Spotlight: Scrivener

Hello, and we continue our look at some more examples of digital libraries and other similar software to allows sharing. In this post we look at Scrivener.


Keith Blout, the creator and designer, founded a company called Literature and Latte in 2006. He is a writer and author and the website discusses this theme predominantly. But like so many others in the profession, often faced the creative difficulties with writing long pieces of text, such as writer’s block (e.g. his PhD which he never completed due to a number of reasons).

Once he started the company, he decided to develop a software to help others facing similar problems. This became Scrivener, setup as a tool to help writers organise their content in a more effective manner. Once Scrivener was released, Keith Blout discovered that he wasn’t alone in wanting a software like that in their workflow. As a result, the company become a small development team of like-minded individuals working towards the same goal.

This team consists of project manager Keith, who is responsible for ongoing development of Scrivener and their other program Scapple. David manages sales, marketing and accounts – the PR and marketing issues. Ioa is on a freelance basis, often assisting on website interface, support and testing. He was also one of Scrivener’s early beta-tester.

Lee is the Windows developer, helping port the program to Windows system. He is also author of Passion Driven. Julia is a journalist who handles the press releases and sponsorships. She is also Keith’s wife. Jennifer is also freelance, providing support for Lee in the Windows development and also with the Mac system porting . Finally, Tiho also provides support for Lee with the coding mechanics.

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener was born out of the need for Keith, who is a writer and faced the difficulties of writing. Essentially it is a compacted database for users to keep track of their work which they accumulate. This is very much designed with fellow writers and authors in mind.

This helps users organise notes, documents, texts, concepts and research notes with easy access and reference ( including text, images, PDF, audio, video, web pages, etc.). After writing a piece of text the user may export it to a standard word processor for formatting later.

Scrivener helps writers track their earliest drafts straight to the final edit. Outline and structure ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of text in isolation or in context. It makes all the tools you have scattered around available in one application.

A ‘binder’ on the left side allows users to navigate between different parts of a manuscript, notes or research materials with ease.  Text can be broken into smaller component parts or larger pieces to break down one single long one. Restructuring  drafts is as simple as drag and drop. Select a single document to edit a section of a manuscript in isolation, or use ‘Scrivenings’ mode to work on multiple sections as though they were one. Scrivener makes it easy to switch between focussing on the details and stepping back to get a wider view of the composition. With access to a powerful underlying text engine, you can add tables, bullet points, images and mark up your text with comments and footnotes.

Unlike word processors, Scrivener allows you to start work in a nonlinear order as opposed to page 1 -end. Users can enter a synopsis for each part on a virtual index card, stacking and shuffling them in the corkboard until the most effective sequence is found.These synopsis create prompts as you write. Alternatively, you can write everything down in the first draft, break it like bread for rearrangement on the outliner/corkboard (not like bread). Create collections of documents to read and edit related text without affecting its place in the overall draft; label and track connected documents or mark what still needs to be done.

One of the most annoying things for most people is switching between different windows when working. I know this as I would have word processor up, along with several webpages filled with information I needed. This switching between windows was not ideal, and it appeared Keith agreed. No more switching between multiple applications to refer to research files: keep all of your background material—images, PDF files, movies, web pages, sound files—right inside Scrivener. And unlike other programs that only let you view one document at a time, in Scrivener you can split the editor to view research in one pane while composing your text right alongside it in another. Transcribe an interview or conversation, make notes on an image or article, or just refer back to another chapter, all without leaving the document you’re working on. Keep everything on one single window!

The program also provides tools to help people get their manuscripts for publishing (the end product of writing). Once you’re ready to go, control everything from how footnotes, headers and footers appear to fine-tuning the formatting of each level of your draft—or keep it simple by choosing from one of Scrivener’s convenient presets. Print a novel using standard manuscript formatting. Export your finished document to a wide variety of file formats, including Microsoft Word, RTF, PDF and HTML—making it easy to share your work with others.

