There are several programs on the market for writers proclaiming to help you write better and faster. The trick is finding the tool that makes you the most productive writer you can be. I like experimenting and trying new things, and I’d like to help you by posting a novel writing software review as I try out these different tools. Don’t worry if you aren’t writing a novel—I’ll point out useful features for other types of writing as well.
In this review, we’ll tackle Scrivener.
What is Scrivener
Scrivener is probably one of the most popular software programs for writers. It is a writing platform created by software company Literature & Latte founded in 2006 “by writers for writers.” If you visit their site, you may also notice they only have two products: Scrivener and Scapple. I view the product offerings as a sign of their focus to making one or in this case two, excellent products that meets the needs of their users instead of investing their resources on multiple cookie-cutter programs that tackle half the elements a writer needs.
L & L describes Scrivener as “Typewriter. Ring-binder. Scrapbook. Everything you need to craft your first draft.” The abundance of features is one of the reasons I wanted to start with a novel writing software review on Scrivener. When they say typewriter, they aren’t kidding. There is an actual setting called “Typewriter Scrolling” that will keep the line you are typing centered on your screen. The “ring-binder” allows you to see your entire project at a glance—including your notes and research. If you like to keep inspiring pictures for your project, you can add those too, thus the scrapbook reference.
One quick note before we move on to features: Scrivener offers software for macOS, iOS, and Windows. Most of my personal experience and basis for this review is with Windows (Scrivener version 1.9.7).
Scrivener has a very long list of features. Overall, the best feature is the amount of customization and control the user has within the software. Your project is contained in a file system called a binder that you can sort; you can add keywords and add color codes based on your project. As you edit, you can take snapshots of your work to create backup files and edit in dual screen mode. Once you’re done with your project, you have several options for compiling your work, including ePub and Mobi.
You can customize the settings to fit your personal preferences and project. You can quickly go from working on your book to working on your blog, etc. by customizing the tools for each project. The software comes with some preloaded templates for novels, scriptwriting, and non-fiction as well. There are thousands of more templates you can download from the online Scrivener community. If you’ve started your project elsewhere, you can import from other files, web pages, or other Scrivener files.
Again, the binder is the central piece of any project in Scrivener. Within the binder, you can add and move files as needed, nest files and folders, and move pieces to research or trash. From the main project, you can view individual documents or get a broader project view in corkboard mode and outline mode. The corkboard generates a virtual index card for your project. You can add notes to remind you what each section or chapter includes and you can shuffle those index cards around as needed. At some point, while writing a novel, writers often have a storyboard or wall of post-it notes they use to track characters and events. The built-in corkboard is one of my favorite features—my cats can’t mess them up! Finally, the outline mode allows you to see the whole project combined.
Favorite Uses for Scrivener
I use Scrivener for my novel manuscripts and site content or blogging.
For novel writing, I like being able to set up a folder for each character where I can put a picture–usually a celebrity who I would cast as that character in the movie version of my book–and a character profile. Once I complete a manuscript and move into the editing phase, I make a folder I call “Cuts” or “Dead Darlings.” This folder holds everything I have to cut because it doesn’t advance the story no matter how well-written.
My favorite way to use Scrivener is to write site content and blogging. I have a project set up for site content and blogging where I can use the binder folders to create my editorial calendar. I use the notecards to list my topic, key points, keywords, links to resources, and a list of pictures I may need.
I’ve recently started using the site content project set up for my freelance writing jobs. I have a folder for repeat clients and a folder for one-off assignments. Again, I can create a card with the client’s content request, resources, and the deadline to keep me on track.
My favorite feature in Scrivener is Project Target. This handy feature is a word count tracker, but it allows you to set goals and shows you a progress tracking bar. You can set a goal for the entire project as well as individual session goals. It allows you to track by word or characters.
I don’t track by characters, and Twitter is the only place that comes to mind where character count matters. Also, Scrivener defines a “session” as each time the program opens. To get an accurate daily word count requires a little manual tracking and math.
What About the Downsides to Scrivener
So, what’s the downside to Scrivener? A novel writing software review wouldn’t be complete without a look at disadvantages. I could go back over the features listed above and point out minor things that annoy me. When I look at Scrivener, and I think about the negatives, two things stand out.
First, it is a massive program. Some things may be more intuitive than others, but overall, it takes time and training to learn how to use all of the features thoroughly. I feel as if I get a ton of value out of Scrivener based on my needs as a writer; however, there are several features I do not use at all and some I only use occasionally.
I wouldn’t recommend using Scrivener for the first time on a project with a deadline or as a participant in something like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where speed matters. You could get by with a blank file or two in a folder; you won’t be able to take the time to learn the program. Wait until you can look over the built-in beginner’s guide, the 300+ page PDF Users Manual, or watch some YouTube video tutorials.
The other downside is related to the different versions mentioned earlier in this article. There are mainly three versions: macOS, iOS, and Windows. Each sold separately. Each with slight differences based on the OS requirements.
It’s unlikely you’ll need or want to purchase all three versions. Those full versions start at $45 each as of this post. If you do need all three, L & L offers a Windows and macOS bundle for $75 which would save you $15. The iOS version is $19.99. The good news is that you can use the purchased license on as many devices as you own where you are the primary user. This information is included in L & L’s FAQs, and I can verify this. Over the years and many devices, I’ve had my Window’s license applied to a total of seven different Windows-based desktops and laptops, and some of those were overlapping. So far, I’ve used my iOS license on my iPhone and my iPad. (Also, be sure to check for discounts online—you can get a discount by winning a National Novel Writing Month event.)
The differences are minimal. The overall functionality is the same across each platform. The minor discrepancies shouldn’t cause any issues with your files but may be more annoying as you move between different systems. I’m talking about things like menus listing different things in different places. The files are compatible meaning if I start in Windows, I can move to a Mac and still open my previous project to work. My only complaint about moving from the Windows version to the iOS version is that it requires DropBox to sync files. I typically use another cloud drive, so this creates a few extra steps for me.
Overall, Scrivener is a robust program that is well worth the price. The customization options allow you to set the program up in a way that fits the way you work and enable you to maximize your writing potential. The organization options help you categorize, prioritize, and edit any type of work you may be doing. While there are some small annoyances, they don’t impact the overall productivity and output of your work.