Scrivener: when will I stop hating it?
November 22, 2011 12:45 AM   Subscribe

Scrivener: when will I stop hating it?

After reading all the glowing recommendations here, I recently downloaded the trial version of Scrivener for Windows in an effort to reorganize the novel I'm in the midst of trying to slog through. Unfortunately, it's slowed me down even more -- for something that's supposed to be so elegant and intuitive, I find it pretty cumbersome and overly complicated, which is frustrating.

Is this just the typical learning curve with Scrivener? People seem to love it so much that I guess I'm just assuming there will be a eureka moment if I keep plugging away at it. Or is it really the kind of software that you either love or hate right off the bat? (In which case, please feel free to recommend another software for Windows I might prefer.) God forbid that this is indicative of me reaching That Certain Age where I just can't adapt to new technology.
posted by scody to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It's not you, it's that unholy mess of a program. I kept trying it and finally just decided to stick with a simple writing program (on the Mac) and organize assets by hand.

Could you be more specific about what you need or would like the software to do?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:15 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm using Scrivener for Windows for NaNo this year (first time, usually I use Word). And I'd definitely vote for cumbersome and overly complicated vs. elegant and intuitive. BUT ... Scrivener allows me to do things I just can't (or wouldn't) do in Word. Specifically, I've got every chapter in its own file (and I write short chapters, under 1000 words). I can easily get an independent word count for each chapter, I can quickly reorder chapters. And I can easily save snippets and scenes and notes where they're readily available to me. Normally I'd have an entire folder full of crap to wade through but Scrivener keeps it all together for me. Bottom line - yeah, I find the interface clunky as hell but the features make it worth the trade off. If you're not taking advantage of those features, I don't think it's going to grow on you. In fact, if you're just looking for something to create text, it's probably the worst possible choice.

Worth noting: the Windows version is well behind the Mac version and some of the clunkiness may have been remedied for the Mac by now.
posted by zanni at 1:33 AM on November 22, 2011

Response by poster: Could you be more specific about what you need or would like the software to do?

I guess I'm looking for a few general things. The first is a way to organize my disorganized jumbles of notes, attempts at outlines, etc. into something other than the super-long, ultimately unusable documents of thousands (or tens of thousands) of words I seem to inevitably generate when left to my own devices.

The second is a way to write and organize individual chunks of text (most likely individual scenes) so that they can be grouped together in chapters, moved around, etc. This is what seems to be at the heart of Scrivener conceptually, and I like it in the abstract -- but so far it feels clunky when I actually try to work with it. But maybe this will grow on me.

The third (and maybe this is connected to the first, somewhat?) is to be able to generate a kind of bible for characters, settings, etc. -- a place where all the biographical or descriptive data can go, so that I can check that the world of the story is consistent.
posted by scody at 1:38 AM on November 22, 2011

I've been using the Mac version of Scrivener for a couple of years and you can pry it from my cold dead fingers. I'm a non-linear writer, and the ability to write scenes in any order and then simply and clearly structure them is gold to me. I also love the snapshot feature and use it on a daily basis. Those two features alone make Scrivener a huge improvement over Word for me, but of course, everybody has different needs. I have friends who swear by the Scrivener corkboard, for example, but I never use it myself.

I didn't find the learning curve particularly steep, but I did start with an earlier, simpler version. What in particular are you finding complicated? There's a lot of features you can basically ignore until you need them.

As for alternative programmes, this thread at Absolute Write lists many of them. It was started about five years ago but there's some recent posts at the end.
posted by Georgina at 1:38 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use the Mac version. Its killer feature for me is as a front end for Latex. I write math-heavy academic papers in plain text with some simple markup, and Scrivener gives me beautifully typeset PDFs at the push of a button, with almost none of the tedious mucking about with raw Latex such standards usually require. In its eagerness to please it is a bit 'noisy'.
posted by falcon at 2:01 AM on November 22, 2011

Sorry, we cross-posted. Addressing your problems in order:

1 :: Scrivener is not really plotting software, though a lot of people find the corkboard does what they need. The easiest way to begin is probably to read through your notes and make an index card for every plot point or scene idea. Then you can start moving them around, arranging, and working out your structure. You can also use labels to colour each card so you can, say, make the main plot green but make the romance pink so you can see at a glance that the plots are well-balanced. Once you're ready to write, click the little document icon in the top left to go to the file associated with the index card.

2 :: The beauty of Scrivener is you can write now, when you're in a creative space, and then organise later when you're feeling more analytical. It sounds like you might be getting caught up in trying to structure everything perfectly from the get-go?

What works for me is to write each scene in a separate file. I also tend to use folders, at least in the draft stage, to keep track of days of the week so I know exactly when everything happened and don't end up with three Fridays in a row (which I've done before!). If you're finding folders confusing, you can also structure by dragging scenes onto other scenes so they nest underneath.

3 :: For the bible, if you're using Novel format, there should be a series of folders at the bottom called Characters, Places, Research, etc. (If you're not using Novel format, or if they're not in the PC version, you can make your own.) Each time I add a new character, I make a file for them under characters and in it I jot things that I think I'll need to know again like how to spell their last name, any backstory I've referred to, relationship to the protagonist, etc.

When you compile, Scrivener will only work with what's in the Manuscript folder, so you arrange the other folders/create new ones any way that works for you.

Hope that helps.
posted by Georgina at 2:38 AM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think scrivener is necessarily intuitive, but it is incredibly powerful and well designed (at least on the mac, I am sure compromises have had to be made on windows). There is, however (at least on the mac) an incredibly indepth and comprehensive tutorial project that takes you through how to whole program, if you are struggling with finding it too complex and cumbersome, then I would suggest slowly going through that project again, because its a superb way of understanding the whole scrivener system. I would also second the claim that there are "a lot of features you can basically ignore until you need them." so I would be quick to customise the toolbar and other areas to get rid of things you don't need.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:48 AM on November 22, 2011

I'm wondering if using Evernote with tags and stacks might work for what you're trying to do?
posted by canine epigram at 6:05 AM on November 22, 2011

If you're on a PC, I would recommend using One Note. I find it incredibly intuitive and the notebook/section/pages/subpages system is a really efficient way of organizing your thoughts.

The best thing about One Note is that you can click anywhere on the screen and start typing - so if you're a visual thinker and like having chunks of text all over the page, this might be for you.

I use Scrivener mostly because nothing else I've tried so far has come anywhere close to replicating my love affair with One Note.
posted by Phire at 8:43 AM on November 22, 2011

Scrivener is both awesome and a mess. If a text version of iTunes existed (folders on the left, the document in the main column, info in a right column), I'd have dumped Scrivener long ago. But even with its flaws, I've never found anything that compares to Scrivener for writing. And god have I looked!
posted by 2oh1 at 12:25 PM on November 22, 2011

2oh1: Evernote might fit,
posted by .shaun at 11:15 PM on November 25, 2011

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