Scrivener Superpowers

How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice

Microsoft Word vs Scrivener: Interview with Joanna Penn

Joanna Penn is a big advocate for Scrivener, and her insights and enthusiasm about the writing process are inspiring. Not only does she use Scrivener on a daily basis for her fiction and nonfiction writing, but she relies on it to format her books as well.

In this video interview, Joanna shares her unique writing process and her best tips for beginners. She also offers a perfect example of why you don’t need to use every feature of Scrivener to find the software useful.


Here’s a full transcript of my conversation with Joanna.

Matt Herron              Hi Joanna! Welcome.

Joanna Penn             Hi! How are you doing?

M.H.                            I’m good. How are you?

J.P.                               I’m good. This is fun by the way and I’m really glad you’re doing a book on Scrivener because it really is one of those life-changing tools for people and I think it’s brilliant and I’m a real evangelist for Scrivener. I should be paid for my Scrivener evangelism, but I’m not.

M.H.                            That’s true. They don’t have you on contract yet?

J.P.                               No.

M.H.                           They’re way behind.

J.P.                              It is amazing so yeah, I’m keen to share.

M.H.                           Absolutely. Well thanks for taking the time to chat. Just as a brief introduction for our listeners – Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, and professional speaker. She writes thrillers on the edge and business books for authors, and she also hosts the Creative Penn Podcast. You do a lot of things?

J.P.                               I do.

M.H.                           You’re very busy.

J.P.                              Full-time creative entrepreneur.

M.H.                           That’s fantastic. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about the creative writing process with Scrivener, but let’s start at the beginning with a little background. How long have you been writing?

J.P.                              Like anybody, I’ve been writing a long time—I’ve been journaling since I was about 15. And I’m 40 next week—I’m not scared to say! I’ve been writing since then and I worked as a management consultant for 13 years so I did a lot of business writing. But in terms of writing nonfiction, I started on my first book in 2007, I wrote my first nonfiction. And then my first fiction, I started in 2009 and published in 2011. It was definitely a long process and then I only went full time in 2011.

M.H.                           Okay so full time. Would you say you’ve been writing professionally for four years?

J.P.                              Yeah definitely. I’ve been making my living from my writing since September 2011 and when I say that, I mean I blog and my blog gets me speaking work and that type of thing. So fiction and nonfiction, probably four years professionally.

M.H.                            And how long of the time that you’ve been writing have you been using Scrivener?

J.P.                              I’ve used Scrivener just after my first fiction book. So I didn’t even know about Scrivener. This is why I’m such an evangelist because when I found out about Scrivener, it must have been 2012, I was like, really—so I don’t have to use crappy Microsoft Word!

The biggest things for me, well two things. You don’t have to write in order. So I don’t write in order either for my nonfiction or my fiction. A lot of people just write separate chapters and separate whole documents because it’s so hard to chop. So I’d organized one novel and three nonfiction books before that without Scrivener and it was nightmare.

And then the second thing was learning that you can output the files as Kindle, EPUB, all of this—so I didn’t have to pay for a formatter to be a self-publisher. Those two things together are the reason, when I found out about it, I jumped on it and pretty much it was fantastic—life-changing.

M.H.                           That’s great. I mean that’s interesting—I hear this from a lot of people the first time they see Scrivener: it’s life-changing. Can you describe that process for us—what was it like to see Scrivener for the first time? Was it a huge epiphany or did you have a little bit of resistance to it?

J.P.                              Like everything, you go, oh I don’t need that because I’m fine. Look, I’ve already got books! But once I started using it—and I would say I still only use about 20% of what you can use, I don’t know all of the stuff that you probably know. But the stuff that I need to know you can pretty much get—and I’m terrible, like many people, I don’t do the training or the help documentation. But all that I did when I bought it, I downloaded the free trial as you do and as soon as I learned that you could type stuff in and drag and drop the files around, that was it. I was sold. So that dragging and dropping functionality, that writing out of order—that was it for me.

And it was only about a year later that I discovered it—because I didn’t do the training—I discovered that you could format the books and output as Kindle and EPUB and stuff. I didn’t know that, and then I was like, really—amazing!

M.H.                           So what did you do while you were writing in it? Did you still pay a formatter to do it?

J.P.                              Yeah, yeah.

M.H.                           Oh wow, okay. Crazy!

