How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways
You are clean and organized and flexible in ways that my desk never is
Much less my mind
You help me wrangle and archive my research
In a way that makes the most sense to me:
(O Word, where did we go wrong?)
You are not bogged down by tools and formatting options
You are not an unwieldy program that demands “critical” updates weekly.
You want specifics?
Switching to prose now.
Scrivener is a writers’ application, available for Mac and PC, that goes way beyond word processing. It’s a project management tool that lets you collect and store research material. It’s an organizing dream in which you can outline first and write paragraphs later or write paragraphs first and structure their flow later.
Let me walk you through my process to show you how I use Scrivener to write a health column, such as this story about opposing diet strategies: many small meals vs. skipping meals. A Scrivener file is called a “project” and within a single project I can keep multiple “documents” of different sorts.
I opened a new Scrivener project, naming it “snacks v fasts.” I copied and pasted the details of my assignment from my editor’s email into a blank document within Scrivener, labeling it “assignment.” (Voila! No more searching for that email thread in which my editor and I bat an idea back and forth!)
As I searched PubMed for studies, I found several journal abstracts that might be relevant. I copied and pasted them into a single document, thereby making a list of potentially useful studies to cite. For this story, I found so many stories that I ended up with two documents, categorized by theme: “studies – 3+” for those studies of diets with more than three meals per day, and “studies – IF” for those that used intermittent fasting.
I also imported some webpages, such as background info from the UK’s National Health Service and a news story from NPR. (Voila! No more keeping a dozen tabs open in my browser!)
Are you sitting down? Scrivener also allows me to import PDF files into my project. Once I decided which studies I wanted to feature in my story, I imported the PDFs and took notes while I read by using the split screen feature. With the PDF in one pane and a fresh document labeled “study notes,” I typed key details about study subjects and methodology.
As I searched for sources – study authors or local-to-DC practitioners – I listed their names in a document labeled “sources.” I copied and pasted their info from webpages and/or their email signature lines. This means all my source information is in one place – degrees, affiliations, and contact info.
After I conducted my phone interviews, I typed my notes into new documents within my Scrivener project. I label these with my sources’ names, of course. (One day I may learn to type during interviews as Jessica does with PearNote, but for now I’m a committed scribbler. I could also import sound files into Scrivener and keep my recordings there.)
I got an idea for how to present competing theories while I was walking my dog. When I got home, I sat down and typed a trial outline into a fresh document, labeled “draft.”
When it was time to buckle down and really write, I opened my Scrivener project and split my window view vertically: “draft” on one side, “study notes” on the other. Or I could switch to “Cheskin” – my interview notes from this source.
I love the split screen. It deserves its very own ode. This feature truly makes my writing go more smoothly. (Voila! No more flipping back to my multi-tabbed browser window to find that research detail — or to get distracted by e-mail and Facebook!)
I love the file drawer feel too; all my documents are in one project. This is oodles of help when, a week or a month or a half-year later, I am facing an edited version of my story. It’s terrific help in annotating drafts. And it truly is a storehouse for some future story, when I might want to reach out to an old source or find that tidbit that I didn’t use.
I’ve set the auto-backup feature to kick in whenever I close a project. It backs up the file to a folder in Dropbox, a cloud application. That means I can access the latest version on my desktop computer at home or my laptop on the road – anywhere I have a wireless connection.
I’m not saying that you can’t do these things without Scrivener. You probably can and some people probably do. But Scrivener makes it easy and at $45, it’s not too pricey.
And it is most definitely worthy of an ode.
Photos: Scribe by: Leinad-Z [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Scrivener screenshot by Jill Adams