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Meeting Scrivener – Part 4: What No Tool Can Do by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

Congratulations! You are just a few days from the end of Academic Writing Month. It has been a remarkable amount of work and effort. Perhaps you made all your goals. I have a confession: I struggle to meet goals. Rarely do I set a word or page count to meet and then actually follow through. Sometimes, that makes me feel like a failure. But the process profoundly challenges me to push into new terrain in the composition and drafting processes. My writing can improve trying to meet new goals even when I fail to meet them; trying to run a mile helps even if we huff and puff and walk most of the way.

Often, it is the process itself that is illuminated and gives the best take-aways from a month like AcWriMo. My words might be weak on the page but I have learned new skills and tools to keep pushing forward with writing.

Trying Scrivener has been a useful lens on my writing process in a deeper way that I had reason to consider before. Years of using Microsoft Word make the first drafting steps seem familiar. Familiarity can trigger all the old habits and hang-ups and anxieties before the first word is even in the document. There are things that a new, shiny tool cannot solve: drafting aversion, anxieties, stress shut downs, revision nightmares, etc. Fundamentally, Scrivener cannot solve the person demons and hang ups that we each carry into the lonely process of drafting. But Scrivener, or other alternative writing tools, can thwart what we expect in the first writing moments. With an altered first step, we have the chance for a new outcome.

Scrivener, as a new and unfamiliar writing space, made it easy for me to notice some of my quirks, like the myriad of ways I dart to distraction instead of drafting. Writing can be an anxious process for me. I have had to face my fears about writing in a new way than I had before. I have had to face the things that prevent me from sitting down and getting the work done.

In conclusion, Scrivener did not become my new best friend. But any new tool, if we give it the chance, can jolt us out of our detrimental habits. New tools can shine a little light on the more miserable parts of our inner academic world, the difficult places where the shiny ideas and associations that got us into scholarship are not as alluring as they once were. Recognition is the first step toward addressing the far more difficult inner work that a new tool cannot ever solve. Tools are only as useful as we make them. It takes time and discernment and some messing around (and the Longest Tutorial) to figure out what works for us.

I raise a glass to you for your hard work! To Scrivener! To our tools old and new and to all the light they shine!


Summary of my favorite parts of Scrivener:

  • Pin board. The ability to shift sections of text around in the document by looking at the note card visual of a project.
  • Zen mode. Cut the distractions and get ‘er done.
  • Integrating media with the writing process.
  • Words not pages. Okay, truth be told, I hated this because the pages make me feel like I got somewhere instead of infinite incompleteness. But shifting my measure of success really impacted my conception of the writing process.
  • Potential for creative and scholarly work existing in the same project board.

Meeting Scrivener – Part 3: Mixing and Matching Using Scrivener for Digital Research by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

Composition rarely involves just text on a page. And increasingly, in a digital world post Roland Barthes, we learn to read more than words on a page. Our texts are not simply words but a compendium of different media and sources. And this makes the long academic project incredibly difficult to organize and tackle. It is not a matter of merely arranging our sources to analyze but sorting them and noting them as we construct our thoughts on the page. The writing process is the act of analysis. How can we write in a way that gives us full access to the texts and ideas that motivate us while focusing on getting the words on the page? Can Scrivener be the tool that enables a new kind of writing process?

What Scrivener can do:

Scrivener creates a writing process that exists alongside constant reference to digital sources. It does not expect you to write constantly flipping back and forth between source documents and your writing process. Various media and text files can be integrated with the writing process. You can add images and YouTube videos and web pages into the Research Folder and easily view them in the split panel frame feature. And really, this is a game changer for the composition process.

Screenshot (208)Interdisciplinary academics draws on multi-media sources as well as text sources. And this is introduces a whole new realm of possible writing processes. Scrivener can participate in that with the split panel frame that allows the writer to consistently view various references while composing. You don’t have to wait until a later stage to begin integrating references and comprehensively analyzing sources.

