Scrivener and the 32 London boroughs

In April I began to evaluate a strategic programme running across the 32 London boroughs. Yes, a lot of places, people and paperwork were on the horizon. I decided that this was a good opportunity to try out Scrivener properly.

I got going.

I chose the non-fiction template for the binder. It seemed the most appropriate. There’s a file called ‘Manuscript’ which I liked the sound of, so I decided that I’d use it for work in progress and the final report. You can have different folders (chapters) and sub-sections within each one. I wasn’t sure what I was going to need but I opened a number of folders and added some sub-sections, just in case.

I changed file icons and their names. As well as ‘Manuscript’, the non-fiction template has files called ‘Notes’, ‘Ideas’ and ‘Research’, all with different clever icons. You can change them (Documents/Change Icon).  I decided clever ones would distract me so I made the icons very plain – just a folder and text. And I changed the file names to useful ones for me: ‘Admin’, ‘Interviews’, ‘To read’ – that kind of thing.

I dragged reference documents into the binder. The first of these was a map of the boroughs. I knew I’d be referring to it and I put it into the ‘To read’ folder. There were many more reference documents – reports from this place, publications from that place, and other bits and pieces. Importing documents of different kinds directly and easily into the binder is a very good thing about Scrivener. (I’ve just exported the map from the Evaluation binder via the desktop into my Blog binder. All very straightforward.)

I changed the fonts to ones which worked for me. I didn’t get this right straightaway so I tried out a few ideas as I wrote. I’m using Calibri 14pt as the body font at present. I find it spacious and airy and it gives me room to think.

Then I worked on the evaluation’s methodology. As part of it, I put together a few tools. One was a loose framework for analysis. At first, I had it in the Methodology folder, then I decided it was too long and put it in the Appendices folder, then I put it back in the Methodology folder, then I cut it down, then I built it up. All of this is very normal practice and was made perfectly easy by Scrivener. Just no big deal. Quite relaxing really.

Interviews came next – lots of them. I conducted them, wrote them up and put them in the ‘Interviews’ folder. Later, I’d copy bits into the working document and hack them about a bit. That’s all possible with Scrivener.

What I’ve described here was done in scrivenings mode. I tried out the corkboard mode which allows you to view each folder’s sub-sections, make notes on what each contains and move them about. I found it didn’t work for me – at least with this piece of work. Perhaps next time.

At one point I had 30,000 words or so in the manuscript. You can easily see the word count for the whole manuscript, each folder and each sub-section. I worked through it and produced a first draft of around 11,500. Then I compiled it and shifted it over to Word. It took a few tries to get the compiling right but at last it wasn’t too bad. Except it was in Word.

Cinderella! The clock had struck 12 and my sparkling prose seemed to have turned to dust. And there was still Word formatting to be done.

It was just a trick of the light, of course. After formatting, the draft was OK. But it didn’t seem quite the same.

This evaluation had a good structure: strong and flexible. It allowed for interesting leads to be followed and for the work to evolve. Scrivener really lent itself to this as I moved sub-sections around, tried out new chapters and scrapped ideas which didn’t work. And it worked well as I cut the whole thing down to around 3,000 words for another version.

There’s lots more to learn about Scrivener.

I’ll be working with it again. I call it ‘Scriv’ now, for friendliness.

Map of London boroughs