Ask AJ Issue 20: Metempsychosis

Ask AJfrequently-asked-questions

The Question:

Many of my writer friends have begun using Scrivener. Up to this point, I’ve just been using Microsoft Word to assist in editing and publishing of my work. How is Scrivener better than just using a regular word processing program, and should I jump on the bandwagon and use Scrivener, too?

The Answer:

First of all, I want to wish everyone all the best and Happy Holidays! It is truly the best time of the year, in my opinion, and I try to soak it all in each and every day.

The Ask AJ question in this issue is another good one, and comes from more of a personal preference point of view. Being upfront, and with full disclosure, I use Scrivener solely for my writing, but do use MS Word in some ways during editing.

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The Evolution of Writing

I find it funny, in a way, how writing began many, many years ago by chiseling letters on a ‘tablet. And now, in many ways, we are again writing on a different version of ‘tablets’.

As far as writers go, there is a plethora of resources to do our writing with. From the simple notepad on Windows or MS Word to writing apps such as Scrivener, there are plenty of variety and functionality. In the end, it may all come down to your preference and comfort.

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MS Word vs Scrivener

On the surface, we are looking at one of the most well-known and well-used word processing programs to one of the up and coming and lesser known programs, Scrivener.

In my experience, I used MS Word exclusively to write and convert projects to PDF files and became comfortable in how I used it. From work projects to writing projects, it was and still is the go-to application.

In 2007, the company, Literature and Latte released the Scrivener writing app and made it available on MACs. Soon after, it was released on Windows, and just in the summer of 2016 an iOS version was released for the iPad and iPhone.

My Experiences

I wrote my first book in 2010 using MS Word. It was the only program I knew and in the masses, the most popular. As I used it more, I learned more about its useful functions and was able to implement it to make my writing and editing processes faster and more efficient. I knew nothing of Scrivener and felt comfortable using the Windows application to pound out my novels and stories.

In 2013, I heard about Scrivener and looked into its features. One of the great things about Scrivener is the free thirty-day trial. I used it every day during that time and began to get more comfortable with it and found it to be better suited to my writing needs. I also discovered a few perks that MS Word did not have.

Pros and Cons

In both programs, at their basic core, they are more than capable for writing your novel, blog post, or newspaper articles and both allow for easy export for emailing your project. If you are deep in writing mode and only need to concentrate on the blank page, both will do you fine. But this is where their features differ a bit.

MS Word – In 2007 Microsoft added a new user interface that enhanced and organized the tools in a one-stop shop at the top of the screen. This was very useful. Also made better were the charts and table tools – which might not help in writing, but still an improvement.

Blogging is a major part of writing today and blogging is made easy using MS Word. With the updates, the same features made useful for writers became available from a blogging point of view. The Styles section can help with setting up the way you want your novel to be formatted – another very helpful tool.

Also in MS Word, a running word count helps keep check on your progress. I know this is an older feature, but as writers, we are always peeking at our word count.

Those are some of the useful features in Microsoft’s program.

The reader’s question has more to do with Scrivener and getting more information about it, so I will shift gears and open the Scrivener discussion.

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Scrivener

I have used Scrivener for over three years as my only writing program. While there was a learning curve as far as getting to know the nuts and bolts of the program, any new user can begin immediately and start your project. Learning the more elaborate features comes in time with use, plus there are a ton of How To’s on YouTube.

As I mentioned earlier, you have a Try Before You Buy available. Another nice feature is the Split Screen mode. This allows you to read two versions of the same scene at the same time and edit on one without committing in full.

As you write, you compile chapters on the left side of the screen and can easily switch from chapter to chapter which is hard to do in MS Word. In these chapters, you can switch to a different screen known as the Corkboard. This has Index cards of each chapter attached to a corkboard background allowing you to write a synopsis of said chapter for quick reference.

There is a text-to-speech feature that is easy to use if you like to go that route. As you are in your project, there is a nifty word count box you can use for not only your daily word count target, but also your total word count for your entire project. The progress is displayed with a colored bar, changing from red to orange to yellow and finally to green as you near your goal.

As far as saving your work, everything is stored with a backup, in one central place. You can also save as a ZIP file.

The most powerful part of Scrivener, and my favorite, is the compiling feature. There are 17 different formats to compile and save your project to, including mobi, epub, pdf, and as a word file. This feature alone is worth the price of admission. You can tweak the details the way you want them before you compile and save to your desired format.

If there were a con, it would be the price. With MS Word installed on most PCs or at least available, for most there is no cost associated with it. For Scrivener, there is the thirty-day free trial, but after that, the cost is $39.99 in US dollars. That purchase gets you the complete program for life and updates and allows you to install the license on two different computers. The iOS version – a separate purchase – is $20 but as of now does not have all of the features as the PC and MAC versions.

All of these versions allow you to sync your projects seamlessly through Dropbox so you can pick up exactly where you left off on another device.

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In Summation

There is a ton of other features available on Scrivener and too many to go into in this column, but I would say to someone who is contemplating a switch from MS Word to Scrivener, try out the free trial and dig right in. See if it’s for you.

I learn more about Scrivener the more I use it and I couldn’t see writing without it now.

For each individual, it will come down to familiarity and comfort. And I say, use what works best for you and keep those words flowing!

Good luck on your writing and creativity,

~ALJ~

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