Reasons to move from Scrivener

I was reading several posts on the Obsidian forum when I ran across a post explaining why the poster was moving everything from Scrivener to Obsidian. She articulated what I’ve had a gut feeling about but had not yet articulated clearly to myself. Below are her comments.

I had already started using Ulysses as a better long-term option due to my increasing concerns about getting stuff out of Scrivener and the lack of any development. Ulysses seems like the next best option.

But I’m not sure Obsidian is a good solution for long writing (book length) as it lacks the ability to temporarily combine documents/sheets to get a good sense of the text flow and transitions.

I’m curious what other Scrivener users think.


I am in the process of moving all my work to Obsidian because of portability. After fourteen years, I’m moving on from Scrivener:

  • Obsidian is already a more powerful and flexible app, especially across platforms. It is also modern and progressive.
  • While it is possible to hack into Scrivener projects to retrieve the base RTF files or to export to different formats, the plain text of Obsidian and the universality of markdown are just so much more stable to work with, as well as being accessible to other apps without the need to export or compile.
  • RTF was originally developed by Microsoft in 1987 and then abandoned by them in 2008. No app should be using it natively these days. And RTF is a development cul-de-sac: there is no road ahead.
  • Scrivener is essentially a one-person company: one principal owner / developer. There’s no community input (as there is with Obsidian) and the developer is only concerned with doing things that he likes. If the ageing developer retires tomorrow or contracts Coivd and dies, the company and the app risk being lost with him.
  • Working between macOS and iOS is a nightmare with Scrivener. Syncing across platforms is terrible, and the iOS version has miserable functionality.
  • The development of Scrivener on a single platform and across multiple platforms has been ridiculously slow, with new versions being years late in their delivery. Obsidian is in another realm.
  • Scrivener is designed for linear writing and ideas. Obsidian allows thoughts and writing to develop along multiple paths and in multiple directions at the same time. Obsidian allows writers to be far more expansive and expressive.
  • Scrivener was a great product when it launched in 2007. But it launched on tech that MS killed in 2008. It badly needs to be rethought and rewritten, but there is no sign of that happening.

So glad to have found Obsidian, and feel that my work is now far more secure and far more capable of being augmented by being in plain text / markdown.

In a follow-up post she wrote:

Hello.

I only stuck to facts.

  1. Yes, it has some functionality other apps don’t have, but nothing that can’t be replicated or improved upon in some way by using other tools. It no longer has a lead in any area.
  2. RTF remains as an unreliable, basic interchange format. It has been deprecated by Microsoft, and the company has said that it shouldn’t be used. It’s also a security risk. No app should be using it as a native format. As MS says, no user should be trusting their work to it. It was last updated thirteen years ago. RTF has no future: it doesn’t sync well with mobile devices; files don’t transfer well between different writing platforms; and it was designed in an age when the focus was on supplying apps for office workers and producing work on paper. It isn’t a format for the twenty-first century. It isn’t a professional, modern, digital, portable format. It comes with short- and long-term risks for anyone who trusts their writing to it. Although people can make that choice.
  3. It’s a community dominated by closed-minded “Scrivener can’t be improved, and we love the developer” voices: a great many of them retired people who just don’t like or want to embrace change. That support has led to myopia and well-documented turgid “development”, with very little having changed in fourteen years. Fact is that today writers want to write on any device, at any time. Scrivener, largely because of the blind alley of RTF development, can’t offer that. It was built in a time before cloud services were a thing. Instead of rebuilding the app to work in the cloud-service age, the developer stuck with RTF and has ended up with an iPhone app that is a pain to sync and very limited in its capabilities. Other modern apps are the way forward. As someone who tested Scrivener before launch, when it was in beta, I hope Scrivener will change, but it has lost ground to apps like Ulysses and Obsidian, and it will be hard to lure back those who have abandoned it already. Personally, I know far more people who have given up using Scrivener than who still use it.

Angel

Angel Posted on the Obsidian Forum

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I think your later post in the thread nails it - Scrivenings & the binder are the key. RTF is old but adequate - note that she doesn’t actually identify anything missing from the format. I also think she’s totally wrong about the iOS version - I prefer writing on Scrivener for the iPad b/c of its reduced feature set, & have never had issues with syncing (b/c I can follow simple directions).

I also think if she has 14 years of work to move out of Scrivener she’s not using it right IMHO - I use it for writing projects which once compiled are done. Anything in the project that I want to keep gets exported separately. And the compiled product is in Word and/or PDF format. It’s not a good note repository for a ton of reasons, and it’s not made to be one.

