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Day #5: Scrivener, Leviathan, Behind


Despite the less-than-glowing review I gave Scrivener several months ago, I am in fact giving it another shot. I’ve been wanting to branch out beyond yWriter5, which I’ve been using for some time. There’s nothing particularly wrong with yWriter5, but it’s reached the point where I’ve used it long enough to know what I really want out of a word-processor that’s geared more toward noveling than your vanilla Microsoft Word or Notepad or One Note or whatever.

I’ll be honest, one of my main complaints about this program was how complicated it seemed. I will still stand by my statement that the manual or tutorial or whatever is overly wordy and makes the whole thing like a bigger pain in the ass than it really is. It also helps that I had a clear mind of what I wanted to do, instead of typing “butts butts butts” everywhere I could and coming up with characters named “Butts McGee” and “Butticus Buttpherson.”

It’s got some nifty features, for sure. I can’t get over that nagging feeling that something’s missing, but for now, this is good. It might be that what’s missing is something to do with me, and not the program. So yes, I am pretty stoked about the 50% discount on Scrivener that winners of Camp NaNoWriMo will receive. Woohoo!


I’ve also started reading another book, this time to participate in the Geek Girls Book Club book of the month thingymadendum. I follow them on Facebook and Goodreads but don’t really do much else but occasionally comment on a status. However, they announced on June 1st (or somewhere thereabouts) that the book they’d be reading this month would be Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, and I thought, why not?

My goal is to read two chapters a day (allowing me to finish up a bit earlier than the end of the month… I have some breathing room, even after managing to get hold of the book a bit late). I was too poor to buy it, but my lovely friend Ellyn was gracious enough to lend me her copy – and to deliver it to my apartment herself! So much thanks to Ellyn for perpetuating my nerddom.

Westerfield’s writing, by the end of chapter two, is compelling enough to keep me reading, although it’s not yet blowing my mind. However, I’ve also got to keep in mind that this is YA lit, and not the kind of YA lit I’m used to, either. I had to keep myself from reading ahead of the schedule I’d set for myself. Since I don’t have a job, I’ve got a list of tasks for each day I’m assigning myself. So far… (not in any particular order)

  • Work on NaNo novel
  • Do dishes (either from breakfast or the day before)
  • Take care of business (QoS or ISU-Con)
  • Apply to at least 7 jobs
  • Read Leviathan chapters
  • Laundry/other chores

At some point I will work in “trip to the gym” in there, but until I can get caught up with all the laundry, that ain’t happening.

I’m a bit behind on my wordcount for NaNo, but less out of not being able to write and more out of putting off writing. I got a bit swallowed up by, erm, Facebook games. Whoops. I’m actually going to finish up before I go to bed (which, although it won’t count as “winning” on the last day, is good enough for me here in the first week), which will be here soonly.


Review: WriteWay

For the second review in my series of novel-writing software excursions, I decided to go ahead and try another moderately-advertised program. After some research*, I chose WriteWay.

WriteWay website

(Click any of the pictures to enlarge them)

WriteWay boasts some pretty nifty features, some of them in BRIGHT RED TEXT: formatting for e-readers (something I’ve bemoaned in the past when it isn’t done correctly), the inclusion of front- and back-matter pages, and an easy-to-navigate folder system. The enthusiastic Asian woman on the front page of the website was an added bonus: just clearly ethnic enough to not make me feel targeted, but also easily mistaken for Caucasian to a point where I felt like I could relate to her.**

Like Scrivener, however, WriteWay also has a pretty hefty licensing fee. The “standard edition” comes in at $24, which is just a little over half of what Scrivener costs; a quick look at the features list shows that it pretty much does the same things Scrivener does, too. The more expensive “professional” edition has a price tag of $49, and allows you to do things such as create storyboards, insert pictures into your composition, share folders between projects, and “listen as your computer reads your books out loud”, in case you want to know what it would sound like if Stephen Hawking were to host a seminar about your novel.

WriteWay features

Behold, a free trial! It only lasts thirty days, regardless of whether you use it everyday or not, which is a bit disappointing after the generosity of Scrivener’s free trial.

Starting up WriteWay presents with a pretty idiot-proof first step: project creation. Just fill in the fields – awesome! I can do that. Only the first two are required, too, so if I don’t know quite yet what genre I’m going for, I don’t have to worry about it yet. I don’t know what the “book properties” thing is all about, but I seemed to do just fine with ignoring it. After this screen you come to “book properties”, which seems to be one tab of things you’ve already done or should have done on the previous screen, and then multiple tabs of things I ignored and/or didn’t understand. So far, they don’t seem important. Clicking “apply” gets you out of here after you deal with all that, and then there’s Stuff to Explore.

