Scrivener: a review

Scrivener. It’s like the Evernote of word document systems; everything you need in one place. But is it worth the hype?

If you’ve been around the writing block you might have heard about Scrivener. It’s like the Evernote of word document systems; everything you need in one place. Including room for research notes, character sketches, place descriptions, and the ability to export your work in a single document.

In general, Scrivener receives great reviews for price, effectiveness, and user friendliness. But is it worth the hype? Let’s find out…

Who: 

Scrivener. Owned by the software company Literature & Latte. (A name after my own heart.) 

What: 

A software tool for writing projects. Used by writers and researchers across the board to organize and manage projects. This is a proprietary software license. I.e., you purchase a license and download the software to your device. It’s not cloud-based and you can’t access it from devices that don’t have the application installed. 

Where to buy:

Literature & Latte website

Pros 

Cons

  • You may need to download and purchase a software license if you plan to use across multiple devices. For instance, I purchased one license for my laptop and then purchased the Scrivener app for my phone.
    • N.B., in order to get the individual applications to sync (i.e., get Scrivener on your phone to sync with Scrivener on your laptop) you must set up a Dropbox account and link them. Scrivener provides detailed instructions for this.
  • If you want to sync large files or multiple projects, you may need to purchase additional space on Dropbox which is a subscription service.
  • You’ll need to back up your files on a cloud storage system or external hard drive
  • Functionality can feel confusing and overwhelming as there are a myriad of features and customization options

My take: 

Worth it. 100% worth it. I was on the fence about purchasing the software and was only tempted when I saw it highlighted as a featured product during NaNoWriMo last year. I had a system in Google Docs and it worked well enough. Not great, but no major complaints either.

So I downloaded the 30-Day trial to give it a spin (all the other cool writers were doing it) and fell in love. Switching over has vastly improved my organization. I no longer have loose or lost documents floating around Google Drive. Everything is in a tidy and compact binder where I can see exactly how the story unfolds and move chapters around as needed. Which is fantastic as I sometimes write something without knowing where it fits in the story’s timeline. Now I have the freedom to write and reorganize later. It’s also easier to keep track of multiple revisions and compare them side-by-side.

My only complaint about Scrivener is that it’s not inherently cloud-based. If I could access my Scrivener account from any device, anywhere that would be great. It would also give me peace of mind that my work is backed up. Even so, the Dropbox workaround works and I’m happy with the purchase.

If you’re serious about your writing or want to become serious about your writing, consider investing in Scrivener. 

Bonus tips

  1. You can download Scrivener for a 30-Day trial if you’re on the fence.
  2. Can’t figure out how to do something? Google it! There are thousands of videos, guides, and blog posts out there about Scrivener.
  3. Post update! Please see comments below, there are other ways to back your Scrivener up to a cloud storage system so you can access across multiple devices.

How to write a bio that doesn’t make you cringe

No matter how you feel about writing or publishing a bio, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to your readers. In this post we help take the anxiety out of writing your own professional bio.

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Raise your hand if writing a website, LinkedIn, or other professional bio gives you anxiety? If you didn’t raise your hand you’re either a liar or a serial killer. (Maybe both.)

As writers or content strategists it often feels easy to write for or about someone else. But when it comes to revealing our personal voice and credentials it feels like that magic fourth wall between us and the reader crashes down, leaving us on stage in our underwear.

No matter your personal feelings or attempts to avoid it, at some point in your professional writing career you will be asked to submit a bio for publication. And you absolutely should! It’s your one opportunity to introduce yourself to the reader and explain why they should continue reading your writing. So how can we overcome this anxiety and write a professional bio that doesn’t make us cringe?

First, stop obsessing over perfection

Perfection is the number one cause of procrastination. That’s not a proven fact, but it is a good reminder that sometimes we spend too much time thinking about perfection and not enough time writing. Instead of staring at the blank page and thinking about how you need to get the right tone, key points, etc. into your bio, just start writing. You can always edit your bio before hitting submit. But you can’t edit what’s not there. To help get the writing juices going consider adding these things to your bio:

  • Current role or position
  • Areas of expertise
  • Volunteerism
  • Challenges and how they shaped you
  • What differentiates you from others in the industry

Second, consider your audience and let it guide your voice

Good advice for any writing project–identify your audience and determine the best way to reach them. Yes, even something as ubiquitous-seeming as a bio has an audience. Having trouble identifying your audience? Consider asking yourself:

  • Who is most likely to read this?
  • What platform is this bio going to be published on?
  • Who do I want to read this?