I imported a term paper on partner dancing in literature as a test run for the feature. Over the past week, I have begun revising the text and considering possible ways to break the original paper into multiple texts for publication. My primary task: I needed to collect and arrange digital dance sources and analyze them during the composition process. It was great to have access to YouTube videos of Regency period dance reproductions right alongside videos of contemporary West Coast Swing “Jack and Jill” competitions. I can play a video and easily type thoughts as I viewed the video. This creates a close integration between my written text and the image I view. I can explore the possibilities of real time response as I write.

Here’s the rub:

I wanted to integrate the videos into the text itself and easily format the Scrivener file into a digital form. This would allow video to live right beside the analysis rather than imagining my paper being read only on static print paper. Instead, I imagined research being engaged digitally. And this is where Scrivener ceased to help me.

Scrivener CAN export to flexible forms like html (yay!) and basic .txt files. For those of you in digital humanities or the like, this will give you all you need to move to create a fully digital text with integrated images and media files.

Screenshot (209)

The problem for me is based in my composition philosophy. For those of us without computer know-how, we need formats that allow composition to happen with close integration with media files.  And Scrivener’s digital exporting options cannot include images and media files included in the writing text itself.

What I wish Scrivener could do and someone should definitely create:

Integrating images and videos into the text itself in a way that is easily exportable to digital formats. What I mean is this: more scholarly writing needs to include images and videos within the text itself. We need platforms that allow our research to easily format with images and videos rather than simply providing links or screen shots to be inserted later. There is a growing integration of sources and formats that is reflected in both writing process and writing outcomes. The way we construct things is not the same as it used to be and we need platforms that allow composition to exist alongside formatting tools.

Now, I am aware that this is a highly unfair ask of Scrivener. They never claimed to be the solution to a new age of research formatting and text/media integration. Scrivener has only ever claimed to focus on text production, getting those elusive words on the page. Everything about the tool is aimed at that outcome and that outcome alone. Blaming a platform for not being what it never wanted to be is highly illogical of me as a reviewer.

So let’s give some kudos to Scrivener for what it does: creating a split frame feature that permits dynamic reading/analysis and composition process. Full integration into digital platforms with our multi-media sources is just around the corner.

Meet Scrivener – Part 2: The Longest Tutorial by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

The hardest part about learning to use Scrivener is the instructions in the longest tutorial ever created.

And I do mean long: 22+ mini-articles that take more than predicted three hours to read. As a busy person, I did not appreciate how difficult it was to fully learn this new tool. As I said before, I’m not a techy. Tutorials are absolutely necessary for me to survive in this world. But the instruction was indirect and chatty rather than efficient and to the point.

The upside is that the tutorial is written for the non-techy (me!). It imitates the friendly voice of the eternally patient friend. The tutorial writer will not shame you for any confusion. It gives suggestions and helpful guided practice. And it is very, very thorough. By the end, you have experienced every feature that Scrivener offers.

But long-winded paragraphs are not how I learn. On a good day, I struggle to read instructions accurately. I won’t tell you the number of times that I’ve destroyed the simplest banana bread because I misread the teaspoon of baking soda as a tablespoon of baking powder. If the instructions are not even in a list form, my mind wanders.

The tutorial became an enormous barrier to me employing Scrivener as a new tool in my writing projects. To do the job thoroughly, it took six hours. By the time I finished, I had forgotten many instructions from the beginning. Albeit, the friendly tutorial encouraged me to take several tea and biscuit breaks, and even a glass of wine. I completed those instructions perfectly.


So is Scrivener worth the tutorial?

As with all things, it depends on your project goals. For some, Scrivener is not going to have the pay off that they want after such a steep learning curve. For others, they won’t find it that difficult to learn and therefore can jump right in.

Others will find it difficult but well worth the effort. I suspect that I am in this final category because of my work style. I, for one, am a compiler, collecting notes and references and short paragraph sketches and section headers into a large, tangled pile before I can write a basic thesis. Scrivener, once I get used to it, has all the features that my old school sticky note piles but without the difficulty of reading my own hand writing or losing anything. Instead, I can employ my same project tactics but in a visually clean word processor. I no longer have to separate my initial thoughts from the drafting document itself. Every writer and academic is unique, and never more so than in their project habits Scrivener is designed to be useful to the most tangled work styles. The hope is that anyone using it can tailor it to specific and quirky structures.

