Scrivener Software Is Complicated but Worth the Effort for Writing eBooks

Organize your writing

Got notes? Got chapters? Organize it all.

Two weeks ago friend and fellow ghostwriter, Grant McDuling, suggested I look into an extremely robust wordprocessor for fiction and non-fiction writers. Always up for a book writing related adventure I jumped in and found Scrivener authoring software immensely worth my time. There is a learning curve involved with Scrivener, but an hour or two will have you writing and formatting all kinds of manuscripts and book projects like a pro, which presumably you are or want to be.

Where Scrivener Comes from

Scrivener was created in 2006 by a creative Brit who wanted software to enhance the craft of writing long documents — academic papers, theses, novels, or what have you. His company is Literature and Latte, and I’m guessing so is his lifestyle. His approach to Scrivener is mellow and laid back, if a little confusing at times in the tutorial.  By the way, Scrivener, formerly a MAC only treasure, is available for Mac and PC now.

What Scrivener Does for Writers and Authors

Practically everything. I’m not kidding. I swear, several times while I ran through the tutorial I said to my partner, “Man, I wish they had included a way to (fill in the blank).” And by the time I finished the page I was working on, I found that function. Let me say, as did the software creator, we’re not talking MS Word here.

Scrivener is not intended to format or layout a book. It’s intended to help you write an organized, head-ache free, easy-to work with draft you’ll later pour into another program to put the finishing touches like styles to. But first, my author friend, you can —

  1. Create a template that fits your style of document or writing project, or you can use an onboard template — for example, novel, non-fiction, or thesis.
  2. Sort your ideas, notes, pages, or structure elements with virtual index cards, or a cork board, or an outline view. Whatever makes you happy can be brought up front, everything else stays out of your way.
  3. Import images, audio files, video files, hyperlinks, webpages, or documents from your harddrive created in  virtually any other program. All this importing is on the fly and easy as drag and drop or cut and paste.
  4. Split the screen horizontally or vertically or not at all and see multiple items at once.
  5. Combine pages or chapters permanently or temporarily to determine how they should fit together and how they work here or there. Talk about story flow!
  6. Navigate around a single document, between documents, into notes, or dig deep into as many outline levels as you care to, without ever losing your place. I haven’t done a book in Scrivener yet, just moderate projects, but I’m a believer! I just feel that managing the minutiae required to organize a book is 100% intuitive here.
  7. Store your finished projects anywhere, and I am dead serious. I feared I’d be constrained to keeping my work in a proprietary database as with other writing software, but no! Save to a network or local file, even freaking save to Dropbox.
  8. Import anything you need.
  9. Export anything you want to.
  10. Compile your final document into any of a number of formats including but not at all limited to rtf, .pdf with live links, ebook, or even Kindle mobi.

I could go on, but Latte and Co would have no reason to market their software if I do it all for them.

Final Evaluation of Scrivener

Surprise — I like it. I don’t understand the entire program yet, but I’m dumping the free trial and buying a license. I’m not easily impressed, and consider myself a tough audience. I’ve tried all kinds of writing software and reviewed half a dozen of them, some quite positively. But since I ghost books, and am really beginning to focus on ebooks, for me this is going to be an invaluable tool. Grant says he won’t write without it.

That isn’t to say Scrivener is perfect. It’s new for the PC, so there are ticks and a few idiosyncrasies. But I found no bloatware. It doesn’t go off on insane tangents as Word is prone to do. Thought the documentation tends to ramble and lost me more than once, you can get into Scrivener quickly and noodle around until you understand the parts you need. It isn’t computer science, how to access most functions is fairly obvious.

I give this Scrivener a whole bunch of thumbs up. It’s for anyone who does a lot of writing, writes a lot of large documents, or is an organizational freak like me. And the best part, the part I just didn’t believe — the price to purchase this gem? $40.

I say buy it quick before the guy gets wise to us writers and authors making our lives easier and more organized with his very softly priced software.

Got Scrivener? Tell us about it in comments, please.


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14 Responses to “Scrivener Software Is Complicated but Worth the Effort for Writing eBooks”

  1. Maryan,
    I’m also a recent convert to Scrivener. My favorite feature is what you list as your #5. Once you have a document in process and want to, say, move chapter 5 to where you originally had chapter 2, you can simply switch the corkboard index cards and voila! No laborious cut and paste. Your new document flows smoothly. Great for experimentation because it’s just as easy to switch chapter 5 back to its original placement.

  2. Hey Karen – Thanks for stopping by. That’s a very good point, and saves a lot of time and reworking. I’m not usually one to speak in superlatives, but, seriously, this software had me giggling in delight.

  3. I’m finishing my masters program and use Scrivener for my writings. It’s a huge program and has a lot to it, but I like being able to choose just the functions I need. Your post made me remember to recommend the program to my husband for his work.

  4. Yes, I see how that would help you!

  5. Thanks for the info! I’ve been using Scrivener for awhile, but didn’t know it could do “so much” stuff. But question – you said it doesn’t “format” books – I’ve used it to format for Smashwords… and it has all the extensions to use as kindle, ipad…

  6. Hey Nancy!
    Nice to see you at OnText.
    I see how my statement was confusing. I didn’t actually say it doesn’t format books, I said, as the creator of the program said, it isn’t intended to do that. As it has evolved, it has gotten into formatting more and more, and the export functions are very, very good. The MAC version is more mature and does a few more things than the Windows version. And, as I understand it, to produce an ebook you need to validate the end product at a special website. To produce a .mobi, you need to plug in KindleGen8, which is no biggie.
    You’re exactly right, it does all of those formats. Anybody know what it won’t do? Laundry?

  7. Feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with it, but find for outlining a novel by scenes that it is a great tool.

  8. Kalen – you’re writing a novel? quit surfing and get back to that novel 🙂

  9. Another recent convert to Scrivener! Also still on the learning curve, but enjoying every minute of us. Dumped the trial version too, and I’m glad I made the purchase.

  10. It’s good to find something that makes the writing life more organized, isnt it? Thanx for stopping by 🙂

  11. I’ve been using Scrivener for a couple of years and recommend it to anyone who is trying to organize their writing. The tutorial is very helpful.

  12. I’m having trouble with it crashing on a 90K word project I’m doing. Cant find a solution. And I agree about the tutorial!

  13. I downloaded the trial version of Scrivener and began toying with it in the fall of 2011. I initially used it for outlining, I loved the corkboard feature. I then decided to give it a try for NaNoWriMo 2011. It was the first year I finished. Attribute it to the intuitive interface, great tools or just having all your writing, characters and research in one program. I love writing in scenes and being able to drag and drop these as I need to rearrange my story is priceless. There is a free trial so why not give it a shot!

    If anyone decides to buy Scrivener I was given a limited use coupon here You’ll get 20% off – until it expires. Enjoy!

  14. Well, that was kind of a commercial, but thanks for stopping by. If you can help my readers, I’m good with it.