I can sum up the state of my home office, the room in which most aspects of my writing life occur, in one word: piles. They are multiple, if not multitudinous—books and papers for the most part, as well as receipts, USB keys, pens, paperclips, electronic device chargers, and discarded teabag tags. My desk, so heavy and cumbersome that we needed two extra people to help us lug it upstairs when we moved into our house, has a double drawer for file folders. These folders are likewise covered in piles.
My laptop—the device I use to do the writing—can likewise be described in a single word: files. Most days, my virtual environment has as much clutter as my physical one, judging by the numbers of folders and subfolders with names like “Files—Sort Out” and “Documents from Old Laptop Sort Out.” My downloads folder has so many files that it can no longer sort them all by title or by type.
When I need to look for something in my office, I start by determining how long it’s been since I’ve seen the thing in question so I know how deep in the piles to rummage. The search function on my laptop is helpful, and sometimes it reveals that I’ve downloaded the same attachment multiple times. A few times a year, I make a point of imposing some order in both spaces by finding more permanent homes for the items in these piles and in these files. But then, inevitably, the avalanches soon return.
No doubt what I’m describing is most people’s idea of hell.
That’s why, for all my writing needs, I use Scrivener. Scrivener is an app that allows me to create order out of chaos by making it easier to organize all parts of writing—drafts, outlines, spade work, character sketches, research notes, and discarded bits—under one roof, so to speak. Each project file mimics the structure of my computer’s hard drive in that it consists of folders, subfolders, and files, yet somehow, the streamlined yet flexible visual layout gives me the illusion of freedom (and therefore a decrease of writer’s block) that’s lacking in the seemingly more formal space of my word processor.
I don’t mean for this to sound like a commercial for one particular app, but as a writer who struggles with keeping my writing spaces organized and tidy, I appreciate what Scrivener offers me: a contained virtual environment in which the writing can get messy when it needs to and can be cleaned up to conform to standard formatting conventions once I’m done. Perhaps most importantly, Scrivener has a full-screen view that allows me to block everything else out.
For fellow writers who need help keeping track of both the forest and the trees of a particular project, an app such as Scrivener might be a game changer in your writing practice. It certainly has been for mine.
Benjamin Lefebvre lives in Kitchener. His most recent books are In the Key of Dale
(Arsenal Pulp Press) and Twice upon a Time: Selected Stories, 1898–1939
(The L.M. Montgomery Library/University of Toronto Press). Visit him online at