Writing with Scrivener – Pros and Cons

red pill blue pill

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed …you take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Scrivener is a piece of software that’s been designed with writers in mind and includes a number of features many will find invaluable. If you like to write on the go, but don’t want to lug around bundles of paper and books bristling with post-it notes, then Scrivener could be for you.

Alternatively, you may be a discovery writer (or pantser) who secretly wishes they could organise their writing. Or you may just be an outliner who wants one software package with the planning benefits of Excel and the writer-friendly features of Word, in one place – that’s Scrivener.

I started using Scrivener for my WIP, after I finished draft one in April 2013. I edited the paper manuscript and then transferred the remaining scenes into Scrivener, ready to start draft 2. So, nearly one year on, here are my thoughts on the pros and cons of Scrivener.

The Pros…

30 Day Free Trial: If you’re not sure, just give Scrivener a go for 30 days realtime. The trial doesn’t start ticking down the moment you download it. If you only use it once a week, you’ll get it for 30 weeks, as it only counts the days you use it.

Affordable: Once you do take the plunge, Scrivener only costs $40 (£25) for the Windows version and $45 (£27) for the Mac version. And you don’t have to give your card details to get the free trial, so it’s a real try before you buy deal.

Virtual Cork-board: If you like index cards, then this could be for you. If you don’t like index cards, then Scrivener

A visual outline of your WIP

A visual outline of your WIP

does them automatically, so you don’t have to. Each chapter and scene has its own virtual index card you can add notes to. You can also add blank cards watermarked ‘to do’ for scenes you haven’t written yet. It’s a great way to get an overview of your WIP without laying index cards on the living room floor (I have done that).

Colour Coding: Scrivener lets you add coloured tabs to your index cards, which can be assigned to certain characters, locations or sub plots etc. This allows you to see a certain aspect of your story at a glance and make sure a character or plot line isn’t taking over.

Everything in One Place: You can keep all those links, images for your characters and locations, sound files and research in one place. No need for other software packages to be open. No more alt-tab. All you need is Scrivener.

Session Target: I like the fact that I can set an overall project target and a session target. This is great for me because I like to hit a certain word count each session and Scrivener keeps tabs for me. At the end of a session, I can see how much closer I am to my target – for a word count addict like me, it’s gold. And I’ve only just discovered it.

Compiles Manuscript: Once you’ve finished writing, you can hit the compile button and it will stitch your document together into a final manuscript, complete with cover sheet and page numbers or convert it into a format for e-publishing or posting on the web.

Now for the cons…

Learning Curve: Scrivener comes with a lengthy tutorial and you will need it. This is one features heavy software package. The good news is, it’s fairly easy to learn the basics and then you can delve deep or not, as you prefer. I’d say it’s worth the Sunday afternoon I dedicated to getting started with Scriv.

Optimised for Mac not Windows: A warning to Windows users – the bells and whistles version of Scrivener is designed for Mac. The Windows version is like the poor cousin with a few teeth missing and maybe an opposable thumb. The lack of a ‘sync’ button to synchronise your files in one click is a bit annoying for non-Mac users. And from what I gather there are other flashy things that we still don’t have for Windows. That said, the basic package is there and still worth the entry fee. However, beware tutorials, as almost ALL the ones I’ve found focus on the Mac version, leaving you looking for drop down menus that don’t exist – gah!

No Sync for Windows: I know I mentioned it above, but I find the lack of a sync button a major oversight. It’s crucial for writers to be able to feel that their work is saved in all the places they want it saved. Mac users get an easy ‘sync to’ button and then can choose. I had to go onto the internet and find a tutorial, which showed me how to sync Scrivener with Dropbox. It works fine, but I’d rather have an easy in-house system. Here is a good tutorial on syncing Scrivener for Windows users.

