Scrivener overview: The best crafting tool I found so far

Tim Ferriss, author of the great great great life changing book “The 4 hour workweek” twitted this morning, asking for people who knew about Scrivener.app to give him the pros and cons of the app and compare it with Evernote. Unable to reach him fast I took the time to write a sort of really quick review of the app. Being unreachable makes it so that people will take initiatives like this one. What could have been a “Scrivener is the greatest crafting tool I’ve ever used” tweet became a 1300 words long overview of the app. that I decided to post here for all to enjoy.

I cannot recommand Scrivener too much to anyone dealing with the craft of writing.

[FrenchVersion] Pour les francophones: ceci est un aperçu de l’excellent logiciel de construction de manuscrit/projet/articles/etc. Scrivener. Je l’ai écrit suite à un tweet de Tim Ferriss, auteur de “La Semaine de Quatre Heures”, que je ne saurais trop vous recommander. En substance, Scrivener est l’outil parfait pour organiser les différentes versions d’un texte, ses éléments de recherche, prendre des notes, tout ça dans un unique document et au sein d’un logiciel doté d’une foultitude de fonctions toutes plus utiles les unes que les autres. Et tout ça pour la modique somme de 40$ (~30€).[/FrenchVersion]

 

@TimFerriss Hi Tim, I work with Scrivener mostly for screenwriting and boardgame reviewing. I discovered your awesome book, about a week ago. It helped me put light on the boredom I experienced even if I had reached my dream of being a pro writer and gave me the motivational boost I needed to put some longing projects into action. So for that, thank you!

 

First, let it be known that I’m not a user of Evernote. I only discovered it thanks to your WordPress conference, two days ago, and haven’t yet given it a thorough look.

 

Ok so here’s a bit of backgroung story about me and the needs I needed Scrivener to cover. It should read fast but you can jump directly to the bolded sections for a list of pros and cons.

I’ve been using Scrivener for two month now. I used it for the sake of developping a videogame universe for Ubisoft. Before I found Scrivener I used Freemind for mindmapping and Microsoft Word for text editing. But I wanted to find an alternative to MSWord since it bugged too often and was very slow. Plus I ended up with litteraly hundreds of .doc files with all my notes, drafts and research. This is something I hated and that concurred to making MSWord bug and slow down since, needing my notes, I opened half a dozen files everytime I used the app. Needless to say the stress it built plus the time it wasted were huge. Also, MSWord isn’t really good for navigating through parts of your work while you’re writing it. Let’s say I’d be writing a script. The way I work, I need to be going back and forth throughout the scenes all the time to tweak things. Or if I’m writing a novel or an essay I never do it in a linear fashion and I need to be able to add chapters, etc. easily.

 

I used to work on my scripts with Montage and my novels with Storymill, both by Mariner’s software and they solved most of my problems: one file for all the subdocs (research notes, but not versions) and ease of navigation through different views of the script. Part of the automation process didn’t work very well though and I spent a huge time in word manually reformatting what the app had autoformatted. Plus they’re filled with bugs that hopefully don’t affect the work but slow the process of creating down. A lot.

Then I came upon Scrivener. There’s a 30 day demo where you can use the software as much as you want and then decide if you want to buy it or not. I played with it 2 hours and decided it was the perfect tool and bought the license (which, at 40$, is really reaaaalllllly cheap). I haven’t opened Montage or Storymill ever since. I still use MSWord alternatives such as Bean or Mellel for viewing single documents and editing or TextEdit for fast typing stuff I don’t need any research or drafts for (such as to-do lists, thoughts of the day, writer’s training…). I didn’t quantify my gains with Scrivener but I’m pretty sure it at least doubled my efficiency and lessened my stress about as much as I’m just a few clicks away from any info I need and I don’t even have to change files to refer to my research or old drafts.

 

How I use Scrivener

I created about ten .scriv files, one for each of my writing areas even if I suspect I’ll merge some of them into one big .scriv file because I tend to open them all at once and that disctracts me. So I’ll have something like: comicbooks.scriv; blog.scriv; animation.scriv; games.scriv; moneymaking.scriv; general_research.scriv and some project specific scrivs for bigger projects such as an animated series I’m currently developping called Cave Canem that has its very own cavecanem.scriv.

