For the last week or so I’ve been tinkering around with Scrivener, “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” I first learned of it from stalking a fellow writer’s Twitter feed — she mentioned going back to this mysterious Scrivener after trying to write in Word. I Googled it, got excited by what I read in the results and downloaded it to try.
Scrivener promises to help writers “create order from chaos.” It comes in the form of a virtual corkboard where one can stick virtual index cards that can be opened as text screens. The idea is that each scene, chapter and part, being separate entities, can be easily organized and reorganized as the writer sees fit. Then, when the writer is done, she simply needs to hit “Compile” and a complete manuscript is generated, handily in the standard submission format.
I tried it out with the novel I’m working on and was baffled and disappointed by the opacity (to my mind) of the program’s workings. Looking at virtual index cards on a virtual corkboard made me want the simplicity of actual index cards that I could shift around on an actual corkboard. This in turn made me nostalgic for physical, typed pages I could hold in my hands to shuffle and rearrange as I pleased.
I realized part of the difficulty came from the text itself — a long, continuous narrative. So I started composing something new in Scrivener: Catalogue of Dreams, a series of short pieces that have no overall arc as of yet. That was when Scrivener became appealing. It’s so easy and fluid to write a little piece, save it, and go onto another piece without worrying about where to save it. So easy to create folders or “chapters” under which to temporarily stick the pieces — knowing they can be rearranged later. It’s perfect for writing a series of linked flashes.
Honestly, though, I don’t know how this would work for a long, single narrative. The short story function seems superfluous. I can imagine this being most useful for nonfiction writers who have a lot of research to compile and sort.
Scrivener is available for download and a 30-day free trial. Might as well check it out and see if it’s useful for you.