Review: Scrivener for Mac

I've been searching for the perfect writing software for awhile now. I know that this mythical software won't improve my writing skills per se. But having the right type of writing software does help keep what I write and its structure organized while I work on choosing the precise words and setting them down onto the virtual page. As such, I've used several different applications geared towards writing professionals, and I think I have found the right application for both my writing needs and style. It's called Scrivener and it’s published by Literature and Latte.

Over the years I've found that writing a book or novel requires much more than just starting at the beginning and working your way to THE END. Writing the first draft gets messy and sometimes authors don't want to write the whole piece from the beginning. Instead we may want to focus on character sketches, world building, or we may just want to get the most exciting climatic scene written first. Using a traditional word processor where everything is entered into a single document, containing multiple non-linear thoughts on a myriad of subjects, is hard to do. MS Word was not designed for creative, chaotic writing that jumps around; it doesn't conform to non-linear thought patterns. If I were using Word to do heavy writing, the moment I decide to skip 100 pages into the text to first revise a scene and then move somewhere else to jot a note about a character, I'd end up spending more time searching for the two locations than I'd spend actually typing in the text itself. That's where modular writing and Scrivener come into play.

I first stumbled on modular writing during my Tech Writing career. This is a school of writing where you compartmentalize your writing in small chunks, or snippets. Each snippet focuses on one topic. You then string multiple snippets together until the whole story or manual is complete. I've never really been successful at using a standard word processor when doing modular documentation. While MS Word includes a "binder" feature that attempts to mimic this technique, I find it much easier to use a single-tasked, writing-focused software for modular writing. On the Mac, Scrivener is this perfect modular writing companion.

Scrivener is very flexible in that it allows me to organize each singular piece of work based on how I like my files organized and how I write. For example, I created a project file that contains just all my D*I*Y articles. I then created several
"inner folders" that allow me to organize each article by year. Inside each year folder are the snippet docs organized by a numeric identifier and the article title. This helps me quickly locate any of my past articles and gives me a quick overview of what I have already written on and when.

Contrast this organization to the project file that my novel is in. In this file, I created several chapter folders. Each one of these contains many scenes. Organizing things this way becomes important because as I edit the 50,000 words, I'm able to revise the story not only according to what is going on in each scene but where they should go. I can quickly add new scenes as I need them, reorganize existing scenes, and/or remove the ones that don't help push my story forward (I dump unused scenes in a separate folder called NOT USED where I can always revisit/retrieve them later if I want to bring them back). Scrivener also allows me to convert the chapter folder titles to chapter headings that appear in the compiled manuscript when I'm done revising the work.

Document organization is only a small part of what Scrivener is capable of doing. Scrivener includes many templates with standard manuscript formats. So when you want to write a new screen play, you can pick from the standard format and never have to worry about whether or not you may be rejected due to formatting issues. The same goes for a novel, or a short story, etc. Simply start a new project file and begin writing. When you are done, use Scrivener's Compile Draft feature to pull all the snippets into a single document. This feature exports only the snippets you want, in the order you want them to appear, into one of many formats (including RTF, DOC, or HTML) that you can then send off to an editor or a reader for review. The software even lets you design how you want that exported document to look by defining chapter breaks and fonts.

However, Scrivener is not wholly dissimilar to a word processor. It includes the ability to add footnotes, images, and text styles such as bold, underline, and italicize words just like other word processors do. In fact, it is the one of the only writer-specific applications for Macs that allow you to do this. One of the other writer-focused apps, Ulysses, does not allow you to bold or italicize words in their snippets because the designers' philosophy sees the formatting as being "shiny" and having such features takes the focus away from writing.

Scrivener's interface is also clean and simplistic. It includes tools that help you visualize the work as a whole when you are not writing. You can switch from a typewriter mode to an outlining mode that displays your work as one single outline. There is also a corkboard mode that displays snippets visually, as an index card storyboard. In this mode, you're free to interact with the cards by rearranging their order to benefit the structure of your work. You can also display two snippet docs simultaneously in split-screen mode. Finally, it also includes a "full screen" writing mode for those moments when all you want to is focus on the words themselves.

