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Friday Favorite: Scrivener


Not long after I bought my first personal Mac in late 2004, I stumbled across an article that mentioned Ulysses, a text editor geared toward creative writers -- essentially the marriage between a word processor and project management software. It allows you to have all documents within a writing project at your grasp. As a journalist and author, Ulysses was a dream come true, but expensive. Costing more than $100 at the time, it didn't fit into a journalist's salary.

I wound up using CopyWrite for a time and was fairly satisfied with it until I read in a forum that people were having luck with a program which, at the time, was called Scrivener Gold. I gave the free beta a try and was blown away by the program's potential. When the full-fledged release of Scrivener came out in early 2007, I bought a license as a birthday gift for myself.

Scrivener pulls all the things needed for a complete writing project -- be it writing a script, novel, research paper or newspaper/blog articles -- together in one location and has so many features that even after nearly three years of use, I don't think I've fully explored all that it has to offer. I recently started work on writing my first graphic novel, and have really gotten the chance to flex Scrivener's muscles.

With a few clicks, I can have all of my reference material on screen as I write. That ability to combine reference material into Scrivener is what makes this program pure gold. You can drag things like .JPG and .MOV files into the references section and have them on hand as you write so you're not going back and forth from your draft to different parts of the project -- and then go into full-screen mode that fades out the programs in the background so you can focus on your writing. You can link specific chapters to reference material just for that chapter. You can add random bits of text by highlighting it in the original source and dragging it over the Dock icon. It'll be added to a Clippings folder that you can sort out into individual parts of the writing project.

One of the nicest features is the program's version of Time Capsule, where you can take a snapshot of your project at a certain point in the writing project. If you've made a major error, you can have Scrivener restore the project back to the snapshot and resume from there. Another strong feature are its Outliner and Corkboard views. You can either view your story as an outline or a corkboard with synopsis index cards and shuffle the parts of your writing about as you need.

Screenwriters are not forgotten as well. Though not a dedicated program like Final Draft, Scrivener does have basic screenplay tools. Then the script can be exported to another scriptwriting program for further tweaking if need be. Drafts can also be exported to another word processor or formatted from publishing from within Scrivener as well.

I can honestly say that Scrivener has made me a more efficient, organized writer and has been the most worthwhile program I've purchased for my Mac. Just from the random mentions around the TUAW water cooler, I was surprised (and pleased) to hear of how many of us use it. It's also a really good program for switchers as well. A close friend just made the leap to Mac and I steered her toward the program. While some features are a bit more complex, the interactive tutorial makes it easy for her to grasp. It's also good for students -- helping them to organize essays for class and keep track of different assignments.

Scrivener requires OS X 10.4 and above. A 30-day free trial with access to all of its features is available. A full license is $39.95, $34.95 for an educational license. You can also buy a copy placed on a pill-shaped USB stick for $49.95.

Note: Yes, this article was composed in Scrivener.

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