Why I said goodbye to Scrivener

I want to preface this post with two disclaimers: first, I’ve been a Scrivener for Windows user for about a year now. Secondly, I love Scrivener. In fact, I love it so much, I went out and bought the Storytelling with Scrivener course on Well-Storied (not an affiliate link; I don’t do that here).

So writing this post breaks my heart. I waited months to find an alternative to Scrivener after first noticing the program might actually be restricting my progress. In the end, I chose to do the right thing for my unique process. Let’s talk about it.

alternatives to scrivener
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Why I said “sayonara” to Scrivener

My novel-in-progress, Escape Artist, is a huge project. Inspired by the life and legacy of my “Little Grandma”, the book covers 70 years and four generations of the Aldridge family.

Naturally, there’s a ton of primary research involved: photos, newspaper clippings, recordings of interviews with the family. That’s not to mention the writerly side of things: character sketches, chapter outlines, scene cards, and, of course, the drafts themselves.

When I discovered Scrivener, I practically squealed with joy. It seemed like the perfect program to keep everything in one place. Plus, it’s fully customizable, and I love messing around with colors, fonts, and formatting.

But, for Windows and Android users like myself who don’t own any Apple devices, there’s just one problem.

Frustratingly inaccessible

Scrivener for Windows is miles behind the Mac version.* No mobile apps for Android (like iOS), no writing history feature (like iOS), no freeform corkboard (like — you guessed it — iOS).

Literature & Latte keeps promising the 3.0 version of the program will drop soon. In my time as a user, they first promised it by the end of 2018. That deadline came and went. Then it became the end of Q2 2019.

Then we Scrivener for Windows users had a glimmer of hope when the Literature & Latte team announced an actual date of August 30, 2019, with the lead Windows developer promising to “commit and be held personally responsible” for a release later than that. 

That date then changed to “later in 2019.” Again, users were told it would be a matter of “weeks, not months.”  Today is December 8, 2019. Still no Scrivener 3, and all we have now is a vague release date of “in 2020.”

No, thanks

I can’t wait that long. My aunt “Lucy”, who inspired one of the main characters in Escape Artist, will be 85 next year, and I want to publish this book in her lifetime.

I also share a laptop with my husband, a freelance writer and virtual assistant, so I don’t always have access to it. I split my work, including my writing, between the laptop and Android tablet (with its fancy fold-out keyboard). If I have a hope in hell of finishing this thing, I need access to my work at all times on all my devices.

*As one commenter on this post pointed out, Scrivener for Windows is compatible with Apple devices via third-party apps. However, as someone who doesn’t own any Apple devices, that doesn’t work for me. In a perfect world, Windows and Android users would enjoy the same accessibility to the program across devices as Apple users do…

Nothing but love for L&L

Please understand I’m not ragging on Scrivener’s developers here. I appreciate their hard work and admit I know zilch about software development. I’m sure they’re overworked and just as disappointed as many of the Windows/Android users are.

However, as someone who runs their own small business, I do know a little something about deadlines. I know that if I promise a piece of work to a client by a certain date and continuously fail to deliver that work because “it still needs edits,” my client would drop me in days. Not years.

While I realize the comparison between software development and writing is apples and oranges, deadlines are deadlines, no matter what industry you’re working in.

Despite all that, I still love the program, even in its current form — unfortunately, having access to my work on only one device doesn’t work for me. But that doesn’t make it a bad program. I would still wholeheartedly recommend Scrivener to anyone who may be considering it, because it does have some amazing features (which I miss, often).

Alternatives to Scrivener

Okay, that’s enough of my rambling. Before I dive into my preferred alternative to Scrivener, here are a few other Scrivener alternatives you might like to explore. (Remember, I don’t do affiliate links.)

Dabble

Shoutout to Kathlene, who recommended this program in the comments! With plotting tools, a NaNoWriMo progress tracker, and cloud storage, this is one of the most promising Scrivener alternatives I’ve seen. And the dev team is working hard on some cool features, like co-authoring and in-text images. You can sign up for a 14-day free trial before subscribing to the $5/month basic version.

SmartEdit Writer (formerly Atomic Scribbler)

A beautifully designed program for the low, low cost of free, SmartEdit Writer is like the love-child of Scrivener and Microsoft Word. The editor, sidebar, and research fields are super sleek. (And available in dark mode. The holy grail!) The SmartEdit toolbar (also available as an add-on for Microsoft Word) is truly next-level, helping writers edit their own work and identify cliches and overused words. SmartEdit Writer is free, but you’ll need to purchase the Word add-on.

Quoll Writer

With pre-populated writing prompts, an editor mode, detailed statistics, and customized assets, Quoll Writer packs a ton of unique features into a fully personalized program. This is one alternative to Scrivener that I’m really tempted to try! The program is free, but donations and Patreon support are appreciated.

My chosen alternative to Scrivener

I decided to part ways with Scrivener in Preptober, once I realized I needed universal, 24/7 access to all my work to complete NaNoWriMo. My drafts are now in Google Drive, which I use for work, blogging, and home. It’s my one-stop shop, it’s accessible on all my devices, and it’s free.

I went back to trusty pen and paper for all my scene cards, character sketches, outlines, research notes, etc. I was hesitant about this at first — I like being able to move things around.

my alternative to scrivener
I’m working from a literal corkboard now.

But I found an easy way around this by numbering my scene cards in pencil. This lets me keep scenes in order and move them around if I need to change things up.

It’s also a more involved process. There’s no better feeling than waking up early, fixing a cup of coffee, spreading my scene cards out on the kitchen table, and getting to work.

I’m in the process of migrating all my digital research into Drive. This is the part I’m most unhappy about; I really liked Scrivener’s all-in-one binder, and I’m not keen on nestling everything in Google Drive folders. But accessibility is more important than convenience for me.

This is one of the ups and downs of this new process. I created a spreadsheet to track my daily writing progress, and sometimes adding up all the words across different drafts is cumbersome. Even so, Scrivener 1 only has a word count tracker per session, so I didn’t lose anything there.

Still, the overall word count was handy (even if it didn’t include Scratchpad content), as was the customizable metadata feature which allowed me to see word counts and other fields at a glance.

Will I ever return to Scrivener?

I’ll certainly give Scrivener 3 a go when it finally arrives, even though I’m a little hesitant. I’m not happy with all the broken promises, and my faith in the company is dwindling. Plus, even when Scrivener 3 for Windows finally drops, who knows how long it will take for the Android apps to follow?

I might even test out some of the alternatives to Scrivener I mentioned above. For now, though, I’m happy with my current setup, even if it’s a little clunky in terms of word count tracking. (Call me a nerd, but I do love a good word count tracker spreadsheet, so I’m not complaining too much.)

I realize this post might upset some die-hard Scrivener users and probably software developers, too, understandably so. Believe me, I didn’t want to stop using Scrivener, because, despite my griping, I really do love the program. It just doesn’t work for my needs right now, no matter how much I wish it did.


I needed an alternative to Scrivener to optimize my efficiency, so I created one that works for me. And for some strange reason, I feel the need to justify that. But I’m entitled to my opinions, and I stand by my belief that everyone’s writing process is unique. Writers should consistently question that process and make changes if needed.

Featured photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

24 comments Add yours
  1. Hi. A bit confused by all this because I use Scrivener 1 for Windows. I use Dropbox to store my files. I then use Scrivener for iOS to access my files on Dropbox. I can do my work on any Windows or iOS machine and they are compatible with each other. All via Dropbox. In short, Scrivener for Windows works together with Scrivener for iOS (i.e. mobile devices). When you say ‘miles behind the iOS version’ perhaps you meant the Mac version? And when you say ‘how long will it take for mobile apps to follow’ – well they are already here and work with Windows. Perhaps you meant Android mobile? To summarise, Windows + Dropbox + Apple device OR Mac + Dropbox + Applie device all work as you need. The only piece that’s missing is if your mobile device is Android. That, I suspect is years away

