Updated: Sep 19, 2020
[NOTE: This post was originally written in September 2016. Some features or functionalities of the reviewed program may have changed since then.]
I don’t know about you, but lately it seems that every time I visit a writer’s page, read an e-book, or tune in to a podcast, somebody is talking about Scrivener. I’ve always been hesitant to purchase writing software (there are so many available for free), so at first I just dismissed all the Scrivener references. But eventually I got curious what the hype was all about, and I decide to check it out via the free trial.
Below is my honest review of Scrivener. These are completely my opinions, and may not represent anyone else’s feelings about this software, and I was not paid nor am I otherwise connected in any way to the company that makes Scrivener. This is simply a review of Scrivener’s features, and how I felt about the program’s overall usefulness. Admittedly, I didn’t go in-depth into using it; I simply checked out its basic functionalities and got a feel for how it works. If you haven’t used Scrivener before, I hope this review may be helpful in showing you some of its basic features.
Also, Scrivener isn’t free, so I took some time to test out some free alternatives and to compare their features to those of Scrivener. If you’re interested in seeing that comparison, check out my other post, “Free Scrivener Alternatives,” as well as the in-depth reviews I wrote on each individual program I tested as part of my “Free Writing Software Review” series.
So now, without any further delay, is my review of Scrivener:
Scrivener has a plethora of features, very versatile, but incredibly text-based. It’s pretty much a glorified outline/notebook system, though it is a very good one. You can toggle through parts by using a left-side navigation menu, and/or a corkboard at-a-glance summary menu, however, you cannot arrange things spacially or visually, really, other than by color-coded rows of note cards on the corkboard (which is still pretty linear).
Scrivener starts you off easily, with options to choose a project type based on what you’ll be writing. The type you pick will influence the templates and automated options that will be available to you within your project, including what type of information it prompts you to enter and what categories it suggests for your left-hand navigation menu. However, even these prompts are simply pre-formatted text boxes. There isn’t an integrated story structure or anything, so the methods of arranging your story and tracking your plotlines, etc., must be created by you based on what items you add to the outline and how you use your metadata.
This program does contain a lot of detailed meta-data and search features that could be very helpful for keeping track of what still needs work, individual character timelines, POV shifts, etc., and provides easy import/export features so that files aren’t trapped in the program. One note: It did crash on me while using for the first time, but only after being open for several hours.
Scrivener also includes a very detailed walkthrough/tutorial that effectively taught me the ins-and-outs of the program with minimal time invested. However, be prepared… this software is very complex and there is definitely a significant learning curve if you’ve never used something like it before, even with the walkthrough to help you.
Scrivener allows you to store research related to your project, and to link research files (or documents/chapters/etc) within documents as you write. You can add images, and link them into the relevant sections of your project. It also allows for easy comments, footnotes, etc., and these can be included or removed upon export, and if included, are automatically transferred into a format readable by Word and other major programs.
The program allows for easy backups of drafts, versions, etc., and has a “Trash” folder that provides an extra step in the deletion process so that accidentally-deleted files can be easily retrieved.
It allows you to set target word counts, etc., and tracks statistics for you, and even lets you see frequency of particular words… though all of this is reported via text statistics; there aren’t really any charts or visual analytics.
Scrivener could be used for all types of writing projects, and includes a variety of project templates (novel, screenplay, essay, etc.). Scrivener is designed mostly to be the working space for your project, and then to allow easy exporting into another program for final formatting, so it has a very open format… it provides a VERY basic structure, with the flexibility for you to organize your files in whatever way works for you, like an interactive outline that contains all your files.
Because Scrivener is so open-ended (as opposed to working based on a Wizard or story templates like some other writing software does), I would recommend it for advanced writers who don’t want prompts or underpinned story structure, or for writers who write a variety of genres and need the flexibility. As I said before, Scrivener functions mostly as a complex outline and research organizer… it doesn’t really provide analysis of story structure, track plot lines or characters, etc., as some other programs I’ve tried do. You could possibly find a way to do that within it, but you would have to create the system your self using tags and metadata. There is no built-in analysis or graph/chart for keeping up with those aspects. I sort of like the story structure built in to some other programs (it saves me the work of inputting the structure a piece at a time on my own), so for me Scrivener was almost too open… but the openness also means a lot of versatility, which would be great for some of my nonfiction or unconventional writing projects.
Scrivener costs $40 to purchase (though there are occasional sales or discounts available), and is available here: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php. You can try it out for free for 30-days (what I did) to see if you like it.