Why My Affair with Scrivener Didn’t Work Out (So Far)

A bit of background first. Way back when I switched to Mac from PC, also bought and used Parallels for Mac so I could continue to write in Word Perfect. Word, as a professional writing tool is horrible. I hate it. None of the default Word settings are correct for what’s required for a novel and trying to fix a formatting issue in Word tends to create a bigger mess.

With Word Perfect, however, I can do everything I need to do and fix problems easily. My WP novels automatically number my pages and chapters and allow me to have the title page and headers I want.

I’d heard wonderful things about Scrivener but it was a while before I wasn’t in the middle of a project with a deadline. I decided my current project was perfect for testing a switch to Scrivener. It’s a novella, so I’d have an answer quickly and if it didn’t work, switching back to WP wouldn’t be all that onerous.

Here’s the Number One Important Thing for Me, the requirement that has to be in place No. 1:

I need to not waste time figuring out what/how to do things. I need to spend my time writing.

I don’t mind spending some time learning. But it needs to be quality learning, not frustrating learning.

What Went Wrong

1. The novel formatting template would not allow me to change fonts. As soon as I started typing text using that template with the default font set to my preference, the font reverted back to the original default font. WHICH I HATED. I have a font I like to use that’s easy on my eyes. I read up on changing preferences, googled etc and nothing solved my problem. I could not get the damn template to accept my preferred font. For that reason, I abandoned the novel template and started from scratch.

2. Things went pretty well for a while. Until I decided I needed to start generating some compiled versions. Suffice it to say, I could not make it create a title page that wasn’t recognized as a chapter and incorrectly numbered. I Googled some more, read some more, consulted the knowledgebase and help and there was no set of enumerated steps that worked as advertised. When I tried to search for the words that appeared to be relevant, I got ZERO results.

When I finally, after HOURS of trying, found a way to make a title page that didn’t get counted as a chapter (and that still didn’t work in a way that was at all logical to me) all my chapters ended up with TWO lines for the chapter heading. (Chapter X was repeated twice for each chapter.) Not only that, but page numbering moved, for some reason, to the bottom of the page. WHY? THAT’S NOT WHERE THEY GO FOR A Novel. At that point, I gave up.

3. The Scrivener help file is awful. The Knowledgbase and forum searching are likewise difficult to search and did not return relevant or helpful results. None of the books I consulted were helpful. They were, sadly, based on working assumptions that do not in any way match the way I need to write.

A Few Other Issues

1. Not all writers need or want structure
2. I no longer write chapter scenes. I haven’t for years. But I STILL had to create chapter folders in order to get chapter numbering. WHY? And once I did that, there was no way to create a title page that didn’t screw up all the numbering.
3. The problem with templates is that most people need/want to customize them. Therefore, customizing a template needs to be easy and it wasn’t. The instructions for changing defaults DID NOT WORK.

I can’t waste any more time on this.

I’m totally bummed because there’s a lot other features I would love to use.

If anyone knows how to make any of this work, I’m all ears.


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24 Responses to “Why My Affair with Scrivener Didn’t Work Out (So Far)”

  1. KB says:

    Hi, sorry to hear you’re having problems, but did you try to drop us a line at mac.support AT literatureandlatte.com? All of your problems seem like issues we could sort out for you fairly simply. I’m sorry to hear that you don’t like the help file, too, as Ioa hs worked tirelessly on it, and I think he’s done a really good job. Anyway, if you’re interested in continuing to use Scrivener, drop us a line and I’m sure we can get you going. If it doesn’t fit the way you write, fair enough – it won’t suit everyone, and it’s not intended to be a cookie cutter solution (what can be, for writing?).
    All the best,
    (Scrivener creator)

  2. Tamara says:

    Whenever I say something slightly uncomplimentary about a company like Comcast or AT&T, their minions comb the Interwebs and pounce with copy/pasted apologies and phone numbers to call customer service. However, I must say that I have never had one of them write, “Well, we at Duke Energy have worked tirelessly to keep your life running smoothly, and I think we’ve done a really good job.” Translation: we have no intention of improving ourselves, and if something goes wrong it’s The Users’ Fault.

    A few tips for Keith: (a) it’s never The Users’ Fault. (b) Help documentation is a last resort; the design should be usable enough that your buddies don’t have to “work tirelessly” to explain how to perform “fairly simple” tasks. And (c) leaving defensive comments online doesn’t get customers back in the door; it drives them in the opposite direction. It’s safe to say I will never touch Scrivener now, even though I was interested initially when my friends gave it good reviews.

