5 reasons for using Scrivener for writing books and more

5 reasons for using Scrivener for writing books

scrivener corkboardI have given up using Word for writing books. I may have given up on it for writing articles too. I have decided to move over to Scrivener instead.

First, Scrivener is a purpose-built application for writers, unlike Word, which is a general, all-purpose, word processor. That in itself would not be enough to make me want to change, but it was certainly enough to make me sit up and pay attention.

The document structure is sgown on the left, while the central screen shows the virtual index cardsSecond, I have found that when working on long documents in which I am not sure of the final order of sections, Word is pretty unwieldy. Yes, I make use of the outline view, but if the document is really long it is not an easy tool to use. For a long time now I have been looking for an application that enables you to write on what I would call “virtual index cards”. Although I have found such programs, there has usually been a problem with them, such as not being able to format the index cards very well, or not having access to other useful word processor functions such as spell-checking. Scrivener has an index card view (called the Corkboard) and spell-checking etc too.

Third, Scrivener makes it easy to not only see the structure of your document, but to rearrange it too. The structure is shown on the left-hand side of the screen. If you show the Corkboard view, then rearranging the order of the index cards changes the order of the sections of the document.

Fourth, If you already have a document, eg in Word, you can import it into Scrivener and have it automatically split into separate index cards, ie documents. I haven’t found a way of automatically making these into folders, which I think would be quite useful (I have been using the folders as chapter headings), but I can live with that.

Finally, Scrivener lets you compile your finished document into ordinary word-processor formats such as RTF (Rich Text Format) and Word, PDF, print and, perhaps most useful of all, all the popular ebook formats.

I still have a lot to learn about Scrivener. I tried working my way through the handy two hour interactive tutorial supplied with the program, but being no good at learning in that sort of way I decided to start on some projects instead. So, I am learning as I am going along, and looking things up as I need to.

One last word: this article was written in Scrivener and exported as HTML. Not bad as a first attempt, though I am not conbvinced I am ready to stop using my usualy blog editors just yet.


Second-hand ebooks?

I love second-hand bookshops. Whenever I go on holiday, one of the first things I do is go to the nearest Tourism Information outlet and get a list of the local used bookshops.

So, what do I like about them, and what does this have to do with ebooks?

Second hand books, by Rev Stan https://www.flickr.com/photos/revstan/The first thing I like is the anticipation of perhaps finding a real gem. I don’t necessarily mean a first edition of something that will make me rich when I auction it for several times the price I paid for it. I am referring to long lost and forgotten tomes that, perhaps, were best-sellers in their day.

For example, I have picked up books on writing written a quarter of a century ago, and over half a century ago. Surprisingly, though maybe not so surprisingly, the advice given in the latter is still pertinent today. Indeed, the only thing that  has changed is the description of sending photographs to an editor. These days, you would probably just use Dropbox.

A book on public speaking written 60 years ago omits any mention of PowerPoint, as one would expect – and is all the better for it!

The second thing I like is the sheer pleasure of browsing. I enjoy this to some extent while trawling through Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal or this month’s Nook sale, but it’s not the same.

The third thing I like is seeing the handwritten inscriptions that sometimes appear just inside the book.

“To Bob, on your 16th birthday, from Harry, 1948”

I start to wonder: who is (or was) this Bob? Why has this birthday gift left his possession only to lie around in a second-hand bookshop waiting to be discovered by someone he never knew, and who never knew him?

Second-hand ebooks don’t exist in the usual sense of the word. You can borrow ebooks in some circumstances, so perhaps in that sense they are used books, but it’s not really the same.

I’m no Luddite; I love my ebook readers and the fact that I can carry around several thousand books with me without breaking my back in the process. But looking in an online ebookstore is a poor substitute for the thrill of the chase in a second-hand one!

See also: The biggest bookshop in England


Using Word for desktop publishing

Can Word be used for desktop publishing? The answer is yes — but only as a last resort. Here’s a summary of my recent experience.

Word is a word processor that has some desktop publishing features. I think that’s important to mention because it was not designed primarily for desktop publishing work, but you can use it for DTP if you really need to. I suppose a reasonably good analogy is that you can use a family saloon for transporting tons of stuff around. A van or a pickup truck would be better, but f you have no choice you can put the back seats down and fix up a roof rack, and cart stuff around. It’s not ideal, but it works after a fashion.

Well, the situation here is the same. So what do I mean by “desktop publishing features”? I am talking about the ability to place text where you like, and being able to flow text from one place to another without being constrained to a particular page or by a column layout.

You can use Word’s text boxes as DTP frames. Insert a text box via the Insert command, and then insert another one somewhere else. By clicking on the perimeter of the first one you gain access to a set of text box tools. One of these is “Link text boxes”. Select that, then place the mouse pointer inside the second text box and you’ll see the pointer change to a sort of cup icon. Click the left mouse button and you set up a link between the two text boxes. From now on, when you enter text in the first box, if it is too long for that box it will flow into the second one.

So far so good. This gives you a certain amount of flexibility. For example you can place a text box wherever you like on the page. If you make is smaller, the text will be taken care of by the second box. You can place the second box where you like too — even in a space three pages hence if you so desire.

But there are severe limitations.

First, I was unable to find a way to make the text in a text box flow around pictures inside the text box. There is probably a work-around, but I was not able to discover it.

