If you’re a writer seeking tools to help you with tasks such as research, organization, and formatting, you’ve probably heard of Scrivener, the writing software created by Literature and Latte. For quite a few years, Scrivener has been one of the leading and most comprehensive software suites made exclusively for writers. There have been several important updates over the years and the current version, Scrivener 3, is now available for both Mac and Windows users.
This review is designed for people who are new to Scrivener as well as anyone who has an older version and may not be familiar with the update. Whether you ultimately choose to use Scrivener or a competing product, you owe it to yourself to learn the various features and benefits of this renowned software product for writers.
Overview: What Can Scrivener Do For You?
- Helps you organize long writing projects such as novels, nonfiction books, academic papers, and even scripts.
- Simplifies editing. Editing is an essential part of any writing project. Scrivener has many tools to help you edit more efficiently whether it’s correcting simple errors or restructuring entire sections and chapters.
- Enhances outlines. An outline helps you clarify your ideas and plan your manuscript. Scrivener’s system of folders and subfolders helps you arrange and rearrange the various parts of your writing project.
- Formatting for screenwriters. Without the right tools, you can end up spending half your time worrying about formatting. Scrivener lets you easily format your screenplay so you can focus on the essential elements -characters, dialogue, and action.
- Features for academic and nonfiction writers. If you’re creating a well-researched nonfiction book, thesis, or detailed report you have to make sure you have features such as footnotes, references, and a bibliography correctly formatted. Scrivener provides templates for writing in styles such as APA and MLA so you can focus on your writing.
- Helps you set goals and track your progress. Time is always a factor for writers. Scrivener helps you set goals and track your progress every step of the way.
- Tools for exporting and publishing. Scrivener integrates with many formats so you can export to Microsoft Word, Open Office, RTF Final Draft (for screenplays), PDF, and more.
Unlike many more specialized writing products, Scrivener is designed to take you from your first draft to the finished product, covering all of the steps in between. Writers of all styles and genres can choose among many tools to guide them throughout the process. Now let’s look in more detail at some of the leading features.
If you’re serious about writing, you can’t really separate writing from editing. Your ability to make changes, additions, and revisions really determines the quality of the final product. While software such as Word, Open Office, and even the most basic text editor or word processing tool gives you editing capabilities, Scrivener goes much further.
- Speech Feature (so far only for Mac) – One of the challenges of writing is that you don’t always know how dialogue and other passages sound. With the speech feature, you can literally hear how your writing sounds. This helps you catch errors as well as clunky sentences.
- Track Word Frequency – When you write long documents it’s easy to lose track of the words you use. The Text Statistics feature shows you how often words appear in your manuscript. If you catch yourself overusing certain words you can make substitutes.
- Color Coding – Color coding lets you label characters, points of view, topics, or anything that you need. You can color code icons such as flags or other labels to identify important features. For example, you might use different colors for different characters in a novel or screenplay.
- Split Screen – One important task you can’t perform with software such as Word is viewing your work in a split-screen format. Scrivener lets you choose between vertical or horizontal screen split and switch screens around as you wish. Why would you want to do this? Suppose you’re writing a complex novel with many characters that jumps back and forth in time. You can use a split-screen to view an earlier chapter dealing with a certain character/setting/time period while writing a current one to remind you of what was going on. Similarly, you can do this with nonfiction if you refer back to a topic from an earlier section.
What’s New in Scrivener 3?
If you’re using an earlier version of Scrivener you may be wondering if it’s worthwhile to upgrade to version 3. Here are a few reasons why should consider it;
- Improved User Interface – Some users have complained that Scrivener isn’t as user-friendly as it could be. The creators have listened and made some notable adjustments. The Quick Search tool makes it easier to find documents.
- Bookmarking – One of the most useful new features is Bookmarks, which replaces the old Project Notes and References & Favorites to give users easy access to frequently used documents. You have the ability to bookmark items anywhere on your computer or online not only those you’ve saved in Scrivener.