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Many of those arguments are irrelevant. It’s true that Scrivener has it à development rut and it’s a one-person shop, but then what? It’s still very much alive, still very much being maintained and it’s the most powerful writing environment on the planet.

For ideation, no doubt, Obsidian is king.
For production and revision though, well, all I can say is that somebody who thinks that Obsidian can rival Scrivener probably has not spent prolonged professional time making a living with their words with the most complex projects they could achieve.

There certainly is a space where Obsidian can work as a writing environment. But it has a ceiling. Scrivener has by far the highest ceiling of all, and I’m saying this as I’ve tried to move away from Scrivener for all the irrelevant reasons mentioned above.

I had to move back to it to finish the smaller projects I’d been experimenting on.

So if you’re sure you’re never going to need the headroom, fine. But people use Obsidian because they want the most powerful tool available. Eschewing Scrivener then seems contradictory, as you never entirely know when you might need that headroom especially for a creative project. Obsidian is a formidable tool but it’s not the end of them all.

Scrivener indeed is clunky to work with on iOS because of sync, but then it works perfectly well. There are plenty of app which dont exist on iOS at all. I don’t think producing a professional manuscript with Obsidian on iOS is going to be a pleasant experience.

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Honestly, it sounds like Angel is angry about something other than scrivener and went into rant mode.

Maybe a change might be good for Angel, but not for the reasons listed.

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Ah, I could pile on these all day.

It’s a completely absurd argument. Scrivener is a production environment. If you have things stuck in Scrivener for so long that you start worrying about RTF fading away, maybe the problem is not with the software, but with your writing output. Once my books are done in Scrivener, I could throw the project file away (I don’t because I hoard, but I never open them ever again). The goal is to produce something and get it out in the world. This point, albeit on a different scale, makes about as much sense as worrying about how to manage your post-it notes. A Scrivener project is transient.

Be wary of the innumerable wannabe writers of the world, @Bmosbacker . I love them and I train them, but there are so many misconceptions about the craft of writing that just explode in pieces once you start doing this for real, on a daily basis, for years. I know: I’ve had them too.

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I’ve been really pushing the limit of using Obsidian for writing (I recently completed three peer reviewed journal articles using it, total of over 50,000 words in the last two months) and I’ve been finding it a joy to use.

I’ve previously used Scrivener and Ulysses and I don’t miss any of the features, and definitely don’t miss the complexity. Now I’m getting words written quicker and not having to jump between multiple applications when looking up information is a far better workflow.

The iOS app really is superb now, I have it open whenever on my iPad and it’s proving rock solid.

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I’m finding it might be useful to give details about what I’m doing to warrant my opinion. Currently writing and publishing professionally a 5-book epic fantasy series, 250 to 300,000 words per novel, 6-8 viewpoint characters, published every 12-24 months. My cruise speed is writing about 30 - 50,000 words per month.
I have one Scrivener project with notes, revision notes, each book archived, reference material, which is now going on six years of age. (It’s weird to work in the same file every day for six years)
As I said, you might not need that much power, which opens a wider array of tools. (I recently wrote a shorter essay / writing manual using Ulysses, I loved the process, but found I needed to revise in Scrivener.)
However, nothing else provides that kind of power.

I have, however, built most of the ideas and outline of the latest book using Obsidian, for which it is a stellar tool.

(Short writing currently goes into Craft, for articles.)

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Is the criticism of RTF fair?

I use Nisus Writer Pro for a lot of my work. It defaults to RTF, but hasn’t been a problem for me.

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The big advantage of a system like Obsidian for my kind of research is that I can use NLP and text processing on the papers I’ve written and research materials, as it’s all stored as plain text on my computer. I have 20 years of writing that I’ve done all converted to plain text. I’ve used this extensively on my latest paper. This is really useful in my line of work to discover trends and ideas in text. When it was packed away in a proprietary format, I had to spend significant time extracting the text before I could do any machine learning. Tools like Scriver are not built with this kind of advanced academic workflow in mind.

This is the type of thing that is not at all necessary for fiction writers but is essential for my line of work.

I also do not need to do much formatting or splitting up of writing at all, and each paper is usually just one continuous piece of writing. All my colleagues also prefer working in plain text to make sure the text can easily be processed if the need arises (data and computer scientists tend to stay away from proprietary formats as it limits automation and processing in general).

