I started writing this post a while ago, after I read a rash of posts about people quitting their jobs to write. It was always in the most terrible ways, too–they were the “I’m struggling to support my boyfriend because he doesn’t work, but he says his ‘big break’ will come as soon as he finishes his book” or “I’m just out of college, and writing is my DREAM, so I’m not going to look for a new job” kinds of stories, which always fill me with a sort of cold-stomached dread. I forgot about this post until early this week, when I saw *another* “Hey guys! I don’t like office jobs, so I quit my job!” post And here we are again!

So let’s talk about the logistics of being a career fiction novelist!

Conventional wisdom holds that if you want to write for a living, your best approach is to:

  • Find a job that pays the bills.
  • Write and publish in your free time.
  • Quit your job once (or if) you make enough money from publishing that that change won’t ruin you.

This is a cautious approach that ensures you have enough to eat and live while you establish yourself as a writer. It’s not very sexy, but it’s a reliable, safe path.

It’s also agonizingly slow, especially if you already have a lot on your plate. Consequently, there are always people who would rather throw caution to the wind. They aren’t making much, if any, money. They may have never even written anything before! But by golly, they want to be an author. So they save up money, quit their jobs, and plan to become a professional author before their money runs out.

But this… really doesn’t work. Here’s why.

Hardly anyone supports themselves on the sales of one book.

Let’s just start out with some fascinating stories, like:

  • Paul Kemp, the author of more than a dozen novels, who explained why he still needed his day job when post was written
  • Rachel Caine, author of a considerable number of novels, who quit her day job 17 years after first being published.

These are successful authors with many, many books, and they are absolutely the norm.

You, too, will most likely have to have a lot of books, and a lot of success, before the sales start adding up.

But let’s go into the details. Let’s imagine you have less than a year of savings. You have a completed manuscript. You want to sell your debut novel before your money runs out, and you really, really want to make a sale that’ll give you enough of a salary to recoup the time you spent pitching, with enough left over to write your next book. What would happen?

Agents are slow.

If you’re on a strict timeline, you can forget about agents. Let’s say you send out 100 queries today. What would happen?

  1. The agents have to review your query. While each has a different reading schedule (that they’ll list on their submission page), most of them… well, most will never respond at all. But the ones who do will respond with rejections or requests somewhere between 1 week and 6 months.
  2. If they do like your manuscript, they may ask to look at a partial or the full manuscript. And if they don’t get to it quickly and read it in a month or two, which is all very common, it’s considered bad form to prompt an agent about those until after 6 months have passed.
  3. If an agent does offer you representation, they still have to find a publisher to publish it. And, guess what? That can take months, too! There’s also a non-negligible chance that they won’t find anyone to buy it at all. This would be horrific for you and your agent, and agents are as picky as they are precisely so this is a rare occurrence, but it’s not impossible.

Can this go faster? Absolutely! If your query is perfect, the agent loves it, and the stars align, an agent might respond to your query within days and offer representation within weeks. Is that something you should count on? Of course not. Agents can be perfectly interested and still take months to respond to every step of this process.

And, of course, an agent is just step #1. Now you have to accept that…

Traditional publishing is slow.

Again: if you’re going to starve to death if you don’t get money in a few months, traditional publishing is too slow for you.

Advances are slow. Also, they’re small.

If you publish with a publisher large enough to give you an advance, then congrats! You’re guaranteed some money!

But while numbers vary widely by content and genre, the average advance for a debut author is under $10,000. Writer Beware used to link to a famous survey of SF/F authors and their advances–it was posted in 2005, the link’s dead, and I can’t seem to find a good mirror–that famously stated that the average advance for a SF/F author is about $5,000. And that was more than a decade ago!

Also, you don’t get it all at once. You get advances in chunks. The publisher may give you it in chunks of 1/4 or 1/3 at a time, spread over months. That means your already-small advance is now divvied up into even smaller chunks.

And, of course…

Publishing is slow.

They have to edit it. They have to do art. They have to market it. Also, they put out books at certain times of the year. Your book probably won’t come out for–wait for it–months.

You don’t start making monthly royalties until you sell enough to make back your advance.

And now you can look forward to making $0 until you sell enough books to recoup your advance. If you do. (And if you don’t, erk. That can happen, too. And then you have the added pressure of disappointing a publisher.)

None of this is good if you need money fast.

So you can see what this means, right?

If you had a book that was done today and decided to go the agent –> publisher route, or even just went directly to a publisher, it could easily take you more than a year to see any money, and it will, most likely, not be a lot.

And that’s a big “if.” A lot of the “I’m quitting my job to write!” posts I’ve seen involve people who haven’t even started their novel, and who may have never written a novel before. So, yes. That’s not helping, either.

Small presses are fast. Self-publishing is faster! But…

…They also don’t pay advances, so you’ll have to make all your money off of royalties. So all of your money comes from sales.

