Tools of the Trade part 1

Writers are a curious bunch. For many (those that I have met and talked with, anyway), writing is as much about the act as about the finished creation. So, what is it about the act of writing that is so enjoyable? There are probably psychological explanations a-plenty for the authorial drive to create something that was not there before. There may even be several sociological or biological explanations.

However, I am no expert in any of these areas, particularly when it comes to applying them to creativity. What I do know, is that I write partly because I enjoy using the tools of the trade, myriad as they are. So, I thought it would be nice to share a little about the tools that I use and why I like them. There are too many to discuss properly in a single article so this will become a short, recurring feature on this blog.

This first entry is about the tool I use most. It is a slightly controversial one among writers. Scrivener.

I know that many writers like to keep things as simple as possible, preferring to use MS Word, LibreOffice Writer, a plain text editor like WordPad or even DarkRoom or FocusWriter. The benefit of such programs is that you can switch your internet off and focus on the words on the page without extra distractions like desktop wallpapers, editing options or organisational tools.

Me, I like a little complexity, sometimes. When I write, I like being able to quickly scan through the last thing I wrote so that I can catch up with what I need to do next or find an earlier reference or description of a person or place so that I can keep continuity. Word is getting better at this sort of thing, with its Navigation Pane but this requires the writer to provide a Title of Header for each new chapter.

This is from Stephen Montagna’s website, where he talks about using Scrivener as a GTD tool. Worth a read.

In Scrivener, the default view is a file system-like tree with folders and documents. When I add a new chapter, I create a new folder. Each new scene is a new document. It is ridiculously easy to find what I need very quickly.

This is from Writers Anon’s own review of Scrivener. Click on the picture to see what they say.

Scrivener also has what it calls a Corkboard view. This is from Writers Anon’s own review of Scrivener. Go and check it out. Every document or folder can be summarised onto an electronic index card. In the Corkboard, you can see all of these laid out in the order of their parent file. When you move them around on the Corkboard, they are reorganised in the manuscript, allowing you to easily restructure a novel, script or thesis. I have not found myself using this feature, yet but I love the idea.

The main text editor is remarkably familiar, using all the keyboard shortcuts you’re familiar with. But it also has a really nice trick. There is an option to turn on Typewriter Scrolling which keeps the current line of text you’re working on in the middle of the screen, rather than at the bottom. I don’t know why but this seems like something all text editors should have as it makes the experience much more…something. I’m sorry for being vague here but this is a feature that feels like a natural way of doing things that is not natural at all to other people or editors. Maybe it’s because it saves on neck or back strain? Maybe it’s because it stops me worrying that I’m accidentally writing over something further down the page. I don’t know. I just like this feature.

When you’re finished writing or editing your project (be it a novel, thesis, blog entry or whatever), you Compile it into a format that suits your purposes. There are a number of formats to choose from, such as Novel Manuscript, which provides a title page with your contact details, a word count and other editable text.

This is from Project Scrib. They talk about using Scrivener to write research papers.

For those writers seeking distraction-free writing, Scrivener also has a full-screen mode which blacks out the rest of the screen, leaving you with a top-to-bottom text editor. The formatting options are hidden, accessible by dropping your cursor to the very bottom of the screen. This leaves you free to concentrate on the words rather than the aesthetics.

If you like extras, however, Scrivener has plenty. My favourite is the Project Targets which allows me to set targets for the project as a whole but also for each session.

This is a screenshot of a first draft of my current WiP. The Project Targets window is to the left.
This is a screenshot of a first draft of my current WiP. The Project Targets window is to the left.

I set myself a minimum target of 500 words every night and I can see how far along I am with that in a couple of clicks. There is a Research section where you can store photographs or web-clippings for reference later on. There are Setting and Character sheets for outlining such things.

Scrivener also has a Snapshot option, which lets you save a version of a file in case you make massive edits to it but later decide to revert back to the original document. This is useful for first-second draft edits, saving authors panic attacks and bouts of the scary heebie-jeebies.

The only downside I can see with Scrivener is related to the fact that I write on a laptop that runs Ubuntu (a Linux operating system).

This is what I see every time I open Scrivener.
This is what I see every time I open Scrivener.

At the moment, Scrivener is very Beta on Linux and will stop working on my machine as soon as it turns 2016. On the other hand, this is excellent motivation for me to get my current WiP done quickly!

Related to this last point is the way Scrivener saves your work. All of it, every folder, every document, snapshot, index card… It is all saved in a .scriv file, only accessible by Scrivener. So, if you start in Scrivener, you have to Compile the project into a file format that is usable by your editor of choice.

I thought about adding more screenshots of my own Scrivener work to this article but there are so many already out there that a Google search with provide you with an abundance. Some of the pictures included here are taken from such a search so credit goes to the original creators of each image. I’ve also tried to use images from a range of uses for Scrivener so that you can click on the image and visit the original page. Maybe you’ll get some new ideas.

It may be that you use the same tools or that you use different ones. Whatever your thoughts on this, please leave a comment at the end of the article or, even better, write your own about what you use and link to this entry where it is relevant.

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