You Don’t Need Scrivener to Write that Book


I’m going to go against the grain a little today – I love Scrivner, but it’s a giant waste of time for the average writer.

Believe me. It’s pretty and I want it. I’ve coveted Scrivener since my first round of writing courses with Holly Lisle back in 2008. As soon as I saw the Windows Update Mailing List, I was on it and patiently waiting for Scrivener to release for the PC. I even contemplated buying a MacBook Pro (and I’m so very anti-Apple) when it took too long for Scrivener to release for PC. I read tons of blog posts, tutorials, and how-to guides with the hopes that I’d be ready to use it right out of the gates.

Yes. I was a Scrivener stalker.

Finally, the day came that it was out for the PC. I downloaded the trial with the intentions of buying it as soon as the trial wore out.

And then I proceeded to never open it again.

The Essense of Distraction

As writers, we tend to get a little, well, squirrel. We’re walking along, walking along – SHINY! GO THAT WAY! – er, wait, walking along, walking along…

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new notebook (by the way, I’m loving my new hardback college ruled composition book from Mead – it’s perfect for writing on the bus! – aaaand I think that just proved my point…), a new idea, a new contest, a prompt, a meme… the list goes on. We go squirrel over the need to do dishes, do the laundry, or watch TV during writing time. We get intimidated by the blank page, and we try to read email or update Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/etc. instead.

(For the count, I’ve tried to read Twitter four times in less than 400 words. WEE.)

So, the idea behind all this is that we love to do something other than write. That’s where being motivated and disciplined comes in for the average writer. Or, at least the published one – hint, hint.

Why I’m Picking on Scrivener

You don’t need a fancy program to write. You don’t need to spend $40. It isn’t going to help you write better. You want to argue that it might help your production speed (after you spend time to learn it), your organization (but that doesn’t help if you over-organize or hate plotting), and help your focus (but again, after you learn to use it). But it only distracts you from writing.

Scrivener has many pretty, wonderful features. I fan-girl over them every time I see someone talk about it. I rush over to their website and stare at the pretty “Buy Now” button.

And then I talk myself back off the cliff.

I’ve got everything I need to write on my computer right now; I don’t need something else.

But Dahnya, I hate Word!

That’s fine. I hate Word too.

I mean, I use it every day. All day. My day job focuses almost 95% of my time on Word. I’ve grown to hate that helpful little ribbon…

But I don’t use Word to write. I use Notepad.

Yep. That’s right folks. I’m admitting that I get my best word counts, my best flow, and my best distraction-free writing by using a full-screened Notepad document.

It doesn’t have any fancy features. I don’t get any squiggly lines telling me that something like NaNoWriMo is spelled wrong (when I know it isn’t.) There’s no formatting, no paperclip popping up asking me if I’m writing a novel. I don’t have anything other than a white page and black text.

Call me a minimalist if you’re scared of the idea that the free Notepad program could possibly be better than Scrivener. That’s fine. But Notepad will always be the source of my inspiration and will always help me write the best.

Now, excuse me while I go draft character bios for my August Camp Nano Novel: For Love, Paint, and Tutelage. I do this with the sole intention of buying Scrivener when I win.

(cough) Nothing to see here folks.


14 thoughts on “You Don’t Need Scrivener to Write that Book

  1. I like OmmWriter, myself. It takes over the entire screen and doesn’t have anything annoying on it. All you do is type. It doesn’t give word counts or have drop-down menus. Just a plain light-gray screen (or any of a number of others). It’ll even make noise or let you play your own noise (I play Gaussian white noise through my AudioTest program).

    I also have Scrivener, as well as Word, Pages (yes, I’m an evil Mac person–I hate Windows, even preferring Ubuntu Linux to it), TextEdit, TextWrangler, Final Draft, and have tried OpenOffice. I love toys. They don’t help you write, but they’re fun to play with.

    • I looked into OmmWriter when you mentioned it before… and it is a pretty neat idea… but, again, it’s just something that would distract me from writing.

      Evil Mac Lover. D:

      I used to love OpenOffice, but then I lost almost 20k words because it decided to freak out mid-Nano. I’ve also used yWriter and Final Draft, but again, they are just time wasters. None of them helped me write any faster, cleaner, or better. They saved time some times, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to justify buying the program.

      But, as I mentioned, I still plan on buying Scrivener. I just don’t NEED it.

  2. Very clever and very true post miss Dahnya. You do know that you can turn off the grammar, spelling, and paperclip functions in Word, right? =)~ I agree with most of this, except for when it comes to compiling poetry collections. Scrivener saves me time, paper, and wrist muscles. Copy-pasting 60 poems into one document is a chore… changing the order of them is a nightmare. Scrivener lets me do it with a single drag of the mouse and then the “compile” feature lets me spit it into a Word doc already how I want it. That’s why I gave Scrivener two different ratings in my post about tools for writers; I think it can be different levels of time-wasting or useful depending on your project. In the end, though, I agree with your message: we don’t need more fancy distractions. We need to write.