If you want to go even deeper into identifying your target audience, check out this cool article by Mandy Porta at Inc.

Once you’ve established your audience, use that to guide the voice and tone of your bio. Ask yourself how your audience speaks (formal vs. informal; professional vs. colloquial) and also how they want to be spoken to. Do they want to be reassured or cautioned? Do they want fast facts or insightful quips? Use this decision to steer your word choices, grammar, content, and even visual layout of the bio.

Third, demonstrate your value

I have no explanation for why it took me so long to realize this, but for a long time I was writing a professional bio that didn’t include why people should care about my writing. I tried to be modest when instead I should have been direct. Now that I’m old and my knees crack every time I stand up, I realize why it’s important to include your value proposition.

People aren’t reading your blog, website, article, etc. because they want to know all about your cute yorkshire terrier or collection of gnomes. (Even though those things can add a nice personal touch.) They’re reading your writing because they’re looking for something they can’t find anywhere else.

So make sure to include your value proposition and state directly what you can offer the reader. Whether that’s listing your impressive credentials; giving an example of how you help other clients surmount obstacles; or simply what sets you apart from others in the industry.

Fourth, don’t avoid it!

Ghosts are cool. Ghost writers are boring. People want to know where they’re getting their information from just like you want to know who’s on the other end of your Tinder convo. If you run your own website/blog/portfolio page make sure to include an About section.

If you’re guest writing or contributing to a publication you don’t maintain, ask about options for including a bio. Most (if not all) publications and websites already have a format in place to include an contributor bio. If they don’t, ask if you can include a few lines at the end of your piece to help identify yourself and direct readers to your external sites. Already have a contributor bio? Consider revising it periodically to keep it fresh and relevant.

Don’t have a website/blog/portfolio or contribute to another publication? Then make sure to update your LinkedIn or other professional networking profiles with a curated bio.

No matter how you feel about writing or publishing a bio, it’s a great opportunity to introduce yourself to your readers and explain why they should love your writing. So don’t panic, because you got this.

Flesch-Kincaid: not a flesh eating monster but useful for your writing

But of course, this is not what it said and once I had adjusted the horror filter in my brain, realized the Flesch-Kincaid method is an interesting tool for writers. Let’s start with the basics: the Flesch-Kincaid method is a readability scoring method developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid in 1975.

Difficult doesn’t mean you have an audience full of village idiots; it simply recognizes that in most cases reading online text is different from reading print. Online we tend to scan more, so shorter words and sentences become even more important.”Ann Handley Everybody Writes

Maybe I watch too many zombie, post-apocalyptic-type shows, but the first time I saw “Flesch-Kincaid” in a book (Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes to be exact) I thought it said “Flesh”. Which naturally is a slippery slope to human-devouring monsters and visions of apocalyptic Georgia.

But of course, this is not what it said and once I had adjusted the horror filter in my brain, realized the Flesch-Kincaid method is an interesting tool for writers.

Let’s start with the basics: the Flesch-Kincaid method is a readability scoring method developed by Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid in 1975. Flesch, an Austrian immigrant, was a HUGE proponent of using plain English (i.e., colloquial and informal words). And advocated for use of less technical language in highly regulated industries such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The Flesch-Kincaid method scores text on a scale of 0-100 with higher scores indicating a piece is easier to understand. Here’s a more exact breakdown:

  • 0-30 best understood by university graduate students
  • 60-70 understood by 13-15 year olds
  • 90-100 understood by the average 11-year-old

Side note—want to learn how to apply the Flesch-Kincaid method on your writing? Check out the guide for Microsoft Word users here.

Flesch advised that his scoring model accounts for how the human mind reads. With specific emphasis on successive points. Which in plain English, means that our brains make an indefinite verdict about a set of text up to a natural breaking point (punctuation, white space, new paragraph, etc.) and then pause at this point to make a final judgement. So the shorter the sentence or word, the easier to transition from indefinite verdict to final judgement.