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This is the type of thing that is not at all necessary for fiction writers

Untrue, fiction writing absolutely benefits from this kind of workflow when you’re working on shared universes, long sagas or licenses of your own (my case, to grossly sum things up - I have had long term plans on this for 20 years so far). In that case, you are keeping track of far bigger things than just the novel of series being written (you have to take care to stay true to established canon, foreshadow stuff in the present material, and not write yourself in corners years or decades down the road). For this, absolutely, any kind of linked notes environment is stellar and Obsidian possibly offers the best compromise of power and ease for the vast majority of cases. (I write my articles in my linked notes environment, which is Craft, but otherwise I would probably write them as well in Obsidian.) Which is why I’m emphasizing that Scrivener is a long form production environment.

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I agree that Scrivener is the most powerful and flexible writing tool available (to my knowledge). @KillerWhale there may be something more powerful in a parallel universe, no? :slight_smile:

That said, I have moved from Scrivener primarily because:

  • I want to use plain and/or MD for my writing for the long haul.
  • I only write non-fiction so I don’t need character development, index cards, etc., and the tools in Scrivener designed for those purposes.
  • Scrivener only syncs via Dropbox. I don’t want to run Dropbox on my Mac all of the time.
  • I am concerned about the long-term viability of Scrivener given the nearly non-existent development as evidenced by the fact that it took years after announcing it for the mobile version to be released.
  • Nearly all of my research has been converted to text. When I read an article in a PDF, I OCR it and then copy/paste the article as plain text. The exception of course are tables, charts, and the like. For those I still have the PDF for reference and can copy those or reproduce something similar.

Again, Scrivener is an excellent, powerful tool and is indispensable for certain types of writing projects. I’d love to be able to use Obsidian for long-form writing projects and related research notes (this is similar to Scrivener in that your writing and research can reside in the same application) but for the type of writing I do, something like Ulysses is better for writing with Obsidian as the storehouse for the research. Here is my writing workflow.

If I may bring some counterarguments:

  • I only write non-fiction so I don’t need character development, index cards, etc., and the tools in Scrivener designed for those purposes.

These are absolutely not designed for this. I would even argue that all tools in Scrivener (apart from the character name generator, which I never use) are very workflow-agnostic. Index cards are just a way to work with an outline (incidentally, I never use them either). I revised and published a non-fiction book using Scrivener (and it was much simpler to do than fiction).

  • Scrivener only syncs via Dropbox. I don’t want to run Dropbox on my Mac all of the time.

Untrue. I use iCloud at the moment. You just need to uncheck optimize storage. (However, if you want to use iOS, then yes, you need Dropbox.)

  • I am concerned about the long-term viability of Scrivener given the nearly non-existent development as evidenced by the fact that it took years after announcing it for the mobile version to be released.

These worries are unwarranted. The mobile version postmortem has been extensively dissected on their own blog, but to sum up and as a proof of liveliness, Scrivener is always among the first apps to adopt platform changes, to Big Sur icons to the M1 native compilation. They just released v3 on Windows. It’s very much alive, although the pace of development is indeed slow, but it’s very much feature complete anyway – and it’s fine, since there’s still no subscription. The may dev seems very possessive of his creation, and he pretty much remains the only person doing the work. Slow is how they work. I don’t mind since I pay once in a blue moon and apparently their business is still very sustainable.

As for the rest, that’s of course all fair. I am, after all, using Craft for linked notes despite knowing full well it remains inferior to Obsidian at the moment, but it has things that appeal to me. If you feel like using Obsidian, that’s all there is, really. But most of the criticisms I see (in your quoted thread and elsewhere) aimed at Scrivener come from people who do not seem entirely battle-tested.

See it that way: Scrivener is like a Canon DSLR. It’s a workhorse. It works in all conditions despite being decades old. It will get battered and put under pressure and it will still work when you need it. All those emerging workflows are mirrorless cameras. Marvels of engineering, but still fragile, and which still have some way to go before they can claim to take the workhorses’ place on the field and in pro studios.

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Not in my opinion.

There are dozens/hundreds of editors that support rtf. The fact that the standard hasn’t been updated since 2008 is largely irrelevant. It’s still as good as it was.
It’s also a text format, so conversion to something else is certainly doable (and has been done). And it’s human readable.

By way of comparison, TeX (the underlying language of LaTeX) has been feature complete since 1990. Bugs have been fixed, but no new features have been or will be added (per Donald Knuth). As you may know, LaTeX/Tex are used by thousands of people every day.

Analogy: Pencils have been the same for years, and still work fine.

