26 November, 2012

From Quills to Scrivener

Last week came the sad - though not unexpected - news that Britain has made its last typewriter. There is not enough demand in the UK for typewriters any more and so the manufacturers have shut down their factory, donating their last product to the Science Museum in London.

I had a bit of a panic when I heard this news. I don't have a typewriter yet - save one for me! Surely every writer should have a typewriter? I remember typing up a story on my mum's typewriter when I was about eight years old and I loved the mechanical feel of it. It felt industrious somehow. But nowadays the biggest demand for typewriters is probably on film and television sets.

Of course there are reasons why we don't use typewriters anymore. Computers are superior in almost every way, except in romance. There's no romance in a laptop. Word processors are not the stuff sepia-toned memories are made of. I'd love to say that I write my first drafts with a feather quill on cream paper, and then type in up on a 1930s typewriter in a hotel room overlooking the sea. But I don't. I'm very dull. Unromantic or not, I produce all my work - from first draft to final masterpiece (hmmmm) - on Microsoft Word (Georgia 12 point, double-spaced with 3cm margins, if you're interested).

Working out the plot structure of The Art of Letting Go
I don't however, plan my writing on a computer. I always plan by hand. I have a plethora of notebooks for various types of writing, and I always print out first drafts to edit by hand too. My current novel (now called The Art of Letting Go) has its own notebook and my next novel is just waiting to be summoned into possibility inside another.

But there are even more modern ways to get writing. Many people have recommended the software Scrivener. Scrivener is "a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from the first, unformed idea all the way through to final draft". I haven't used it, but I think the idea is that instead of having piles of notes on characters and plot and those sorts of things, you have it all in one place, complete with colour-coding and all sorts of other clever tools. It sounds perfect. But I'd hate it. I've heard brilliant stuff about it. But it's not for me.

My tool-kit for writing The Art of Letting Go
I like to have my walls and desk covered in paper. I love flicking through a notebook to find a note I scribbled when inspiration struck in the middle of making dinner. I enjoy having a massive theasuarus on my desk even though it's just as easy to look at an online version. Some writers always write their first draft by hand to make the process more thoughtful, others use software like Scrivener because they love the clean order of their physical workspace when everything exists in a virtual one instead. The trick is finding what works for you and not allowing yourself to feel inferior because it's not what Hemmingway or Dickens did.

Are you a pen and paper kind of person or a Scrivener scribbler? If you do use Scrivener - or any other specialist software - I'd love to hear what you think of it and whether you'd recommend it to other writers.


  1. Never used Scrivener. Just MS Word. I have a notebook too, where I do initial planning. Or jotting down notes during. But I keep track of plot stuff in MS Excel.

    Goodbye Mr. Typewriter. :)

    1. Oooh, Excel! Sophisticated! I only use Excel for organising submissions and things like that.

  2. I tried Scrivener but it just seemed like a more complicated way of doing what I already do using Word, folders and sub-folders.

    I still like to sketch ideas out by hand when I'm in the thinking stage, but eventually I like to have things nicely set out in Word documents that are easy to find and access when I'm writing.

    I did use a manual typewriter when I started out and I say there's NO romance in using them, just an awful lot of drudgery!

    1. The thing about typewriters is that they are so loud! I loved playing on my mum's but she said it was like listening to a gun fight going on in the next room.

  3. Although Britain has made its last typewriter, at least Scrivener is British-made. :) (And I should know - I'm the developer, and I'm typing this from my small home office in Truro.) Sorry to hear you'd hate it (and that billyblogger found it complicated - I created it partly because I found it too messy trying to keep track of my many Word documents scattered across various folders, and attempting to manage my plot notes in Excel and on index cards and going back and forth between all these).

    It is hugely sad that the last typewriter manufacturer in Britain has shut down, though. I too have fond memories of hammering away on my mother's typewriter (although less fond memories of trying to get my dissertation done on it).

    I'm not sure analogue (pen and paper) and digital (computer) methods have to be mutually exclusive. Although I created Scrivener and use it for all my writing, I have a giant standing whiteboard in my office which I use for the initial ideas and planning stages of any writing project, and I still get a lot of ideas down on paper first. Not to mention the dozen Moleskines I have lying around. For getting ideas down, I still find that my early ideas flow best when my pen is moving across paper rather than when my fingers are poised over the home keys. I do wonder if my kids will feel the same way, though - computers weren't an intrinsic part of my childhood as they are for them.

    I'm glad I live in a world of computers when it comes to the main writing, editing and managing of material, though. But as I'm biased, I'm not going to go into why I like Scrivener for that part. :)

    All the best,

    1. Wow - you made Scrivener? Thanks for dropping by! I can totally see why you did - I have to be so organised with keeping track of word files and sometimes that fails. But I rarely have more than a two or three files on the go at once - everything else I need is stuck to my walls and doors. I'm glad it's British - I assumed it was American!

      The reason I wrote this post was because I know so many people who absolutely wax lyrical about scrivener and think it's an answer to prayer! So,as I said, it must suit a lot of writers. There are just some of us who refuse to help ourselves! Perhaps if my novel plots get more complicated and needs more than a couple of word files to go with my calendar and notebook and giant bits of paper stuck to my walls I'll come crawling back...

      I have just been given my first Moleskine to plan my next novel (I've always gone for cheap notebooks before) - I can't tell you how excited I am about it!

    2. Oh and you're very welcome to outline the best bits of scrivener as I've failed miserably to do that in this blog post - it would be good to hear it! I'm sure there are lots of writers out there who are thinking of giving it a go.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.