How to sort yourself out as a writer

Some years ago I stumbled upon a piece of software designed to help writers of books to, well, get the job done. That application is now central to everything I do as a writer and ghostwriter: books, blogs, articles and speeches. I cannot imagine being able to do what I do without it.

Sound like a big rap? I can confidently say that Scrivener, the software in question, deserves it.

Scrivener is difficult to describe until you've used it. A good way to think of it is like having a separate desk for every project you are working on.

A desk for every project

In one corner of the room is your 'blog' desk. This desk is quite orderly. There's a pile of ideas, another pile of half-worked drafts and a neatly filed archive of past articles.

Next to that is your 'novel' desk. On its left is a folder full of character profiles. On the wall behind it is a schematic of your plot: chapter summaries on index cards are pinned up in the current order, complete with arrows pulling together all the subplots. From time to time these are rearranged. On the computer in front of you is your draft, which is being quietly backed up minute-by-minute.

Across the room is your most cluttered desk – the 'memoir' desk. This project is requiring a lot of research so you have numerous labelled folders holding scraps of paper, links to online articles and, of course, your journals. There is also your voice recorder and all its notes. As new thoughts come to mind at any time you jot them onto a sticky note and paste that to the desk.

Now in practice most of us can't afford the luxury of multiple desks, meaning all our work is jumbled up, even if it is in digital form. Yes, we have jobs separated into folders and subfolders, but even the best organised of us can struggle to find things this way.

Everything in one place

What Scrivener allows you to do is have everything related to a single project accessible within one window: your research files, your drafts, your character profiles (for novelists and screenwriters). You do your writing inside the app as well: the two pane design means you can have research or notes on one side while you write on the other, which is something I use all the time.

All of that is completely separate from materials related to other projects – you have one Scrivener project per 'real world' project. It's all saved minute by minute – I'm yet to lose a single sentence to a program freeze – and used in conjunction with Dropbox or equivalent it is also backed up constantly.

One of the great things about Scrivener is that it is enormously flexible and forgiving. You can work the way you like. I have some projects that are messy and some that are very orderly. It's horses for courses. Yet I can always find what I'm looking for.

Give it a try

I won't go on – there is so much that could be (and has been) written about this application. It is available for Mac and Windows and is well supported by a comprehensive manual, lots of tutorials and an excellent forum.

If you are writing anything of any length or regularity, I strongly recommend you at least give it a try. There's a 30-day free trial available so there's nothing to lose.

(And no, I'm not being sponsored to say any of this!)

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly, via our Facebook page or in the comments below.

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