A Must-Have for Writers

Like you, I love writing. And I hate writing.

Putting words to screen is a daily activity for me, yet each day’s writing might be in a different format and genre.

I wear many hats, you see, and thus need a writing platform that can handle the variety efficiently.

Understandably, I have different programs which are my go-to depending on the writing task:

PhD thesis = Mellel.

Journal articles = Word, after first in Mellel.

Conference papers = Word, Mellel

CV and cover letters = Word.

Blogs = wordpress.

Reading notes = Leuchturm journal (yes, real pen and paper).

Screenplays = Final Draft.

Sermons = journal.

Songwriting = journal.

Children’s books = Word.

And the list goes on.

But what I have needed for a long time is a program free of the clutter typical in Word, and somewhat present in Mellel. Those programs are exceptional for second, third, and final drafts.

But as you can see from the list above, my most creative writing happens in my journal, with pen and paper.

What’s been missing from my toolkit is a writing program that fills the gap between pen-to-paper conceptualizing, and final drafting with extensive footnotes.

I need a program for drafting ideas.

That program is Scrivener.

In fact, it’s hands-down Scrivener.

Here are a few reasons why I love this program for drafting ideas of any kind (and a few reasons I don’t).

But first, I’ll state upfront that a review copy was provided for me contingent upon actually writing a review. So that’s my disclaimer (which I’m actually writing on the Scrivener program on my Mac this very moment).

1. Scrivener is clean – I despise the clutter of Word, and even the plethora of options in Mellel. Scrivener is simple. As simple as Ikea furniture.

The program opens, you are facing a clean sheet of electronic paper, and you begin to type. The company has designed this program for writers. It just seems to say, ‘write, and keep writing, enjoy it!’

2. Scrivener is organized – structuring a draft piece of writing is essential to eventually achieving a solid final product. But more often than not, structures change, outlines transform, and arguments shift. Scrivener makes life super-easy.

On the left-hand side are three options, Draft, Research, and Trash (other templates have other options). With the press of a button, new ‘documents’, are created, all part of your draft. These can include sub-documents to create a cohesive unit.

You can even set up your outline first in the ‘outlining’ view. It’s massively helpful.

As an example, I’m writing a children’s story about a mean princess and a peasant boy. This is an ongoing project, but as ideas come to me, I can put them in new sections (i.e., ‘A Rainy Birthday’), or modify already existing ideas without imposing on other sections.

It’s like having a journal where you can keep adding to a page without running over into the ones that follow. You don’t have to go scrolling through your Word doc to find that place where the princess ate a toad.

Can’t find the subsection you wanted? Click the button, you’ve just made a new one that can be combined later wherever you want.

This function just makes sense, whether you are composing an article, a movie script, a sermon, whatever.

It’s genius. It’s how my brain works. I’m happy.

3. Scrivener has a corkboard – Yes, this program has a virtual corkboard. With little virtual index cards. Remember I told you that your ideas can be allocated to separate documents within the main Draft? Well, if you click the ‘corkboard’ button, you are suddenly looking at a corkboard background with your individually titled documents lined up together.

And you can change them at will = creative power.

And you can write little synopses on them = more creative power.

This is one of my favorite features of the program, for a few reasons:

a. I don’t have to buy an actual, physical corkboard.

b. I don’t have anywhere in my office to put a corkboard large enough to contain all my projects at once.

c. I can change the synopses in real time as my thinking changes.

d. I can step back from the sentence I’m struggling with to view the larger project.

4. Scrivener does research – as a biblical studies scholar, I find this feature really helpful. It’s just as easy to use as the Draft section. The Research section is simply the place where you dump, and organize, anything and everything you find in your reading, your online searching, PDF’s, your own brain, and keeps them ready to cut and paste into your draft.

So for example, if I’m working on a journal article on the letter to the Romans, I have the following categories:

– commentaries

– bibliography

– brainstorm

– articles (with subcategories that include actual PDFs!)

– images

And I can arrange those any way that I wish, with as many subcategories as necessary.

All without leaving your precious Draft document behind.

5. Scrivener is really easy to use – and if you happen to struggle, the company site lists loads of videos and helpful hints to get you going.

6. Scrivener is made for Mac – this means it is fully syncable with all your other Mac-y devices. so you got another idea while riding the train in to work, but no pen to write it down? iPhone it down. Something in a meeting gives you an idea for that scene in your movie script? iPad it down.

7. Scrivener is affordable – the program is really cheap for what is does. Think about it; how much have you spent the last few months on paper journals? Well, investing in Scrivener is like buying a handful of journals, which don’t have anywhere near the features of your new, shiny word processing program. Like to write? Hate to write? Need to write? Buy it.

Okay, so those are just some of the great things you can do with this program. Here, however, are a few things I would modify:

1. Scrivener doesn’t like Hebrew – So many languages other than English are going to work just fine in Scrivener. But Hebrew doesn’t, at least in my experience. Sure, Word is also a nightmare when using Hebrew characters, or probably any language which reads/writes right to left. But I still don’t like it (hence, my affinity for Mellel). Either transliterate (falling out of fashion), or save your hefty citations of the original Hebrew for when you transfer your ideas over to Mellel, etc.

2. Scrivener needs Word – in my industry, I cannot submit articles as merely a PDF or word doc. I have to copy and paste all of my ideas into Word before sending off to editors and publishers. To be fair, I have to do the same with Mellel. So this is more an issue with academia than Scrivener. But I have had some minor issues with formatting, in particular footnotes, when transferring ideas over.

But those ideas are definitely better articulated and structured than if I had started out on a linear path of thinking, thanks to Scrivener.

3. Scrivener isn’t Three-dimensional – Right, so this is kind of unfair in a review. I’m asking Scrivener to do something it just can’t, nor can any other program. But if only that corkboard could be a 3-dimensional mind map!

Image having your ideas connected and interchangeable like that! What that could do for one’s ability to construct an argument, or to compose the next great novel! (note: if the Scrivener developers are reading this, I claim dibs on licensing fees for the idea…)

So, apart from those two quibbles, I legitimately consider Scrivener to be the best drafting word processor on the market. I would not (nor can I) use it for later draft of a project. I do need my Mellel, or Word, to put final touches on an article before submitting for peer review.

But I do print out sermons, conference papers, and even poems direct from Scrivener. The way Scrivener is designed means that projects intended for public presentation will read well in front of an audience.

In a word, when new ideas come to me, and they come often, there is one place I go to first.


Or, actually, my journal (if handy).

But then I open Scrivener, thrown down a quick outline, jot down some ideas, and done.

Now the real writing begins.



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