    1. Hi Ezh, thank you for pointing this out; I’ve updated this article so it’s more accurate. Yes, I was referring to Android as I don’t own any Apple devices. I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for you and allows you to access your work across multiple devices. Unfortunately, Windows and Android users don’t enjoy that same flexibility. Maybe someday… Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I recently found Dabble — a cloud-based, simplified app that works like Scrivener with a great plotting interface! It doesn’t do everything I need it to, but it does a lot and got me through NaNo. Might be helpful to you!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Kathlene! My current Google Drive setup is working fine for the moment, but word count tracking is cumbersome. I’ll definitely check out Dabble!

  3. Thank you for pointing out what has been plaguing Scrivener for Windows 1.0 purchasing customers for two years. A LOT of Windows users feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.

    Lucy is played by Literature & Latte. …seriously

    1. Thanks for your comment, Rob! So many writers are loyal to L&L, and as much as I do like Scrivenver, I can’t look past its many flaws and failures to meet deadline after deadline after deadline. You gotta do what you gotta do to keep your writing momentum going. As for Lucy, I very much feel I’m working against the clock on this project, and I need my software to work with me, not against me.

  4. Almost 2 1/2 years and counting since I was told Scrivener 3.0 for Windows would be released. It’s still not out and there is no sign of it being released anytime soon. Scrivener for Windows is a scam as far as I’m concerned. Stay away from Literature and Latte.

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for your comment. Yes, it really is starting to feel that way. I haven’t used Scrivener for Windows for as long as some users, but it’s still frustrating. I have given up hope…

  5. Have a look at miro.com. (Not a writing tool like Scrivener, but it will give you a way to digitize your new workflow.)

  6. I foolishly bought Scrivener for Windows without reading into the fact that I was getting an old and outdated piece of software, years behind the iOS version. While I certainly accept fault for not reading the fine print more closely, I also fault the developers for misleading their customers.

    My biggest problem with the software might sound trifling and stupid, and perhaps it is, but I need to be able to visualize my manuscript as pages while I’m writing it. This feature known as “page view” in 3.0, cuts all the white space off the sides of the pages and helps visualize how a final manuscript may look. This is the default way that Word is setup. Without this feature, I cannot write. I know it sounds dramatic, but without this feature, I’m literally lost. When I try to write in Scrivener for Windows, the task is simply too daunting. I don’t feel like I’m making progress because the margins are so wide and the page is amorphous and white. Once I realized that my writing had slowed by a massive order of magnitude, I decided to ditch the software and go back to Word.

    Scrivener might be good for organizing, but if I can’t write then there is no point in using it. I have my fingers crossed that 3.0 will come out for Windows soon, but I’m not going to hold my breath. While I recognize that the Literature and Latte might be overworked, or have technical issues that we don’t know about, they ought to be honest about this. If they aren’t, then it just makes them look bad.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, I agree with you 100% on all points, particularly the white space. The absence of margins always irked me. I think you can customize it in the view window, but the default view is just weird. I don’t think it sounds dramatic at all, nor do I think you need to defend the process that works best for you. I also agree that more transparency is needed. As I mentioned, the head of the development team said he would be held “personally responsible” for a release later than August 30, 2019. And here we are, on June 13, 2020. Still no Scrivener either. If you like Scrivener’s level of organization, you might like Smart Edit Writer. That’s what I’m using now. It combines the best features of Scrivener and Word in a minimalist layout. (With page margins!) The one thing I can’t figure out how to do is highlight text, but other than that, I’m super happy with it. And it’s free. Happy writing!

  7. As a software developer who writes in his free time, I can say for a fact that the the devs of Scrivener are idiots. You miss one deadline. Fine. You miss several? You should look for some classes or maybe another job that is more your speed. You miss an ENTIRE GOD DAMN VERSION AND HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH ON THE NEXT then you should shut down your IDE for good. Ya done, son. Ya can’t even blame this on a bad PM or DM. A bad manager can only bork a project so much. At the end of the day, if you can’t hit a single release date in over three years then just stop and give to project to someone else.

