Will Scrivener work for you? (& NaNoWriMo Finale!)

About to win Nano? Congrats! Don’t forget to verify your word count, or you won’t get your winner goodies—and one of those goodies is a coupon for 50% off the writing software Scrivener, which brings it down to $20 for Windows and $22 for Mac. On the Nanowrimo page, just click on My NaNoWriMo and select “Validate my novel.” Then cut and paste your text into the box.

On Scrivener, you’ll probably have to compile first. I had mine just output to an RTF file . . . and then I had to “adjust” it a little to match the word counts across Scrivener, Word and the Nano site.

Speaking of Scrivener, I tried it for Nano, and I’m honestly not 100% sure I’ll stick with it. Here’s what I thought—and we’ll discuss how to figure out if it will work for you!

What I like about Scrivener

I do like having character sketches and a little bit of my research (although there wasn’t much for this book) right there. Most of my research this time around was deep background, so it wasn’t worth saving. (Would this be enough X? Yes, great, moving on.)

One of the major features seems to be the ability to drag and drop a scene or chapter to a new location in the story, which I don’t really do with most of my books, probably because I largely write in sequential order. More often I have to move little parts of scenes, and then it’s still cut-and-paste. On the other hand, I decided I didn’t care for where my scene breaks fell in the last quarter of the document, so I merged the entire quarter into one file, and I’ll be able to split it up later.

I liked using the cork board and outline views to make sure I was going in the right direction, and to have my outline and notes integrated into the same program/document-type-thing? as my actual draft. It was also nice to be able to see the scene card and make notes on the scenes (and the whole project) in the same window as the writing screen. The full screen view was also nice for focusing, especially when I used my working timer.

I hear Scrivener also has excellent output for ebook formatting. Another great advantage is that if you’re writing a series, you can copy your characters, settings and research to a new project with ease, keeping things consistent.

What I don’t like about Scrivener

For me, the biggest problems with Scrivener were mostly software problems. I found a few “quirks” in the program annoying, especially that Outline view consistently forgot what columns and widths I meticulously set. It was a little slow on start up (perhaps comparable with Word there, though) and displaying the full manuscript in scrivenings mode.

Of course, I also didn’t like the feeling that I was only using a tiny fraction of the program’s potential—or, conversely, that I just had no idea how to use some of the features. (I still don’t quite get how the Collections are different.)

But really what it comes down to is: is this really that much better of a program than Word? As far as the word processing itself, I have to think the answer is no. Features like a decent built-in Autocorrect a decent spelling dictionary and more do make a different to me.

For me, I think the bottom line is Scrivener does more than Word, but it doesn’t do what Word does as well as Word can.

Will Scrivener work for you?

Some of deciding whether Scrivener will work for you depends on how you use your current word processor. For example, I use Word macros for editing my gesture & word crutches. To my knowledge, Scrivener doesn’t have an equivalent function, so if I use Scrivener long term for drafting, I’ll probably go to Word for editing.

Also, my critique partners use Word and I can be sure they’ll get exactly what I send them when I use the same program. If you do your editing online, or use the track changes and/or comments features on a lot of your editing, then Word might still be a necessity, too.

I used Scrivener on a new manuscript, and I think that helped my opinion. From what I’ve heard, importing an existing manuscript can be a challenge, and if you’re not yet committed to the program long-term, it doesn’t make sense to go through the effort.

The best way to tell if Scrivener works for you? Give the free trial a shot first.

Last year, the 50% off winners’ coupon was good through the following October. Of course, I didn’t get around to actually USING the free trial until November… Good thing I won again . . . if I decide to get it.

What do you think? Have you tried Scrivener? What do you like about it, and what don’t you like about it? Join the conversation—and tell me about your Nano!

7 thoughts on “Will Scrivener work for you? (& NaNoWriMo Finale!)”

  1. I found Scrivener took me a lot of time to learn about – I couldn’t figure out why it was doing some really annoying things, and couldn’t figure out how to stop it from doing those annoying things. But I did get the hang of it in the long run. It probably doesn’t help that I never read any instruction manual or start-up file or anything 😛 Too impatient for that!

    Scrivener definitely works for me in that I have my Mac and don’t want to pay a ridiculous amount for Office for Mac – Scrivener is just a much cheaper option. And I like that you can set it to do curly quotes and all that if you want, or choose not to. Honestly I don’t do most of what Scrivener can do, I just use it for basics.