    That said, I add that I’ve been pretty happy using Microsoft Word for my writing, though it took a few years to master the settings and odd layout of controls. Once I discovered Quick Styles and how to mass find/replace based on formatting, my life got a lot easier. However, it can run /really/ slow if you have a large document, and the filtered HTML output is horrendous. I used WordPerfect as a kid because it was so simple and straightforward. If I weren’t so entrenched in my ways I might go back to it.

    • Tamara:
      There’s a LOT to like about Scrivener so I’m really hoping to get this resolved in a happy way. I know writers who adore it and I can see why. That said, I didn’t think Keith was blaming me though I would respectfully posit that the problem with most Help documents is they are written, sometimes even very well, from the inside. I would love it if companies had their tech writers observe new users attempting to use their documentation. I think they’d pretty quickly see where vocabulary issues get in the way, and a host of other things as well.

      The Word help documentation suffers from the same problem, by the way. If I don’t know the Word vocabulary it’s going to be hard for me to use the right words to find the help I need. And, the less I know about Word, the less likely I am to stumble on the correct phrase — so Help is actually the least helpful to the very people who need it. To my mind, that’s a universal problem.

  3. Barry says:

    I used MSO Word and LibreOffice. The downside of word processors that they can’t catch grammar errors. One has to edit those darn drafts the old fashioned way. Keeping the writing tight, at the same time, making every word work for one. Easier said than done, but can make a person yank his/her hair out in clumps.

    An online friend of mine used scrivener software. He liked it so far. Though it took him sometime to master the basics of using it.

    On a personal note, word processors can be a little twitchy at times.

    • Yeah, the grammar checking in Word Processors are pretty awful. Every software has its twitchiness. I would very much like to wrestle Scrivener to the ground. I’ve since heard from several other authors that they don’t use the templates either.

  4. I’ve spend endless hours struggling with almost all these issues in Scrivener….but I still love the program. In the end, I think they compile a very nice Kindle/epub file.

    1) put the title page, etc., under “research” in a file labeled “front matter.” Then, when you compile the book, check the box that says, “include front matter.” This way, it won’t be a chapter.

    2) Don’t ever use a scrivener template. I agree, they’re awful. I always start with a blank document. I set up three folders for Part I, Part II, Part III and then make every chapter a file in one of those folders. This makes for a lovely table of contents.

    3) Don’t write “Chapter One” etc in your files. Use compile to put those headings in after the fact. That way, you won’t get duplicates.

    Hope some of this helps. E-mail me if you need more….I’ve been on all the forums, etc. I swear, it’s worth it in the end….

    • Thanks Diana!

      I didn’t write “chapter ” in my file, that’s why the double appearance of it with the template was so confusing to me. I’ll probably email you with some specific questions.

  5. Lindsey E says:

    I hope everything works out since I want you writing more stories and not messing with computer programs. Not familiar with Scrivener other than what Dana Maire Bell blogged about her decision to use WriteWay.
    Best of luck.

  6. KB says:

    Carolyn – I see Ioa has written you a long reply to your email to support; I hope it is helpful.

    Tamara – I’m not really sure what I’ve done to offend you (and I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on several of your points), but c’est la vie.

    As for the templates, I don’t use them much myself, either, to be honest, but many of our users really like them.

    Anyway, I’m sorry I seem to have kicked off a little ill-feeling here – that certainly wasn’t my intention; I was genuinely trying to help, nothing more. I’ll push off now. 🙂

    All the best,
    (Scrivener creator – not a minion!)

    • Keith:

      I appreciate you stopping by, I really do. Templates totally work for some people. I know LOTS of writers who love Scrivener and I can see parts that I will find very helpful. I haven’t had time to look at Ioa’s email in detail yet, mostly because I’m now in the middle of my project and need to push through. But I will, and I have high hopes that the information there, and from reaching out to more experienced users will get me on my way quite nicely.

  7. Patti O'Shea says:

    I don’t know if you’re interested or not, but Gwen Hernandez gives an awesome class on how to use Scrivener. (She might have info on her website for her next class.) I foundered hopelessly with the program until I took the class, but now I love it. I created my own template setup exactly the way I like and it’s been going well.

    Of course, I haven’t written anything in a few months because of my move and I hope I didn’t forget everything I learned.

  8. Sara says:

    I, too, am really struggling with Scrivener; much of it is extraordinarily counterintuitive, and the manual is almost incomprehensible. But the ability to organize my research and move individual scenes around is highly useful, so I feel like I’m stuck with it.

    In any case: the current problem I’m having, too, is finding a simple direction for how to change the default font, so that I don’t have to manually do it every time I open a new text. Can anyone guide me? I’ve been a writer and editor for 15+ years and am no technophobe, so I can say that is one of the most simple, basic tasks that users should NOT have to spend hours trying to figure out.