    I bought this software in 2017. I will not be buying S3 for windows because by the time it comes out S4 for mac will be available and we will have to go through this all over again. No thanks.

    Currently watching Blaze/Campfire development with some interest. Campfire Pro is a great organizational tool and works tons better than scrivener when it comes to plot planning and character development. My hope is that they will add a full fledged editor in Blaze when it comes available.

    1. This is a refreshingly honest take! Yes, that’s exactly a big part of my frustration. If you’ve had the iOS version out for how long now, and you can’t devote that same time and energy into the Windows version? You’re screwing over half your user base. Thousands of paying customers, mind you. This software ain’t cheap. I’m with you, I don’t think I’ll be investing in the new version. While I believe I qualify for the free upgrade, I also think it’s ludicrous they’re making people pay for an *update* that’s at least 2 years overdue anyway. I’ll have to check out Blaze/Campfire. I’m currently using Smart Edit Writer and I’m really happy with it so far. To be a free program, it’s pretty powerful and preserves all the best organizational capabilities of Scrivener with a Word-like aesthetic.

  8. I might give one of those programs I try. Unfortunately, I can’t be as gracious to Literature and Latte as you. Not only do they fail to meet their deadlines, but if you look at the forums they get very defensive if someone is even slightly critical of them for it and keep going “Well, just use the free beta!” (if it were good enough to use, it wouldn’t… be… a free… beta!). I wouldn’t mind half as much if they were groveling for forgiveness constantly and making more empty promises, but this making the users the bad guys for wanting to get the program they were promised just pisses me off.

    I just don’t like them now, and want to do business elsewhere (yeah, not much of a protest since they’ve already got my money, but oh well). Hopefully, I can find something with a comparable feature set.

    1. I noticed that too. I occasionally browse the forums for updates and the crew really comes out baring their teeth anytime a dissatisfied customer raises a complaint. Which they’re well within their rights to do at this point, all things considered. And yes, you’re right, not once have they sincerely apologized or even addressed complaints tactfully. Not a good look…

      Still, I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, precisely for the reason that Scrivener fans are so die-hard about this outdated software. I expected more comments in their defense, but I’m surprised and glad to see so many others feel the same way. I mean, fair play to the iOS users who have a functional program, but their blatant disregard for Windows users tanks their credibility as a company. And yes, the beta aggravates me. I tried the free beta, but that big warning that said “don’t use this for important work because you might lose it!” put me off big time. What’s even more annoying is the fact that they refuse to release the software because it’s not perfect. Well, yeah, that’s expected. And you could always, you know… implement future updates.

      That’s fair enough. I’ve been using Smart Edit Writer and I’m happy with it so far. It preserves the best functionalities of Scrivener in a minimalist, clean interface. And it’s free. So there’s that. Definitely recommend playing around with it. Hope you find something that works for you!

  9. I’m also waiting for a Windows version of Scrivener 3. I use both Windows and Mac, but currently Scrivener projects are not compatible. I can’t open a project saved on a Mac using current Scrivener Windows version.
    But in the mean time why don’t you get a used macbook air (2012-2015 models) on ebay for like $300 and use mac version of Scrivener? I think typing and general experience working on a macbook air will be much better than working on any tablet, Android or iOS. Not to mention the fact that you have to share a laptop. It’s like if you were an UBER driver but couldn’t have your work car because you were sharing it with someone. As creators, I believe, we have to invest in our creative tools, as a number 1 priority.
    I’ve also tried all the above mentioned alternatives (in the article and in the commenst) but for my workflow, Scrivener is still miles ahead.

