If you are at all involved in writ­ing, you have like­ly heard of Scriven­er. You may not have tried it, you may not even know any­one who uses it. You may not even know what the heck it is, but you know it is out there, and that makes you curi­ous. I am a writer, and I did­n’t wait to be curi­ous about Scriven­er when I first heard about it over a year ago: I start­ed using it the same day, and I have yet to look back.

I was in love with Scriven­er from the first moment I heard of it (and to be hon­est I can­not now recall who first turned me onto this pro­gram, or I would cer­tain­ly give them cred­it here). It may have been the index cards that did it. I live and breathe on 3x5 cards: when I am in my groove, I can eas­i­ly go through a pack or more in a week, and when I am actu­al­ly work­ing on a project, well, then, I bet­ter have a big table handy, because there are going to be a lot of cards to spread out. (Sor­ry, would-be shar­ers of library space.) So when I saw screen­shots of Scriven­er and its Cork­board fea­ture, I knew I had to give it a try.

I won’t attempt to describe the visu­al expe­ri­ence of Scriven­er, or to cat­a­logue its many fea­tures: head on over to Lit­er­a­ture & Lat­te for that and more. While you’re there, you may as well go ahead and get your­self start­ed with a 30-day tri­al (as long as you are a an Apple user, of course; a Win­dows ver­sion is final­ly in the works, but not avail­able yet).

What I will do is try to give a bit of a descrip­tion of how I use Scriven­er, which is all I am real­ly qual­i­fied to write about any­way. I am still work­ing at mak­ing it a part of my cre­ative process; the main obsta­cle to this has been my lack of writ­ing time (and ener­gy) in gen­er­al, noth­ing to do with Scriven­er itself. But I have cer­tain­ly used it suf­fi­cient­ly to express some informed opinions.

Despite my aspi­ra­tions to great works, I have so far used Scriven­er pri­mar­i­ly in my aca­d­e­m­ic writ­ing. I just fin­ished a year of under­grad­u­ate the­ol­o­gy course­work, and I wrote a fair num­ber of research papers as part of that. After a decade away from the aca­d­e­m­ic game, I found Scriven­er rev­e­la­to­ry to use in this con­text. As I read through sources, I made my notes — both direct quotes as well as con­cep­tu­al cita­tions — direct­ly into Scriven­er in the Cork­board view. Once I had fin­ished my research read­ing, I then had a large num­ber of vir­tu­al cards con­tain­ing quotes and snip­pets of ideas, all with source page ref­er­ences attached. From these I would begin to build the struc­ture of my argu­ment, and flesh it out with my own prose. Scriven­er offers great word count tar­get cal­cu­la­tions, which means I can eas­i­ly gauge how much far­ther I have to go.

The major weak­ness of this for me was foot­notes. Scriven­er gives an easy to use option to mark cita­tions which will become foot­notes upon export. How­ev­er I was unable to get them to work in prac­tice, whether try­ing to export the com­piled draft to Word, TextE­d­it, Apple­Works, or Pages. I am will­ing to believe that I may have been doing some­thing wrong, but I haven’t tak­en the time required to get to the bot­tom of it. Instead in each paper I had to man­u­al­ly redo my foot­notes once I brought my draft into Pages. Even with that seem­ing­ly-dire hangup, build­ing my papers in Scriven­er was awe­some, and solv­ing my foot­note issue will only improve an already-excel­lent workflow.

I am also mak­ing use of Scriven­er in the devel­op­ment of my major non­fic­tion book project. Being able to have all the writ­ten work I have done on this, some of it stretch­ing back more than a decade, is mon­u­men­tal. I will grant that much the same effect could be had by keep­ing all the text files for a large project togeth­er in a Find­er fold­er, with sub­fold­ers and a sys­tem of hier­ar­chi­cal order­ing. What this option does­n’t give you, which Scriven­er does, is the effect of hav­ing all of those scores of text files open at once, with the abil­i­ty to quick­ly and eas­i­ly reorder ele­ments — large and small —  with­in and among the struc­ture. With that one dis­tinc­tion, I think, Scriven­er blows the doors off the book-build­ing game.

To be per­fect­ly hon­est, Scriven­er still feels to me like so many pro­grams do: I can tell it is an amaz­ing, pow­er­ful, flex­i­ble tool, and I just haven’t taken/had the time and ener­gy to sit down and fig­ure it all out. In oth­er words, I feel like I am using maybe 47–63% of Scriven­er’s poten­tial awe­some­ness; I know more is there, but that is all I have been able to make my own with­out slow­ing down and watch­ing the excel­lent video tuto­ri­als or some­thing like that. Hav­ing said that, I offer this as counter: the fact that I am not using every ounce of poten­tial in a fea­ture-laden pro­gram in no way lessens the tremen­dous ben­e­fit I am gain­ing from using it to the extent I am.

I have only bare­ly begun to touch upon all the many, many, many won­der­ful fea­tures that are packed into Scriven­er (and I haven’t even men­tioned that the spec­tac­u­lar new Scriven­er 2.0 is just weeks away!). I encour­age any­one even slight­ly inter­est­ed to give the free tri­al a whirl, watch a few of the demo and tuto­r­i­al videos, and see for your­self what writ­ing with Scriven­er looks like, feels like — and I think you will become a believ­er, too. I have loved set­ting up my major projects in Scriven­er, and I know that when my life allows me to shift toward a more writer­ly rhythm, I will have every­thing ready to go, and I can open Scriven­er and dive straight into the work of cre­ative writing.


  1. I should add that Scriven­er is very much a labor of love on the part of its devel­op­er. This is not the prod­uct of a com­pa­ny that did mar­ket research and decid­ed to put togeth­er a new writ­ing appli­ca­tion. Rather, this is the result of a writer, frus­trat­ed by no one avail­able pro­gram con­tain­ing all the fea­tures he him­self wished for, final­ly throw­ing up his hands, teach­ing him­self pro­gram­ming for the Mac OS, and mak­ing his own per­son­al ide­al writ­ing tool a real­i­ty that he can now share with writ­ers the world over. A nice sto­ry, that.

  2. Wow! Any more thor­ough and I will have to pro­gram code. 

    I got as much out of what Scriven­er can do and its poten­tial as I did out of the labors and steps on writ­ing. From your words to the impulse to down­load it, I remind­ed myself I need a MAC first. I’ll watch for the Win­dows ver­sion instead.

    Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply