Wednesday’s Word: Scrivener

Wednesday's Word - A weekly feature on author DJ Edwardson's website


A scrivener is a scribe, copyist, or clerk, someone who deals with paperwork or words. I’ve always liked this word because of the sound of it. It sounds like ‘scribble’ which is what I imagine most scriveners doing. Indeed scribe, scribble, and scrivener all trace their origin from the same latin roots, scribere ‘to write’.

My attachment to this word runs even deeper than an appreciation of its phonetics, however. You see, for reasons which I’ve since forgotten, for some reason I actually started to write a play once in college entitled ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’. It was based off Herman Melville’s short story of the same name in which a melancholy copyist gradually loses his will to live. It’s an odd and tragic tale which hardly seems like it would have made for an interesting play but for some reason I chose to start writing it. The work was never finished and, as far as I know, remains lost in the dustbin of abandoned ideas, but it makes for an interesting memory.

But there is another, more recent connection which I’ve also developed to the word that might prove more practical to those reading this, especially if they are writers or students. I’m referring now to the computer software called Scrivener.

Scrivener logo

To call it a word processor falls woefully short of what it actually does. I think it would be more accurate to call it an idea machine. The differences between a conventional word processor are subtle at first, but the more you use it, the more you realize that it represents a completely different paradigm for writing.

What Scrivener does is allow you to organize your thoughts, notes, chapters, and scenes in a much more efficient way. Where it shines, I find, is in dealing with large projects, i.e. novels. The first couple of drafts for Into the Vast were written using a conventional word processor but eventually the manuscript became so unwieldy that I found it difficult to edit and hop around in. With Scrivener you can divide and section things off much more easily and you can attach notes to specific chapters such as “rewrite this character’s reactions”, “too much dialogue”, and so forth. I was writing these notes, as well as my character sketches and plot outlines all in separate files and it was simply a hassle moving back an forth between them. Suffice it to say that Scrivener changed all that. It helped me draw all of the disparate threads for the novel into one convenient location and in many ways helped to streamline and unify the story that I was trying to write.

It really is hard to describe exactly how Scrivener works without showing it to you, but if certainly changed my process as a writer for the better and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The software is available for a free trial so I used it for a month or so before finally deciding to make the switch. So if you are in the market for something to help keep you better organized you can download it and try it for yourself. If you do, I highly recommend watching their tutorial videos and reading the instruction manual that comes with it or you might miss some of the amazing features this product has to offer.

Until next week’s word, keep scrivening and I’ll do the same.

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