A Review of Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson


Anyone who’s tried Scrivener remembers opening it up for the first time and–at least for a moment–being utterly overwhelmed by all the options available. I’m all about teaching yourself the software, but I knew I’d want to go through the included tutorial for this one. True to its word, I slogged through all thirty to fourty minutes of it. Overall, it felt like it was a little too basic. And I still felt like I knew nothing about the software.

Then I found a little gem in Amazon’s Kindle store. It looked perfect. And for only $6? I’ll bite.

Writing a Novel with Scrivener

by David Hewson

The writing and story development program Scrivener is taking the world by storm. Here the bestselling author David Hewson, creator of the successful Nic Costa series, offers a personal, highly-focussed guide to using this powerful application to create a novel.

Hewson, a Scrivener user for years who’s written five of his popular novels in the app, takes users through the basic processes of structuring a full-length novel, writing and developing the story, then delivering it either as a manuscript for an agent or publisher or as an ebook direct to Kindle or iBook.

Alongside the practical advice, he offers a working novelist’s insight into the process of writing popular fiction. And this book is, of course, created entirely within Scrivener itself, from development through to publication on Kindle, a process followed in detail in the book.

Does it overlap with the free, included tutorial? Yeah, a little bit. But I feel like I would have saved myself some time if I’d just read his book, instead of clicking through page after page of no-brainer tips. And then there’s all the novelist-specific advice that I’d encountered for the first time in Writing a Novel with Scrivener.

The Verdict

Anyone who wants to jump-start their Scrivener skills to get past the software and start writing their novel–utilizing the program to its full potential to plan, write, revise, and even publish–should consider getting this book.

A Whirlwind Tour

First of all, don’t expect this to be “the missing manual.” The author is clear in his introduction that there is a lot more to Scrivener than what he manages to cover–for instance, tools for researchers and screenwriters–but he’s just covering what the novelist needs to know, after all. Another caveat to mention is that the book is aimed primarily at Mac, Scrivener 2.0 users, so us Windows kiddies will need to translate some of the commands*, improvise, and resign ourselves to the fact that it is still in Beta, and though it’s come a long way, it still has a ways to go before it’s ready for prime time. (*But we’re PC people, so we don’t need to be spoon-fed everything anyway.)

He quickly goes over the basic parts of the program, the Binder, the Editor, and Inspector, covering just as much ground in four or so “pages” (a loose term, given the fluidity of Kindle displays) than what takes the tutorial over a thousand words. I don’t need the Header and Footer described at length. I’ve used word processors before, after all. And there’s the manual for everything I want elaboration on.

Next Hewson talks about the Corkboard and Outliner views in terms of their usefulness to novelists, again touching on them just enough to make the writer familiar without having to list every single capability available. As a Windows user, I noticed that the Unplaced Scenes folder he talks about doesn’t yet appear in the Beta, but I’ve gone ahead and added my own folder by the name. It doesn’t have the cute little thought cloud icon next to it, but it’ll still serve the purpose of a general reservoir of ideas, and a springboard for those times when I’m hitting against a blockage of some sort.

In the next section he shows you how to minimize distractions and maximize ease of access to other parts at the same time. Want to reference another document? Would you like split-screen or a pop-up window? How about a hyperlink inserted right into the text? Hop back to the last document you viewed? Hewson covers it all, and quickly.

Most useful, perhaps, out of the entire book, was the section on Keywords. It would have taken me a while to figure out the applications otherwise, but he suggests using these customizable tags to track POV or Time to ensure continuity–a huge issue for complex novels with multiple narrators and time streams, like the one I’m writing. Meanwhile, the official tutorial makes only a passing reference to the Search/Keywords capability, while elaborating on things obvious to any intermediate computer user.

Essential to any discussion of writing are backups: that is to say, those pesky little things that allow you to not lose your project–and your mind. Did you know that Scrivener can automatically schedule backups of your work? Did you ever think to incorporate Dropbox, so that you’d have an automatic web backup without the hassle of syncs? Yeah, pretty useful, that. If it means saving your work from a hard-drive failure or virus attack, then that $6 just saved you hours and hours of work. Which can be fair valuable, when you’re writing for publication.

Once you’ve written a first draft, it’s time to get down to the real work–revision. Writing a Novel with Scrivener compares the advantages of re-reading on your iPad, eReader, or good ol’ paper, and discusses the options you have for commenting on each. Moreover, it talks about ways your initial readers and critters can comment, whether it be through Word or another program, and warns against some common pitfalls of formatting and syncing them together. After you know what you need to rewrite, this book shows you how to save multiple versions of your draft quickly, and how to compare each revision (using colors, or not), so you can track what’s changed and even go back to a prior “snapshot” if need be.

Finally, Hewson provides a step-by-step guide not only to compiling your manuscript for agents and editors, but to publishing as a Kindle .mobi or .epub file! Though I’m not there yet, I may use it for future projects, like Andy’s Pendulum and my Campaign World Tree, if we go the self-publishing route.

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit, if it were the standard price of a book about writing, I wouldn’t have gotten it. But it’s considerably cheaper than the Writer’s Digest books you’ll find at your Barnes & Noble. A $6 asking price is quite reasonable given the breadth, deapth, and practicality of the tips he provides. If you’re a novelist and you’ve ever thought about jumping on the Scrivener bandwagon, but didn’t know where to start, this book will take you through the same steps as the tutorial, only faster, and give you a lot more to use besides. A full three out of three crits.

One Response to “A Review of Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson”

  1. David Hewson says:

    Glad you found it useful. The unplaced scenes folder is my own invention and isn’t in the basic Scrivener template. But you can find it in my own free template here – http://www.davidhewson.com/free-scrivener-template/

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