Scrivener vs. Novlr – Which is the Best Writing Software For You?
Unlike Microsoft Word, their sole purpose is to help you achieve your goal of writing your novel.
Before purchasing Scrivener a couple of years ago, I did all of my writing in Microsoft Word.
The further into a manuscript I became, the more difficult I found it to navigate.
As I don’t write chronologically, I’d have to either leave a note in the document or write scenes in separate files and piece them together as I went along.
It was a horrible process.
When I discovered Scrivener, everything changed.
It’s no hyperbole to say that Scrivener changed my life.
A few people have mentioned Novlr to me in the past, so I decided to experiment and give that a go, too.
I don’t have any writing projects on it at the moment and have only used the free trial, but that’s because at present Scrivener better fits my needs (you’ll see why later on).
That being said, I think they’re both great.
I also think that which one is the right software for you will depend on several factors which we’ll explore as we go through this blog post.
If you’re looking for a blog post to tell you which one is better, then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong blog post.
If you’re looking for a blog post that weighs up the pros and cons of each, then you’ve come to the right place.
This is one of the longest blog posts I’ve written, so if you don’t have time to read it all or want a quick recap, there’s a tl;dr version at the end.
Before we begin…
When I first wrote this, I wasn’t a Scrivener affiliate. As of January 2018 I am, but that doesn’t change the thoughts or feelings that are expressed in this blog post.
I’m writing this purely to help you decide which is the best writing software for you.
So, without further ado…
Scrivener was created as a Mac product, therefore the OS X version is their priority.
There is a Windows version available, but I believe it has a few less features (please correct me if I’m wrong—I don’t know any Scrivener users that use Windows!).
There’s also an iOS version for Scrivener, which we’ll look at later.
Novlr is more Windows-friendly and isn’t picky about what type of computer you use, but it doesn’t like mobile devices.
If I were to decide purely on looks, Novlr would win hands down.
Scrivener is ugly and a little bit outdated in how it looks, while Novlr is firmly from the 21st century.
Novlr is far easier to get your head around without any external help.
This is both because it has a cleaner interface and because it has fewer features.
Scrivener comes with many features that make it so much more than just a writing software—it’s also a great organisational tool.
You can create a corkboard of your project with notes on each document or chapter and colour code sections, which can make organising things easier if you’re a visual person.
You can also annotate your writing, which is a crucial part of my editing process. When I read through a manuscript, I make notes of things I’d like to change then go back to it later on.
Scrivener also allows you to create tables.
This is something that I do often for the What Happens in… world as there’s a lot going on and it can be difficult (even for me) to remember what happened when.
Being able to organise it in this way saves me copious amounts of time because I don’t need to work things out from memory or flick through notebooks: everything is in the same place.
Scrivener also allows you to create character bios and location descriptions, which can really help you to get into the mood of where you’re writing.
Character and location descriptions aren’t features in Novlr yet, but they are in their pipeline.
There’s a full list of current and upcoming Novlr features on their website.
I did a draft of this blog post via dictation (more on that in a future blog post), then copied it and pasted it into Novlr to edit.
It added in some random line breaks in places there didn’t need to be line breaks.
It also doesn’t give me the option to create headers or subheaders.
I imagine this is in part because you can break things up into different sections, but if you’re working on something such as a blog post, it’s a bit of a pain.
Novlr offers day, evening, and night modes, which can make it easier on your eyes if you like to write late at night.
While I was working on this post, Novlr introduced a new feature that allows you to add notes to your work in progress.
Notes can be switched on or off, and can be added to a piece with a simple double click.
Scrivener allows you to set a target word count and end date, then works out how many words you need to write each day to meet your goal by the end of your target.
There’s a progress bar that goes from red to orange to green as you get closer to your target.
You can also set goals for each chapter or section of your novel and mark them as in progress, drafted, finished etc.
It gives you the option to change these labels to whatever you like.
Novlr offers more in-depth feedback.
It works out what time of day you prefer to write, how many words you’ve written in the last month and even the last year.
It also has a graph that shows you how many words you’ve written over a period of time.
If you haven’t used the software for very long, it works out how many words you may have written in the last month or year based on what you’ve written so far in the software.
This confused me at first, as when I’d only just started using it and had only written 241 words it told me I’d written over 14,000!
Novlr also tells you how long you’ve spent writing today, this month, and this year.
Novlr backs everything up in its cloud, but you also have the option to back your work up to your Google Drive or Dropbox if you wish.
If you’re not connected to the internet, it will sync changes across when you reconnect. If you close your browser window while offline, it will still remember the changes you’ve made.
As someone who’s internet is questionable at times, I think this feature is really important.
There’s nothing worse than spending hours working on something to find that it’s not saved!
Not only that, but it means that you can turn the internet off to avoid distractions without worrying about backups.