If Scrivener were any simpler, it would not accomplish its goal of being flexible to the awkward, unaccountable tactics we each take to sort our ideas into comprehensive arguments and order.

But getting comfortable enough in Scrivener to “be you” takes time that none of us have. So here’s my advice: only use the shortened tutorial. Do not sink yourself into the full tutorial—unless you adore the rambling explication of tools in a 22 Step Process. Play with Scrivener as you develop your project from brainstorming to completion. And when odd buttons and difficult tasks frustrate you: use the YouTube videos. A visual demonstration was more helpful and faster than the chatty written guide.

Even with the initial barriers, it does not take long to see how Scrivener can particularly help academics. I am going to quickly highlight some of those features for the beginning users. I include the tutorial sections that tell you about these features.

Footnote, Annotations, and References: Step 5D “References” & 5H

It can be incredibly difficult to integrate footnotes and annotations into long research documents using Microsoft Word. Formatting becomes a tedious process and can clutter the pages. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, it can be easy to miss footnote content. Scrivener allows footnotes to be stored away from the working text itself, a kind of digital sticky note that you can open as needed.

In addition, you can import actual reference texts into your project so everything is one place instead of strewn across document folders and various reference works.

Split Pane Feature: Step 8 “Splits”

Split pane feature is a beautiful tool to use with references. The screen splits in two and two documents can be viewed at the same time. I find that integrating references often requires flipping back and forth between browsers my tiny laptop screen; it’s annoying at the very best and confusing at worst. Split pane allows you to view the PDF you found in JSTOR or the screen shot of the webpage you are analyzing at the same time you are writing your analysis. 

Composition Mode: Step 4 “Composition Mode”

As Scrivener acknowledges, this is not innovative in the world of word processors. However, it is great that it is there. Go into Composition Mode and it is just you and your text. Composition mode allows you to access many of the Scrivener formatting and writing tools without having to exit the focused view. With the significant word counts every day this month, focus is essential.


Next week, I’ll address how Scrivener affects interdisciplinary projects, particularly those that require multiple forms of media like in the digital humanities.

Storify for Oct 23 #acwri chat hosted by Pat Thomson

Meet Scrivener – Part 1 by Dana Ray

2136923757_3fef83563b_oWriter. Dancer. Tea Drinker. Idea Wrangler. See more of Dana’s work and writing at www.danamray.com

I am not a techy. New programs are a nightmare I indulge in only on Halloween. Backing up my new laptop took a frantic struggle with a defunct external hard drive and far too much money spent on new external hard drives. Oh, and it took nine months after I bought the new computer. I could have born a child in that time frame.

I am not a techy. I am a writer and an academic and a student. I write. A lot. My projects vary from short articles to unwieldy term papers to an appalling thesis that thunders overhead. I get the challenges of organizing projects and arranging goals within the tangled mess of word documents and file labels and the notation fiascos and revision comments. I am the patronus of all non-techy writers. I am the struggle of man vs machine.

But a few months ago, I began to wonder what existed to help me that I had simply overlooked. Was there a program out there that could help my writing process? A program that would allow my messy structures to continue intuitively but suddenly renders them comprehensible and (of all beautiful things) searchable? It seemed a lot to ask from an inanimate object.

Then someone introduced me to Scrivener. They claimed it could solve all my problems and more. And if I could finally get that external hard drive to back up and open an account with Drop Box, perhaps I could learn how to use this new tool as well. Oh, and they offer a one month free trial. What would be the harm in trying?

Let me back up and explain exactly what Scrivener is designed to be. Scrivener is a word processor designed by writers for writers. But when I hear the term “word processor” I immediately think of Microsoft Word. In fact, Microsoft Word is merely a product name for just one of many word processors that exist out there. According to a Google Search, the technical definition of a word processor is this: “a program or machine for storing, manipulating, and formatting text entered from a keyboard and providing a printout.” It’s a very basic definition of what used to be revolutionary but is more humdrum to us now. We can use a program that let us see ourselves compiling words and then allow us to print those words on paper. Magic!

