Writing Software—Which is Best?

by Annette Lyon

Q. What is the best software to write with?

A. USA-Today best-selling author says Scrivener for writing and Microsoft Word for editing.



Time-Saver and Organization Heaven

Annette Lyon:

I use Scrivener mostly for drafting and revision. Some reasons:

Big projects, like novels or nonfiction works, are impossible to keep in your head all at once. With Scrivener, I can see every chapter and/or scene at a glance and in three different ways (the binder, the note card/corkboard view, and the outline view). In each of these views, you can drag and drop entire sections to reorder them, and you can see at a glance if something is missing chronologically.

You can also label scenes and chapters with keywords, colors, and icons that make it easy to manage, remember, manipulate, etc. For example, with Band of Sisters  and its sequel (women’s fiction), I labeled the point of view in each chapter with a certain color, which quickly let me know where I was getting too heavy on one POV, or where I was missing another for too long, and so on.

Scrivener also lets you label scenes with various stages of completion: to-do, drafted, first revision, second revision, final, and so forth.

One HUGE thing I love is that there’s no scrolling or searching through a massive Word/Google document to fix a specific section. You can often just use the binder view (or corkboard or outline) to spot the chapter needing revision, click on it, and BOOM, you’re there. Big time-saver.

Handy Research Tools

One other Scrivener aspect I’ve used a time or two is the Research feature, which saved my bacon on a retreat once where we thought we’d have Wi-Fi but didn’t. I totally panicked, thinking I wouldn’t have access to the research links I needed, but then I remembered I’d already downloaded pictures and articles and saved them in my Scrivener research folder. Crisis averted!

Tools to Stay Focused and Motivated

Here are a couple of Scrivener’s fun bells and whistles that keep me motivated:

  • Their full-screen mode blocks out the background of your screen so you can focus on your work and not get distracted by things like Facebook.
  • And I love the Targets feature, which you can set for both the full project as well as for an individual writing session. The bar moves from red to orange to yellow to green as you approach your session’s word-count goal. I can’t count how many times I’ve been close to crying uncle on a scene but have somehow managed to find the juice to keep going because the bar was yellow turning green and SURELY I could endure long enough to get that bar green! (The inner writer in me is apparently easily manipulated and subject to bribery.)

I could go on, but these are some of my favorite things about Scrivener. Anyone who thinks it’s not for them is probably not familiar with what Scrivener can do and has reverted to Word simply because it’s “easier,” but all that really means is that they’re more comfortable with Word. It’s NOT easier when you’re writing a novel, memoir, or full-length nonfiction how-to/inspirational with lots of related content that needs to stay organized.



Switching to Word for the Editing Phase

I know people who use Scrivener for the whole process, but I do switch to Word for editing and production/layout.

The primary reasons are twofold:

1) I don’t know Scrivener well enough to trust my exported product. Scrivener is incredibly customizable, but that means if you don’t click and select every single option offered, you may be telling it to use Courier in a weird spot, or end up with a surprise header, or something else. One of these days I’ll get all the exporting features figured out and my preferences saved perfectly (I’m getting closer!), and then I may stick with it for more of the process.

2) Scrivener doesn’t have a Track-Changes feature, at least not yet. It does do comments, but for plain old line edits, Word is better in that respect. Plus, most professional editors still use Word, and publishers still mainly accept manuscripts in Word, so you’ll have to export to Word at some point (at least for now).

If you want to check out Scrivener or Microsoft Word, you can do so here:
Scrivener for Windows  *
Scrivener 2 for macOS  *
Microsoft Word

Final (Crucial) Tip

No matter what software you use, it’s always a good idea to save your work in the cloud AND in some other form of backup to be safe, like your hard drive. You never know when the Internet might crash (or your computer), and you could lose all your hard work. Even if you just email yourself the file after each big writing session. You’ll have greater peace of mind. So no matter which software you use, be sure to always save important docs on both your hard drive and in the cloud.

*Note: Some links in this post are our affiliate/referral links. Read our disclosure policy here. (We would never recommend a product if we or our authors didn’t think it was awesome.) 

P.S. We just learned about this software called Aeon Timeline, a visual timeline software for writing, editing, and organizing your stories. Have you heard of it? Check it out!


Annette Lyon is a USA Today bestselling author, a four-time Best of State medalist for fiction in Utah, and a Whitney Award winner. She’s had success as a professional editor and in newspaper, magazine, and technical writing, but her first love has always been writing fiction. She’s a cum laude graduate from BYU with a degree in English and is the author of over a dozen books, including the Whitney Award-winning Band of Sisters, a chocolate cookbook, and a grammar guide, and she is a regular contributor to and former editor of the Timeless Romance Anthology series. She has received five publication awards from the League of Utah Writers, including the Silver Quill, and she’s one of the four coauthors of the Newport Ladies Book Club series. Annette is represented by Heather Karpas at ICM Partners.

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