- Tracking – New progress bars for drafts and sessions make it easier to track your progress. There’s also Writing Statistics, which lets you find out if you’re meeting your daily or hourly word count. You can also track other metrics such as paragraph length and word frequency.
- Updated Compile Tool – This feature lets you combine multiple sections into a single document. This has many uses such as combining the best sections of several drafts. You can also use it to compile different scenes in a novel or screenplay. The new Compiler is both more flexible and easier to use.
- Easier Formatting – Using Styles, you can more quickly change features such as fonts, headings, block text, and titles.
- Metadata – This feature lets you add dates, lists, checkboxes, and other data to help you keep track of important issues. If you’re writing a section for a report, for example, you might add a checkbox such as “Add Footnotes” or “Explain this character’s backstory” for your novel.
- EPub Compatibility – Simplifies self-publishing as you can export documents into Kindle EPub3 format.
When you first download the software, you’ll want to spend some time consulting the very thorough video tutorials. This is quite substantial so, unless you’re very ambitious, you probably won’t want to tackle it all in one sitting.
The best way to start using Scrivener, once you’ve browsed around a little and studied the tutorial, is to actually start writing. Then, if you encounter difficulties, you can watch a tutorial on that topic. The following are some of the steps and features that can help elevate your writing.
Choose a Template
Unless you’re only writing for yourself, you need to create documents in a specific format. In some cases, such as submitting an academic paper or screenplay, the wrong format will instantly disqualify your work no matter how good the writing is. Scrivener gives you many options for templates.
The template you choose will depend on what kind of document you’re creating such as an article, short story, novel, blog, term paper, or screenplay. If you’re writing a script, you can also choose more specialized templates for genres such as stage plays, documentaries, comic books, and even BBC radio and TV formats. When you start a project, remember to give it a relevant and memorable file name, so you don’t lose track of it.
There are many customizable components in Scrivener. Among the most important are editor settings. In the Editor, you can set your preferences for elements such as hide/show ruler or format bar or turn on Page View. You can also set up Full-Screen mode, which makes your document the whole screen and blocks out the rest of your desktop.
If you want to block out distractions as much as possible, choose Composition Mode, which always displays what you’re typing in the center of the screen. Most likely, you’ll want to experiment with different settings to find the ones that you prefer.
Folders and Binders
Folders in Scrivener perform a similar function to folders in other software programs. You use them to store important information such as a list of your characters, topics for your book, or anything that you need. All of these folders for any project combine to form a binder.
Just like a traditional binder, the Binder in Scrivener stores all the folders you create for any project. Depending on the nature of your document, a binder might consist of book chapters, movie scenes, or topics for a report.
Using Scrivener For Research
Research plays a big role in challenging writing projects such as novels, nonfiction books, academic works, and technical articles. When you use a traditional tool such as Word for writing, you usually have to keep the research separate from the main document. This isn’t the case with Scrivener. We’ve already mentioned how projects are made up of folders and binders. Your research will be included in a binder, making it easy to access.
The Corkboard view is especially useful for research. It shows you, at a glance, what you’ve gathered and what you may still need to do. You can use this index card format to show you any type of material, from scientific formulae to the names of characters in your novel. Another useful research tool is the Split Screen view. One way to use this is to have your document on one side of the screen and your research on the other. Once again, you can display the two screens either horizontally or vertically.
Still another way Scrivener helps with research is the new Bookmark feature, which gives you easy access to content that’s elsewhere on your computer or on the web. Thus, while working on your manuscript, you can bring up a relevant website or file on your computer that has the information you need.
As mentioned, Compiling is one of Scrivener’s more challenging aspects that’s been updated in the latest version. The Compiler lets you combine parts of your manuscript that may be formatted differently such as the title page, preface, table of contents, and chapters of a book.
One of the most efficient compiling tools is Collections. You create Collections using any criteria you want. This allows you to reorder material in your manuscript by dropping and dragging folders into a new Collection. For example, suppose you’re writing a book or long article and decide you want to put everything related to a certain topic, which could be “European travel,” “Nutrition,” “SEO Tips,” “19th Century Art” or anything else together into a new section. You create a Collection out of this material and compile it the way you want.