Scrivener is one just processor and one designed for writer and writing projects rather than a multi-industry interface like Microsoft Word. Is comes packed with odd and inventive features that I’m pleased to share with you like “Zen mode” (a focus viewer), split screens, brainstorming tools, and more. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Join me in AcWriMo as I share with you my first time, non-techy Scrivener user experience! I will share the ups and the downs, the positives and the negatives, some how-tos and what to avoid. At the very least, exploring Scrivener in AcWriMo will uncover plenty of important food for thought about the academic writing process and all the challenges of surviving it!


Storify for Oct 14 #acwri chat hosted by Lisa Munro

This Twitter chat was dedicated to co-authoring (hosted by @llmunro)

Storify for June 11 #acwri chat
#acwri Twitter Chat: Dealing with Reviewer Comments
#acwri chats will return on Thursday, January 22 at 8:00 BT (3:00 ET)!

Htwitterwritteost Pat Thomson will moderate a discussion on the challenges of setting and meeting academic writing goals. Everyone is welcome to join in with their questions and insights about productivity in academic writing. At this time of year, many writers are trying new approaches and making new resolutions; in this chat, we will consider why those resolutions are so hard to keep. Are we setting unrealistic goals? Are we saying “yes” to too many non-writing activities? Are we trying to find time to write without giving up anything else? Are we sticking with writing approaches that haven’t worked well for us in the past? Are we getting discouraged by the lack of immediate results? Are we assessing our own writing too harshly? One thing that we know often hampers attempts to develop new habits is trying to do it alone. While writing is often a solitary task, we can still gain solace from a community of other writers. The #acwri chats are a way of building that community and creating a space for writers to share their experiences with all facets of academic writing. Please join us on January 22 to be part of this valuable forum. In addition to questions and comments about goal setting, we welcome suggestions for topics for future chats.

To learn more about the history of the #acwri hashtag, read this post from Anna Tarrant. And to learn more about the #AcWriMo hashtag, read this post from Charlotte Frost.

What’s next?

puzzleIt’s been a busy Academic Writing Month here at PhD2Published.com! So many people set their intentions, set goals, got writing done, submitted work for publication…

Whether you set goals. met goals, or decided not to even consider #AcWriMo, the important takeaway is a vibrant, supportive community of scholars who are encouraging one another year round.

So we’d like to ask you, our community of academic writers, what we can do to keep that community going strong beyond November. Would you want a series of Twitter chats? A virtual Shut Up & Write session? Workshops? Tips? Please post your ideas here!

Looking forward to a productive December.

The origins of the #AcWri hashtag by Anna Tarrant

annaDr. Anna Tarrant is a social scientist with a background in human geography, currently working as a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. She is former editor of PhD2Published.com, and reflects on the history of #AcWri in this guest post.

#Acwri — which stands for academic writing — is a hashtag used in online discussions about all things related to academic writing (as it is broadly defined). It has been instrumental in establishing an on-going, online participatory community, providing an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing (empowering each member as experts in their right) and generating useful resources in the form of summaries. Scholars of all career stages and disciplines participate in a peer-to-peer support network by sharing tips, asking questions, discussing challenges and reflecting on how they write. But where did #AcWri come from?

Origins of the hashtag

I was the editor of PhD2Published during its first ever Academic Writing Month (originally Academic Book Writing Month or #AcBoWriMo, which was eventually shortened to Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo). Interest in academic writing didn’t end when the month came to a close and this new community continued to regularly share their academic writing wins and woes using the shortened #AcWri hashtag that had been suggested by Melissa Lovell (@melovell). Around about the same time, Dr Jeremy Segrott (Cardiff University) ran a live chat using the hashtag #writter to find out if there was any interest in establishing a twitter-based writing support group. Following this chat (and having gained permission from the existing #AcWri community), we all decided to work together to organise and run fortnightly Live Chats using the #AcWri hashtag. These took place every fortnight on a Thursday evening at 8pm GMT and each one focused on a particular aspect of the writing process.

Some of the chats we have run

The live chats have covered a wide range of topics, including but not limited to; writing journal articles, turning conference papers into journal articles, writing grant applications, finding time to write and academic writing for part-time students and researchers. The topics were identified through monitoring of ongoing discussion using the #AcWri hashtag. This was important for ensuring that each topic was of interest to the community.

