For reasons I will explain shortly, this week I needed to research Bartleby the Scrivener. Herman Melville penned this story about an irritating lawyer’s clerk in 1853, a time when writers had to contend with drafty rooms, smoky fires, candlelight, and quill pens. I can only imagine how many times Melville had to throw open the study door and call for one of the servants. “Lizzie,” he likely bellowed, “more ink. NOW!” Apparently – given output like Moby Dick – our Lizzie was more obedient than Bartleby, the scrivener, whose response to everything asked of him was “I would prefer not to.”
Bartleby was a copyist. Back in those days, legal documents had to be copied by hand and law firms employed many of these clerks. (I’m sure you all remember Bob Cratchit who did the same dismal job for Dickens’ Mr. Scrooge.) The job of the scrivener was replaced in the last century by typewriters and carbon paper, by mimeograph machines and copiers, and, finally, by word processors and printers.
I was curious about the word scrivener, because this week I’ve been learning how to use Scrivener™, a powerful tool for writers developed by Literature and Latte. It was one of the sponsor goodies provided through nanowrimo (see post here), and I got it at a 50% discount. So far, I love it. Melville and Dickens would have swooned over the thing.
Scrivener™ describes itself as a writing studio, and that’s a good way to think about it. If you picture your desktop divided into three vertical sections, the middle and largest section is your actual document – the chapter or essay you’re working on. The left column is the outline of your project, with all the chapters listed plus templates for keeping track of characters and scenes and anything else you want to have easily at hand. The right hand column allows you to make notes about the chapter you’re crafting. You can label and sort these notes as well, so that a note on a character is separate from one about your timeline or one about a connection you want to make later in the story. You also have space on the right to attach research notes and links to websites. Very handy.
I followed the Scrivener™ tutorial and had uploaded my novel within an hour. It’s much easier to be able to click around the chapters to check the story flow. I like the notes feature as well because it’s helping me keep better track of details (names, places, past and future actions) than I could when it was one long piece. This is a tool for anyone who is wrestling with large documents, and I suspect PhD candidates are well acquainted with its features.
My background in managing projects has made this business-like approach to a writing studio a happy place for me. I can craft from here, add the layers my novel so desperately needs, and get the details right. It won’t be perfect for everyone, though, so download the free trial before you buy. Also, Carolyn is testing another tool called Storyist™ and will weigh in on its pros and cons in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on writing tools as well – what has worked for you?
Happy writing, and happy holidays!
Leah and Carolyn
Note: We have not been compensated in any way for reviewing Scrivener™. The thoughts expressed here are my own.
Note2: Credit for latte artistry goes to Karma Coffee Roasters, Sudbury, MA.