A Quick Review of Scrivener

In a previous post I mentioned that I was starting to use Scrivener to manage the authoring of larger documents. (By larger, I mean anything that you have to think about and structure – regardless of it’s actual word count, I guess.)

I’ve just finished using it to create a document (2000 words) and I have had a really good experience.

A pile of books I no longer use

Image by Ady Coles (flickr)

I started, as I always do, with a mind map (MindManager) of what I wanted to write, and used this as the basis for the structure of my Scrivener project. As I was going through the process of writing the sections, I messed around with the structure so that it made more sense on paper – the mind map was structured (categorised) in a different way to how I wanted the information to appear in the document. Fortunately, this is really easy in Scrivener. Actually, ‘fortunately’ isn’t the right word, since Scrivener’s USP is that you can do just this – create your document as a series of snippets and then move them around to your heart’s content.

Once I had the (empty) structure, I used the cork board view to add synopses to the various sections of the document. I think this was the only time I made use of this view, though I can see how it would be used more for creative writing projects. Or maybe my document was just too small for me to need to go back there.

Things I found really useful were:

  1. The split screen. I had a horizontal split with the outline view of the document in the top part. The bottom part contained the document or section (as a scrivenings view) that I was working on.
  2. Word count targets. If you have a feel for how much you want or need to write, being able to set targets is great. How ‘well’ you are doing is shown in the outline view and you can set growl notifications if you are really going for it (or don’t have a split screen in order to reduce distractions).
  3. It saves your work. I know that this is the OS X Lion way of the future, but not many apps yet support it. Scrivener supported it pre-Lion and it’s nice not to have to worry about it (another distraction removed).

I found it really refreshing to be able to see the structure and the content easily. And I can’t stress enough how natural and easy it was to move items around.


The only area I was let down was with the finishing. But this is not scrivener’s fault. Scrivener is designed for ‘serious’ writers – of books, scripts, etc – and it’s formatting options (called compiling options, in Scrivener) are geared to the creation of proof copies, final copies for publishing, ebooks etc. In the end I created a custom compile and output as RTF. If I’m going to seriously use this application (and I’m fairly sure that I will) then I’ll need to come up with some document templates and compilation options of my own.

The manual is second-to-none and I would also recommend “Writing a Novel with Scrivener” [Kindle Edition] by David Hewson, which is very readable and useful.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Scrivener in the future but, for the time being, that’s all. If you’ve found this post useful, or wish to add your experiences to mine, please leave a comment.


iPad Experience

So, a couple of weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and bought an iPad. I was feeling flush and so went for the top-of-the-range 64G 3G one.


I was cautious about buying an iPad – unusual for me, as I am a complete Apple fanboi. I really couldn’t see the point or need for one in my life. I manage to come up with a couple of possibilities:

  1. It would make a good coffee table browser. OK, but if the family are going to share it I want multiple user facilities so we can all get at our own email accounts without the embarrassment of having to read each others’.
  2. I could use it for work. Here there’s a better fit, as most of my work is around documents and numbers, resourcing and scheduling. (In fact, Pages and Numbers, if we’re talking applications.) However, it doesn’t meet all requirements, as I sometimes code (PHP, SASS) and a lot of our core work involves video – so iPad’s lock down on video formats excludes a lot of things it would be nice to have the iPad do for me.

So, like Natalie Inbruglia, I was torn. My Apple lust made me want one and my practical side couldn’t justify it.

This finally resolved itself when I said to myself, “We could really do with an iPad for work. You know, for testing and that.”, which was the excuse I was waiting to come up with, and so I went out and bought one.

Two weeks later

After the (well attended) official unpacking ceremony at work, the iPad spend the first few days if its new life in  a bag doing nothing. I was still finding it hard to see what to do with it. Having spent the money, though, I did some research, got some apps and now it’s become a staple of my day.

I use it almost exclusively for work related activities; it’s great to take to meetings and I will be trying it out at a conference for the first time this week. (“Building Perfect Council websites ’10” – see you there!)

Although not exhaustive, here’s the list of applications I’m currently using:

I use Things on all my Macs. The iPad experience is great, making good use of the larger screen that makes using it on the iPhone a bit frustrating. (That’s not Things’ fault, mind.)
Again, Evernote is a staple application in my environment. I use it for knowledge management, mainly. Again, it’s been re-purposed for the iPad and is a really good experience.
I do all my work off Dropbox. Available on all my computers, and also viewable on iPhone and iPad. This makes my life so much easier, as I synchronise my iDevices with my personal laptop, so having my files available in this way means I can sync them across from my Personal iTunes, into the iWork apps on the iPad (see next).
Pages & Numbers
The user experience of having to synchronise via iTunes is not good, but tolerable. The iPad versions of these applications are lovely. Although not feature-full (which causes problems when you want to edit files) they are well worth using for document creation.
On my Macs, I use Mindjet’s Mindmanager, but on the iPad I’ve discovered iThoughtsHD. It’s compatible with most mind map file formats and has the added advantage of being able to load and save maps to and from DropBox directly. I’ve used it a little and so far, so good.

The future

I’m off on holiday very soon, so I’ll be grabbing some childrens’ books and videos and putting them on the iPad; I think it’s going to be an excellent way to keep my 3-year-old occupied on the plane journey.

After that, who knows? If you have any great apps, I’d love to hear about them.