The new love of my life: why using Scrivener makes writing a book so easy

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The new love of my life is not tall, dark and handsome, nor is it likely to bring me flowers every day. But it does something even better – it makes writing a book a breeze. And it’s name is Scrivener.

Scrivener is a program especially designed for novel writing, screen writing, any kind of long form writing. Hmmmm, I hear you think, I have a word processor for that. But if you use a word processor you are missing out! I have to admit, I was sceptical too when I began. Did I really need to waste time learning another program? Well, let me show you what I’ve been doing and why I like it and you can make up your mind.

Easy to learn

Firstly, it takes almost no time to learn. I did the tutorial that comes with the program and it took me two hours and now I think I’m an expert. So don’t let the thought of time investment put you off. Secondly, even if you’ve started a book in Word or Pages, you can easily import it into Scrivener. I imported 15,000 words in a click of my mouse.

Scenes: the cornerstone of Scrivener

The beauty of Scrivener is that you write your book as a series of scenes, not as a linear, chronological story. Before I go into why that’s so great, let me show you what Scrivener looks like. The pic below has three sections. On the far left, is a list of all the scenes in my book so far, broken down into chapters. In the middle is the word processing bit where I type the story. On the right is a little Synopsis card, which gives me a summary of my scene, and some other info which I’ll explain in a moment.

Using Scrivener to write a book

Writing in scenes is great because anyone who’s ever published a book knows how often scenes get moved around in the redrafting and editing phase of a book and Scrivener makes this process a cinch. I can pick up any one of those scenes on the left hand side and move the entire thing anywhere with one flick of my mouse. Because you are viewing your book as a collection of scenes, I found it opened my mind up to the many different structural possibilities that I could pursue.

Also, at the bottom of the word-processor section in the middle, Scrivener shows a word count for your scene. This is GOLD. I suddenly realised how short my scenes tended to be. That I had a habit of writing scenes of 300-500 words. Short little stop-start scenes that are probably a bit awkward. It made me see that I could so easily combine at least two scenes into one, and have a more substantial chunk of writing for the reader to really sink their minds into.

The Cork-board

The next thing that I love is the cork board. Having never been a novel-planner but now having had a novel come to me that wants to be planned, I found I had a whole collection of scribbles in various notebooks, each of which was an idea for a scene. Well, hello Scrivener Cork-board.

Scrivener Corkboard

Now each of those scribbles is a lovely card on a corkboard that is automatically linked to its individual scene in Scrivener. Each card contains a short synopsis of the scene; you can also see this synopsis when you are working on an individual scene (it’s in the top right of the first pic). So you don’t need to hunt through pages of a Word document to find a particular scene. You just call up your cork-board and hey presto, you’ve found it in a few seconds.

And I can colour code each of my index cards. In this pic I have blue, yellow and pink tabs on the index cards. Blue tabs are completed scenes, pink tabs are scenes I need to add more to and yellow tabs are just ideas. I can change those descriptions and colours if I want to, or add other descriptions that work for me.

Re-order your scenes and store ideas

It means that every time I go into Scrivener, there’s something for me to work on. I just call up the next idea card and turn that into a scene. If I have an idea for a new scene while I’m writing, I just create an index card, stick it in about the spot in the book where I think it might go, knowing I can easily move it later if I need to, and work on it when I’m ready.

On the cork-board, I can choose to display all the scenes from one chapter, all the scenes from the first three chapters, or all the scenes from chapters 3, 7, 10 and 21 – whatever I want to look at. I can move the cards into any order I like. All the scenes are attached to the cards and so they automatically re-order themselves – no manual cutting and pasting of large chunks of text as in Word. If I don’t like the change I’ve made, I just hit a button and they all pop back into their orginal order. Never before has structurally imagining, playing around with and editing your book been so much fun!

Status stamps

You can also see that each card has a stamp across it. My stamps are First Draft, Add Info and To Do, which tells me the status of each scene. I can call up all the scenes I need to Add Info to, for instance, and just work on those. Eventually, I’ll add some other stamps that might say things like Revised, or Final so I can keep track of what level of work has been done, or needs to be done, for each scene.

Outlining your book

The thing I love most about Scrivener is that it creates the outline of your book for you. Because neither of my first two books were planned out prior to writing, I had no idea how to create an outline for a book. With Scrivener, I just put my ideas on cards and move them around when I need to and the outline becomes organic; it takes shape along with the book and never ties me down or constrains me. I have never written a book so fast before – and I’m sure using Scrivener is one of the reasons for my speed.

Okay, I could talk about this all day. Instead, I’ll leave it there, but in the meantime, are you using Scrivener? Which bits do you like best? What have I missed here? If you haven’t used it, do you think you’ll give it a go?

Natasha LesterNatasha Lester is the award-winning author of two novels If I Should Lose You (2012) and What is Left Over, After (2010). Her third novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, will be released in April 2016.

Natasha is also a presenter for the Australian Writers’ Centre. She teaches Creative Writing Stage 1 in Perth and 2 Hours to Scrivener Power as an online, on-demand course.

You can also visit Natasha’s website here.