Scrivener Review: Worth it or Worthless? [Insider Opinion]

By Josh Fechter | Posted on February 1st, 2019

Writing a book is a difficult undertaking, no matter how you slice it. If you’re deciding on whether to use Scrivener for Windows or Mac to do it, it’s important to conduct a full Scrivener review on whether it’s worth it.

Writing is a grand adventure but it comes with many valleys you must traverse before you reach the coveted happy ending. Writer’s block, plot holes, and distractions are just a few of the things that will jump into your path.

A lot of writers have attempted to create a way to alleviate some of the challenges but there are a few writing tools swimming around in this big bad world of writing that stand out from the rest.

Scrivener is a popular choice of an alternate word processor – with the default option usually being Microsoft Word. The differences between the two are vast, making Scrivener far superior to the basic linear workings of Word.

Find out exactly what makes this program one of the very best in this comprehensive Scrivener review.

Scrivener Review: The Binder Feature

Scrivener binder feature example

One of the most impressive features of Scrivener 2 and 3 is the binder feature. This powerful tool compiles everything into an organized flow of documents. It is extremely customizable allowing you to insert and utilize whatever you need. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Scrivener Review: The Templates

In addition to the versatile and extremely useful binder, Scrivener comes with a number of templates. These templates are set up based on the type of project you’ve chosen – novel, short story, screenplay, etc.

The default templates are helpful but basic. Scrivener also allows you to import additional templates, of which there are hundreds.

Most of these templates will be made by regular users, so the quality is not guaranteed. However, the options mean that there is something for everyone.

You’ll be able to find a template for any genre, any style, and any purpose – some simple and some complex.

Another place to find some excellent, effective templates, is Squibler. These templates are straightforward but useful.

general fiction template

These templates have your novel laid out for you already, with notes accompanying each chapter or section. Some are more general while others are geared towards specific genres.

Whichever one you choose to use, however, will walk you through the story, ensuring you don’t miss any of the important details. This can take a lot of pressure off the planning and outlining of any novel.

Set Project Targets with Scrivener

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is physically forcing yourself to write. When the words aren’t flowing and motivation simply evades you, having a goal to work towards can be a huge step in getting back on track. 

Scrivener allows you to set goals for yourself. You can start by setting a manuscript target. You likely won’t know right away exactly how long your book is going to be but this can be helpful in at least setting a vague number to work towards. Anything from 50-75k can be a good place to start if you’re working on a novel

Scrivener goal setting feature example

Next, you can set a “session target.” This is the number of words you want to write in your current session. This number will depend on your available time as well as your comfort level and speed. You can keep the little window visible as you write and a progress bar will track your word count.

Scrivener progress bar

It’s a simple concept but setting and committing to a goal can improve your productivity by a significant amount.

Once your targets are set, you can track your progress with a few statistics that are always up to date: 

  • Words
  • Characters
  • Pages – paperback
  • Pages – printed

Import Everything to Scrivener

Writing a book requires a lot more than just sitting there doling out your clever dialogue and exciting action scenes. A good story will come from a lot of note-taking, brainstorming, research, and a myriad of other things. These elements are an important part of the process and having them available will be helpful. 

Scrivener allows you to import absolutely everything and keep it where you can easily find it. If you have taken notes somewhere else, you can import those files.

Scrivener import feature screenshot

Different types of books will require varying amounts of research, but whether you have a lot or a little, it can all be imported. Important web pages that you want to have on hand for reference – these can be saved directly within your project. 

Some people are very visual and draw inspiration from beautiful images. Scenes and settings may have been created from certain photos. When you get stuck, it may help to go back to these pictures quickly and remind yourself of the magic they helped create within your story.

Scrivener will import these photos and keep them accessible for you whenever you want to revisit.

Scrivener Review: The Cork Board

No Scrivener review would be complete without mention of the cork board – easily one of the most versatile and popular features.

The cork board is a fun and useful feature that actually resembles a cork board in its appearance. The idea behind this feature is to imitate the old-fashioned method of storyboarding – where papers and note cards were stuck to a cork board and organized that way.

Scrivener cork board example

Scrivener’s cork board allows you to lay out your chapters and scenes in notecard form on a virtual cork board. Here you can get a birds-eye view of your entire story, and rearrange things as you see fit. You can re-order the scenes within a chapter or entire chapters within the book.

The virtual “note cards” are small enough that many will fit onto a single screen, but they do contain a scrolling feature that allows you to put as much information as you want on the card. 

Everything Goes in a Single Project

Have you ever tried to write a book and ended up searching through endless files and folders looking for that one thing? That one bit of research, or those notes from six months ago?

Scrivener single project example

You will never have this headache again with Scrivener working for you. Absolutely everything to do with your book goes into a single project. You open that one file and everything is there perfectly organized.

Easily Save the Random Epiphany

With the scattered, hair-brained nature of a writer’s’ mind, it happens often enough: The unannounced, uncalled for, random, but totally brilliant epiphany. You want to document your moment of unadulterated genius, but you’re in the zone and don’t want to interrupt your flow.

No problem.

Scrivener scratchpad screenshot

Scrivener’s scratchpad comes to the rescue. This tool brings up a small window with a single click and allows you to take that note. When you’re done, you can save it to wherever you want – even a completely different project.

Scrivener Can Color Code Everything

This feature is simple and may seem self-explanatory, but when you look a little deeper, the color-coding becomes a powerful option. Everything can be color-coded – chapters, scenes, character profiles, notes, whatever you have.

