Writing a Novel with Scrivener Isn’t the Beat All

Writing Tips

Don’t use expensive writing programs for your novel. Writing a novel with Scrivener, for example, does not transform you into a better writer.

First, I must qualify this article. This is not meant to be a critical review of novel writing software of any kind. I have mentioned some novel writing products and am lumping Scrivener into a category with these products. I intend merely to disclose my method of novel writing, which doesn’t include Scrivener or any other product like it. For more information about Scrivener and other writing products, visit their respective web-sites. I also encourage you to read reviews about these products before buying them.

Often, specialized novel writing programs, such as Scrivener, Storybook, or Newnovelist offer unnecessary crutches. It is important to remember, as a writer, that the most important component to writing is… drumroll please… writing. Although writing a novel with Scrivener seems like an attractive draw, it is better to balance what it takes to learn a new, complicated piece of software with just getting the copy down. It’s better to spend your precious writing time putting your ideas on paper than marching up a new software learning curve.

When it comes to outlining, simplicity is the key. You can outline your novel, keep your character arches in check, depot your research, catalog your locations, beat out your blow-by-blow story breakdown, and even write your prose by using a Story Canon. A Story Canon is simply a folder where you keep all of your writing assets pertaining to a single story.

You might name your story canon folder something like this: Canon_MyStoryTitle_DatStamp

Here’s a practical example:

With multiple stories and folders in one location, starting the name of your story canon with the word “Canon” keeps your long-form project folders together where you can easily index them.

Before you dive into your prose, it is necessary to gather all the assets you will need for your novel.

A good story canon might contain the following assets:

Individual character sketches for each main character
A character sketch for multiple, minor characters
Location sketches, such as a main character’s home or place of business
Research articles
Story outlines from 1-page to full beat sheets
The actual prose for your novel

As you work your way through your first draft, you can pull up any of these documents and change them on the fly. Many specialized novel writing programs don’t allow you to have multiple documents open; this is argument enough against writing a novel in Scrivener or similar applications.

When it comes to writing your novel, rely on your wit, logic, and imagination. Get organized with a simple, story canon folder. Keep it simple. Plug forward and you will finish your novel.

-Craig Nybo
Author of:
Allied Zombies for Peace
Small Town Monsters
Funk Toast and the Pan-galactic Prom Show

About The Author

Craig Nybo

Craig Nybo writes novels, screenplays, and short stories. He also composes and records music. Craig lives in Kaysville, Utah with his lovely wife and children.

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  • John

    Reply Reply March 10, 2013

    I do everything you describe, but I do it faster and better in Scrivener. Your argument that Scrivener doesn’t allow you to have multiple documents open is incorrect. That you could state that, tells me that you’ve never used Scrivener and don’t understand how it works. Scrivener allows you to have all of your writing files and your reference files including PDFs of articles, photographs, and countless other file types open all the time and available instantly with just a click because everything is in one Scrivener file. It’s files within a file. Get it? You open one Scrivener file and that’s it–you’re ready to change anything on the fly. And I’ll guarantee you I can do it far faster in Scrivener than you can with your collection of individual files, each of which needs to be opened separately.

    Your method of working is great. You could do it better and faster in Scrivener though. I think you’ve made the mistake of writing a review on a product you’ve never used and don’t know anything about. I urge you to actually try Scrivener. You could download the free trial version and be up to speed and working in less than an hour. As for the cost, it’s around $45 depending on the version, Windows or Mac. Compared to MS Word and your computer, that’s dirt cheap.

    • Craig Nybo

      Reply Reply March 11, 2013

      John, please understand that I am not criticizing scrivener at all. This article is not meant to be a critical review on any novel writing product. You are correct. I have not used scrivener. I am only arguing that no additional software is required to write a novel. In my early years as a novelist, I sought out many “helping” pieces of software, only to discover that nothing writes a novel for me. I chose not to use any proprietary software because I don’t like being locked down to any method but my own. I don’t doubt that scrivener is a good product. I mentioned a few other good products in this article. My point wasn’t to criticize any of them, merely to put forth my method of writing.

      Good luck on your writing.


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