Why I use Scrivener for writing almost everything

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You probably already have a favorite app you use for writing. “Favorite” may be a loose term–you may or may not like it. It could just be the least irritating tool you have. But it’s one you’re used to. It either came loaded on your device, or as part of a larger suite you paid big bucks for or got for free.

I want to suggest that you consider paying for a tool that will do the job better for you and save you time and frustration, especially if you work on longer projects. I have been using Scrivener for a couple of years, and I find myself using it for writing just about everything, from books to articles to speaking notes.

I’m not going to try to cover everything about Scrivener, because it is an incredibly versatile program, and entire books have been written about it. I just want to give you a flavor for why I use it for pretty much everything these days.

First, let’s think about what you are likely using now.

Microsoft Word probably has the largest market share for word processors, and I have reluctantly used it for years–“reluctantly” because I really, really liked WordPerfect, but I switched to Word back in the 1990s because of the need to interface with the rest of the misguided world. (For an interesting comparison of market share over time and quality, look here.) As most people know, Word is part of Microsoft Office, most of the time obtained through a high-priced behemoth software package, and more and more now through a monthly subscription.

I suspect the next most common writing tools these days are free options–downloading OpenOffice.org, or using Google Docs in the cloud.

I still use Word for a few specialized things, and it’s hard to beat Google Docs for collaboration. There is a place for both of these, although if you don’t already own Word, I’m no longer certain it is worthwhile paying for it.

I do think it is worth paying for Scrivener, because organizing long writing is one of my biggest challenges, and because I can control the way it outputs, even for short writing.

Basically, Scrivener incorporates a word processor with a system for organizing your writing. Through the use of a “Binder” you have every section of the document available. While you could accomplish something similar by arranging folders on your drive (I co-wrote a textbook that way), the binder facilitates working with those sections in a smooth, intuitive way without interrupting the flow of writing, and makes it easy to move, rearrange, combine, and connect within the larger work.

The binder also includes sections for holding and using research that you need while writing, but don’t want to include in the final version, which is great for keeping everything together.

At the other end of the process is the “compile” function, where you control the output of your writing. You not only can output it as a Microsoft Word document, with the sections you want included (and the ones you don’t want excluded) and arranged the way you specify, but you can output to PDF, or format (and I mean highly format) it for epub, Kindle, and several other targets. If you are writing an academic paper, for instance, there is a preset for that.

All of these things are highly customizable, so that once you get things the way you like them, you can use the same setup over and over. This is why I even use Scrivener for writing speaking notes and other short forms of writing.

If you are considering Scrivener, perhaps the best thing about it is that you have a true 30-day free trial period. By “true,” I mean that if you open the program today, then get busy so that you don’t get back to it for a week, you will find that you have 29 days left on your trial period. You literally can use it free for 30 actual days, even if you piddle with it over a year’s time.

This “true” 30-day trial matters, because the power of Scrivener means it is going to take you quite some time to figure it out. Once you do decide to try it out, there is a whole host of books written about getting the best use from it. One that I have found to be very useful is Scrivener for Dummies.

During the trial, the program is fully functional. If you decide you don’t want to get a license, just be sure to output your work into Word format (or whatever else you would use instead) in order to keep working with the material.

Full disclosure: the links to Scrivener and related books in this article are “affiliate links.” I’m not talking to you about Scrivener just to make money. I did decide, though, that if you follow my recommendations and it costs you nothing extra, I might as well get a little credit along the way. So I appreciate your following the links from here if you decide to try out Scrivener or get books to help you with it.

In any case, let me know what your experience is with it!

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.