writing technique

The Heath Robinson Writing Machine

heath-robinson

Doubling Gloucester Cheeses by the Gruyère Method (Heath Robinson)

In two days, I have a decision to make. Not necessarily the day after tomorrow, because these days can be non-consecutive. So far, in the past eight months, I’ve used up 28 and I’m still undecided. Transfer everything there? Or stick with my own method?

Yes, I’m talking about Scrivener. You know Scrivener – ‘the biggest advance for writers since the typewriter’, according to sci-fi writer Michael Marshall-Smith. Maybe he skipped the cut-and-paste capacity of the word processor, but you get the idea – without Scrivener, you’re one of the also rans. (Naturally, there’s a good chance you’ll be one with it too, but at least you’ll be equipped. A scrivernerless writer, it seems, is like an armourless knight).

The problem is that Scrivener is what the French call ‘une usine à gaz’ – a huge, labyrinthine contraption that huffs and puffs and in the end produces a blast of hot air. Whoever designed Scrivener is a worthy successor to Heath Robinson.

potatoes

Furthermore – and please excuse me for making an obvious point – if I buy the same shirts as George Clooney, I’m not going to look like George Clooney. Faulkner, Salinger and Hemingway managed just fine without Scrivener. Closer to the present, so did the authors of such complex works as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Scrivener may be smart, systematic and seductive, but it won’t turn you into an author any more than a pair of top-end trainers will turn you into Mo Farah. Obvious, yes, but as all advertisers know, our gullibility is boundless – so much do we want our dream to become true that we’re ready to believe we just need the right accessory, whether Nike, Rolex or Scrivener.

You assume now, obviously, that I’m not going to buy it. Well, actually, I think I will. Because after a month of testing, I’ve finally stopped screaming in frustration at the sheer number of buttons and knobs and levers that serve no other purpose than to drive me mad. There’s even a certain pleasure now to opening it. And having reached the conclusion that it can offer a slight improvement on my current practice, I reckon I’ll give it a go.

I still write longhand in messy, chaotic notebooks strewn with asterisks and arrows. Scrivener won’t change that. It’s when the mess is transferred to screen that changes start to occur. Because once you’ve figured out how to organise files and folders – and that in itself is no easy matter – the navigation within your text becomes easier. Everything being on a single screen, you get a global view, the visual realisation of the way the text is shaped at a given moment in your mind. Potentially, this makes for more efficiency. On the whole, my brain works OK – though I might forget where I parked the car, I have all the scenes of my novel sorted in the left isosceles giblet of my endo-coniferous lobe. But sometimes my brain messes up, and bits and pieces of inspiration get lost.

brain2

Seriously, though, it would be interesting to study the neurocognitive effects of using Scrivener. I’m sure cut-and-paste, thanks to the ease of shifting passages around, made a difference to the way novels were written. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scrivener did likewise.

After a month, I’m using only the most basic functions. It does a million other things that I’ll never want or need. Gradually, I dare say I’ll learn a few other tricks, as I do with Photoshop or Excel. I’m not in any hurry, though – I’d rather write than fiddle with fancy software. That’s one reason why I won’t be signing up to Joseph Michael’s Learn Scrivener Fast – the other being the $197 it costs. Nothing against Mr. Michael here – if the software’s so Heath Robinson that he can sell tutorials at five times the price of what they purport to explain, kudos to him. Personally, I found some decent hints for free here and here. One thing’s for sure – if you’re starting out with Scrivener, you’ll need some sort of help. Unless you already peel your potatoes with the Heath Robinson machine.

 

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