Scrivener color coding example

The labels are completely customizable. You can color code for the status of each chapter: 

  1. Idea stage
  2. First draft
  3. Editing in progress
  4. Second draft
  5. Finished

You can color-code document types:

  1. Chapter
  2. Scene
  3. Image
  4. Research
  5. Setting
  6. Location
  7. Character sketch

You could even color code changing points of view to avoid confusion when editing.

The options are as limited as your own imagination. This system of color-coding in Scrivener can be extremely helpful when it comes to organization and quick reference.

A single glance over your binder can tell you exactly what you need to know. You can immediately see which chapters still require editing, or which characters are speaking when, etc.

Work on Two Documents at Once

For those who like to think about multiple things at once, Scrivener is the ultimate multi-tasking platform. Not only are there things like the scratchpad and note-taking sidebar but you can open and work on two documents simultaneously

Scrivener work on two documents example

There are endless options here.

You can work on your main story while keeping a character file open. Or, you can work on mapping out your novel’s main setting, while having your research notes right beside it.

Any combination is possible, and you don’t have to constantly go back and forth between two files, or two different screens.

Scrivener’s Distraction-Free Composition Mode

If you are someone who gets distracted easily or if you simply want to go into hyper-focus mode, Scrivener can help. 

Scrivener distraction free mode example

Going into composition, or “full screen” mode widens the document you are writing in and hides all menu bars, buttons, and tools. It doesn’t leave you hanging though, they are still accessible and you can choose to have a small menu available if you want.

For maximum focus and inspiration, composition mode is quite customizable. You can change the height and width of the paper (space where you type).

The default background is solid black but you can change the color to anything. If you prefer an image background, you can do that too.

Scrivener Review: The Inspector

I thought it best to include the inspector in this Scrivener review, despite its controversial standing. Some people adore the inspector, while others find it to be a waste of time.

When used correctly, it is extremely helpful. If not desired, it can be easily left out of the way.

On the left side of your screen is the binder which is keeping you incredibly organized and on the right side of your screen is an optional, secondary sidebar known as the inspector. This is a useful tool that lets you store and reference all kinds of information on any document.

Scrivener inspector screenshot

It starts by allowing you to create a synopsis for the section and underneath is an option for some general document notes. There are also sections for references, keywords, snapshots, and a few other things.

You can click through and view all of these within the sidebar itself so you never have to leave the screen you are actually writing in. 

Scrivener sidebar screenshot

If you want to remind yourself of the setting for your chapter, those notes can go here. Or perhaps you have compiled a list of websites that have historically accurate information that you need for your chosen time period. This is a great place to put those so they don’t get lost. 

It’s a perfect way to keep small, random bits of information straight. Some writers will find this extra sidebar very handy, while others may have no need for it. If you don’t wish to make use of, you can simply remove it from the screen. 

Customize the Scrivener Toolbar

Everyone writes a little differently. Scrivener has seemingly endless features to try and make your writing journey a little easier. Not everyone will use every feature. Once you get a hang of the system and understand how everything works, you can customize the toolbar to your liking.

Scrivener toolbar customization

You can remove tools you aren’t going to use, and put your favorites where you can access them quickly and easily.

Reverse Revisions You Don’t Like

Scrivener understands that writers can sometimes be indecisive. You change an entire chapter, only to decide at the last minute that you actually liked it better before. Scrivener allows you to scrap revisions and restore the previous version.

Scrivener Will Auto Save Your Progress

Scrivener has a lot of complex and innovative tools that are designed to help writers manage their process. And this is something that makes it one of the best book writing software out there. 

If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s happened to someone you know: You spent hours working on a project, only for your computer to crash before you could save and now it is all gone. This is an all-too-common occurrence but not with Scrivener.

Scrivener AutoSaves all your progress, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

Scrivener Gets You Ready to Publish

If you are interested in publishing your book as an e-book, Scrivener can help. Whether you are going to edit everything yourself or hire someone, get that done first.

Once it is ready to go, Scrivener will allow you to compile the book in a way you like. Depending on the market you want to target, there will be three export options:

  • A universal formatting option
  • Formatting for Amazon Kindle
  • Formatting for Apple iBooks

After filling out a few more options and preferences, you’ll be ready to export. You can preview the file before sending it off to make sure it all looks good. Once you are satisfied, you can then begin the process of submitting the eBook for publishing.

Is Scrivener Worth it?

If you are a writer then all these amazing features should have started looking pretty attractive to you at this point. But it is not available for free – Scrivener costs $45 to download.

This is why we put together a full Scrivener review – you shouldn’t be spending your money without knowing exactly what you’re getting for it.

Scrivener price

The $45 may sound a little steep to some, but it is important to remember that this is a one-time fee. Once you have made the purchase, you have the software for life. Others charge this price for only one year of use.

If you’re looking for something more modern, a substitute tool for Scrivener is Squibler. It will be a great addition to your Nanowrimo 2019 efforts as well as its purpose lines up with Nanowrimo’s vision. Squibler wants to help you finish your book in 30 days. 

squibler homepage screenshot

The process is simple and effective. It allows you to store your notes and ideas in a safe and organized place. You are able to filter your files by tags for easy locating when you need them. 

Squibler also has a great outlining tool. Chapters and scenes can be written in whatever order you wish, but easily dragged and dropped into a different place later if something needs to change. 

Once your book is edited and completed, it allows you to export easily as a PDF or Kindle e-book. It also helps you format for print publishing if that is what you choose, all while maintaining perfect image resolution. 

With that said, the consensus of this Scrivener review is that it’s definitely worth it if you want a more old fashioned editor to work in with a lot of functionality. It is a single, one-time fee for a lifetime of organized and productive writing success.

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