Blind Bargains

Review: Your Writer's toolbox - Scrivener for iOS

You've planned your story, you know who all the characters are, what they're going to do, and how that works out for them. Or maybe you've never been down for all this pre-planning stuff, and just want to get right to the business of actually writing your story. Either way, it's time to explore the best accessible apps for writing, beginning with Scrivener for iOS.
Scrivener is a word processing app available for $19.99 on the iOS App Store. From the app store description:

Typewriter. Ring-binder. Scrapbook. Scrivener combines all the writing tools you need to craft your first draft, from nascent notion to final full stop.

Tailor-made for creating long manuscripts, Scrivener banishes page fright by allowing you to compose your text in any order, in sections as large or small as you like. Got a great idea but don't know where it fits? Write when inspiration strikes and find its place later. Grow your manuscript organically, idea by idea.

Whether you plan or plunge, Scrivener works your way: meticulously outline every last detail first, or hammer out a complete draft and restructure later. Or do a bit of both. All text sections in Scrivener are fully integrated with its outlining tools, so working with an overview of your manuscript is only ever a tap away, and turning Chapter Four into Chapter One is as simple as drag and drop.

Need to refer to research? In Scrivener, your background material is always at hand. Write a description based on a photograph. Reference a video or PDF. Check for consistency with an earlier chapter. On the iPad, open two documents side-by-side; on the iPhone, flip between research and writing with just two taps.

Once you're ready to share your work with the world, simply compile everything into a single document for printing, or export to popular formats such as Word, PDF, Final Draft or plain text. You can even share using different formatting, so that you can write in your favorite font and still keep your editor happy.

To get the obvious out of the way, you may be wondering why one would want to spend 20 dollars on a word processing app when pages is free, and Microsoft word can be used on iOS for anywhere from 6 to 15 dollars a month, depending on your subscription plan. The short answer is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these apps if they meet your needs, however the features which Scrivener offers are quite unique and polished. What's more, they actively care about accessibility and usability, making it not only possible, but for the most part easy, to accomplish even complex tasks. As with my previous reviews, we'll cover the app from the first screen.

the tutorial

Scrivener presents information in folder-like structures called projects. Upon opening the tutorial project, flicking right a few times will bring you to a file called "Start here." Swiping right from here will give you an overview of the folders in this project, and, if they are expanded, a list of documents in the active folder of the project. You can have as many folders and text documents in each project as you like-- think of a project as simply the highest folder hierarchically. Double tapping on the "start here file" will open the document. Flicking to the right a few times, you can then read the text of this document to get a strong overview of Scrivener's main features and how to use them. I will not be going over every aspect of the tutorial here, as it is quite extensive and many of its concepts will be covered later in this walkthrough. One thing to remember is that the tutorial is interactive, and can easily be reset, so feel free to play with features as they are being described, and know that you can easily revert the tutorial back to its original state by going to help>reset tutorial. Easily move through documents in your project with the next and previous document buttons, found immediately to the left of the document body. These buttons ignore folders and will open the next successive document, even if it is in a different folder than the previous open document. After reading the tutorial, and testing its features as much as you wish, press the back button to get back to the projects screen. From here, we'll open a new project and explore the features a bit more thoroughly.

about projects

Projects can be a bit confusing at first glance. Think of them a little like the file cabinet that stores the files and folders of your book/article/etc. Scrivener is incredibly forgiving, allowing you to use whatever structure works best for you. If you want to write each point of view section of a book in a different document, you can do so, or have different documents for each chapter, page, or even each scene, all of these are possible. Up until the moment you export, you can reorder and restructure these documents in whatever way you want. Regardless of whether you have 5 documents in your draft folder or 500, Scrivener exports the draft into a complete file without issue, giving no indication where document divisions were, unless you want them to be there. You can also merge and split documents into more or fewer documents for ease of editing.

