Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

What you want for Christmas

You really don't need any more socks. Or pink fluffy things. You need Scrivener.
If you regularly write anything beyond letters -- novels, scripts, reports, research papers, theses, anything with a bit of complexity to it -- do yourself a favour and get Scrivener. Yes, I've said this before. No, I have no connection to the company, nor am I paid to plug it. I just have days when this software gives me yet another neat solution to make the writing day easier and I get all grateful and sentimental about it. Today is such a day. I've worked out how the best way to revise a manuscript on it -- best for me, that is, because you can adapt this app to fit your individual needs.

Basically, it's a one-stop shop app to create, manage, output, and even publish big, complex documents -- and it can be customised to your personal needs and working style because there are multiple ways of doing everything. I have no idea how I ever managed to write books without it, to be honest, although I do have disturbing and poorly-suppressed memories of wrestling with massive Word docs that crashed endlessly and vanished into the pit of file corruption, never to be coaxed out again. Word and its ilk were never really designed for the needs of fiction writers, though, so I shouldn't gripe. Having said that, I suspect that I would benefit from going back to the good old typewriter and its "right first time or else" newsroom disciplines that made me, but as I'm signed up to the digital process, Scriv is my best mate on that journey.

I've been using Scriv daily for about 18 months now, I think, and I find something new and useful in it all the time. It's also incredibly cheap for what it is ($45), and there's even a Windows version, so if someone asks you what you want for Christmas, say Scrivener. It'll take you some time to learn to use it fully (I still haven't, I admit, and it may be some years before I do) but it earns its keep from day one while you learn. You can use as few or as many of its functions as you need.

You may well find David Hewson's Scrivener guide very helpful, too -- written by a novelist for novelists.

I admit that Scriv is one of the few products in the world that I tried dubiously, was unexpectedly smitten by, and now fall more in love with every time I use it. Just one caveat: this will not teach you to write or give you a methodology to follow, like the "how to write your blockbuster" apps that you see everywhere. This is for people who already know how to do the job, but need a much more functional word processor that's also a filing cabinet, pin board, thought organiser, outliner, and research tool.

A Gucci piece of kit, and no mistake.