I’m a fond user of folders as they tend to help me save time. So I’ll create folders and they’ll help me find the files I need faster and reorganize my work in a glitch. For example In Comicbooks.scriv, I’ll name my folders after spectific projects and subfolders after categories (characters, outline, drafts, etc.), in games.scriv, since I review games monthly, my folders are named after months. Then in every folder I can create files and folders as I see fit, reorganize them, compare them, tweak them, colorlabel them, etc.

 

 

Scriveners split view

Scrivener's split view with labelcolored pins in the Corkboard

 

 

 

I mostly use Scrivener to keep all my files relating to the same topic in the same place. I can then easily navigate from one to the other, edit them as soon as an idea strikes me without having to open a new file, search for the place to edit, save it and go back to the previous file. I can do all that in just a few clicks without ever losing focus on my current file.

I need to refer to research docs a lot while writing and Scrivener makes that super easy thanks to its split view.

Labels work great. You can define as many colored labels as you want and you can then color the icon of the files in your sidebar to quickly see which belongs to what category/issue/topic.

There’s a nice built-in scratch pad that you can set to stay on top of all your apps, making it easy to copy-paste stuff and send it to your Scrivener without changing windows. I wish there was a hotkey to make it popup over whatever app I’m using instead of just having it float above all the time.

 

My mostly used features:

– Labels

– Splitview

– Corkboard (allows you to see your project in an index card form, very useful. Labels can be reflected in that view, too)

– Scratch pad


Some features I like:

You can assign keywords to your files, which works great to search for issue related files.

In splitview, you can play videos, audiofiles and display pictures, .pdfs, or any text file while you’re typing a text. The pause/play control is only one key combination (cmd+enter). Great for quoting, transcripting, taking notes…

There’s a cool “snapshot” feature that allows you to save an image of your work before modifying it so that if you’re not happy with changes you made you can always go back to the previous version. Why is that good? You don’t keep all drafts in your way, they don’t appear as files either in your .scriv file or on your hard drive but they’re still there if you need them.

 

So pros:

– All your files in one

– Split view allows you to open two documents at once and navigate in them independantly

– The ease of manipulating sub files, reorganising a work, outlining a story etc.

– The color labels to easily find related files, view in one glance if your topics are balanced in your whole work, etc.

– Ease of use, intuitive design (lot’s of hotkeys to learn, though but nothing that will take more than one day of use to remember)

– Lots of options for labelling, keywording, categorizing your files and a comprehensive search engine

– Fast and reliable

– Autosaves whenever you’re idle. I never thought I’d lose the habit of cmd+Sing every thirty seconds but I did in less than a week

– Super cheap

– Great full screen mode, with scalable opacity

– Great “index card” view, with synopsis of your files, status and label. Makes it easy to overview and rearrange your draft.

– Bonus: if you want to write a screenplay, there’s a template for formatting it and it works great.

 

Cons:

– It’ not a text editor. It’s a tool for crafting. You’ll need another app for the final appearance of your text

– .scriv files are huge and it’s next to impossible to email them

– Auto reformats by default when you “compile” your draft, making you do extra clicks to keep your set format. Not a good thing when you’re dealing with 100+ files.

– Scrivener is not made for cowriting and sharing files. Splitting work could turn out messy.

 

So here you go, it’s a very quick overview of the app. I hope it helps you.

Anael

 

Scrivener is a Mac only Application that you can download HERE

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7 thoughts on “Scrivener overview: The best crafting tool I found so far

  1. Interesting.

    I tried Evernote very quickly on the iPhone and didnt have much fun with it, probably didnt have much use for it at the time.

    I like to do goal setting and things so i wanted to use something that could help me organise my thoughts in one place. I tried a mind map, but its very time consuming and off the back of that i still had to convert it into actionable things and store other notes relating to each node and things.

    I’ve been using Microsoft’s OneNote which is great if you already HAVE Microsoft Office.

    OneNote is ok, i wouldnt say its fantastic, but some features are very good.

    • I forgot to mention that Scrivener has a live wordcount that allows you to set your writing goals if that’s something you need to do. No more clicking on “tools/stats”, you have it right in front of you whenever you need it, with a progress bar and a sound alert once you reached your preset goals. How’s that for time freeing and pressure lifting?

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