J.P.                              So now I’m really up for telling people about this stuff so that they can—I mean it’s so cheap! It’s like $45—I mean it’s crazy.

M.H.                           Yeah. Why wouldn’t you do it?

J.P.                              Yeah.

M.H.                           You talked a little bit about what changed in your process from the linear format of Microsoft Word to the nonlinear, writing out of order format of Scrivener. What else changed in your writing process when you switched between the two?

J.P.                              What I do now—and I think this is something that happens as you become more of a developed writer—when you’re writing your first book or at the beginning, you normally only have one book in your head at once. But when you’re doing this for a living, and when you’re a bit further down the track—I probably have, I’m working in and around seven or eight Scrivener projects at the same time. Like right now, I’ve got a whole stack of projects where I’ve just dumped information—I want to write this and I just dump. It may only be like 2,000 words worth of material, but I dump them in a Scrivener file. So I use it for brain dumping, and I’ll just create a couple of documents and just chuck stuff in there so that I know it’s there for later and I just have those.

It’s just quicker for me now to create a new project and have some basic structure. I’m working on two nonfictions at the same where I’m filling in table of contents and filling in the blanks. So nonfiction, I do a little bit of everyday, fill in a new chapter. And then fiction, I’ve got one that’s in a first draft format which is in a plotting format, and then I’ve got another which is in final edits and publishing, and then I’ve got another that I’d been recording as an audio book and now I have to re-update, and then I’ve got another one that I’m doing a box set so I have to kind of import multiple files and make them into a box set.

So I’ve got all of these different things going at the same time basically–so that’s changed. I mean I don’t know whether I would have matured as a writer with MS Word to do it like that. For example the box set is not something you do any other way. You can’t make a box set with MS Word. So it’s using Scrivener in that case for a formatting job, not a writing job basically.

M.H.                           And if you were still using Microsoft Word, you’d have to hire a formatter to get them to put the box set together. You mentioned that each of these projects is at a different phase. Do you find that you always have projects at a different phase or is there ever a situation where you’re writing consistently in the same phase for two different projects?

J.P.                              No, not really. The rotation definitely. Like today, I only had a little bit of time and I can’t do fiction if I only have half an hour, but I can do nonfiction. So that’s fine, I kind of chuck up a couple of hundred words in—and I use the word count thing all the time. The first thing I do when I open the file is open the word count thing—whatever it’s called, I’m terrible with my language! The little statistic so I can see my word count for that project and the date, the session count and all that type of stuff.

M.H.                           Do you use different goals for nonfiction and fiction?

J.P.                              In terms of word count?

M.H.                           Yeah. In terms of word count in the project statistics in terms of how you set it up like for example, I think my goal on a daily basis is about 1,000 words for a fiction project if I’m in the drafting phase—let’s say if I want to write a thousand words a day. But if you’re working on multiple projects, how do you manage that?

J.P.                              I have a calendar on my wall where I just write total word count for the day so if I’ve done more than a thousand words on anything, it’s quite a good day.

M.H.                           When you say total word count, that’s like across all the fiction and nonfiction projects?

J.P.                              Yes, but I’m not going to be working on all those things every day. I’ll have them going at the same time, but I will just go from one to another. And of course I still—this is the other beauty of it—I still open up a book like Pentecost, my first novel. I still open up that file which is like three or four years old or something now, and update the back matter, do another format, re-upload it. I’m still opening files from several years ago in order to do updates to the files. Last year I went direct to NOOK Press so I had to go reformat all the files for NOOK, so I did all of that.

Basically, I think it is really important to organize your computer as well as your file hierarchy—where you put these folders as well as within Scrivener. You’ve got the hierarchy of chapters and research, but you get to know how you like to have your hierarchy. But because you use the same file to output different other files—you have to be pretty organized I think.

M.H.                           Right. I feel like when I get to work, I have to clean my desk before I can do any work. So it’s the same with the file system—you have to be organized and in order if you’re going to manage it.

J.P.                              But I think Scrivener helps you get organized, certainly with nonfiction. I don’t even know how I could write nonfiction now because I don’t—I mean I just chuck stuff in them. I’m writing a book on mindset for authors like psychology stuff for authors. It’s just all over the place. I’ve got about 151 one-liners like document headings, some of which are filled in, some of which will go together at some point. It’s all just brain dump at the moment. I don’t really plot, like I don’t use the cards very much. I mainly just use the hierarchy structure.

