I recently bought the software package Scrivener. It is a word processing and project management tool for writers touted as “your complete writing studio.” Using it has caused me to think about tools of the trade.
Tools for writers can be very simple. All we really need is pen and paper. Of course, most writers these days use a keyboard and computer. We may want to access dictionaries and style guides during the editing process. And, depending on the nature of what we are writing, we may need access to research materials.
Elaborate (or even simple) software may not be necessary. It won’t help the creative process. It won’t get ideas flowing. It won’t make your words sing. It won’t make you more disciplined about sitting in the chair and getting down to work. But it can help organize your work and research. It can make outlining and restructuring easier.
I am still a beginner with Scrivener, but so far I like how it works for me. I think it is most useful for longer pieces of work with several scenes or chapters. For these longer pieces, I had been using a collection of home-grown spreadsheets to keep track of scenes and key pieces of information in each scene. I’d used sticky notes for scene summaries and moved them around on large sketch pad sheets to help sort out the plot line. I’d stored scenes and character profiles in various Word documents, flipping between documents as required.
In Scrivener, I keep all documents, notes and research information stored within one project. I assign keywords and create meta-data to track the information I struggled to maintain in spreadsheets. Because these are linked to a particular scene I can easily search for things such as which scenes a character appears in or all the scenes occurring in a particular location. I maintain different versions of scenes as I go through the editing process. Synopses associated with scenes can be viewed in a format akin to index cards on a cork board, where I can reorder as I see fit.
Is Scrivener for everyone? Probably not. If you have a system that works well for you there may be no reason to change. If you are uncomfortable working with packages on the computer Scrivener may not be for you. There is a learning curve, but I found the tutorial very helpful.
In a recent workshop I attended, one of the participants asked the facilitator what she thought of Scrivener. Her answer was to concentrate on writing. All the participant needed was the pen and paper already in her hand. The point being that technology and the choice for the perfect tool may distract from the writing itself.
If I had not already been working on book-length pieces of work and struggling with my own methods of keeping track of everything, I suspect I would not have found Scrivener as helpful or used it as effectively. Because of my experience I knew what meta-data fields to create. I knew what was important for me to track. If I had started to use Scrivener a couple of years ago, would it have helped or distracted? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that is useful to me right now. I have not yet used the publishing options which generate manuscripts, so I cannot say whether I will be as pleased with that part of Scrivener as I am with the writing aids. But I am finding it a useful tool to organize my work during the writing and editing processes.
What writing tools do you use?