My mother slaved in an office for decades, using first a typewriter, then a personal computer. She loved the former, and hated the latter. For her, writing could only be accomplished with a typewriter, despite all the advantages of a word processor. She called PCs nothing more than glorified typewriters. Pen and paper, typewriter and paper, Mac or PC, writing has never been more enjoyable or productive, as long as you have the best writer’s tool. What is it?
Tools & Trade
From what I know of the past few generations, whether from Scotland or Puerto Rico, we’re a family of writers. Pen and ink to paper. Handwriting. That’s the way it was.
More recent generations have adapted to modern technology (assuming we’re kind enough to call the typewriter ‘modern’). My grandmother still writes by hand. My mother still writes with a typewriter.
What of my 30-something (plus a little) generation? We’re more in tune with digital than analog, computers than mechanical. Still, whatever we use to write, and for whatever purpose, the tools should enhance what we do, not detract from the process or the objective.
Is the Mac a good writing tool? It’s the platform, not the tool. Literature and Latte’s Scrivener is the tool.
What It Is
The Mac has plenty of good writing tools, and even more word processors. The very term processor drives me nuts, though I understand the sentiment. We don’t process words. We craft them from ideas.
Scrivener is a tool which aids the process of writing. What we once kept on Post-it Notes or in the back of the mind, Scrivener brings to life on your Mac’s screen. Here’s the typical process.
Writing a book, short story or research paper is about more than hammering away at the keys until it’s done. Research, scrawling fragmentary ideas that don’t seem to fit anywhere yet, collecting faded photos from old newspapers, shuffling index cards to find that elusive structure – most writing software is only fired up after much of the hard work is already done.
What Scrivener does is integrate all those pieces into a cohesive, elegant, utility with personality. You control not just what you write, but how you write it—from idea to research to notes to draft to final product.
Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.
Popular these days are minimalist word processors with something called a distraction free feature. The idea is to remove all the menu distractions, tools distractions, and word processor clutter on the screen so you can focus on the writing.
I like that. Distractions can cause problems in the writing flow, of course. But writing isn’t just a free form brain dump. Sometimes what you need to write needs to be nearby.
No more switching between multiple applications to refer to research files: keep all of your research – image files, PDF documents, movies, sound files and web pages – right inside Scrivener.
That’s all well and good, because writing today requires more organization skills, but what about the structure of what we write?
Add tables, bullet points and images and format your text however you want. Define ranges of text as footnotes and they become footnotes when you export or print.
Cork the Outline
I hate outliners because the force me to think in something more structured than free form. Scrivener provides an outline that is human savvy, but not tasty enough for me.
Restructure your work easily; get an overview of the project so far and what still needs to be done; check how many scenes have Jack as the point-of-view character; read and edit an overview of a scene, a chapter or of the whole draft.
That’s just too much clicking. I’ve used a 3×5 card system and a cork board for many years. That analog approach may kill a few trees but it beats banging my head digitally. Until the digital cork board.
Before Scrivener, though, the index cards were not connected to anything (other than ideas, of course); any changes to the order on the corkboard would have to be replicated manually in the draft.
Scrivener gives you a digital cork board and digital cards. Your Mac’s screen won’t be big enough. Organization isn’t tedious, it’s fun.
Every document is attached to a virtual index card onto which you can jot a synopsis. Use the corkboard to shuffle these index cards around – which is instantly reflected in the structure of your draft.
There’s a lot more going on with Scrivener than time allows to describe. Though digital ink is cheap, time is not. What else is there?
Export or print whatever you create for Word, Final Draft, HTML, InDesign, or whatever. Need the distraction free full screen? Check. Snapshots of what you wrote yesterday but changed today and need to change it back again, intact? Check.
For some of us who love the written word, life is good with some classic literature and a latte. So it is with Scrivener. If you’re beat to death with word processing, try the whole shebang with tools that help, rather than hinder.