Whenever I write—be it a novel, a blog post or a research page—there’s one programme in particular that I use for my first drafts: my trusty friend, Scrivener.
My first experience of Scrivener came just after NaNoWriMo, back in 2012, when I used my winner’s goodies to check out this strange writing programme I hadn’t come across before. Though it took several YouTube tutorials to get my head around all the options, icons and menus, I quickly realised that this multitude of features was perfect for me and my writing style.
As you’ll probably come to understand as you read on, I’m a very messy writer, with an attention span comparable to a squirrel. If you’re anything like me and struggle with basic writing programmes, then Scrivener may be just right for you too. That said, here are the three features that, in my opinion, make this programme so ideal for me and my incredibly chaotic first drafts.
1. The hierarchy of folders in the binder.
Why I love it: I don’t have to write my story in order.
I’m a very non-linear writer. At the start of a new story, I’ll write whatever scenes come to me first before even thinking about the opening chapter. If an exciting scene pops into my head as I’m writing, I’ll pause where I am at in the story and write it. Should a scene be giving me lots of trouble, I’ll skip ahead and fill in the gaps later. In short, I write scenes all over the place in my first draft.
In a programme like Microsoft Word, in which the whole novel is kept in a single document, I would be constantly scrolling back and forth, trying to find the right part of the story, always at risk of leaving gaps because I’ve overlooked something. Not so in Scrivener.
Using the ‘binder’ feature, I can access each individual chapter and scene of my novel with ease. I want to re-read the first scene from Chapter 16? No problem. I just find the ‘Chapter 16’ folder, click the ‘Scene 1’ text file and it’s there. If I had been using Microsoft Word, I would have had to scroll through over 40,000 words to reach the correct scene—if I ever found it in the first place. Not how I want to be spending my writing time.
The binder feature: See how the story is arranged into folders, subfolders and files?
2. Assignable statuses for folders and files.
Why I love it: It’s easy to see what needs to be done to each chapter and scene.
Because I don’t write in order, I’ll sometimes leave scenes incomplete or skip over them entirely. That’s not too hard to keep track of when I’ve only written a few chapters, but when I’ve passed 60,000 words and I can’t remember where that chapter I dropped partway through because it just wasn’t working out is, I start to get headaches.
Scrivener has a good solution. I can assign each chapter a status— ‘To Do’, ‘First Draft’, ‘Revised Draft’, etc.—and it even lets me create labels of my own. The most commonly used ones in my first drafts are ‘Finish This Please’ and ‘Yuck—Needs Editing’.
Assignable statuses: Now I know the locations of all the unfinished and yucky chapters in Part Two.
With statuses, I know exactly what needs to be done to each chapter and scene within my messy manuscript and can locate them easily. Lovely.
3. Multiple documents, one programme.
Why I love it: I can keep my novel, my notes and my research all in one programme.
Gone are the days when I would click between endless documents as I paused my writing to check out character profiles, look at setting photos, read some of my research notes, see what’s coming next in my chapter synopses, and so on. My taskbar only needs one programme open now, which houses all the documents I need.
Multiple documents: Dirigible knowledge at my fingertips.
See how easy it is to organise, access and move between the story and notes? It saves me so much time and doesn’t disrupt my focus as much as filling my taskbar with new documents does.
In Part 2 of the Best Scrivener Features series (because there were so many of them that I couldn’t fit them all into one post), I’ll share another feature that makes it even easier to view all your documents without switching programmes. You won’t even have to click on to a new file. How’s that for a tantalising hook?
More on that in 2 More Features that Make Scrivener Ideal for First Drafts, where there are an additional two features that make Scrivener perfect for my messy writing style. (Hint: they involve every type of screen a writer with a squirrel’s attention span could possibly wish for.)
Which Scrivener features do you use more than any other? Share your favourites in a comment below!