WriteWay opening screen

WriteWay book properties

The first thing I wanted to play with was the front matter, because like I mentioned in my review of Scrivener, I love to fill stuff in. It took a minute to figure out how to get it added. Right-clicking on the “front matter” folder and then clicking “update front matter” in the menu brought up this screen (below). Clicking the blank spaces below “status” adds them to your novel. Further investigation, however, showed that these are mainly for the user of exporting to an e-reader format, so that they will show up as navigable headings on, say, a Kindle. The pages they produce in the word processor are entirely blank. After the excitement of templates to fill out and completely, it was like being told Christmas had been cancelled.

WriteWay front matter

A matter of disappointment.

Toying with the program proved that the chapter- and scene-creation process is pretty idiot-proof, involving entirely right-clicks and occasional typing. The word processor is nothing special, either, which I guess is a good thing.

Writeway character template

Bored already with tooling around in there, I decided to start clicking random buttons. The characters button brought up a whole new window, and gave me the ability to create “character profiles.” I was again given the option of using a template or creating my own (which produced a blank couple of panes to work in). While I found the character profile template a lot less lacking than Scrivener’s, I still wasn’t terribly thrilled by it.

Intrigued by the big red button at the top, I clicked that and after being assaulted by a couple of what were apparently (fairly stupid and useless) error messages, I was prompted to set up a writing schedule and projected word count. Cool.

WriteWay progress tracker

A daily word-tracking log and a chart showing progress are nothing to write home about, although I thought that the ability to set “work days” was pretty nifty. You have the ability to exclude or include Saturdays and Sundays, and clicking on specific days can remove or add them to your work schedule, so that the program doesn’t keep telling you you’re a failure for going on a magical Valentine’s Day date instead of getting your 322,579 words written. This program understands that sometimes, you just Need a Day Off. The big red button I clicked is apparently a circle graph, which shows you your progress as you write and/or save. I didn’t test it much.

A research folder pane allows you to sort through and organize research materials into folders. An in-pane browser allows you to add webpages directly to the folder, the “add file” button allows the addition of pictures and other stuff (I guess), and “add page” allows you to just type up notes. Not too shabby.

WriteWay research

After a little while of poking around in the program***, I shut it down and left it alone for the better part of a week. While it had some cool features, it once again didn’t strike me as essential to my writing process, and the things it could do that Microsoft Word couldn’t weren’t fantastic or crucial enough that I wanted to take the time to deal with them, and the inability to try the e-reader formatting features in the free trial made me not want to promote them as a plus, especially when I know quite a bit of freeware that, despite some extra time on your part, can do the same job for you just as well.

I can see WriteWay working out for some people, yeah. If it was freeware, or even more reasonably priced, I  might recommend it – but $5 would be the max on this guy. It’s not worth $23, let along $49. Do yourself a favor – drag out some notecards, some construction paper, and some magic markers instead, and if you really, really want to hear the computer read your book out loud, go to Stephen Hawking’s party.


* Read: closing my eyes and pointing at a random title on a list.

** This is where you laugh, because I am clearly making a joke about advertising. I really don’t care what the woman’s ethnicity is.


Review: Scrivener

A lot of would-be novelists made the ultimate resolution this year: they are going to Get That  Book Written. Heaven knows that was mine, to write 3000 words a day in deAngelis until the flipping thing is finished (guess how many days I made it before I caved*). People who have nowhere to start often go to the internet to find something that can make the process a little less terrifying. Let’s admit it: writing can be a scary thing, even for those of us who have been working at it for a long time, and we often use whatever tools we can get our hands on. Some tools, however, are more useful than others. Specifically, I’m talking about novel-writing software. This week I’ll review a couple I’ve been derping around in; today, I’ll talk about Scrivener.

These programs promise to make the process anywhere from relatively painless to mind-blowingly easy, neither of which I have ever believed. I’ve normally been happy just with Microsoft Word and a scratch-pad at my elbow, but it seems that many, many people almost cannot seem to function without one of these specialized word processors.

S is for SHUT UP, THAT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR METhere were a couple of things that pointed me toward Scrivener specifically. First, NaNoWriMo has a seemingly continual offer of a discount of 50% for winners of the November challenge, which eases the skepticism one might first feel when you see the $40 price tag. Secondly, Felicia Day linked to the blog of some guy named Ben who apparently thinks Scrivener is some amazing thing God pooped out that could cure cancer as well as help people finish writing their otherwise-elusive books. Felicia Day is one of my personal heroes, so I decided I may as well take a trek into Scrivener-land and see what the fuss was all about.

