Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thursday Review—More about Scrivener, Part 1

by Lynn Blackburn

Last year, I reviewed the writing software Scrivener when the PC version was still in beta form. Mac users have had Scrivener for years, but I’m not bitter. Nope. Not at all.

I gladly paid to upgrade to the full version ($40) as soon as it became available and I’m happy to report that everything I said last year remains true. I LOVE SCRIVENER!

Scrivener, in my humble and not at all expert opinion, is a far superior way of writing a novel than opening up a Word document and diving in. (Be sure to read my previous posts—ScrivenerPart 1 and Scrivener Part 2—to get an overview of the program).

But I know some of you are still struggling with the idea of using software like this. You wonder if it can really be all that helpful and if it’s worth the time to figure it out.

So I thought we’d take a more visual approach.

When you open Scrivener, there are three tabs at the top that control your view. You’ve got a document view, a corkboard, and an outliner.
Here’s what this post looks like in Document View.

Document View of Scrivener 
As you can see, this is familiar territory. If you can use Word, you can do this. You type, words appear. No sweat.

But what if you’re working on something a little more complex than a blog post? Let’s take a look at the other two viewing options—the Outliner and the Corkboard.

The Outliner—Do you follow the classic 3-act structure? You could label scenes by Act. Maybe you prefer Angela Hunt’s Plot Skeleton? No worries. Set up your skull, eyes, neck, ribs, etc. What if you use Susan May Warren’s Lindy Hop? Go for it. In the Outliner, you can see where each chapter and scene fits into your plot structure. You can even set word count targets based on the desired length of your book.

For illustration purposes, here’s a screen shot of an outline I’m currently working on.

Outline view of Scrivener 
The Corkboard—Does the outliner make you feel a little queasy? Look too much like a spreadsheet? Never fear. The corkboard takes the same info and presents it in a more casual way. You can even label it however you like. First Draft, To-Do, Bad Idea, I am Awesome!—whatever you need to motivate you, go for it.
Here’s a screenshot of the corkboard that goes with the outliner above.

Corkboard view of Scrivener
The best part? Whatever I change in outliner is automatically updated on the corkboard and vice versa. So when I’m brainstorming ideas in the corkboard (my preferred method), everything I type onto the little notecards is transferred over to the synopsis part of the Outliner. When I move from brainstorming to writing, my word count from the document view will update in the outliner. And if I move a scene on the corkboard, it moves in the outline and in the document. (Try to do that in a Word document and see if steam doesn’t start pouring from your ears).

I’m going to share a few more of my favorite Scrivener tools next week. But for now, I’ll be happy to attempt to answer any questions you have about how the software works. So chime in. Do you use Scrivener? Want to try it?

Don’t forget to join the conversation!


Go straight to More About Scrivener, Part 2.

Lynn Blackburn
Lynn Huggins Blackburn has been telling herself stories since she was five and finally started writing them down. She blogs about faith, family, and her writing journey on her blog Out of the Boat. Lynn is a member of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild and the Word Weavers, Greenville. She lives in South Carolina where she hangs out with three lively children, one fabulous man, and a cast of imaginary characters who find their way onto the pages of her still unpublished novels. She drinks a lot of coffee.


  1. Lynn, this is so helpful! I signed on for the trial subscription but I've not used it much. However, you've once again spurred me on with your practical and insightful advice.

    Edie, I look forward to Part 2 - thanks for asking Lynn to post on this subject. :)

  2. Fantastic information, Edie! Thank you so much for always keeping my up to date.

  3. Thanks, Lynn. You might just sell me on it yet! I have yWriter (though I admit I haven't really used it yet) and am curious how they compare.

  4. Your review for Scrivener is excellent, Lynn. You've broken down three parts into easy to understand explanations. And guess what? I know I can do this now! My only regret is that I have to wait until next week to read about your favorite Scrivener tools!

  5. @Cathy - The free trial is one of my favorite things. It is 30 actual days of use - not 30 days from the time you download it. You should still have a good bit of time to play with it!
    @thoughtsonplot - thanks!
    @Linda - I'm afraid I haven't tried yWriter. If I can find a place where someone has done a comparison, I'll pass it along.
    @Cynthia - I know you can, too! I'm glad the review helped break it down and make it feel more accessible. I'm always finding new things to love about Scrivener!

  6. One of the more practical tutorials out there. Looking forward to your next post. Thanks Lynn!

  7. Okay, you've made me curious about it again....thanks Lynn and Edie.

  8. Thanks Lynn (and Edie) for this taste of Scrivener. I do have a question. Is this software more helpful for fiction manuscripts or can a non-fiction geek like me benefit as well?



  9. Thanks @reevwrites and @Debra!
    @Jeanne - Most definitely useful for non-fiction! Some of the features I'll be talking about on Thursday will explain why in more detail, but the main reason is because of the way you can keep all your notes, research, outline, draft, etc. in one place. (As an example...a lot of grad students use Scrivener to help organize their thesis). I would imagine outlining/drafting a non-fiction book could require a lot of shifting of chapters, etc. and you could do that quite easily in Scrivener. Hope that helps!

  10. I definitely want to experience the free trial. Thanks Lynn. You make it sound so appealing and easy!