Writer’s Insights: Scrivener
As I continue on my writing and self-publishing journey, I’m looking for ways to make my life easier. There are so many different tech tools out there for authors and writers. Some of them are billed as help for the self-publishing side of things, while others are supposed to help you craft better books and get down to the actual work of writing.
Scrivener is a word-processor from Literature and Latte. I had it recommended to me from many different people. It really seems like people love Scrivener. The point that sold me was someone reporting it made exporting eBooks incredibly easy. I struggle with InDesign, often needing to do a fair amount of restructuring and “clean up” to ePub files exported from the program. That’s not entirely unusual, or so I’ve heard from professionals who use the program to make books. I’m sure there are a few tricks I could learn to make it easier, but InDesign isn’t really the best tool for making eBooks when it comes right down to it. If Scrivener could make my life easier, I was all for it.
With that in mind and my hopes high, I gave Scrivener a try.
What Does It Do?
As I said, Scrivener is essentially a word-processing program. Its primary function is to allow you to type in words. There are many different word processors on the market. Word is the most common one. I used to use a program called WordPerfect, which was typical on old school computers and very popular here in Canada, as the Canadian software company had a license with schoolboards. We basically all learned on WordPerfect, unless you had a PC with Word at home. (And man, did those people complain.)
TextEditor, Word, WordPerfect—all of these are word processors. Some are certainly better than others. Text, for example, is very basic and doesn’t include the ability to format. (In fact, it’s what I learned to write HTML code in.)
Scrivener is perhaps even more “advanced” than Word or other programs like it. In fact, some writers swear by Scrivener. It includes the ability to write out plotlines and fill in character profiles. It also has different writing project templates you can set up, and it will try to format your front matter for you in accordance with those books. The program includes a “corkboard” view to look at the chapters, scenes, and parts in your book. It also includes “distraction-free” writing modes, revision modes, and, yes, you can export eBooks.
Does It Deliver?
Some people love Scrivener. I’ve seen people, including authors and editors, who argue we should just ditch Word altogether and use Scrivener. I’ve seen people complain about needing to transform their books into Word documents so editors at traditional houses can work on them.
There are some good things about Scrivener. Overall, it fulfills its function of being word-processing software, so I can’t say it doesn’t work. And it does try to be more supportive of authors. The distraction-free writing mode is nice. I’ve tried to make use of a few different features, such as the character profiles. In an upcoming project which is requiring far more prep work, I’m using the character profiles and the places. I’ve used the corkboard view to try to get a visual on the layout of chapters, parts, and even scenes. And I have made use of the five revision colors.
I also asked Scrivener to format my book as a paperback novel and then as a paperback novel with parts when I exported it. And I have tried exporting it as an eBook.
For me, the answer to the question is no, Scrivener isn’t necessarily any better than Word or anything else I’ve tried.
I spend probably just as much time reformatting my manuscript after export, in both Word files and ePub files, as I do working on them in Word or after exporting the book from InDesign. Scrivener definitely didn’t resolve the issue of ePub exportation for me.
It also has a nasty habit of mucking up my front matter, at least as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps I’m something of a traditionalist, but I have issues with its preset versions. In short, it doesn’t conform to what I’ve been taught to do in my professional career, so it makes it somewhat difficult to say it’s truly doing a good job.
I also tried exporting an ePub twice from the program. I’ve only tried it twice, because both times it messed it up something awful. I spent more time fixing the ePub exported from Scrivener than the ones I export from InDesign, so that’s saying something. At least, I think it is.
But People Love It!
I’ve heard almost nothing but good reviews from other people, so maybe there’s something about Scrivener I’m missing. I often don’t do a very good job of fully exploring a program, partially because I want it to just “work.”
By and large, Scrivener does “just work.” But it also doesn’t. I’m not sure what I could do differently make my files more “ePub friendly.” There seems to be an issue with dividing up the various pieces, which then means I have to go in and reconstruct the proper ordering in the ePub. I have similar issues when I export from InDesign, although it’s usually a case of InDesign gathering certain tagged elements at the back of the file. I’m not entirely sure what Scrivener does.
As for the other features, I don’t find them incredibly useful. More often than not, I see these exercises as something of a “distraction” from the actual work of writing. Instead of writing down story, I’m jotting about my character’s favorite colors. Maybe that speaks more to my process or my particular situation than anything else. I mean, maybe other people make more effective character profiles. Maybe I’m just really bad at making profiles and waste my time jotting down useless details. Maybe my process could stand to be refined.
That’s no fault of the program’s, but I still don’t entirely see the need for me to have these features. Even Scrivener’s nifty color-coded rounds of revisions is a bit of a “whistle” in my mind. First, you can simply pick whatever color you want; you don’t need to follow Scrivener’s prescriptions on this point. Next, you’re just going to end up with a manuscript that looks like someone vomited the rainbow over it. The manuscript becomes increasingly difficult to read.
Is It Worth It?
Yes … and no. For my purposes, Word is just as effective as a writing tool. Scrivener doesn’t eliminate my need for Word at this stage nor does it allow me to skip converting my files to InDesign. I’ve found I can’t go straight to ePub from Scrivener, which means when I use Scrivener, I actually have to employ four programs to get to a final book product.
I also don’t see the point of many of the “bonuses” that come with the program. Part of that is my own bias; many other people may find them useful.
That said, I do like Scrivener. There is something about the interface that’s conducive to writing. Maybe it’s just the idea of using a “writing program” built specifically for writers. It’s a bit of a placebo effect, in all likelihood, but I’ve found I feel more professional and more like a “real writer” when I use Scrivener. There’s something sophisticated about. And, from there, the words just flow.
For some people, Scrivener’s features are going to be a huge help. For some, it will be the only program they need. And for others, like me, they’ll find a “placebo effect” in which the program makes them feel like better writers, even if a piece of technology can’t actually improve your writing.