Second, I found that cross-referencing didn’t work. I wanted to insert a table of contents by inserting page references to text formatted as headings, but was not allowed to.

Third, it seems to be impossible to create a new page after a text box, unless there is a paragraph mark on the page itself. That means that to avoid a lot of hassle, you need to create several pages in advance using the Ctrl-Enter key. Otherwise, you have to create a new blank page where you can, and then either move existing text boxes until your new blank page is at the end of the document, or start using the new blank page where in the document you were able to create it, which may not be where you really wanted to place the new content.

Overall, having used desktop publishing software in the past, I would say that using Word took me around 4 times longer than using DTP would have. I didn’t have much choice, because re-acquainting myself with the workings of the software would have taken longer than I had available.

So, use Word for DTP work if you have a deadline looming and no alternative, but if you are going to be doing such work on a regular basis then consider investing in a program that was designed for the job from the outset.


The trials and tribulations of blogging as a SWOT analysis

There are people like myself, Steve Wheeler and others who think that blogging is a good thing to do for a number of reasons. I won’t rehearse theme here because you can read them in the articles referenced at the end of this one. However, blogging is not necessarily easy. Even if writing itself is not a problem, there are several other factors that need to be taken into account. Steve has admirably listed them and discussed them in these articles:



Do go and read them and then read my views here. I’ve expressed them in the form of a SWOT analysis. The entries in each box are, of course, personal. You may have different entries, or you may wish to move the entries to different boxes. You may wish to draw up a SWOT analysis for your own blogging practice.

Oh, one more thing: I don’t regard this analysis as complete. I am continually evaluating blogging. I think hardly a day goes by when I don’t think to myself, “Why have I just spent an hour and a half writing a blog post when I could have been doing something to earn money?”


  • Enables me to express my views without third party approval.

  • Helps me to develop and improve my writing skills.

  • Enables me to think things through in a “thinking aloud” kind of way.


  • It’s exposing. A lot of the time my views don’t mesh with the current conventional wisdom, and a blog post isn’t always the ideal place to explain the reasons I disagree with something. Not in depth at least. I tend to limit my blog posts to between 500 and 1000 words. I don’t go for many “full length” articles like, for example, Crispin Weston does. Maybe I should.

  • Although some bloggers style themselves as “citizen bloggers” and pat themselves on the back for being more daring and quick off the mark than traditional journalists, blogging does have something of a whiff of being the domain of the amateur, with the kind of negative connotations that sometimes carries.

  • Following on from the previous point, bloggers tend not to have the resources available to them that newspaper and magazine journalists may have. It was, after all, a newspaper journalist who investigated the child grooming scandal in Britain. I attended a talk by the journalist involved, Andrew Norfolk, and he made the obvious but important point that most bloggers wouldn’t be able to afford to spend day after day in court listening to the proceedings, unless they have independent means. It was also a newspaper that brought to light the expenses scandal in Britain.


  • Blogging has brought me to the attention of some high-powered people I admire and like, such as Drew Buddie, Pete Yeomans and, of course, Steve Wheeler, amongst others.

  • It has also continued to establish my credibility in the fields in which I work. I say “continued” because I enjoyed credibility before I started blogging because I have been writing articles for magazines and journals for a long time.

  • It has brought my work to the attention of a wider, even international, audience.

  • It gives me another opportunity to hear the views of other people, and to engage in some great discussion, via comments and Twitter and Linked-in.

  • It acts as a showpiece for my writing: mainly at Ict in Education and Writers’ Know-how.

  • If I were going for a job interview, I would certainly cite my blogging activities as an indication of my commitment to my work.


  • There’s always the risk that I will get attacked by “trolls”.

  • It takes a lot of time to blog: not only the research and the writing, but the commitment to keep it up. Ideally, one should blog at least two or three times a week.

  • It is tedious and time-consuming dealing with spam comments and malicious comments. At the moment I have over 300 comments waiting for moderation. Unfortunately almost all of these are not useful.

  • The time taken to write a blog post can almost always be used in other, possibly more directly lucrative, ways.

OK, so much for that. On balance, I still think blogging has more going for it than not. But Steve’s two blog posts referred to earlier certainly gave me food for thought, and I daresay you will find that too if you read them.

Recommended reading

Seven reasons teachers should blog, by Steve Wheeler

7 reasons writers should blog, by Terry Freedman

7 Reasons educators should blog, by Terry Freedman


Tesco’s gets into ebooks

Tesco’s, a huge supermarket chain in Britain, has launched its own ebooks website with hundreds of thousands of ebooks for sale. Is this a good thing?

Photo by Brooksmemorial http://www.flickr.com/photos/25019277@N02/Well, yes and no I suppose. On the plus side, I think it’s good that Amazon’s monopolistic position as a purveyor of (e)books is being challenged.

On the other hand, I wonder if this will drive the price of books down even further. Low prices may be a good thing for consumers, but I think it reinforces the idea, in some people’s minds, that books don’t have much value, and that anyone can write them anyway.

Still, on the other hand (which makes three hands!), anything that encourages more people to read has to be a good thing.

There’s more information about the Tesco’s service, which is called Blinkbox Books, over at The Bookseller website: Tesco launches blinkbox books

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