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Why The Best Writing Software Ever Developed Is No More


Why The Best Writing Software Ever Developed Is No More

There’s a reason why writers of all stripes rave about Literature and Latte’s award-winning Scrivener. But in the age on the cloud and the mobile device, this award-winning software may have been too slow to react.

scrivener logo

For a long time, Scrivener filled an important void. In an age ruled by Microsoft’s bloated Word, few companies had thought to create a product aimed specifically at fiction writers. Then came along Scrivener.

Created by Keith Blount, an aspiring British novelist who couldn’t find a writing software that would meet his needs, Scrivener quickly went on to become a darling of writers all stripes, not to mention the media, which bestowed an impressive list of awards and favorable reviews on it.

Today, Scrivener is used by novelists, scriptwriters, academics and students, lawyers, journalists, translators, and bloggers such as myself.

To understand why, picture someone writing a complex document, one with a storyline, plot, or detailed argument—in other words, pretty much anything but a simple memo or email.

Until Scrivener came along, said person would likely use word processing software like Word or Pages. But word processing software is designed for writing and printing a final document. On screen, it shows exactly what you will see when you print, treating all writing as if it were simple and linear.

Yet that’s not how most writers work—indeed, that’s not how most people think. We change our minds. We go back and forth. We outline. We play with the structure. We gather info, and we wish we could store it all in the same convenient place.

“I found that I would have dozens of Word files scattered throughout folders containing notes, ideas, partial chapters and so on. I’d copy and paste them all into a large Word file, then cut and paste the parts to restructure. (…) And I kept thinking that there must be a better software solution for this way of working, something that would allow me to rearrange a long document using synopses, to allow me to edit the text in small pieces or as a whole and so on.” —Keith Blount in an interview for AppStorm.

Because Scrivener’s developer had these key factors in mind, he was able to design a product that encourages writers to find the best structure for their arguments. It also lets them import images, PDFs, and even webpages. Lastly, it allows them to compile for printing or exporting to other programs.

(Please note this is a very brief outline of Scrivener’s features, which include MultiMarkdown support, exporting to ePub or Kindle formats, and more.)

scrivener screenshot

Thanks to these features, Scrivener conquered many a writer’s heart. But a cloud loomed in the horizon—one that the Scrivener team has yet to react to.

Enter iOS and the cloud.

screenshot of iPhone screen
Not happy my iPhone is missing a Scrivener icon.

Things have changed a lot since 2006, the year of Scrivener’s creation. According to a Forbes article, nearly a third of all American adults own a tablet or e-reader. Global mobile traffic now represents roughly 13% of Internet traffic.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to determine just how, if at all, writers differ from the overall population when it comes to mobile usage. Yet there’s no doubt that many of us have been greatly affected by the transition to portable devices and the cloud. Like most people, we gravitate from one device to the other, expecting to resume work on our iPhones and iPads even though we started it on our Macs. (Microsoft understands this all too well, having just launched Office for iPad.

That’s why many Scrivener users have made it known that they want an iOS version of Scrivener. Blount himself has admitted as much. The company started development for iPad and iPhone early enough, in 2012, promising that it would be ready for the end of that year. This was later revised to the first quarter of 2013; then, to sometime in 2014.

Yet here we are, halfway into the year, and we still have no iOS apps. Neither do we have a timeframe, for that matter. (This may just be as well, given Literature and Latte’s poor record when it comes to meeting its own deadlines.)

Too Late?

There are temporary solutions to the void caused by the lack of iOS apps for Scrivener. From the company’s website:

“Scrivener can sync with Simplenote, Index Card and apps that use Dropbox such as Daedalus, Nebulous Notes, Notebooks and PlainText. And when you get back to your main computer, just sync again to bring your changes back into your project. You can also share RTF files with collaborators—or just edit work on a computer without Scrivener—and have the changes synced back to your project using the Sync with External Folder feature.”

But this method is far from perfect. You can’t change page titles on your iPad or iPhone. Nor can you access reference material on your iOS device, since only your copy is synchronized. Most importantly, the sync function is not automatic; if you don’t get into the habit of syncing whenever you work on one device, you will find your work isn’t updated when you jump to another device later on.

Worse still, users have reported different problems, including syncing glitches and duplicate files. A commenter on this article claims they lost six months of work in 2013.

Add it all together, and it’s easy to see why some users have grown impatient. (In all fairness, most of them continue to praise Scriveners features, remarking that they have only looked elsewhere because of the lack of iOS support.) This blogger jumped ship, as have several readers of this article, some of which made no effort to hide their skepticism that Scrivener will ever come to iPad and iPhone.

This may be too pessimistic; although Literature and Latte has been late before (see here and here), it nevertheless manages to deliver, eventually, on its promise to release outstanding products that delight users.

But when you’re two years late to the game, it should not surprise you that people are frustrated.

Personally, if Scrivener’s iOS app isn’t here by the end of 2014, I will have to seriously consider an alternative. In fact, there’s good chance I’ll do that before then. As many users have stated, Storyst is a good product, not unlike Scrivener in terms of features, and it has iOS apps.

Here’s hoping Literature and Latte is all ears.

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