I Was Wrong

For quite some time, I resisted Scrivner. Not so much resisted, really, as ignored, as it didn’t appear to actually exist in my universe of Linux and cheap hardware and mostly free, open source software. Besides, I’ve become adept at getting LibreOffice to do everything I really need a word processor to do, or so I thought.

I was wrong.
A recent question by a friend led me to do a little research, and I soon found that there has been a free Linux beta for Scrivner for some time. In spite of its beta status and a number of old complaints in the support forum, I decided to check it out. And holy crap! This is the word processor I would have written had I wanted to spend my nights writing code like in olden days instead of chasing literary rainbows.snapshot1

Since I started writing Citadel Rules, I’ve been struggling to adapt my natural pantsing creative style to the more structured approach that years of software development experience tells me is critical to producing quality at a productive pace. I’ve bought notecards and dry-erase and and half dozen books on structure and screenplay writing. All have merits, but none gave me what I really, intuitively want, a literary take on good, old fashioned “stepwise refinement”.

Stepwise refinement is a concept from computer science in which a program is first written as essentially a mostly-English outline, and then its steps are each refined into more detailed steps, and so on and so on until the steps match the level of implementation detail of the system on which it will be executed. Similarly, I want to be able to start with a generic outline of the structure I’m going for, then progressively write down into each act, chapter, or scene.

Scrivner is perfect for this. It lets you subdivide a section at any time, and sections can be named, moved, demoted or promoted within the manuscript, or stuck down in a research folder for later reference. Better yet, Scriver lets you view your work in an outline that displays word count totals for every folder and subfolder, to help with pacing and chapter size and other length concerns that worry us writers.

And it doesn’t matter how convoluted the outline becomes, because Scrivner embraces another principle from computer science, the separation of content from presentation. Once your work is finished, Scrivner will “compile” it into any of dozens of formats, from standard manuscript format in rtf format, to any of a number of ebook formats for final consumption. Scriver even offers customizable wizards to let you, for example, convert all italics to underscore when producing a manuscript, but not an ebook.

Microsoft Word and Libre/OpenOffice have outline views, and the latter has support for breaking a large document up into component sections under a master file, but neither is really of much help in drafting out a novel, because it takes too much effort to move pieces around, and to switch back and forth between the outline and the text. Scrivner addresses this to, by providing each section with a synopsis and other metadata.

Scrivner will have it’s problems. For a start, it does not yet support all the export formats in the Linux beta, but it’s a giant step in the right direction, and it runs just fine on my little Linux-converted Chromebook.

How about you? Have you ever found the perfect tool to do what you love? Share it in a comment below.