An admission: I wrote my first novel in WordPerfect 5.1. Fortunately, I’ve now got it out of that format (before the converters cease to exist) and it currently resides on my hard drive as an MS Word file, along with everything else. I can’t remember exactly when I switched but, judging by the file dates, I’ve been using Word, or the cut-down version in Works, for almost two decades.
For a writer, the word processor is much the same as a chisel and saw for a carpenter, or the canvas and paint for a painter. It's our interface to the creative output. It’s the most important tool in my life, and the Word interface feels like an old friend - even if I get annoyed every time I have to upgrade and Microsoft move everything around.
There are many things MS Word won’t do for me though – I can’t outline effectively, instead I have to use a spreadsheet for that job, using a row of cells to hold all the necessary information for a scene; weather, location, character motivations and so on. If I write the whole book in one document/file it quickly becomes too big to be manageable, while if I split it up, I then have to put it all back together every time I want to print or output a full draft. If you create a new file for each chapter this rapidly turns into a massive pain in the butt, and even with my preferred five-chapters-to-a-file rule, it’s still a chore. And then there are all the other files I need for character biographies, location research, and the rest of the gubbins that goes on in the background in my efforts to make the finished product polished and smooth. It’s easy to end up with the pc desktop a confusing mess of open files and scarily unsaved edits. Disaster is only a click away.
So when I heard about Scrivener I thought it was worth a look. The software was originally developed by a guy who wanted to be a writer but - in the interests of procrastination - decided to write the tools of creativity before he wrote the novel. He still hasn’t written the novel, but Scrivener is a huge success as that rare thing - a computer programme written specifically for the authors of long-form narrative. I downloaded it a couple of weeks ago, and (surprisingly) did exactly what the company suggested - went through the tutorial.
I’m no expert but it seems to be built on a database principle, and so it can do things that just aren’t possible in a word processor. Everything I need is there – a single interface to the manuscript, outlines, bios and research. It breaks the text down to make it easy to work on individual scenes, but allows you to ‘compile’ it back into a complete manuscript at the click of a few buttons. It’s simple to use, seems quick to learn, and although I have yet to write my first story on it, I’m already a fan.
Best of all, the software company that makes it, Literature and Latte, are based in my favourite part of the world, Truro in Cornwall. There’s even a Scrivener for Dummies – which shows they’ve really arrived. So for me it's good-bye to the old familiar face of MS Word - at least for the novels and short stories, although I'm sure I'll be using it for blogs and journalism for a while to come. And hello to Scrivener...
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