My go-to novel-writing tool can be yours, too. Click that logo to visit their official site. I get nothin' out of that. Except karma. 

My go-to novel-writing tool can be yours, too. Click that logo to visit their official site. I get nothin' out of that. Except karma. 

 A while back I wrote about my "tools of trade" — the go-to tools I rely on to do my work. Not much has changed on that front, and all of those tools are still a delicious part of my nutritious workday. But I feel like I may have short-changed a brilliant piece of software that I've come to adore — and I believe it has some value that even the guys who make it may not have considered. 

Scrivener is way better than I made it sound.

I discovered Scrivener several years ago, around the time I was starting and running a small video production business. I was looking for an inexpensive but powerful screenwriting tool for my newly acquired MacBook. I was pretty new to Mac, and was coming out of a world of abundantly free and/or cheap software for Windows. I wasn't sure how to find the equivalent on the Mac at that time, and it was making me nervous.

The screenwriting software I most often used on the PC was Final Draft, which I still have big love for to this day. But at the time, it either wasn't available for Mac (that doesn't seem right) or it was cost prohibitive (more likely). I can't say for sure, but there was a definite reason why I couldn't buy it, and why I was on the hunt for a replacement.

At the time, Scrivener was sort of in its infancy. It was new, but well-developed, and already beloved by the time I stumbled onto it. I remember being impressed by the story behind it — writer wants better software, writer has a modicum of programming skill, writer makes software and starts selling it to other writers.

Beautiful! As you may have figured out, I'm a big supporter of indie anything, so this ticked all the right boxes for me.

I bought the software, and immediately fell in love with the UI. The cork board and index card thing was outstanding — I could move scenes around at will! Fantastic. And it took care of formatting (though I remember being a little frustrated while trying to learn the formatting side), so I could concentrate on the most important and most fun bit — the story.

Word again. Always Word again.

Fast forward a couple of years. I close the video production business due to that entire industry being saturated by "me toos" and amateurs. They can undercut me by thousands for a project, because their cost for entry is about $5K versus my $100K+. Three-chip cameras and easy non-linear editing software make it possible for any high school kid to be a production studio in a weekend. My clients got a better deal, even if the quality wasn't always there (though, surprisingly, it often was). So, fair enough — the wind turned. I moved on. I started copywriting more, started turning my word power into dollar signs. And slowly, over time, that paid off. Living made.

Working as a writer means using Microsoft Word. That's unavoidable, as I mentioned in that last post. It's the universal standard, in every industry. Converting to and from Word causes chaos, and collaborating with others on a document becomes insane if you're not using the same platform (try tracking changes between Word and some other word processor — call me when you're ready to shoot someone).

So even with my rebellious streak — my decision at one point to "go open source" with everything I used to make a living — I inevitably had to run back to Microsoft Word. I was like an abused spouse constantly running back to the person who beat and berated me — because I had so much invested, had so much dependency, couldn't see a better life.

And in the business world, Word is the tool I have to use, because everyone else has to use it. I'm stuck because they're stuck. Them's the rules.

Extra crap, free of charge.

I made a statement about Word being the defacto tool if you want to send work to others, at a professional level. That's still true. And it's equally true that even the best export tool is going to fall short every now and then. But something I didn't point out was one of the inherent weaknesses of Word itself — something many of us in the Creative industry call "extra crap."

"Word inserts extra crap." You'll hear that over and over. Copy and paste from Word and you carry with you some "extra crap" you can't even see. Special characters, metadata that screws with something somewhere, junk code that messes with something you never would have anticipated. Word has, on more than one occasion, been single-handedly responsible for a huge chunk of headaches I've had in moving from desktop to publisher. 

So Word isn't perfect, by any stretch. It's just universal

Hello again.

Scrivener is not universal. You're not likely get an email from a client or from your boss that includes the phrase, "We prefer to work exclusively in Scrivener." It's not "business." It's not something a business will even be aware of, most of the time. And that's a shame, because as far as organization and output goes, Scrivener is "da bomb." I'm hip to the street slang kids use today. Dig.

Recently I decided to move some of my in-progress novels and shorts into Scrivener from Word. My initial reasoning was for the organization planning aspect. I was considering writing beats for my current "Citadel" novel, because having story beats for longer work has proven useful to me (despite my initial reluctance). It makes it easier to keep track of the story I intended to write, and helps keep me off rabbit trails. 

I had used Evernote for writing outlines and beats, and I still think that's not a bad way to go. I subscribe to Evernote Pro, so I can share a folder with someone to get feedback on the outline, to get notes, etc. I can store research there, too (a feature shared by Scrivener, but it's not quite as "shareable" there). Evernote is available across platforms, even on my iPhone. So, once again, Evernote is incredibly invaluable to me. I've considered writing in it, but in that respect it leaves a lot to be desired.

Special note: Evernote & Scrivener — If you two crazy kids could get together, I think you could make magic. Just sayin'.

What I really wanted was something that functioned similarly to Evernote's folder/file/organization structure, but offered some formatting and exporting options I wouldn't get with Evernote. Scrivener is that tool.

I moved my current work over, broke it into individual chapters and scenes, and immediately felt excited. Because for the first time, I could see the book. Right there, in the raw. I could see the progress. It wasn't just a number at the bottom of the screen, it was a thing right in front of me. Righteous.

And something else — something I wasn't expecting. Something that seems obvious now, but was a true revelation in the middle of the night, when I was sitting down to write my books after spending a day writing emails and ad copy and web content. 

Scrivener is a different writing environment than Word.

All this time, as I did the "day job" thing, as I made a living with words, I would finish up my day and close one Word document only to open another, one of my books or novellas, and start working again. Same virtual environment, different set of words. It was really kind of demoralizing, to "end" your day only to fire it all up again. It made my storytelling and novel writing feel like work, sucking some of the joy out of it — the joy that had attracted me to it in the first place.

But when I saw those scenes in Scrivener, my heart went all aflutter.

This was new. It was different. Rather than the same ol' workspace, it was a playground, an art studio, a completely different environment where I could shift mental gears and start churning out the work that makes me feel passionate and empowered! Work that doesn't feel like work!

Basically, I was putting into practice, in a virtual environment, a principle that has always been applied to physical workspaces: Changing the scenery can change the mode.

By moving from Word (the environment I use as a professional copywriter) to Scrivener (the environment I use as a novelist), I'm effectively shifting mental gears. I'm pulling off my copywriter pants and putting on my author shorts. Blessed freedom! 

The guys at Scrivener should put that in the bullet list of features:

  • Get away from the everyday work writing, and engage your author mode

That copy is free, guys. Take it and use it at will. I usually charge a few hundred bucks for that! You're welcome.

Will this keep up? Will Scrivener continue to be my go-to tool for novel writing? Can't say. But I'm relatively sure it will. Because it's so versatile and so handy, and because it's built with the particular needs of authorship in mind, I think I will continue to be completely in love with it, continue to learn about and grow into it, continue to be an evangelist for it.

Word will always be in my toolkit — the tool I come back to again and again. I've learned to live with that. But that's my hammer. Scrivener is my sonic screwdriver. And any time I can work a Doctor Who reference into a post, that's what we call a win.


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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at kevintumlinson.com/starterlibrary.
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