Creating a project

To create a project, double tap on the "New project" button in the top right hand corner of the main screen (The screen which lists all projects in the app). You will then be presented with a text field in which to enter the project's title. After doing so, if you have dropbox or iCloud set up, you will then be asked where you want to store this project, on your iPhone or in one of the existing cloud storage options. Please note that cloud services can be set up by going to the main scrivener settings. After choosing where the project will be stored, the project will be created and opened. Flicking from the top of the screen to the bottom, a new project has the following elements by default:

  • A back button: goes back to the main app screen
  • Edit button: allows for reordering, deleting, and rearranging files and folders within the project, either individually or in bulk
  • Recent button: opens a list of recently opened files and folders in that project in the order they were most recently viewed/opened
  • Bookmarks button: shows a list of files and folders you have bookmarked for easy navigation
  • A binder heading: the beginning of your project
  • A Drafts folder, expanded, with one subdocument currently untitled
  • A Research folder, currently collapsed, with 0 subdocuments
  • A trash folder, also currently collapsed, also containing 0 subdocuments.
  • a Projects settings button: allows you to set the length of the synopsis (compact or long), a toggle for using large font, a binder button which allows you to choose whether or not a synopsis label is included in the document inspector, a toggle for whether or not rows use label colors, and a toggle for whether the status field is included in the document inspector, a script writing button which allows you to choose whether this project should use script formatting, and to set script formatting specifics if so, a toggle for whether dark mode is used, and a button at the bottom to go to the settings for the app as a whole. A done button can be found in the top right hand corner of the app to go back to the project screen for the newly created project.
  • Compile button: allows you to compile your draft into a file in pdf, rtf, txt, or word, and allows you to set options related to the formatting of the output file.
  • Import File: allows you to import a document photo, take a picture using the camera, import a webpage, or browse the iOS file app for files to add to the expanded folder.
  • Add new folder: create a new subfolder in the open folder
  • Add new document: create a new text document in the expanded folder.

A note on the trash and research folders

The research folder is automatically a place to store and compile research or inspiration for your project. This can be anything from videos, music, webpages, other types of text documents, or practically any other kind of file from the web and beyond. You do want to keep these out of your draft folder if possible, because anything in the draft folder automatically gets added to your compiled document when you are ready to compile your final draft as an eBook or other file. On an iPad, you can use split screen to open a research document on one side of the screen and your writing on the other. This is especially useful for referencing a bit of material in your research without having to leave your writing. Items in the trash folder remain there until they are manually deleted. To delete an item in the expanded folder, ensure that actions is selected in the VoiceOver rotor, flick down to "move," and select the trash folder from the resulting popup. To delete these items permanently, expand the trash folder, double tap the edit button, then go to the bottom of the screen and double tap the empty trash button. Alternatively, once in the edit screen, double tap on the item(s) you wish to delete, then double tap the button to the left of "clear trash" called "permanently delete these items." This is useful if you wanted to delete certain items from the trash, without necessarily clearing the trash altogether.

the Document Properties Dialogue

So you've created your project, are familiar with how to interact with the files and folders in that project, and are now ready to write. Almost. Writing in an untitled file is boring. Let's give that blank document a name. Double tap and hold on the file title in the draft folder. Now you're in what acts similarly to the document properties dialogue. Enter your file name in the first text field under the document title heading. In addition to being able to rename your document here, there are a few more options. It's important to remember that you don't have to use these, but for people with low vision, they might be especially helpful.

  • Synopsis: Set a synopsis for your document. This serves as an outlining method built right into Scrivener.
  • Label: This allows you to set a color label on your document. These can be used to denote any scheme you want, and while I don't tend to use these, I believe the colors are announced and can be changed accessibly.
  • Status: Set the status of your document. There is also an edit button on this screen, which allows you to add new statuses, delete, rename, or reorder the existing ones. Existing ones are
    • No status
    • To do
    • First Draft
    • Revised draft
    • Final Draft
    • Done
      This is a good way to see where you are on each section of your work as a whole, and make note of what you have completed and what still needs to be worked on.
  • Finally, a notes section, which brings up an editor with all the formatting and font options of a traditional document

