This software is inscrutable and damn near unusable

I made a terrible mistake: I used scrivener to compose an essay, and it’s so difficult to use that I have to look up how-tos on everything from footnote formatting to figuring out how to make the display have enough differentiation for me to see.
I have 2000 words, and when i compile it, paragraphs are broken out across 2-3 pages. I can’t figure out how to just … embed a picture without the software burping out garbage all around it for pages.
My essay is now late, and I’m going to have to copy everything into Word and start from scratch, because I have spent more time looking up what should be really basic formatting steps than I have researching and writing the paper. Waste of money, waste of time. If your software user manual rivals War and Peace in length, your software is not user friendly.

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Hello. In order for someone to help you, you should have more specific information. It may be an improper configuration. The ease of use is quite relative. For me, as an advanced user and programming student, it took me a couple of hours to know how to use all the functions of Scrivener. And if something is not clear, the manual explains it well. You have to be patient. 2000 words for an essay is almost nothing. Even if it contains advanced formatting you can always copy and paste.



I can empathise, when I think back to my first encounters with Scrivener.

Initially, I found the software to be quite unintuitive to use, and I was very frustrated, and I still think that it is not a tool that you can expect to be able to use immediately.

However, Adrlopgal makes some good points when he writes that the ease of use of Scrivener is relative, and that prep (becoming familiar with Scrivener), and reading the manual - plus other strategies I mention below - can help a lot.

Once I had made up my mind to make an effort to really get to know the program (and it took me longer than Adrlopgal), my experience of Scrivener changed completely, and I now cannot function without it.

I use Scrivener for fiction, and many non-fiction projects, including using it as a kind of low-level database.

I really would suggest watching the tutorials here on the L and L website, asking questions on the forums, watching Youtube videos, and reading articles, in order to familiarise yourself with the way Scrivener works.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

All the best.


Yes, you did. You should never switch to new software with an imminent deadline. Never. Even if you are told that this new software is the best writing application there is. Because new means different—if it were not different, then switching would be superflous—and you have to learn the new first. Learning takes time and is best done playfully and without pressure. Spending time on something other than writing with a deadline increases the pressure immensely.

In some respects, Scrivener is very different from word processors like Word. So it will take a bit more time than switching to, say, LibreOffice, which is very similar to Word.

Is it worth learning Scrivener? Yes, it is. In my opinion, you won’t find a better software for writing long texts, academic papers and research-heavy texts. Once you understand how it works, you will find how great and actually time-saving working with Scrivener is.

To get there, the tutorial is the best place to start, not War and Peace, pt. II. And this online community will be at your side when you need it.

So I recommend that you give Scrivener another try—when you are ready.


I would also suggest that it’s partly a question of choosing the right tool for the job. I have written three academic books in Scrivener and wouldn’t use anything else, but for everyday, short documents (letters, reports and policies, etc.) I use Word; Scrivener feels like overkill, especially since I don’t have to refer to lots of research notes.

And even with books, I always give the final, compiled ms a polish using Word (I just know it so well that its formatting options seems more intuitive than Scrivener’s. Plus Scriv doesn’t fully support the bibliographic software I rely on.)


I agree completely. I think Scrivener can be incredibly useful but there are so many obstacles to using it comfortably - it seems there has to be an advanced level of user skill for it to be a functional tool - in its current state I cannot see it ever being more than a niche product used by a relatively few loyal users. I like how all my research and planning can be held in one application but I feel like every single time I use this software, there is some new thing that I have to research, which strips away any desire to write by the time I figure it out (if I do).

I purchased Scrivener for iPad, Mac, and Windows, wanting a powerful cloud-based program that I can use whenever inspiration struck (or time was available). I am an extremely busy professional, so I write when I can.

After about a year of trying to learn this software, today I am giving up. Opening one of my projects on iPad, all good. Opening it on my Mac, I received a warning that my project was located in my backup folder and to move it. It took me a second to realize which file was my project, but I had wondered if settings would need to be changed across all my devices. If not, am I risking my work? Why doesn’t the software prevent this automatically? I began experimenting with my settings, searching the Net, playing with the software across my Mac and iPad, and then it hit me. I no longer felt like writing.

Scrivener is unique and has great potential but I can see this software will never get past being half-baked. I can only hope that a larger software company either purchases this company or straight up reinvents the product, because I think this great idea deserves better than the people who are developing it at the moment. For now, I will be writing in Word and doing all my research in OneNote. Perhaps less elegant than a single application but I guarantee I will be writing more, and isn’t that the point?

I can’t imagine starting this software project would cost more than a million dollars and out of spite and frustration, I am seriously now trying to figure out if there is any ROI in creating my own superior product. If I do, I hope to see you all using it one day because Scrivener deserves to be left behind. The fact that the most proficient user on this thread is a programming student speaks volumes about who this software is written for.

