First Impressions of Scrivener

I just installed beta version 0.23 of Scrivener for Windows, and immediately a few things jumped out at me. Is there a way to enable paragraph marks and formatting symbols? It is likely because I am so accustomed to Microsoft Word, but I find the lack of them (as well as the lack of visible margins) rather off-putting. I’d also like to be able to see how many pages I’ve written, but I suppose that’s not really necessary seeing as though there’s a running word count. Also, is there a print preview, or a function that compiles a table of contents? I’m guessing that it’s going to take a while to get used to this program.

Despite having seen the introductory video some weeks ago I found Scrivener somewhat confusing, though I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly why. I enjoy the organisational aspect of the software, but I still feel as though Word would be better for actual writing. The options in Word for formatting are more easily accessible and more numerous, and I find determining margins in Scrivener confusing and frustrating. Scrivener also does not support insertion of images amongst text in the draft folder, so producing even a simple multimedia work (such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer) is impossible.

As I said, I enjoy organisational aspect, but formatting is quite the ordeal.

Scrivener isn’t intended to be a layout program. It’s for getting the words down, working on parts of your book/dissertation/play/etc… in whatever order you see fit. I think there are some issues with the margins that are being worked on (I haven’t needed to put anything into a final form on the Windows version, so I don’t pay attention to those problems), but even when they’re all sorted out, you’re not going to see things like you do in Word.

Scrivener is your rough draft tool. It’s the electronic version of your college-ruled notebook, with nearly illegible hand-written scrawls as you feverishly drafted your document; notes on index cards paper-clipped to the beginning of each scene to keep you on track; notes to yourself to look up obscure facts scribbled in the margins; pages from another notebook crammed in where you came back to add more words; marks through whole pages you thought were garbage, but can still salvage if you change your mind; everything written in your favorite color of ink, because only you will ever see this draft of your book; post-it notes slapped haphazardly on facing pages (though their placement makes sense to you)…

While you can produce a very nice manuscript straight out of Scrivener, the margins, font, spacing, and many other typographical decisions are left to the Compile stage, where you’re done with Scrivener and ready to do your final layout tweaks in a program designed for that purpose (like Word), or to give it over to someone who does not use Scrivener. But before then, if you just let go of making it pretty, but instead focus on making sense of the chaos of your first stab at a project, you’ll begin to see the beauty of Scrivener, and it’s intended purpose.

Also to a specific complaint that is only 1/2 true:

While you are absolutely correct that the draft folder doesn’t let you pull in image files, you can put them in the Research folder, and then drag that image from the binder to the text document where you want the image to appear. I don’t have a lot of experience doing this, so there may or may not be a way to manipulate the image at that point, but this is intended only as a very crude way of putting a picture in the right place; again, Word is where you would tweak the placement of the image amongst your text.

As Robert points out, you can place images in your text - you place them in the text just as you do in Microsoft Word, not as separate image documents in the Draft folder.

You can already show formatting symbols too - the feature is called “Show Invisibles”.

Many writers find that the trouble with Word is that it really is a formatting program, but writing a book or novel is about the words, not the formatting - that comes later. It’s important to understand that Scrivener isn’t a word processor and isn’t intended to take the place of Microsoft Word - it’s intended for the step before that, the writing and drafting stage. It has always been the intention that users with more complex formatting needs than a basic novel manuscript will take their work out to a dedicated layout program for final formatting (such as Word). But everyone is different, of course, and I certainly wouldn’t claim that Scrivener is for everyone - if you find that the actual writing is easier for you in Word, too, then you probably don’t need Scrivener. I designed it because I found organising anything in Word difficult and I wanted a cleaner writing environment. (Scrivener for Windows has a little way to go yet, and the next beta should be much cleaner - I develop the Mac version.)

All the best,

Robert has hit the nail on the head… what a great analogy. I am an avid Word user and have been for many years, but staying organized, especially when generating multiple revisions and then changing your mind about those revisions… that is where Scrivener shines. I write novels and short stories and my latest work has some historical and geographic facts incorporated into the story. Now I have a place to save maps, timelines and other such items that I need to refer to. I can only imagine how incredible it would be for a student to compile research into Scrivener and then produce a finished piece. R.I.P. sprial bound notebook, index cards and three ring binder… Scrivener has finally allowed the accumulation of electronic data to go completely digital with an analog feel (i.e. the corkboard, note cards and outline).

