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So What’s The Fuss About Scrivener?

If you’re a writer, whether you are unpublished or a bestseller, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the writing software called Scrivener. It’s possible that you’ve heard some of your favourite writers sing its virtues. But it can sometimes be unclear just what is so wonderful about Scrivener. So here is an overview of the good and bad of the Scrivener program.

Scrivener (banner)

Initially only for the Mac, Scrivener is now also available for Windows. At its most basic, it’s a word processor and in that respect it’s little different from Microsoft Word, Notepad, Pages or OpenOffice. The problem is that the process of writing a very long piece of fiction or non-fiction is not easy. It’s not only a question of just writing the thousands of words that you do, but how you manage that. How do you keep track of the plot? How do you handle the characters? How do you know which chapters you’ve revised and which you still have to do? Make no mistake, the process of writing novel length fiction is a project in itself. And that’s where Scrivener can help.

What Scrivener does differently is that it doesn’t treat your manuscript as a single document. Instead, it’s a project with a number of files. Whether you create a single file for your entire novel or break it down by chapter or even scene, is ultimately down to you, but it allows you to take that big unwieldy novel and break it down into something less intimidating and more manageable. Not only will each file contain your chapter or scene but you can also store metadata for each file, including (but not limited to) a brief synopsis of the chapter or scene, document notes, labels and the status of the file (first draft, revised draft or final). Almost everything is customisable so that you can retain the data you need to compliment the way you write.

You can also view the files as a corkboard with a series of virtual filecards each with the file’s synopsis on. This can allow you, in the early stages of planning, to drag and drop scenes around and get a top down view of the pace of your novel. Alternatively you can view your files as an outline if you prefer to view it in that format. Scrivener isn’t going to make helpful suggestions of what to write or how to fix that massive plot hole you’ve just discovered but it will allow you to view your project in a number of ways to aid you in making those decisions.

Have you ever disliked a chapter and scene, deleted it or rewritten it, only to later decide you wished you’d saved it somewhere? Scrivener does something different in that when you trash files, it places them in a separate area from which they can be retrieved. They are still accessible (unless you make a point of deliberately purging them from your trash folder) and so can be restored. It’s also possible to take a snapshot of your manuscript allowing you to roll back should you wake the next morning and have a change of heart. For something a little more disaster-proof, it’s easy to back up the entire project as a zip file which you can then save somewhere else, hopefully protecting you should you ever lose a hard drive or computer.

For those who work to daily word counts you can set targets for the session or the entire manuscript. This is especially helpful for those who do NaNoWriMo each year.

Of course, with any novel comes some research and background information, whether it be the history of Napoleonic France or the names of the centaur tribes you’ve created as part of your worldbuilding. Ordinarily, you’d keep this information in separate files on your computer; possibly create a directory on your computer labelled ‘background information’. However, you can also store this within your Scrivener project. There are templates for characters and settings, but there’s nothing stopping you adding web links and images. And best of all, you can designate that these files are not part of your actual manuscript, meaning that when you finish your novel and want to export it, you don’t need to go around deleting extra files. Instead, a simple tick box in the metadata allows you to denote whether any file is part of the final manuscript or not. Once your document is finished, Scrivener can compile your file into a single document to import into another word processor or export as an ebook.

The software receives regular updates, fixing bugs and improving features. It’ll set you back about £30 / $40 but there are often promotions, especially around the time of NaNoWriMo when you can pick it up cheaper.

With so many features, the joy (and sometimes the challenge) of Scrivener is getting it to work with your writing process rather than thinking you need to adapt your writing process to use the software. It won’t write your novel for you, and at the end of the day you’ll still be typing thousands of words whatever software product you use. Many people make the mistake of buying Scrivener thinking it will magically provide you with the motivation and focus to write a novel. It won’t and it’s just as possible to write a novel with a basic text editor. However, it really is a versatile product and a real Swiss army knife for any writer.



  1. Avatar Matt Maenpaa says:

    I love Scrivener, even if it is currently on my dying laptop, a graveyard for abandoned projects until I can get a new computer. I’ve used it on Windows since it beta’d and try to sell it to every writer I know. Good to see others have taken notice.

  2. Avatar G R Matthews says:

    I use writeway which is a similar piece of software. Then I export to Word to do the final edits.

  3. Avatar Shack says:

    I love Scrivener. I’ve written two books with it and am on my third. Can’t recommend it enough

  4. Avatar Cass Morris says:

    I love Scrivener so much. As someone who tends to jump around a lot when writing, rather than writing sequentially beginning-to-end, the way it allows you to divide a novel into bite-sized pieces is invaluable. It also makes re-arranging scenes really simple. The meta-data works well with my system of outlining and note-taking, and I love how easy it is to split-screen the text I’m working on with research or with another part of the document. My only wish is that it had a better way to track changes, particularly for my agent’s benefit so that he can more easily see where alterations are between drafts. I’ve found a work-around after exporting to Word, but it’s a bit tedious to assemble and pretty ugly to look at.

  5. Avatar Khaldun says:

    Haven’t tried Scrivener, but Ywriter5 is a writing program created by a computer programmer and author from Australia, Simon Haynes. He writes sf-humour (quite good, I’ll just say now) and the program is absolutely excellent. He updates the program continuously, as it is the program he himself uses to write with.
    Best of all? It’s completely FREE.

    I can’t imagine Scrivever can do much that this program can’t, though it may look prettier. Give it a shot!

  6. Avatar Jennette says:

    I haven’t tried it yet either. Been thinking about it though. Thanks for the article!

  7. Avatar B. Pine says:

    I absolutely love Scrivener. The ability to create templates that I can customize for my writing habits has saved me hours of time. The meta-data is invaluable. Literature and Latte had plans to bring Scrivener to iPad, but I don’t think they were ever able to get that off the ground. I highly recommend it, especially since the company allows you to try it for free.

  8. I LOVE Scrivener. I discovered it through NaNoWriMo back in 2012, and I swear by it now. Every time someone talks about even the beginning ideas of a story, I always recommend Scrivener. For what it offers, $40 really isn’t even that bad, either.

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