I bought Scrivener as a birthday present to myself earlier this year. The reviews I read before clicking the “Purchase” button were filled with cautionary wailings of, “Ooohhh…it’s overwhelming…Ooohh… steep learning curve. So complicate. Much computer.”
I figured, “How bad could it be? If I can find my way around Photoshop and Blender, this was going to be a cakewalk.”
Turns out, it was. Sorta.
Here’s the thing, and this is a personal observation of course, whenever I get a bloody nose from smashing my face against the writer’s block, I point my frazzled creativity need-thingy toward something else. Don’t feel like writing? Make a t-shirt. Don’t want to deal with Photoshop? Write a blog post. Keeping all creative outlets open and related in some way to each other, I find that it keeps the juices flowing, my ADD from jumping the pasture fence, it dulls the pain of unemployment, and keeps me busy in those moments when the kids are napping. I realize everyone is different, and some people are used to doing their own thing.
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that this post is a reaction to a blog I read a few days ago. It was written by someone who tried Scrivener themselves and was almost on board with it. But, found herself very much attached to the Old School ways of mountains of paper on a desk, journals bursting with character sketches, and walls filled with sticky notes.
It sort of reminds me of every school year from 9th Grade, all the way to Senior Year of college. I would start out every year with a fresh batch of back-to-school gear, saying to myself, “This is the year I am going to get and stay organized.” Flash forward to about Mid-March, and you’d find me passed out amidst various puddles of class notes, crumpled in various stages of frustration, gripping a tankard of coffee that has gone cold hours ago, whispering something to the effect of, “Well, maybe next year.” My version of being organized appeared on the surface as anything but. It was frantic, messy and chaotic, but it worked for me. As someone who is infinitely wiser than I will ever be once said, “Hey, you do you.”
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m completely down on this way of doing things. In all honesty, I was a part of the Old School way (back before the days of the internet). Speaking as someone who still remembers the Old School, I can appreciate the dedication to the craft to the extent that someone would go out of their way to cram their working space with as much information as necessary. Or in the case of some, more than necessary… you know who you are.
I too have these romantic visions of myself writing the next Great American Masterpiece; ink permanently imbedded in my fingertips, bloodshot eyes strained from inadequate light, drowning in an ocean of first drafts, second drafts and abandoned plot points. Someday when I grow up, I almost hope I will be.
And even though I find these visions extremely endearing, the truth of the matter is that I’m a slob. All good intentions will melt away the moment I try to keep a wall full of sticky notes; children, animals, humidity, frickin’ Sasquatch will inevitably knock them down, and make them not-so-sticky. Romantic visions suddenly dashed by the thoughts of neon colored sticky notes blowing in the breeze like some psychedelic cherry blossoms.
[Picks up a pen and finds a notebook] Note to self: Find an excuse to use ‘psychedelic cherry blossoms’ in a story…
I love notebooks. All kinds. Moleskines, composition books, cheap spiral-bounds that are practically given away at the end of summer. I’m even downright snobby about the type of pen I use (uni-ball Signo Micro 207. Black.). I make sure to have one close at hand at all time to capture the random thoughts and ideas that come drifting through. But the truth is, the notebooks are barely cracked and the pens have yet to sing because all the good stuff tends to wash out when competing with the day-to-day of Stay At Home Daddy stuff. I have a stack of unused spiral-bounds just in case I feel the need to get a wrist cramp scribbling in my doctorly chicken scratch with my righteously boss pen!
My organizational skills are weak to begin with. Forcing myself to write everything down on sticky notes does nothing to strengthen them, which is I suppose goes against the point of the exercise. I got a copy of Scrivener for my birthday because I happen to like sticky notes. I just don’t like the idea of losing them.
I’ve been tinkering with it for a few months now, and admittedly, I will drift towards Google Docs just because it’s there. It’s useful in case I get an idea I want to play with, and I need to get it down before I actually commit to it. And that seems to be an important factor for me. I have an idea for a story. If I’m just kicking the tires, then I’ll fill a page in Google Docs and call it good. If I move to Scrivener, then that usually means I’m committed, and will be added to the growing stack of works in progress.
As of this post, I have three projects working at the same time. After a day or so of taking Scrivener out for a test drive a couple of months ago, I can honestly say that it’s the best $40 I ever spent. It is indispensable.
It is also kind of a pain in the ass.
What I Like About Scrivener.
