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Scrivener – A Writer’s Paradise

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I first heard about Scrivener on MacBreak Weekly a couple days ago, and although it has been around for a while, this was the first time that I heard about it. It was only mentioned as “I only use Scrivener now” when they were talking about iWork and Word 2008. I thought I would give it a try.

Scrivener is billed as the only word processor that will help you do everything from the very first idea you have to the final draft. I find it easier to think of it as word processing on steroids. But it isn’t really a word processor, and Keith, the developer is the first to point out often that you will need a different word processor if you want to have a final printable draft of your work. You can do so much more (and so much easier) with Scrivener than Pages or Word. You can be pretty confident that the product is good when the developer links to alternate programs on his website. That shows that the intent is to provide a good user experience, and not only to sell a product. A little of that goes a long way.


Let’s get the negatives out of the way so we can end on a more positive note.

There are no page layout views. Granted, there aren’t supposed to be any, but, it is still a drawback when you don’t have that and need to export it to Word to get it to layout correctly.

The first thing you will notice is that it is very different from most text editors because there is a lot more to do, which means a larger learning curve, though there is a great detailed (and long) tutorial, that will help get you on your feet.

When you are in full-screen mode, you can’t switch between documents. You must exit full-screen mode, choose another document, then open full-screen mode again.

Even though it is pretty much only teachers and professors who require a page count, and not a word count, Scrivener is not conducive to letting you know how many pages you have typed. Of course, it is not meant to. For students, it may be a drawback that when the window size changes, the text moves to fill the white space. That makes it difficult to know how many pages you have typed. This is, however a great feature for those who are not bound by pages, but rather by word count, or who just want to write–just bad for students.

Images inserted are treated as part of the text, which means no text-wrapping, and that can be kind of a bummer. It can be a little difficult if you want to include images.

Great Features

You can go to the Scrivener Web site and read all the information about what the features are that make this product what it is. I hope that here you will find how these features worked for me, and what were more worthwhile than others.

Whenever you open Scrivener, it brings you right back to where you left off. This is a great feature because it helps you pick up from your last ending point. It doesn’t make you miss a beat. It opens fast, doesn’t bog down the computer like Word does. Now, I do not know much about developing for Mac, but I will say that it is very nice when programs do not slow you down. This program gets out of your way and lets you write. And, it autosaves anytime you pause after a change for two seconds. You never have to worry about losing your work from a crash, because it saves so fast.

You can also set a character or count target. So, if you have to write 250 words, or are limited to 1000 characters, this would be a good way let yourself know when you have reached your target. Then you can occasionally look down at the footer and see how far you have to go, to reach your target. When you reach your target, the blue bars fills up and the target turns from red to green.

Links to the web and other Scrivener documents can be entered anywhere in the program. That way, you can reference different pages, websites or research files as you are typing. Also, you can have more than one document open for editing at a time. For example, I have the drawbacks document open while I am typing so that I can drop down or over and make some notes about anything that bugs me.

For this article, I had different documents open for each section. If I want to view everything all together, I can do that by selecting all of them (just like selecting multiple playlists in iTunes) and clicking “Edit Scrivenings.” It pulls them all up together and gives a background color for each different document.

The Corkboard feature allows you to put your ideas on a corkboard and move them around. This is so useful for organizing your writing. It looks and acts like a real corkboard, only you don’t prick your fingers when with the push-pins. As you move the notecards around, it rearranges them in the sidebar.

You can import nearly all files (RTF, RTFD, DOC, XHTML, HTML, Images), attach PDFs, and even import any QuickTime audio or video file. Export options include RTF, RTFD, Word Document, TXT, and HTML.


Writers who write anything that is long would love Scrivener–novelists, researchers, screenwriters, and even this humble blog writer, can find uses that make it worthwhile.

There is a scriptwriting mode that removes the formatting pains that go with the territory, complete with keyboard shortcuts (TAB and Return are all you need) that are context aware. Scrivener knows what you need to do next, so if you have been wanting to write that screenplay, Scrivener is there for you. This is really slick. If you are interested, you should really give this a try.

Teachers who create their own worksheets and materials could use Scrivener to design learning units and handouts. You can specify what you want to export or print, so the notes, resources, and ideas can be kept so that only the materials the students need would be printed.

I have never written a long novel, but I can see how Scrivener would make it much easier to do. As I was telling my wife about this program, she said, “You should buy this for me for my birthday so that I can write a novel. Scrivener would be much easier than any other word processor.”

Scrivener costs $40, and is available at Literature and Latte.

14 Responses to “Scrivener – A Writer’s Paradise”

  1. Freddy Fishbone

    It’s a great app but it is a big problem that you can’t get a page count. Not just for students. I’m a screenwriter and i have to make a pdf everytime I need to know my page count. Which is pretty often when in the final editing stages.

