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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Scrivener #7 - My First Manuscript Using Scrivener

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts based on my experience with Scrivener - A Swiss Army Knife of a tool for writers. The complete series can be found HERE.

If you've been following along on my blog recently you may have been reading my day-by-day experiences writing a novel from scratch using Scrivener. The novella experience is focused on my writing output but not the actual use of Scrivener. This post talks a little about that experience.

First of all I want to say right out of the gate that I REALLY LOVE SCRIVENER! Just so we're all clear about that. I will also add I have no connection to their company, I paid for my own version of the software, and I have received nothing from them for endorsing their product.

Ryann is the first novel (technically a novella as it's only about 30,000 words) I have written exclusively using Scrivener rather than Word. In previous posts I wrote how I used Scrivener to create all my scenes and character notes. I also used Scrivener to organize the scenes into chapters, etc. This post is about the actual manuscript writing experience.

One of the big differences I discovered between writing in Word and writing in Scrivener is that it is so much easier to find pieces of the novel I want to refer back to while I am writing. Do you know what I mean? Did I say the door opened inward or outward? Did the bed have a headboard? Having two panes open on my screen and quickly looking through the scene descriptions to find the place where I wrote about the thing previously, I can bring up two scenes together and check my facts as I write. In Word I would have had to scroll up and down my document and generally lose my place and many valuable minutes of writing. I can also pull up character or place descriptions in a second pane as I type. I can make notes about future ideas as I type. I can... You get the picture.

But what about the actual writing; is that any easier? Simply put, yes! And the reason is that all my notes for a scene are automatically available to me as I write. I don't have to go anywhere to look them up. I know I'm writing 300 words about a particular thing and I also know what the sub-elements are in those 300 words. It's like joining the dots. Then, as often happens, if my 300 words turn into 500 words (or even only 200 words), I can make a decision. Do I keep what I have, do I move something else to be a little later, do I skip something I was thinking about writing? There are all sorts of possibilities. The point is that my 900 words per day target (3 scenes / plot points) somehow just happened. Effortlessly. It's never been that way before. I also learned something else about my writing as I used Scrivener. During previous novels I have been using a guide of 500-600 words as my target for each scene / plot point. I have discovered that 300-350 works better for me. Who'd have known that! It's a very interesting discovery seeing as I've already written over 500,000 words during previous novels. My next novel is going to have more scenes and use the 350 word guideline.

I'm also writing my words quicker using Scrivener. Having everything available to me and knowing exactly what I am supposed to be writing about has helped me improve my words per hour speed. We all live very busy lives and being able to knock off 10 or 20 minutes from our writing time and still produce the same quantity (but better quality) is a great bonus.

And finally the biggest difference has been in the level of detail in my plotting. Because each scene / plot point  is an index card and not just a one line sentence (as I have been using in Word), I find it really easy to expand on my notes for a scene and even cut and paste things from one scene into another. As I write, ideas hit me and I never have to lose more than a few seconds in capturing the idea and putting it somewhere for later use. That's not so easy 20,000 words into a Word document. And talking of Word documents, have you ever tried to scroll up and down an 80,000 word manuscript? I have and it's not pleasant. But because Scrivener allows me to split everything up into scenes, I never have to scroll through anything more than the index card list. This is a very quick process.

Okay, so I've rambled on for a while in this post, but I wanted to get the main points down while they were still fresh in my head. Next time I'll write a little more about specific hints and tips, but until then if you haven't already tried it, download a copy of Scrivener. You can use it free for thirty days. It will be a decision you will not regret!


  1. It sounds like just the thing I have been looking for. You hit the nail on the head re the large mss and scrolling up and down it - bloody nightmare!

    Not looking forward to another learning curve but I know it'll be worth it in the end. You convinced me, I bought it.

    Thanks John.

  2. The learning curve is actually pretty small. I picked it up in a few hours...

  3. Thanks Paul, this is a really useful post and very timely for me. I looked into Scrivener as I thought it would be particularly helpful with my current WIP as I have two stories, a past and a present, and I was struggling to remember where I was with each, whenever I sat down to write. I asked around and general advice was that using anything other than Word would make it difficult at submission stage because it wouldn't convert back to Word easily for emailing etc. Just yesterday I thus decided to put my two 'stories' into two separate documents so I could see where I was with both. Now I'm wondering about Scrivener again! Have you tried converting back to Word yet please? And if so, what's your experience been? Many thanks.

  4. I output to Word in order to upload to Amazon, etc. It's a fairly easy process and for the number of times I have to do it - totally worth it. I adjust final layout (headers, page size, etc.) in Word but ALL my writing is done in Scrivener.