    • Hah! I’m glad you find me “clever” at 5am. Really. Because that’s about as raw as my brain gets.

      I laughed at myself (I’m that obnoxious person that finds all my own “jokes” funny) for the paperclip thing… I don’t think they’ve had that around since like 93, but it’s still one of the most iconic things about Word.

      I would love to turn off those features, but I use the Word on my computer for work and homework. I’d just need to flip them on and off, depending on the intent of my project… and that’s just obnoxious. Hence, Notepad.

      The compile feature is like the ONE thing I really want Scrivener for. Well, that, and never needing to buy notecards again (cough). But I’m so mad that I can’t save it to a flash drive. It’s the only reason that yWriter is still better in my brain.

      That and the free part. Hm.

  3. I’m a BIG fan of Scrivener.
    I’d already begun to organise my novels along the same lines as a Scrivener project, so it saved me the effort of coding html links between scenes, and having to update those links when I edited the novel.
    It’s a joy to produce non-fiction on the software too, especially when you have a few sets of instructions which look almost identical without their illustrations attached. Word and OpenOffice are clumsy to navigate in those circumstances.
    I also use it for compiling short story collections. I’ve made up my own templates with separate preface and endpiece sections for Kindle, Smashwords and print editions, so I can produce clean copy with a few clicks of the mouse for each of the three formats.
    I’ve saved my projects to an SD card and a USB stick to transfer the files between machines, and as long as the two PCs have Scrivener there’s no problem. And I compile the work in progress to a text file at the end of each writing session as a backup.
    Definitely a fan… (sigh :-))

    • Afternoon Lee! Thanks for stopping by!

      Oh, hey. That’s a really good solution to my problem with Scrivener… just having it installed on both computers.

      I’m totally a fan of Scrivener… and, as I mentioned, I plan on getting it. I just hate all the posts out there where people claim you need it to write… or that it will help you write better. Software is always just a tool. If they ever make software that will help writers produce better novels, it’s just a short trip to having the software write the novels… and then we’d be out of business! And no one wants that (except maybe the machines.)

      • You’re right, it doesn’t make anyone’s writing any better. It makes planning and layout and progress easier to organise, and that’s all. Saves time that can be used for writing!

        • Ah, but see… if you don’t know how to use the tool, it doesn’t save you any time. Most people have some sort of organization system for their novel (I’ve never met anyone, so far, that only keeps one giant Word file for a 300+ page manuscript – and if I did meet them, I’d smack them), so learning a new system would waste time more than it would save it.

          Again, I love Scrivener and want to own it. But I’m also factoring in that I’ll need to learn to use it, which does not mesh with Fast Drafting a NaNoWriMo novel.

          I’ll have to wait until after I win!

  4. I think Scrivener does help you write a better novel. Long form writing has its own challenges as almost everyone who has struggled to the end of a novel will attest. As you produce more words, more changes, more revisions, more edits, more versions its easy to get into a bit of a mess. Did you back this up? Is this the latest version? Am I editing an old version of this part? And for sure, people do create their own management systems, because that was historically the only way to stay sane. But they took up a lot of time and a lot of effort that could better be put into the writing and revision.
    I know you are playing devil’s advocate and I do accept that you can write in anything or with anything (of course, I spent forty years doing just that). But Scrivener really is a revelation as it (after a short learning curve) lets you concentrate on the actual writing – which surely is the aim.
    I think the proof of this is the huge list of professional writers who rave about Scrivener on their website – they know because they do it.
    I have to admit I am biased, I wrote a book about it (and in it). I also wrote a Quickstart blog post which tries to assure you that you don’t need to even do the tutorial to start using Scrivener. Just use it – it’s fairly intuitive.

    • Hi Ivan! Thanks for coming over and leaving a comment.

      I don’t play Devil’s Advocate for just any old reason. I truly believe that Scrivener is a great tool, but is ultimately a time-sink. Just like all writing software.

      Folks have been writing for years (as you mentioned) without these types of tools. “Kids” (myself included sometimes) these days do a lot of talking without a lot of typing. Giving them something like Scrivener, where they can go in, play with a couple of tools, and say they’ve written for the day is almost silly.

      And, as previously mentioned, even though I don’t think Scrivener is needed, I still want it. It’s a very wonderful program and it has very many lovely features. But I don’t *need* it to write.

      I’ll have to check out your blog post after August is over! Perhaps it will help me get my bearings when I do end up getting the software. Thanks!

      • I do agree with you in many ways – Scrivener does have just a bit too much bells and whistles, it is like a red rag to a procrastinator! That said, anyone who actually has writing to get through tends to get up to speed with it very quickly and then find that it improves and increases their writing. The procrastinators – well, they’ll find something to divert them come what may. Fundamentally I think we’re on the same page here!

  5. Pingback: You Don’t Need Scrivener to Write that Book | Everything Scrivener

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