It’s 2024 and we are on the verge of having self-driving vehicles, autonomous robots in our homes, and verbal user interfaces with our machines. I 100% don’t think software should require this much effort, and anyone who does seems out of touch with where we are today. Today we read books on e-tablets and carry thousands of songs and movies with us in our pockets. We order items from the world’s largest online market and these purchased items are delivered to our doorsteps, sometimes the very next day. This is not the Victorian era but I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if I heard most dedicated Scrivener users still own typewriters or have at least one fountain pen. I disagree and absolutely feel Scrivener should not be revisited by the above user. We should be okay with voicing our objection with this product in this space, because devs really need to hear this.

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I like Scrivener and use it effectively for profit.


We do. And there’s a whole lot of software working behind the scenes to make those things happen. Much of it vastly more complicated than Scrivener. It should not be the least bit surprising that software on the creation side (Scrivener, PhotoShop, Publisher, Garage Band, etc.) is more complex to use than software on the consumption side (Kindle, iTunes, YouTube, etc.).


“I can’t imagine starting this software project would cost more than a million dollars and out of spite and frustration, I am seriously now trying to figure out if there is any ROI in creating my own superior product.”

If it’s a superior product, then there would be ROI, no? What’s the expression along the lines of build it, and they’ll come?

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If a software product was too difficult for you to learn after a year of trying, it’s a safe bet that trying to build a similar product yourself will be beyond your reach.

This is because, relatively speaking, Scrivener is not difficult and software development is very difficult.

That said, if you decide to take on the challenge of building a product yourself, I wish you all the best in your endevour. Scrivener itself was developed by a non-coder who thought he could build a better app, which proves that anything’s possible if you put in the work.



It is curious how sentiments like this are often expressed as bad things. I see it all the time, as if we don’t deserve software made for us either. “Only a power user could want this”, “only a programmer can understand it”, etc. When paired with the previous statement, the assertion being made is that software that appeals mainly to programmers and power users should be left behind.

Which is… curious, for someone declaring they are going to get into programming in order to make a “superior” version of something they never got on with. Good luck finding software for programmers that doesn’t mainly appeal to programmers!

Of course the whole premise is a bit strange to begin with. Scrivener certainly does not only appeal primarily or only to these such groups (using one thread to determine that is rhetorical folly). And of course that isn’t a declaration that it might not appeal more than other programs, or that some writers might not also be programmers and want software that appeals to their skill set. Most things do not exist in a cut and dry binary right or wrong world as presupposed. Unless maybe, if you’re a Sith…


:fountain_pen: An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

Clearly the statement was intended as an insult, but I’m not sure why. You can’t tell how a novel was written by reading it.

Our position has always been that writers should use whatever tools meet their needs. While we’re grateful when Scrivener is one of those tools, we recognize that there are many excellent choices out there.


I am returning to this thread for the first time in a few months, and was surprised by this post for a few reasons, and wanted to add some thoughts.

As I said in my earlier post in the thread, I could empathise with the OP’s initial experience, and yours, too, PhonyBologna, in that I found Scrivener incredibly inaccessible, and frustrating to get to grips with during the first couple of months I was using it.

This parallels my experience with the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation - i.e., audio recording program) that I use - in fact, even Scrivener’s Compile choices are simpler than the depths of that program.

And I am also reminded of my over 20 years as a psychotherapist (I am now retired), in which trying to ‘learn’ a particular psychotherapy model could also be incredibly difficult and frustrating (as well as joyful at times, too).

What all these experiences had in common, in terms of what I want to comment on here, is that ways of going about things that are ‘feature rich’ can be seductive and compelling in that they the breadth of their potential can invite us to feel that we do not know anything, and can also make us feel that we have to know everything in order to feel skilled in the use of whatever it is we are trying to learn.

And nothing is ever enough.

But, what I have learned from all of these experiences is to try to learn and practice the use of these programs, models and so on, to the extent that I can become productive - because it is very easy to become distracted from that original aim/goal.

So now, I use Scrivener to accomplish whatever I want to accomplish as best I can at that particular point in time.

And I (slowly) might also learn better ways of accomplishing my goals.

To try to approach learning something this feature rich is any other way, simply does not make sense to me, in terms of generating ‘product’, and also in terms of remaining ‘sane’.


This is excellent advice.

The number of different kinds of projects contemplated by people who write is vast, running from haiku chapbooks to dense technical theses and everything in between. Scrivener seeks to provide a toolkit that any writer can use for any project. Much of its complexity derives from that goal.

But most individual writers do not need to write chapbooks and novels and scripts and magazine articles and technical papers and … you get the idea.

A large fraction of Scrivener’s functionality can be completely ignored. It’s just that which fraction is different for everyone.


Hmmm. Internet forums… you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany.

Okay, well Scrivener isn’t a cloud-based programme. It’s an on-device programme that uses on-device documents, which you can choose to sync between devices using other cloud platforms (such as Dropbox).

You are asking why the app lets you save your projects wherever you want? Or why it is kind enough to point out if you are potentially reducing the effectiveness of your backups and/or creating the potential to open a backup version at some point in the future by mistake?

[sarcasm] How dare they?! [/sarcasm]

With all due respect, that sounds like a you issue.

