Image: Matthew Loffhagen
The tools of a writer’s craft have constantly evolved through history, from oral storytelling, through quills and typewriters, to the modern computer.Click here to download Scrivener (and get a discount)
The way that writing tools have developed you could be forgiven for thinking the next innovation in writing technology will be a new machine. In fact it’s book writing software that represents the future. Computers have grown more compact, more transportable, but it’s in how we use them that the real progress has been made.
In a world where every computer comes with basic writing software it can be tempting to think authors have everything they need, but that’s a thought that’s plagued every innovation. The ‘save’ function we take for granted was never dreamed of by those authors writing single copies of their masterworks on sheets of paper. Even now, as cloud technology moves files into a space accessible from anywhere in the world, it seems the next generation of authors will wonder how their predecessors made do with keeping their work on individual computers.
So if how we use computers is the future, what’s the next important tool for authors? The answer is dedicated book writing software.
The Iliad and the shopping list
In a world where there’s an app for everything it’s no longer necessary to use the same technology for writing a novel as you would for writing a shopping list or composing an email. Writing tools designed for a wide variety of uses might be sufficient, but they’re full of features novelists don’t need and lack many that they do.
Existing technology is more than capable of providing custom software for the task of writing a novel. As someone who loves the ever evolving role of technology in literature I’ve watched a few examples of dedicated author software come and go. Many were exciting in their own way, but none were quite good enough to declare ‘the next big thing’.
That’s no longer the case as, in the Scrivener software package, authors finally have a dedicated writing tool that brings something new to the table.
Scrivener has a lot of useful features, but there are two that make it the next great tool for novelists. The first is that it’s more of a workstation than a word processor. Imagine your story research involves a few graphs, some photographs and some written documents. Usually that information would be created and stored on various different programmes, their only connection being that you keep them in the same file. With Scrivener, different types of file are stored as part of the same project – linked within the programme rather than just sharing folder space – and can be amalgamated with ease.
Multi-panel displays mean different files can be displayed alongside each other using an interface designed for passing information between the two. It’s a minor but obvious bit of convenience authors badly need. No more copying a graph from Microsoft Excel to Microsoft Word and then spending the next half an hour fixing the formatting.
What this boils down to is that Scrivener is tailored to treat written files like creative work. It includes feature such as an index card corkboard, ideal for story boarding, and an outlining tool for a clearer view of a piece’s structure. Scrivener takes a process that usually involves various computer programs, flash cards, and reams of paper and converts it to a single program designed with an appreciation for how each element fits together.
The second major innovation that Scrivener offers is its synchronicity between devices. The Mac version of the programme also works with iPads and iPhones, unshackling your project from a single device. Likewise both the Mac and Windows version of the software are designed for easy collaboration with file-sharing tools. Effectively, Scrivener becomes an entire work station – including research texts, post-its, and plotting devices – that you can access anywhere.
The appreciation for synchronicity across platforms isn’t exclusive to the drafting process; the ‘compile’ feature allows you to convert your finished document into a range of formats, whether that be to a particular academic standard or into a submission-ready manuscript. When using simple word processors converting a finished document to an ebook file is a tedious job often requiring separate software, but with Scrivener compiling your final document into ebook format is a standard option. There’s even a dedicated ‘script writing’ mode that automatically formats your work to industry standards.
The combined result of these features is a tool which is designed for producing a finished creative work rather than simply committing words to the page.
As a workspace rather than a word processor, Scrivener has a host of features that make it more author friendly. My particular favourite is the targets function, where users can set project or session specific targets for what they intend to achieve. It might not sound like much to non-writers, but every author knows there’s a huge difference between promising yourself you’ll write two thousand words in a sitting and having some form of tangible measure up on screen.
The appreciation for the user’s goals is also present in snapshot saving which allows you to keep multiple copies of the same document. Saved versions of the same file are kept in chronological order, allowing different drafts of the same story without the risk of saving over or misnaming a key draft.
There are tons of minor features that show Scrivener was designed specifically for creative work. Full screen editing is great, allowing chronic procrastinators to focus on their manuscript and nothing else. Automatic backups can be set for whenever a project is open or closed, ensuring no part ever needs to be lost. One feature that shows the software really goes that extra yard is the name generator, which allows writers to plug in various conditions (such as nationality) and produces a range of possible character names along with their meanings and history.
The right tool for the job
It’s difficult to convey how these seemingly small changes combine to produce the best dedicated writing tool on the market. What may seem like convenience becomes something more when all the minor niggles that come with a standard word processor are replaced with helpful tools and features. Scrivener is designed specifically for creative writers, with an in-depth understanding of what they are trying to achieve and the tools they need to get there.Click here to download Scrivener (and get a discount)
If you already own Scrivener or want to get up to speed on using it then I’d recommend the Learn Scrivener Fast online course by Joseph Michael. We’ve also written a Learn Scrivener Fast review which you might want to check out to help you get the most out of the software. You can get a 20% discount on the course here.
Is there an iPhone app for Scrivener?
Yes, since July 2016 there is an iPhone app for Scrivener . You can find out more about it here.
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Have you had any major problems with word processors, or do you write every new draft by hand? Either way I’d love to hear from you in the comments.Scrivener: Is It The Best Book Writing Software?Click To Tweet