Scrivener: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Turn Your Mac Into a Writing Studio

Scrivener Long Form Editor
Courtesy of Literature and Latte

Scrivener from Literature and Latte is a long-form writing tool that can turn your Mac into your own personal writing studio. Unlike short-form writing, such as that performed in many business and educational settings, the long-form writing environment is as much about research, organization, and documentation as it is about composing pearls of wisdom. That’s where Scrivener comes in; to help you plan and gain control of long-form content.

Pro

  • Provides a wide array of writing aids without imposing a defined workflow.
  • Corkboard overview helps you organize and lay out a project.
  • Rearrange chapters, subchapters, or just about any component with a simple drag-and-drop.
  • Access research information as easily as any other elements of a project.
  • Easily build character, location, or device profiles for quick reference.
  • Collection feature lets you work with subsets of a project.
  • Easy export to a variety of popular document formats.

Cons

  • Can be difficult at first to find a needed feature.
  • Not for those who want to concentrate only on the written word.

Working on your memoirs, a novel, a play, or other long-form documents can make it crystal clear that standard word processors are simply lacking the features a writer needs. They're also encumbered with rarely used features that just get in the way.

That’s where Scrivener comes in. Scrivener is designed for the long-form writer who needs to collect information, plan out a project's flow, keep track of character, location, and device profiles, and easily rearrange things when needed.

Using Scrivener

Scrivener has a very easy-to-use two-pane interface that includes a toolbar running along the top of the window. The left-hand pane, known as the Binder, contains all the elements that make up your document, including all of your research, photos, notes, profiles, and yes, even your written work, stored in various structures, such as chapters and sub-chapters.

At its most basic, the Binder is a hierarchical outline of a document, including sections for research and support documents. And just like an outline, its contents can be arranged and rearranged to your heart's content.

The right-hand pane is the writing surface; it has the usual text editing tools to allow you to format and change your document as needed. The right-hand pane can also be used for other functions, such as the corkboard overview, which lets you pin various elements of your document on the board and create a flow for the project. The corkboard is a great visualization tool for organizing a project. Each of the items pinned to the corkboard are also seen in the Binder pane, so you can think of the corkboard as a non-linear view of your Binder.

The Binder

The Binder pane initially has three sections: Draft, Research, and Trash. The Draft section contains all of the text sections that, when compiled, become your finished document. Text sections can be titles, footnotes, chapters, and sub-chapters. Essentially, you can create whatever format you wish to make it easier to start and finish a writing project.

Using the Draft section, you can break your writing into small chunks of text.

For instance, a single chapter can be broken into key sub-chapters, allowing you to more easily work on a section at a time.

The Research section can contain just about anything you need for your project. It’s a nice way to help keep continuity in your document by storing character sheets or images of locations you'll be describing and working in. You can store just about anything here, including videos, audio, images, documents, graphs, and URLs.

Collections

Collections are an organizational aid that you may find very useful. A collection can be just about anything, such as sections a character appears in, or locations visited by a character or group of characters.

Collections are based on searches you perform within your Binder. This means a collection can include items such as text sections you think still need work, or sections you haven't started yet.

Editor

The right-hand pane of Scrivener is the editor, and it's where you'll perform most of your writing work. It has a few modes it can be placed into, including:

Single Document Mode: Shows the contents of a single document selected from the Binder. This is the mode you'll use to create and edit each document that makes up your project.

Corkboard Mode: This is a visual representation of the currently selected item in the Binder. If you select one of your chapters, then all of the sub-chapters will be shown as items pinned to the corkboard. You can rearrange items, change descriptions, or add new elements to the corkboard.

Outliner Mode: This is similar to the Corkboard view, but instead of items pinned to a corkboard, your documents are shown in a table format that can include information such as status, labels, keywords, and word count.

Final Thoughts

Scrivener is the long-form document editor that just may convince you there's a better way to write than with a word processor. Scrivener lets you work at any level you need, from the top down to a single page. It allows you to easily organize and keep track of your work, and when your project is complete, you can compile it into a large number of commonly used formats, including PDF, Word documents, common e-publishing formats, manuscript, script, and screenplay.

Scrivener's versatility lets you work the way you wish to, not in some preconfigured workflow that doesn't match your working style. Want to jump right in and start writing? Not a problem. Prefer to step back and create an outline of a document structure first? Have at it. You can also do a little bit of both; write today, structure tomorrow; Scrivener can accommodate you.

A demo of Scrivener 2 available from Literature and Latte.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.