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Scrivener- Pros and Cons

In January, I started my current Work In Progress in Google Docs. Google Docs is the only word processing program I’d ever used for as long as I could remember. I liked it, and I still do. It’s dependable, always there, and free, and I’ve been using it since I was 14, so I know most of the ins and outs. However, for my writing style and how much I write, I knew it was time for a change with this project. I started the project on Google Drive while passively searching for a writing program. I heard about Scrivener through Chloe Lukasiak on Youtube and remembered that I’d seen a handful of writers that I followed on Instagram using it, so I decided to try it out. They have a great trial period of 30 days, so I downloaded the trial version, and within three days of using it to outline my novel, I bought the full version. Here is why:

I’ve always written a lot. My first full-length novel ended up being over 900 pages long, and it got quite difficult to find certain chapters to edit from memory. The command F word search function didn’t come in very much handy- you’d be surprised how many times the phrase “panic attack” comes up in a 900-page book about the aftermath of sexual assault. I also had a separate, 200-page document of scenes that I’d cut but couldn’t kill- I basically cryogenically froze them. That’s a whole other article for sometime next year.

Scrivener’s whole schtick is that they meet writers where they are at- and they make it easy to have the kind of brain that a lot of writers have, that I have. I write constantly. At least 500 words a day, most days, for years. Those words take up a lot of room and I am, admittedly, not an organized person. I have over 4,000 notes in the Notes section on my phone, though I will say that a solid half of those are Trader Joe’s grocery lists.

“Scrivener is the go-to app for writers of all kinds, used every day by best-selling novelists, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, academics, lawyers, journalists, translators, and more. Scrivener won't tell you how to write—it simply provides everything you need to start writing and keep writing. Tailor-made for long writing projects, Scrivener banishes page fright by allowing you to compose your text in any order, in sections as large or small as you like. Got a great idea but don't know where it fits? Write when inspiration strikes and find its place later. Grow your manuscript organically, idea by idea.”

That’s a direct quote from Scrivener’s website. It was definitely what pulled me in- my writing style just so happens to be that I write out of order- when scenes come to me, I write them down and they rarely arrive chronologically, which is annoying, but not something I can train myself out of (and believe me- I’ve tried). I figured I would create a list of pros and cons for writers considering using this particular word processor. I will give a little disclaimer that I’ve been working exclusively with Scrivener’s manuscript function, so I can’t say much in support of or against its other modes, such as Screenplay or Short Story.

Scriv Pros

  • You can have as many or as few documents as you want and you can move them around in whatever order you want. You can have as many chapters as your heart desires and you can even separate those chapters into subdocuments if you want to write scene by scene. That’s a little too many for me, but if you wanted to, you could!

  • If you write a ton like me, it is so easy to keep your work organized in Scrivener! You can jump around the chapters or scenes so easily and it has a few different modes for how to view them- like you would traditionally see them in a google document, or as index cards, where you can either have the first few sentences of the chapter or a little blurb to explain what the chapter is about. If you haven’t written the chapter yet but know what it’s going to be about, this is also a great place to start outlining it!

My little index cards! Some of them just have brief descriptions of the chapter or an outline, the rest just have the beginning of the chapter.

  • The default setting is pretty standard (hence the name default) but Scrivener also has multiple themes that you can change it to, and you can also download different themes from Etsy- I’ve found some really cute ones and they’re all about $2-$5!

This is the default- I do love the purple! You can also see on the far right all of the comments that I've made to myself- that bit is similar to Google Docs.

I got this one from Vergho on Etsy and it's called " Vienna Concerto Scrivener Theme for Mac and Windows (Light Mode)" How cute is it?!

  • If you enjoy making mood boards and character boards, Scrivener has you covered there too. I’ve only just started messing around with that, but it has question prompts, and you’d be surprised at how even the simplest of questions can make you understand the character you’re trying to create. They also have one for worldbuilding! It’s super neat, and when I have time, I’m definitely going to play around with that more.

