When I wrote my first novel, some 35 years ago, it was on an Olivetti 44 typewriter. I can recall—whether it was for the next book, or the one after that—that I succumbed to the curse of “early adoption,” practically a genetic business with me, and switched to a computer, a monstrous contraption called a “Superbrain” on which I employed a program called WordPerfect. The latter was, as I recall, terrific, but as I moved on to a series of PCs, I switched to Microsoft Word, solely on the theory that Word would be around and would be the latest thing in word-processing, which wasn’t a certainty with WordPerfect.
In the beginning was Word
I have written nine novels since on Word, along with newspaper and magazine columns and God knows how many reviews and articles; hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of words, and with each keystroke my loathing for the program has deepened. None of my three failed marriages has generated the inner rancor and frustration that my union with Word has. In time, I left the world of Windows for the joys of Mac, but I stayed with Word, even as, with increasing frequency, its idiosyncrasies and shortcomings caused me to mutter to myself a paraphrase of the famed final declaration of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe: “I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will write no more forever.”
The problem with Word is simple. It’s not about writing; it’s about formatting. It’s about grinding out. Writers’ thoughts and ideas swarm about their minds like mayflies; a proper writing program will help set these in order, permit the writer to set up on his or her computer screen an array of inspiration that resembles the index cards and notebook pages of yore and yesteryear. In this regard, Word has proved practically useless, at least to this writer (I may not be great under the hood, but a complete Luddite I’m not). I finally gave up at iteration Word 2004.
And then Scrivener entered my life.
And God said, let there be Scrivener
I have been working on a large novel for close to four years now. I started in Word, but the material was so many-layered, complicated and diffuse, the research base so large, that after a while I couldn’t find myself coming or going. I had put Scrivener on my computer a year or so earlier, but had stuck with Word on the better-the-devil-you-know theory. Enough was finally enough. I decided to take the leap. I imported my main files into Scrivener and away I went.
The marriage so far has been happy verging on ecstatic. You can find all the technical and how-to bumf on the program at the Scrivener website, and Amazon by now lists a good dozen books on the theme of “I switched to Scrivener and ruled the world,” or something like that. What’s the secret? Pretty much what you’d expect from a program designed by people who value language over code. Things stay put (none of that Word business of entire long files suddenly changing into italics). You can organize your material and ideas in a fashion that lets you find what you’re looking for: imagine index cards laid out on a surface the size of a ping-pong table, easily locatable. You can break your material down to the nth degree of granularity, if that’s your thing. No longer do the fingers plod across the keyboard nervously, fearful of unleashing some dire form of retributive spacing or typography. It’s a program for writers. Try it.