Updated January 16, 2021 | Originally published December 8, 2019
When I published this post out of anguish and frustration a year ago, I never expected it to blow up and receive so many comments. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post!
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).
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.”
Update: Today is January 16, 2021. Still no Scrivener 3 for Windows. I understand the coronavirus threw a monkey wrench in things. But after receiving some comments on this post from other software developers, it seems these delays aren’t standard procedure, even with COVID.
When I originally wrote this post, I shared a laptop with my husband, who also works as a freelance writer. I was working on a Lenovo tablet with a fold-out keyboard. It worked well for my needs for awhile, but I’ve since bought a new laptop. And yes, it’s Windows.
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 and will never 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…
I’ve been disappointed by the amount of comments this post has received urging me to “just buy a Mac” if I want to be a “serious” writer. I shouldn’t even have to dignify such comments with a response. Apparently, all best-selling authors use Mac. Who knew?
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.
Update: Despite me saying all this, some commenters have still accused me of “beating up” Scrivener and L&L. 🙄 Please. Scrivener for Windows users have been waiting over 4 years for this release. Enough is enough.
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.
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 word processor, 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.
Update: I downloaded SmartEdit Writer shortly after discovering it, and I like a lot of its features. Its minimalist interface is great for distraction-free writing. Switching over to SmartEdit Writer from Google Drive was super simple. All I had to do was download my drafts in a zip file and import it into the program.
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
In October 2019, I decided to part ways with Scrivener, once I realized I needed universal, 24/7 access to all my work to complete NaNoWriMo. At that time, I stored all my drafts in Google Drive, which I use for work.
It worked okay for about 6 months. Problem was, because I use Drive for work, settling into a creative flow was difficult. For me, the atmosphere wasn’t conducive to creative writing.
So I switched over to SmartEdit Writer a few months later. Its interface resembles Microsoft Word, but many of its features are similar to Scrivener. The distinction between drafts and fragments is especially handy for me — I tend to free-write individual scenes and move them over to the drafts later.
I’m working from a literal corkboard now.
I went back to trusty pen and paper for all my scene cards, character sketches, outlines, and research notes. I was hesitant about this at first because I like being able to move things around.
But I found an easy way around it 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. (Even if it was called an “abysmal kludge” by some Scrivener die-hard on the L&L forums.) 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.
When I first moved over, I began migrating my research into Google Drive. This was the part I was most unhappy about; I really liked Scrivener’s all-in-one binder, and I wasn’t keen on nesting everything in Google Drive folders. But accessibility was more important than convenience for me.
At the beginning of this process, I also created a spreadsheet to track my daily writing progress. But adding up all the words across different drafts was cumbersome. Even so, Scrivener 1 only has a word count tracker per session, so I didn’t lose anything there.
Since publishing this post, I’ve moved over to Notion for just about everything, including word count tracking. Although I haven’t yet experimented with adding my research to Notion, I can attest that the app is a great solution for storyboarding, outlining, and storing research. I’m in the process of creating Notion templates for writers who need an intuitive second brain for their work.
Will I ever return to Scrivener?
When I first published this post, I said I would “certainly give Scrivener 3 a go when it finally arrives, even though I’m a little hesitant.”
With time and dozens of comments from writers and software developers, I’ve changed my mind. I will not be upgrading to Scrivener 3 for Windows when it (eventually) releases.
I’m frustrated with all the broken promises, and my faith in the company has depleted completely. Plus, even when Scrivener 3 for Windows finally drops, who knows how long it will take for the Android apps to follow?
So far, I’ve test-driven SmartEdit Writer, and I’m happy with its feature set. I’m dedicating February 2021 to playing around with some of the other alternatives I and other commenters have mentioned here and writing reviews of them. Stay tuned and subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a review!
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.