The free trial is actually the most people-friendly I’ve ever seen from a free trial. MMORPG trials tend to limit you to a certain number of days whether you use it or not (Guild Wars limits you to one week or so many hours of actual playtime, whichever comes first), and that’s what I’m used to. However, Scrivener’s free trial lets you use the program for 30 non-consecutive days of use. So far, so good.

The download and installation were pretty painless, although I felt my eyebrow arc in a most Spock-like manner when I saw the program recommended that I read the tutorial. In true Kayla fashion, however, I decided to try and figure it out on my own, first, pushing every button until it did what I wanted it to do. However, this tactic proved useless, so I decided to go ahead and deal with the tutorial, which eventually got so boring that I started skipping through it and eventually gave up and went back to pushing buttons. It sounds melodramatic, but the damn thing actually gave me a headache. And I don’t get headaches.

Scrivener Tutorial

If I had to choose between this and Milton, I... I don't know what I would do.

(Click any of these screenshots to see a bigger version. Fo realz.)

That’s just one section of the tutorial. See that bar on the left, to which I’ve cleverly attempted to draw your attention with a bright pink outline of a rectangle? Each of those sections contains anywhere from 400 to 2000 freaking words. That’s not a tutorial, that’s a flipping user manual. I should not have to read a user manual in order to use a novel-writing program.

Scrivener Main Screen

The screen you’re first greeted with when you open the program (above) is fairly simple, although without reading the tutorial you kind of doom yourself to clicking around aimlessly for several minutes until it finally does something resembles processing words or organizing notes. Three different “view” modes are available: (highlighted in the picture above accordingly) Scrivenings, which seems to be the word-processing or working mode, Corkboard, which seems to lend itself more to organization, and Outline, which puts all of your scene and chapter titles and suchlike right next to each other**. To the left are folders in which you can file away chapters, scenes, notes, research, etc, pertaining to the actual manuscript, characters, setting, etc.

The first thing under “Manuscript” is a title page, which prompts you to fill in all the necessary fields as if you were about to send a manuscript to an editor***. Me, I love filling in fields like this, so I went ahead and put in my stuff (below).

Scrivener Title Page

I’m assuming the doohickey in the top right corner will automatically update with your wordcount as you mark scenes or chapters as “final draft” by right-clicking on and going to “status” in the bar to the left.

Scrivener Character Template

Being 23 did not change the fact that I wanted to name my test character template "Butts McGee."

Optional template sheets (above) for note-taking and setting up characters and setting are provided, although I didn’t find them useful at all (a personal issue, I’m sure). I thought they were too broad. If I’m going to be provided with a character profile template, I want it to be a little bit more details. That’s just my personal taste – I’m sure this method works wonders for some people, or is all they need. The setting template sheet is a bit more useful, prompting for descriptions of common sights, sounds, smells, unique features, etc. for each location/time.

The corkboard setting (below) is described in the tutorial as being massively important; however, after a couple hours of putzing around in the program, I didn’t find it anything but a pain in the arse. It’s not particularly intuitive, and the spots you have to click in order to make it function the way it’s supposed to are so stupidly small that I found myself growling threats at my screen.

Scrivener Corkboard View

What does it meeeaaaannnn?

Supposedly each “chapter” card holds the different scenes that you attribute to each chapter. I’m a little squeamish about breaking chapters up into scenes like that – it makes it feel a little disconnected. The visual is kind of cool, but not particularly useful, I felt. As far as usefulness goes, the only thing I could find that really pleased me was the wordcount goal function(below) that asked for both an overall wordcount goal and/or a daily wordcount goal. As pleased as I was by this feature, I did not test it, because I was thoroughly finished with the program and wanting to get away from it as soon as possible. It was giving me a headache.

Scrivener Word Count

Ultimately? Scrivener doesn’t seem worth $40, and it’s likely that the rest of my trial will go unused. I didn’t find much that it could do that I couldn’t do just as easily with Microsoft Word and my fancy, purse-sized writing notebook, and of what I found, I didn’t find much of it useful.

Feel free to ask questions about my experience, if I didn’t cover something, or you want more elaboration.


* Answer: Not many.

** I deemed this mode Mostly Useless.

*** It assumes you have an agent, which I find a bit weird. I’d find a template for a cover sheet and a query letter for querying and sending to agents a lot more helpful and useful.