I’ve been going through some real soul-searching about my writing process. It’s obviously served me well in a lot of ways, but I’m increasingly realizing that it was developed under more or less emergency circumstances (committing to a book mid-PhD) and is currently being held together with duct tape. The Girlfriend suggested that if I wanted to shake things up, I should finally submit to peer pressure and download the universally-recommended Scrivener.
A lot of my resistence to using Scrivener came from a sense that it was doing things I was already doing. For instance, I already use separate files for chapters, organize things into folders, place documents side-by-side, etc. What convinced me was a small thing from the demonstration video — you can display any number of subdocuments together as a single long block of text. Instantly I saw that this would be a much easier way to manage my reading notes. Previously I had compiled reading notes by topic or chapter, because a file for each book seemed too cumbersome — Scrivener’s approach would allow me to group them however I wanted for whatever I happened to be writing.
And then came the flood of realizations. Everything I was doing with Word required ignoring or fighting against Word’s way of doing things. I could ignore formatting until the end if I wanted, but Word was always going to display the text with the minimal formatting of standard margins (even in “normal” mode) — meaning it was a hassle to place documents side by side on most displays. There’s no “just the text” mode that uses the window itself as de facto margins. Similarly, the outline features are clunky and unreliable (a few random blocks of body text are almost always inexplicably treated as a higher outline rank when you first display a document in outline mode). I could go on — I’m probably the world’s foremost expert in the weird quirks of Word 2003 and how to work around them.
This morning, I wrote up some pretty substantial notes over my devil project, in a box that showed nothing but plain old typewriter text. There were no rulers or margins, no metaphor of a page at all, just the text. The most beautiful moment for me was when I opened up a few blank lines, and then decided to just continue the current paragraph: since I didn’t put anything on the other side of the blank space, the blank lines weren’t “there” anymore. I’ve seen hundreds of Word documents absolutely littered with blank lines at the end of the file, from students, from seasoned academics, from everyone. In the past, I’ve been mildly annoyed that they don’t notice all that wasted space causing them to go over onto an additional blank page, etc., etc. — what never occurred to me was that unused blank space should simply… go away, without me having to think about it.
So there you have it. In one morning, years’ worth of stubborn resistance to change have melted away. And now that I’m not clinging for dear life to my old writing process, who knows? Maybe I’ll eventually get a Mac in a few years.