Book Review: Take Control of Scrivener 2

Book Review: Take Control of Scrivener 2
Sunday, 10 July 2011

I’m a writer. I’ve done a lot of writing over the years, always using my Mac. Sometimes I write short items, like this review. At other times I write works that are thousands of words long, encompassing pages, chapters and even whole books.

While I started a couple of decades ago with Microsoft Word 5 I moved up to text editors, such as BBEdit.

Last year though I wrote a rather complex work made up of half a dozen sections, each containing numerous topics. After various false starts I ended up writing it as a (private) WordPress blog, using categories to help sort it out.

I still did the actual writing in BBEdit, but then posted each ‘chunk’ to the blog.

The challenge of new software

Then a few weeks ago I started a new project of my own, writing an ebook. Again it has numerous topics, and the sequence will be a challenge.

Scrivener window - corkboard view.

Scrivener window – corkboard view.

As I started the project, even though I was enthusiastic and excited about it, nevertheless I felt as though I was in a bit of a writing rut.

I’d seen the press release for Take Control of Scrivener 2 and decided it could be a good idea to experiment with unfamiliar software for this new piece of writing. Maybe it would freshen things up a bit for me and shake me out of my usual patterns.

I requested and was sent a review copy of Take Control of Scrivener 2 (1.0.1) (US$10).

Take Control of Scrivener 2

  • 105 pages
  • Version 1.0.1
  • Updated May 18, 2011
  • 2.9 MB download
  • ISBN: 9781615421343
  • Free sample with Table of Contents, Intro, Quick Start, and section starts.

While I often read how-to books for topics I already know a bit about, Scrivener 2.x for Mac OS X (Affiliate link, Regular Licence) was utterly new to me. I was interested to find out how well this book would equip me to work with software I’d never used before.

Scrivener is a different kind of software

Scrivener is neither a word processor like MS Word, nor a text editor like BBEdit. Instead it’s designed for people writing longer works:

In this ebook, you’ll take a creative voyage with Scrivener 2, a unique and popular content-generation tool. Scrivener supports wordsmiths of all types, and it’s designed especially for long-form writing projects — scripts, novels, academic works, and more.

Using Melville’s Moby-Dick as his exemplar, author Kirk McElhearn walks you through using Scrivener to create and manage a writing project.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a few weeks now and it’s already become an essential part of my writing toolkit. I’ve surprised myself, I must admit. I’ll review the software separately later.

Take Control of Scrivener 2

It was a new experience for me to start using a piece of software and reading an independently written instruction manual for it at the same time. It worked well.

Take Control of Scrivener 2, like all books in the Take Control series, is clearly written and useful.

The book begins with an overview of what Scrivener is all about. Because of its background and philosophy that explanation gives a good grounding. The software’s a tool for long-form writers, and includes specific features that allow an author to keep research materials handy and to easily sequence the chunks of writing at any time. It’s based on a project, rather than a single file.

The book refers back to a supposed novel, where I write non-fiction. Having a concrete example is useful and McElhearn makes sure to point out where a novel and other forms may differ. One good thing is that the software itself doesn’t tie an author into specific forms. While it offers template for some common forms of writing an author can easily set things up how they like.

Writers Talk

McElhearn includes several brief ‘Writers Talk’ segments where authors of various kinds explain their favourite features of the software. This is a handy and interesting reinforcement of the fact that Scrivener is extremely flexible and powerful.

A logical progression through a maze

Scrivener is in fact so flexible and powerful that McElhearn must have faced some big challenges in deciding how to approach the Take Control book, and how to sequence the information. The software itself doesn’t constrain users to a single linear approach — it allows writers to work in the way that suits them best. And as writers know, that way is often convoluted andrecursive.

McElhearn did a fabulous job, leading the reader through a very sensible path.

The first section of the book gives essential background information and enough of a view of operations that a writer new to the software could get underway and go straight to being productive.

Then he starts to uncover some of the deeper layers.

Although the software was created to cater for a non-linear way of working, the Take Control book manages to maintain a logical and linear learning path. McElhearn frequently refers readers forward to other sections of his own book, and also to the official Scrivener manual and training materials. I always find it reassuring to know that particular features will be addressed in sections yet to come.

A thoroughly good manual

Take Control of Scrivener 2 is comprehensive and explains the Scrivener software clearly and expertly.

In addition to explaining features of the software itself McElhearn explains other useful things such as how to back up Scrivener files, how to keep things in sync between multiple computers, and even how to work with Scrivener files on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch.

Other sections cover working with snapshots and comparing different versions of text, working with revisions, importing and exporting files, printing and compiling, and creating ebooks.

Moby Dick

I have a tiny quibble with the book. Early on McElhearn quotes a whole page from Moby-Dick as an inspiration to writers. That was just, well, odd. It seems a rough edge in an otherwise polished product.

Should you buy this book?

Should you buy this book? If you are already using or intend to use Scrivener then absolutely. It’s utterly worth buying and reading to discover how best to use the software.

In fact, I read through the book as I started using Scrivener and was delighted to discover various features useful to me.

In the past few weeks though I also find I’ve returned to the book for reminders of how to achieve some things. I’ve been gratified to re-discover features that are useful to me that I’d forgotten after my initial reading.

As I use Scrivener more for various projects I find it more and more useful and powerful. Some of its power though is hidden away and not easy to find. McElhearn’s book is an invaluable guide and companion to Scrivener — both a tutorial and a reference.

If you write anything that involves research, or that’s longer than a simple blog post I’d urge you to take a look at Scrivener’s free trial. And have Take Control of Scrivener 2 by your side as you explore the software.

I bought the software within a day or two of starting the trial as I could see it was exactly what I needed for my current ebook project. Since then I’ve been working on a small web writing project for a client that involves constantly referring to source materials and keywords. Scrivener’s project approach has made that a breeze.

If you’re a writer you need both this software and this book, believe me.

Buy Scrivener 2 and Take Control of Scrivener 2

When you buy through these links I earn a small commission. Your purchases give me more opportunities to improve MacTips.

Buy Scrivener 2.x for Mac OS X (Regular Licence).

Buy Scrivener 2.x for Mac OS X (Affiliate link, Regular Licence).

Buy Take Control of Scrivener 2.Take Control of Scrivener 2 (affiliate link).

Be sure to also look at the Take Control ebooks catalog (affiliate link). I do some of my best learning from this series.

If you’ve read this book please tell us in the comments what you thought of it.

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