My Favorite Writing Program

When writers write, it's not just about the words on the page. Many of us collect pictures of our characters and storyworlds. We have links to videos and webpages from the research we've done. And we have all kinds of documents to keep track of--previous drafts, already-critiqued chapters, and downloaded research files. No matter if it's fiction or non-fiction, we are trying to keep track of so many pieces of information, that it's sometimes difficult to manage. And then write, of course.

So, I thought I'd tell you about my favorite writing program. It's not free, but it's not expensive, and you get to try it for free for a while. It's called Scrivener. The name comes from a word meaning "scribe", and it has become my favorite way to write.

Sadly, for you PC folks, it's a Mac-only program, but don''t despair. The Scrivener website has a list of PC programs that have some similar features.

Imagine your writing room has a giant corkboard. You have room to tack up index cards for each of the scenes or chapters in your book. You post all the pictures that inspire you to write, and run strings of yarn between the pictures and the scene in which those characters appear. Use more tacks to attach the various pages of research files and previous drafts, and you might feel inspired--or overwhelmed.

Scrivener does all of this on your computer screen. You've got actual-sized index cards on a virtual corkboard. Give each one a title, and write in a summary of the scene. Is this scene in the point of view of your female protagonist? Change the tack color to pink. If the next scene is in the male protagonist's point of view, you might choose a blue tack. At a glance, you can see if you might have too many scenes in one point of view. I can also drag any card to another spot if I choose to rearrange my scenes.

Since my current novel is set in a real place, I've got many photos of my storyworld (you can see a few of them here). I've also collected photos of my characters. Not only can I keep these images in a file within Scrivener, I can attach any picture to any given scene.

Let's say I'm writing a scene set in a particular castle, with two of my main characters. As I'm writing, those pictures are enlarged on the side of my screen to inspire me.

There often is a scene in which I want to make some significant changes. But I'm not really sure they'll work. Scrivener allows me to take a "snapshot" of that version of the scene. Then I go ahead and make all the changes I want without worry, because I can always revert to my earlier snapshot. I can even compare the two versions side-by-side.

And Much More
Scrivener allows you to keep track of your word count, even if you've added words to many different documents in your project. It identifies the words you use, and you'll be able to see at a glance which words you may have overused. Scrivener will estimate how many pages your project will have in paperback and hardback. And to help you focus, you can black out your entire computer screen except for your document and photos.

If you'd like to read testimonials from published authors (both fiction and non-fiction) who use Scrivener, go here.

Check out these video tutorials so you can see how Scrivener looks and works.


  1. Gonna come back and read the full post in a bit (gotta walk the dog first!) but I just wanted to point out that there's actually a beta version of Scrivener for Windows:

  2. Okay, I'm back. :) I first downloaded the trial 2 years ago and found it overwhelming. I wanted simple, so I stuck with Word (and hid all the crazy toolbars until it was just me and the white page). NOW, however, I've hit a point in my manuscript where Word doesn't feel complex enough to help me keep everything straight. So just a few days ago I thought, Maybe I should give Scrivener another shot? This time I went through the 30 min tutorial and now it doesn't feel so scary. I'm still not 100% sure of it, but I'm liking it more and more. Especially for the fullscreen feature!

  3. I don't think I could write without Scrivener--really. If you have an questions, let me know. It really helped when I ran through the tutorial they have in the help menu. I discovered features I didn't even know they had. My favorite features are being able to navigate to different parts of my manuscript, and the ability to open the "quick reference" window to check what I did in another section. Being able to keep notes on my different chapters saves me from piles of scrap papers, and I like to drag photos into each chapter notes section to look at as I write. Oh, and the word frequency feature is one I use a lot, too. Love this program!




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