Scrivener: A Review

I want a one-stop shop for all my writing needs, hence today’s photo. Get it? It’s “one stop.” See?

Anyway, in my quest for an all-in-one writing solution, I am now trying out Scrivener for 30 days. The 30-day-trial is actually 30 days of use, not 30 days from the time you first run the program. That earns it beaucoup brownie points in my book (the one I just imported into Scrivener.)

Why I’m trying out Scrivener:
Up until now, I’ve been keeping all my novel files on Google Docs. It’s convenient, I can write anywhere as long as I have an internet connection, and I can download the whole folder periodically and backup to my hard drive. Unfortunately, the novel is close to 20,000 words now and that slows things down considerably whenever I try to edit the whole thing, especially on my iPad. So I’ve had to adjust by selecting out single chapters, saving them as separate documents, editing them that way, and then pasting them back into the master file. As you can imagine, this gets messy very quickly.

So I decided to try out Scrivener, a dedicated word processor specifically for writers. Now, my first reaction was to channel Alton Brown and lament such an expensive unitasker, especially since I have access to multiple word processors and note-takers for free and have managed to do okay up until now.

But that’s the problem- they aren’t doing the job anymore. I’ve outgrown them. It’s time to move up and try something a bit more specialized.

After three days of writing in Scrivener, here are a few immediate thoughts:

Rather than keeping one giant document called “My Book” or several separate documents labeled Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc, you can keep all those documents and chapter fragments separate but collected in one binder. The binder lets you reorganize them as you see fit, shuffle them like notecards, or lay them out in an outline form.

It keeps track of how many words you’ve written in each chapter or scene just like Word or OpenOffice, but then it also provides sum totals across the entire project as well. Very handy when you want to know the total book length in addition to the words in a chapter.
Even cooler, the Project Statistics screen not only tells you how many manuscript pages you have, but also estimates how many pages it would be in paperback format. Sure, you could just divide your total word count by 350, but why not save yourself the step?

I keep the main program on my Mac, and sync the manuscript files to DropBox. Then I use PlainText on my iPhone and iPad to read/write to those files when I’m on the go. The sync is still a little clunky, but it still works.

There are several features that make things easier. There’s a built-in dictionary and thesaurus, so if you need to choose a better word, it’s just a few clicks away. I also like how Scrivener lets you edit sections individually or as one giant manuscript. That kind of flexibility is key for anybody who prefers to write one section at a time, but also needs to do sweeping find-and-replace operations (changing character names, anybody?) But the biggest time saver is the compile function, which takes your draft and automatically formats it for you according to industry standards. All those italics you prefer to see in your draft? They become underlined. That fancy font you enjoy writing your poetry in? It becomes an easy-to-read sarif font suitable for the not-so-eagle eyes of your editor or agent. And if you don’t like it, you can change the preferences to whatever you choose.

By the way, that reformatted version doesn’t overwrite your working manuscript, it saves it as a separate file in whatever file type you prefer: RTF, PDF, DOC, etc. So if you need to distribute a chapter for your writing group, you don’t have to fiddle with formatting and turn off comments and such. All you have to do is compile your chapter and send that file out. Your working manuscript stays the same as before.

Random fun stuff:
Need a name for your superhero or sidekick? Scrivener’s got you covered. It has a name generator that taps into various popularity lists from countries you pick, as well as options to attempt alliteration, favor common or obscure names, or include dictionary words that sound like names. Lots of fun, I just wish it had as many surname options as it does forenames.

Scrivener also comes with a built-in voice that can read your words back to you. I’m not sure what this feature buys you, but as far as entertainment value, it’s hilarious. Sit back and enjoy as your book comes to life with a voice straight from Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesizer. Almost.

So far, I’m loving Scrivener. It’s not totally an all-in-one solution (it doesn’t function very well as a story bible; I’m still on the lookout for that) but it does fill in many of the gaps I was trying to address.

I am a very structured writer so Scrivener’s organizational tools are appealing to me. I love outlines; I like to know where I’m headed when I start working on a chapter. Scrivener enables my structured writing tendencies without cramping my style. Unless something significant happens to change my mind (and if it does, I’ll be sure to post), I will probably fork over the $45 at the end of the trial period to buy the license.

Word of warning:
If you do the trial, make sure you physically quit the Scrivener program each time you use it, otherwise you may close your manuscript and walk away from it for a few days without realizing that the program is still running. I did this over the weekend and lost a full day of my trial even though I hadn’t used it in over 24 hours. I had closed my project but the software opened up another window without me noticing. Kinda sneaky…


2 thoughts on “Scrivener: A Review

  1. As I dig deeper into the depths of Scrivener, I learn more things, as well as discover more annoyances.

    I am loving the synopsis feature. It lets me outline my stories very easily without confusing synopses sections with actual draft sections (ie, word count is more accurate).

    BUT I just found out that the spell check feature is very limited. It only works on new content as you type it. It doesn't remember typos across all the different sections. So, if you got back to a document you wrote yesterday in which there were typos, it won't show you those typos. This is a HUGE problem for me. The Scrivener people offer the following solutions, but if you didn't know about the problem to begin with, you might be fooled into thinking your final draft is typo-free:


    Spell checking is turned on, but it is not underlining misspelled words from prior typing sessions.
    Scrivener uses the basic spell checker that is provided nearly system wide on the Macintosh. This system is somewhat limited compared to what many word processors provide, and was primarily designed to provide quick spell checking on things that you are currently typing. Consequently, it does a good job of highlighting typos and misspelled words as you compose, but if you close the document and return to it later the highlights will be gone.

    There are two ways to spell check a document that has already been typed. In both, place your cursor at the beginning of the section you wish to check. Using the first method, press Cmd-; to jump to the next misspelled word where you can right-click and choose the best option. The second method feels more like a normal word processor. Press Cmd-: and a window will come up letting you interact with the spell check engine in a slightly more intuitive manner.

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