Every November for the last 17 years, thousands of people have participated in National Novel Writing Month, which is more commonly and less pronounceably known as NaNoWriMo. In 2015, 431,626 people signed up to try and write 50,000 words in a single month. One guy apparently wrote more than a million.
NaNoWriMo has been very good to Keith Blount. Blount is the creator and primary developer of Scrivener, an app made specifically for writers wrangling huge word counts. Scrivener’s first public launch came via the NaNoWriMo forums in 2005, and now Blount and his company, Literature and Latte, sponsor a camp for aspiring novelists every year. A huge group of writers, at all levels of acclaim and wealth and prolificness, rely on Scrivener to do their work on Macs and PCs. And today, after years of development and even more years of user requests, Scrivener’s also available for the iPhone and iPad.
The new app is cleaner and simpler than any Scrivener project has ever been. It’s text-heavy and list-friendly, which should sound familiar to anyone who’s used…any iOS app ever. “My philosophy,” Blount says, “has always been to kind of follow Apple’s lead in this regard—to make apps that look native, feel native, and kind of get out of the way as much as they can.” Still, Scrivener’s always been more complicated than your average writing app, so Blount had to be inventive: the app uses gestures to help you organize, and tries to help you find everything quickly.
If you’ve used Scrivener before, the mobile app will feel very much like its desktop counterpart. Everything’s divided into projects, which can contain drafts, snippets, research, and more. There’s a place to put character bios, an easy way to export everything into a single readable document, and a “corkboard” view for physically moving all the parts around in your project. And above all, there’s a delightfully simple place to write.
The concept for Scrivener hasn’t changed at all, in Blount’s mind, since he first started teaching himself to code in order to build the app. (In a delightful touch of irony, Blount actually built Scrivener while procrastinating writing a novel he thought he wanted to write.) He built the app to mirror the way he works: “I had all these routines,” he says. “I’d write ideas on index cards, and be shuffling those around. I had an excel file, and I’d be writing little synopses in there, of Word documents. I’d be kind of moving these around, and I had a reading binder as well.” He wanted something that would let him keep all his research in one place, write in big or small chunks, and then move everything around as he pleased. That was, and is, the core of Scrivener.
Those are also the features so many other authors love about the app. The Testimonials page on Scrivener’s website is hilariously long, and loaded with big-name writers. So are its Twitter mentions. “For me,” Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, tells me, “writing a story never works the same way twice, so one thing I like about Scrivener is that it’s flexible. A simple word processor sort of implies by its very design that you will begin at the beginning and end at the end, and that’s not how I work. I am always jumping around in my timeline, deleting whole pages and reusing them later, or changing the order of events, or merging two scenes into one.” Ara Grigorian, an adult romance novelist, echoes the sentiment. He recently got notes from his publisher about his second novel, he says. “They said, ‘This and this and this are great, but I don’t know why you’re doing this here, you should have done this earlier…It was so easy to move things around, because I’d written them as scenes. All I had to do was literally drag and drop into the right place.”
Roth, for her part, isn’t terribly excited about the mobile versions. “I’m a PC/Android kind of gal now,” she says. And besides: she doesn’t want to type so much on her phone. But Grigorian, who’s so happy with Scrivener that he now teaches other aspiring writers how to use it, can’t wait. “The fact that you can be mobile…that you can be on a train with your iPad and writing out scenes, you can be in a boring meeting on your phone and write out scenes.” Like everyone, he has ideas at unexpected times and places—Scrivener for iOS will let him capture them all in their right place. Everything syncs to your Mac or PC via Dropbox, which Blount says was a whole lot more complicated than it sounds, so that you can pick up right where you left off no matter what device you’re on.
Blount’s been beta-testing the app with 600 users. He’s seen all kinds: Some people are ditching their laptops entirely, opting to use an iPad as their only writing machine. A few masochists are going phone-first: novelist Michael Marshall Smith apparently wrote most of his new book on his iPhone. Even Blount himself is a convert. “For a long time I was fairly resistant,” he says, “just because I like spreading out on my laptop, and my Mac Pro and things. But as time has gone on, I’ve started using my iPhone for more, and my iPad for more.” He knows this is where the world is going, and that Scrivener had to be there too. People have been asking him for an iOS app since right after the first iPhone came out in 2007. Now, for $20—a small price to pay for a little more writing sanity, at least if you ask me—the app is finally here.
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