This theme is from ReliablyWriting on Etsy and it's called "Terrestrial Greens Scrivener Theme (Light & Dark)"

  • If you have deadlines, Scrivener can help you meet them. You just have to put in your word count target and the date you want to reach it, and it will do the math for you to tell you how many words you need to write each day to meet that goal, and it’ll keep track with a gradually growing bar as you write each day at the top of the page. I’m very visual, so even though I have no official deadline for my book, it excites me to see the visual representation of my progress- I set my deadline for the first draft to be done on January 1st, and I'm about 77% of my way there!

I did the math about a month ago to figure out how many words per day I'd need to write to get to 100k by 1/1/23 Also, ignore the 4k+ word count for that day, I accidentally deleted a chapter and had to copy-paste it back into the main body of the work.

  • If you need to compile your document and make it into a PDF for editors, agents, or just to see how it would look as a paperback book, the compile function makes it super easy, and it formats it for you based on what you want! Some of the options are Manuscript (Courier), Modern, Paperback (5.06”x7.81”) and Paperback (6”x9”). I really like this function because the page count on your page isn’t exactly what it would be as a paperback and is actually drastically more (right now, my book is 414 pages in Scriv but 289 as a compiled paperback 6”x9”.) Call that last bit a con if you'd like, but I'm still leaving this in the pro category!

You can also exclude parts of your document if you want- I have all of my chapters checked here, but you can export as many or as few chapters as you need to.

Scriv Cons

  • $$. Scrivener does cost money, but in my opinion, it is well worth it. It is a $50 fee for a lifelong membership, including whatever new editions they come out with. It’s worth it to me, but I definitely recommend doing their free trial and exploring it to make sure you like it before you drop the money on it. If you're hyper-organized while writing or you’re not as serious a writer, Scrivener might not be the word processor for you. Scrivener also costs $20 as an app to download on your phone or IPad, which I think is pretty annoying considering that you're already paying $50 for it on your computer.

  • Copy-pasting images doesn’t work quite the same way, which can be annoying. Clip art, similarly, doesn’t work. I wanted to put in these cute chapter headers with swords on either side of the names (okay, maybe *cute* isn't the right word) but the swords turn out all wonky and I couldn't fix them. It's not the biggest deal in the world but it's something I definitely noticed. I also struggled to put images of my characters into the character outline function, which is sort of frustrating, but I remedied it by making Pinterest boards for each of my characters.

Funny story, I tried to copy and paste the headers directly into the blog post from Google Docs , but Wix wouldn't let me do it either lol. Maybe I am, in fact, the problem. And yes, I know the right sword is higher than the left sword- I couldn't fix it, so he's like left shark. We can't all be perfect, okay? I have other good qualities!

  • The font size is a little different. I don't know why this is, but to have my Times New Roman font look like 12pt font in Scrivener, I have to make it 16pt font. It's the weirdest thing, and I don't know why that is. It's a nit-picky little thing, but this post is nit-picky, so I figured I'd say something. If I compile it, it says 12pt font in the PDF, and looks like 12pt font. It's the strangest thing.

  • To my knowledge, if you want to have other people look at your work, you're going to have to export your novel- or at least copy-paste the words into a word processor that can be shared with others, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. When I started my book, I was working in Google Docs and shared the document with one of my best friends so she could read along with me, and when I moved over to Scrivener, she lost access, because I was the only one with the application on my computer.

I've only been working with Scrivener for about nine months, so I'm still figuring out all the ins and outs of it, but I have to say, I am a convert. For who I am as a writer, Scrivener is keeping me organized (and feeling like a professional writer). Writers, what word processor do you use? Why do you like it? Why do you hate it?

Xoxox- Emmabird

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Oct 25, 2022

Emma, this is such a thorough review of this writing program. It’s a very worthwhile read for all writers!

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