Scrivener: The Most Amazing Program for Writers Ever: A First Impression

September 29, 2015

So, late last week, The Writer’s Store, which I believe found me because I subscribe to the Writer’s Digest e-mail newsletter, was offering a one-day sale on Scrivener for 20% off. Even though I had missed the 50% sale from a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve indeed kicked myself for not reading the announcement in a more timely manner, I knew I couldn’t make that mistake twice, so I finally broke down and bought the program. And let me tell you, it’s awesome.

What is Scrivener? It’s a program native to Mac but also available for Windows (currently at version 1.8.6, which might mean something to someone) that can do basically anything a writer would want a program to do short of writing the story for him.

It looks like this:

Screenshot of
Screenshot of “The Bobblehead” as written in Scrivener.

Now, let me post a disclaimer before I continue. This is not actually my first impression. My first impression happened about four years ago, a year after a friend at work had told me about its existence (when it was Mac only) and I had begun salivating over the possibilities. Because Literature and Latte, the maker of Scrivener, was finally making a version for Windows, I was able to give it a serious follow, and one day, not long before its 1.0 release (version-speak for a program that hits its first official release, or roughly seventy-three bugfixes and feature adds before it’s deemed “final,” at least until version 2.0 is released–a case already relevant for the Mac release), I downloaded the 30-day trial version, which is basically the full version with a time limit attached, gave the tutorial a try, wrote the snippet of a story I called “The Bobblehead” that you can see in the screenshot above, and then set it aside because it wasn’t yet the full version, and I didn’t want to buy it until it became the full version. And then I kept putting it off because I’m a writer, and it costs $40, and forty bucks is a lot of money to a writer, as any writer could tell you.

So, four years and $32 later, I’ve completely forgotten my first experience with Scrivener, and had to relearn its features via the first three parts of the tutorial last night. And let me tell you, what I learned about through hands-on practice was amazing.

Okay, so you’re reading this review and scratching your head. Why is it awesome? you’re probably wondering.

Well, for starters, you can use it to write. Yes, there is a place to write your stories and everything! It’s a lot like Microsoft Word in that regard. But cheaper! Not as cheap as Open Office, which is free, but still reasonable!

But, oh, there’s more. So much more. You can save your work via “snapshots” (complete with shutter sound effects). And you can scroll down. And…

Wait, you want real reasons to buy this program, don’t you?

Okay, try these little handy things out:

  • Corkboard and “outliner” organizational tools that allow you to view your chapters from a distance.
  • Note cards to “pin” on the corkboard so that you can see your synopses of each “scrivening,” or writing segment, at a more cursory glance.
  • Meta-data to more accurately view and sort pieces of your writing so that you can find what you’re looking for more quickly (like scenes, characters, time a scene takes place, etc.).
  • A search feature that can help you piece your documents together in a way that allows you to read things in context without having to read the whole document.
  • A folder system that allows for customizable content management, which can lead to rearranging the structure of a story, screenplay, essay, etc. on the fly.
  • A place to store your research and media files for quick access.
  • And most surprising (and impressive) to me, the ability to compile and print in many different combinations and formats, including manuscript format, screenplay format, and other formats I have yet to explore, and you can select how it prints through various check-box preferences.

I’m sure there’s more, but I only had time to work on the first three parts of the tutorial (out of five). At any rate, I think this is probably the best writing tool a writer could have next to Microsoft Word itself. The flexibility it offers alone is worth the price, even if I had paid the full $40 ($45 if you’re using a Mac, which is fair because it’s a full version ahead of what the Windows and Linux versions can do).

I’ll write more about it as I learn more. The above points are just some of the things I’ve discovered about the program last night. I’m sure there’s more. And, of course, I still have to experience actually using it for my own work; well, not including the experimental piece you see in the screenshot. I’ll be sure to write another “first impressions” review after I’ve used it for its intended purpose for the third time.

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