Game-Changing Digital Tool: Scrivener

June 20, 2011

Whenever I discover what I call a game-changer, I tell you about it. Hootsuite was a game-changer for my Twitter strategy. Google Reader was a game-changer for keeping up with the more than 200 blogs I read regularly. Your Life as Story was a game-changer for how to tell my tale of backpacking solo through Africa. Chris Guillebeau’s book was a game-changer for how to build the life I want to live.

You get the idea.

Today I’m bringing you my game-changer for writing books: Scrivener. Not writing books as in coming up with ideas or how to tell the story, but literally piecing a book together. Which is, to be honest, how I approach book-writing at this point; I write a million little pieces, then focus on stringing them all together. Sort of like how I write an article: I do all the reporting, collect all my research and quotes, then piece together a story. Finishing that kind of puzzle always gives me such a sense of satisfaction.

Writers had told me about Scrivener, but I never felt like I needed an organizational tool, so I didn’t bother with it. Except the two projects I’m working on right now — the first, what I hope will be my second book, about how to take a career break to travel, and the second, an ebook you’ll see launched sooner rather than later on this site — are even more piecemeal than my memoir. I could see the value in using some sort of organization system that’s more sophisticated than Microsoft Word and Google Docs, so I gave Scrivener a whirl.

On a Friday night, I might add. In my world, trying out new digital tools qualifies as fun on a Friday night.

And kaboom, it’s awesome. After watching a 10-minute tutorial video, I knew enough to make Scrivener work for me. I quickly imported my Word documents, separated them into files, and now I can easily rearrange them any way I like. It makes it easier for me to envision my work in little chunks, which I appreciate because, well, little chunks are more manageable than big chunks. It can be overwhelming sometimes to tell myself to go home and work on my ebook, but going home to write just one chunk is totally doable.

How Scrivener helps me organize components of my next book.

I imagine there are all sorts of features I don’t know how to use yet, and still I’m satisfied enough to pay Scrivener’s $40 fee when my 30-day free trial is up.

Oh, and while Scrivener used to be available only for Mac, you can now get it for Windows. That’s what I’m using.

Do you use Scrivener? If so, what’s your favorite feature?

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    13 Replies to “Game-Changing Digital Tool: Scrivener”

    • StowmarKate says:

      My husband is obsessed with it – he loves it for writing and editing, especially for rearranging things. He’s bought a copy for me “just in case.” (I’m not a writer).

      Love the blog, btw – have been a long-time lurker!

      Kate (Hughes) Herd, Colby ’03

    • My critique group has been discussing Scrivener over the last couple of months, wondering if it’s worthwhile. One concern is that the time spent learning how to effectively use it may take too much time from actually writing. Did you find it fairly intuitive/easy to use?

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Yes! It’s super easy. I only use the basic features, but I learned from a 10-minute tutorial video (link included in my post). So easy.

        • ‘In my world, trying out new digital tools qualifies as fun on a Friday night.’ I’m laughing in agreement over here.

          Having just started the trial version on Tuesday I’m still a newbie to Scrivener but I can’t begin to say how much it’s already helped me. Just in two nights of writing I’ve put down about 4,000 words. That’s because this program helps me shift between the pieces, or ‘chunks’ as you call them, of my travel memoir expeditiously. I can flip between scenes promptly and cleanly because the program remembers where I was last. Fascinating and fun!

          I know a lot of people start with many ‘chunks’. I commenced with only one chapter, actually just a couple scenes I’m working on this week, and will expand organically from there. Almost surely there is a full purchase coming down the road. At $40 I’m not batting an eye.

          Overall I’m loving this thing because my office is rather mobile. Writing transpires for me in at least three different places daily. Therefore it’s not possible for me to carry a wall taped up with a bunch of Post Its or other scraps of paper. This IS my wall. I love keeping notes about the project and about a fact that’s not instantly coming to mind. And I haven’t even begun to use the bells and whistles yet.

          Best of luck and fun to all those who are considering or new to Scrivener.

          I agree with Alexis that the tutorials are unbeatable. Like anything, the more you put into it, the more you glean. I spent about an hour or two and was able to start straightaway.


    • Last fall, I was drooling over a writer friend’s Facebook post that showed the corkboard. I went to the Literature and Latte site to beg them for a Windows version, and lo, I was delightfully surprised that they were coming out with a beta. I’ve faithfully downloaded all the iterations. Never had any problems until my HP laptop started to get very persnickity (through no fault of Scrivener, the machine after two years is on it’s last legs). So I went to the light and bought a Mac Pro. The next day after I received my new baby I downloaded the Mac version of Scrivener. I am having a love affair with the program. I use it for ALL my writing, and I love that I can compile my work into a .mobi and download it to the Kindle so I can see how it looks in a digital book format, but also to see how much more work I need to do to make my novel a real book. So far, it still need a great deal of work, but Scrivener makes it all the fun in writing the book. What’s my favorite feature. I think I have a new one daily. I love the research folder, but also love snapshots, and the scratch pad, and love, love, love the corkboard!

    • Sarah says:

      Great post! Team Scrivener!

    • Angie says:

      My writing partner has a Mac and I literally salivated when she showed me her book on Scrivener. I have a PC, and I played around with the Beta version months ago, but it was still too buggy for me to invest any more time.

      It sounds like the Beta version is working for you! Any problems at all? And when it’s time to download a new update, do you risk losing what you’ve already done?

      I’m one step away from hitting download. 🙂

    • Michael Ray says:

      I love Scrivener. It’s great not just for writing and organizing what I’ve written, but also for collecting and organizing research materials.

      The only minor buggy issue I ran into came when I was moving a file back and forth a lot between my iMac and my MacBook Pro. Once or twice I think I had the file open on both computers at once, or maybe two versions of a file with the same name … I don’t remember now. Anyway, that seemed to confuse Scrivener quite a bit and it “disappeared” a good portion of recent work. Fortunately I had backups. I’m more cautious now about tracking my current file, and I make sure to create backups often.

      Other than that, great program.

    • Hope says:

      I do use Scrivener. I love the way I can hop around from section to section with the binder open alongside.

      • Rich says:

        Great article. I kept running into Scrivener in the Mac app store and was very intrigued by it. I wasn’t sure if it was for me, but I kept running into it somehow, whether it was an article here, or a link there. I almost felt, dare I say, stalked by the program….but that’s just nonsense, right? I am a budding writer who still has a lot to learn about structuring things. I discovered Evernote and it has been (and still is) a boon to help me capture those fleeting inspirations. When next I found myself face to face with scrivener again, something clicked! Suddenly, something felt strangely familiar about it.

        I downloaded the program and behold! I was a fish to water. The intuitiveness and sheer common sense of the application just pours out of your computer. I found the application I had always been searching for….I just didn’t know it.

        I have been attempting to pour all of my Digital Photography knowledge into the app and hope to one day put together an ebook, or a manuscript for a much larger visual layout.

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