Writing app recommendation

I do Scrivener → export to Rich Text File → Nisus Writer. I used to like markdown but now honestly as a regular user I don’t see the benefits of going with just markdown. For me .rtf files are the way to go.


To be fair, I’ll never willingly give up Scrivener for all my writing projects. Using it for years and abandoned Word over the course of a few years esp. as my corporate gigs ran down. I was an early adopter and supporter of Word having rejected IBM’s DisplayWrite 4 that my employer at the time insisted we use “for compatibility with the mainframe”. I even wrote an un-sold “e-book” on how to use Word effectively (in Scrivener, of course!).

The “trick” for big Word documents is to break it up into multiple files, e.g. chapters. Then have a master DOCX that uses Word’s “include” field to bring in all the individual chapters into one master that is then saved to paper/pdf/whatever. Using that technique never really had a problem and that approach works when teams of people are working on the same project.

Just saying … there are ways to use Word so that problems are avoided. I’ve seen so many corporate colleagues use it ways which lead to big issues, project delays, and project failures, e.g. putting everything into big tables with big cells just to enable columns! Some of those cells went across pages. Of course Word will cough on that. But no, it’s not their fault! “Word did it to me”. Not. They preferred to blame Word and use their imagined way of using it rather than use Word as it is intended to be used.

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That’s what I ended up using – the Master document approach (or ‘transclusion’ as we call it these days… :grinning: ). That and using codes for numbering solved most of the problems, but it was never a trouble-free process.

I really enjoyed using Word and the rest of Office at the time – although, like you, I could never get any of my colleagues to use even the basic features like styles. I did prefer Ami Pro initially (never really had the chance to use Word Perfect), but Word was the organisational choice and it grew on me…

It’s only when I started using Scrivener and Ulysses at home that I realised that there were better organisational and planning tools for this sort of document. IT would never have allowed me to use a Mac, though.

I think the typing pool had Display Write 3 and 4 at one point (after they’d got rid of the quasi-mainframe thingy – name beginning with W…).

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Gosh. In the last year since first hearing that word, I haven’t had a clue what it meant!! thanks!

(Don’t get me started on colleagues pretending to be dumb when trying to get them to use styles!)

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‘Transclusion’ – it did seem to suddenly become flavour of the month a while back, didn’t it? It was only when you mentioned the Master document that I remembered we used to do that sort of thing all the time in Word. Happy days…

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Since about, maybe, 1992 or so?

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Hah - yes… A bit later for me. Word 95 was the first version I used. It’s got more complicated since then, but '95 had a lot to like about it.

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I was using Ulysses too just as you describe but a few weeks ago I had a very scary episode with Ulysses not syncing my book project. Whole sections went missing. While I had backups, that really concerned me. I realize that this can happen with any application but for that reason, and the superb organizational features in Scrivener (outliner and notecards) and the erase of inserting citations with Bookends, I decided to move the book to Scrivener. All of my notes are in Apple Notes and all other writing is now in Pages. Everything being equal, I’d much prefer to use markdown and apps like iA Writer, Ulysses or Obsidian but I often use citations, tables, and images for my writing and presentations. All of these are much easier in Pages. As a form of “backup” I send all of my work to DEVONthink as PDFs once a month. DT automatically OCRs my documents so if I ever need the text, it is readily available.


Thanks for your response.

The length of the documents make them difficult to manage on Word/Pages. They are routinely over 150 pages in length, but with distinct sections. The ability to chop and change the sections and play with the order of the document is really attractive.

Thank you for your reply.

I want to generate long, narrative documents. I don’t really mind if the document doesn’t have paragraph numbers whilst I am preparing it, but when I export to pdf it must have them, so that the reader, when preparing responses, can refer to “page 78, paragraph 198”, for example.

Thank you for a fantastically detailed response. On the basis of this, I have downloaded Scrivener and I’m currently having a play with it.

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I’m glad it helped!

Can I suggest that as one of your first actions, you do the Interactive Tutorial (on the Help menu), if you haven’t already.

As a new user, you will have a much better idea of what the program can do after you’ve spent an hour or so going through the tutorial than you’ll get anywhere else.

One tip: you won’t use anything like all the features Scrivener has, but no-one ever does – it’s a toolkit, and some of the tools only apply for certain uses. But the Tutorial gives the overview of what’s available, and explains the ‘philosophy’ of how it’s meant to work, and the best way to take advantage of that philosophy.

But, if Scrivener is not for you, Ulysses is a very competent, very polished alternative.

Good luck…


Great to hear! That’s arguably Scrivener’s biggest strength. Unless you’re up for tinkering with a text processing pipeline or Markdown is a requirement I wouldn’t go Ulysses/iA/etc - Scrivener should be able to handle what you need.

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Watch some of the Literature and Latte videos. While I love Scrivener, as with DEVONThink, there’s a steep learning curve, You don’t have to learn everything at once, nor do you have to use all the tools.

I found the ebook Take Control Of Scrivener (from TidBITS/Take Control) really helpful, especially for finding quick answers for specific questions

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I’d like to inquire of the OP if he has studied styles in Word. I use IA writer but I apply styles (including styles that apply auto-numbering) after copy/pasting the completed text from IA writer into Word. It usually takes minimal effort with even long documents to apply the styles. My personal experience is that writing apps are great for the composition stage of a writing project, but if you have really particular requirements, it’s better to format the document in Word. I think this is considered a positive instead of a negative because it lets you focus on writing when writing and formatting when formatting/finalizing the document.

One thought occurred to me, now that you’ve decided to explore Scrivener. It refers to your absolute requirement for paragraph numbering. This probably isn’t mentioned in the Tutorial, so I thought it may be useful to give you a hint about how to approach it.

Scrivener can, of course, do paragraph numbering, but it doesn’t do it the same way that Word does. Instead, you add all major numbering (Chapter, Sections, Paragraphs, Captions, Footnotess) etc in the Compilation Process, not in the editor.

For example, while you’re writing, you name your chapters, and move them around the structure, without having to bother about what numbers they will eventually have. When you compile, you choose a layout which will add the Chapter Numbers for the final document. (Technically, it adds a <$n> as a prefix to the relevant chapter heading, which is all Word does behind the scenes…).

The same principle applies for paragraph numbering. You write your paragraphs in the editor using the basic default paragraph style, then tell the compiler to override that style by adding the appropriate code – a variant on <$n> – before each paragraph. This will add the appropriate numbers (in whichever format you want) before each paragraph.

This sounds complicated, but you only need to do it once for your standard compile format and then it will happen automaticaly every time you choose that compile format for any document you write.

The Tutorial gives you the basics of Scrivener’s ‘Write Once, Compile to Many Formats’ workflow. Most common output formats are already included, but what you want to do is sufficiently out of the ordinary that you’ll have to tweak a compile format in the way I’ve outlined. While this sounds complicated, it’s actually quite logical, once you’ve got a handle on the basics.

In any case, the user forums (https://forum.literatureandlatte.com) will be able to help you set it up properly.


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