Updated June 6, 2021 | Originally published December 8, 2019
When I published this post out of frustration with Scrivener, 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! Please note I reserve the right to moderate comments as I see fit.
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I want to preface this post with a disclaimer: 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.
So Scrivener seemed like the perfect solution to keep everything together. And it worked — for awhile.
I published this post in December 2019, after using Scrivener for more than a year and impatiently awaiting the Scrivener 3 for Windows release. At the time, I shared a laptop with my husband and also wrote on my tablet, which served as a decent substitute with a fold-out keyboard and decent RAM.
When I was using Scrivener 1, it was miles behind Scrivener for Mac. No free-form corkboard, no word count tracking, no mobile apps. My ideal setup required all three. I counted down the days until August 30, 2019, after the Literature & Latte team announced it as the release date. The lead Windows developer promised to “commit and be held personally responsible” for a release later than that.
Months turned into years. The L&L team changed the date to “later in 2019” and told us it would be a matter of “weeks, not months.” In December, we got a vague release date of “in 2020.”
So, like many of the writers who commented on this post, I lost faith in the L&L team. I felt the delays were unacceptable. But I did my best to give them grace. I’ve never worked as a software developer, but I have worked in retail, and I never want to be that asshole customer who heckles people for not moving fast enough.
Scrivener 3 for Windows was finally released in March 2021. I haven’t had much time to play around with it, but I’ll admit the new program looks awesome. That’s great, but I moved on years ago. As did many other Windows users.
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.
Plottr is a robust novel plotting tool with a ton of features. I found this alternative improves upon some of Scrivener’s best features, including the scene cards and outlines. Although there’s no built-in word processor, it’s the ultimate companion for organizing your plot, creating your characters, storing your research, and so much more.
Plottr is a paid but affordable program at $25 per year. Check out my full review for a rundown of Plottr’s features!
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.
Shoutout to The Almighty OS for recommending this program in the comments! Campfire Blaze is a stunning program with all the bells and whistles writers need, like maps, plotlines, timelines, character building, a manuscript editor, export options, and so much more. The developers are currently working on mobile apps. It’s free to try for 10 days, with a pricing model similar to Scrivener starting at $49 for lifetime access.
yWriter is one of three programs recommended by author Don DeBon in the comments of this post. Created by an author, yWriter is a no-frills program with a minimalist interface. There’s an Android app (woo!). Unfortunately, as Don noted, the creator has since retired, so the program won’t be updated anymore. Don kindly left detailed comments describing the features of this program, so search the comments for even more information!
My chosen alternatives 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.
Pen and paper
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.”
I then updated this post saying I changed my mind, that I’d refuse to upgrade to Scrivener 3. But I changed my mind again now that it’s released. I’m going to play around with it and see if the upgrade was truly worth the wait. I’m grateful I qualified for the free update, because I certainly wouldn’t have paid for the program again.
However, I cannot and will not use the program to complete my current novel. I’ve already created a setup that works for me in other programs, and I’m still frustrated with the delays in releasing the new version of the program.
So far, I’ve test-driven SmartEdit Writer and Plottr, and I’m happy with their features. I’m currently 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 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.