Scrivener: The Best Writing Program for the Mac and PC

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writing programMakeUseOf recently published Your Guide to Scrivener—a how-to manual for the popular writing program. Scrivener has been around since 2006, and it is a favorite application amongst novelists and screenwriters. As a full-time non-fiction tech writer, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough for actually starting and drafting writing projects. There are two versions of the application, one for the Mac OS X ($45.00) and the other for Windows PC ($40.00).

Scrivener is not a desktop layout application like Word and Pages, but it helps you organize and export your documents to other applications. In addition to being useful for full-time writers, I think Scrivener could be very useful to students and professors who write research papers, anyone who has plans to write a book, and even bloggers looking for an application to draft and manage blog posts.

Today I will share my personal workflow and tips for getting the most out of Scrivener.

writing program

Research and Outlining

Scrivener is not just a text editor. It also includes features for outlining and storing research related documents and notes for your writing projects. When I start a writing project I typically drop and add project related webpages, PDFs and notes to the Research folder of Scrivener.

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Scrivener can also handle almost any kind of documents you need to import. You can organize documents into folders, and change the icons of the files to help you visually identify their importance or content. Both Word and Pages include useful outline features, but I prefer using Scrivener because each part of the outline I create in it automatically becomes a sort-of separate folder for each part of my writing project.

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So for example if I’m writing a MakeUseOf PDF guide, I first brainstorm a list of topic headings and subheadings in a text file in Scrivener or on my iPad. From there I add a folder in Scrivener’s Binder panel for each chapter of my document, followed by sub-sections inside each folder (as you can see above).

The beauty of Scrivener is that the folder hierarchy can be changed even after you have added paragraphs to each of the folders or sub-categories. It may not be obvious when you first start using Scrivener, but you can right-click on multiple selected folders or sections and group or un-group them.

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You can also drag and drop sections into other folders as you work on your project something that can’t be easily done in Word or Pages. You can even use Scrivener to export your folder hierarchy as actual text outline (using File > Edit > Compile).

Scrivener also contains an Inspector panel which you can use to write summaries, notes, comments, and footnotes for each section of your document. It’s a great place to store related webpage links and reminders.

Scrivener 6

Drafting

The key benefit to using Scrivener is that you can jump around and write in different sections of your project and not be distracted by the paragraphs and pages in other sections. You don’t have to scroll down your document to locate sections as you do in Word and Pages.

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I also highlight and color-code section headers in the Binder as I complete them, which is a great little motivator while working on any project. At any time in the process, it is possible to select and view all sections as a single document. There’s also a Page Layout or Wrap view that presents your sections like a regular text editor. You can setup panel presets in Page Layout without distracting side panels, which makes for a great way to read and edit text.

Many newcomers to Scrivener may not at first understand the value of full screen mode for writing. This feature allows you to put complete focus on your current document while hiding all the distractions. You can even set a custom background (Preferences > Compose > Customizable Colors > Background) for a wall color or graphic that inspires you to write.

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I like to also toggle Typewriter Scroll, which automatically scrolls the text up as I type. Using this feature along with my TextExpander snippets for my project helps me knock out pages as I type. Scrivener also has its own text expansion feature, though it is not as handy as TextExpander, it’s useful if you don’t have the standalone program.

Finally, in terms of drafting, I sync all my Scrivener documents to Dropbox account so that I can open them on my MacBook Air or on my iPad. An iPad version of Scrivener is also in the works.

Exporting Documents

Scrivener includes numerous exporting features for sharing documents to Word, PDF, plain text files and more. The export feature of Scrivener is probably the most complicated to use because you need to understand how to compile documents and then export them. The MUO Guide to Scrivener covers how to use the compiler.

writing program

What I like about the compiler is that you can create font style and document layout settings for exporting documents which may be different from the settings you use to draft documents. I typically draft for example using 18pt font size, and then export documents in 12pt font size.

Download a Free Trial

I’ve only shared some of Scrivener’s basic and advanced features. When you first start using the program you may very well not know where to begin. Relax – simply check out the MUO Guide and watch the video tutorials posted on the Literature and Latte site. The more you work in Scrivener and read-up on its powerful features, the better understanding you’ll have of the features that matter the most to your workflow.

Let us know what you think of the Scrivener writing program and how you use it to get writing done, as well as what you think of our fabulous downloadable guide in the comments, below.

Is Scrivener your favourite writing program? If not, tell us what you use and why!

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Comments (20)
  • Bakari Chavanu

    Yep, Scrivener is a great price for all it does. It’s most useful for organizing your writing, and keeping related resources in one file. It’s so much easier to jump around to different parts of your writing, which I find almost impossible to do in Word.

  • Atokra

    I am Linux fan for long time and just don’t know about Windows and OneNote and so far…. Sure I did tried… but expensive…
    Scrivener seems promising and really like the approach. We have to keep in mind this tools aims to help in writing books……. Sure MS Word is dominant but the price is prohibitive, and the OpenSource is to leverage all potential at a affordable price….
    great apps

  • Lisa Santika O

    I tried the Windows version when it first came out and I must say it’s the most beautiful writing program I’ve ever tried, and the organization style fit me the best. Problem was it was so slow and buggy I gave up on that. However, the trial has me convinved that it could be great once they ironed out the wrinkles. Hopefully the problems are fixed now. Maybe it’s time for second chance.

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Lisa, I’ve heard that criticism before about the Windows version. Have you written the developer about your experiences with the program? Thanks for the feedback.

    • Lisa Santika O

      I experienced it way back at the first release of the Windows version. I can;t say about the current version until I try it, but I’ll write to the developer if the bugginess still occur.

  • Yaz C

    Thank you for writing a very informative post. I’m going to go give it a try.

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Yaz, thanks for your feedback. Let’s us know how you find Scrivener useful for purposes.

  • Taharo

    For writing fiction, I still use Liquid Story Binder. It has a much steeper learning curve than Scrivener, but if you put in the time, you find the features are much more rich. I won’t take the time to try and sell all the features.

    Three major downsides: (1) Windows only; (2) the interface is a bit archaic and sometimes buggy; and (3) there have been no updates since early 2011 (the developer seems to have abandoned it).

    Those aside, I still prefer it over any other writing program.

    • Bakari Chavanu

      Hey Taharo, I’ve never heard of Liquid Story. Thanks for sharing it. I’m pretty sure there are other readers out there who may be interested in checking it out.

    • Jim Heiney

      I used to use LSB. It is a great program, but I test drove Scrivener for a while and found that I ended up setting up LSB to run just like Scrivener, so I jumped ship. I think it was the archaic interface you mentioned and the ability to export straight to word or pdf that were the final nails in its coffin for me.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.