Scrivener is an IDE for writers. Among computer programmers, the acronym IDE stands for “integrated development environment.” The concept fits Scrivener well. It’s a word processor, an organizer, and a compiler all in one.
For instance, an ebook author could use Scrivener to compose a first draft, revise it, re-order it, and then export it in both the epub and mobi formats, complete with front matter and a cover. (No, Scrivener doesn’t create graphics; you’d have to import the cover art file, but that’s an easy drag and drop.)
I’ve been using Scrivener off and on for several years, but lately more on than off. Yes, it does have a fairly steep learning curve, and it currently costs $40 for Windows version and $45 for the Mac version. It’s worth the cost in time and money. (Those participating in NaNoWriMo this month can take advantage of a special offer.)
All my experience has been with the Windows version. It’s the less advanced of the two versions, but has caught up to its older sibling in most ways.
Here are my five favorite features.
- Frequent, automatic saves. I list this feature first because it has been a blessing to me several times in the past few weeks. My laptop has developed the bad habit of freezing. The only way I can unfreeze it is to shut it down. In most programs, that would mean lost work, but Scrivener saves the project you’re working on after two seconds of inactivity. You can adjust or turn off the feature, but until I get the laptop straightened out, I’m leaving the automatic save feature set on the default.
The Binder. This is the core feature, a hierarchical list of folders and files on the left-side of Scrivener screen. The Binder will contain at least three top-level folders: one for the draft/ manuscript, one for research, and one for trash. You can break your manuscript into as many segments (sub-folders and files) as you wish, and move the segments around in the Binder to change their order in the final draft. You can color-code elements in the Binder, and/or assign icons to them. For instance, a green flag could represent a file that is finished, a yellow flag a file that needs revision, and a red flag a file containing a first draft in progress. The key advantage of the Binder is that it allows you to compose your book, story or article in any order you wish while keeping everything together and easy to access.
Project Targets. This is a small but highly motivational feature. Project Targets is a pop-up window that can be positioned anywhere on the screen. Within it, you set a target word count for the entire project, and for each writing session.
The Project Targets window shows your progress toward those goals in real-time with a pair of bar graphs.
- Name Generator. This one is for fiction writers (and perhaps for memoir authors who want to protect the innocent). Sure, there are many sources for names on the web, but Scrivener has the function built into the program, and allows you to search for names with various parameters set. You can also add your own databases of names.
Export. Computer programmers love it when they can write an application once, and then export it for many different operating systems at the click of a button. Scrivener allows writers to do much the same thing. The same novel or book manuscript could be exported as a rich-text file, PDF file, Word file, or an ebook file (epub or mobi). There are numerous options for formatting the document within those files.
Certainly, there are many other excellent features in Scrivener, but those five are my favorites. What are yours?
Note: I have no affiliation with Literature & Latte (the makers of Scrivener), other than being one of its satisfied customers.