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The written word…without Word

You're probably intimately familiar with some sort of word processing software, especially if you're a writer. But, while Microsoft Word and similar programs are great for formatting a finished manuscript, business letters, and other documents, they may not be the best software for writing a story.

There are several programs out there for writers, and there's a good reason for it. Traditional word processors force you to write linearly, or cobble together multiple documents if you don't.  Good writing software can free you to write in the way that works best for you.

At a friend's suggestion, I tried Scrivener (UPDATE 1/13/11: Which now has a Windows version in the works) and ended up buying it well before the free trial ended. Each writing project is organized as a collection of files, all accessible from the same screen, much like being in Finder (or Windows Explorer).

I can write a scene–or an outline of a scene–when inspiration strikes, and save it for later (see Unused Scenes below). I can easily move scenes around, create scene cards for them, search for terms across all scenes, search by keywords, keep project and scene notes, import research documents and web sites, and so much more. I don't know how I ever lived without it!

I use the Resources section to hold links to research web sites, a file where I keep track of my daily productivity, a character list, photos of places or character inspirations, character questionnaires, and most important of all, a folder called Unused Scenes, where I store cut scenes to scavenge for useful bits, and potential future scenes.

For those who are easily distracted, Scrivener even offers a full screen mode. And, in the end, you can export the whole project to Word, or another program, either fully formatted, or ready to format.

If you're serious about writing, consider switching to software that works with your writing style, not against it.

The main writing screen…

Resources Section…

Happy Writing! (No Daily Squirrel today, this post is already long enough…)

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

Tell your friends!


  1. Christine


    I love Scrivener for first draft writing and for organizing my writing. It is wonderful for shifting scenes around and more. I haven’t fully utilized the research folder with links because I am techno challenged. But now that I see how you use it, I may have to figure it out in the new year when I have more time to fritz around with the program.

    The only thing I don’t like about Scrivener, that you might be able to help me with in person, is when I export the entire compilation to MS Word, the formatting gets messed up. Argh. I cannot do my final draft/polishing in Scrivener–the sand through silk must occur throughout the entire doc for me.

    • Barbara Saunders


      I wouldn’t count that against Scrivener. For my day job, I’m formatting old Word docs in Word and having the same problem.

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  4. Reply

    As an academic writer, I love Scrivener but also had formatting issues when exporting, especially footnotes. MS Word gets them wrong (and often chokes on any document of more than about ten pages), and Apple Pages loses them entirely. I found that a word processor called Mellel handles them flawlessly, and it can export to MS Word when I have to share with Microsofties. I cannot use Word’s annotations feature, but that’s an acceptable sacrifice. OpenOffice Writer also handles footnotes correctly, and it’s free — but also bulky and uglier than the alternatives. It gets better all the time though.

    • Reply

      I haven’t had too many problems with exporting to Word since I fooled around with the Compile Draft settings, but I don’t use footnotes. I can see how that would be frustrating.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing some alternatives to Word!

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  6. Jan Gardner


    I have several chapters already written. How should Import them where I can keep adding chapters?

    • Reply

      Hi, Jan. You can select the Draft/Manuscript folder and go to File>Import>Import Files, then select the ones you want and click Import. Or, you can drag the files from Finder or File Explorer directly into the Binder. 😀

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