    1. I have since bought a new laptop so we’re no longer sharing. I prefer Windows as I don’t get on with iOS. But I also shouldn’t have to buy a new device with a completely different operating system just to use one program. It’s ludicrous. Particularly when the developers of said program have been promising this update for nearly 3 years now and have continuously failed to deliver. Not to mention they’ve been a bit shady about it. They promised us Scrivener 3 for Windows by August 30, 2019. That date passed, then they said it would be a matter of weeks. It’s almost been another year. Then they went back and changed the release date to “later in 2020” without changing the “last updated” date of the article. And besides, not everyone can afford to buy a Mac until Scrivener 3 for Windows is released. Yes, investing in our tools is important, but it’s not feasible for everyone. If Scrivener works best for you and you’re in a position to use it on both devices, that’s great. As I said, I loved using Scrivener and was reluctant to part ways with it. But in my case, going back to Scrivener after about 8 months of developing my draft in another program would take more time and effort than it’s worth. I’m using SmartEdit Writer and I’m really happy with it. I might give Scrivener 3 a go whenever it finally drops, but all things considered, especially after reading some other people’s experiences here, I’ve lost all faith in L&L.

  10. What a great article and I am right there with you. I’ve frustratingly waited for v.3 to come out for years. One of the biggest issues I find with using v.1 on Windows is that it’s not entirely compatible with a newer laptop. Due to the way Windows 10 works when displaying software my version of Scrivener when I’m using it is just slightly blurry. This makes it nearly impossible to use for an extended period of time. As for alternatives, like you, I’ve gone the way of using Google Drive. As for the storyboard side of things and keeping note cards on all of the background information, I know just how annoying it is to try and keep things in folders in Drive. It’s just kind of clunky.

    I’ve been using a free program called Notion for other productivity and life-related things and have been toying with the idea of using it for the background information for my writing. The block format they use is really nice when it comes to rearranging things. You can create links between various pages. And all in all, it’s just really pleasant to use once you get used to it (there is a slight learning curve). The best part is that it is accessible from any type of device. I use it on my computer and they have an android app as well. I would recommend checking it out. It works well for a lot of things, and I’ve kind of moved to using Drive like a filing cabinet and Notion like my desktop.

    1. Hi Joshua, thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to read and comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it, but not so glad you and so many others share my frustration. It’s nice to see a fellow Drive user on here, though! I don’t know that I ever experienced any blurriness with the program, but it certainly isn’t optimized for the updated versions of Windows.

      Funnily enough, I actually started using Notion a couple of months ago for work and completely fell in love. I’ve ditched about 5 task management, notetaking, and feed reader apps and moved everything into Notion. I haven’t used it to keep research, but I may toy around with it in the near future. I have been using it to track my word counts, and it’s working wonders. I’m planning to write a series of posts about Notion in the near future, so stay tuned! I would love to hear more about how you use Notion for your writing life as well if you’re open to sharing.

      1. When I first used Scrivener and completed a NaNoWriMo with it, I loved it. But, jumping on a different computer or on my phone and not being able to pick up where I left off is kind of a deal-breaker. That’s originally why I shifted everything over to Drive. It isn’t perfect but it’s better than a lot of what’s out there, and Google Docs is actually fairly decent.

        I’m the same, I jumped from one thing to the next and then eventually found Notion and loved it. Everything from Trello, to Evernote, to OneNote, to Airtable and beyond. The functionality of Notion is amazing and it does things a lot better than most other software options. Most of my stuff is currently stored in my Drive, but I am thinking about migrating all of it into Notion. I’ve done a lot of worldbuilding in my fantasy world (which was all done on paper and then had to be typed up… which sucked), and my thought is that Notion is great to be able to link like ideas or settings together. I would most likely continue to use Docs for the actual WIP, but I think having everything else in Notion makes a lot of sense. To me, having everything easily accessible and easily navigable is the biggest benefit of Notion. With Drive, everything is in a separate file and it can be really hard to navigate from one thing to another, especially when I have to figure out what folder I put it in… There is nothing worse than knowing you did a writeup on something and you have to spend 10 minutes trying to find it, or hunt through every option provided in a search. The other thing is that a lot of the notes could be put into a table and then viewed in different ways. Whether as a list or in more of a gallery format, which is nice.

        I may need to do some experimenting now.

