Monday, December 17, 2012

Learning Scrivener

I mentioned earlier this year that I would be taking an online course to better learn the ins and outs and bells and whistles of Scrivener1. Its makers at Literature & Latte describe Scrivener as “a powerful content-generation tool”; users refer to it as a word-processing program, as project management software, and  as “my favorite writing tool2.” While Scrivener’s click-here and drag-there interface makes the process of writing, brainstorming, and tinkering the text much easier—so much easier that you want to weep with happiness—than working in a traditional and more linear word processor, there are just soooo many options available that it’s easy to lose track of how to color-code cards on the corkboard or make a floating reference panel appear. I wanted to play with the toys, er… use the tools, without having to go on a darned treasure hunt to find them first.

Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Mac3 course met my needs perfectly.

The course consisted of four weeks of lessons, posted five days a week. Color screenshots illustrated anything that might be unclear or tricky to figure out from explanation alone, or gave us a reference point to which we could compare our own results at the end of a lesson’s instructions. Each lesson finished with a homework assignment, and I thought Gwen did a good job with those. They were each brief, but left scope for stretching and trying out the trick of the day on our own work after practicing on the course material. Gwen was clearly interested in having us practice what we’d learned rather than testing us on how well we remembered where to access what—the assignment instructions frequently included a parenthetical hint on which item we needed to find under which drop-down menu. (Thank you for that, Gwen!)

Students were subscribed to a discussion board where Gwen cheerfully and thoroughly answered questions, and where students could exchange ideas and ask each other questions. The discussion board remained open for one week after lessons ended, so that those who were catching up or those who simply wanted to keep practicing still had a place to get answers from Gwen.

Gwen had us set up a little mock writing project for the course so that everyone was trying the exact same thing; it made it easier for her, too, when one of us had a question, because she knew where we had started and what results we should have gotten. (And if any of us messed up our project too badly, she'd give us a copy of whatever form it was supposed to be for that day, so that we didn't lose time trying to fix things just to get going again.)

I spent an hour or two a day working my way through the lesson and doing the homework. Often I was a day or two behind, and judging from posts in the discussion board, that was a common occurrence, but the course is well-designed to allow for that. Some students clearly spent more time than I did on the lessons, applied the day’s new knowledge to projects of their own, tested variations of what we’d learned, and came to the discussion board with thoughtful questions (frequently with screenshots of what they’d tried).

Different people learn in different ways. Some folks coming to Scrivener will explore and play and master it well. Others will read the tutorial or manual or one of the commercially available books and watch the videos and read the blog posts and do just fine from there. But for those who need or would simply enjoy a systematic and comprehensive tour, Gwen’s course is IT. And the price is totally reasonable. Literature & Latte even offers a 30 day free trial of Scrivener, meaning a person can try it out thoroughly without the cost of the software, while taking this course. (Just to be clear: it’s the software that has the free trial; you’d still have to pay for Gwen’s course.)

So, bravo to Gwen Hernandez for designing an excellent online course for a wonderful piece of software! I think just about any writer would enjoy using Scrivener, and I look forward to more genealogists integrating it into their research and writing processes and then starting conversations about how they’re using it.



3 Gwen also offers a Scrivener for Windows course; see for both courses. Gwen is also the author of Scrivener for Dummies.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this great article. It really inspired me a lot.I started using project management software at my work and it has really been a great tool to utilize. Our projects have been getting done at a faster rate because of it.