09 June 2012

Cool tool for writers: Scrivener

It seems like every writer has their preferred tool. Maybe it's a particular kind of pen. Or a certain kind of paper. Or maybe, like David Sedaris, you prefer to use a typewriter.

But regardless of how you get yourself going, in this day and age you're eventually going to have to get it into an electronic format of some kind. Even Sedaris, who has written at some length about his aversion to computers, seems to have relented and joined the ranks of the computered...unless someone else does his Facebooking for him, which is quite possible. But I digress.

When it comes to putting our work on the computer, our only option for decades has been word processing software: Microsoft Word, Pages, Open Office Writer, etc. But now there is something different: Scrivener. And friends, let me tell you, it is a beautiful thing.

First, let me assure you that I am not being paid to write a glowing review of this tool (although that would have been awesome). Scrivener is something I stumbled onto quite accidentally a couple of years ago while browsing apps for my new MacBook. I read all the marketing shmoody-hoo and decided it was worth spending some time taking the tutorial and doing the free trial (which, by the way, is 30 days of use, rather than 30 calendar days, which is a novel and genius idea and much appreciated by this one).

How to describe Scrivener? It's the future of word processing, only it's better than that because it's word processing to the tenth power. It's what would happen if your word processing software mated with index cards, a cork board, the file folders containing all your research, and several other things too.  It's..it's...

Okay, imagine this: you have a folder on your desktop that contains several different word processing files. Say each of these files is part of a larger work, e.g. chapters of your book, sections of a thesis, poems that you're going to put into a collection, whatever. (The reason they're not all in the same document is because then you'd be looking at fifty pages or a hundred pages or however many and trying to find the one section you want to work on, or copying and then scrolling for ages to paste a chunk of text somewhere else and then doing it all over again if the new placement doesn't work.) Also in this folder is another folder that contains all your research and supplemental materials that'll be included in your book/thesis/whatever: PDFs, a document with links to websites, images, etc.

Now imagine that you have everything open at once. A bit unwieldy, yes? Lots of windows or tabs to toggle back & forth between. Also it's hard to get a sense of how all those pieces are going to fit together. But what if you could toggle back and forth between all that stuff in the same window? And what if you could easily order and reorder the pieces and then see the whole thing together and take it apart and put it all back together again? This is the basic premise of Scrivener. And it does loads more stuff too.

Obviously I am excited about this, and there's no way I can do it justice in a blog post. Please. Just go look at it. Seriously. I'll even give you the link again. It's available for Mac OS X and Lion and now for Windows too. I've been using it for over a year, and if it has a flaw it's that there are way more bells and whistles than I will probably ever use. But I'm one of those people who prefers to have too many choices rather than too few.

Scrivener has changed the way I think about my writing process. For the better. I strongly encourage any writer who has an interest in writing a longer work to check it out.

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