At this point, you may be wondering what score you want your text to get. And like most things in life, it depends. It depends on your audience and medium. Writing for middle schoolers? Try getting close to 100. Writing a white paper? You can get by with something closer to 30.

Notice in that last sentence I said, you can get by. That’s because while your audience will most likely still comprehend the text, is it in your best interest to write overly complex material? Probably not. In general, the simpler and shorter your text the better the comprehension and retention rate. And what we all need as writers is writing that keeps readers reading.

Which is exactly where the Flesch-Kincaid method comes in. Using the scoring method as a general guide, you can see where your piece rates in readability. Rating pretty low on the scale? Try breaking up long sentences or using a thesaurus to swap out complex words. Use subheadings, lists, photos, and TONS of white space to make sentences easier to digest.

While there’s no substitute for editing your own writing and knowing your audience, the Flesch-Kincaid scale can be a good way to gauge if you’re going in the right direction. Because if there’s anything truly terrifying, it’s a sentence that’s difficult to read.

P.s., I’m thinking of writing a complementary post about how to use the Flesch-Kincaid method on other word processing systems. Is that something you would find helpful? Comment below or drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you!

3 tips for photographing the best images

Once I got over the “I’m-not-a-professional-photographer” mindset, I realized that I could capture high-quality photos with no copyright restrictions that conformed exactly to my brand/intent. And better yet, I could do it all from my smartphone! Making it easy and convenient.

If you caught my last post on sourcing inexpensive stock photo imagery, you may have been surprised or baffled at the last recommendation to take and use your own images. I say baffled because even as I was brainstorming the first draft of the post, I thought, “but my photos aren’t good enough. Using images from my phone will look tacky. I’m not a professional. ” Which naturally lead to the question, should I recommend something that I wouldn’t personally do? It’s a bit like telling someone to go skydiving while you watch from the ground.

The recommendation initially came from Ann Handley’s fantastic book Everybody Writes. And if Ann Handley says it, it’s worth exploring.

And I’m glad I explored! Because once I got over the “I’m-not-a-professional-photographer” mindset, I realized that I could capture high-quality photos with no copyright restrictions that conformed exactly to my brand/intent. And better yet, I could do it all from my smartphone! Making it easy and convenient.

Whether you’re using a phone (like me) or a camera, here are some helpful tips for getting the best image possible.

Staging

One time before yoga class, my instructor was taking a photo for her yogi Instagram and went about rearranging the studio and bending herself in all kinds of awkward positions to get the perfect pic. I commented afterwards that I had no idea how much effort her photos took–they always seemed so serene and natural. And she let me in on the great secret of yoga Instagram photos–they’re all staged.

I’m not trying to throw Instagram yogis under any metaphorical buses, simply pointing out that any picture worthwhile takes time, practice, and staging. So before you go snapping 85 candids of your coffee mug and deciding 84 of them are unusable, try setting the scene.

Take advantage of things like:

Using the complementary colors orange/blue helps create a visually dynamic photo.
Using the complementary colors orange/blue helps create a visually dynamic photo.
  • Symmetry which is naturally appealing to the human eye
  • Patterns and repetition (also appealing to humans)
  • Negative space which is photographer-speak for the areas around and between focal points in an image. Think of it as the white space of photography.
  • Color. Try pairing contrasting colors or make the most of a neutral background by putting a bright object in the forefront.

So try that coffee shot once more–clear out any distracting non-essential items, place the cup against a neutral background, pair with other coffee cups, or turn everything black and white except for the cup.

Rule of Thirds

Notice nothing in this photo is dead center. Creating some visual interest.

If you’re like me, you probably saw this and went “hmm that sounds familiar.” That’s because it’s one of the beginning photography rules that tends to get passed around. The idea is that if you draw a 3×3 grid on an image, points of interest (e.g., the coffee cup) should be along the lines or intersections of the grid instead of in the middle of the squares. This helps create balance and interest. Additionally, the eye is naturally drawn to these areas so you’re going to capture attention naturally instead of forcing it.

