For my first novel, The Darkening Dream, I started in word and then switched to Scrivener about 60% of the way through the first draft. I’ve never looked back.
Scrivener is a specialty word processor designed for those who write large documents or books. It totally and utterly rules in nearly every way, and anyone writing a long structured document (any book) is pretty crazy to be using a flat editor like Word. And it only costs $45.
Here are just a few reasons why it’s so great:
1. Scrivener is about 50x faster. It starts instantly, it remembers where you are instantly. It scrolls instantly. It searches instantly. Word counts are instant and live. It never spins the beach ball. It saves continually. It crashes about 1/10 as often as Word. I write 8-16 hours a day too, all the time. I’ve written a book that was at one point 186,000 words in it, so it’s no toy.
2. Most importantly, Scrivener is structured. You break your project down as you like (I use folders for chapters and documents under those folders) as scenes. This allows you to SEE the structure of your book in a tree like binder on the side, and to instantly hop around between different sections, or put multiple sections up against each other. Reorganizing the structure (dragging scenes between chapters, reordering chapters, splitting scenes and chapters) takes seconds instead of many error prone minutes.
3. Scrivener has meta data on the “object” (document) level. You can assign fields like the POV, notes, arbitrary custom fields etc etc to scenes and chapters. You can view these in outline form with various filters and even “live” calculated metadata like scene or chapter word counts. You can even color tag fields. This allows you to again SEE your book at the high level, to know that a 3,000 word chapter by Character A follows a 1,500 word chapter by Character B, and evaluate how that will feel to the reader. If you want to reorder, you just drag. There are all sorts of additional meta data too, like synopses which you can add to scenes, and are easily viewed.
4. Scrivener allows multiple custom views. You can test out multiple ways of ordering scenes, chapters etc, without actually changing the document. Or you can create lists of particular scenes that you want to edit as a whole.
5. You can select structured parts and instantly bind them all together into a single “virtual” document you can read and edit all together. For example section 2 non consecutive chapters, or just a couple random scenes, and virtually edit them as a single continuous document. Once you get used to this, it’s incredibly fast and convenient. You just click what you want to see.
6. You can have documents and data that are part of the project (planning, research, character sheets, changelogs etc) that are easily accessible in your tree, but are not generally printed/exported out when you send to others. It has some very extensive features in this regard, but I won’t get into them.
7. Scrivener has a huge host of other organizational tools like the cork board that I won’t get into. It’s spotlight-like find is 10,000x more useful than Word’s, and because of the chapter/scene metadata will show you where you have words or phrases in your book. It has a full screen / no distraction mode.
8. Incredibly importantly, it separates format from content and structure, like the division between HTML structure and CSS formatting. Documents (scenes) DO NOT generally have formatting (except bold, italics etc). Separate compile templates can be used to output the whole book or parts to different targets. Want to get the whole book as a PDF to put up on Lulu. CLICK compile. Want just 2 chapters in double spaces MS format for your editor. CLICK compile. Super fast, no loading up the giant word doc and carefully cutting blocks out and reformatting them. I whip off versions of my books 5-10 times a day.
9. It’s much easier to have good backup habits in Scrivener, and you can automate backing up the entire project. If you are technical, you can even use SVN or another fancy version control system.
10. The interface is much simpler, with the things writers need and not the incredible clutter of Word.
11. Scrivener can directly output EPUB and MOBI files (although there are some limits on how sophisticated your formatting can be).
12. Lots and lots of reasons I left out.
There are a few things that Scrivener is worse at:
1. Elaborate formatting, tables, graphs, equations, full styles etc. Although you can use it with Multimarkdown and Latex if you are hardcore.
2. Track changes. This is fairly minimal, but i just output to word and do that there.
3. It’s footnote, page layout, table of contents type features are more minimal. It isn’t really intended for final press layout.
This all being said, you still need Word for occasionally interfacing with others, or possibly for final layout. I basically use Word for track changes and compare documents. It’s trivial to compile out scrivener revisions and use “compare documents” in word to build like deltas.
Currently Scrivener 2.4.x is out for the Mac and fantastic. You PC dweebs (I weep for your lost souls) can use a 1.x version which is still good, but is in beta. The betas are very stable. I spent 6 months writing full time in various betas last Summer/Fall with almost no problems.
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