On one hand, this is great for the author who’s in a blinding rush to become an author, because you can publish as fast and as often as you want. Also, you keep more of the royalties!

But, uh, what’s your platform like? How many devoted fans do you have?

Unless you’re an internet phenomenon, you probably don’t have hundreds of thousands of fans lining up to buy your books. If you’re like most of us, and you’re just a nobody on the internet, you’re not going to sell a lot. While this article is from 2012, it includes a not-too-unbelievable fact: most self-published authors make less than $500 per year. (EDIT: This last sentence was rewritten to better reflect the facts reflected in the article.)

ALL authors, no matter where they publish, typically support themselves on volume.

No matter how you cut it, your first book, whether it’s traditionally or self-published, will likely net you somewhere between a few hundred and few thousand dollars. And either way, it’s going to take you months to get that money. So how do people afford to quit their jobs, ever?

Well, that’s why so many don’t.

But the more books you have out, the better chance you have. Most authors who quit their day jobs have several books out. They have fans! They have series! Their royalties have reached a semi-predictable state where all their books, selling together, can guarantee a reasonably predictable amount of money per month, even if sales on one book dip while the others rise.

This is true for everyone. If you go the agent and/or traditional publisher route, you’ll find that publishers take bigger chances and pay better advances to authors with established, successful track records. (The process also goes much faster if you already have an agent on hand when you finish your next book.)

And library-building is an extremely common approach for self-published authors. One of self-publishing’s greatest strengths is that you can put out novels as quickly as you want. While everyone publishes differently–that’s the charm of self-publishing!–a lot of people support themselves on sheer volume.

And that’s why publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you want to write for a living, your plan shouldn’t be “I’m going to do everything I can to write one book.”

You should plan for the long run. Find a system that allows you to write often and regularly. Set long-term goals for multiple projects. Get yourself on a sustainable, steady schedule that doesn’t burn you out, but still pushes you toward your goals. Produce, polish, and finish content regularly.

You may reach a point where you can support yourself after one, two, ten, or twenty books–or it may not ever happen. But while it’s slow and steady and so-very-uncertain, a gradual approach is more likely to work out in your favor than the “Burn your entire life down and make gutting sacrifices to write your first novel” one.

Sometimes people get a little obsessed with their rejection letters.

Thanks to the internet, you can find examples of how agents and publishers have responded to other people. And that means you can compare yourselves. Did you get a form letter? Did it include a sentence that sounded a little like they read it? Did other people get feedback like that? Maybe, if you just dissect every single word, you can figure out how much they liked your story and how close you were to getting a “yes!”

This road leads to madness. Avoid it at all costs.

A rejection is a rejection is a rejection.

A form rejection and a personalized rejection mean the same thing: the publisher or agent is passing. They don’t want to see revisions. That door is closed.

And even a personalized rejection isn’t oh my gosh so very close, because if an organization really loved your piece, they could have asked for a Revise and Resubmit (or R&R). Not everyone asks for R&Rs, but it’s as close to a “I would totally buy this if you made some changes” as you can get.

So a rejection is a rejection. And at that point, the difference between a near hit and a swing and a miss is a pretty fine distinction.

People pass for a lot of reasons, and you’ll probably never know why they passed on you.

Sadly, you’ll probably never know that much about an organization’s editorial process. They aren’t going to tell you, “Hey, I might have bought this if I hadn’t signed a contract for 3 exceptional pieces this month and you had tightened up the ending.” They wont tell you that your piece was in the “maybe” pile for a while. They definitely won’t tell you that they hated your piece, thought the premise was ridiculous, and stopped reading at the end of the first page.

So people guess. They lay out the 2 or 3 sentences of their rejection and read it like a pile of tea leaves. This agent said I should submit other works to them! Did they add that sentence because my submission was unusually good?! This publisher says they got so many good stories this month that they have to pass on a lot of excellent ones! Did they add that to my rejection letter so I’d know they still liked my work?!

(By the way, the answer is usually “no.” Those turn up regularly in rejections. Rejection emails can actually be really encouraging!)

But hey, even getting a personalized rejection doesn’t mean that you were one tiny detail away from victory. It can be helpful, and it’s usually a sign you did something right (particularly if you’re submitting to agents, who rarely give any feedback at all.) But on the other hand, getting a form rejection doesn’t mean your submission was terrible.

It’s like a job application. You never know why they’re turning you down. You can guess, and you can try to be better, but you’ll never know for sure.

Let’s be serious. Does any of this help you feel better?

It takes a lot of emotional energy to dissect a rejection letter.

And everyone’s different, so maybe this isn’t the case for you. But when I see someone asking a lot of questions about a rejection, I see someone who wants to know if they should feel completely crushed or tentatively encouraged. They want to know if someone was saying “I don’t want this story at all, ever” or “I didn’t want it, but it was really very good and I think it has a lot of merit.”

