Wednesday, June 08, 2011



Although I’ve owned Scrivener for a good few years, I’ve been predictably lazy using it, playing with it every now and then rather than devoting serious time to understanding how it could work best for me. If you can imagine trying to teach a dog to sit still in the middle of a field full of squirrels smothered in cheese then you’ll start to get an idea of the scale of problem I face when trying to engage the analytical side of my brain.

The best way for me to learn something is by doing, so I made a 2011 resolution to write my next project using Scrivener and pick it up as I go along. Although I reckon I ended up using only a small percentage of the software’s potential, it resulted in me producing the fastest, least complicated screenplay I have ever written, and one that is presently being read by an Oscar-winning producer. That last bit obviously has less to do with what Scrivener has to offer and everything to do with me showing off, but the fact remains Scrivener made it a hell of a lot easier and quicker to get the screenplay to that point.

All my story/character stuff is initially written by hand, from concept through various treatments, until I get to a definitive treatment. The physical process of writing by hand seems to help me access the parts of my brain that have somehow survived a lifetime of utter lunacy; so that process won’t change, nor will the fact I prefer to write the story in prose first before writing it up as a screenplay, effectively adapting my own work.

That process means that by the time I finally get to writing the actual screenplay, a lot of the sobbing, head-butting walls, more sobbing, stabbing legs with pens, even more sobbing and soul crushing self-doubt has already been dealt with, meaning most problems that arise at screenplay stage are more likely to be minor ones quickly resolved without the introduction of prescription tranquillisers, and often by referencing the reams of story and character detailed earlier. I’ve experimented with various ways of writing screenplays over the years and this seems to work best for me.

What Scrivener has done is revolutionise an established process that I know works for me by offering the main thing lacking from that process (and my life); order. Scrivener is a fantastic aid to outlining. It makes stuff easy. Once I’ve got to my final treatment stage, rather than write that treatment up as a continuous manuscript, I use Scrivener to build it into a detailed outline using the software’s great outlining tools.

I surprised myself having a lot of fun learning, probably because it was a lot more creative than I was expecting, and the ease with which I could decipher the technical stuff meant I experienced very few cheese-dipped squirrels along the way. By the time I’d finished outlining my treatment, writing up the screenplay was the easy bit. I’m not going to break down or attempt to go into detail about how Scrivener works, not just because I can smell cheesy squirrels heading my way, but also because it’s already been done much better than I could do justice.

Best-selling author, David Hewson, has been successfully using Scrivener for his last five novels. David is extremely generous with his knowledge and often posts helpful Scrivener tips on his blog (one such tip recently saved my arse, big time) and I would gobble up each tip as posted. Much easier than bothering to learn myself, right? Er...

David recently wrote an ebook about using Scrivener. My recent experience, combined with the knowledge that David’s previous tips were written in such a way as to be easily processed by a brain that often resembles a badger trapped in a wheelie bin, made it an easy decision to buy. Plus I kinda wanted to say thanks to him for doing my homework.

I read David’s book in one sitting, which is more than I can say about any other ‘how to’ book I’ve ever forced myself to trudge through. It’s simple, easy, very accessible, and, like Scrivener itself, great value for money. If you’re considering investing in Scrivener, you could do a lot worse than have a nose at this book to help decide whether the investment is worthwhile. If you already own Scrivener but are unsure/lazy about how to get the best out of it, then it’s a great working guide to help you learn the basics from a writer who continues to make it work successfully for him.

I should stress that I’m coming at this from a screenwriting perspective and David’s book is written from the angle of writing a novel, so don’t expect to be walked through how to structure and outline a screenplay. The book covers just one particular way – David’s methodology – out of countless potential ways of using Scrivener to suit individual ways of writing. The fact I write drama and David’s book is about writing literature had no bearing whatsoever on how useful it was in helping me grasp the important basics of a brilliant piece of writing software, and has given me the perfect platform to experiment with my own work.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a Kindle, the free Kindle app enables you to read the book on your computer screen (quite handy, as you can refer to Scrivener as you read off the same screen) or from your iPad (screenshots look much prettier than on the Kindle).

I also quite like the fact that owning it as an electronic file means it’s only ever one click away whenever I’m using Scrivener on my laptop – it’s a handy safety net. Now all I need to do is find a similar tool that puts my personal life in order and then… ooo… look, squirrel!

“No software will write your book for you. No program can make the creative side of writing easier. But Scrivener transforms the mountain ahead so that it’s a sight more manageable to climb.” David Hewson

"It's makes stuff easy." Jared Kelly
"Cheese-dipped squirrels! Woo hoo!" A Dog