It Keeps Me Honest. It used to be with every project I would start, it would more than likely involve several different tools from several different sources to make the process easier. The problem is, that this method isn’t really helpful. I’m essentially substituting actual random pieces of paper for digital ones.
I used Google Docs. I still do. But in terms of using it to craft a story, it can only be utilized for so much. I still have to jump from tab to tab if I want to reference notes or another chapter. And even though it’s super convenient to save all my information in an online space, jumping back and forth will result in fatigue. Fatigue leads to checking my social spaces, which leads yet another day of me staring at a computer screen filled with kitteh videos with a half eaten burrito hanging out of my mouth wondering where the hell the day went.
Scrivener accommodates my every need when writing my next project. My outlines,
my storyboards, my drafts, character sketches, everything I would need is all in one space. No longer going back and forth between tabs. I can format on the fly, convert to PDF, track my word counts, set word goals. It has a quick reference tab where I can check word definitions in a pinch. I can split the screen and reference my outlines on one side of the screen, and build my story on the other.
Google Docs and Microsoft Word are both good for what they are. Both have some pretty good features, but neither of them have the ability to split your workspace so that you’re able to see your notes, nor do they have a space to keep random notes to remember in later drafts. (Example: Your character finds a specific item, or drives a specific car, or said something that is key to the plot and you want to reference later, there’s a space on the lower right hand part of the workspace where you could keep track of that.)
It’s like this, Word and Docs are good for writing documents. Scrivener is excellent for writing projects.
Oh, and the Project Target tool is awesome.
Set your goal for your project and your session. The closer you get to your goal, the more the level changes from red to green. Watching the color change the longer I type is a very sublime motivational tool.
What I Don’t Like About Scrivener.
If I learned anything about finding myself alone with no responsibilities, plenty of time on my hands, and a bottle of Patrón in my immediate area, it’s that knowing what my limitations are might be in my best interest.
Also, having the number for poison control on speed dial would be good idea too.
But I digress…
It’s nice knowing where your limits are. It’s comforting, right? Our lives, all of our lives are dictated by limitations. How much to eat, how fast to drive, how much money to spend. Knowing how far you can go before you start swimming in the deep end. Knowing how far something can bend before it breaks. I think it’s a byproduct of living in a competitive society. We desire to know how much a certain celebrity is worth. Athletes study hours of films from other teams to exploit weaknesses. Chefs who have garnered a repertoire of dishes know what part of a recipe needs to be started first in order for a dish to be finished all at once. When I started playing around with Photoshop and Illustrator, I started to think in terms of layers, which sort of altered my way of seeing the world a bit. Measurements. Metrics. Limitations. Instructions. We live our lives according to these. It’s comforting.
Then, one day this tool gets invented, and one of its major selling points is that there is no wrong way to use it. Suddenly, life has no meaning.
Maybe it’s because I’ve disciplined myself to the point of masochism. Maybe it’s because I’ve logged in hours and hours of Photoshop tutorials on YouTube. Without rules or instructions in place, I become a little agoraphobic. I have become dependent on people telling me how to do things. I spend more time seeking advice than I do putting things into motion.
Secretly though, I like this feature. This “Sandbox” approach to preparing your workspace. It’s like decorating and rearranging your new office cubicle, or unpacking for a weekend stay in a hotel room. I have to keep in mind that the more I depend on advice from others, the more power I give to them instead of assessing a situation and bending things to my will. Which is what I’m not used to. It just so happens that it’s exactly what Scrivener was designed for. You can craft your workspace and use their tools however you see fit. There is no wrong way to use it.
So basically, the problem isn’t with the program, the problem is with me. I need to remember the value of playing.
I guess if I had to nitpick, I wish there were a version of their mind-mapping application, Scapple integrated inside of it. Other than that, I really can’t find anything much to complain about it. It is extremely versatile, it’s easy on the eyes, and as far as the learning curve to use it is concerned, it isn’t that steep. It’s not like you’re forced to learn a whole new language in order to use it. Amiryte, Mac users? </snark>
Take it from an Old Schooler, if you’re tired of losing your notes, if you’ve had enough of trying to decipher your shorthand that you scribbled down on a candy wrapper while you were half asleep. If you’ve gotten over forgetting your fantastic idea about one of your characters after you killed him off, and a pen was nowhere near you, then do yourself a favor. Splurge. $40 is what, a month of lattes? Scrivener is pretty much the Gold Standard when it comes to finishing your manuscript.