Scrivener 2.0: My month-long test drive

Scrivener 2.0

A preview of Scrivener 2.0 was released just in time for writers to test it as part of NaNoWriMo and I decided to take advantage of that to work on my novel this month. I’ve been a Scrivener user for many years and have already written about my great experiences with Scrivener 1.0.  What follows are my thoughts on test-driving Scrivener 2.0 for the last 30 days.

Although I am a science fiction writer by night (or early morning), I am a software developer by day and I’ve worked on software in which customer feedback has played a large role.  This is very clear in the first glance of Scrivener 2.0: it is a piece of software developed with the customers in mind–namely, writers–and 2.0 had introduced many features which make a writer’s life (well, mine anyway), substantially easier.

Writing a novel–as I am discovering–is a complicated process.  For me, it works best with a detailed outline where I can weave together the various subplots into a set of chapters and scenes that I can portion out for each day’s work.  Scrivener makes this easy.  I used the tool to write a detailed outline, very rough at first, which I then broke into chapters and scenes.  Eventually, I took that text from a single Scrivener file and split it into multiple files so that I had some 45 chapters outlined.  They show up in Scrivener 2.0 as index cards and the newly added feature that lets you include custom meta-data makes it even easier to organize those cards the way you want to.  It comes with some good defaults (by character, for instance), but I wanted to add meta-data for levels of tension and for certain subplots and it was easy to do this so that I could get a good visual representation of the story.  Furthermore, you can now place index cards freeform on the board if you choose, which allows you to graphically illustrate your story arc–something I think is very useful.

I had a lot of characters and a couple of other proper nouns frequently used in the novel and I added those to Scrivener’s auto-complete function so that when I started typing them, the Scrivener would suggest the autocomplete and I didn’t have to type the entire word.  This sped things up enormously and made sure that certain character names (e.g. “Derterous”) were always spelled consistently.

Scrivener 2.0 also allows you to capture information about characters and places in special templates.  This has proven very useful in my work on the novel because the cast of characters is large and it is sometime hard to keep them all straight.  The character template even allows you to include a picture of the character, which helps me enormously in visualizing what I think they look like and adding appropriate descriptions.  It is also a place to keep notes about the state of the character through the course of the writing so that you can easily reference key events or traits as the story progresses.

One thing that helped enormously during NaNoWriMo was the “Daily Target” template, which is nothing more than a normal Scrivener text file with a “goal” set for 1,667 words.  When you set a goal on a text file, there is a progress bar at the bottom of the file window that crawls forward the more words you write.  It turns from red to yellow to green and you can even have the system alert you through Growl when you’ve reached your goal.  Since my personal daily goal was 2,000 words, I modified the template slightly and it worked like a charm for me.  I usually exceeded my goal and Scrivener made it easy to tell how I was doing–I could glance at the progress bar–without pulling me out of my writing.

Scrivener 2.0 made excellent enhancements to its “scrivenings” functionality.  You can easily select multiple documents and have them appear as one continuous document in the editor.  This proved very handy in chapters which contained multiple scenes.  I was targeting my chapters for roughly 2,000 words, but when a chapter had 3 scenes, I’d set the goals on each scene differently, say, 800 words, 1000 words, and 200 words.  When I pulled these together into a single Scrivening, the application was smart enough to display a progress bar that was the total of all the selected goals so I was still looking at my overall target.

Scrivener 2.0 comes with a “name generator” feature that will generate character names for you.  It has a bunch of nifty little options (male, female, alliterative, double-barreled, etc.).  At first, this seemed unnecessary but it proved invaluable during NaNoWriMo to keep me writing and not getting bogged down in coming up with a name.  For most of my main viewpoint characters, I’d already chosen names.  But when I came to a scene into which  new character was introduced and for whom I did not yet have a name, I’d use the name generated and within seconds, I’d have 50 names to chose from.  The value here was that I had to pause for just a few seconds to get a name as opposed to stopping my progress completely, debating, searching websites, and finally choosing something.  It kept me focused on writing, which is key in the November contest.

There are many, many other features which I am not even covering at this point (but which I may get to eventually).  Snapshots in Scrivener 2.0 now highlight the actual differences between file version, for instance.  And there was even an option to compile the NaNoWriMo novel in “obsfucated” form–scrambled–so that you could submit it for verification to the website without fear of it being copied or stolen.

All told, I spent an estimated 56 hours using Scrivener 2.0 in the month of November, writing more than 65,000 words, and in all of that time, I did not run into a single bug or glitch.  Scrivener 2.0 works the way I like to work, it repsonds to my inputs in predictable ways in which I would expect and it doesn’t try to do things that it is not designed to do.  It is by far the best writing program I have ever used and despite the fact that Scrivener 1.x was already a good application, the development team still managed to listen carefully to customer feedback and make Scrivener 2.0 even better.

I “won” NaNoWriMo this year, my second win in 2 years.  In both years, Scrivener played a big role.  Winning the contest means that I am eligible for a 50% discount on Scrivener 2.0, but I would have paid full price ($45) even if I didn’t win.  It is some of the best money you could invest in yourself as a writer, like picking out a fine, well fashioned typewriter.

Since I have been using Scrivener, I have written stories that I have sold to Analog Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Apex Magazine.  Scrivener has proven an invaluable tool in those successes, helping me better organize my thoughts, and then getting out of the way so that I can focus on the writing.

If there are writers out there thinking of using Scrivener, give it a test drive, you won’t regret it.  It is among the finest pieces of software I’ve ever come across and I highly recommend it.

10 thoughts on “Scrivener 2.0: My month-long test drive

  1. I have also been using Scrivener 2 since it came out also and loving it too. I thought the previous version was great and wondered what Keith could do to improve it.
    I particularly like the ability to publish to ePub format and also Kindle format.
    I have had a couple of crashes with the new version but no biggie seeing as it saves the work on a regular basis. Not lost any writing I’ve done so far.
    I interviewed Keith for the Mac 20 Questions podcast and he talked about Scrivener. If you like to hear the interview you can find it on the http://answer20q.com website.

  2. Great review Jamie, and congratulations on your win. I’m just about to try out the Scrivener Windows beta, and this has given me a swift kick into action. I only wish there was an iPad app, as I do most of my writing on that these days.

    Rob

  3. Great post! I’m test-driving Scrivener right now. Do you know if there’s a feature that lets you link character and place names with their cards? That way, if I change a name, it would be auto-updated throughout the manuscript.

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