Scrivener for Windows Beta

The beta for Scrivener for Windows is available now. I picked it up on Monday, and I spent some time learning it and using my Tour de Holmes essays as a project to test it out with. I hadn’t used Scrivener before, but my Mac friends have consistently raved about it, and this seemed like a perfect chance to see what they were raving about.

And I get it now.

On the surface, it’s not too much different from a lot of other novel-writing software. But as I dug in, I realized that the designer has created a package that doesn’t actually force the user into any particular way of using it. Sure, there are some template decisions you have to make at the start, but beyond that it’s all open. The tutorial repeatedly shows you functionality and then tells you different ways to do the same thing, or admits that you might not use it. Scrivener is also very good and hiding things you aren’t using in a simple and understandable way. Within an hour, I was seeing the power of it.

If you haven’t used it before, it’s primarily a piece of software used for organizing larger, compartmentalized documents. Novels and screenplays are the default examples (as you can move scenes around easily), but it also worked well for my essays, allowing me to collect them into the various books. I’m also considering putting my latest draft of Marvelous Superheroes into it to see if various rules sections can be easily updated, moved around, and adapted. Really, the whole package revolves around these chunks and the fact that they have to work together in the end, which leads to some interesting design decisions:

  • Notecards. Each chunk has a notecard on it, which you can use to write the summary on. There’s a corkboard view in which you can move these notecards around, and the attached draft moves with it seamlessly.
  • Compiling. Scrivener refers to the act of putting these chunks together as “compiling,” and while my brain rejected this at first as a very programmer-centric term, it’s not a bad one at all. Most other pieces of software that I’ve used consider this the end, the time when you export the manuscript, but Scrivener realizes that sometimes writers need to see rough compiles of the manuscript in progress. You can see how the chunks of prose look in sequence, you can kick certain chunks out of the compile without deleting them, and you can edit directly in the compiled view, and the affected chunks of text are immediately updated as well.
  • Drafting. The biggest thing for me is the ability to mark each chunk independently on its level of draft. Sections that I consider polished I can mark as “done” while knowing that another section requires heavy rework – something that I couldn’t do previously without using a spreadsheet.

It’s also a very small program – it seems to install to around 27 MBs. Russell pointed out that you can install it in Dropbox very easily and then use it on any Windows machine you have Dropbox installed on. For people like us who can use writing software at home and at work, this is a huge boon.

I haven’t had a chance to use everything, like the Research tools, but they look similarly well-designed. Right now, the software is slow at times, there are features missing, and once in a great while will crash, but it’s an early beta, so I expect that. Once it’s polished and ready to go, however, I will be seriously tempted to drop $40 on it.

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