April 12, 2016

Thursday, April 4, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013: Organizing Your Poetry Manuscript with Scrivener

Twice a year, I sit on the living room floor, surrounded by print-outs of poems, short stories and essays. It's part of my  job at the editor of a literary magazine. Once our short list of selections for Little Patuxent Review are made, this is how I order--and reorder--each issue, until I'm happy with the journal's flow.

My intrepid helper, Sam, peruses the Winter 2013 issue of LPR.

Scrivener: I'm a Believer

I confess I thought writer's software packages were just flashy toys. Having started my writing career using a typewriter, the ability to copy and paste still seemed like a luxury, and I couldn't imagine wanting more than word processing software. However, trying to restructure my WIP for nth time, I kept getting lost in my large file. I needed a map. I needed to see the whole thing at a glance. I needed, as I was informed by several trusted writing friends, Scrivener.
Scrivener is writing software for Mac and Windows.
In Scrivener, the center of the screen is the Editor in which you type or past text just as in any word processing software. On the left you can elect to show the Binder, which is an outline view of your document. You can create folders within folders to reflect your desired structure and fill them with separate chunks of text. The chunks act as virtual index cards on the folder's cork board, which appears in the Editor when you click on a folder. Then you rearrange the chunks by dragging and dropping the index card on the cork board or the title in the Binder. When you click on a chunk, you see the text in the Editor.

Scrivener screen capture from Spellbound Scribes.

Scrivener automates my old process of laying out index cards on the carpet. I imported my existing file, separated each poem into its own chunk, and created a hierarchy of sections. Moving poems and whole sections around so easily made me positively giddy--I had to force myself to stop and export a portion of the manuscript to see how it looked when assembled.

Although you can construct your own project, Scrivener offers a poetry manuscript template. The customizable template sets up the front page and the header for the remaining pages. I decided to make each poem a separate chunk and created section folders in which to organize them. If you've ever put together a poetry collection, you know how much rearranging goes into getting just the right order. Scrivener makes it easy to move poems around, while the Binder gives you the map of the overall project.

Scrivener screen capture from OrganizingCreativity.Com
You can also elect to show the Inspector, which appears on the right side of the screen. The Inspector lets you make notes about each card and select options for the way that text is included in the compiled document. For example, in the Inspector I selected to have each chunk--each poem--start on a new page.

Compiling is how you create the finished document, and represents a whole other level of value. You can compile your manuscript as a Word document, Rich Text (rtf), PDF or a number of other formats. You can even compile it as HTML. Best of all, you can compile it as an ebook in multiple formats: ePub, Kindle, iBooks. Zing! Hit one button and there's your ebook!

I've only just begun to explore Scrivener's features, but I'm already a convert.
B. Morrison.jpg

I find the world too
much sometimes.
Just give me
a table to write on
a little quiet
and a view of trees.

by Barbara Morrison
Posted with permission of the author

Barbara Morrison, who writes under the name B. Morrison, is the author of two poetry collections, Terrarium (2013) and Here at Least (2006), and a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother.  Her award-winning work has been published in anthologies and magazines. She conducts writing workshops and speaks on women's and poverty-related issues. She is also the owner of a small press and speaks about publishing and marketing. She has maintained her Monday Morning Books blog since 2006 and tweets regularly about poetry @bmorrison9. For more information, visit her website and blog at

Available at Amazon.
Thanks, Barbara. You've made a believer out of me, too. I'm going to give Scrivener a try for Little Patuxent Review, but also for my own writing. Looks like Sam is out of a job.


Renee LaTulippe said...

I've heard the word "Scrivener" but had no idea what it was and never bothered to look it up. Now I did. Now I want it. This seems pretty much perfect for writing projects of any size, and just to keep all the little bits and pieces of ideas in some kind of order. Right now my desktop is littered with folders, while those idea bits are stored in an online Penzu journal, which isn't great. Thanks for this excellent overview - sounds like a solution!

Author Amok said...

Me too, Renee. Barbara's explanation makes Scrivener sound like a great tool for compiling poems or chapters. And at approximately $40 the program seems well worth buying and learning.

Jen said...

Oh, I hope it makes your job as editor easier! Sounds like a great tool. Do you think it's as big of a technology breakthrough as the copy/paste feature itself? For now I've been enjoying make word art by cutting and pasting (literally) but when my brain finally calms enough for some real writing I'll have to look into that. I too get lost in my own arranged and re-arranged manuscripts.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Again, scared but intrigued. I've just been haranguing my daughter to PRINT out her long writing project so she can get her hands on the pieces and move them around, and I think that's still important for young brains...but I bet this program is EXACTLY what she needs. Or is it me who needs it? It should be called "Bucket List."

Linda B said...

I do have a project (my 'goodbye poems' that I keep worrying about losing, actually. I've e-mailed a document & put it on Google docs just to keep those safe. But this looks really easy & interesting with the ability to move things around like cards. I will pass it on, too, to a friend. Thanks Laura and Barbara for the recommendation! Sweet poem, too! Sounds nice to have a journal & a pen!

Veronica Roth said...

Brilliant Barbara, I’ve installed scrivener but then mostly ignored it. Time to maybe have another look at it. Love your poem, same way I feel when I’m at the cabin with no electricity and no plug-in-ability. Somehow I get a lot more work done there. :)

Unknown said...

Great post, B!
I use Scrivener for all my writing! It really is huge help for staying organized.
And with a free month trial, you have to at least give it a try.
Thanks for sharing!
P.S. NaNoWriMo participants get 20% off and winners get 50% off!!

Sarah said...

Thanks for this, Barbara. Perhaps the single most useful feature is being able to see everything laid out right in front of your eyes. I've always used the old-fashioned method of stacking and sorting and counting, I'm now curious to check this out - it does sound easier on the back at the very least!! Thanks for a clear and concise walk-through.

Ed DeCaria said...

For anyone who finds themselves with lots of poem ideas, open drafts, and a desperate need to organize, Scrivener will help immediately. I don't love every aspect of it from a poetry POV, but it puts a linear Word doc to shame. Would definitely recommend it. I do think there's a chance that a more elegant piece of software like Evernote (cited by Linda Baie here yesterday) could decide they want to compete for this use case and add features specific to writing/manuscript creation, and leave Scrivener in a tough position. But it's not very expensive and barriers to exit are low, so if you need something to help you organize now, you cannot really go wrong with Scrivener.

Doraine said...

I love Scrivener. I started using it last summer and still have only scratched the surface. Love it for poetry, blog posts, fiction and nonfiction. It does so much it's crazy.

laurasalas said...

I bought Scrivener and tried it, but I really struggled with it. I love it in concept, but it was so clunky to me! It's been a while, and I think it was still in beta at that point? Susan Taylor Brown keeps telling me I need Scrivener, and maybe I do. You've inspired me to at least open back up the program and try it again. Or buy the updated version if what I have isn't current. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I got Scrivener recently for work on a novel--- before that I used a free software, YWRiter. But now I'm using it for a revised version of a poetry book I self-published. I've read that Scrivener automatically formats your manuscript for e-book. I'm hoping that will work and so I'll finally have an e-book version of the book to make available.

And, yes, I'm one of those odd people who comment on old blog posts. ;)