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Scrivener


Student of Trinity

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I worked on my novel for about a year and half using Apple's Pages app. It gave me no problems even as the story stretched well past 100,000 words. Pages is a general-purpose word processor and doesn't claim to be optimized for writing novels in particular, but it's robust and easy to use.

 

I liked that it wasn't anything more than that. I knew about fancy-pants apps like Ulysses or Scrivener, that offered all kinds of corkboard views and index cards and stuff. I was afraid of them. I thought they would be great tools for someone who wanted to be writing a novel — as opposed to someone who actually wanted to get one written. They would give you endless things to fiddle with, sustaining an illusion of production. The reality is, of course, that the only thing that really counts as progress is the bare text of your book itself. No matter how nice all your index cards look on your corkboard, no readers will ever buy and read your background notes about your world and your characters and your themes and your blah blah blah.

 

Writing in Pages kept me honest. Every word in the file was a word of the book. If I needed to make notes to myself, I wrote a separate Pages file for notes. I had one big file for my book, and I couldn't kid myself that anything else counted.

 

But a couple of months ago I decided that I had actually done pretty well in bringing a draft to a conclusion, and maybe I wasn't at such a high risk of getting bogged down forever in navel-gazing. I really didn't just want to be writing. I wanted to finish, and I would.

 

The task of re-writing the third quarter of the book was just difficult. I knew how the story would end and I knew its first half, so I was painted into a corner in a lot of ways. It was a jigsaw puzzle, to fit everything into the existing frame. I knew I needed to cut some fresh pieces, but I wasn't sure exactly what holes I needed to fill.

 

I decided to give Scrivener a try. Its killer feature is that it lets you carve up your text into little pieces, give them little titles and summaries and comments, and move them around or see them all together. It makes it easy to do all that, with just a few clicks or keystrokes. It makes moving between big picture and small pieces fast and easy.

 

That's pretty good, in fact. There's definitely an opportunity to spill your effort into character notes and stuff, which are all part of your Scrivener document and so feel like they're part of your book even though they're not. But the app really does something, with its carving up text into chunks, that is hard to do with a general purpose word processor. Maybe for a first draft you're better to just pour everything into something like Pages until you've got the story told, baldly and badly; but for revisions, I think Scrivener may be a really useful tool.

 

I've even started using Scrivener for scientific papers now. Scrivener doesn't do equations properly, so I'll have to export into LaTeX for the final version, but for getting the text itself right, the outlining feature of Scrivener may be even more useful for scientific papers than it is for fiction.

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