happy valentine's day!

It's Valentine's Day, and I'm in love, and there you have it.

I am in the throes of a romance, which has obsessed and inspired me now for almost a week. It was pretty much love at first sight, and while I'm skeptical of quick infatuations (and there have been a lot of them), I'm starting to feel confident that this attraction will turn into a real and lasting relationship.

Of course, I'm in a relationship now, a long-term one, with an arrogant, bloated, and recalcitrant partner who has been growing more and more annoying to me as the years go by. And I have to confess, I've been looking for a way out. I've been shopping, cruising the Internet, desperately seeking a new . . .

. . . Right about now is when my friend broke into my rhapsodic effusion and said, dryly, "It's software, isn't it."

Alright, alright. It's software. The object of my infatuation is an elegant piece of writing software called Scrivener, and I'm not the only one who has fallen hard. The love analogy is one that's used over and over again on the user forums.

Before I go any further, let me say that this is a Mac only app, so if you are a PC user, well, this might be reason enough to switch teams.

To call Scrivener writing software implies that it's either a word processing program like Word (my old, tediously annoying bloatware partner), or some kind of creativity enhancing workshop-surrogate, designed to help you have clever ideas and put them together into pre-structured storylines.

Scrivener is neither. It's just one of the most intuitive and writer-friendly apps I've ever used. In my experience, genesis is chaotic, intuitive, iterative and emergent, and when I write, and especially when I'm beginning a project, I tend to have a lot of ideas all at once. I make hundreds of notes about characters, locations, actions, events, themes, chronologies, quotations, inspirations, research, you name it, and this process can go on for weeks or years. Organizing all this stuff is always a nightmare, and this is where Scrivener is most brilliant.

It has a research section for story and research notes, and lets you make internal links to documents as well as external links to web pages, sound files, video clips, and pdf files. It has powerful keyword and search support, and color coded labeling.

The actual writing happens in the draft section, and Scrivener is especially good if you're the kind of writer I am, and you know you've got a story growing inside your head because you start hearing voices, little bits and snippets of dialogue and description, which start to evolve into scenes and chapters, and you have to be able to jot these down and keep track of them, quickly, in a place that's easy to locate, open and add to.

When you're done with your manuscript, you can export it to Word or other word processing programs to do your final polishing and submission.

One of the things I like best is the index card and corkboard layout, which is exactly what it sounds like. Every file you create has an index card associated with it. When you switch to the corkboard layout, the index cards come up and you can move the sections of your story or article around and play with different ordering. (The corkboard graphics are a bit silly, but Scrivener lets you turn it off and create a nice color background instead.)

Once you have generated a collection of scenes in your file/cards, you can select them and use the Edit Scrivenings feature, which allows you to see and edit, in one continuous document, all the bits and pieces you've been working on.

Scrivener gives you immediate access to your Draft and Research areas in a binder, which lists all your files and folders in a column on the left hand side of the screen. The screen viewing options are great. You can split your screen, either vertically or horizontally, and work in two documents at the same time. And you can float your screen in Full Screen mode, which is really easy on your tired eyes.

Okay, I could go on and on. Instead, here's Merlin Mann's rave, and here, once again, is the developer's site.

You can download and use it for free for I think thirty days, but I bought my license within a few hours. (I told you it was love at first sight!)

One note: TAKE THE TIME AND DO THE TUTORIAL! It will take you about 30 - 45 minutes, and it's a really great overview of the landscape.

I don't normally promote products, like software, on this website, so you know this one is special. I hope you like it as much as I do. Happy Valentine's Day!