Scrivener: It was the best of software, it was the worst of software…

In writing the book I’m currently working on (62,000 words and counting), I gave up my dream of a seamless writing experience that would allow me to work cross-platform while keeping my book in sync online and off, and instead finally went for it and tried Scrivener, running on my old Acer netbook (which is a miserable piece of equipment, but I’ll spare you that).

I tried everything. The closest I came was UX Write for the iPad. It enabled me to have a big .docx file on Box that I could edit with Word on the PC and with the app on the iPad. UX Write is truly awesome software–one of the most impressive pieces of software I’ve ever seen. It works–smoothly, quickly, and without causing problems between iPad and PC. It has a great table of contents function that allowed me to keep work as chapters within a big document. It really is almost good enough to replace Word altogether.


iPads are still small–not always great for writing. And every so often, you need more. At the very least, you have to put it into Word or something similar eventually to format it. And Scrivener, it calls to you with its functions designed for writers, its tree-like organization, its Scrivenings mode, its ability to compile into all kinds of useful formats. It really is nice. But it doesn’t have an iPad version that works with the PC version (it works with the Mac version, but not the PC version, but if you don’t want to buy a Mac, tough cookies). This led me to think about buying a new Windows computer, but the tablets all represent compromises of one kind of another, and I’m not sure about paying full price for a real Windows machine when the future of desktop computing and PCs is so hazy. But of course Scrivener doesn’t run on Chromebooks, because “real” work is increasingly being consigned to a no-person’s land of dodgy kludges. The few of us still wanting to do anything more serious than, say, Instagram editing, are all going to be running hyperspace-capable Mac Pros without anything to run on them.

So in the end, I decided what was really important was writing, I loaded up Scrivener on the Acer, and I went for it. And I’m loving it. Truly, nothing else comes close in terms of functionality for writers. There are all kinds of things I wish it had, I wish it would work with my iPad, I wish I wish I wish. But the truth is, I’m never going to want to write longform again without it. The Scrivenings mode alone is something no other piece of software can match, period. The ability to turn your drag-and-drop tree-form skeleton into new shapes at will is…bliss. It is how my mind works translated into software. Must. Have. Scrivenings.

So that’s what’s gone into this one book, techwise, and will probably continue to be my modus, techwise, until the Acer croaks or Scrivener goes Mac-only (the developer certainly doesn’t seem too keen on the PC version, showing it almost no love in recent years, and lets the community develop the Linux version, which is roughly on a par with the PC version at this point, for better and for worse).

All well and good for this book, but why does it have to be this complicated? Oh well…I have to remind myself people wrote long novels before there even were computers. Before there was even electricity, for that matter. Still.

Want a free copy of SKYLIGHTS?

Originally posted on

skylightscover02Giving away, oh, ten copies or so.  You’ll have to download it through Smashwords but they carry all the relevant formats.

Leave a comment.  I’ll pick up your email address through that and I’ll get back to you with a code later today.

Meanwhile, The Benevolence Archives, Vol. 1 is perma-free over there and has been for a while.

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Learning to hear dialog

In one of Jane Smiley’s books, Moo, I think it was, advice is given to aspiring writers to spend time listening in public to hear how people really talk to each other. This is great advice. Once you get into the habit, you realize life is full of gems, countless linguistic turns and shadings that you would never, ever dream up. It’s also amazing what people share openly, though that’s another post. The other part of the trick is writing it down so that you really pay attention and really work at hearing the nuances.

Put them together and you get something like this, which I heard a couple of years ago in the Newark airport (great places to collect dialog in). A man with a mustache was sitting in a busy lobby beside a chair full of bags. Most of the other seats were taken, and a woman shuffled up to him and pointed to the chair with the luggage.

“This seat’s taken,” he tells her.

“By who?” she demands.

“You gotta know who? I’m watching a bag for somebody.”

Defeated, she walks away. But he has to put the finial on the deal. Disgruntled, trying to get comfortable in his seat again, rolling his eyes, he says loud enough for everyone in a 20-seat radius to hear:

“What do you need,  ID?”

Victory is his.

Star Trek scared me sometimes as a kid, too

After relinking my post about being raised by Star Trek, something I’m writing made me think of the Tholian Web episode of TOS.

This right here was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. It still creeps me out almost as much as Evil Spock:

Kirk, adrift between dimensions

I think part of it was the claustrophobia of the space suit, the inability to communicate. Just recently learned about The Mindbenders, the forerunner to Altered States (another seminal childhood film for me), which shares some of the themes:


So much entertainment now is about scary effects. These were scary ideas…which is why they still work.

Did Star Trek ever scare you? Remember what it used to be like when you actually saw the Romulans?