Scrivener: Why?

The number of posts and books written, or hours of podcasts recorded, about the best writing software to use is staggering. There’s the extreme examples of George RR Martin and his WordStar usage, or folks using Dragon to dictate entire books, or the old standbys of Scrivener, Word, IAWriter, and others. There’s even posts on using text editors like Vim! To be fair, I usually write using Visual Studio Code and Markdown, then throwing the whole mess into pandoc to generate the manuscript formatted Word doc…but there’s no reason to go into that.

Recently I’ve been using Word, since I have access to Office 365 apps. But the new thing I’m trying is Word on the iPhone.

Being able to write a few words waiting at the doctor, standing in line, in the bathroom, before a meeting, or any other time I have a few spare moments has been enlightening. I’ve increased my daily writing by almost 50%. And writing a story with my thumbs isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be, even if I’m still a faster typist.

So it means I’m not in my writing chair, with my writing computer, and my writing rituals in place to summon the Muse. I was going to write anyway, whether she showed or not. Why not have another tool in the box, an trick arrow in the quiver?

The Cult of Scrivener

Wherever you turn online, a series of evangelists will pummel you into submission, using digital downloads and free trials and NaNoWriMo codes for Scrivener

I was just as suckered as the rest of them. What a nifty writing tool! It helps organize research, set up outlines, editing snapshots, importing and exporting from Word…and who wants to use Word anyway? Just set your “compile” settings and go!

Oh, how Scrivener was going to change everything. Oh, how foolish was I.

Conventional Wisdom

When you’re out looking for advice on writing software (and more on that below), the Scrivener Sales Pitch is always the same. Affordable, great deals during NaNoWriMo, simple and easy to use, great tutorials, created for writers in mind, unlike ridiculous office programs. You’ll get a couple Ulysses users chiming in, maybe a handful or yWriter folks, but forum after forum, any writing subreddit, blogs, Medium posts, everywhere; Scrivener uber alles.

As pointed out by this article on the sadly dormant EllDimensional blog, a fat percentage of those Scrivener boosters are selling “How To Use Scrivener” classes. Really? I thought Scrivener was simple and easy to use, and created for writers, so we wouldn’t have to pay upwards of 200 dollars for a class on this program? And how does that tie into being affordable? Sure, 200 bucks isn’t a huge investment. But it’s four times what Scrivener costs. That’s a substantial increase in asking price, if these masterclasses are that required.

Windows Users? Piss Off!

Like iTunes, Scrivener is a application tailor-made for MacOS. The developers are Mac users, the main user base are Mac users, it’s All Mac All The Time over there. And like iTunes, the Windows version of the application is buggy, neglected, and left to rot on the vine. You wouldn’t know this from their website, which proclaims the future reign of Scrivener 3 for windows as the second coming of, well, Scrivener. But again, the developers are Mac users. They aren’t Windows users, they don’t like Windows (based on forum posts and comments) and development for Windows is at best a part-time effort.

Look, software design is difficult work. There’s plenty of unknown issues that can crop up. Maybe it’s time for Literature and Latte, the company behind Scrivener, to just drop Windows support. There’s plenty of writing apps that have done that. Ulysses has always been Mac only since day one. Vellum, same story. And they’ve done it before, relegating the second-class citizens of Linux to thrash about in the shadows with ancient code.

Pantsers? Piss Off!

Scrivener is tailor-made for writers…who outline. It’s set up to make outlining easier, allow for faster reorganization of plot points, keeping track of locations and characters for those epic doorstop fantasy series everyone seems to love writing. It’s not geared for my current workflow of short story writing. Maybe it’s still amazing for screenwriters and comic book plotting. That’s not in my wheelhouse, so I can’t speak to it.

But the overall thrust of the Scrivener pitch is that outlining is The Best, multiple (five or more) slogs through drafts are a pain but required and now super fun with Scrivener, and you had better get on board.

Simple Is Best

I like to keep things simple. I’m not writing an epic 9 book series, so I don’t need to keep copious notes on a 20,000 year history in fake timelines, or character sketches for a phonebook of characters. Even if I were, those notes would be minimal and in Markdown format anyway. Hell, even my submission tracker is in CSV, which is then edited in, you guessed it, Visual Studio Code.

So. I don’t see the need for Scrivener’s functionality, I don’t want to use that functionality, and I have a writing setup (a combination of VSCode and Word, or vim and OpenOffice, or anything that’s a text editor and a thing that produces a .docx file) that works, is fast, and gets out of my way.

If Scrivener works for you, was life-changing, or creating a burning in your bosom, awesome. Keep on truckin’! But don’t knock on my door with your tracts and hard-sells. I don’t need to hear the good news of Scrivener.

Eli Jones avatar
Eli Jones
Eli Jones is a spectulative fiction writer and data analyst living in the Cascadia Bioregion.