The application also includes a lightweight revision tracker, for those times where you want to keep a history of changes to your work. You can easily roll-back to an earlier draft with the push of a button. The developers also included an extensive tutorial file that walks you through creating a new project file from start to a completed compiled manuscript.

Scrivener costs $39.95 and is only for Mac OS X. If you're serious about writing screenplays, or novels, or want to dabble with modular documentation then I highly recommend you give Scrivener a shot. I love this app and have been using it for all my writing needs. I've even been recommending it to as many Mac-centric writers as I can. For more information on Scrivener’s capabilities, head over to Literature and Latte and watch the introductory video.

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I wished all cool mac

I wished all cool mac software could be for linux instead :(

Joakim, I hear your pain.


I hear your pain. Have you searched for a similar app for linux? I'm sure there has *got* to be something similar out there for you guys.


You could try

the Literature & Latte website, which has an excellent discussion forum. There are a lot of techie types there, including the developer, who will likely know if something similar exists for Linux.

innowen, you know I'm a big fan of Scrivener. I used it to write my NaNo last year and it worked brilliantly. Now I'm using it to edit the NaNo. Making very slow progress, but that's not Scriv's fault!

It's also maybe worth mentioning the way the application stores your documents. They're packaged up (is that the right word) like an application, but if you ctrl-click you can open the package and get into what are very simple text files. Not that you would ever want to do this, but in case something goes horribly wrong it is possible to wade in there and find your work, which isn't possible in every application.


Ktb, I never thought about


I never thought about going directly into those files. Thanks for the tip!

And yes... I hear you on editing. The editing issues I have with my novel aren't scrivener's fault either. Darned shiny and other procrastinations. :)


There's always VIM. Using

There's always VIM.

Using tags for highlighted text works great, folding allows for outlining, include works for massive files. And you never have to take your hands off the keyboard!

When I was doing C++ work on Solaris boxes it's all we used. Got fairly proficient with it in about a week.

Add a Devorak keyboard setup and you can get your novel done in a day. (The best Devorak typists do 215 words/minute.)

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Writing app for Linux

Have you tried storyboard? Its a little like Scrivener. Do a google search. You'll find it for sure.
Its also free.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

Scrivener is love.

I have my "I want that" face on

This looks amazing, and what a price! I am currently using a free app called Celtx to attempt to map out an ambitious memoir project, but that program, while impressive, is very much designed for creating screenplays and scripts, so it is not ideal for the purely prose endeavor, as Scrivener appears to be. I am definitely going to have to check this out before I get too much farther into my manuscript!

"I used to be indecisive, but now I am not so sure." Roscoe Pertwee

older version

There is or was an older version of Scrivener that was free. You may be able to find that out there on the interwebs. It may even be available on Scrivener's web site.


Timed version

There used to be a time-limited evaluation version. This is still available I believe but the author has tightened up the time limit. It should have been a number of hours but that was only tested when the app was started; if the user left it running then they could get more than the stated hours of use. But the recent update has corrected this behaviour so that true clock hours are counted.

I love Scrivener

Scrivener is a wonderful tool. I use it for all sorts of activities. Note-taking (though for one-offs I use Journler) is easy especially for related notes that eventually become full publications. The ability to have nested "folders" makes it simple to type material in and then re-order it into something more structured.

Most of the time I use Scrivener to write academic-style papers. The research folder assists keeping track of background material that may or may not make it into the final copy. I've not tried using the fictional documents setup but who know if I come up with an idea for a block-buster novel or a major Hollywood film then Scrivener is my tool of choice. The recent introduction of an exchange with FinalDraft will make it easy to get published.

In fact I love Scrivener so much, that despite being an advocate of open source software, I bought myself a copy of it.

Scrivener vs. Journler

I've been using Journler for a while but am fairly intrigued by Scrivener. I've got a couple ideas kicking around in my head that could turn into books... Any major benefits to using Scrivener? As far as I can tell, Scrivener would give you two very nice tools: the corkboard with the index cards and the ability to export into a manuscript format. Everything else seems like it could be done by creating folders in Journler.

I downloaded the Scrivener demo in any case to give it a shot.