M.H.                           Okay. I use the cards to brainstorm. How do you brainstorm or plot or plan? I mean apart from the things that you said.

J.P.                              I don’t use the card view, I just use the hierarchy view. So I’ll just create a new document and write in there like the title of the document so I’ll just have in a hierarchy rather than visual.

M.H.                           Like the file tree view that’s on the left hand side?

J.P.                              Yeah.

M.H.                           Okay. Do you also use notebooks to come up with ideas?

J.P.                              Yeah. I have a lot of notebooks; I have like several notebooks here. I have three notebooks next to me which perform different purposes and I have whole bookshelves full of notebooks. When I research, I use my notebooks or my phone. I do write notes, like I’ll read books—I do a lot of reading books for research—and then I will type some of that into Scrivener. So I will have research files within Scrivener and then I’ll do the split screen when I’m writing that section so that I can see the research. And I think that’s important because then you can make sure you’re not plagiarizing. You can actually make sure you’re not copying and pasting it. You can keep it in a separate area and then you can just refer to it. So I like the split screen thing as well.

M.H.                           Yeah it’s great because then you don’t have to switch back and forth between two different files and try to remember what you saw and then what you’re writing—you can just have them both there. Your fiction is pretty heavily researched and I know you visit the places that you plan to write about. You do a lot of travelling. How does Scrivener play into this process? You mentioned that you take notes in a notebook and in the phone. Is it when you get home you just dump it all onto the Scrivener?

J.P.                              Yeah. I mean most of my travelling stuff doesn’t necessarily relate to a current project, so I mainly just fill my head with stuff and then at some point it will come back out again as material. I mainly take a lot of pictures, but I keep them on Flickr or Pinterest.

M.H.                           Do you think the travel comes first and then you work them into your books afterwards?

J.P.                              Yes, yeah.

M.H.                           Interesting. Are you ever like, oh, I need to set this last scene in Granada so I have to go to Granada!

J.P.                              I mean that is basically how I live my life. I need to write a book on this so now we can go there… The one that’s on pre-order now is One Day in New York which obviously I had to be in New York to write about it. Probably, I’m coming to Savannah and Georgia and I’m thinking I should probably write a book while I’m in Savannah. This is all very important for tax-deductible work. People have to understand this. You can only make it tax deductible if there is a related income source so it’s very important to organize this in advance. But in terms of Scrivener, I pretty much only put stuff in for fiction once I’ve decided which book it’s going to be. I don’t normally do it on the fly or anything.

M.H.                           What about the writing process? We’ve talked about the brain dumping, getting everything into Scrivener. But for a fiction novel where you might have some ideas, you might have already done the planning and the brain dumping, tell me a little bit about the writing process. We talked about goal tracking, but how else do you use it to help you write?

J.P.                              Basically with a novel, I will usually dump one liners of probably ten scenes. The one I’ve just started, it has only got 3000 words in it. I knew the location for the scene and I just wrote: murder, crossbones, Winchester, geese—whatever. And that’s my line and then I know that’s the first scene so I’ll put that at the top and then I’ll put a couple of other placeholders for other big scenes.

I don’t heavily outline at the moment. I’d like to, but I don’t. Once I know the first 20,000 words for example, I will then start the first draft. So then I will be either in the library or at a café and I’ll open Scrivener, I’ll open the word count thing. And usually I, with first draft fiction, I’ll try for 2,000 words in a go or one complete scene which for me is normally about 2,000 words. I’ll set the timer and plug in my headphones and type until this bar is green or until the scene is finished.

Once I’ve gone through that first thing and I’ve got the whole draft, I will start to edit and then I’ll use the flag feature. I change it from just nothing to a yellow flag when that scene is ready for editing. When all the flags are yellow, I print out the whole book, so I export it to Word. I’ll print it out and then I’ll do my first edit by hand and then I will get the print out and I will enter all the changes back into Scrivener.

M.H.                           Like as comments or annotations?

