writing & publishing

Tools For The Job

How do you write yours?

Well, after a few years of hacking away with Microsoft Word, for my next book in the Red Sun series, I’ve decided to give Scrivener a go, and it’s proven to be a remarkable writing tool. Before I ramble on, this is a Mac program (come on, surely most writers use Macs for fashion value anyway? I do), so I’m not sure if there is a PC equivalent.

Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

I’ll admit it took me a while to realise that this wasn’t quite a normal word processor. Scrivener helps me organise the mess in my head in the most coherent way possible. I can make notes, cut and past whole internet pages (with links in tact), photos, build character profiles, and more, and keep all that paraphernalia on the sidebar, whilst I crack on with the manuscript sections. I no longer have to dart back and forth amongst old documents – everything is to hand. It’s brilliant, and has made the act of creation so much more reliable. And I’ve found all these tools actively encourage more effective planning – it’s whipped me into shape to organise material more effectively. So yes, I can honestly say that it’s made writing a novel easier.

Consider this endorsed. Go and try it out for free, and enter the wonderful world without Microsoft.

Does anyone else use a fancy program?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

13 replies on “Tools For The Job”

I use a fancy program (Scrivener, actually) but I also use a not-so-fancy gadget: it’s called an Alphasmart Neo.
Alphasmart sell primarily to the US educational markets, but they do make their machines available directly. The Neo is a keyboard with a six-line LCD screen, enough memory to hold about 150,000 words and seven hundred freaking hours of battery life.
I use Scrivener for organization and editing, but my first drafts are all on the Neo to be transferred later. I can take it anywhere, and this way I don’t risk getting distracted. Also it helped beat out my dependency on italics since it’s only plain text and editing in italics after the fact is irritating

I use Scrivener – actually bought a Mac especially. however I’ve tended to use it more as a Mac word processor than a writing tool.

I’d be interested to know how people set their projects out within Scrivener. A folder for each chapter? Do revisions go in the same folder? How much outlining do you do? etc.

Scrivener is amazing. I have used it to lay out two anthologies (where reordering the stories used to be a pain) and even used it for organizing the content of Pyr’s latest catalog. I keep finding uses for it.

I’ve been using Scrivener for about 5 months now and loving it. I’ve pulled in all three books of the current series in progress and it is making it so much easier to keep track of timelines and people across books. I don’t know how I’d work without it.

And, I am waiting for the PC version as well so I can keep up via my laptop when I’m away from my desk.


@Adrian Faulkner, I tend to use the Snapshots tool for managing revisions. You can create a snapshot of a single document or the entire kit kaboodle and use it to roll back in case you make any mistakes.

But the awesome thing about Scrivener is it’s flexibility!

Interesting insight into the day-to-day of writing what I might add was an excellent novel. Can’t wait for City of Ruin.

As for me, when I’m writing stories rather than articles, I go lo-fi rather than hi. Notepad does the trick just fine, plain as day with none of the distracting mess of Word’s multitudinous thingummijigs.

Six writers in a row can’t be wrong, though; if anyone hears of a version of Scrivener for Windows systems, do point, please.

Sam, I just Googled the Neo and thought I’d linked back to the 80s. 😛 How retro is that?! Is it really good to use? There doesn’t seem to be the ability to easily look over the previous pages, which could be a sticking point…

Adrian: Well, I tend to have a stream of files open in the side, that I can link to easily, and one major file that contains “the manuscript”, which in turn is now broken into sections. I don’t use the outliner in the way it’s meant to be used however…

Lou! I should have known you’d be a fan of it. I can actually visualise how good it’ll be for editing anthologies. It must make life so much easier.

Sybir – I think that’s the sign of a good product, isn’t it, when you don’t know how you coped without.

N.R. Alexander – thanks very much indeed! So you’re at the helm of the Speculative Scotsman. Nice site btw. Ah, a vintage Notepad user… It’s a little too stripped down for my tastes.

This link does have some recommendations from the people at Scrivener, for PC equivalents. (scan down to the Windows section).

Being a cheapskate and a PC user, I’ve opted to use YWriter from Spacejock. It’s not as slick as Scrivener seems to be, but for the price it’s a great value (FREE). It gives me the ability to move chapters around, scenes within chapters as well. If so inclined I can set a list of items and keep track of which chapters they are in (for continuity I presume). It also allows me to develop character profiles to which I can assign pictures. And, for the stat geek, I can produce reports of my word counts, schedules. It’s a nicely layered management tool. In fact, I write in Word (because I have it) and then organize in YWriter. If anyone out there is a PC user and writing a novel, I highly recommend checking it out.

I thoroughly recommend Ywriter as well. In fact I write in exactly the same way as Jonathan i.e. write in word and then organise in Ywriter. It has proved invaluable in planning my novel and as I am nearing completion of the first draft (chapter and half to go – yah), will prove most useful in the editing process.

The only downside I can see is that it is a bit fiddily when converting back to word.

Yeah Mark, I know it looks like it should accept punch cards as a data format, but it’s actually really nice to use – the keyboard’s modern, those nice low-profile scissor keys you get on laptops or the newer mac keyboards. The screen isn’t particularly, more like those old LCD displays you get on calculators, but it’s reasonably clear and visible in direct sunlight.
Looking over previous pages can be a bit tricky – you can go back or forward a ‘page’ at a time, by which it means a display-full of text. But yeah, if you like to re-read as you write it might not be the best option.
Personally I outline my butt off and write straight through, so it’s perfect for me

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while now, and have found it really useful – far easier to have all my notes (plotting, character profiles, world history, jottings and so on) all in one place. Much easier than spending half an hour hunting through reams and reams of papers and notebooks, looking for a particular detail. I’m still using Word to write the manuscript, but Scrivener is an excellent planning tool. And because I like using it, I enjoy the planning aspect a lot more, so I find myself more enthusiastic about trying to hammer out plots that I’d normally put off.

I do all my writing in Scrivener now. I barely use a fraction of its functionality, I suspect, but it’s ideal for my way of working. Even random jottings on story/novel ideas I might want to come back to in the future, or character/background concepts I don’t have a plot for — all of that just goes into a “notebook” project that I can organise way more than I could with scraps of paper or a mass of separate Word docs in folders. The way I can then flick around within that project, splice and dice — it genuinely feels like I’ve got an accurate externalisation of how those inchoate ideas are structured in my mind.

This Scrivner thing sounds great. I’ve been using WordPerfect forever (I’m PC and I’m stuck with it). I upgrade with WP over the years and I like it. But it’s more along the Word lines. I like local access so I can write offline. A great thesaurus, the OED on CD, etc.
What I’d love, really go snappy over, is a Neo type machine with a full page view, and all the edit devices you need and spill the rest of it on the floor. Strip it down so it won’t crash, uses a small OS, and small battery consumption.
Anyone know of such a machine?

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