Why I use Scrivener

I will admit, the first time someone explained Scrivener to me, I was skeptical. I had used Microsoft Word for years, and it had suited me just fine. I had turned in one paper past its deadline, so I didn’t need any sort of writing software to make writing easier. Writing was already easy, wasn’t it? I was wrong, and I only found out how wrong I was after I started using Scrivener.

When I first started to write my dissertation, I downloaded Scrivener. To be completely transparent, I downloaded it so that I could stall for a bit and not have to start writing for another couple of days. It was then that I realized I would never look at writing the same way again.

So, Why do I use Scrivener?

1) Scrivener enables and encourages non-linear writing. Some have the ability to sit down in front of a keyboard and write 20 pages of an argument from start to finish…no skipping around, just writing straight through. I envy them, but I am not one of them. One of the best things about Scrivener is that it enables you to outline your work in such a way that you can see your entire project all the time and skip around as you see fit. Here is a screenshot so you know what I’m talking about:

At the center of the screen is your document. To the right are the comments and footnotes. To the left is the “binder” where all the parts of your project are housed. Each point of the outline is effectively a separate document, and you can easily switch from one to the other. I love this feature because, when I was first ready to start writing, I really wanted to just get some words on the page. The nature of my project was such that I had lots of introductory stuff to say, but not a lot else (that’s what reading is for). So, I just skipped around and filled in as much introductory matter that I could muster, and before I knew it I was at 10,000 words. This leads me to my next point.

2) Scrivener lets you set goals for yourself. One of the hardest parts about writing a dissertation (so I’ve heard) is that you are your own boss for the first time in a long time. Essentially, unless you have an advisor who is super motivated to keep you on a schedule, you are accountable to no one but yourself. Not surprisingly, it is easy to lose weeks, months, and even years in the blink of an eye. Scrivener has an absolutely brilliant feature that enables you to set goals for yourself, and it will even tell you how much you have to write to meet your goals on time. Could you do this with Microsoft Word? Sure, but you’ll need a calculator and a heck of a lot of patience. Below are some screenshots to illustrate what I’m talking about.

This first image is the Project Targets box – as you can see, I set myself a goal of Feb. 15, 2013. I have chosen Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as my “writing days,” and I have opted to have Scrivener automatically calculate my daily goals from the deadline.

This second image is what I see when I want to know what type of progress I’m making. As you can see, today has been a great day for writing (at least for me). The beauty of this is that if I go over my goal for the day, Scrivener will automatically recalculate my goal the next day (or when I click reset). This is some nice motivation to write just a bit more each day than I have to. Stick with your writing goals and you finish your project. Simple.

3) Scrivener facilitates distraction-free writing. This last point is a bit absurd for a couple of reasons. If you are prone to distractions like I am, then no writing on a computer will ever be truly “distraction-free.” There will always be a blog post to read or write or an e-mail to send or Facebook to check…you get the idea. When I say that Scrivener facilitates distraction-free writing, what I mean is that Scrivener allows you to write in such a way that you simply can’t worry about some things. Scrivener is designed for text input, not text formatting. So, if you find yourself writing along thinking to yourself, “I think I want to change the way my headers look” or “Hey, that line shouldn’t be on that page…I need to change the spacing of this or that paragraph,” you are distracted by formatting issues and are likely not writing as much as you should. Scrivener doesn’t make it difficult to format your final manuscript…it makes it impossible. This is a good thing. With Scrivener you can focus on getting words on the page, and you can rest assured that eventually you will have the opportunity to make sure it all looks pretty on the page.

With this last benefit comes an annoyance – if you are working on a document for which formatting matters, then Scrivener cannot be your only word processor. You will need Microsoft Word or one of the numerous word processors out there (many of which are free, FYI, like Open Office or whatnot) in which to execute the final formatting of your document. Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning.

One more screen shot that illustrates one of the distraction-free writing features of Scrivener: compose mode – truly an awesome feature that allows you to eliminate everything on your screen except your main document.

So there you have it – three reasons why I love and use Scrivener. There are many more reasons to love the software, as I continue to find new gems almost daily. If you’re curious about trying it for yourself, head over to their website and download their extremely generous trial version. I use the Mac version, but I see that they have it for Windows as well…I cannot comment on the functionality of the Windows version, however. Enjoy!

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5 thoughts on “Why I use Scrivener

  1. Excellent post, Eric. I’m not in academia, but use Scrivener for my larger writing projects. Your assessment of the advantages that Scrivener brings to the process are spot on.

  2. I didn’t download Scrivener (I was a skeptic like you) until I was on chapter 5 (the final shebang), and all I kept thinking is how much easier the rest of it would have been (especially the lit review where everything changes places frequently) if I had started using Scrivener earlier in the process.

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