May 5 2020
I’ve learned to be cautious about using phrases like “few years ago”, because time goes slipping by so quickly nowadays that what I recall as a recent event too often turns out to be from the distant, shrinking-in-the-rearview-mirror past. I wanted to write about something I remember as happening about five years ago, but now I suspect it was really closer to ten years ago when, impressed by the enthusiasm of a young writer I met at the Surrey International Writers Conference (www.siwc.ca) I signed up for a free, month-long trial of a writing program called Scrivener, from a UK company called Literature&Latte.com. I downloaded the thing and started to play with it, and I quickly fell in love–deeply enough in love to buy the program within the first week of my trial run. Not that there was any financial trauma involved: I think I paid US $45.00 for the program at that time, and there wasn’t even much of a difference then between the Canadian and the American dollar.
I bought the original version, Scrivener 1.1, and I’ve been using it ever since, but in the meantime the the program itself has grown and expanded exponentially, and I’m now using Version 3.15. It’s a wonderful platform, designed specifically for writers of all stripes and chock-a-block with everything any writer might need in versatile, endlessly flexible ways of cataloguing, assembling and organizing stray thoughts, ideas, summaries, version comparisons, and bits-and-pieces, as well as web sites and research resources and all kind of writing possibilities… All in all, Scrivener is far richer in its intuitive potential than Microsoft Word, the Goliath of word processing world. But the difference between the Scrivener 1.1 I first fell in love with, and the current Scrivener is huge, nowadays, and frankly, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to keep on top of all the changes. The mechanics of learning to use the various elements of the program have become quite complex, even intimidating. In the minutiae of its bewildering capabilities, Scrivener has unfortunately become quite difficult to master.
That was massively frustrating because, even after using the program for years, I knew I wasn’t taking full advantage of its power. There are things in there that I knew I should be able to do quickly and easily, but I didn’t know how and there didn’t appear to be any means of learning individual techniques and tricks quickly, with quickly being the operative word. I’ve used the program in writing my last five novels, and I love it in so many ways that it made me sick even to contemplate abandoning it to return to using Microsoft Word. But until very recently I was seriously contemplating doing precisely that, because in Word, I simply write, and that is, that has to be, my overriding priority. I know how the Word program works and I don’t need to fret over formatting or manipulating text or even about retrieving revised and edited text that should never have been lost in the first place.
So there I was, not long ago, actively contemplating uninstalling my beloved but frustrating Scrivener, when by sheer serendipity resulting from a carelessly hit button I should never have gone close to, I found myself gazing at a the Home Page of a website called “Learn Scrivener Fast.”
To this moment, I don’t know what I did to get there or how I arrived there, for I hadn’t gone looking for it–I had never even conceived of such a site, but there I was. And so I started reading, and I ended up buying the proffered course–which is a LOT more expensive than Scrivener ever was. That did not bother me. This is a full-bore, interactive, digital course of instruction built around a series of two- to four-minute how-to videos. It is divided into five sections and capable of being consumed linearly, from start to finish, soup-to-nuts at your own pace, or of being cherry-picked at leisure for specific instruction on precisely the kind of things I’ve been gnashing my teeth over. Or you can go both ways. The most exciting thing of all, though, as far as I was concerned, was that this course lets you take your time and pick and choose between segments, returning to any of them as often as you want to or need to. And the individual “lesson” segments are short and punchy, simple to understand and easy to put into practice and into the context of the real, working world. The average length of each element is about a minute and a half. Some are shorter, some are longer, but so far I haven’t seen any that are three minutes long . . . They’re all connected, too, and they flow in sequence, but they break down into instantly comprehensible, easily digestible chunks. The whole thing is “look and learn”. You watch a bit of one video, then do it on your own documents until you understand how it works, go back to the video and watch another bit, then return to your own writing and implement that, too. There are bona fide video samples on the site, too, taken right from the program. I recommend the package, but if you want to experience a really superb web-site-cum-pitch, check it out at www.learnscrivenerfast.com. The sit back and have fun writing.