Scrivener allows you to save your files on your hard drive, in the cloud, or on an external device.
It also backs up everything automatically so you don’t need to worry.
If you use both the mobile and desktop versions, you must have a Dropbox account as it uses Dropbox to sync the latest updates between devices.
Scrivener files can be quite large (several megabytes), so this can take up a lot of space on your hard drive very quickly.
You can back up your manuscript in a ZIP file format and set it to backup in automatically if you wish.
I had it set to automatically back up What Happens in New York every day when I first started working on it, but as the files are so large I had to stop as it filled up my Dropbox very quickly!
What Happens in New York really isn’t a large file (about 100mb, and that includes images), so if you have a slower computer that struggles to process things, Novlr may be a better fit for you.
Scrivener has a mobile version which you must buy separately from the App Store. It’s only available for iPhones and iPads.
It has many of the same features as the desktop version, but not all of them.
The biggest downside for me is that you can’t see the project as a whole if you’re editing on the mobile or tablet version.
This is fine for early drafts, but the further I get into a project the more I like to see it as a whole.
To view notes you must also click on a highlighted section—there’s no way to view a list of your notes.
I really like to skim through my notes when I’m editing so that I know what’s left to do, so this is a bit of a downside to me.
Scrivener’s mobile version also doesn’t allow you to see statistics like you can in the desktop version, which is one of my favourite features.
At present the mobile version is about £15 and has no free trial, so if you don’t feel like you’re going to use it enough it’s probably not worth the investment.
Much like the desktop version, the mobile version of Scrivener has its own steep learning curve.
If you already know the basics of Scrivener it’s not too difficult to pick up, but there are some parts of it that take some getting used to, such as how to move documents around.
While theoretically you should be able to access Novlr on mobile devices, when you try to login it does warn you that it isn’t fully optimised for mobile or tablet devices yet, and that you may encounter bugs that mean your work may not be saved.
You then have to click a button that says, ‘I accept the risks’.
I clicked the button but found that even after doing so it wouldn’t even let me login!
Exporting for digital and print
Scrivener allows you to format not only for Kindle (with a few tweaks), ePub, and Microsoft Word, but also PDF for print. There are a few other options as well, such as Final Draft, Rich Text, and MultiMarkdown.
However, formatting is still a pain.
If you’re going down the indie route and can afford to, I’d highly advise paying someone else to format your book.
Checking print versions of books for orphans and widows is one of the most boring things ever.
While Novlr doesn’t format for print, it does allow you to extract ePub or Kindle files without the adding faffing that comes with Scrivener.
Scrivener requires a one-time payment which at present is around $40/£40 for Macs and $20/£20 for the iPhone and iPad version.
Novlr, on the other hand, is a monthly payment of $10 (around £9 plus commission) that allows you to use the software on any computer, online or offline.
Novlr offers a free one-week trial.
Scrivener offers you a free trial for thirty dates of use.
This differs from most free trials as they often finish when the software has been on your hard drive for thirty days.
Scrivener doesn’t mind how long it’s been on your hard drive—your trial only ends when you’ve used it for thirty days. (Leaving it open overnight still counts.)
Is Scrivener or Novlr the right fit for you?
|Night Mode||✓ (Mobile only)||✓|
|Chapters and Sub-Chapters||✓||✓|
|Notes and Annotations||✓||✓|
|Export to Microsoft Word||✓|
|Export in Kindle Format||✓ (With some fiddling)||✓|
|Export in ePub Format||✓||✓|
|Export as PDF/Paperback||✓|
|Easy to Get to Grips With||✓|
While both Scrivener and Novlr allow writers to have more control over their end product they are two very different programs aimed at very different types of writer.
If you travel a lot or use several different devices you may be better off with Novlr.
It’s also the better option for short-term writing projects or when you main laptop or desktop is out of action for a few weeks.
If you want to keep your writing purely on one device or require the extra features of Scrivener, then you can’t really argue at a one-off payment of £30 when Microsoft Office is £70 a year and doesn’t make the process nearly as easy.
That being said, there’s no reason you can’t use both if you want to.
This can, of course, make finding your project more confusing, so if you have a lot of writing projects in progress it’s worth finding some way of keeping track of what is where to save any confusion, or just sticking to the one software since both have new features coming out all the time.
Scrivener is a highly versatile writing software that many writers swear by not just to write their books, but to help them write in-depth blog posts and even keep them organised in their day-to-day lives.
While Novlr isn’t as versatile, it’s far easier to get to grips with and offers more in-depth statistics about your writing, which could be useful if you’re trying to create a regular routine.
Whichever software you use, you can’t go wrong with either of this great writing tools.
Over to You
Which writing software do you use and why? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!
Ready to download Scrivener?
Don’t forget—you get a free trial that lasts for 30 days of use, so you have plenty of time to get to know it before you commit!