Developer: Literature and Latte
Price: $45 USD
I’m going to warn you right now, I love Scrivener. Literature and Latte didn’t pay me to write this, I just freaking love it.
You were warned.
When I switched to Mac’s a few years ago, part of the reason I did it was that I wanted to play with Scrivener. It was the first program I’d come across that actually seemed to offer some advantages over MS Word. Every other writing program I’d every tried just lacked too much in the way of actual writing tools to compete with the Microsoft juggernaut…but Scrivener was different and I wanted in.
I’ve been using Scrivener for just over a year now and I feel like I can review it properly for anyone and everyone who might be wondering if Scrivener can actually do real things for your writing, or if it’s just another shiny toy.
First things first, the price: $45 US. That is a bargain. It’s cheap enough that it makes simply trying Scrivener out a serious option (of course you can also try it for free for 30 days…). If Scrivener were literally just a writing program like Word with the Full Screen Editing Feature it would be worth it.
Speaking of which, the Full Screen Editing mode (caps totally justified) was the first thing that attracted me to Scrivener, and it’s one of the things I use the most often in it. I am easily distracted. Magpie with ADHD easily distracted, and having the ability to silence the other programs on my computer while I work shot my productivity up 200%. It’s customizable, and it works surprisingly well. Of course I could just switch all the background programs I run off, but what fun would that be?
The other feature I use almost daily is the research tool. It makes keeping research for a particular project in one place easy, and adding too the research file is a matter of a couple of clicks. It’s also locally stored content, so there’s no problem with links suddenly dying on you. It’s also right there at your fingertips, further reducing the temptation to go away and do other things.
I would like to review every feature on Scrivener for you, but there are so many that it would take me days to write it and test your ability to read text from a screen. Still there are a couple more features I’d like to tell you about in full, and then I’ll move on to a simple description of how it all works.
Scrivener has a name generator. You just plug in your parameters and it generates names for you. I laughed like a supervillain when I first found this feature. You can set an almost insane number of variables tot he names generated. You can even set them on a sliding scale of obscurity…
Finally I’d like to mention character sheets; both for actual characters and for places. You can make up character sheets, as many as you need, for anyone and anywhere in your story world. This is insanely useful for major works or for people writing multiple novels in the same world. Since Scrivener operates on a project based system rather than individual files you can put all of your research, planning and notes into the same project and then tie ten books to it if you like.
Speaking of the project system, this is really where Scrivener starts to get ahead of its competition. The ability to plan, outline and produce your work all in one place is invaluable. You start by making binders, whether it’s for one work or fifty in the same world and start building from there. I haven’t used the corkboard much, although I am getting into it, but I know authors who swear by its usefulness, especially if they are collaborating on a work with someone else.
I have written two screenplays and a ridiculous amount of film school work with the script writing system, I find it easier to use than the other script writing programs I’ve but it does take some getting used to so if you’re pushed for time I’d wait to use the script feature until you have time to play with it.
Scrivener isn’t great for short writing projects, if you just need to dash of a letter or a blog post Word is probably still your bunny but anything longer and Scrivener starts looking very tempting. I’m yet to try writing non-fiction with Scrivener but I hear their templates and tools work very well for the format.
The One Massive Glaring Thing Missing
No tracking changes. If Literature and Latte could code in the ability to track changes in the document and make that system compatible with word then I think Scrivener would be the dominant word processing tool among writers and editors within a year. I understand that asking them to code something like that, especially for a small team, is like asking them to build me a full-scale replica of the Death Star out of broken glass…
I still live in hope though.
There was actually one other thing missing but Literature and Latte have heard the hue and cry of the masses and there will be an iPad (and iPhone if you love to squint) version out very soon. This made me so happy I did the dance of joy. My workmates gave me odd looks but no one said anything so assume they’re getting used to me.
This fact alone has kept from buying a new laptop*.
A wireless keyboard, an iPad and Scrivener is going to be all the travel writing kit most people need.
One Last Thing
I keep thinking of awesome things, but I wanted to end on this. Scrivener can export directly to .epub and .mobi (amazon Kindle) e-book files. It’s a very good, very clean conversion and as long as you know what you’re doing with e-books you can make a professional standard e-book using these tools.
I have only used the trial version on Windows, but from what I could tell they are functionally identical with the only differences being those built into the operating systems rather than Scrivener itself. I will warn you that it can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve only ever used Word, but it’s well worth it.
Scrivener is the best writing tool I’ve come across since I started typing. It’s so good that if they bring in tracked changes in the future I see it rampaging across the writing world like Godzilla.
If you want to try Scrivener out on Mac or PC, just click here.
If you have any tips, tricks or an opinion on this review I’d love to hear from you. If you use Scrivener and you have a favorite feature I haven’t mention, just let me know in the comments.
* That and I would have had to sell a kidney. I think the buyers are getting suspicious of my octo-kidney story.