Every Live Chat was summarised using Storify, an online tool for creating stories from social media content. Posted on PhD2Published and Jeremy’s blog, these are really useful resources for academic writers and provide a record of the community’s discussions.

Going global

As a result of the live chats and the increasing popularity of the hashtag, the #AcWri community continued to grow and extend its reach. Demand for a chat time more suited to Australia/Asia/South Pacific time zones also grew so we announced #acwri APAC, a live chat run at 10+ GMT. This was co-chaired by Jennifer Lim and Wini Cooke who regularly participated in the community. #AcWri APAC extended the reach of #AcWri by supporting a multi-disciplinary, international discussion forum focused around academic writing.

#AcWri today

While the live chats are no longer run, the hashtag continues to be used on a regular basis by a well-established, global and thriving academic community. #AcWri is a fantastic peer support network for academic writers of all career stages and continues to facilitate an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing, empowering each member as experts in their own right.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #9 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Start now. The new year is approaching, and many of us are motivated to make resolutions and set goals for 2014. Oftentimes, we find ourselves disappointed when resolutions come up short. Setting a goal is only the first step in investing in your research and writing: remember that it takes time to develop a habit. Take these two weeks before the new year begins and start developing your routine and habit for whatever you aspire to in 2014. By January 1, it will already be familiar to you.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #8 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Set tiny tasks. Put a very small task related to writing on your to do list for the day. It’s the guilt-killer: once you get the tiny thing done, you can alleviate your sense of dread that another day might pass without making progress on your writing. Even better, the sense of accomplishment for doing one small thing can compel you to do more. Once you get started, you might end up spending even more time working.

Weekly wisdom: tips and tweaks #4 by Linda Levitt

Diorama_-_19_(8126284371)Find some new music. If there’s one space of disagreement among preferences for the writing environment, music and background noise might top the list. A friend who grew up in a noisy household takes her laptop to a bowling alley. Another insists on getting as close to silence as possible. Still another puts on Spanish-language television, even though he’s rather monolingual. The dialogue stops the mind wandering and provides a rhythm without distraction. A few other options: very familiar music you listen to all the time can be evocative (in the days of audiocassettes, I had a mix tape that I named “sanctity songs”). Consider classical, jazz, or electronic music. No lyrics, less distraction. Folk, country, or opera may also suit you. See where the music might take you. A variety of wind chime apps are also available for iPhone or Android. If you prefer, noise cancelling headphones are also widely available.

For more Linda’s tips , Click here!

Magic time: Planning to get things done at times when the magic happens by T. Davies-Barnard
Cinderella time

Cinderella timeI never thought I’d say this, but I have something in common with Cinderella. Not the puffy dress, or the glass shoes. Just that  before 12 o’clock is when the magic happens. Obviously my 12 o’clock is noon, and hers was midnight, but let’s not dwell on details.

I’m going to suggest that you have a period of the day when the magic happens and that you need to figure out when it is and make sure you make the best of it. A bit like Cinderella did. Because all time isn’t equal. For Cinderella, everything after 12 o’clock wasn’t worth much – certainly not as much as time before 12 o’clock. Similarly, everyone has times when the work comes easily and times when work is a euphemism for having a word document open behind facebook. Identifying when the valuable time is, so that it isn’t squandered, is really important.

For me the most valuable time is 9 in the morning till midday. I’ve properly woken up and I haven’t yet gotten distracted by lunch. But maybe yours is 7pm till 10, or 2pm till 6pm. When are you at your best? When is it easiest to stay focused?

I’ve learnt recently that if something has to be done, it needs to be done in that magic time. Therefore writing goes into that slot. Not
browsing the internet. Not faux work activities either (emails, conference schedule planning, marking etc.). Only things that are
research and need focus. Why not try for a few days only putting in your magic time things that directly contribute to you publishing a paper or completing the thesis?

The great thing is that this is a quick way to prioritise your day. Figure out when your most productive bit of the day is, then put the
most key thing you need to do in a day in it. Simple. The dregs, emails and lost shoes will still be there when you’re done with the
important things.

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