Well, there are plenty of other apps out there for writing so I’d suggest trying one of those first to see if it suits your way of working better – or at the very least realise that you’d be investing a significant amount of time and resources (remembering that you are already “an extremely busy professional”) in a product market that already has a number of successful and established products to suit different ends of the market.

I’m not sure “spite and frustration” are ever good reasons to do something, and certainly not a sound basis for investment decisions. Hopefully it felt cathartic to type, at least.

It’s this, I think, that trips some people up. At it’s core, Scrivener is an incredibly simple and easy to use programme. The Binder on the left shows the document structure, and the big Editor in the middle is where you type. That’s a paradigm that should be effortlessly familiar to anyone who has ever used email, and frankly that’s all most people need to know for 98-99% of the time they are in the app.

Want to compile quickly and just get your work out to format in a different programme? Simply hit compile and use all the default settings. Voilà!

Want to do something more fancy and use Scrivener to craft an output that meets your own specific vision of a ready-for-market standard eBook? Well, you’re going to have to do a little bit of learning, my friend.

Want to simply get in there and write simple stuff? Just get in there and write! Voilà!

Want to write something heavily structured and referenced that carefully manages bibilographies or uses complex metadata to track concepts for an indexer? Well, you’re going to have to do a little bit of learning, my friend.

Now, I get that I am one of the most intelligent, attractive, witty, and popular people to have ever walked the planet(^1), but still… I managed to plan, run, write, collate and publish a collaboratively-sourced novel that was written in just a day using just an early beta release of version 1 of Scrivener for Windows, with absolutely no prior experience. So, it can’t be that hard.

(1) – This is a lie. In fact, I am an overweight middle-aged dude with no friends, who is frankly starting to look far too much like his profile picture for comfort.


And that learning will be necessary in any tool. I mean, have you seen Word lately? It is not Scrivener’s fault that some documents are more complex than others.

The thing about Word, though, is that it pretty much requires you to tackle its complexity from the beginning. The first thing you learn about Word is that you need to set up your stylesheet before you write a syllable. Then you learn about auto-numbering headings, and creating crossreferences, and all the rest. But you learn all of this in the first chapter or two. The overhead to getting a complex document started in Word is very high, but at least then it’s taken care of. (Also, because of Word’s ubiquity, there are a lot of pre-built templates out there and a lot of learning resources aimed at specific audiences.)

Scrivener is the opposite. It backloads all of the design decisions into the Compile command. You can write and edit hundreds of pages without ever thinking about how the document will ultimately look. That’s The Point. But. That means that a huge blob of complexity hits you at the end, when you thought you were nearly done. (And maybe when a deadline is looming to boot.)

(Edit to add: Consider how badly you would hate your life if you wrote 300 pages in Word without defining styles as you went. And then had to go back and format everything.)

The number one piece of advice I have for anyone writing a complex document in Scrivener is to start figuring out the Compile command early, as soon as you have enough text to experiment with. Don’t put it off. Tackle it slowly, a little bit at a time, before you have to get it done.


Thanks, Katherine.

You sum-up Scrivener’s purpose and overall scope very well.

Ironically - at least to me it is ironic - even though I now use Scrivener for 5 or 6 very different types of project (in the realms of both fiction and non-fiction), I began to learn about Scrivener’s diversity, breadth, and suitability for writing (as you say) any kind of project by initially focusing on one use - my novel.

As I went along I would ask myself, “I wonder if Scrivener can do such-and-such?”, and I was watching and reading various tutorials (and these forums) at the same time, so I gradually became aware of the breadth of the features and uses Scrivener embodies.

I am at the stage now where I am aware of certain features that I do not think I will have a use for, or perhaps I do not understand how they might fit into my use of the program, but I almost know that I will eventually, suddenly, realise, “Oh, that’s how this could be helpful for me”.


I think that’s the ideal way to do it.

Working on the support side has allowed me to see many more different applications than I need for my own writing, but it’s also turned on a few lightbulbs. “Oh, that’s a good idea. I wonder if I can use that…”


Hoo ha ha! Ah, PigFender, just get right to the heart of it don’t you?

I think others in this thread have amply replied to the OP’s concerns but I’ll add something:

The original, innovation in Scrivener is the ability to easily move blocks of text wherever they’re needed. Add to that a “distraction-free” writing desk and you have a phenomenal writing tool. Writing; not formatting. And, frankly, writing is the most important thing.

Other software packages have jumped on this bandwagon (and you may prefer their take). Scrivener was one of the first. It is now 17 years old and what has happened since is the steady addition of tools to make the writing formatted and ready for complicated requirements in innumerable areas.

Please do not forget as you struggle with compiling something you thought was simple that the reason you should use this software is to write and write easily. If the complexities of compiling overwhelm you, well then pay someone else to format it for you. If that’s too expensive, export your whole work to text, import it into InDesign and have at it. You’ll still be ahead because you were writing instead of formatting. (Yes, some people, me, for instance, think of formatting as part of the writing process but that’s a whole 'nother discussion.)