Scrivener’s learning curve

[Update 26 Feb 2018: This post was written about Scrivener 2 some years ago. While there is still a Scrivener 3 learning curve for anyone new to the application, the particulars are different in important areas. Overall, I think Scrivener 3 represents a huge improvement.]

For my writing—and editing, and prep for publication—I’ve been using Scrivener. It’s not an intuitive app by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it feels like something of a patchwork of basic functionality with miscellaneous add-ons. There’s no consistent UI between the various components of its feature set. Some of the screens are ridiculously unusable, small, or simply mysterious. One could teach an entire semester of Interaction Design using Scrivener as a case study for how to succeed at #doingitwrong.

But let’s face it, when it comes to writing books, what’s the alternative? Microsoft Word? What utter crap! Anyone as old as I am knows that the wordprocessor peaked with WordPerfect around 1990 or so, and since then it’s been all downhill. Word and its frakking paperclip can burn in hell. I marvel at how it manages to maintain dominance in the marketplace….

…until I look at the surviving alternatives.

Which brings us back to Scrivener. As a writing tool, it’s actually pretty cool and easy enough to use. You have documents organized in a “binder”, which is really a hierarchical folder system displayed to the left of the composition area. You can organize your writing into chapters, sections, etc. The idea for this approach is centered not only on having power and flexibility to move around and shuffle components of a longform writing project (novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, etc.), but also on ending up rather pre-structured for exporting your work into a publishable (or submittable) format, complete with table of contents.

And yet this last step is where you run into all the bizarre configurations and maddening interface design “features” of Scrivener. The “compile” process has a steep learning curve indeed.

Which is why I’m sharing this link:

Scrivener Quick Tip: Building an eBook Part 1 | All Things From My Brain.

Patrick Hester has managed to figure out quite a bit about Scrivener’s quirks and configurations, and explained them quite well in his blog. I’m finding it to be quite helpful, perhaps even more so than the 3 or 4 how-to ebooks I bought on the topic over the past couple of months.

So why go through all this in the first place? Because once you get used to Scrivener’s quirks, it’s actually quite a good little app. And it’s much more pleasant—and more robust, in the end—than Word. Even if it might be easier to use if it had a paperclip.

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Laura Lis Scott is a professional book designer and editor with over 25 years’ experience. She is publisher of Toot Sweet Ink, an independent press. She also provides book design and editing services for independent publishers and authors. You can check out Laura’s book design and editing work at Book Love Space.

As an author, Laura has written for BlogHer, MediaGirl, and corporate clients. She has ghostwritten four fiction books (novellas and novels). Her own fiction has been published in Story Seed Vault and by Toot Sweet Ink. She currently writes science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary fiction.

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