Review: Scrivener

Written by: Adam Christianson

Categories: Reviews

ScrivIcon.jpgI’d like to share some brief thoughts about an application I discovered about a month ago (via the magazine MacUser here in Britain) called Scrivener. You can find it on the web at

I’d been using Word or Pages to write my essays for some time, but was always aware that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable writing in those environments. But then I happened to read a review in MacUser UK for Scrivener. It is a brand new app from Keith Blount, a writer who learned Cocoa and became a developer so that he would have an application he could enjoy writing in. Naturally I was intrigued, so I downloaded the trial copy.

From the start, it was obvious that Scrivener had a very different philosophy to the staple word processors. In some ways, it isn’t even a word processor; it’s a draft-builder. Instead of worrying about formatting, Scrivener lets you work on your draft—the actual text—and manage the whole book/essay/play as a large project rather than a continuous flow of paragraphs and pages.

The program’s interface is built around the binder, which displays all the documents in your project, and allows you to organize them hierarchically, into folders for example. This allows you to split up your piece into chapters if it’s a book you’re writing, or the points you want to make if it’s an essay. For viewing all these sections, Scrivener gives you the Corkboard or the Outliner, two views which allow you to see the broad outline, if you will, of your project. I know so many people who find it useful to use real index cards to get a feel for where their writing is going; with Scrivener you do this on your computer, using virtual index cards on the Corkboard.

One of the features I find most helpful is the full screen mode. It’s just you and text here, with a black background to hide the desktop (though you can vary the transparency). For me it has been so useful to just be able to concentrate on the text, with no distractions in sight. I’m sure it’s not for everyone though, and the blank white page can be quite intimidating at times.

When you’ve completed your first draft, Scrivener lets you export that draft to a number of formats, including RTF and Word format. There are a wealth of options for tweaking exactly what parts of your draft you want to export, and for users who prefer no formatting at all, Scrivener supports MultiMarkDown. After exporting your draft, you open it up in another word processor, make sure the formatting is all right, and print away.

It’s worth mentioning too that Scrivener may be very handy for playwrights or those who write for the screen. It has the ability to format your draft as a script as you go. Not being either of these, though, I haven’t tested it out for myself, but it looks well thought through and seems, again, unobtrusive and very handy.

It didn’t take me long to buy the full license for Scrivener (which is very affordable, incidentally at USD$34.99). The application’s new approach does take some getting used to, and this may put some off. But as I’ve looked deeper into Scrivener’s features I’ve found so much evidence of careful thought and consideration in its development, and the dedication of the application’s developer is astounding. It has all the hallmarks of a great Mac application, and amazing attention to detail. I would warmly recommend Scrivener to any writers out there who are looking for a new way to write on their Mac. It (almost) makes my essays a joy to write!

There are 3 comments on Review: Scrivener:

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  1. Rod | Apr 02 2007 - 07:12

    I just d’loaded and now trying Scrivener. So far I like it. Time will tell. Thanks for the nicely written article on this piece of software. :-)

  2. Pedro Carvalho | Apr 02 2007 - 03:23

    I tried Scrivener, but I think it lacks some important features of the most conventional Word Processors. The track changes as you type, for example, or the integration with the EndNote.

    I think Scrivener is more a NoteBook that a word processor, and for that I have the amazing Journler, nevertheless the full screen option is just great… The price, I think is two much for what you get.

    So Scrivner has no place in my HD, but if it fits your needs that’s great!


  3. James | Apr 03 2007 - 02:48

    Thank you both very much for your feedback. Rod, I’m glad you found the article useful.

    Pedro: I think I agree with you. Scrivener is not a word processor. But as one who does a fair bit of writing of long pieces, that’s why I found Scriviener so refreshing, because its the first application I’ve come across that lets you really put together your draft, and concentrate on it, not on formatting or other bits. On a feature-by-feeature comparison, Scrivener may not seem to stack up that well against other word processors, but I’m happy about that–I didn’t find that conventional word processors did what I wanted. Anyway, I’m glad you have found a product like Journler which suits you.