I have, until now, happily used Microsoft Word for my writing. For 10 years I have hammered away at the keyboard, learning the application’s features, its strengths and weaknesses. But, over the last few years another application has emerged, one geared specifically towards writers: Scrivener. Originally developed for the Apple Mac, it has since ported across to Windows, and has been gaining popularity. Several people have encouraged me to try the software (there’s a trial period before you have to buy it) and, finally, I gave in and decided to find out what all the fuss was about (even if I am a little late to the Scrivener party).
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll post my experiences with Scrivener and Word, and finally decide which will be my weapon of choice. Today, though, here are a few of the most general points.
Microsoft’s Word is an all-round performer: good for writing letters, reports, and even long novels. Scrivener is slanted heavily towards writers – short stories, novels, and screenplays. Both offer backup facilities to some extent. Microsoft’s One Drive allows remote storage in the nebulous Cloud, while Scrivener can save multiple backups of your project (the 3, 5, 10, or 15 most recent copies) to a chosen location. It also integrates with Dropbox, a cloud-based storage service. Scrivener also has a “Snapshot” feature to save your file at a moment in time, and allows you to roll back changes to this point.
Both programs offer custom dictionaries – essential for anyone writing Science Fiction or Fantasy. With Word you can use multiple custom dictionaries and, for example, keep a separate one for each novel or series you are working on. Scrivener only has a single custom dictionary (a “personal word list”). You can remove or add words at will, but if writing a large project with a lot of custom names this could be cumbersome when you finish and want to reset your custom dictionary. There may be ways around this, but the naked version of Scrivener is one dictionary, one word list.
Word keeps a word count of your document, but also keeps track of your total writing/editing time in minutes. Divide by 60 to find out how many hours of writing you’ve put in and you’ve got your writing time. Word count is only for the whole document or selected text. If you keep track of your starting point in a writing session, you can select the text from there onwards and do a word count to see how much you’ve done. It’s not elegant, but it works. Scrivener doesn’t keep track of your editing/writing time for you, but does offer more flexibility for word count. You can set a target for your project, and concurrently set a session (from opening a project to closing it again) target. Helpfully, you can display this in a corner of your screen and let the progress bar challenge you to write more.
Formatting in Word can be tricky at times, and particularly when trying to export your manuscript to a service like Amazon’s Createspace. It can, in fact, be a total nightmare. Scrivener offers more diversity for formatting: you can export in different file formats (including Word-compatible .doc formats) and even save your story as a kindle file (once you’ve installed Amazon’s KindleGen program, which is nice and easy to do).