J.P.                              No, as actual edits. So I’ve completely scribbled over my printed out version from one word change to move here and needs new—whatever. Then I’ll do the second draft back into Scrivener then depending on what it is, I might have to do that process again. Once I’m happy with that, so that’s gone through a couple of iterations, as I finish the edits again per chapter, I’ll change the flags to blue. Once all the flags are blue, I then have a professional editor—so I’ll export it to Word and send her the Word file—she will edit with track changes on Word, but then I will manually enter those into Scrivener. Because one, I want to learn, but two, I don’t want to necessarily use all the edits. I do those edits and then I change the flag to green and then I will have a proofreader, same process and then I publish. So that’s basically the process.

M.H.                           When you say enter them back into Scrivener, you just mean that you’re looking at the comments or the annotations or whatever the editor left in Microsoft Word or maybe what you wrote down on the paper and then you’re just making edits straight to the Scrivener file?

J.P.                              Yes. So like here on the video an example written, and then I’ll put this next to my computer and then I’ll actually type that back into Scrivener. I don’t even take snapshots or anything because I have print outs.

M.H.                           You’re brave.

J.P.                              I’m pretty hardcore. I save drafts—I back drafts up in Word and of course if you have a Word document, you can always re-import back into Scrivener. I mean I know some people who just accept all on an edit and then re-import the whole thing. But I’m not going to do that because I’m learning. I know that I make the same consistent mistakes. I don’t just want to accept all because I haven’t learned anything. So for me, typing it back into Scrivener is a way for me to get better as a writer because I understand more the mistakes I’m making that way.

M.H.                           Absolutely. Do you ever find that you use Scrivener’s comment or annotation features?

J.P.                              I’ve just started. I don’t work with other people in terms of co-writing—I know people do that with co-writing. What I’ve started to do is my editor does a structural edit and she gives me an overview document of each scene and a breakdown of each scene and I have actually started copying that thing into the comment section and then using that as a guide to the overall edit. Also, it’s just useful. So I’ve just started using that. But like I said, I really don’t use much of that—the only thing I use is the flag. I don’t even use labeling or color coding or anything else.

M.H.                           Yeah. Maybe I’m just little OCD because I color code everything for the points of view and then I have to have the labels, you know, is this the first draft. I know you said that you use the flag icon so you will actually change the icon on a specific text file within a Scrivener file that indicates to you—because you have a system set up. And I think this is the important thing here is that you have a system that works for you and whether you’re using the icons with colored flags or whether you’re using the status that says first draft, revised draft, final draft, it’s the same end result right? But you like using the visual approach which is fantastic. But as long as you have a system that works for you, I don’t think it matters whether you’re using all the Scrivener’s features or not.

J.P.                              Exactly. I have done webinars and things with Joe from Learn Scrivener Fast and I do learn things every time, but I do struggle to change my process. I’m quite happy with my process and I think I’m pretty productive so I’m quite happy with the way I’m working on Scrivener.

M.H.                           We talked a lot about self-editing and a little bit about how you work with other editors. Do you work with other editors exclusively in Microsoft Word?

J.P.                              Yes.

M.H.                           And that’s the only tool that you use to collaborate with them? Interesting. I wonder why Microsoft Word is still the only thing that editors want to use because I find that as well.

J.P.                              Even if they’re on a Mac.

M.H.                           Yeah. I’m on a Mac. I had to go buy Microsoft Word so that I could work with an editor which just seems crazy to me.

J.P.                               Yeah. I think it’s because of track changes, and I must say on Pages on Mac is not as good for the track changes function. I can see that. That’s pretty much all I do—I do that with a proofreader and if I get any comments post production like a typo or anything, I will just change it in Scrivener and republish, not a problem.

M.H.                           That’s awesome. I’ve noticed that you have put up a few screen casts of your book. I think I just saw the one, but there is a screen cast where you kind of walk through your files in Scrivener and I would just love to hear a little bit more about the inspiration for that project? Did people ask for that?

J.P.                              Lots of people asked: How do you use it? And people can get that video when they sign up to my email list, so it’s actually an email list extra.

M.H.                           That’s on the, and you sign up for the email list and then you get access to the video?

J.P.                              Yeah, you get access to that with the Author 2.0 Blueprint which is my free E-book on everything to do with writing and publishing and marketing. That’s a 40 minute video of how I use Scrivener, basically like a behind the scenes thing. It’s mainly because, I think one big question everyone has is: How do you actually write a book? So I think to actually see in someone’s screen can help a lot and I am an affiliate for other things so that helps too.

