Scrivener - Literature and LatteModern writers can’t separate technology from the act of creation. Yes, words of ahead of bits or bytes! But with the right tech, you can shuffle chapters around more easily to create better structured books. Many say Scrivener beats Word in this regard.

What are your current thoughts on this topic? Or on other software handy for structuring (with or without word-processing capabilities)? 

Speaking of which, you might check out novelist P. H. Solomon‘s salute to Scrivener and his tips on its use in structuring.

scriv-collection-added-foldersThe software isn’t just for novelists, by the way. Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, for example, is a booster of its use in nonfiction writing, too. And TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows, who I suspect used Scrivener in composing and structuring his new guide to Indianapolis for geeks, says: “I simply can’t put into words how much utility I’ve gotten out of this application.” The Scrivener site is here.  Scrivener prices vary widely, but are typically around $40 for Windows and the Mac, and you can get a free trial. There is also a free beta for Linux.

Related: A free guide to Scrivener.



  1. Scrivener is remarkably convenient. I did write my (soon-to-be-back-on-Amazon-I-hope) The Geek’s Guide to Indianapolis in it. It lets me organize and reorganize the book simply by dragging sections around, and updating and reconverting to e-book format is just a matter of making the changes then hitting a hotkey. I use Scrivener for a lot of the Internet writing I do, too—I use it start-to-finish for stuff I write by myself, and I use it to import, clean up, and e-bookify stuff I write collaboratively in Google Docs.

    A useful adjunct to it is Dropbox. I keep a private directory for my Scrivener projects and then I can open them from whatever computer I happen to be using. It’s really convenient to be able to pick up a project right where I left off even when I’m somewhere else.

    My brother wrote his dissertation in Scrivener. It’s just that good.

  2. I use both Scrivener and Word. I find Scrivener ideal for planning, drafting, and revising. When it comes to polishing and formatting, I find Word more useful because Scrivener formatting is challenging if you want anything other than the default font and styles.

  3. After decades of being a Windows-only guy, I switched to the Mac just for Scrivener, which was exclusive to the Mac at the time. I’ve been happy with that decision ever since (though you might have had a tough time seeing that if you’d asked me while I was learning the Mac and Scrivener simultaneously).

    Nothing touches it for planning, organizing, writing, and revising a novel. It definitely has a learning curve, particularly in the ways it differs from Word. (There are many, but that’s the whole point of it being much, much better.)

    As Chris says above, it works well with Dropbox, and I also use it with Evernote as part of my process. I wouldn’t even consider trying to work without it.

  4. PA Wilson (above) is correct – this is the best way to use Scrivener, and it has always been the way Keith, Scrivener’s creator, recommended using it: Scrivener to research, plan, plot, structure, and push out the first drafts, then a dedicated word processor such as Word,, or LibreOffice, to polish.

    Scrivener has one edge over all these others, in that you can use Scrivener to output direct ebooks in either Kindle mobi or epub formats. (You can also output chapters in .docx format to import into iBooks Author to go on and produce epubs fit for Apple’s iBooks store.)

    Scrivener has one great failing over the word processors: it does not know from nothing about stylesheets. This is because Apple engineers never did like the notion of stylesheets, so Keith must create his own whole subsystem to deal with them. (This is promised in a later update for the program.) Another drawback is that Word and the word processors have better mechanisms for creating a variety of user-defined spelling dictionaries.

    Scrivener’s trial demo and purchase policies are quite liberal, so anyone who has any interest should just download and play with the program for awhile, though with the caveat that the thing can be very complicated to learn all the fine points. Good online user forum though, so any questions you have are swiftly answered.

  5. Just keeping the bases covered: using Scrivener with Dropbox involves a risk of losing the project if you aren’t careful. Lots of people do it anyway, including me, but the Scrivener folks have put out a list of things you need to do to be sure you don’t mess yourself up badly.

    Note that using Google Drive with Scrivener is thoroughly discouraged: “complex formats like Scrivener have been known to cause [Google Drive] to fail, reverting, corrupting or even erasing months of work. In the cases we have handled, there has been no way to recover the data if local backups were not available.”

  6. This post got me thinking, ‘What about MS OneNote?’ I googled ‘write a novel with Microsoft OneNote and near the top came a post, 4 years old, in the New Authors’ Fellowship about doing this very thing:

    Since one note is now free, and cross platform, and online with a microsoft account; and since as I think the majority of writers still use MS-Word, it might be worth a look.

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