I Tried LivingWriter… Will it Replace Scrivener?

By accident, I discovered a writing app pitched as the best alternative to Scrivener called LivingWriter.

I’ve been using Scrivener for a while now, and after being initially overwhelmed by all its features, I found myself liking the aspects of the software that I chose to use. That said, its interface is dated, and switching to an alternative has never been off the table.

So, I decided to do a trial of LivingWriter.

Design

Let’s get the superficial stuff out of the way. The user interface of LivingWriter is so much better. It’s sleek and modern, and better in almost every way. It’s exactly the way you think Scrivener should look like right now, but doesn’t.

Migration

LivingWriter made a point to say that you can switch from Scrivener and pick up right where you left off, but that’s not entirely true.

For one thing, you can only import from a Word Doc, so you have to export from Scrivener to Word. Not a big deal, but, you can only import into a brand new Story, before you can set project defaults like font style, font size, paragraph indents, etc. I found that some chapters simply didn’t take to the modified default style. That’s probably my fault because of how the styles were improperly done in Scrivener, but the imported file was kind of a mess… and the time it would take to get it right isn’t just a few minutes.

Migrating posed other problems too. One feature I really like about LivingWriter is the Smart Text / Story Elements feature, which makes character names and places “smart” with a variety of options to take advantage of. But, if you’re migrating from Scrivener, there doesn’t appear to be a way for the app to recognize Story Elements like character names from imported text. I tried using the global Find/Replace function to see if that would work, but it didn’t.

Desktop App Problems

LivingWriter started as a web app, and it shows. Personally, I prefer working from a desktop app, so I downloaded it and used it, and rang into a few snags. I made several attempts with the desktop app to import my 4th novel (which is still in progress) so I could experiment with the app. Well, once I figured out how to get it to properly identify chapters, whenever I imported it, the chapters ended up imported in the wrong order. I finally discovered that if I attempted to import with the web-based app it worked—however a second test with a different file produced the same out-of-order chapters in the web app. So, this bug is something that is hard for me to get beyond.

And other things worked better in the web app. For some reason, Ctrl-A would not Select All in the desktop app. I reported the bug quickly, and hopefully it’ll be fixed, but clearly, the desktop app has bugs that the web app does not.

The Missing Feature I Really Need

While LivingWriter looks nicer with its modern interface there are some features that are lacking. For me, I don’t write by chapter… I write by scene, and sometimes I move things around until it fits just right, and towards the end of the writing process I combine scenes into chapters. For example, in my fourth novel which I’m still working on, I wrote a scene (not a whole chapter) that was originally planned for earlier in the novel, and about 40,000 words of writing later I realized I wanted it towards the end.

In Scrivener, I can merge and split files as needed with a few clicks. It’s a method I’ve grown accustomed to and hate to give up. While you can rearrange “chapters” in LivingWriter, you can’t merge them, or even split them with ease. Sure, there’s a long way to do it, but when I’m used to doing it easy with a few clicks, the lack of the feature is felt.

The Cost

I’ve paid my license fee for Scrivener already. It was $49. One and done. LivingWriter is a subscription-based model that will cost you $96 annually if you pay yearly, or $119.88 a year if you pay monthly. So, you’re paying a lot more for LivingWriter. That alone is enough to hesitate.

Now, I don’t begrudge LivingWriter for being more expensive. The subscription model is basically being adopted everywhere now, and they are hosting who knows how many authors work in the cloud, so it’s arguably justified. But, that another factor that plays a role in my decision.

Bottom Line

Hey, Scrivener works for me. It’s not perfect, but what is? The interface is painfully out-of-date and ought to be overhauled, but is that enough to ditch it? With LivingWriter, your work is stored in the cloud, making it quite safe from catastrophic failure, but, Scrivener works with iCloud, and I do incremental exports as back-ups in the cloud as well.

All the good things about LivingWriter make me want to switch to it and never look back at Scrivener, but migration issues (the improperly ordered chapters, and no way to recognize imported character names as Story Elements means that migrating to LivingWriter when my current WIP is already at 60,000 words just isn’t the right move for me right now.

When it’s time to start a new novel, believe me, LivingWriter will be back on my radar. Hopefully the bugs and inconsistencies between the desktop app and the web app will be resolved by then, and the features I really need/want will be there. But, right now, the effort to get a migrated manuscript perfectly set up in LivingWriter would be too much—especially for what it costs.

Should the various issues mentioned above be resolved, I’d be open to changing my mind… If Scrivener releases an update that modernizes their interface, this might become a moot point. But for now, I think I need to stay put.

Published by Matthew Hanover

Lad lit author.

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