Scrivener, Ulysses, Obsidian Oh my!

I have skimmed the previous threads on long form writing apps and think I understand why Scrivener hasn’t been mentioned on MPU in the recent past. I still like it for big-ish projects because it works with the way I think. Ulysses is pretty intuitive. I know Obsidian is the flavor of the year but it makes my head hurt.

Anyone still a fan of Scrivener or just me?

1 Like

I haven’t yet found a tool that handles complex, multipart writing projects as well as Scrivener.

I usually avoid apps that use anything other than plain text file formats. But when a writing project gets big enough, I invariably find myself turning back to Scrivener.

1 Like

I recently wrote an article using Scrivener.
Unfortunately the need to export to Word, then incorporate those changes from reviewers, etc. kind of breaks the workflow after initial drafting.

I’ll probably do the same again for my future articles, and am considering writing my dissertation in it.

The whole document compilation business, and getting all that set up can be bewildering.

One positive of all this is that I haven’t lost any work due to Word crashing or being “Word-y”. I still get an Arvin Sloane vibe from it, and don’t trust it fully.

1 Like

I like scrivener for (very) big projects but prefer obsidian, drafts, and Ulysses for most other things. The main sticking point for me is that I like to write on the iPad. The mobile app is, imho, a mess, particularly when it comes to syncing,

Scrivener feels like this


Ulysses feels like this


and Obsidian feels like this


but it only plays tech podcasts


@violagail I used to love Scrivener. I think if I was writing something really long (dissertation, novel) then I’d still use Scrivener. Probably.

Obsidian is really not my cup of tea at all … but I only write in markdown these days so it seemed attractive at first. Ulysses, for me, had some problems. I write often for the web and there were glitches/frictions in how it worked. (I don’t remember all the details as I abadoned it years ago.)

For me the writing app of choice is iAWriter. All markdown. Will publish to WordPress, will convert to MSWord. For longer things (e.g. a journal article, but not a book) it has a very nice feature called content blocks. I use these extensively and they work very nicely. The Windows version also offers folding and dynamic outlines which I hope gets ported to the Mac version. Works/syncs quite well with the iOS or Android versions. More here:

Here’s more on content blocks specifically (see below). I thought this feature would be a PITA to use, but actually found it intuitive and easy once I implemented it a couple of times:


I can drag files into my Markdown editor app, Byword. Images display in preview. Other files open in their respective apps.

I will still use Scrivener for long complex projects.

My original app stack for creating and writing was
DEVONThink for short form note like things.
Scrivener for medium and long length things and anything that Iwas planning to write in chunks that might change order.
Libre Office for stuff that would change regularly and for Scrivener output when I had to share it with somebody.

My stack now is
Obsidian for notes, medium format and all initial creative writing.
If a project really looks like it will get really long, 50K words or so consider moving out of Obsidian into Scrivener.
Scrivener start for really long things and for some stuff that was already there.
Libre Office for most documents that change regularly.

I’m not sure what the point of your comment is. Or, more likely, I did not make my comment sufficiently clear!

To me the huge benefit of Scrivener is chunking. I’m specifically thinking of text but it could include anything else. Scrivener offers a really nice way to chunk the text as you want.

Content blocks in iA Writer is similar to chunking in Scrivener. A long piece I’m working on can be chunked as I want into different files. Then integrated into one seamless document at the end using a “master page” (if you will) that contains the chunked text via content blocks.

Long form writing for many folks really requires suitable chunking of the text so you don’t become overwhelmed, confused, lost, and so on. :slight_smile:

The issue of bringing in images or anything else can be done in a variety of ways. It’s not the primary benefit (to me) of content blocks within iA Writer.

It does look attractive but $60 for both the iOS and Mac version? I will have to really think about that. I’m already paying for Ulysses so will probably stay with that for awhile.
Re: Synching—Once I actually set up the folder as they recommended, I haven’t had a problem with Scrivener Syncing.
I last used Scrivener during my last sabbatical (4 years ago_ and it was VERY helpful.

I like Scrivener, but always forget how to set up compile. The compile feature probably causes me to avoid Scrivener. It’s not an app I use a lot and so forget how some parts work.

I think in the end it all depends on how you write and what your projects are like. Scrivener is a great product. … where I found it less than great was: (1) handling of markdown and (2) the iOS app. The iOS is pretty “lame” and not worth discussing. The developer made “nods” toward markdown but there’s no native markdown previewing. If markdown is NOT a key feature for you then Scrivener should probably always be choice 1.

