Scrivener, Ulysses, Obsidian Oh my!

Which community? Is there a user group like this one? Good to know!!!

Very helpful and knowledgeable membership – not just about Scrivener techniques, either.

Thanks!! This is very helpful.

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@anon41602260 Thanks for this, I just joined! I’m using a combination of Obsidian, iA Writer and Scrivener with all plain text markdown files. It is working well! Syncing with an external folder of markdown files allows me to avoid using DropBox with Scrivener.

I worked with Scrivener maybe five years ago and really enjoyed the experience. I can only assume that it’s improved significantly and added many features since then?

At the time, I was compiling entries from my then blog (hosted on Typepad, those were the days!), and also including word documents to create a book of short fiction and essays that I had written. It was a big project, and Scriviner was well suited for the job!

On my new blog, I’m using Ulysses to write and Craft to compile notes and ideas.

I am finishing my doctoral thesis in Scrivener and even learned Ruby because of the Scrivener Manual Template that contains a script in the post-compile. I, then, made my own (kind-of-complicated) post-compile script as well. Writing the thesis with it was frightening at first, but then very comfortable and enjoyable. It offers a unique set of tools that no other software in the market does. Tinderbox comes close and, unlike Scrivener, it is scriptable, but while the former allows a greater degree of flexibility, the latter is already ready to rock and roll with large texts that need to be cut up and stitched up back again.

HAHA! Following is my system. I use one of two methods depending on how extensive the comments are and how long the document is.

Method 1

I open Scrivener and the marked-up Word document side by side. I take a snapshot of all the text files in my project. I navigate through each of the tracked changes and make the decision to accept or reject in Word. If I accept the change, I copy that change over to Scrivener. If I reject the change, there is nothing to do in Scrivener. If I make a change that is different from the proposed change, I just make that directly in Scrivener. When I’m done with the changes, I have a Word document that shows me what I did with the proposed changes. From Scrivener, I compile the updated Word doc and then run a redline against the previous version. It looks like a lot of steps, but really it does not take substantially more time then just handling directly in Word.

Method 2

If Scrivener project is really simple and the Word document is not to long or complex, I sometimes handle the revisions this way. Again, I start with taking snapshots of all the text files in their current state. (Actually, normally I do that right after a compile, but the point is to save the prior state.) In this method, I just accept 100% of the changes in Word, paste the revise text into my Scrivener text files, and then use the compare tool make the edits. Then, I re-compile, as above.

I’m not trying to sell anyone on my process, but to understand why I do it this way, here’s the story. First, I like having my Scrivener project–as much as possible–be the canonical source of how my writing project has evolved. I like to have all the edits and history in one place. Second, now that I have a workflow developed for handling the changes, it’s not that burdensome to address the revisions this way. In fact, it forces me to think a little more carefully about editing decisions, so that’s a little bonus, too.

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I had a similar reaction(!), but not in terms of writing a thesis. It seemed daunting at first to develop all the styles and compile settings in the Scrivener template, and then create the styles in the corresponding Word template. But once that was done, the whole process writing process became simple. I can recompile with ease because I don’t have do much clean-up after a compile; so that process is trivial. I use the same set of templates repeatedly, so creating new documents is hassle-free.

Just like quorum said. :wink: And it gets very active around NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month which is November… hordes of people work on manuscripts (non-fiction too).

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I love Scrivener. I actually just finished writing my dissertation in it.

I honestly couldn’t imagine a better software for compiling so many different sources of information.

The compile situation could definitely be better, but I still haven’t come across something that works as well for such a complex project.


For what it’s worth, my experience is different to most of you here. I had to abort using Scrivener mid-way through my dissertation, because the insufficient iPad app and the terrible DropBox sync conspired to lose entire days of work, repeatedly. Switching tools mid-way through a long project is a terrible idea, it leads to research never actually being incorporated, or being re-discovered too late, and all sorts of good ideas gone missing.
The sad thing is, in the years that passed Scrivener hasn’t been updated at all. The iPad app is literally two years out from the last update. The issues that prevented them from employing iCloud sync years ago have long been solved, but L&L has barely acknowledged this. The problem is that the developer of Scrivener is terrible at collaborating and delegating – apparently he still does the lion’s share of the coding work himself – and now he’s spread very thin across three platforms. Scrivener has been taking on water for years, and it will eventually go the way of Sente (R.I.P.) unless someone takes it over.
To anyone starting a dissertation now, I would say: avoid any apps that hide your files in their proprietary folders and formats, keep things simple, visible, searchable and transferrable: your future self will thank you. This is true for your own writing, but even more so for your own research notes.