The Corkboard is an outlining tool that performs a similar function as a standard cork or bulletin board. Corkboard view lets you see all of your documents as note or index cards. This is a powerful visual tool that gives you a broad perspective on your document and may suggest changes you want to make such as adding, deleting, or rearranging sections.
For example, you may have two notecards, each representing a chapter in your book. You may decide that you need another chapter in between to clarify the story. You can then add another notecard to your Corkboard. This feature is also good for helping you decide where to put different sections or chapters. Looking at notecards, you might decide to reverse the order of two sections for clarity. The Corkboard is a visual tool, so it helps that you can customize it. You can adjust the size and appearance of notecards to your preference.
Scrivener Pros and Cons
As valuable as Scrivener is, every software has its drawbacks. Let’s look at the leading pros and cons of Scrivener. Some of these, of course, are subjective and your own experience will depend on your needs and preferences.
- Comprehensive writing software guides you for virtually any type of writing project. Once you have Scrivener, you won’t need separate programs for screenwriting, academic writing, or blogging.
- The reasonable, one-time fee is cheaper than many competing products. There’s also a free trial.
- Many features are highly customizable.
- Not compatible with all operating systems. You need Windows 7 or later or Mac X. As of now, Scrivener 3 for Windows is not yet available.
- Doesn’t have a dedicated dictionary or thesaurus. There is a spelling and grammar checker but these are fairly basic. However, you can now find many resources for these for free online (e.g. Thesaurus.com and the free version of Grammarly, the Hemingway app, etc.).
- Learning curve. You need to learn the terminology (e.g. folders, binders, compiling, etc.) and put in some time to be able to benefit from the software.
Operating Systems and Costs
Scrivener 3 is currently available for Mac OS 10.12+ and Windows 8+.
Scrivener offers a 30-day free trial to let you explore the features and find out if it’s right for you. The full version for Windows or Mac OS costs $59.99. There’s an educational license for students and academics for $50.99. You can buy a bundled package (Windows + Mac OS) for $95.98. The iOS app is $23.99. If you’re an existing Scrivener 1 user for Windows or If you’re a Mac user with an older version you can upgrade to Version 3 for $25.
Considering everything that you can do with this software and comparing it to the competition, Scrivener provides solid value. As noted, several spelling/grammar checkers are more expensive. Final Draft, the leading screenwriting software for Mac costs $249. Another popular tool for fiction writers, Writer’s Blocks, charges $149. Considering that none of these tools offers nearly the number of features as Scrivener does, you can appreciate that the one-time fee of $59.99 is a great value.
Why Use Scrivener?
Some writers wonder why they need a product like Scrivener when they can edit with Word or Open Office and perhaps use an additional tool such as Grammarly for spelling and grammar. The fact is, there aren’t many comprehensive writing products on the market. Scrivener does far more than a word processor or spelling/grammar checker (it’s also worth noting that the paid version of Grammarly is significantly more expensive than Scrivener).
Scrivener helps you with every stage of the writing process including research, editing, organization, formatting, and exporting. If you’re like many users, you might feel a bit overwhelmed when you first start using Scrivener. In fact, there are even courses dedicated to making Scrivener easier to use. Fortunately, the program is getting more user-friendly with each update. Nonetheless, with so many features that there’s definitely a learning curve.
Scrivener is the kind of tool that becomes more valuable the more you use it. At first, the time it takes to figure everything out negates some of the efficiency. As you learn how to do things like use bookmarks, use folders, look up word alternatives, view split screens, and lots more, you’ll start to notice how the product improves your writing.
The main caveat for using Scrivener is that you do have to put in the effort to learn it. Otherwise, you risk being one of the many buyers who get frustrated and leave it on their computer or phone unused. If you do take the time to learn it, however, you’ll soon wonder how you survived so long without it!