  9. Barry says:

    I m back. I had to google to find this again.
    Anyways what is really needed is how to use scrivener videos. step by step, the way a user who is not technical, would understand.

    I noted that certain software likes to fight its user. whenever he or she is writing a story. refusing to budge at times.

    Like other people who’s comfortable with their word processors. I usually set my new font settings to default. then concentrate on writing.

    I haven’t downloaded scrivener software yet, so I can’t comment on it.

    off topic. After migrating to another machine just recently. I had to make due with what’s available. And being somewhat of a cheapskate, I used libreoffice.
    It’s easier said than done, when tuning out distractions.

    • Barry:

      Sadly, right now I live where the internet is terrible. Watching videos on the web is a PAINFUL experience. It can literally take 40 minutes to watch a 15 minute video. So that won’t work for me as of yet. A while back, I tried Open Office, but Open Office choked when the MS got to a certain size and eventually, a 100K word novel gets to that size.

      As to default fonts, all too often that default font is Times New Roman, which I think is ugly (a highly subjective opinion, of course) but which also gives me a headache, which is an objective observation that applies to me. What I want is the font I like and that is easy on my eyes on screen and on paper.

      I found that Scrivener did a pretty good job of getting out of the way of my writing process. I’m very used to working with documents in chunks, as Scrivener assumes will be done. What I struggled with was compiling the documents so it was formatted the way a novel needs to be formatted for US publishers — which the Scrivener template is not. I do a fair amount of printing out and then editing on paper, so I need to compile often, both in case I want to print out what I have so far and so I can check and log my nightly word count as well as save off nightly copy.

      It’s the compiling bit that didn’t work for me. I couldn’t make it output the way I need it to. The last thing I want is to be trying to prepare my final document on the deadline day and fighting it. That would be a nightmare and a business disaster.

      However, I am confident that these are all things I can overcome. Just not when I’m in the middle of a project! I’ll try again when I start the next one.

      If you do use Scrivener, I’d love to know how it works out for you!

  10. Barry says:

    Wow. that’s a downer, a friend of mine in the US is on dial up. I have read that some people have crappy internet connection.

    Yeah, I agree that fonts should be easy on the eyes. both on screen and on paper.

    I love whacking at my keyboards offline, I can’t stand online word processor. the internet here can sometimes go offline. As for open office, it’s still in the incubation period.

    I use my USB key when writing, that way I won’t lose anything. LibreOffice is a decent software. MS Office is pretty darn expensive.

    word processors are supposed to be tools that make a writer’s work bearable.

    To be a writer one has to be crazy to a degree.

  11. Barry says:

    I am thinking of downloading and using scrivener software. at the moment being dirt poor, I will have to make due with what’s available.

    though at times, life has a way of spoofing on one.

  12. Barry:

    I definitely agree with you about the various word processing programs. I’m glad there are alternatives to expensive programs like MS Word.

    I also have to agree that we writer types are, if not crazy, quite different!

  13. xavier says:

    I am new to scrivener, and like all applications there is a learning curve. It doesn’t work like word or anything else. I too had issues around the title page etc, I watched the tutorials and they didn’t help. i eventually figured out a way but I am convinced the frontmatter works best with a template, maybe not but that is what i have experienced (i can’t find a way to format the title page for the style of output). Overall I think it is pretty cool. The formatting options (level 1+) in compile are not as intuitive as i think they can be but if you play around with them for a while you will understand them better – there is also a tutorial on the website regarding compile. Overall for 50 bucks it is a damn good piece of software as for a grammar checker I use Grammarian. I find it works well and has extensive options.

  14. Erec says:

    I used Scrivener for my first novel (and am using it for my second), and found it great as an organizational tool (once I learned not to try to make it do what I thought it should do, and what it seemed the creator thought it should easily do!). For me, playing with it, I found out what I could easily make it do, and that turned out to be useful. Having a nice way to block chapters/scenes/ideas and shuffle them around easily made Word/Pages/WorPerfect linear-style formatting of books the LAST step I wanted, not the constant setup.

    When the novel is mostly done, then I export for the format needed (usually Word because of widespread use). However, it is a fight to get scrivener to make it output the way I want. But that is the last stage, and I can do clean up in Word after that.

    BTW, it is amazing to get a direct email (two of them) from the creator of a product. I didn’t have any problems with how he interacted, but I’m kind of thick skinned. But it should go a long way that he took the time to come here and personally engage. Now, Scrivener isn’t a Goliath, so it’s nothing to pass out about. But I’d take it as a sign that they really do want to work with their customers.

    • There’s a lot I love about Scrivener and if I could easily have solved the output issue, I would have continued using it. I just ran out of time to solve the issue given my deadline. I intend to try again when I’m not on a wicked tight deadline. One of these days.