How many times have you wanted to throw your laptop across the room when Microsoft Word started moving slower than a three-toed sloth with a bad case of vertigo? If you're like me and your manuscript is over 100,000 words, it probably happens on a fairly regular basis. I’ve had it simply give up on displaying spell check, as if, like a recalcitrant teenager, it just couldn’t be bothered to read that many pages. And if you’ve turned on Track Changes? Well, forget it. Once you’ve commented more than two or three times, following those little lines from the comment bubbles to the highlighted text is like unraveling the Gordian knot. Getting rid of those little bastards is even worse; how many times have you sent someone a file, not realizing they could see your editing process with the click of a mouse?
Column by Jordanna Max Brodsky, author of THE IMMORTALS
(Feb. 2016, Orbit), the first book in the Olympus Bound series. She
hails from Virginia, where she spent four years at a science and
technology high school pretending it was a theater conservatory.
She holds a degree in History and Literature from Harvard University.
When she's not wandering the forests of Maine, she lives in Manhattan
with her husband. She often sees goddesses in Central Park and wishes
she were one. Follow her on Twitter.
Yet, like so many others, I endured Word’s innumerable failings throughout writing THE IMMORTALS, my debut novel. I simply didn’t know of any better options. The story follows Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, as she tracks down an ancient cult terrorizing modern Manhattan, so I found myself buried in research materials. I tried to organize them in bookmarks and folders on my browser, but I usually wound up losing my Word window among the sea of Web pages. Shuffling between them on my desktop felt like a bad game of Memory. Where the hell did I put that map of Midtown? And what about my list of Artemis titles? How small can I make each window and still be able to see them all on the same screen without giving myself a migraine?
Enter Scrivener. Software made for writers. Not writers of memos and term papers, like Word’s client base, but actual authors. Novelists, nonfiction authors, screenwriters, playwrights. The kind of people who need to have thirty Web pages, twenty files of notes, another dozen photos, and a video or two all at their fingertips while they work on a manuscript many hundreds of pages long.
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It took me years to write THE IMMORTALS. The second book, WINTER OF THE GODS, took less than ten months. I have Scrivener to thank for that (along with, you know, publishing deadlines). Right now, I’m hard at work on the third installment of the Olympus Bound series. My current Scrivener project page has a large window for composing in the center, but it also displays a sidebar that has become as essential to my writing process as the Gladiator soundtrack. It shows me a neatly organized list of chapters and scenes. I can easily hop from one to the other with just a click. I can also easily reorder them, which means I no longer renumber my chapters every time I change my mind about when Artemis should hunt down her next victim. I can even stash them in my “Cut Bits” folder when I decide that no, my heroine should not threaten to assassinate the mayor of New York. If I change my mind later, it’s easy enough to retrieve.
My research folders also show up right in the sidebar. Importing Web pages, Word files, previous drafts, and even photos and videos, is incredibly simple. No more opening other applications to hunt down the pictures I took of Manhattan landmarks or Greek ruins. They’re all waiting patiently in plain sight. I can even split the screen with the touch of a button, keeping my current composition in one half and my research document in the other for easy reference. Amazingly, no matter how many files I stuff into my project—even when I include the entire text of my first two novels so I can easily check continuity issues—Scrivener still opens in a flash.
Are there problems? Sure. Mostly because the software is very easy to use but quite difficult to master. All sorts of functionality exists that I have yet to unlock. It almost feels like the programmers took every suggestion an author ever made and incorporated it into the software, like a fairy godmother who’s just a little too generous with her wand. I still have no idea what half the icons do, and I swear I watched at least half of the tutorial video (okay, maybe a quarter). But I do know that I never waste time searching for notes or wondering where the hell I put that old scene about Artemis shooting rats in Central Park with her golden bow and arrows.
And yeah, I know, you’re wondering how your agent or editor can read your manuscript. Scrivener easily exports it back into Word, of course, so the unenlightened can twiddle their thumbs while it loads.
One more thing…the program only costs about forty-five bucks. Take that, Microsoft!
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- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.