I LOVE Scrivener

Hi. Barb here. Back in August, 2011, Paul Doiron wrote a post here about the tools he used in his writing. He said he’d written his last two books with Scrivener and that he loved it.

I’d heard good things about Scrivener and I was intrigued. I was revising a completed manuscript, so it didn’t seem like the time to make a switch. Also, I kept reminding myself, tools don’t make you a better writer, writing does.

A scene card for a prior manuscript

But, when I started my new book (the one due –ulp–December 1), it did seem like the right time. I’d explored Scrivener by that point and really liked what I saw. For one thing, it very much supported my “process.” I’m a dedicated pantser. Every book, I swear I’m going to have an outline, but I never quite succeed. At about the 1/3 point, I always have to give up the outline and admit that all further attempts to finish it are a form of active procrastination.

But I do use scene cards. That’s the way B.A. Shapiro taught me to write fiction (mumble, mumble) years ago. The cards for each scene include the inciting incident for the scene, the pov character’s goal in the scene, the conflict, etc. I don’t really do them in such a formalized way anymore, but I do have scene cards that stretch, on a good day, about 10-12 scenes ahead of where I’m working.

So at the end of the first draft, I have this pile of cards. And a manuscript in Word. And they’re utterly disconnected. The brilliant thing about Scrivener is, the cards and the manuscript are connected, so as I move the cards around (as I inevitably do), it also moves the scenes in the manuscript they’re attached to. (Or not, you can also turn this off.)

Scene cards in Scrivener. I use the colors which designate key words on the right of the cards to show at a glance which characters are in which scenes.


Also, after I have a full first draft, I do an outline–either in Word or Excel. I know, stupid, But that’s how I catch things like the extra day with just three scenes in it that somehow snuck into my last manuscript, completely screwing up my “ticking clock.” It’s also how I see if some characters or plot lines aren’t getting enough “airtime”–i.e. disappear for days. So then, old style, I have three disconnected elements–scene cards, manuscript and outline. And from the moment I start revising, they will be out of sync with one another. The scene cards and outline will rapidly become obsolete.

Outline I created in Word for a prior project


But in Scrivener, you guessed it, the scene cards (or the manuscipt) generates the outline (or the other way around if you happen to work that way.) Which saves an ungodly amount of time. In fact, that’s what I like best about Scrivener. It saves me huge amounts of time on the administrivia, and leaves all the creative time.

Outline automatically generated by Scrivener. You can have a lot more or different columns with different information. This is what i chose.


I love the little counter that tells me how I’m doing on my word count goal every day and toward my goal for the book. One of my writer’s group friends looked at it and said, “Yuck. That would completely paralyze me.” That’s fine. Just don’t use it.

I also like the folders for the character and setting sketches. They’re right there in the right hand side bar when I have to remember someone’s last name, or whether their eyes are blue or brown. You have to generate these descriptions yourself, but dedicated pantser that I am, I just cut and past them in from the manuscript.

I think Scrivener is particularly advantageous for people writing series. When I finish this manuscript, I’ll just close the folders that relate to it, but all my character and setting sketches will be right there where I need them for the second book.

There is, absolutely, a learning curve for Scrivener. I don’t tend to be smart about applications, and it did take me time to build a mental model of how it worked. There are still a few things I think it must do, that I can’t figure out how to do. Also, since I work on both a desktop and a laptop, I wish it had a more elegant solution for storing things online and moving from device to device.

Overall, though, as you will have gathered, I love it. The book I’m writing now is the first I’ve ever written on a deadline, and Scrivener helped enormously.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at www.maineclambakemysteries.com
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5 Responses to I LOVE Scrivener

  1. Lea Wait says:

    You make Scrivener sound very tempting, Barb … I’ve just started a new book, and, surrounded by piles of cards and notes … I’m wondering if I should try it. How long IS the learning curve?

  2. Lea Wait says:

    One more question, Barb. Is Scrivener a tool to organize thinking/plots/etc — or does it actually replace Word; e.g. do you write your manuscript in Scrivener? If so — how does your publisher feel about it? (And here I’ve spent all these years getting comfortable with Word ….!)

    • Paul Doiron says:

      I’ll chime in, Lea. You write your book in Scrivener. Eventually, you’ll have to compile and “export” the manuscript as a .doc file or PDF. I’ve found that I have still needed to keep Word on my computer (alas) because my editor still works in that program and at a certain point we are making revisions in a .doc file.

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Hi Lea

    Second question first, because it’s easier. You actually write in Scrivener–not in Word. However, to print, or to send the ms to others, you compile the Scrivener docs into an rft (which I then save as a docx.) I’ve done this right along when I’ve shared the ms with my writers group and now for my beta readers. I’ve then gone back in and made my changes in Scrivener and recompiled. At the end, when I’m going back and forth with my publisher, I will probably work in the Word version exclusively. So–write in Scrivener, to print or share, convert to Word.

    It was a learning curve. I actually did print portions of the manual for reference, which is something I almost never do. Aside from learning how to navigate, the biggest decisions are how to set up you book. They recommend a file for every scene, which is easy, but then there’s the hierarchy from there. Like all powerful programs, Scrivener has a lot of flexibility and a lot of capabilities you’ll never use (for example those that support play, screenplay and non-fiction books). Paul talked about it’s great capabilities for organizing research, but I haven’t really used those yet. Most of my research is still in notebooks.

    I will say that what time I lost on the front end of the novel on the learning curve, was more than made up for with efficiencies on the back end.

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