I’m currently having a gigantic fit of “WHY did I not know about Scrivener before?”.
OK, so the obvious answer to that is “because it’s only recently become available for Windows and you hate Macs, Felix” – but even so, I’m amazed I managed to overlook a writing tool this useful. I had been attempting to teach myself to use Liquid Story Binder, which is free, but unfortunately it’s also complicated, very poorly documented and isn’t always powerful enough to do the job well. The only thing it really has over Scrivener, in my personal judgement, is “vibe” (which anyone who’s read the Mixerman Diaries will understand). LSB is set up on the workspace model; it takes over your desktop with a dark-coloured, plain background and allows you to scatter inspirational pictures and media across your screen while you write in another window. If you don’t like too much pre-defined structure and love to immerse yourself in atmosphere to get your creative juices flowing, LSB is grand – unfortunately, it’s not really useful if what you’re looking for is a strongly structured and user-friendly organisational tool, and it seems that’s something I need.
Scrivener is much more focused and organiser-like, although it also has a full-screen mode which fades out the clutter and leaves you alone with your text. The organisational tools it provides are intelligently designed and really, really powerful – there’s almost nothing you can’t do to understand and rearrange your own text with Scrivener. Its features just work, where LSB’s sometimes fail (for example its connect-the-boxes diagram tool has some frustrating limitations on the types and numbers of connection it can make). Scrivener really was the thing I’d been missing in helping me think and plan my writing through – I’m currently using the trial version to finish a short story to a tight deadline, and Scrivener’s corkboard mode has made planning that would ordinarily take me a week whistle past in about two days. It essentially takes over the organisational thinking for me, and gives me the freedom to be a feckless artiste.
Furthermore, it does something I first encountered in my career as a technical author, which is custom compiling – it will create a manuscript from your selection of sources and format the whole document uniformly. I’ve wasted so much time over the years fiddling with OpenOffice and re-saving Word documents three times because I cocked it up somehow – with Scrivener, I can leave in or leave out scenes with the click of a checkbox. It lets me dump that so-so flashback from the final draft without fussing around selecting for cut’n’paste. It’s fantastic enough for dealing with a complicated short story whose plot is evolving at breakneck pace, but I can’t imagine how much more use it’s going to be dealing with something as massive as a novel. My Great Languishing Unfinished NaNo Novel ended up as a collection of per-chapter OpenOffice files, and the mere thought of having to go back through all those monoliths of turgid prose fills me with fear. Scrivener (which can also import files and split them at the cursor) might just make that a surmountable problem. So I’m sold; it’s a great match to the way I write and well worth forking out for.