Scrivener is part word processor and part organizational tool. I started using it over a year ago when the company offered a slightly better than usual trial period for Nanowrimo participants (and then had a nice discount for Nano winners). I loved it as I used it during the trial and happily bought it at the end. It’s fabulous and, outside of my web browser, it’s the program I use most often.
It’s a bit hard to explain what it does, but Scrivener is project based. You can use templates (so, for the radio play I’m working on, I was able to choose a BBC radio play format) or you can organize things for yourself.
The workspace has three main sections to it: the binder, which contains all the files/materials for the project; the main space, where you can either display parts of the binder or individual files; and the inspector, which contains meta data for the file you are working on. So, you can put in the binder all the pieces of what you are working on. For a novel, you can have chapters (or chapters and scenes within them) and then put your other material under ‘research’. I also use it for short stories, collecting individual stories under ‘draft’ (and then having a separate folder in ‘draft’ for stories that have been submitted). The same works for poetry.
I also use it to keep track of contests and calls for submission and just journals or other places I might want to submit my work. Everything is there, available easily and can be displayed in a way that makes it much simpler to keep track of than if the things were in a word processing document or even separate files in a folder.
The main work space can also be expanded to a full screen, so that all background applications and such hidden. I don’t use that option as much as I should, but it’s really nice for removing distractions.
It’s also really easy to export the material into a word processor for format tweaking before submitting.
I have found very few down sides to Scrivener. The formatting of text within the program can go a bit wonky (especially if you are cutting and pasting from elsewhere). This has improved somewhat with the latest update. I think, though, that it is just as well that it doesn’t have a lot of formatting options, because that can become such a time sink. Using the templates has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s pretty simple in the end.
In the end, it is obvious, I think, that Scrivener was born from a specific need and, because of that, it fills the requirement perfectly.