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Or just use the software on the Mac where it is outstanding!

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Even in the most restrictive scenario that I can possibly inhabit, it is two Macs – the iMac and a laptop. And we all know what happens if you forget the Scrivener project open on the iMac and dare to try to work on the laptop… you’ll spend the evening parsing conflict files. To say nothing of the fact that some functions – like the external folder sync – only work properly on a “master copy” as Keith calls it.
Look – I’ve had discussions with die-hard Scrivener users for many years now, including in L&L’s own lion den forums. I get the love the app receives. For a decade it has been wonderful. Then it started to age, and there are no signs that Keith and the team are capable of keeping up with the times. Things have been declining slowly for a long time.

I just don’t think it’s responsible to recommend it to a young PhD student who needs a tool for the next 7-10 years (from dissertation to published monograph, at least in the US humanities lifestyle). I’m the first to admit that there isn’t a single alternative tool to recommend – do we really think that Craft or Obsidian will still be standing in 10 years’ time? – but that doesn’t change the fact that Scrivener is already dated today. It’s not something to invest in for the future. I’ve seen the whole dynamic play out with Sente, and it isn’t pretty when your key work app dies on you. Literature and Latte is bigger than Third Street Software ever was, but risk is there.

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I neither question nor challenge your experience–no doubt your experience was frustrating and potentially career jeopardizing. Still, I offer just one point of clarification on this.

I agree with that advice. Scrivener, however, does not use a proprietary format or hide the data. All the text files are standard RTFs. The PDFs and other documents that are incorporated as research are accessible through file folders within the project file on one’s hard drive. I’m not saying it’s efficient to hunt that stuff down from outside of Scrivener through a web of nested folders, but the information is completely accessible and non-proprietary. I’ve had the need to do this once or twice.

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I love using Scrivener for book writing. It seems to match up with my thinking process very well. I never gave Ulysses (its major competitor for that) a try, and now it is subscription I certainly won’t. Obsidian just looks like a hot mess to me. I use Finder for most organization. I’ve given thought to DEVONThink, but get scared away, feeling like it is much less likely to organize things than I can do by hand. (I’ve got 1.8TB of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years from various projects going back 35 or more years).

You’re right: data in Scrivener is not proprietary and it is transferrable; however it is not (easily) visible, simple or (unless I’m mistaken) searchable via Spotlight. My point is not that your old writing and research will be taken forever, but rather that it will not be easy to find. We all (I guess) dream of a computer/app that can magically stop you, as you type the words “McNaughton argues that Beckett…” and tell you “wait! you wrote a note on McNaughton and Beckett ten years ago: would you like to see it?”
Lacking that, I would want a system where a Spotlight search for “McNaughton and Beckett” can help me remember whether such a note from ten years ago exists or not. As far as I know, if that note is buried inside a .scriv file, it won’t show up – you’ll have to manually go fish it, which implies that you must know it’s there.

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I think we’re on the same page, and you are right about difficulty of sourcing things in Scrivener from Finder. Since all the files are entitled “content.txt” or “content.pdf” or what have you, a file name search will never get you anywhere. The Scrivener project title is findable, but if you have some broad project that encompasses smaller projects, you would not be able to surface those in the Finder. You could use finder tags for McNaughton and for Becket, or both of them (maybe add a tag for the University of Alabama for good measure?). Extra step, I know, and I’ve now digressed. So, I’ll stop before I drag this any further off course.

Shuddering with the memory of being in the same boat. I tried Scrivener years ago when I started my dissertation but the lack of a decent “cite-as-you-write” capability is what ultimately deterred me from using.

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That would definitely have been a lot easier. The Mac app - once you’ve gotten used to it - is wonderful. The iPad app is wonderful too … but it’s not the same. Sometimes it’s handy, but it’s not nearly as powerful as the Mac app, and I really wish that it could sync without me having to remember to do it.

Now that the macs have been resucitated, I’m finding that I don’t want to use my iPad nearly as much as I did before.


I still use Scrivener and Ulysses. Like you it depends on the project. I retired and was going to do articles/blogs about my RV travels but Covid has kept me close to home.