When you’re writing a book, you might come to this point where exasperation turns to desperation and you think: “There has to be a better way. There has to be a better piece of book writing software than Microsoft Word.”
Microsoft Word is the default word processor, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. And especially when you’re writing something as complicated as book, you might want a piece of writing software geared specifically toward writing a book.
In this post, we’re going to look closely at two of the best pieces of book writing software: Microsoft Word and Scrivener, and talk about where each word processor shines and where each falls short.
How Scrivener Saved Me 250 Hours Writing a Book
In 2010, I was writing what would become my first book when I got to a point where Word became impossible. I was in the middle of the second draft, and I kept have to reorganize sections to see what would make the book flow best. This was very annoying in Word.
I had to scroll, scroll, scroll, highlight the section, click “cut,” scroll, scroll, scroll to the place I wanted to put it, paste, and then re-read the section to see if I liked it there.
Often as not, I would decide the section I just moved fit better where it first was, and I would have to go move it back. Inevitably, I would forget to copy an important line of text that belonged with the section I was moving and the whole thing wouldn’t make any sense. It was so frustrating.
It wasn’t until my second book that I discovered Scrivener. It was completely different, and there was definitely a learning curve. Once I got the hang of it, though, I found that I loved how it was geared specifically toward writing books. And its effectiveness showed in my productivity.
My first book, written solely with Microsoft Word, took me 550 hours to write. The second book, written with Scrivener, took me only 200 hours.
Of course, some of this was because it was my second book and I had refined my process. But I believe Scrivener saved me hundreds of hours of time, not to mention frustration.
I’ve finished six books on scrivener, not to mention half-a-dozen short stories, and I every day I learn new ways to use it, depending on the needs of my project.
But let’s break down Microsoft Word and Scrivener’s features so we can see what each is best at.
Scrivener vs. Word: Which Is Better Book Writing Software?
Both Scrivener and Microsoft Word are effective word processors, but each thrives when used for specific tasks. Let’s compare the two, specifically as book writing software:
Ubiquity. Microsoft Word is the industry standard, and the default word processor for millions of people. And that is a huge advantage for writing a book. Since almost everyone has Microsoft Word and knows how to use it, it makes it very easy to collaborate using it. For example, most editors edit books in Word and therefore require their clients to submit manuscripts in Word formats (.doc).
Great for editing. Word’s track changes feature is great for collaborating with an editor. It allows you to easily see what changes they’ve made, accept or reject those changes, or completely revert back to the original. Very handy for polishing up your final draft. In fact, for most of my books, I moved them from Scrivener to Word for the editing process to take advantage of this feature. (However, since Google Docs added “Suggestion mode,” which is the equivalent to track changes, I’ve started using it almost exclusively in replacement of Word for the editing process.)
Great formatting. Word is a “what you see is what you get” word processor (WYSIWYG or Wizy-wig), and as such, it’s really effective. The way your book looks on the screen as you type it is the same way it will look on the page when you print: if you write the entire book in 18 pt Papyrus font, it’ll stay that way when you send it to an editor or print out a hard copy (and they will be sad because 18 pt Papyrus is a terrible idea). That makes it easy to see what your formatting will look like from the start and make changes along the way.
Simple. For most people, Microsoft Word was one of the first programs they ever used on a computer. It’s simple, convenient, and it works, even for writing a book!
Single document. The major drawback of Word when you’re writing a book is that it limits you to a single, linear document. This means you’re kind of forced to work linearly through your draft. If you get an idea for chapter five, but you’re working on chapter two, it’s not easy to just put that idea in the chapter five folder; you have to put it below in random space. It also means that if you want to make chapter two into chapter three, you have to copy and then literally delete that chapter before pasting it below the new chapter two. This makes for some awkward maneuvering.
Not designed for books. Because Word wasn’t originally designed for documents as large as books, as your book grows, it becomes more and more unwieldy.
Gets slow after you get over certain sizes. For me, this was 30,000 words. After I reached 30,000 words, every time I opened up my book, it took several minutes to load. Even after it opened, I would have to wait until it loaded the pages below. This is really frustrating when you’re antsy to get writing.
