Scrivener

ScrivenerA few years ago I decided it was time to get a laptop. Having been a PC user for over a decade, naturally that’s the direction I looked in first. I had heard about Scrivener, but it was a Mac only app so I never really had a chance to play around with it. I can’t even remember all the different writing apps I used back then (Simon Haynes’ yWriter was the one I liked the best, I do remember that much), but inevitably I always found my way back to OpenOffice, especially for the final draft stage.

And then I got a look at Scrivener up close and personal. I bought a 13” MacBook Pro the next day.

I wrote my thesis on Scrivener. I’ve written short stories, screenplays, magazine articles, and term papers with it. Every single one of my poems is in a single Scivener file, each with its own “page.” And, currently, I have two novels in different stages of development in the works. And now that its coming to Windows, I think it’s time I enlighten my PC friends and followers on the joys of Scrivener.

There’s a veritable truckload of reviews and How-To’s out there for Scrivener (including the terrific video tutorials Literature & Latte has on their site) and how to use it for different aspects of academic and creative writing, so I won’t bother writing another one of those. Indeed, I’m one of those “learn as you go” types who rarely reads the manual, so I could probably learn a thing or four from them! Instead, I’ll go into how Scrivener has become my go-to app for just about everything that involves any kind of writing, not just creative or academic.

The thing I love most about Scrivener is its overall versatility. I love having a single app that can handle almost everything I need for almost every kind of writing project. Do I wish it had a few other goodies under the hood? Absolutely. There are at least two other apps I use regularly that have writing functionality I use/need/want that Scrivener doesn’t provide (mind-mapping and customizable timelines – if anyone knows a decent timeline app, by the way, leave a comment. I have yet to find one I like). For now, though, let’s stick with what might be a few rather unconventional uses for Scrivener.

Journaling

I’ve never been much of a journaler, to be honest. I’d manage to stay dedicated for five or six months, then stop for a few, then start back up again, then stop again. I journaled in spurts. But when I was dedicated, I found myself keeping not one, but several different Moleskines – one for random thoughts, one for story ideas, one for end of the day ramblings, one for work – you get the idea. The problem I was trying to solve was one of post-journaling accessibility. I could never find anything! I had entries dating back almost two decades in well over a dozen different notebooks.

And then one day as I was laying on the couch nursing a broken leg and writing a journal entry in my little black book, I saw my laptop sitting on the coffee table. And it hit me. No, not the laptop… the realization of why I always stop journaling. Notebooks are so damn inconvenient when it comes to research and reference! I couldn’t even remember the last time I had actually picked up one of my old journals and thumbed through it. All those thoughts were, in essence, lost, regardless of me actually taking the time to write them down. And thus my new project began.

I hobbled downstairs to fetch my box of old journals. Back on the couch, I fired up a basic template of Scrivener and created a folder:

2006.

That was the date of the first entry in the journal I picked up at random. Then I created another folder inside that:

December.

And then I just started transcribing, each new entry getting its own page in December titled with, of course, the date. Then came two new folders for 2007 and January, and I kept going. I’m not done yet by any means, but having a search button at my fingertips has paid off on multiple occasions. I actually use my journals now!

Perhaps more important, because I know how accessible they are now, my journaling has become much more consistent. I even keep the “Journal” file open in the background no matter what I’m working on for those random thoughts that aren’t related to whatever project I’m working on at the moment. I still take a single Moleskine with me wherever I go, but every Sunday I copy the week’s entries into Scrivener. I created meta-data so I can sort and tag entries for quick searches. There’s probably a lot more I could do with it if I wanted to take the time, but for now, what I have works perfect for me.

Blogging

I keep a separate file for my blogging, organized by date similar to my Journal file. In theory, I could probably combine the two since they share the same basic structure, but things would start to get unwieldy, I think, as time goes on. One feature I do use heavily is the Ideas category in the Binder. Here on RFdc I generally blog about one of three things: Reading, Writing, or Riding. I also try not to post on one of those categories more than twice in a row. At the moment I have about six posts in various states of completion under Ideas, and general entries for ideas on 22 more posts. They are all in a folder that corresponds to their area: Reading, Writing, or Riding. Pre-Scrivener, I did much the same thing in OpenOffice, but I’d always have to start a brand new document, and my Journal document folder was cluttered beyond belief, even with the date-sorted hierarchy. Now I just click the Idea entry, drag it up to the corresponding date and start writing. No more flipping back and forth with Alt-Tab! I can see everything at a glance, every post and every idea I’ve ever made or had that pertains to the website is here in this file. It’s also much easier to include research with my posts, but I’ll let someone else explain that, as I am positive that I am doing it horribly backwards. Even so, backwards in Scrivener > frontwards in OpenOffice.

Recipes

As I write this, I am actually having a revelation about how I use Scrivener for storing my recipes. Go me.

I’m about as much of a cook as I used to be a journaler – which is to say, I’m not much of a cook, either. I can work a grill, and I am king of the crockpot. Other than that, though, I just can’t be bothered. Recently, however, I’ve started to dabble again, and I plan on keeping track of my recipes and research in Scrivener. At the moment, I just have one folder: Crock Pot. That folder contains one item: Chili. It’s a basic chili recipe that I got off the internet. When I got around to making it though, I made some alterations with the ingredients. When they worked out, I dropped another file as a child to the Chili page with the new ingredients. So now I can see at a glance that I have a single recipe with multiple (eventually) variations.

Oh, and that revelation I had? I still have the box of recipes written on 3×5 cards that my mother gave me when I left home for LA 20 something years ago. It has always lived in the cabinet above the fridge. I can probably count on two hands the number of times I have opened it. But… 3×5 cards. Brilliant! I’ll be switching the default view for the Recipe file to 3×5 cards and filing my culinary experimentations that way. One more item on my to-do list.

Conclusion

I have a couple other uses for Scrivener that I’m not sure are going to last, so I won’t go into them yet, but so far I’m more than pleased with how useful this application has become for me outside of my creative writing endeavors. And best of all, by the end of the week it will be available in Windows for all you PC users! Actually, I think that Literature and Latte is offering a pre-order special of 10% off if you want to give it a shot sight-unseen. It retails at $45.00 (for the Mac), so the bang-for-the-buck factor is out of sight.

If you write anything, and I really do mean anything, I think that Scrivener is at the very least a required consideration. Mac users can download a 30 day beta, and I assume Windows users will have the same option once it goes live, so give it a shot. I’m betting you’ll be glad you did.

Edit: 11/3/11
Google+ User Paul Rey informs me they are also pushing out a Linux version with Windows this week. Good deal!

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