November 9, 2010

You know how when you walk into some people's houses, you feel like you know who they are? Their personalities, values, and how their minds work? Have you ever had that feeling about computer software?
I certainly have. For years, I've tussled with writing with word-processing programs: scrolling for miles, searching for key points, cutting and pasting sections, bracketing reminder notes to myself, losing or confusing drafts, and scribbling notes on printouts. Other programs had arcane, convoluted, and confusing internal logic with oddly named functions, and constantly crashed.
So, when I stumbled across Scrivener a few years ago, it felt like putting on an old glove. Developed by a writer for writers, it captures all of the various tasks that a writer does in creating a work, long or short, straightforward or complex. Not functions jerry-rigged and patched into a program, but rather organically grown out of actual writers' needs, and structured in ways that are sensible to a writer. Where do I file this research note, this website reference, this character trait, this audio interview? Can I subdivide this chapter? Can I meld three scenes together from different chapters? Can I jump from section to section? What reference styling will I need for my notes? Can I automate screenplay styling? Comic books? Novels? Theses? Can I label and color-code and make index cards and customize output?
Scrivener does this and more.
I write about Scrivener not so much as an advertisement for it, but because for many people, it will feel like a lifesaver, and it should serve as a model for software designers. It is insanely cheap, and the user forums (on which the designer participates) are informative, civil, and helpful. A real community has been created that has endured even as the software has matured and become a real company. The new manual and tutorials are thorough. The popularity of this program among writers has been such that people have switched from PC to Mac in order to use it. However, the developers have surprised everyone and in addition to their new Mac release (Scrivener 2.0) they've come out with a Windows version.
Scrivener deserves high accolades.
Not bad for an old glove.

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