Overall – despite my few dislikes about Scrivener, I would highly recommend this writing tool. Some people may get distracted by all the features. However, once you learn to ignore what you don’t need, Scrivener makes writing easy by organising you without you even realising it. When you get bogged down you can head to the cork board and check your index cards to see where you are or start tagging a certain character to see where they’re going wrong. Even though Mac users get more features, Scrivener is still a great tool and updates keep coming all the time. In short, Scrivener is my go to writing tool.


23 thoughts on “Writing with Scrivener – Pros and Cons

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  7. My questions are the same as Felipe’s re: conversion. I, too, feel that writers should not be struggling for hours, or days with all this formatting nonsense (which is critical to self-publishing) because the programs that are available to us are poor and not generally compatible. If Scrivener can combat that, I’m there!


  8. Hi, glad I found your post. I’ve been using Pages for a long time, but the program has been cut back, so I have to use a previous version.

    But the real difficulty I keep having is that the epub and/or word conversions, when they go to Smashwords, are almost always problematic. My experiments 🙂 correcting conversion errors (from word to epub; epubs won’t pass) seem to indicate it’s on my end, because, usually, I’m able to finally correct it and have an accepted file for SW.

    But then the files, when sent to distributors, are funky. TOCs don’t show fully. Internal links within the file, or links to external urls, don’t all work. Text size changes in lines where I include a link embedded in some words. Yuk stuff like that.

    So…my question is (and I’m going to try the free trial offer) have you (or anyone) found the conversion to word and/or epub to produce good working files? Esp in re to links to internal pages or external urls?

    Thanks so much, sorry for the long question. I’m in my early 60s, been learning & struggling with formatting my ebooks for several years, learned a lot, done well most the time, but feel recently I’m being derailed by lack of a really clean well functioning software for stories, photobooks, etc.

    And I’m on a Mac, so I’m hopeful 🙂 Thanks again.


    • Hi, Filipe. I haven’t tried using Scrivener to publish, but it does put extra code into manuscripts, so I doubt it will pass the autovetter on Smashwords. (Autovetter is my pet peeve at the moment – I have two books awaiting modification on there.)

      The problem is that Smashwords tries to find the best fit for all ereaders, so it’s excruciatingly particular about formatting. I think the only foolproof method of uploading onto their site is to use their ‘nuclear method’, which is radical and scary and a lot of work 😦

      But use Scrivener for what it is – a writing tool. Maybe one day Smashwords will create a publishing tool?


      • That would be nice Martine, Smashwords creating a publishing tool 🙂

        I did want to ask you two questions if I could, how do you generally fix your SW files needing modification? And have you tried epub files to SW, rather than a word doc?

        Thanks so much. Scrivener is a nice tool, but not sure it’s yet ready for these back roads of ebook publishing 😉


    • Hi there. I left this question for Martine, our resident epub expert. I don’t have any experience in this area. Good luck with it and thanks for reading.


  9. I agree with all you’ve said here. Have just got the 30 day free trial and already I know I’m going to like it. The tutorial is easy to use… It must be if I can understand it.


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  11. Good timing, I finally managed to buy a copy of Scrivener at the weekend for my Mac… I have a poor track record of using ‘workflow’ tools, the plans for my last book are in notebooks, on scraps of paper, the back of envelopes… seriously.

    But… after trying to manage 100,000 plus of a first draft using Word, and tracking plot and character development using Post-It notes I hope Scrivener will make life somewhat easier.


    • Good luck with Scriv. If you’re on Mac, it should be a smoother experience. As you say, Word or similar is okay, until you are dealing with a long book with a complex plot and cast of characters.


  12. This is a great post. I tried Scrivener a while ago and found it a little clunky, but you’ve just about convinced me to give it another go! I liked elements of it, and you’re right about the learning curve. Since I’m a top-down learner it didn’t float my boat back then. Maybe I’ll delve deeper….


    • heh he – it’s probably easier when you’re starting something new. And your new WIP needs some research, so it might help to have it all in one place 🙂
      Down the rabbit hole…


      • I find it a nightime trying to import my ywriter file with my little research so it is probably easier starting with a new novel/novella.

        Liked by 1 person

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