    1. Oh yeah, Scrivener is a lot cheaper. I happened to get a version of the MS suite for like $70 (expensive, but a really good deal). I have Scrivener set to curly quotes, too 🙂 .

      That’s one thing about Scrivener, though: finding solutions can be really hard. So many people use Word that it’s really easy to Google around and find a solution to almost any problem, but Scrivener doesn’t have the user base, so finding answers to questions can be really tough.

  2. Warning: way the heck too long, but there’s a lot to say.

    Scrivener is a perfect fit for me, because it’s built for the way I work. It lets me plot in advance, drop in empty text files for scenes ‘to be written’, and amass a huge collection of multimedia research materials, everything from PDF journal articles to web pages to visual references (both still and video). I fell in love with Scrivener in October 2011, and truthfully I bought my MacBook Air as a platform for Scrivener and a lower-weight way to carry my research materials with me–much easier on the back than half a ream of printouts. Research materials for this novel came to several thousand pages, only 600 of which I had read in detail when November started.

    Scrivener is just as good a pal to me when I’m doing wild improv, because I can move scenes around. I describe it to the uninitiated as “FinalCut for novelists” because I can be as asynchronous as I like and still keep track of my story. NaNo 2008 and NaNo 2009 were both built like that, by juxtaposing scenes and seeing what came up. In my first three years of NaNoWriMo (2008-2010) I used Word, with a ‘novel’ folder filled with ‘scene’ documents, together with a ‘sequence’ document that let me shuffle scenes around, albeit awkwardly. So yeah, deja vu when I saw that somebody had written software that pretty much mimicked this process, and added other useful features.

    On the other side of the balance sheet, I have to say that I hate Word, because it does too much and does it badly. I’ve had to use it for putting together technical manuals and other nonfiction material, and its behavior with styles and formatting is unpredictable at best. Deeper into the technical spectrum, the equation editor is one of the worst atrocities ever committed on users; I have a close friend who uses it for writing math instructional materials and pretty much every time I hear him cursing, it’s because the equation editor ate something. If you start formatting your own e-books, you will quickly discover that Word is a treacherous bog, and you’ll be far better served by the extremely clean copy that can be exported from Scrivener.

    As a writing tool, though, Scrivener trumps anything that’s merely a word processor. It’s about the data, and proper organization thereof; Scrivener files are actually folders. As the novel moves from draft one to beta-reading and revision, Scrivener lets me file away beta-readers’ response (which also keeps things clean in terms of tracking those who should be in the acknowledgments). I have gotten into the habit of printing all novel-related email correspondence to a PDF inside Scrivener, which keeps the business end of things properly organized.

    1. Long comments are okay 😉 . I’m glad that Scrivener works so well for you; it sounds like it was made for exactly the way you write. I guess I’ve just already found solutions that work for the way I write, and maybe that’s why I don’t find Scrivener as impressive.

      I agree that Word’s styles and formatting can be really frustrating. (Anybody else remember the glory of Reveal All Codes in WordPerfect? Sigh.) I don’t know, so I’ll ask: could Scrivener do a better job of formatting those equations? The actual text formatting capabilities seemed a bit light, but I also use styles very infrequently in a novel (especially when I don’t have to bother with chapter heads).

      I noted that Scrivener is supposed to have excellent output for ebook formatting in the article—but I also anticipate spending several hours next week trying to figure out how to customize the compile function to get the output I want. I really hope that’s something you figure out once and it remembers it for you . . . but it also forgot my other preferences, so I don’t know.

      However, until Scrivener makes it so I can make three clicks and get a list of every sentence where I use X term (in all word forms), for an array of 60+ values of X, in a new document/note card, I’ll probably continue to be underwhelmed.

  3. I’m using Scrivener for the first time, on my NaNo novel. So far I’m loving it. I also took a class on Scrivener from Gwen Hernandez, through her website. That really helped! I was able to hit the ground running. She also wrote the Scrivener for Dummies book, which explains a lot of the quirks. I’ve been working in Word since the DOS 3.0 version. And each version added complications. I don’t like the 2010 version at all. I was using 2002 and doing okay, until I had to get a new computer and ended up with Windows 7.


  4. I love Scrivener! I find it works really well for me because with Word I’m always too busy adjusting the formatting, clearing unneeded styles, that sort of thing. Scrivener is “clean” – all I need to do is type and insert photos and videos and other inspirational links.

  5. I hear ya on some of the editing features. For me, the corkboard and being able to write out of sequence make a big difference. I like the notes feature on the side as well.

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