  2. Saket K

    Nice Review! I think, though, that you yourself provide the answer for why the ‘drawbacks’ exist. You say “But it isn’t really a word processor you will need a different word processor if you want to have a final printable draft of your work.” Scrivener is meant for writing and not for any other Desktop Publishing functions. Often, applications like Pages and Word provide DTP functions for regular users who might not be interested in paying for Pro publishing packages like Quark and InDesign. But this does distract from the main purpose of a writer, and that is to write!

    Scrivener’s full-screen mode is set-up to provide distraction-free writing. Everything can be blanked out so there’s just you and the page. No menu items flashing at the top, no edges of other windows in view. A lot of writers find this highly useful when they actually want to get some writing done. Thus, it is intentional that you need to expressly leave full-screen mode to switch to other apps: the idea is to make it harder for you to goof off!! If you don’t like that…you can always just write in the regular view.

    The lack of lay-out, text-wrapping around images, etc. is also because Scrivener is meant to let you focus on writing. Most professional writers just turn in text to their publishers who have people to do the lay-out work. If you really want to control some more lay-out options, look into Scrivener’s MultiMarkdown support. This will allow you to do some basic lay-out work and then have that exported to RTF file format or to LaTeX (for the especially geeky).

    For another helpful review of Scrivener (the 1.0 version), check out 43Folders.

  3. Michael

    @Josh Pigford: If you’re a writer, Scrivener most certainly IS a core app. I spend most of my time in it, and about 1 hour a month in iPhoto. Conversely, for a photographer, Scrivener is probably useless. But then, for a photographer, iPhoto is likely to be ditched in favour of Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or another professional app. iPhoto is a nice little app for people who want to play around with digital snapshots. Which makes it, perhaps, less “core” and more “silly” than apps that help people get their work done. But then, what’s wrong with a bit of silliness?

  4. Mark XM

    I too am a huge fan of Scrivener. Most of the work I do in it is editing translations, where I can have the original in one split of the window and the translation I’m editing in the other, and also preparing lecture and class materials for my students. Although Scrivener was written originally with novel writing in mind, one of its great strengths is its flexibility in both what you can use it for and exactly how you use it.

    That said, Scrivener doesn’t pretend to be the answer for everyone’s needs and style of working, which is why Keith gives links to other applications like CopyWrite, Ulysses, Storymill and others on his site.

  5. I use CopyWrite and even though it hasn’t been updated for a while it is still a strong writing app. One of the things that’s nice about CopyWrite is that it is cheaper and has less bloat. Some of the features are simply bloatware for me. I just want a very simple writing app so I can focus on my writing and CopyWrite works better for me.

  6. John Johnson jr.

    @Matt: Indeed a page layout view seems to be coming in the next update. What’s important to add is the fact that this update will, despite of it’s numerous new and improved features, not be a full new version number. Meaning: It will be free for everyone who owns the current version!
    @Honza: The Final Draft people cooperate with Scrivener’s Keith Blount which will result in a very improved Final Draft support.
    @all: It doesn’t matter if you are writing one huge piece of text or only small ones. The moment you are having any kind of research material – docs, pdf, pictures, movies, audio files, whatever – and want to keep it right with your text Scrivener is the one.
    And one other thing: The support is awesome. The users are as close as possible to the programmer. He is extremely helpful, responds very fast and ist just a nice guy.

  7. Honza

    While it sounds great for novelists (and I’ll give it a good try out before I write mine ;-)) I think for screenwriting there are more suitable tools out there, e.g. Final Draft.

  8. A couple of comments regarding your listed drawbacks.

    1. You can pre-load documents before going into full-screen mode, and then toggle between them using forward/back buttons. It takes a little forward planning as you need to know which documents you are likely to work on before you start in full-screen mode (which is not always possible), but it may be a useful work-around for some.

    2. Page layout views has been a common request, and last I heard Keith was looking into this for the next release. So the option may become available in the future for those that require it.

  9. I adore Scrivener for novel writing. It lets me move scenes around, see at a glance the arc of scenes. I keep my characters in one folder, my synopsis, etc. Love the clipping feature for research. Scrivener lets me keep everything in one place. I’ve recommended it to all the other authors I know. It was a grand day when I found this program!

  10. I also heard it mentioned on Macbreak Weekly, and although I already did hear about it before, I think I’ll have a look at it again, it looks really nice. Thanks for your little review.

  11. For longer blog articles scrivener is a god send. It tends to be a little overkill for shorter ones.

    (off topic, you write about apple and just now found out about scrivener? What next, iPhoto?)