Review: Scrivener 2, a serious writer’s tool

Scrivener 2.0 is an important upgrade of the number one writer’s tool for Mac users. It has numerous improvements and some new features, such as a template startup screen, better integration between corkboard, outliner and text mode, collections, page view, and the ability to publish to ePUB directly.

A number of Scrivener‘s unique features have been improved upon dramatically. The first one is Scrivener’s capability to remember your jumps between views. When you select a specific view of a folder, the next time you click on that folder, Scrivener will use the last view to show the folder contents.

In Corkboard view, the most spectacular improvement must be the freeform index card mode. This works exactly as in the real world, when you are shuffling index cards around to determine the order of topics in your document. Associated with the freeform mode, is Scrivener’s ability to print index cards on Avery index cards or on plain paper, which is great if you want to work with a traditional paper card system.

A new feature which I believe should have been there all the time is Page View. In page view mode you can see the actual print format of what you’re writing. Much to the developer’s credit, he has given Scrivener a two-up view as well, so that spreads can be viewed, which is very useful especially for scientific papers.

Collections are new as well. The name initially confused me; I was looking for another folder-like structure, but collections are in essence saved searches.

Scrivener’s outliner has seen a major overhaul too. Columns can be sorted and you can add columns, such as word count, total word count, progress, etc. Title and synopsis are grouped together in the first column — first if you don’t move that column to another position… The outliner can have custom columns too. If you add a custom metadata field, the field will appear in the columns drop-down menu. I tried to create an “Approved” metadata field, with the intention of turning this into a checkbox, but that didn’t work. Scrivener metadata must be text, so for the “Approved” field you would have to enter “Yes” or “No”. The text colour can be anything you like, though.

Another time saver is that you now can create Comments and Footnotes right in the Inspector, so there’s no need to scroll down and add them at the bottom of a document. Comments can be colour-coded.

QuickReference HUD panels can be opened alongside the editor or in full-screen mode. They can be anything from a web page to another document in the Binder. They can also be text you have copied from another application. The way the QuickReference panel works was a bit of a mystery to me. When you select a document in the Binder, the QuickReference panel gets populated with the content of the document; that makes sense. When you select a web page or other element that exists in the Binder as an element and not a folder, the content is automatically loaded.

When you select a folder in the Binder, the QuickReference panel is empty, but when you then paste (or type) text from another application, it shows up in the QuickReference panel every time you select that folder. In other words: you can “attach” text to a Binder folder through the QuickReference panel! The QuickReference panel also accepts images, by the way…

The Scrivener 2 Inspector
Scrivener also gained versioning capabilities. The Snapshot feature is now built into the Inspector and comes with a new Compare functionality so you can see the differences between versions. With versioning one usually also thinks of revisions and Scrivener now has those too. In revision mode, newly typed text will appear in your pre-defined revision colour.

Scrivener’s revision mode is an encouraging first step in my opinion, but it shouldn’t be the last. It isn’t like Microsoft Word’s Change Tracking. Deleting words, for example, doesn’t result in showing some kind of revision code/status. There are five revisions possible, with no ability to create more of them as far as I could tell. So, bottom line: yes, you get revisions that you can quickly switch between, but I think users will want more out of this.

A nice new feature is that you can save documents as templates, but also that you set document and folder icons as you like. Scrivener comes with a bunch of pre-installed icons, but you can add your own — either to the project or on the Scrivener application level. There’s no integration with CandyBar, for example, but you can easily export icons to the desktop and load them in Scrivener by selecting the “Manage icons” command. Scrivener will convert some image formats into its icon format and resize them appropriately, but the best way to import icons is to create them in advance, of course.

Scrivener synchronises with several applications, such as Simplenote, Index Card, PlainText and Notebooks. I didn’t try these features, although I’m sure they’ll be important to some users. More important in my opinion is Scrivener now having a name generator. This is especially useful for fiction writers, but also for people who want to use a pseudonym instead of their real name, or when an investigative journalist wants to protect his/her sources by giving them fake names.

The output from Scrivener has been vastly improved too. The Compiling window allows you to customise almost anything that you possibly want to customise. There’s an improved Final Draft 8 integration, and — very important from where I stand — the ability to directly output to Kindle and ePUB format.

Besides these top features, Scrivener 2 has a whole slew of smaller improvements, including a cleaner look, better Preferences panel, etc. It’s now more than ever a professional writer’s tool, no matter if that writer is a scientist, student, journalist, blogger or fiction writer.

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