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@KillerWhale as usual, a very poignant argument, in this case, in support of Scrivener. As you now I too like Craft and use it daily, just not for research notes.

As to Dropbox, I do 80% or more of my writing on the iPad, including this post. I much prefer it for focused writing so Dropbox is always a pain point for me. Scrivener is the only application I use on my iPad that does not sync with iCloud.

I stand corrected about Scrivener’s development. As you point out, the developer has kept up with OS upgrades and the application is mature and feature complete. That said, I do worry about a single developer for something as important as my primary writing tool. If I recall this correctly, there was a team working on the mobile version of Scrivener, there were issues, so the developer took over. That is not an encouraging scenario for the long-term.

At any rate, we are blessed with many excellent writing tools! :slight_smile:

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This is definitely a pain point and one I’m frustrated too as well. If Scrivener would support TextExpander and iCloud, I would definitely consider iPadOS more as a productivity platform. The way things are, I’m going all-in into M1 Macs. :slightly_smiling_face:

To be more precise, the team’s work was not up to the main dev’s requirements concerning quality. He apparently learned from this he needed to do the heavy lifting himself, which is also, IIRC, why v3 on Windows was delayed: he is only one guy. :slightly_smiling_face:

In any case, if you’re a heavy iOS user and do not want Dropbox to touch your Mac (I’m in the same camp), then Scrivener definitely is not a great option. In my case, since Scrivener is pretty much my only viable option, I’m going the other way around and devising things to accommodate the tool :sweat_smile:

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I’m late to seeing this. I’ve used Scrivener for years and am finishing my fifth book with it. Non-fiction. I’ve looked at Obsidian but could see no reason to use it. Perhaps it’s my age (72) but I really try to minimize the number of applications I use and would need a really compelling reason to switch apps.

The only issues I’ve had with Scrivener was when they went to version 3 which broke some things I was doing. They (he?) were very responsive, fixing the problems in a couple of weeks.

RTF was a proprietary Microsoft format that seems to have been successfully reverse engineered and is widely available. Of course Microsoft dropped it and discourages its use because the don’t have any control (or lock in) over it.

My workflow is to write in Scrivener, including illustrations (photos and drawings), tables, and code sequences. Then I export (“Compile”) for two targets.

First in EPUB format which gets postprocessed in Kindle Previewer. This is then uploaded to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Basically nothing is touched by hand after I hit Compile. TOC is generated automatically by the structure given to the document in Scrivener.

For printed books I export as RTF and open in Nisus Writer Pro. Here I fix up page breaks, table formatting, and other visual issues that may pop up. I then export as PDF and send to KDP.

It’s a straightforward process that moves quickly. It doesn’t seem to need any modernization. MOBI is basically a restricted HTML that’s been around for years and as long as PDF can accurately reproduce on paper there is no reason to change that either.

I’m not worried about retrieval here. I can export as RTF at any time, and even if I no longer could I’ve got the exports when the books were published.

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To be more precise, the team’s work was not up to the main dev’s requirements concerning quality. He apparently learned from this he needed to do the heavy lifting himself, which is also, IIRC, why v3 on Windows was delayed: he is only one guy.

On that point, Windows Scrivener development is done by two other people, not by the Mac / iOS / Scapple developer and boss.

The iOS version is meant more as a ‘crank out the words’ companion to the desktop version, rather than the full toolbox (mostly because of limitations within iOS, though that may be changing).

For those who don’t know about the feature, if you really don’t like Dropbox, then a good alternative is to use External Folder Sync with the text editor of your choice on iOS. This works really well, even translating (inline) footnotes and comments both ways. The External Folder doesn’t have to be on Dropbox — iCloud Drive is fine. It’s actually the way syncing was done before the iOS version.

As long as you stick to markdown conventions for formatting, you can write in either Scrivener or the external folder, on the same device or another, depending on circumstances and / or whim (I often use it when I feel like writing in Emacs on the Mac), and still be able to compile to the full range of formats at the end. It takes a little bit of setup, but it’s a really robust, workable solution for many uses.

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I stand corrected, I was wondering I might be getting something wrong, hence the IIRC. Thanks for clearing that up! :+1:

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Agreed. The points about the RTF format holding back Scrivener’s development don’t make sense to me. There are plenty of well-supported apps for macOS that use the RTF format including: OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, TextEdit, Mail, and DEVONthink.

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Would you happen to know of any books that would help to keep learning Scrivener?

I love that app but there is considerably more that I could do with it and I am getting into writing far more seriously.