I use DevonThink for writing, and it's similar enough to Journler that I think you can use Journler. I believe that Journler can grab selected text from other apps, so it may have a leg-up over Scrivener in that area (unless that feature's been added since I last played w/ Scrivener).

In any case, depending on what kind of writing you want to do, and its structure, you could easily find that Journler will do the job, IMO.


The right tool for the right purpose

I don't think that it's Scrivener versus Journler. Rather it is Scrivener and Journler. They have different aims and purposes. Scrivener is for writing single documents --- be that a script, or an academic paper, or a blockbuster novel, or a report. Journler is more of a commonplace notebook keeping notes, quotes, papers, etc in an orderly way.

For me Journler helps me organise research material collating it sensibly. Scrivener then helps me analyse that material and to write my document.

...and for the PC !

Thank you so much for your review of Scrivener. You had me agreeing with you all the way and getting excited about a piece of software that seems to be in tune with my own methods and practices. That was until the last paragraph and the showstopper comment ..."is only for the Mac OS X." ah.. um... I use PC's all the time.. but I WANT SCRIVENER...

a couple of minutes on google and I became aware of yWriter It is for the PC and it can even be installed and run from a USB drive.

I haven't used it much yet, only to set it up and try a couple of writing snippets, but it seems to do a very similar job. Maybe I should write a review when I am more accustomed to its ways ??

thanks again for the inspiration to find a tool to match my need. The power of DIYplanner.


yWriter deserves some screen time

Leaving yWriter was the only regret I had when migrating to a Mac. Although I like Scrivener and use it almost daily. I so miss yWriter. I think the programmer of that software writes the way I do.


What is it that people like so much about it? I have downloaded it a couple of times and played around a bit, but have never really taken to it wholeheartedly. I use EagleFiler for storing web pages and stuff, as it keeps them in folders in case anything goes wrong.(Hmm, can you tell that I lost some important work in a writing program once?)

I'm just curious as to what I'm missing - maybe I'll take another look at it.


Well as you asked ...

First I did not know about EagleFiler until you mentioned it. Second I love Journler and wouldn't do without. I found out about Journler because someone here mentioned it.

My comments are based solely upon what I see on the EagleFiler web site and what I see there would not make me change. Superficially the products look similar apart from some cosmetic differences concerning placement/ordering of items in the index.

The features I don't see in EagleFiler are a specific summary of links within the current entry. In Journler links can be URLs for web sites and local links either to other entries or to files on a mounted drive. Also word-processing rulers in the text edit window. Embedded documents can be anything that OS X can deal with. Entries themselves are kept in an RTFD file, which is nothing more than a RTF file stored in a Mac OS X folder with specific organisation; similar to how OS X organises applications in a package. If needs be one can recover the text from the RTFD. On one occasion I've had to resort to do that when I needed to import text into another system.

But the one feature I could not and would not live without are Journler's smart folders. Smart folders have rules associated with them. If an entry matches such a rule then it is filed in that Journler folder. If it matches rules for more than one folder it is cross-filed in each Journler folder. Change the rules for a smart folder and its contents changes accordingly. Change the data examined by the rules and the entry will be taken out of the smart folder.

Of yes, for those who use GTD, there is a due date facility. Put a due date on an entry and Journler's smart folder mechanism will automatically cross-file the entry in folders with "Due Date" rules; rules that can be different for different folders.

Oh and one last feature where Journler beats EagleFiler ... price. Journler is cheaper. Not by much I will admit ($5.05 for a single user licence though an Apple-style family licence that would work out much cheaper) but also the evaluation period is much much longer --- though in the next major release that is said to change.

However, I wouldn't call Journler or EagleFiler a "writing program". Not in the same sense that Scrivener is one. Journler/EagleFiler are more an electronic "commonplace book".

Thanks for the info

As it happens, EagleFiler has smart folders too, and the ability to have different libraries (perhaps the equivalent of different journals) open at the same time. Journler definitely looks nicer, but apart from that - and I think sound files, which I don't really use - I'm probably not missing anything too much. Which is good news for me.


Another cool feature is the

Another cool feature is the ability to import documents. I have thousands of documents that I simply imported and reorganized in Scrivener.

Very cool
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