Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

Novelist signSometimes I think writers – including those poor, misguided souls who think they want to be writers – will do anything to have the work done for them. There’s no shortage of apps, software, books, etc., to “help” you craft The Great American Novel.

But there are also some very valuable tools out there that do make a writer’s life a lot easier and, if anything like me, a little bit more organized.

For example, I can’t even imagine sitting down to write a screenplay without a program like Final Draft or Celtx, which does all the formatting for you. You still have to write the story, though.

Which leads me to Scrivener.  Billed as “a word-processing program designed for authors,” it’s like an organizer for writers. According to the developers’ website, it’s “a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

I downloaded the trial version over the weekend, just to check it out. The interactive tutorial was easy to follow, even if it did take the better part of an hour. And I can see how it would definitely help get things organized.

Still, my current system seems to work just fine. That is to say, my current lack of a “system.” I have several different tools that I use and they’re all on my laptop – but they are across different programs and apps (something Scrivener is designed for – collecting all these under one roof). I write in MS Word for Mac – notes, drafts, etc. I have a pretty good filing system on my hard drives that allows me to keep things divided by project, with subfolders for various operations. Notes on the fly are done either the old-fashioned way – with a handy notebook I keep with me all the time, or, lately, via an Evernote app on my Kindle. Then, I usually transcribe the notes into the appropriate folder, updating/editing as I go. The same goes with research. Whether it’s via Internet or any other source, the material goes in a folder. I also use a basic “yellow stickie” app that I use mostly for those “Oh, don’t forget this” things that come up when I’m at the screen.

For ideas, I use a mind-mapping program that lets me just throw stuff at the screen, and then I can re-arrange to suit my needs. I’ve been using these kinds of programs for about 5 years, since I was a speechwriter in the Pentagon, and I love them. Mine’s easy to use (and freeware) and affords me the freedom to just “blurt something out” without having to worry about fitting it into some kind of structure. That comes later, after the blurting. Because it’s a different program, I often run two windows (or more) at a time when I’m actually doing the writing work.

For screenwriting, I use Celtx, which makes life a lot easier – all I have to worry about is the action and dialogue; the program does all the formatting. It also has a notecard function, so that every scene has its own card, which allows you to move stuff around as you need to (Scrivener has a similar function).

With Scrivener, just about all of this is contained in one program. There’s no mind-mapping function, but I can drag and drop any file I need into the appropriate Scrivener folder, which ultimately would save me the trouble of switching windows.

I’ve only just started playing with Scrivener, so the jury’s still out on whether it’s better for me. I figured I’d give it a shot with a new short story I’m trying to work out in my head. Give me a month, and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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