Wednesday, March 21, 2012


A customer writes to me:

Dear Macmama,
I am an author, and have been using Microsoft Word to write my memoirs. I thought it would be easier than just using a typewriter, but I still have scraps of paper all over my desk, as well as photos I want to add. I thought writing on the computer would simplify this task, but I find myself having a hard time being organized.  Is there a better way? Daniel F., Oakland

Dear Daniel,
While Microsoft Word is a powerful word processor, and has features that most of us never use, it can be frustrating to writers who need a solution to not only document a narrative, but also organize timelines, photos, clippings, text snippets and research. And the outlining features are a bit clumsy. For outlines and project organization, I use Omni Outliner Pro, which I’ll talk about another time. 

But for writers who need to gather ideas as well as make outlines, I prefer a different solution. Enter Scrivener, a writing application that according the makers at Literature &Latte (I love that!) allows you to, “Outline. Edit. Storyboard. Write.” 

I have been reviewing Scrivener for about a week now, and I have to say I love it, and wish that I had the great American novel waiting to burst from my fingers. While the learning curve is a bit steep, the benefits are many. In this one application, you can gather and organize your research, make an outline, organize characters, photos, websites, text clippings and media files. One of the small features that I love is the “composition mode”. Like the old days, when you type, the “paper” moves, not the cursor. So you are always looking at the middle of the screen when you type. You can turn this feature off if you are more comfortable with the current word processing cursor behavior. Another feature, which is also available in Word 2011, is full screen mode, so you can remove the distractions that live on our desktops. One of the UC Berkeley professors that first told me about Scrivener loves the fact that he can still write on virtual index cards.
Scrivener comes with extensive tutorials, both interactive and video, and the user forums on the web are helpful and thorough. The developer is also very responsive when you have questions or issues, and according to user reviews, usually answers emails within a few hours. This application has been designed beautifully and thoroughly. As I said, it takes some work and study to learn, but the payoff of mastering an extensive authoring tool is worth it.

Scrivener is $45 to buy, free to try and can be found here:

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