Scrivener, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs

A few months back, I bought Scrivener writing software, and wrote a blog post with superfluous 1’s and !’s in the title expressing my great love for it. I’ve been using it ever since, but not exclusively. While Scrivener has a lot more options available, I found that for simple things like a school paper less than 10 pages long, MS Word still sufficed. The simplicity of Word was actually preferable for a few specific reasons, though I’ve recently made some changes that are making me rethink it entirely. Then there’s Google Docs, which is a whole different monster. In order to go over my current thoughts on all three programs, I’m going to give a basic summary of each, along with the pros and cons.

Let’s start with MS Word. The pros of using Word are mostly simplicity and standardization. If I want to create a document in Word, write it, then print it, I can do so quickly without any extra steps needed. The Scrivener default settings aren’t really optimized for standard printing. Without going in and changing the settings, Scrivener gives me a very different print format:

Left: Scrivener, Right: MS Word. The most noticeable difference is in the margins.
Left: Scrivener, Right: MS Word. The most noticeable difference is in the margins.

MS Word also allows for easy insertion of page numbers, and the default view is divided by the normal size of a printed page. While Scrivener surely has those functions if you know where to look, I haven’t yet seen anything in it for dividing a document up page by page. When working on my novel, this is irrelevant, since the page count isn’t at all important. When working on a school paper, however, that is supposed to be no more than one page, it helps to be able to see the page size on the screen and know when I’m almost done.

Most importantly of all, MS Word is the standard format most people can open. If I plan to email a document to someone, it pretty much needs to be in either Word or RTF format if I want them to be able to open it. I can’t be emailing people Scrivener projects.

Now for Scrivener, first off it can convert an existing document into Word format pretty easily. It is, however, an extra step. Likewise, it can import a Word document you already have and make a Scrivener project around it, but that document then needs to be converted back into a Word doc to be sent back to someone else. These extra steps simply aren’t usually worth the effort for small, simple projects.

Scrivener’s main appeals so far instead apply to large, complex projects. A Scrivener project can be divided into multiple documents, and I normally divide each novel up by chapter. This makes for MUCH easier rearrangement of chapters compared to Word, which requires a lot of copying and pasting to move things around. With Scrivener, “cut” scenes can also be saved in the project in a separate section, allowing me to remove an unwanted chapter while still keeping the material on hand in case I change my mind later. You can also save backup copies of each individual section. These features are great when working on a novel, but not that useful for shorter pieces.

Now for Google Docs. For all intents and purposes, Google Docs is basically MS Word in your web browser. For individual use, the basic functions of each program seem to work the same. The main appeal of Google Docs is that it saves everything online to your Google Drive Cloud. This allows you to a) access it from anywhere you have internet access and b) share it with others, who can view and modify the document at the same time you’re working on it. This makes it GREAT for group projects. However, if you’re not concerned about being able to access a document online, Word still works just fine.

As I said earlier, though, I’ve recently encountered a situation that has made me have to reevaluate all three of these programs. Here’s what happened:

I recently upgraded my computer, and if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me live tweeting the entire process. I bought a new system with Windows 8 installed (and despite how much everyone seems to hate Windows 8, I’m rather enjoying a lot of the new features), but I also kept my old hard drive and installed it as a secondary storage (giving me an ungodly 4 terabytes that I doubt I’ll ever fill up). Programs on the old hard drive, however, aren’t configured to run on the new operating system. I can still access all the documents, pictures, videos, etc on the hard drive, but programs need to be reinstalled. For the most part this was pretty simple; Scrivener, for example, allows me to reinstall their program on a new system and all I have to do is enter my registration code to activate it, without needing to purchase it again.

Word, however, is not on the new system. When I try to open a Word document, I’m told that I need to purchase a new version. I can use WordPad to open some documents, but WordPad is woefully inadequate for even my simplest needs. This left me with a few options.

1. I could buy MS Office (including Word) for $70 or more from Microsoft. Considering my old computers have always come with Word for FREE (either the full version preloaded, or the “Word 2010 Starter” stripped-down version), I’m not much inclined to pay for a program that I technically already own. It’s on the old hard drive, after all. I just can’t reinstall it on the new one because I’d need one that is Windows 8 compatible.

2. I can use a free word processing program like OpenOffice. As far as I can tell, it’s as good as the Microsoft products, but free.

3. I can use Google Docs, which are also free, AND include all the online accessibility I’ve already described.

4. I can just use Scrivener for everything and deal with the slight inconvenience of converting documents to and from Word all the time.

#1 was not happening. Forget #1. I don’t pay for computer programs when I can avoid it, because a) why pay for something I can get for free? and b) how do I know the version I pay for now won’t need to be replaced when I upgrade to Windows 9?

#2 seemed pointless when I already have access to both Google Docs and Scrivener. So I didn’t want to bother downloading another program for no real reason. I’ll keep it open as an option if I decide I need it, but until then, I’m not bothering.

So that left me with Google Docs and Scrivener. I decided to try using Google Docs for my simple and quick work while sticking with Scrivener for my major projects. Then, something else happened: Google Docs suffered from server downtime while I was trying to finish up some homework. The result was I couldn’t use it at all, because the program won’t let you type in the window and make changes when it’s disconnected from the server. It froze up and locked me out until it could get reconnected. Then when it disconnected again, it locked me out again. This continued until I gave up and said “Fuck you, Google.”

As a result, I’m now using Scrivener for everything. I still use Google Drive just as a cloud storage service, allowing me to access my novels and short stories from anywhere I want. The main writing, however, will all be done in Scrivener. And while I love Scrivener’s many useful functions for working on my novels, I’m hoping to find some ways to streamline some of the simpler functions so that I’m not constantly wrestling with the basic tasks of printing and creating Word doc files I can email to others.



7 thoughts on “Scrivener, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs”

  1. I think you might need to consider It is basically the web version of microsoft office presented in a similar web interface as google docs. At the very least having it set up would give you a fall back when google docs is not cooperating.

    1. I’ll check them out as well. I looked at OneDrive along with iDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive when I was setting up cloud services. I didn’t look at the web-based word processor, however.

  2. Informative. I use Scrivener myself and have found it useful for all my projects. And I know what you mean about the whole converting files, it can be a lil bothersome. (I thought I was doing something wrong there, like storing incorrectly, or shizz like that.)

      1. Time will tell.. or at least updated consumer reports should light a fire under their asses. 😉

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