In Which My New Novel Gets Some Help from Scrivener

I’ve admitted before that I don’t like to ask for help. Call it stubborn. Call it delusional. Call it visionary—because, sometimes, if you don’t ask others for help, you come to a solution on your own… since, uh, you sorta have to. But, lately, I’ve been realizing that I need a little help organizing my head.

It’s this new novel. It’s told in a way I’ve never tried writing a novel before. It has different threads and through lines and needs to build and build until it becomes ONE by the end. I’m well aware of that, but while I’m working on the threads and doing the building I want to have a sense of what else is there too. I needed something to help me keep track.

This new novel is the one I started in the spring, when I was away at a writers colony in upstate New York, and I got so possessed with this story that I could be found typing away in the dark basement laundry room, of all places. Then, when I got home, I put the novel away so I could do Imaginary Girls revisions. I didn’t return to it until I went away to another writers colony this winter—this time in New Hampshire—and by then it was official: My editor approved it as the second book on my contract. Now it was real. And had a deadline. And needed to come together.

When I was away at the writers colony this winter, I made use of the giant wheelie bulletin board in my writing studio. I pinned up character names and plots. Pieces and ideas. Places and inspirations. Seeing everything up on this board really helped me. But now that I’m home, since I write in public spaces and at a writing space where I’d have to set up the board of ideas every morning and take it down every night (I don’t have a dedicated desk), I realized it wasn’t possible to keep my head organized that way anymore. I needed something that traveled… On my laptop…

Then it occurred to me: It was time to try Scrivener. I’ve been hearing of the wonders of Scrivener for years—my friend Yojo has been telling me to try it since… forever. She may well be one of the original users. I know there are quite a few novelists who use it to write their first drafts. I don’t think it’s just a distraction or a gimmick. I think it actually WORKS. Or so I’ve heard.

So I’ve left the woods of Microsoft Word to try it out. Yesterday, I went through the tutorial and imported all the pieces of the novel written in Saratoga Springs, NY, and Peterborough, NH, all the notes and character bits and sections and places and this thread and that thread, and… well… here I am. Just the simple act of organizing all the pieces lessened some of the panic. And using the “full screen” mode to write is so obvious, but it’s really helping me focus.

I’ve never used special software to write the first draft of a novel before. But this could work. Ideally I’d have a full first draft finished in two months… that’s eight weeks… yikes. I think this deadline may involve some strategic internet blackouts, but that’s for another blog post.

So… do you use Scrivener or some other special software to write your novel? I met a writer recently who’s writing her book on paper in blue ballpoint pen, so really, anything can work if you’re inspired and well into it.


  1. I’m in the same boat. I’ve heard people sing the praises of Scrivener for ages, but since it was on the Mac I never tried it.

    I have a new WIP that could use some serious help and I’m going to see if Scrivener can help me dive in and get it done in record time.

  2. I have a problem with notebooks – to the point my wife has created a “notebook nook.” I’d like to have a different visual of my novel. If only my printer hadn’t imploded…

  3. I love Scrivener even though I’m an extremely linear writer and I don’t need a lot of its (awesome) organizational capabilities. If nothing else, it’s quicker to type in, as I don’t get the spinny wheel of colorful death nearly as often as I do with Word.

  4. Hey, Nova! Judy from BB’s. I always used the index cards on a bulletin board technique, too, but a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try Scrivener. I love it. I love the ability to manipulate the cards on the corkboard as needed. I love that if I’m working on Chapter Four and I realize I need to add a scene following the same story line in Chapter Eight, I can just post it on the corkboard under Chapter Eight instead of jotting it in a notebook that I may or may not look at again. I can see how it wouldn’t work for everyone, but since you are the kind of writer who likes all the parts laid out in front of you (like me), Scrivener should work well for you. Good luck!

    1. Katrina, there’s a 30-day trial you could do first. Definitely try the trial to see if it works for you before buying! (And go through the tutorial; it’s very clear and helpful.)

  5. It took me two tries to “get” Scrivener, and now I’d be lost without the binder and the Inspector sidebars. It’s so easy to navigate from one part of the book to the other, and so easy to give yourself permission to write out of sequence.

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