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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.