Scribbler’s Saga #89 – Scrivener

Posted: July 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another writing tool. I suppose my pretensions about being a journalist on the subject of writing said this post had to come. Luckily, Scrivener wasn’t a complete waste of my $65. More lucky, the platform pretty much does what it says…with some weird quirks of logic (see below).

All twenty of you that still follow me in between my less than regular posts might remember some version of my Love-Hate with Microsoft Word (still sort of need the single download desktop version, but the mobile version really wants me to join Office 365…as soon as I upgrade past my current phone). So I’ve done my testing landing on Google Docs for most writing jobs: write a chapter and output it for a later copy and paste on the desktop, write a post (not this one, too relaxed on my couch for proper typing), write comic book pages using a template I finally have just so, write coverage, write and post those much delayed serial adventures of Batman and Spider-man. Google Docs works fine. Will continue to work fine in the future for shorter documents.

I didn’t strictly need Scrivener. It took quite a while for the modestly fanatic users and their glowing reviews to induce a purchase. I thought I’d buy yet another tool, take the write off and keep going on with my regularly scheduled writing process, switching back and forth between legacy Word and Google Docs. Scrivener is better than that.

My usage is all about doing things in the spaces between my iPhone and iPad Pro. Throw in a wireless keyboard for each mobile dingus. Appease the generally reliable Bluetooth gods and who needs a notebook computer at twice the price? Well, people not named me because mileage varies. I need the mobile app, but the desktop version you need that to manage the couple three tasks at the end of the project to get it ready.

Scrivener has a very specific sales pitch as the platform for the first draft. Each project has a Research folder (haven’t used it yet, mostly writing Fantasy and other make it up as you go genres. Eventually…). Just below this button is the trash can. You write in the Draft folder by creating a new Document sub-folder, roughly analogous to each chapter.

Scrivener makes a big deal of outputting to most of the other heavy hitter: Word, FDX, PDF, TXT. The idea is that you’ll edit the manuscript somewhere else most of which have more controls. So each document can be Compiled into these other formats to create the larger manuscript file. You can also tell Scrivener to drop out a document by sliding the Include in Compile button.

Scrivener also makes a big deal about taking all kinds of inputs from other programs. I could but won’t add several in progress manuscripts to their respective future project folders. There’s a value to finishing open projects on the software that started them.

So for long form prose the process goes like this. Create and name project. Create the first document (Chapter One, don’t reinvent the wheel). Set the typography of the chapter. Type. Create the second document with the same typography. Rinse. Repeat.

A screenwriting project adds steps which feeds the minor frustrations of Scrivener. You have to tell the program in two different places to allow screenwriting to see script typography. Otherwise, you’ll just get more prose.

As a general rule, Scrivener’s front and center functionality is great while there is still a little bit of kludge around the edges. You type on your keyboard with access to the same autocorrect in other programs. Nothing changes from the solid experience you already have.

But, I have yet to find a button for footnotes. Word. I will keep investigating periodically.

I either haven’t found or simply didn’t push the button that should help me tell the project that Chapter Two will have the same typography as Chapter One. I’m okay with admitting to being stupid, but the other possibility…it isn’t there.

Right now, setting the typography has lots of button pushing in part because the defaults are kinda weird. The prose defaults like an off-brand 13 Pt serif font, 1.3 line spacing and fairly narrow first line indents. Until I find and use the button that streamlines my common usage of what I like (there’s a reason why 12 Pt Times New Roman should just be everybody’s default, publishers ask for it), this process is manual repeated with each new chapter. Ugh!

I’ve also found that switching between Italics, Bold and Underline could go smoother. Again, it’s a matter of burying these commonly used controls in with the rest of the typography buttons instead of making them easier to find in a separate banner. Minor problems.

Most of the not quite worked out yet in Scrivener lands on the screenwriting side. The writer must flip two switches in different sections of the document sidebar to get a screenplay in proper format. The writer quickly discovers that screenwriting only means a basic film script with total SOL if you have a TV deadline.

While there is a feature for writing the title page as in Final Draft, I didn’t get it to work and used Final Draft once I’d compiled and exported the test document out of Scrivener. And yet again a file exported out likes atypical defaults when opened in the other program: page numbers in the wrong place that sort of thing. Minor problems.

A word about devices. Despite being the same app and download, the iPad version has more space to write. The smaller iPhone version shunts controls that should be visible on the tool bar into the extended finger tap keyboard where you have to go looking for it. It took me a few days to find these buttons and screwed up documents where I started creating the new document elsewhere and then type on the iPhone.

Pretty much the eenie-weeny issues with Scrivener are the small things like button layout and just getting used to new things. The concerns are small nit-picks when you deal with them or learn the system. But, for some of the logic fails that I’ve described they’re made worse by the single worst written tutorial I’ve ever read, a document that doesn’t tell you key things and then you go to the Scrivener blog to find the answers. No one is making any PBJs (extra points for knowing this metaphor) with these instructions.

I’ve spent a decent amount of my words bashing what are really minor concerns made slightly less minor by the tutorial that doesn’t tell you what you need to know. Once you go to the blog and ask the right questions you get your knowledge and you’re ready to rock n roll.

I want to close relating two really good things about Scrivener. It types well; I said that, but it bears repeating. I’m not sure I even have the right vocabulary to bloviate about the arcana of the typing feel unless I really hated something. And one day I’ll figure out where the software ends and the physical gear that I already liked begins. Certainly, I didn’t add to feeling my sessions in the right forearm as is uniformly the case.

Scrivener really loves Dropbox. The best single thing about the program that verifiably is the software. Past writing software might allow you to write offline and synch later. Some of the time. And nail you with cloud copy synch error where you have to clean up the old copy at some point.

That hasn’t happened yet in three weeks of use; I’ve written both offline and online. Sometimes the synch is automatic, sometimes you push a button when you get back. But, you save the version you want.

Scrivener works well, even with a strange logic to its interface made worse by the tutorial. Dropbox works with the program to make many things land properly. So if I had to give out stars, three and a half losing almost all of it on the instructions; four and a half with a readable instruction sheet. I’m not quitting this one, especially with Word trying everything they can to quit me. So get back to your writing!

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