To make things even easier, you can superimpose the 3×3 grid lines on your phone camera so you can set up the perfect shot along the grid lines. Below are instructions for setting it up on common phones, though you can also Google “camera grid [insert phone name]” and find instructions easily.

  • iPhones
    • Settings > Camera > Grid
  • Samsung Galaxy
    • Camera app > Settings > grid lines > on
  • Google Pixel
    • Camera app > Menu > Settings > Grid Type > 3×3

Lighting

This may seem counterintuitive, but the flash setting is nobody’s friend. It washes out your daytime photos and makes your nighttime photos look like hellscapes.

When possible, use natural lighting to get the best possible shot. Or if you’re taking an image at night, use what light is available to create an interesting shot. Out on the town? Use that street lamp or car headlights. At home? Use the refrigerator or TV light.

You can also change the lighting on a photo by editing it directly in your camera app or by using a variety of phone apps. Depending on your particular camera app, you can also play around with increasing or decreasing the exposure levels (aka, the amount of light). You can also download photo apps such as Snapseed that allow you to manipulate the photo settings outside of your camera app.

And you thought this would be another coffee picture…it’s my beautiful coffee-colored Yorkie on portrait mode!

One final pro tip–use that portrait mode. Your phone may already have it as part of the camera features or you can create the same effect with any number of apps. This is my personal favorite and I have yet to take a shot that I didn’t like. Heck, it’s what I took my headshot with on the About page!

Final moral of the story–you can photograph worthy imagery for your writing and content needs. With some deliberate staging, adherence to basic photography principles, creative lighting, and help from your phone you can create your own stock photo library. Full of personality, taste, and no copyright restrictions.

Best Places for Free Stock Photos

Stock photo imagery is important whether you’re a blogger, content manager, or editor. It’s often the starting point on your reader’s journey and serves to draw them into the content. Here are great options for inexpensive stock imagery options.

If an image is worth a thousand words, then a stock photo is worth ten thousand words. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The point is, stock photo imagery is important whether you’re a blogger, content manager, or editor. It’s often the starting point on your reader’s journey and serves to draw them into the content.

When you’re starting out or on a budget, it can be difficult to justify paying premiums for stock photo imagery. I think we can all agree it’s like oil changes–you know you need it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to pay for it. But just like oil changes, with a little practice and motivation you can DIY this necessary project. Here are some options for sourcing inexpensive stock imagery:

Unsplash

Photo by Silvia Agrasar on Unsplash
Photo by Silvia Agrasar on Unsplash

This is my favorite place to find high-quality, beautiful stock photos. (Fun fact–most of the photos on glcubel.com are from Unsplash!) Though it’s not required, you can create an account to save your favorites so they’re easier to locate next time. You can also download on the go and save to your desired location. The site also offers an easy opportunity to thank/credit the photographer by providing a URL for their profile. If able, always give props to the photographer and spread some of that creative love.

MorgueFile

Similar to Unsplash, MorgueFile offers high-quality photos for commercial use. What makes it different? The photos don’t look like stock photos. They often feature quirky, candid shots that lends an air of relatability and individualism. Think of it as the local coffee shop down the street that brews a great bean served in mismatched china cups vs. the Starbucks around the corner.

Google Advanced Image Search

This isn’t your mother’s Google image search. The advanced image search option on Google allows you to filter pictures by usage rights. “Free to use or share, even commercially” or “Free to use, share or modify, even commercially” will give you the most flexibility in usage. These are images that can be used for commercial purposes such as blogs, marketing collateral, or anything related to business. This is an easy, comprehensive method if you’re looking for a very specific type of photo.

Yourself!

Have a smartphone? Then you’re a stock photo generating machine. Snap photos of items that excite and inspire you. Even if you don’t have a piece to pair it with at the moment, save it to your own stock photo library. Not only is this option fun, but it also checks a lot of boxes:

  • No usage restrictions? ✔
  • Easy to upload? ✔
  • A photo with personality that doesn’t look like a stock photo? ✔✔✔

No matter where you obtain your stock imagery from, always make sure you’re appropriately using the image. That means adhering to the licensing and copyrights, crediting the author/creator when able, and not modifying (unless authorized under the licensing). Check out this handy guide from Upwork on photo usage rights.