You can use it for publishing, but it’s not easy. I’ve personally used Word to publish several books on Kindle, Nook, and other online retailers. It’s not easy or elegant. You have to format every header and chapter title with “Heading 1” and “Heading 2,” remove all indents, save the document in HTML, upload to Kindle, check the proof for formatting errors (which there inevitably are), and then start over. You almost always have to use a program called Sigil, an epub editor, to clean up the file before you publish it. It’s possible, but definitely a hassle. (Note: Now, I use Vellum for this. It’s amazing, and we’ll be reviewing it soon.)
Still, if you decide you have to use Word to publish your book, you can grab Amazon’s own guide on the process here. It’s free, too, which is nice.
Fine but annoying. You can use Word to write books. But the problem is that as your book grows it becomes more and more difficult to work with.
Made specifically for writing books. While Microsoft Word gets more and more difficult to use the bigger your document gets, Scrivener gets more and more useful as your document grows. That’s mainly because of its “binder feature,” which is a simple but game-changing advance for word processors. The Binder allows you to separate your chapters and individual scenes into folders and subdocuments, which you can then drag and drop wherever you feel like they fit best. It’s SO freeing! Trust me, you’re going to love it.
Here’s a screenshot of my latest book in Scrivener. Notice the Binder on the left with all my chapters, sections, and even supporting documents.
Features specifically designed for each step of the book writing process. If the Binder mode was the only difference, then Scrivener would instantly be so much better than Word for writing books. But fortunately, there are dozens of features that make Scrivener awesome for book writing. Here are just a few:
Corkboard mode. Organize your scenes/sections graphically. Drag them around as if it were index cards on real corkboard. (You can even print them out and maneuver them.)
- Composition mode. Want distraction free writing time? Composition mode goes full screen, taking away any visual distractions. Used in combination with Freedom, you’ll have no choice but to write.
Project targets. Scrivener honestly has more features than I need, but one that I use constantly is Project Targets, which allows you to set a deadline and projected word count for your draft and then see how many words you have to write each day to meet that deadline. You can also set it up so you just have a daily word count goal, 1,000 words a day for example, and it will hold you accountable to that (as much as writing software can hold you accountable that is).
Write wherever you are with the Scrivener App. Scrivener recently released its iOS app (you can find it here), which you can sync with your desktop and then write and edit your book wherever you are.
Fair publishing support. One of Scrivener’s selling points is that you can export directly to Kindle and ePub file types, making it much easier to publish your book than Word. (Again, Vellum is even easier and makes much more beautiful eBooks. We’ll be reviewing it soon!)
Formatting is frustrating. Formatting is clunky on Scrivener. And when you format within the document, that doesn’t mean that your formatting choices will all go to print. For example, while Word is a “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) word processor, Scrivener has chosen to apply formatting mainly when you compile the document for print or export. You might write your book in white 18 pt Papyrus on a blue background, but when you prepare it to print, it will format the book according to different formatting settings you’ve selected, like black 12 pt Times New Roman. That means you can customize your writing space to write however you’d like without worrying about messing up how your book will look (or making your editor sad with 18 pt Papyrus). But when it comes to the nitty-gritties of formatting, it’s kind of annoying.
Collaborating isn’t easy. When you’re working with an editor, or even a co-author, Scrivener gets difficult. Part of this is because Scrivener is just not as ubiquitous as Word, and so if your editor doesn’t have it, you’re forced to switch to Word, the industry standard. Also, like Word, Scrivener has some track changes and commenting features so that you can collaborate with an editor, but they’re not as easy to use or convenient as Word’s. Personally, after I finish my second draft and start working with editors, I prefer Google Docs.
Scrivener is the premier book writing software. And it just keeps getting better. If you’re writing a book, save yourself time by getting scrivener.
In fact, we believe in Scrivener so much, we published a book about how creative writers can write more, faster using it. It’s called Scrivener Superpowers. If you’re using Scrivener or want to save yourself time as you learn how to use it for your creative writing, you can get Scrivener Superpowers here.
Which book writing software do you use? Let us know in the comments!
The right book writing software is helpful, but what really matters is that you’re writing. So today, let’s get writing.
- First, open your favorite book writing software. If you don’t have a favorite, get Scrivener (here for Mac / here for Windows).
- Then, write 100 words. You can continue a work in progress or free write (bonus points if you use project targets on Scrivener to keep track of your words).
- When you meet your target word count, copy and paste your writing into the comments section below and share it for feedback.
- After you share, give feedback on a few practices from other writers.