Scrivener (Tools of the Writing Trade No. 1)

Recently I tried Scrivener, a new software (at least new to me) for writing.

I started word processing when I worked during college. I temped at different companies, and I learned many word processing programs. (Word Star, anyone? Yes, that long ago.)

Of them all, Microsoft Word emerged as the winner in the business and legal worlds.

In my view, Word was clearly not the best, but because I used it for legal work, I used it for my other writing, too. No sense in confusing my finger/brain connections with multiple programs.

Now, though, once again you can choose from many other options.

In this post, I’ll talk about Scrivener.

Scrivener – Software For Writers

Over the last year, I kept hearing about Scrivener. In blog posts and podcasts, writers raved about it having been created specifically for writers and about its organizational features.

After using it for a 30-day trial, I bought it for Mac for about $40. I mostly used it to create blog posts, but kept writing novels in Word.

Recently, though, I started writing a non-fiction book (on creating characters) in Scrivener. I discovered I love the program.

Here’s why:

Non-sequential writing

I tend to write novels in order. I begin with a rough outline of five plot points, then I write from point to point. When I rewrite, I mostly do that in order as well, or I’m searching for specific character names or scenes.

Word works fairly well for that, though once the document gets past 50,000 words, I sometimes see certain functions (such as Spell Check) failing.

With non-fiction, it’s not always obvious what topics should come first. My topics on character creation include, among many others, how the character handles confrontation, how the character defines family and who belongs to it, personality traits, and impressions others have of the character.

Some topics lend themselves to entire chapters, others to a paragraph. I don’t always know which until I start writing.

With Scrivener, I can open a folder, label it by a topic name, and start writing, then create another folder and another. The names appear on the left, so I can easily see the topics.

I can also easily rearrange them with a click and drag. That, for me, is the best feature.

What you’ll see


Scrivener offers display options Word doesn’t, including a corkboard with index cards. With a click of a button, I can see my topics as if they were pinned to the corkboard.

I can rearrange them on the corkboard, too, again by clicking and dragging.


The folders are the equivalent of chapters. You can write directly in the folder. You can also create sub-sections under the chapters. It’s easy to switch a topic from a folder to a sub-section or to rearrange within a folder.

This is wonderful if you hit a point where you realize that a topic you thought you could cover in a couple sentences actually requires a few pages and its own chapter.

Research and notes

The right side of the screen allows you to enter all kinds of information, such as research or notes, that won’t appear in the manuscript but will be easy to access.

Referring to other documents

Scrivener allows splitting the screen.

You can view two different documents, such as an outline and the manuscript. Or you can view two different parts of the same document. This is particularly nice if you need to edit a section that may be repetitive or that refers to a previous or later chapter.

30-day trial period

You can download a 30-day trial version of Scrivener. The best part of that is that, at least when I downloaded it, that meant 30 days of use.

So if I worked on a manuscript for two days, then had a week where my law practice took up all my time, I’d only used two days of the trial, not nine.


As I write this, Scrivener costs between $35 and $45 (a bit more if you want it for Mac and PC both).

The Downsides Of Scrivener

Scrivener does have some challenges.

For one thing, you will definitely want to use the tutorial. At least, I definitely did. While you can learn a lot by playing with different features, I don’t find the icons or the menus particularly intuitive.

In fact, I struggled a lot with certain features. Once I did the tutorials, they seemed easy.

Also, while Scrivener is available for Mac and PC, I’ve heard that it’s not quite as amazing for PC. It’s a good enough program that if you have a PC, though, I still encourage you to try it out. My guess is that it’s still much better than Word for long documents.

Have you tried Scrivener? If so, please share you experiences in the comments.

Until Friday–


L.M. Lilly

P.S. For software that will convert your files into ebook and print formats for publishing, see Using Vellum To Create eBooks And Paperbacks.