Playing with Scrivener 3

So the word’s out: Scrivener 3 hit the interweb on the 20th of November. Oceans will boil, grown men will weep, children will speak in tongues…
No seriously, that’s what’s going to happen.
It’s been a long time coming for most of the user base, but a lucky few of us have been given the opportunity(!) to beta test the latest version of what is arguably the greatest writing tool known to man.

I’ve been Scrivener fan since version 1.0 (a little before that actually) and so I like to think I shaped its evolution in some very small way – even if it was just to have some of my feature requests flatly refused. Keith Blount, the app’s main developer, has always maintained that Scrivener is primarily a composition tool: you write your stuff pretty much stripped of formatting, compile it into a finished document and then drop it into word for the final polish. It’s main selling point was organisation: you could write your piece as a hierarchy of folders and documents, move them about, chop and change them as much as you want, and then when the world was ready for your masterpiece, churn out a first draft.
Scrivener 2 built on this, reorganising the user interface and simplifying the compilation process so it was less daunting for beginners … but once again it fell short of the end-to-end solution. Still, as far as I was concerned, it was still the best way to get your first draft done.

And now, many seasons and four novels later, we arrive at Scrivener3, and this is definitely not your mama’s upgrade. To begin with, a lot of the internals have been rewritten to support the latest Apple technologies, and the UI has been completely revamped. It looks a lot better, a lot less distracting to the eye. The biggest change though, really represents a change in philosophy. Keith seems to have relaxed his “we’re a composition tool only” stance and has reimagined Scrivener as your complete long form development kit.

Now before we go any further, let’s be clear on two things:

  1. Scrivener will always be missing 30% of MS Word’s functionality
  2. No one actually uses that 30%

Okay, so what’s changed? Well let’s start with the biggie:

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Scrivener for iOS: Scribbling on the road

Or in a field if you like…

Okay, first a disclaimer: I’ve been a Scrivener user since day one (that must be going on about ten years now), and I’m also one of those people who didn’t believe you could write a whole book on a tablet, much less a mobile phone. So, skeptical me promised the developer  I’d give it a damn good try…

This is where I was when I finished Novel Number 4, the last two chapters written on my mobile phone.

IMG_0361.jpg
If you’re going to walk and write, keep one eye out for the river bank

So it’s fair to say I’m something of a convert.

Scrivener for iOS should probably be called the Messiah Release: millions waited for it, and as time soldiered on it seemed less likely that it would ever arrive. But Literature and Latte battled on making missteps and hitting setbacks until their developer – who said he wasn’t go to write it himself – decided to write it himself. A surprisingly short year or so later, the beta arrived, and straight off the bat, I can tell you it was well worth the wait.

I got my notification, and taking great care to ignore all the warnings and instructions, I downloaded it and cracked on. Getting my work in progress on to iOS was pretty easy: Scrivener uses Dropbox to store its files (it can’t use iCloud – more on that later), so it’s simply a case of copying your stuff to a Dropbox folder and then syncing across to iOS. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t look quite right; everything was there: the manuscript, my research notes, character bios, photographs, story plans – but the fonts weren’t right. I got straight on to the developer who pointed out the spot in the manual where it explains how to sync fonts into Scrivener. Two minutes later, I had a project that looked eerily like the one I have running on MacOSX.

Continue reading “Scrivener for iOS: Scribbling on the road”

Software: A quick look at Scrivener

A friend of mine is starting out on the eBook trail, and he trapped me over lunch so he could ask how I go about writing long-length pieces. He’d heard a rumour (horror!) that I didn’t use Word. That’s actually true; I don’t. It’s not that I think Word isn’t any good; it just doesn’t suit me. My novels tend to be upward of five hundred pages (the latest eight hundred!), so a straight word processor won’t really do the job. For a start, I like to keep chapter separate when I’m working so I can get to them quickly; I don’t like having the book in one large lump. Of course, Word works extremely well with multiple documents, but it’s the navigation I find cumbersome.

So for document composition, my weapon of choice has been Scrivener – since 2007, if I remember correctly. Scrivener is a beast of a tool, but it can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. For me, I just use it for research, composition and early drafting (formatting I’ll come to later).

Scrivener main window

Scrivener presents you with a pretty basic two-pane layout: a hierarchy of documents on the left, and the document you’re currently working in on the right. It supports a fairly comprehensive set of formatting tools and rudimentary styling system (nothing that compare to Word or InDesign), and allows you to import documents and images into your project, which most folk find helpful for research. (As well as novelists, Scrivener enjoys an enthusiastic following in the field of scientific research.)

So you have a pretty decent word processor that allows you to work – very easily – with multiple documents. Where Scrivener really shines is taking those documents and assembling them into a finished piece. The application allows you to set a vast number of parameters to govern how you’re finished output will look. You can set headers, page and chapter numbering, the look and spacing between the chapter heading and the main text, margins, front matter, copyright pages . . . It’s a hell of  a list and folk coming to the app for the first time can find themselves overwhelmed by the breadth of the formatting options available. Still, this complexity means that Scrivener can output finished Word documents,  PDFs, eBooks (for both the Kindle and iGadgets), LaTEX documents – all from the same source project.

Scrivener even comes with a pretty good script editor (though I actually prefer to use another tool for that) and can output your documents in Final Draft.

compile_optionsOkay, that all sounds wonderful . . . so what’s the catch? Well, it certainly isn’t the price. You can pick up Scrivener from the Literature and Latte website or the Apple app store for £34.99

It’s important to bear in mind that Scrivener is designed as a drafting tool, so in some (perhaps many) cases you will need to tweak the finished output to get it exactly how you want. I’m a stickler for detail so I always end up doing some post-compilation rework. The eBook format is also very simple. It’s certainly passable, but again I often take the output of the Word formatter and use another tool to get a better looking eBook layout.

And then there’s the learning curve. Although the developer has carried out a lot of work to  simplify things, you will need to spend some time using it to get the best out of it (and I say the same thing about induction hobs). Still, there are plenty of places to get help. The Scrivener forums are a good place to start, and then there’s the tutorials, courses and website run by Gwen Hernandez who seems to have carved out a second career around Scrivener.

So if Word doesn’t float your boat, then I’d definitely take Scrivener for a spin to see if it suits you better. 🙂