Uncategorized · writers · writing · writing tips

Using Scrivener as part of the writing process

helena fairfax, scrivenerAre you a writer? If so, how do you organise all your notes and research as you write? If you’re like me, you’ll have bits and pieces everywhere. I’m quite an organised person, but even so, I find I have a notebook full of random ideas that occur to me as I’m thinking about something else entirely, for example I’ll write something like,  “Need to show that the heroine’s younger sister is constantly in her thoughts.” This note reminds me that this part of the heroine’s character is of dramatic importance. I still haven’t worked out a way to SHOW how this is so, and not TELL, but the note reminds me I need to do so.

Then I carry on scribbling in my notebook – random things about the setting, the hero’s father’s dog, etc, and then I’ll have a light bulb moment about how to deal with the heroine’s younger sister and scribble that in, too. So now notes about the heroine are dotted all over the notebook, and not in one place.

And then there’s all my research. I’ll have photos of the setting, and background information, and useful websites for research, all in one folder on my laptop called “Random useful notes on setting”, or else pinned to one of my Pinterest boards.

So far, this ad hoc system seems to work for me, but instinctively I know that this is a cumbersome and time-consuming way of organising myself. So, I’ve been looking into the software for writers called Scrivener. This program is supposed to put everything you need for writing your novel into one place.

I’ve downloaded a free 30 day trial, and here’s a screenshot of how the program looks:

helena fairfax, scrivener

The screen you can see is like a corkboard, and each piece of paper pinned to the board is a scene in your novel. When you click on the piece of paper, your document opens up. You can write notes on the pieces of paper, so if you’re a proper planner you can put, for example “Inciting incident”, or “Dark moment”, or just “This scene needs some local flavour” to remind you it still needs some work.

(You don’t have to view your work as a corkboard, by the way. That’s just one of the options.)

I particularly like the possibilities for storing your research all under one roof. At the moment, all my web links are dotted everywhere, but here you can pin your useful webpages all in one folder and rearrange them. You can even split the screen and view your manuscript on one side, and your useful web page on the other. Great for if you have a photo of your setting and you want to look at it as you write your description.

One of Scrivener’s big pluses for self-publishers is that you can export your documents as a Kindle file.

Apparently there are masses of other capabilities to Scrivener, and authors who use it regularly swear by it. It’s also reasonably priced at $40. So why haven’t I bought it already? I’m tempted, but to be honest, I do manage OK with my present ad hoc system. There’s also the whole question of having to sit down and learn a new piece of software which may just be a gimmick, when I could be using that time more fruitfully by actually just writing my bloomin’ book. (Although my husband reminded me of the story of the guy on a hillside firing arrows at the cavalry. Behind him is a man selling a Gatling gun, but the guy on the hill says he hasn’t got time to learn new things.)

So what do you think? Have you heard of Scrivener? Do you think it’s a really useful tool, or just a flashy gimmick? Should I invest more valuable time in getting to know how it works, or is my time better spent writing the next chapter of my book? I’d love to hear any advice or comments on this!

16 thoughts on “Using Scrivener as part of the writing process

  1. I have downloaded the trial but not actually opened it yet. I like that the trial is 30 days of use, not 30 calendar days so you get the most out of the trial. It came highly recommended. I am also adhoc and messy with my notes and i don’t really like it so i hope to use Scrivener to transfer messy notes to something i can then fiddle around with and move notes around etc.


    1. Hi Naomi, yes, I liked that, too, about the trial being 30 days of actual use. That’s very generous, and gives you plenty of time to decide if it’s worth it. They must have confidence in their product. And the organisational capabilities are also what attract me. I tried writing a couple of pages, and I loved the screen layout. My ms looked far more like the print in an actual book than it does in Word, and so it’s easier to spot things that need adjusting. I think I’m beginning to talk myself into actually learning how to use it properly! Thanks very much for taking the time to comment!


  2. I’ve been using it for a year or so and I love it. I wrote the novel The thing I like best is how easy it is to move things around — I end up doing a lot of that. My other favorite feature is the ability to cut scenes and move them to a separate folder that I don’t compile as part of the finished product == sometimes I end up wanting to grab it back, or grab it back and modify it, or whatever.

    It’s also great to label the sections with the POV character’s name so I can easily group them together and read them all over for consistency. Searching the current piece or the entire project is also simple.

    I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. Worth every dollar I spent on it.


    1. Thanks very much for that, Margaret. I especially like the grouping by POV facility. What a great idea. There’s a publisher in the UK that asks what percentage of the book is in the hero’s POV. Hard to work out manually, but this way it’s easy, plus you can really gauge how often each character’s POV is used. I’m really taken with that idea! Great comment – thanks very much!


    1. It seems that they do, Harliqueen. I’m glad I asked the question, as I didn’t want to waste a lot of time learning something I’m not going to use. Seems like it’s definitely worth the effort, though! Thanks for your comment!


  3. Two of my crit partners use it and love it. I, like you, don’t want to take time to learn the program, but rather bumble along in my safe, disorganized environment. (Now where did I put that notebook with all those notes and character bios? LOL) Love how your DH made his point with arrows vs. Gatling gun!


    1. Hi JQ, that’s exactly it. It’s not the financial outlay so much, as the time I’d have to spend getting to grips with it. So many people have said it’s worth it, though, that I think I’m finally going to bite the bullet!


    1. Kate, I’m a canny Yorkshirewoman, and I wondered the same thing! I’m using the 30 day trial to teach myself how to use the program, but I daren’t save anything significant on there in case I lose it after 30 days. I haven’t done much with it so far, but what I’ve seen, I really like :)


  4. Glad you’re trying this out, Helena. Another blogging friend was also trying it and so far, I like the sound of it – as long as it doesn’t take too long to figure it out! Might try the 30 day trial at some point. Let us know how you get on. I tend to keep too much information in my head and one day it will disappear!


    1. Hi Ros, I’m definitely going to spend some time getting to grips with it. I’ve lost a lot of my notes and research from older manuscripts because it was all dotted around everywhere. If I can work out how to back this program up safely then it seems a good idea to go ahead.


  5. Hey, Helena. I have a friend who has blogged about her experience with Scrivener. She actually took the course from the author. My friend, Jo-Ann Carson (check her out) raves about it for many of the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’m more of a stick to what you know person, and admire your courage to stretch your wings. Keep us posted on how it goes.


    1. Hi Marsha, that does seem to be the one drawback to Scrivener – that it takes a while to learn your way around. So many people have said it’s worth the time, though. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes. And I checked out Jo-Ann Carson’s blog, and it’s brilliant!


  6. LOVE Scrivner! It is Not a gimmick & though it does require a learning curve, once you dive in you will wonder how you managed before. Highly recommended.


    1. Thanks, Jae! I’ve just spent a couple of days getting to grips with it, and the first couple of chapters of my next book, plus research and photos, are now in there waiting to get written up! I very much like it so far :)


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