Scrivener Capabilities

As mentioned before, features include a corkboard, the ability to rearrange files by dragging-and-dropping virtual index cards in the corkboard, an outliner, a split screen mode that enables users to edit several documents at once, a full-screen mode, and ‘snapshots’ (ability to save a copy of a particular document prior to any drastic changes). We can say that Scrivener is more than just a word processor – a literary ‘project management tool.’

The cork notice-board (corkboard) is one of the writer’s most familiar organisational tools. Pre-Scrivener, index cards were not connected to anything, meaning that changes to the card sequence would need to be done manually in the draft. With Scrivener, each document is attached to a virtual index card; moving the cards on corkboard rearranges their associated text in your draft. Mark common themes or content using labels, or stack cards, grouping related documents together. The corkboard gives you the flexibility of a real notice-board while automatically reflecting any changes you make in your manuscript.


Scrivener ‘Corkboard’

The ‘outliner’ is the powerful tool used to edit synopses and metadata of documents. Organise your ideas using as many or few levels as you want and drag and drop to restructure your work. Check word counts, see what’s left to do using the Status column. Scrivener’s outliner is easy on the eyes, too, making it ideal for reading and revising an overview of a section, chapter or even the whole draft.

‘Scrivenings’ (nice word invention) allows users to move smoothly between editing a document one piece at a time or together as a whole. Novelists can write each scene in a separate document or whole chapters as one; scriptwriters can work scene-by-scene or act-by-act; academics can break down their ideas into individual arguments. Scrivenings mode allows you to collect the constituent components into a single editor, so that you can edit them as though they were all part of one document.

Everyone makes mistakes, and writers are no different. The ‘snapshot’ feature provides a means for users to return to an earlier version of their work should they make a mistake. Before embarking on a major edit, take a snapshot and you’ll be able to return to the current version any time you want.This is similar to a checkpoint, meaning that users are assured that there is an insurance option should things go wrong.

A real perk is the ability to go fullscreen. One click in Scrivener’s toolbar and you can leave the rest of your desktop behind. Fade the background in and out, choose the width of the “paper” and get writing. Prefer an old-school green-text-on-black look or maybe white text on a blue background? Flexible appearance options mean you can set up the full-screen mode as you please. This keeps things nice, focused and clear, unlike having all that clutter like in Word.


Full-screen mode

Where Does Scrivener Stand?

As a writing tool for fellow writers, Scrivener has been keenly taken on by many people. It has received praise from The New York Times, Wired, Macworld, Seattle Times,, AppleGeeks  amongst others. Review websites rate Scrivener very highly, with common criticisms point to the myriad of options which can seem extremely overwhelming to first-time users. However, most agree that once you get used to the system, the capabilities show themselves. Here’s a review I found on that sums up the general consensus:

‘But that’s only until you realize the power of Scene-by-scene synopses and the sheer amount of side notes, research links, tags and info you can cram around your document. The left pane is called the Binder, and its structure is entirely up to you. You can create as many folders as you wish, and while you feel a little lost at first, you quickly get used to the freedom. You are provided with two default views for opened Binder documents: Corkboard and Outline, both of which are powerful and concise and provide you with an instant bird’s-eye-view of where your project is going.

But that’s not where this app truly shines. Full screen support is simple to implement and, you ask, pretty hard to get wrong; but Scrivener’s full screen features blows the competition straight out of the water. Upon launching it, you’re presented with a basic page right in the middle of your screen. This page’s width and color can be adjusted and you also get the very cool option of having your document notes, project notes and tags inspector right there besides your manuscript.’    – roelani,

Scrivener is a perfect example of understanding the need of the consumer. It definitely helped that Keith Blout was a writer himself and knew what others were facing. Therefore, he had a unique advantage in what to give to the masses. Scrivener started out as a personal desire and need to solve a problem. This expanded to a fully-blown program that would refine itself to be as useful as possible to other people.


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