M.H.                           Are you going to do more screen cast behind the scene stuff or is it just the one?

J.P.                              You saw everything that I did! This is the thing; I can’t do more than a 40 minute screen cast on Scrivener because that’s about the extent of what I know. There are a number other videos in that email sequence on different other things around self-publishing and book marketing and stuff like that.

M.H.                           Very cool. The other thing that we haven’t talked about that I know you do a lot of is blogging. Do you also use Scrivener for blogging?

J.P.                              I don’t. I’ve been blogging since 2008 so like way before my Scrivener usage so I didn’t even know you could. I don’t know—I just don’t think I would. I use WordPress as my editor and I just stick to drafts… But it’s interesting because you end up using WordPress in a similar way as you use the Scrivener. You think about it, having all these draft documents, you can actually put it in more of a physical layout almost. So I can see how you could, but I don’t use it for blogging.

M.H.                           For blogging, you write directly in WordPress like you log in to the backend? So you have to have an internet connection?

J.P.                              Yeah definitely. That’s how I blog.

M.H.                           Awesome. I find that a lot of people when they blog, they will like to have an internet connection because they’re doing research at the same time.

J.P.                              Yeah. I do it the other way in that I use some chapters for my nonfiction books. I’ll use the chapters in a blog post so I will copy from Scrivener and paste into WordPress and then edit in WordPress.

M.H.                           Interesting. Is this marketing material for the book like, here’s a little teaser?

J.P.                              A lot of my books come from blog posts and vice versa. So Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur came out of a number of blog posts that I wrote for my blog. And then now, I use some of the other chapters as blog posts.

M.H.                           That’s great. I love that you’re repurposing stuff because it’s great in both places.

J.P.                              I just link to it. I mean I have certain topics I cover and I have books that cover those topics so they all link together really.

M.H.                           So for somebody who’s writing a new book that maybe they blogged a little bit about, would it be safe to assume that the brain dumping phase where you’re just putting things into Scrivener, one of the first things you should do is copy and paste all these blog posts over and put them in their own files?

J.P.                              Definitely, but you have to be really careful when you edit because what you’ll find is words like: “In this blog post I…” And it will be embedded somewhere and you haven’t read it properly and it’s very obvious when people have used blog posts as chapters and haven’t edited it properly.

So absolutely, you should do that, copy and paste everything into—like this mindset book. At the moment it’s mainly made up of blog posts that I’ve pasted in. But one trick I found with that is, paste it in and leave the formatting, so it will look really crap because you’ve pasted it from WordPress. Don’t just change all the formatting to be perfect. Edit it first so that you know or put another flag on it or something. Read through it because it will be dated. They’ll have stuff in them that’s like hyperlinked funnily. So definitely do that but you must, must, must edit.

M.H.                           I think that’s good. I mean guys, you need to edit your books, right?

J.P.                              Yeah, but it’s amazing how many nonfiction—this is all nonfiction—you read some nonfiction books and you’re like, this is just blatantly ten blog posts put together. I know there’s lots of people going, quick Kindle books, whatever. But I think you have to respect your readers and writing a blog post is a different audience to a book, so just really be aware of that. Often, you can split—a blog post can actually inspire several chapters within a book. You can go deeper.

M.H.                           Totally. Is there anything else you use Scrivener for? Anything we missed?

J.P.                              No. I mean the main other thing is the publishing; to me they’re both the same. I mean you have to write and you have to publish so for me those two things—it is the number one tool that I recommend people get for those reasons. If you’re self-publishing, you should have Scrivener. It’s just a no-brainer.

M.H.                           Absolutely. So do your formats—we have the MOBI and we have EPUB and you mentioned earlier that you had to reformat something for Barnes & Noble’s store?

J.P.                               I have a number of “other books by Joanna Penn” links and the file for NOOK has links to NOOK and the file for Kobo has links to Kobo.

M.H.                           I see. So you’re keeping them on the same store—so if they bought it from Barnes & Noble, you link back to Barnes & Noble.

J.P.                              I can’t use the same EPUB on Kobo, NOOK and iBooks. I have to reformat three different EPUBS, each with the different back matter. And you don’t have to do it that way; you can link to your one web page. But it just makes sense if people are buying from that store, you want them to be able to buy the next book from that store. It takes a little bit more time, but you can copy and paste from another file and just add the next thing on the bottom. Sometimes, I have made a mistake and uploaded the NOOK files to Kobo. You have to be organized with this stuff.

