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Like many writers who first hear about this robust writing application, I had dabbled with it before, but it felt too overwhelming. Scrivener was more intense than the Microsoft Word I’d grown up with.
I think one of the reasons so many writers seem to give up on Scrivener is that they’d rather get to writing than messing about with a new app. I get that. When you’re familiar with an app and you can get your words down on digital paper with relative ease, why would you want to purposefully elongate the process?
Maybe because what you don’t know could be hurting your productivity as a writer.
The time you spend now to learn Scrivener is immense time (and frustration) you will save on your future books and writing work.
I hope that by the time you finish this article, you’ll want to dive back into using Scrivener on a regular basis or you’ll want to test it out for the first time. In fact, trying it out will just cost you time. Literature and Latte, the company behind Scrivener, offers a thirty-day free trial.
And if you really want to get into Scrivener, I’m now offering virtual, one-on-one Scrivener lessons at $50/hour. If it’s totally new to you, I can guide you through all the basics and some immensely helpful tips. Or, if you’ve been using it for a while but have yet to make the leap because it just won’t do that one thing you really want it to do, I’ll help you figure out the problem. If that interests you, just reply to this email and we’ll schedule a virtual screen sharing meeting.
Now, onto 10 Ways Scrivener Beats Word for Writing Everything
The most important thing you need to know about Scrivener is that it’s feature-filled because it wants to be adaptable to a wide variety of writers.
In other words, Scrivener can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You could use three of its notable features and feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth. Or you could dig into all of its features and have a comprehensive research, writing, and publishing tool.
You tell Scrivener how to adapt to you; you don’t adapt to it. (I’m looking at you, MS Word.)
Because many writers default to using Word, let’s discuss why you should consider ditching Word for a (much better) alternative:
1. Organization / Nonlinearity
Word forces you to stay on the straight and narrow path. When you’re writing a book of any substance, you’re sometimes scrolling more than you’re writing.
With Scrivener, rearranging scenes and chapters almost becomes a joy. Scenes live in individual files, which can then live nested in folders. Scenes are all easily accessible, editable, and movable. And it’s just as easy to see all of your scenes in one long document, just as you would normally see them in Word. But instead of scrolling up and down all the time, you’re just dragging and dropping files to where you want them to go.
To me, this is the single greatest reason for writers to switch to Scrivener.
“It wasn’t until my second book that I discovered Scrivener. It was completely different, and there was definitely a learning curve. Once I got the hang of it, though, I found that I loved how it was geared specifically toward writing books. And its effectiveness showed in my productivity. My first book, written solely with Microsoft Word, took me 550 hours to write. The second book, written with Scrivener, took me only 200 hours.”
Here’s my supposed math. Let’s say it took Joe twenty hours to learn Scrivener properly. (That’s probably an exaggerated number). Even if he’d spent twenty hours learning a new writing program, his net gain in writing efficiency would still have been 330 hours, or almost two weeks of writing.
Word gets bloated with size. Have you ever opened your book, ready to rock, only to be forced to wait even just a minute for the manuscript to fully load?
Scrivener opens ready for you to rock. You don’t have to wait for 100,000 words to load into a single document because Scrivener’s only going to open the last scene you were working on.
Even though you could save your Word file to a cloud drive, it’s often not an automatic or thoughtless process.
Scrivener allows you to set up a backup solution which it syncs to every time you close the program. In other words, you’ll always have a local and an offsite backup of all of your book’s materials.
Scrivener also allows you to create snapshots of individual scenes, meaning that you can always roll back to a previous snapshot if you don’t like your current version or have forgotten what you’ve changed.
(If you don’t have at least a three-tiered solution for backing up all of your writing, please read “How to Prevent Every Writer’s Worst Nightmare: Losing Your Work.”)
Word doesn’t allow you to store research in tandem with your manuscript. Scrivener does.
Think of it like always having Evernote open while writing, except all of your documents, web pages, and images are stored within your Scrivener project.
One of the coolest features of Scrivener—which I have yet to use because I don’t write fiction (yet)—is that you can place an image as an attached note to any document. This means your character sketches could feature your chosen actor, or your setting descriptions could have actual settings attached to inspire you.
6. Layout Customization
You’re limited to just a few views within Word, from the minimal (aka Focus) to the traditional (print view).
Scrivener allows a host of views that allow you to see your text the way you want to. It also has a minimal view, known as “Composition Mode,” a default editing mode, and a print view.
My favorite viewing mode splits the editor into two panels so that I can have what I’m writing on the left side and what I’m referring to on the right side.
7. Multiple Export Capabilities
While Word offers an adequate array of filetype export options, Scrivener doubles that, mostly through its compile functionality. You can export to PDF, Word, rtf, html, mobi, epub, Final Draft, and MultiMarkdown, to name a few.
If you really learn how to use the compiling feature, you can create ebooks and print books from your Scrivener project files. But I wouldn’t recommend doing so, at least not until Scrivener 3 releases later this year (2017) for Mac and in 2018 for Windows.
Even though I compiled my first book through Scrivener, it was a frustrating process of trial and error. However, the next version promises to be easier to understand and use. (FWIW, I use and recommend Vellum, a Mac-only application, for formatting print and ebooks.)
8. Targets and Motivation
Word has nothing like this, and it’s one of the features of Scrivener that motivates me the most.
Scrivener allows you to set daily word count goals to reach your deadline and will tell you when you’ve achieved that target. Few things in my writing life satisfy me more than hearing the ding that accompanies reaching my word count goal for the day.
If you’re a screenwriter, you should be familiar with storyboarding. Scrivener, unlike Word, allows you to create and rearrange notecards, just as if you were storyboarding in real life. This is quite helpful for seeing the broad overview of your scene flow.
10. Customizable Metadata and Color-Coding
Want to highlight every scene that features a certain character? Want to track scenes that take place in a certain setting, or convey a particular mood, or that feature multiple characters?
Unlike Word, Scrivener allows you to put as much customized metadata (extra information) into your scenes and chapters to help you better organize your book and see your work from a broad perspective.
For instance, when I was working through my late uncle’s posthumous mystery novel, Sins of the Five Fathers, I created custom meta-data categories based on the Story Grid methodology that allowed me to track things like value shifts, turning points, POV, duration, etc. for every scene.
What’s the final reason you should just say no to Clippy and start using Scrivener?
If it’s not pre-installed on your computer, Word is $109.99 for a one-time charge or $69.99–$149.99 per year through Office365.
Even though the next iteration will be a paid upgrade, I bet you know where my money will be going.
P.S. Contact me if you’re interested in virtual, one-on-one Scrivener training. It changed my writing life, and once you really understand what it’s capable of and how you can customize it to your needs, it may just change yours too.