In Praise of Scrivener πŸ‘

I was recently seduced by Ulysses, but still have the hots for this old flame

I’ve used Scrivener since version 1.0. I’ve written anything and everything in it: novels, short stories, audio scripts and screenplays, stage plays, blog posts – whatever. In a recent post, I sang from the rooftops about Ulysses, which has replaced Scrivener for many of my writing needs. There are, however, certain scenarios for which Scrivener will always be my go-to app.

Many people consider Scrivener to be bloated and laden with features they’ll never use, but for me it’s the ideal application for writing fiction, scripts, and anything that needs to be made up of multiple documents. I can’t imagine writing anything as complicated as a novel in Ulysses, nor would I write any kind of script: to my mind, these are just not the applications for which Ulysses is the most appropriate tool.

When scriptwriting, Scrivener’s automated formatting capabilities really make a difference, offering great convenience and allowing the writer to maintain a train of thought. Hitting return at the end of a line automatically formats the next line to whatever is expected to come next, say, ACTION after DIALOGUE. This can be tweaked in the preferences if the app doesn’t perform in the desired fashion. For example, due to the predominance of dialogue in audio drama, I’ve set Scrivener to follow a line of dialogue with another line of dialogue. If the writer wants something like TECHNICAL DIRECTIONS instead, switching is easy: just hit ENTER, and you’re presented with a list of options.

Scrivener also includes many industry standard templates such as novel, short story, various essay formats, screenplay, audio drama, and others; you can also create your own from scratch. Features such as snapshots, notes, bookmarks, the corkboard and collections can all be incredibly useful.

At the moment I’m editing travel guides in Scrivener. Each document is separate chapter, covering a different place of interest. Some writers send me documents in Word files, some send me plain text, others send me text in the body of an email; it’s easy to import any of these into Scrivener, then separate them into different chapters. These have to be listed alphabetically in the published book; Scrivener makes this easy to do by simply dragging the separate documents in the binder into the desired order. It’s also possible to add comments and annotations for export to Word documents, should these be needed.

Scrivener is a multi-platform app, available on Windows, macOS and iOS. However, its use of DropBox for syncing is not popular with a lot of people – I would have to include myself among them. iCloud is widely preferred as a syncing method, although in this writer’s experience even that can’t always be relied upon. For example, my Ulysses or iA Writer documents are often not in sync unless I fully quit the iOS app and reopen it. But DropBox can be slow, and Scrivener’s syncing, especially from the iOS end, is particularly clunky.

Scrivener has a lot of features and can be intimidating to a new user, especially when compared with the much lighter alternatives that are out there. The Compile function has always been a bit of a pain in the arse, even in its simplified form. But I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve wondered whether there’s a way to do something, only to find out the developers have already included it as a feature. Basically, if there’s something you want to do, it’s probably already baked into Scrivener.

Ulysses is where I spend a lot of my writing time these days, mainly because the app makes publishing a breeze, but Scrivener will always have special a place on my hard drive, because despite its greater complexity, there are certain tasks for which it is the perfect tool. Yes, it has a steeper, longer learning curve than other writing apps, but the results are usually worth the effort.

See the 58Keys interview with me about Scrivener


I’m a writer, Royal Literary Fund Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Subscribe for updates, sneak peeks and early bird discounts.

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