M.H.                           Absolutely, but apart from the URLs changing, I mean the formatting is the same right? I just want people to understand when they go to think about this and they’re like, oh that sounds like so much work, I don’t want to do that! But all we’re saying is that the formatting of the content of the book itself stays the same, and it’s just the URLs and the back matter and the front matter that’s changing.

J.P.                              Yes, but I also think that people need to understand that you don’t just press one button and it outputs perfectly. I mean every time I publish, I compile to Kindle format and then I plug in my Kindle and I put the file on the Kindle and I have a look. And I have to change—there’s always something you have to change. You’ve forgotten this flag or that thing—you find something. I probably end up formatting like four times now finding little things, you know little flag things. You have to put aside an hour or two to do your formatting.

M.H.                           Absolutely. If you use your Kindle to test MOBI files which is the file format for the Amazon store, what do you use to test EPUB files for Barnes & Noble and the others?

J.P.                              I just use iBooks on my Mac. I know it’s probably not so good.

M.H.                           No I think that’s perfect. I would use iBooks to test it too, especially because I only have a Kindle. I don’t have a Kobo reader, I don’t have a Barnes & Noble reader, but I know that if you don’t have a Kindle you can go download the Kindle testing software, install it on your computer and then you get a generated image of it.

J.P.                              When you self-publish, you can look at the previewer on Amazon, and you can look on a phone versus a Fire versus whatever. I just have Paperwhite so I just test it on the Paperwhite. You can’t possibly test it on every single device, but it’s more about things, because there is a “use as is” or “format the title page” for example. Is your font is completely ridiculous? Do your hyperlinks work? Does your table of contents appear correctly? That’s a trick for people with the hierarchy folders on Scrivener. It can get quite complicated. I don’t get complicated but it can get complicated. So you have to make sure it comes out the way you want. But it’s not that complicated once you know what you want and you know what you’re doing—and you make the same mistakes every time so you just fix the things. I don’t want people to think it’s a big deal, but you do have to spend some time getting to know it.

M.H.                           Totally. Okay cool. Let’s take a step back for a second and just speculate a little bit about the future of creative writing tools. Where do you see the future of creative writing tools going say in the next ten years? I mean, I feel like Scrivener is the best thing that we have now, but certainly it’s not the end game.

J.P.                              It’s funny. I mean I’m very satisfied with it. I suppose it might be good to be able to add in a marketing level for example. There is a word frequency thing, but almost like a keyword analysis thing where it would give you recommendations for keywords. It would somehow integrate with Kindle Trends or other Kindle Samurai where you could just open another box and it would say, “It looks like you’re talking about this. Maybe you could use this type of keyword.” That would be cool.

I also think it doesn’t really do files for print. There are other things that you can do for print, but that would be nice. At the moment, you have to output to Word and then sort that out—a nice print on demand formatted PDF would be great. I’m pretty happy right now to be honest.

M.H.                           Yeah. I know you said you don’t do much collaborative writing, but I think one of the things that especially somebody who is working with another writer might love to see in Scrivener is an actual collaborative feature where two people can work in the same file at the same time. Kind of like Google Docs does. But Scrivener now, if you try to do that and you’re both working in the same file at the same time and you don’t have a system in place for it, you can overwrite each other’s changes. Somebody could be working on a chapter and you save on your end and it’s gone. That could be a disaster! So I know that they have been talking about it, but I think that would be on the top of my list if I have to put one together.

J.P.                              Yeah definitely.

M.H.                           Are there any other technology that inspires your writing?

J.P.                              No, not really.

M.H.                           It’s a little bit leading question, but I know you’ve talked about Oculus Rift a lot. I’d love to hear more about where you see writing going with the future of technology?

J.P.                              Oculus Rift, gaming, Second Life… I did a podcast on Second Life four years ago and most people aren’t even really aware of Second Life. It’s not even a social network. It’s another life online. You enter as an avatar and you can have a job and you can meet people, you can go to clubs, you can have virtual sex, you can learn—there are universities, you can buy books, you can buy clothes. I now know two people, one person who sells virtual clothing and the other person who sells virtual furniture and these are full-time jobs now. They do not make physical stuff—virtual clothing for avatars and virtual furniture for your virtual house—and they’re making really good money.

