored pins for organizing by point of view? Clever.

    Does Scrivener have any doodling capabilities? A scribble pad I can make drawings on? That would be cool.

    What's on your wishlist for the perfect software writing tool package, Sue?

  2. @Rebecca Doodling would be cool, but my doodles are cringe-worthy. But I did just discover this today: Google SketchUp

    Hmm...wishlist...something that had the power of Word within the softeware package would be nice. And I like Mac-Scrivener's ability to integrate video/hyperlink/pictures into your research documents more seamlessly (Win-Scriv doesn't have all that set up yet). When I start outlining from scratch, I will probably have a longer wish list! :)

  3. Interesting post. I might have to try it one day. I'm not so sure though, I really like to have something on paper, so I can make notes in between and also make it more visual. Of course, this way I have to flip many pages, but so far it still seems worth it.
    Thanks for letting us know about this.

    Nahno ∗ McLein

  4. @Nahno I've heard editing on paper (which I almost never do) is very different - I should give it a try sometime! :)

  5. Susan, this looks very cool! I love the tackboard and the way it breaks chapters down. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I went to the scrivener site and couldn't find it for windows. Where should I look?

  7. That looks so interesting. Thanks for the post and the link. Off to try it out. :)

  8. THANKS FOR THE LINK! I clicked on it and as the page came up I felt a sudden surge of power, the distant call of destiny. I think this software and I are going to be good friends.

  9. Susan, I tried it too when the scrivener demo was out, and I also had complaints about the editor. Enough so that I didn't end up buying the software. And it didn't seem to export well, for me.

    I'm back to yWriter, which still doesn't have a word-powerful editor but it's good enough, and it exports well enough that I only do minor manuscript formatting afterward. And yWriter is free. (

  10. I think I'm a drooling Scrivener addict now. I've been transferring all my world-building notes and I love how I can click click click and find any little piece I want instead of having to search through my composition book or in lengthy, unorganized text files on my computer.

    But I agree, Sue and Amber, I would never COMPOSE a document in Scrivener. I'll only use it to keep my notes organized.

  11. @Amber I'm glad you've found something that works for you! Free is good. :)

    @Rebecca I thought you might like it! :) And I don't plan to compose in it either, but the organizational part (to me) justifies using it anyway.

  12. I put this low on my list of things to check out because I don't do a ton of research. I'm lazy that way; I pretty much write stories based on things I've already learned, hence you see rather a lot of engineering and anthropology in my stories, thanks to my husband and best friend being PhD students in those fields.

    When I did go check out Scrivener, though, I became hooked at once, because this is exactly how I write a manuscript, in chunks, scenes shifted around at will, jumping around in the plot. Finally I've got a way to know if I've hit my wordcount goals for the day without having to guess.

  13. @Emily Cool! I can see how Scrivener would totally help with piecing things together! :)


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