A few months ago I won a copy of Scrivener. Since so many author friends rave about how fabulous it is, I promptly installed the software and launched it. Then stared. Ummm … now what. I was two-thirds of the way into my WIP and the idea of learning a new software and slogging through the rest of the book did me in. But how lucky am I that the amazing Gwen Hernandez, author of Scrivener for Dummies, is a chapter mate and was kind enough to answer some questions. So for anyone else tempted, but hesitant, read on! – Orly Konig-Lopez
And since she’s so amazing, Gwen has offered free enrollment for either her February or September Scrivener class to one lucky WITS reader. Comment on the blog, and you’ll be entered to win. UPDATE – the winner of the drawing is Pamela Aares.
I started using it in late 2009 after a friend recommended it. The initial appeal for me was that I could write in scenes or chapters and see the structure of my work easily. I don’t often write out of order, but in Word, if I got an idea for a future scene—or even snippet of dialogue—I didn’t really know where to put it. In Scrivener, I can just create a scene document within my project and keep it out of the way until I figure out where it goes. No more lost sticky notes, scraps of paper, or odd documents on my hard drive!
Then I found color coding, research and image storage, word count targets, annotations, full screen composition mode… I could go on for hours.
Q. Is Scrivener mostly for fiction writers or can anyone benefit from it?
Scrivener is great for all types of writing. I couldn’t have written Scrivener For Dummies without its project management features. In addition to fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, I use it for blog posts and articles. And I wish I’d had it in grad school.
Screenwriters, academics, poets, lawyers, journalists, and even genealogists are using Scrivener because it makes keeping track of all aspects of your writing—research, pictures, ideas, character and setting info, word count, goals—so easy.
And, Scrivener is great for indie publishers because it makes creating e-books for Amazon, and all other platforms, a cinch.
Q. What do you estimate is the learning curve? And what resources would you recommend to help people get up to speed easily?
That’s a tough one. Some people just seem to get it right away, and others struggle because it’s a new way of thinking about writing. The frustration for most people comes because they want to know how to do everything right away, but that’s not how we learn. Think about how you picked up any other software program. Your knowledge probably built slowly over time. You added new-to-you features as needed, and ignored the rest. Patience is key.
That said, there are plenty of great resources out there. The introductory tutorial that comes with the software is a good place to start. Beyond that, there’s my book Scrivener For Dummies and my online classes. I also have tips on my website. Literature & Latte—the company behind Scrivener—has quite a few video tutorials and a help forum on their site, as well as the complete User Manual, all accessible from the Help menu.
Plus, you can always find enthusiastic bloggers sharing how they work with Scrivener.
Q. What’s the benefit of using Scrivener for a pantser?
No linear thinking or pre-planning required. Pantsers can just create a new document and start writing. Then as they add additional scenes (each in its own document) their story’s structure becomes easily visible—and rearrangeable—in the sidebar (called the Binder). When they’re ready for revisions, finding, moving, and keeping old versions of scenes (via Snapshots) is simple.
Features like project and session word count goals, color coding scenes (e.g. by POV, Setting, Storyline, Timeline, Completion Status, etc), full screen composition mode to block out distractions, and the ability to add annotations or comments to remind you of areas that need more work or research, make Scrivener a writer’s dream.
Q. What’s the benefit for a plotter?
A plotter can start by creating all of the scenes in advance before ever writing them, if desired. A popular way is to use the Corkboard to create scene cards with a brief synopsis, and then start writing once they have the order figured out. Each index card is really a document that they can write in when in Editor mode.
And of course, they have access to all the same features that I mentioned for pantsers.
Q. Explain the difference in “New Text” vs. “New Folder.”
New Text creates a document within your project, which is where you’d do your writing. You can set things up in the way that works best for you, but it’s common to create a new document for each scene.
New Folder creates a folder that you can organize documents into.
Q. What is the advantage of creating folders?
Folders are mainly an organizational aid. You can use them to group your scenes by chapter and/or book part. You can also use folders to organize your research, pictures of your characters, outlines, and other information.
Having folders lets you expand and collapse different sections of your book for easier viewing in the Binder, or for moving large chunks of your book or materials.
Also, when it comes time to compile (export) your manuscript, folders are the easiest way to designate chapter breaks that force a new page and a chapter title.
Q. How do you categorize scenes according to the Hero’s Journey or 3 Act Structure so you can see where you’re at with a glance?
There are several ways to do this depending on the writer’s preferences. Here are a few ideas off the top of my head:
- Use the Label field to identify and color code the scenes by where the hero is in the journey.
- Include an abbreviated designation in the title of the scene that kicks off a new section, or in the title of each scene within a section (e.g. “TP2: Laura takes the job”).
- Create folders for each portion of the journey or act of the book and organize the scenes and/or chapters within them.
I usually use the second option for specific designations within the detailed structure, and the third option to divide my manuscript into four parts so I know where each scene falls. Only after major plot revisions are done do I further group my scenes into chapters.
I prefer to reserve my Label field to designate the POV for the scene and color code them blue for hero, pink for heroine. Yeah, I’m original like that.
Q. For someone who is already working on a manuscript in, oh let’s say Word, but is interested in trying Scrivener, can they just import the current work in or would they need to start from scratch?
No need to start from scratch. You can import your existing manuscript, and easily split it into chunks (documents), as desired. Then you’re ready to go.
Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies (Aug 2012, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.), and the teacher of popular online Scrivener classes for Mac and Windows. A 2011 Golden Heart® finalist in Romantic Suspense, she lives in Northern Virginia with her Air Force husband, two teenage boys, and a lazy golden retriever. Learn more about her book or classes and get free Scrivener tips at www.gwenhernandez.com.