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Blog // Thoughts
August 24, 2007

Getting It Down On Screen

As much as I love using paper and pen, writing is, for me, a task of keyboard and screen. Whilst I made an easy transition to writing music via Sibelius (becoming in the process more organised, efficient and productive), writing text with a computer has always been a love-hate affair. Initially this was because of […]

As much as I love using paper and pen, writing is, for me, a task of keyboard and screen. Whilst I made an easy transition to writing music via Sibelius (becoming in the process more organised, efficient and productive), writing text with a computer has always been a love-hate affair.

Initially this was because of computer instability and crashes, sometimes resulting in reams of lost material. But, as the writing projects got bigger and the research more complex some fundamental problems emerged. As programmes like Word (which I abandoned in 2004) and Pages (which replaced Word) became more elaborate it was clear that the root of my writing frustrations was not how the text appeared on the screen or how was inputted, but how it was organised. Having never worked in an environment that demanded a lot of personal filing, I was poor at organising my work, poor at creating neat folder structures (only recently did I learn how to use a brought-forward file, a simple idea that has been revolutionary for me) and poor at adequately naming files. When I became blocked, it was seldom because of an inability to write new material, but rather, an inability to organise, clarify and edit existing text.

In the past few weeks I have been using a new programme, Scrivener, with very pleasing results. What I like about Scrivener is that, like WriteRoom (also here), it draws you away from thinking about formatting to focus simply on your thoughts and words. But, where Scrivener really excels is in the way it helps you organise your work.

At some point around five to seven thousand words I start to find wordprocessors like Pages and Word become unwieldy in terms of writing and editing (as opposed to formatting).In particular moving from one part of a document to another, handling multiply sectioned work and embedded structure, working with multiple documents and the general window shuffling thing become tiresome (and slow). Back in 2000, I had a brief blip in productivity when I started writing in smaller chunks, often creating papers out of 2-3 documents and writing my thesis is multiple-documents. But, that often felt clumsy, especially when it came to reording the outline, or comparing sections.

It is here where Scrivener has quickly revealed itself as a more elegant “project-oriented” solution. Sections are handled as distinct, light, easy to open and move text files and you can work with two sections at the same time, in the same window and easily move from outline, to summary, to full views. Upon export, sections and seamlessly joined.

One added super-feature is the ability to organise research within a project. For example. Andy Goodliff posted a link to Curtis Freeman’s homepage at Duke. Curtis has some pdf available there for download. I was able not only to put those on my hardrive, but to drag them into a Scriverner project file (created to house my ongoing, unfocussed writing on Church and Identity). A spotlight search of my drives revealed another thirty-four PDFs from various sources that were also easily imported into Scrivener Now I can see those PDFs from within Scrivener itself and they are neatly organised in research folder that map the (very preliminary) drafts. No window juggling if and when I decide to read and comment on them. I’ve done the same for every unfinished writing project and for my blog ideas. For the first time since 2003 I actually have a handle on how many writing projects I have and how much time might be needed to allocate to finish them.

Of course, there is no substitute for actually knuckling down and doing the reading and writing, but I’m certainly finding Scrivener to be a programme that is helping me break through some practical blocks and develop a more productive workflow.

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