Orientation of The Editor

Okay. Its time. Open up that blank document and let's get started. Going from left to right, the document screen contains the following elements:

  • A back button which returns you to the folder view.
  • a Heading of your document title
  • previous and next document buttons, for quickly navigating between documents in your project, great for following the flow of your writing.
  • the all-important editor, where you can write the actual text of your document
  • A list of recent documents
  • A button to bookmark the active document
  • the inspector, which brings up the properties dialogue from the previous section, plus a few additional options for adding icons to your documents.
  • A Share button, for exporting and interacting with the text of your document
  • new text document, which creates a new child document. Occasionally, these documents will be created out of logical order, but they can be quickly rearranged and moved easily from the binder.
    Once you double tap the text field and begin writing, you have a few additional options, including find and replace, formatting options, and a word count that updates as you type. You can set a target word count and see your progress towards that goal, but unfortunately are not notified by audio sound or other method, at least that I have been able to set up. You can also update whether you are notified of word count, character count, or both in the main scrivener settings. One note on setting a word target. It is set up a little oddly, in that you will see a list of 6 pickers, all set to 0 by default. These are essentially asking you to set each digit of your word count goal separately. So, if your goal is 250 words for this session, you would need to set that as 000250.


One of my favorite features of this app is the ability to set one document as a template, and then create new documents with the template text prefilled. Let's say you wanted to create a character sheets document with the following fields which you want to use to describe 3 different characters:

  • Character name:
  • Age:
  • Hair Color:
  • Eye Color:
  • Function in the story:
  • physical Description:
  • Psychological Description:

Other use cases of this idea include character sheets for tabletop games, journal/blog article templates, and interview formats. In any case, the procedure is the same.

  • Create a new folder outside your drafts folder. Give this folder any name you like, but for the example, we'll call it character sheets.
  • Flick down on the folder name and double tap on "more" in the actions rotor.
  • At the bottom of the screen, just before the cancel button, double tap on "set as templates folder."
  • Open the Character Sheets Folder and then tap on "Add new Document." Give this document a generic name like "Character Sheet Template.", because this is the file that's going to be used as your template. Double tap on "add" to create the file and open it.
  • Type the text that you want to use as your template (Do not fill it out for any specific character yet.) Close the document and return to your draft folder.
  • Tap add new document, and select character sheet template (or whatever you named your template file) when prompted
  • a document is created prefilled with the text you set.

You can have as many templates as you want in a project, and can delete, edit, or rearrange any specific character file without changing the template file.

These are the main features of Scrivener. There are probably some which I haven't covered which you can feel free to discuss in the comments. Feel free to share tips, tricks, and questions, and if I'm able to address the latter, I will do so. This is, as you might have seen, a fairly extensive app which I am still learning. The good thing about it, though, is that if you want to use it as a simple text editor, you absolutely can. Its complexity in no way takes away from its usability for more basic tasks, and its flourishes are really only there for those who want them, staying out of the way otherwise. There is also a mac version, which I have heard is very much accessible, though I haven't tried it, and a windows version, which unfortunately was not accessible when last I tried it. Scrivener for iPad is probably the most robust version of the iOS app and the good news is that no matter which device(s) you're using, Scrivener keeps your projects up to date on all of them. This is a slightly expensive app, but I find I use it far more than any mainstream writing app I've tried, and almost more than any other writing app on my phone, save perhaps for Voice Dream Writer, which we'll cover next time. Unlike writer, however, Scrivener is a mainstream app, used by writers all around the world. Consequently, support articles and other resources are numerous and can be easily located.

If you try this app, please do give your thoughts in the comments.

Source: Scrivener on the iOS AppStore
Category: Articles

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Tangela Mahaffey is a barely reformed English Major currently residing in Colorado. She reads entirely too many fantasy books and takes almost nothing seriously, including herself. She loves technology, music, writing, puns, and cats. She can be reached on twitter @tmmahaff

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