I think the best way to get to know this program is to read the posts in this forum then turn off your MS Word memory file and let your creativity go crazy. I am very excited about starting my next project in Scrivener… it will be much easier than importing an existing work.

New tag line: “Scrivener, writer adored, muse approved.”

Thanks for pointing the ‘invisibles’ toggle out to me, Keith! And thanks to Robert as well for pointing out how to insert images into a draft - I haven’t tried it yet, but I will soon.

As I said, I think it’s going to take some time getting used to - I’d been using Microsoft OneNote in conjunction with Word to organise my research and ideas, and formatting tends to be a large feature in a few of my stories, so I’m just accustomed to things working in a certain manner (and I hadn’t been using pen-and-paper notebooks that much anyway).

One thing I did notice in my further explorations of the program is that two or three times now a paragraph of my story would be randomly bolded for no particular reason. I’m unsure exactly how this happens - I’m on a different screen or working on a different segment and I come back and the formatting has changed - but I’ll keep my eye out for if it happens again, just in case I’m somehow doing it inadvertently.

Additionally, I’m trying to get a handle on the ‘fiction’ template, but adding a character sheet doesn’t quite work the way the novel format ‘how to’ indicates that it should. The document says ‘to create a new character sheet, click on the Characters folder (or wherever you want to create your new character sheet) and from the Project menu, select New From Template > Character Sketch. This creates a new character sketch document for you to edit and fill in with your character details. You can create setting sketch sheets in the same way’. However, going to the Project menu, I could find no New From Template option. Duplicating the Character template then dragging it to the Characters folder worked as an alternative. I’m guessing there’s no way to attach images to a setting or character sheet? I suppose adding it into the ‘research’ folder and then dragging it onto the character sheet would work, so that it’s part of the document, but I was wondering if you could add the image as under/attached to the character sheet?

All of the templates are, right now, mainly just there to keep the interface from looking empty and for integration testing. They have been moved directly over from the Mac, and so will talk about features that don’t exist, and use template codes that haven’t yet been implemented. We will be cleaning up all of the templates prior to launch so that their documentation is accurate and the features they demonstrate are in line with what is good practice on the Windows version.

If your work is highly stylistic in terms of formatting, Scrivener can still help you out with organising and pushing aside distractions in order to get bulk text written, even if you don’t use it to assemble a first draft like most do. If I were, for instance, putting together something like Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski, I’d use InDesign or something more appropriate for a book of that nature. If the “feel” of a page is important to what goes on it and where, a content biased program like Scrivener would be tough to draft in. It doesn’t even know what a page is at the editor level.

It might make a nice OneNote replacement though, since the framework is after all built for writers.

Hi Mandy,

As Ioa says, the templates are misleading at the moment as they are placeholders and refer to some Mac-only features - the document templates (the feature used for the character sheets and suchlike) will come to the Windows further down the line, in its own version 2.0.

Regarding formatting, another thing to bear in mind is that there are several bugs still lurking that Lee is working on, and everything turning bold in some circumstances is one of them. All of those kinks will be ironed out for release, and as it develops a bit more formatting will become more robust. The general idea is that you should be able to do most formatting in Scrivener, but not layout. That is, you can format the text however you like (bold italic, alignment, line spacing and suchlike, insert images), but if you want it laid out in multiple columns or you want text wrapping around images and suchlike, then you would move to a layout program for that stage. At the moment some of the extant bugs that Lee is working on mean that there are certain quirks with the formatting that won’t be there in the release version.

All the best,

After playing around with Scrivener for a few weeks I finally started using it in earnest, to write a large funding proposal. Now that I’m nearing the end I’ve realised what a fantastic drafting tool it is. Getting all of the formatting stuff out of the way helps me to get on with writing and organising the text. It gets my app-of-the-year vote.

Thank you, much appreciated! Glad it’s working well for you so far - improvements are afoot too.