        1. Absolutely agree that cross-device functionality is a deal-breaker. That’s why I like Drive. I already use it regularly, and it’s free. So hey, it’s a two-for-one.

          And yes, Drive can be a bit of a pain to navigate. I ran into that problem with storing my own research there. Notion’s sidebar and Quick Find features are so handy. I’m pretty sure you can embed Docs into Notion, so that’s an option if you’d like to see your draft in context to your research. At the very least, I know you can embed URLs, and I’m pretty sure they’re interactive, so who’s to say you can’t write your novel in Notion and Docs at the same time?

          In terms of your handwritten worldbuilding materials, could you upload those as photos into Notion? Maybe alongside the typed-up version? I feel you because I have a handwritten scene card setup and a typed version, so keeping them both updated is PITA. I may have to do some experimenting too…

          I love Notion’s tables. They’re my jam, haha. Because I work as an editor, I have to keep track of pages I’m publishing and the tables are a godsend for organizing my workflow.

          It’s so nice to meet another Notion nerd! Let me know how you get on if you do decide to experiment. I may pick your brain when it comes time for my Notion for Writers series, haha

          1. You gotta love anything that works well and is also free. Yes, you can embed a Google Doc into Notion. It doesn’t show all that much but it does provide a handy link to the WIP. It also makes accessing your WIP really easy on your phone.

            As for writing in a Doc from within Notion, I’d have to test things out and see if that’s a possibility. More than likely they would need to remain in their respective locations… notes in Notion and WIP in Drive. Nevertheless, having both certainly makes things easier to use as a whole.

            I’ve uploaded photos before but that’s usually because I want to keep an original copy. For worldbuilding notes, I knew that I was going to be making changes as things evolved so I decided to just retype them all so that I have a malleable digital version. If my handwriting wasn’t so bad I could potentially take a picture of it and open it as a Google Doc to have it converted into text. It doesn’t work great, but it can save a lot of time having the Doc convert an image into usable text.

            I do like tables, though I am not much of a pro with them. I end up keeping things mostly on different pages so that I can modify them as needed. That, and tables don’t tend to like to play well on the phone. Granted, I should probably spend some more time using tables in general. I’ve seen some pretty cool ones that are set up to have a master database that then has different independent tables as needed.

            I’ll certainly keep experimenting with Notion. The plan right now is to dump all of my notes into their respective pages under my main “Worldbuilding” page then build from there.

            Would it be nice to have everything easily accessible and all in one location (a sort of cloud-based Scrivener)? Sure! But having things accessible from anywhere and cloud saved on the regular is the most important thing for me. I think Notion is a fantastic platform for any type of worldbuilding notes, done in any way that fits someone’s taste (like using tables); and Docs works just as well as most everything out there for writing.

            For Docs, I’ve started going down the route of creating headings for each segment of the story be it a scene, change in POV in my outline, chapter division, etc. That way I can easily jump to the various sections by using the ‘Document Outline’ feature in Docs. I just copy and paste my outline into my WIP and then start writing after that section. Once I’ve written everything up for the scene I can delete the notes but keep the scene heading for reference.

            Another really nice feature of Notion is the ‘Table of Contents’. I’ve been using a bit in order to organize some of my notes. I’ve been thinking about using it to organize the timeline of my world, that way I can keep all of my notes on the various ages in order and easily accessible.

            I’ll be experimenting and seeing how well I can get Notion and Docs to work for the whole writing process. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re looking to work on a Notion article. I’d be happy to assist.

  11. I agree. I’m hesitant to buy from a company that breaks promise after promise. Granted, the software is inexpensive, but I’d rather pay a bit more and have regular updates.

    I fiddled around with Dabble, but don’t like their subscription model.

    Recently bought Plottr, which is just for plotting, character bio’s et cetera, but I really like it.

    1. My thoughts exactly. It’s not massively expensive (especially considering it’s a one-time purchase unlike a lot of subscription models out there). But it’s still a significant sum. Nice! I’ve never heard of Plottr. I’ll have to take a look. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post!

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