Oculus Rift—bought by Facebook—which is a virtual reality headset technology which they say is the first VR that doesn’t make you feel sick. You actually feel like you’re in VR. So like you and I would actually be in the same room, we would feel like we are in the same room instead of you being on a tiny screen on my screen—or we could meet in Second Life with our VR on and have a drink—whatever.

So bought by Facebook for a couple of reasons. One: education—everyone is buying online video courses—you don’t. You go to your Second Life university or your Oculus Rift university and I sit next to you in a class and I turn my head and you’re next to me like my friend in class and we’re actually in the university within VR. That’s one thing, learning, and then obviously gaming and obviously sex. I mean these are big money industries.

So in terms of writers, I believe nonfiction, I will be teaching in VR. It’s a shame, I’m coming to America in a couple of weeks going to Charleston, speaking there. Maybe I won’t be speaking in Charleston—maybe I will be speaking in Second Life on Oculus for example and you will feel like that I’m right there with you. It will be much be more interactive. That is one thing and that will radically change education which is one thing I know Facebook are really interested in.

Second one with gaming, as for fiction author—this is an immersive experience. And a lot of people are writing for games and I see this as very much a future technology. Coming back to Second Life which I’m definitely going to revisit soon, I know people who have writer’s communities on Second Life where their avatars go and have a writer’s retreat on a virtual island and they sit in a room, like we might say, “Right, I’ll meet at you at 3:00 on the island,” and we go and our avatars sit in the room and write and you and I writing as well, but our avatars are surrounded by books.

We can sell our books in Second Life. We can do all this stuff. I am quite excited about this because I now know—of course we know people who are making money selling books online right? I wouldn’t have known that five years ago. And now I am meeting people who are selling virtual clothing, virtual stuff in Second Life.

I see with Oculus Rift, it’s going to make mainstream because instead of a sad little avatar which is what it looks like to me right now, it will be me going in, in my headset. I’m always early with this stuff—this is totally not this year. This is probably 2017 and I’m chronically early on all technology and therefore, I tend to lose money first.

But I think that VR for authors, we have to think about how we can change things to fit there and the best thing is—doesn’t matter like Scrivener or whatever—that’s how you create the work. What it turns into later, we can do whatever we want with. So I think the way we sell our work will change. I would quite happily sell my books virtually in Second Life or virtually on Oculus Rift at a big event in a virtual bookstore. Maybe that’s the future of bookstores. They’ll be virtual.

M.H.                           Yeah—virtual book stores. Wow, that blows my mind. And you’re speaking business too, right? You mentioned this briefly—I mean you could speak all over the world in VR which would just be crazy.

J.P.                              That will upset me—because part of the reason I speak is for the travel!

M.H.                           Sure yeah.

J.P.                              But no, I really think it’s exciting. I don’t think it has much to do with Scrivener, but it has a lot to do with creating our future.

M.H.                           Totally and they’re all interconnected. Like you said, Scrivener is what we use to create the work and then how it gets distributed afterwards it’s a different situation—it’s a different phase of the production process. But if Scrivener is going to compete in this market where virtual reality is a big thing, they need to adapt and see how they would adjust to fit those sort of technologies or those platforms. Oculus Rift is not just a technology—it’s a whole platform.

J.P.                              Yes, it’s a platform. So I think exciting times ahead! Are we almost done? Sorry, I have to rush off.

M.H.                           No it’s totally okay. Last question, where can people find you and your work online?

J.P.                              Come to—and that’s Penn with a double N—and you can find the Author 2.0 Blueprint which is all about writing, publishing, marketing, and my podcast, the Creative Penn podcast, which is on iTunes and Stitcher and all that. And my fiction is at, and I’m on Twitter @thecreativepenn. That’s my social network.

M.H.                           Fantastic. Thank you so much Joanna. It’s been great to talk to you.

J.P.                              Thank you very much Matt.

M.H.                           All right, bye for now.

About Matt Herron

Matt Herron is the author of Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Practice. He has a degree in English Literature, a dog named Elsa, and an adrenaline addiction sated by rock climbing and travel. The best way to get in touch with him is on Twitter @mgherron.

2 Replies

Leave a Reply