I don’t think the price ever diverted me. I’m a professional and wanted tools with little-to-no friction and that were a joy to use. iA Writer fit the bill for me. So at that point price was irrelevant. If it’s something I use a lot and enjoy then those are my key priorities. On the other hand, Excel isn’t something I enjoy (I don’t hate it either) but I do use often. If I had to pay the normal price for it (instead of my university paying for it) then I’d probably switch to Numbers. At that point the price isn’t worth it for me.

I use iA Writer mainly on my computers. I use it less frequently on phone/ipad. When I do use on iOS it’s primarily to review writing not to create more content (I pretty much hate typing on either device). Plus the Mac version can be downloaded with a 14 day trial. It may not be a good fit for you, but useful to try the shoes on. :slight_smile:

If I remember correctly you never wrote whether you are a markdown aficionado or not. If you not a “marky” then stay with Scrivener. It’s beautiful for what it does. Since David and Steve are both “markys” that’s probably why you’ve never heard much discussion of Scrivener.

There’s also a nice podcast about using Scrivener titled: Write Now with Scrivener. Each episode features a different writer. If I remember correctly about half of each episode is about their work and how they approach writing, the second half is specifically about what features of Scrivener they use the most. The 9th episode just came out this past week.

1 Like

It’s funny, I’ve never once used the compile feature. :man_shrugging:t2: I just export or copypaste out.

David used to talk about Scrivener a LOT. I know Markdown like I know a lot of programs. . .on the very surface. I try to write in Markdown in Drafts but get frustrated with the export.
I love the choices we have but have a tendency to let it distract me from the work.

Got it. Unless you have a very good reason to move to markdown only … it seems like Scrivener is your perfect app.

All my written work is either for the web (course websites, other kinds of websites) or as PDFs. I don’t really need to worry/use MS Word. So I have a certain freedom relative to other academics in terms of format of text based work.

The beauty of markdown for me is I can do 2 things at the same time: one markdown file to create both web-ready content and PDF-ready content at the same time. That’s a huge time saver for me, and a huge reduction of writing friction. But based on what you’ve written you are not in the same situation.

Another huge benefit of Scrivener is the ability to collate research documents (research broadly speaking as a collection of PDF documents). I don’t need that feature built-in, but if it’s very useful for you then once again it’s a big reason to stay with Scrivener.

I don’t remember the compile feature vividly. I think I just figured out the best way to export (for me it was multimarkdown). Maybe it took me awhile the first time, but now several years later all I have to do is press a keyboard combo to export all my relevant documents in one go. But it’s likely true that setting up compile the first time (at least for certain formats) might be a PITA.

:point_up_2:This, for me, is one of the key selling points of Scrivener. This feature alone made writing my dissertation and articles for publication so much easier. I can break large, complex things down into smaller thoughts, see the order of those thoughts in the side bar, and easily move them around. For me, this “chunking” made it so much easier to develop an argument, and writing became more enjoyable.

My other favourite feature is how it opens up to where you were last writing. If software always opens up to the beginning of the document, I get distracted by reviewing and editing earlier writing, rather than continuing where I left off. A small feature, but hugely beneficial to me.

@JohnAtl I highly recommend using Scrivener for writing a dissertation. I didn’t start out writing my dissertation in Scrivener, but it revolutionized my writing process when I moved my dissertation into Scrivener.


Completely agree. I’ve chaired at least 3 students who’ve written their dissertations in Scrivener and swear by it! I wish it had been around when I was a doctoral student.

1 Like

My supervisor switched to using Scrivener based on the improvements in my writing process that he observed.

1 Like

Today I’m writing things that are typically 30 pages or less. Let’s pretend a dissertation is 200+ pages. So if I was doing a dissertation again I’d use Scrivener without a thought.

At 30 pages (or less) I’d use iA Writer. But Scrivener has been a great teacher … so I still immediately chunk my iA Writer document by creating a new folder with a set of connected individual pieces. It works beautifully. In terms of “tools” I think scale matters a lot. Also one’s background/familiarity with using a tool. I’m super comfortable with multimarkdown … and love it … so iA Writer, even for journal article length documents, makes a lot of sense to use. For longer documents, or for folks more used to rich text writing: either way Scrivener is the better choice.