Why I Love “Scrivener”—a word processor for the creative mind

The cork board view in Scrivener

Most of us do not think in a linear fashion and most creative acts don’t emerge from a tidy, cause-and-effect process.  Essentially, creativity springs from an emotional place; ideas break the surface of our subconscious like slippery fish that we have to catch and hold on to before they dive deep again.

It seems odd then for writers to use word processing tools, such as Word, that don’t support the way our minds work.  Word is a very product-oriented program, and by that I mean, since it allows for sophisticated formatting and style options, it can make the final product look sharp; however, what it offers tends to support only the goal in writing, not the process.

I wrote my first novel in Appleworks (yikes!) and my second, Dodging and Burning, in Word.  Since Dodging has a two alternating first person points-of-view as well as several “found texts” woven into its structure, it was a complex book to write, edit, and format.  Also, since I write mysteries and mysteries are always two stories—the story of the investigation (present) and the story of the crime (past)—balancing plot and character development is a challenge.  Don’t get me wrong, I love complex narratives and yearn for them as a reader, but the combination of two voices in addition to past and present narratives nearly brought me to tears at times.  I had to check and double-check notes, and if I made one alteration, it often set off a chain reaction of other corrections that had to be addressed.  The result is layered and engrossing, but the journey to that point took some sweat.

My point is that Word didn’t make editing my novel any easier.  Initially, I wrote each chapter in a separate document, but it was frustrating maneuvering between chapters.  So, I decided to clump it all into one document, which was a little better, but still I struggled to get a global perspective on my novel.  Encountering it only page by page hindered my ability to zoom out and see the larger framework of the narrative.  I could pick away at my sentences and paragraphs all I liked, but I couldn’t get a hold on the shape or pacing of my entire project.  (Writers can become sentence or detail obsessed and neglect the plot of their narrative.  There’s so much contemporary fiction, but so few good stories.  And Word only promotes this problem.)  Anyway, I found myself printing my novel again and again, and spreading it across the floor and rearranging it in different stacks.  I really wanted a program that would allow me to do that sorting and rearranging virtually.  After doing some research with the help of my computer savvy partner Jeff, I found a program called Scrivener.

In Scrivener, your entire project is contained within a single document.  In this document, you can break down your book into scenes, chapters, and parts—and easily rearrange them.  Also, Scrivener has provided character chart and setting templates to help you with pre-writing.  In fact, it provides different types of project templates including screenplays and essays.  It also has a “cork board” view that allows you to label all your components and visualize them in a more accessible fashion, much in the way that I was attempting to visualize them when I spread my pages across the floor.  When you are ready, you can compile your work and export it into Word or a Word-compatible RTF document, or into an eBook format.  I’m still working on compiling Dodging and Burning—which I had to import into Scrivener and break into its components—into a format that suits me, but with my next novel, which I’ve already started writing in Scrivener, I anticipate the formatting to be less of an ordeal.

As I’m learning more about the program, I keep wondering if my students—particularly my Creative Writing students—might benefit from it.  For that matter, my other English students also might find it helpful (or even freeing) to use it to write their essays.  It’s a program that allows and, by implication, encourages process writing—something all of my students need to do with greater regularity—and it allows for both process and product to occur within the same document, keeping workflow seamless and visually organized.

What I like most about Scrivener, however, is that it feels designed to serve the creative mind.  I don’t have to fight my word processor to find my characters or structure my plot—that, to me, is such a relief.

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1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary Novels/Thrillers, Revising and Writing Process, Teaching and Writing

One response to “Why I Love “Scrivener”—a word processor for the creative mind

  1. This particular article, “Why I Love Scrivener—a word processor for
    the creative mind | Talking the Walk” was beneficial.
    I am generating out a reproduce to show my personal friends.

    Thanks a lot-Patrick

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