A while ago, I blogged about why I adopted Scrivener as my new writing program of choice (“Why I Love ‘Scrivener'”). This year in my novel writing class, I worked with our wonderful tech specialists at Flint Hill and Scrivener to bring the program to my students.
Each of my students received the program in the first week of the second semester, and after I worked with them to propose a novel-length project, they used the program to write approximately 40 pages over the duration of the spring. Although it was a learning experience for me as well as for them (and there is much I have yet to uncover), the program has the potential to support writing instruction of all sorts in some amazing ways. The qualities of the program that I found my students most benefited from were its visual and intuitive format, and its organizational flexibility, especially in that it allows the user to keep all aspects of a project—notes, research, etc.—in one document.
Flint Hill is a one-to-one laptop school, which is wonderful because my classroom is nearly paperless. It’s also wonderful because 80-90% of my students’ work is online in Googledocs or saved on their computers; I see fewer jumbled lockers and backpacks shambling homework papers and notebooks. However, students still struggle with organization. The messiness is now on the computer desktop instead of the backpack. Since everything related to a project can be stored in a single document on Scrivener, it helps students who find organizing their work a challenge. It also allows students to arrange and rearrange sections of their writing with great ease within individual documents, its intuitive visual format making it simple for them to find all the different components. They don’t have to spend time combing their laptops for mislaid notes or outlines.
For my student creative writers—particularly those hardy enough to set out to write 40 pages of a novel—it was incredibly helpful for all the reasons mentioned above, but also because Scrivener is a program which by design supports creative thinking (which is gaining more emphasis in the English classroom these days). Although most narrative projects end up having a chronological construction, they rarely begin that way. Whereas Word forces students to think linearly— “I can’t get from A to C if I don’t know B!” —Scrivener provides an environment which allows a student to pursue A and C before he knows B. A left-brain linear program, such as Word, especially for right-brained students, can shut down their creativity and their desire to problem solve.
In my creative writing class, I allowed my students to explore different elements of their projects as they wrote and then later I asked them to fit the chronology of their work together through revision. Scrivener supports this mode of instruction, which is yet another reason why I love it.