Another raving fan

I loved Scrivener from the moment I laid eyes on it, so much so that I was inspired to drag a pile of musings from various corners of my file system in order to have Scrivenings to play with. Still, this week is the first time I’ve actually turned Scrivener loose on Real Work ™. Not only do I love it, but it may inspire a rethinking of my workflow.

Much of my writing is dense technical journalism, so my source materials are technical papers and presentations, and interviews. The first step is to review everything and create a mindmap of the important ideas, then fuss with the mindmap until it has some kind of coherent structure, then start writing.

  1. The problem is that switching back and forth between draft and reference materials breaks my train of thought. Rather than do that, my first draft ends up with lots of notes to myself, along the lines of “How do red widgets differ from blue widgets, anyway?” Needless to say, Annotations are perfect for this.

1.a. Pre-Scriv, I would also litter my manuscript with cryptic notations reading “source.” As in, I know I have a reference for this, but I don’t want to look it up right now.

  1. My next step is to read through for general coherency. In the second draft, I also make sure I haven’t left anything important out and am in the vicinity of my target word count. This is where I try to fill in most of the annotations from step 1.

  2. Finally, line edit, check sources, ship to editor. Because of the check sources part, this can take a very long time. I have to verify that each source said what I think he said, make sure I’m not misinterpreting a technical nuance, etc.

The true wonderfulness of Scrivener comes at step 1.a. Unlike Word, Scrivener has a place to put all the reference information as I go. Unlike DevonThink, Scrivener has an excellent writing environment. Even more important, Scrivener is completely tolerant of partial reference information. That is, I can note that a particular fact (or table or graphic) came from “that guy at IBM” or “the IBM paper from the VLSI conference” without digging up the full source right away. I can create a placeholder reference (on an index card, of course!), point to it with Scrivener links, and dig up the rest of the information at my convenience. Then, when I’m ready, the split view lets me jump between my draft and my sources with impunity.

Once I’ve fully integrated this approach, it could save me literally hours. It’s already saved me enough time to pay for the program many times over. Together, DevonThink and Scrivener are a pretty convincing reason to get a mac.



Thanks Katherine for sharing your work flow with us :slight_smile:.

The problem of switching back and forth between different kind of thinking modes is one of the main obstacles that a writer has to learn to cope with, and I think your approach is very good and productive.

I’m not familiar with DevonThink. In what way are you using that program and what can it do that Scrivener can’t?

DevonThink is a freeform database. My current main database has about 1.75 million words in hundreds of documents, grouped by topic. I can find stuff by full text searching, or by using AI features to find things “like this” once I get into the neighborhood of what I’m looking for. I can add new materials on the fly using OS X services, plus DT integrates extremely well with DevonAgent, a browser and online search tool. This morning, I used it to brush up on an interview subject’s previous writings; when I get a chance I’ll add my notes on today’s interview.

I wouldn’t even attempt to do any of that with Scrivener. In particular, its research handling is great for individual projects, but not so great for large data collections that might be used again and again for multiple projects.

But then, I wouldn’t attempt to do serious writing in DT, either.