That doesn’t seem like an exercise that’ll leave you feeling happy and empowered.

So let it go. Resubmit. If you get a rejection that inspires you to make edits, do so. If not, then don’t worry. Rejections are a fact of life. File the rejection and keep going.

If you’ve submitted stories to publishers or agents, you’ve probably seen a few places that mention exclusive submissions. Let’s go over what that means!

Exclusive Submissions

Now and then you’ll see a publisher asking for exclusive submissions only or no simultaneous submissions. They mean the same thing. But what do they mean?

  • It means they do not want you to submit anywhere else until you get a response from them. But…
  • It is completely OK to submit to other places after they have rejected you.
  • It’s also completely OK to submit a piece that has been submitted elsewhere–just as long as all the places you’ve submitted to have already rejected it.

So why would someone ask for exclusivity? Basically, they want to know that they have a few weeks (or months) to read your piece, and you won’t run off and sell it somewhere else while they’re doing that. They don’t want to run the risk of reading something, falling in love with it, then having you go, “Hey, sorry! Someone else wants to buy it, so I’m going with them!”

And, on the other side…

Simultaneous submissions are, as you have probably guessed, the exact opposite of exclusive submissions: it’s a submission you send out to many places at the same time. For some things (like queries), this is the norm.

And now that you know what exclusivity is, there are a few things you should keep in mind!

Don’t send exclusive submissions if the publisher or agent doesn’t ask for them.

Well, OK. You can submit whatever you want however you want, but if an agent or publisher doesn’t want exclusives, don’t tell them that you’re exclusively submitting to them as a favor.

Some authors think this might sound flattering–“I respect you so much that I want to give you the first right of refusal!” But believe me: it doesn’t. At the very best, it just sounds a little… weird. (I mean, you do know that the majority of agents don’t ask for exclusive queries, right?)

But in a worst-case scenario, it can sound like you’re pressuring them. After all, you’re telling this person that they’re getting super special exclusive treatment (which they didn’t ask for), and that you’re putting this project on hold while you wait for a response. Even if you don’t say anything else, there’s an implication that you’re pressuring them for a timely or meaningful response.

And if this person doesn’t even want exclusive submissions, what do you think they’re going to do? Change their process for you? Give you special attention? Again, believe me: they’re not.

So don’t do it. It’s not going to help you.

Agent queries shouldn’t be exclusive.

It’s considered bad form for an agent to request exclusivity at the querying stage. You can–and should–send queries to several agents at a time.

(This is why you’ll occasionally run into agents explicitly saying “We do not ask for exclusive queries.” They’re just confirming that they’re following common industry practices. It’s the same thing as when agents ensure you that they absolutely, positively, don’t charge authors fees for anything.)

Agents may ask for exclusivity if they ask to read your full manuscript. If they do, they should make it clear when they request it. But at the querying stage? No.

However, short fiction markets very often request exclusivity.

It’s very common for short fiction markets to want exclusive submissions. But at the same time, that’s not always the case–some are OK with it, although they usually want you to tell them ASAP if someone else offers to publish it.  Keep track of who wants what, or use a database tool like Duotrope or Submission Grinder that tracks that for you.

In the end, the rule’s always the same: read everyone’s submission requirements.

That’s it. Read the submission requirements. If someone wants an exclusive submission, they’ll tell you. And if they don’t say anything about exclusivity or simultaneous submissions, it’s probably fine to submit that piece elsewhere.

Happy submitting!

When you submit something for publication–be it a novel or a short story–you’ll probably have to put it in Standard Manuscript Format. And while most folks are fine with 12pt Times New Roman and italics (which I strongly prefer), you occasionally find folks who really want the “Courier New + underlines instead of italics” variant.

Today I submitted a story to a place that wanted just that. So what was I going to do? Reformat the entire story by hand?

Thankfully, I just discovered that Word’s search and replace feature will do this for you. Here’s how!

  1. First, open Word’s Find and Replace tool (shortcut: Control+H).Screenshot of MS Word's Find and Replace box.
  2. Select “More >>”
  3. At the bottom, select Format, then “Font…”Screenshot showing the location of Format > Font...
  4. In the “Font Style” box, select “Italic.”
  5. Hit OK. Now your “Find Box” should say “Find what: Format: Font: Italic.”Screenshot showing FInd: Format: Font: Italic.
  6. Now move your cursor to the “Replace With” box.
  7. Do (almost) the same thing. Go to Format > Font…
  8. Under “Underline Style,” select one underline, with the thinnest line. Screenshot showing the Underline Style section.
  9. Word should know look like this:Screenshot showing Find Italics Replace with Underline.
  10. Replace all!
  11. This will make your italic font underlined, but it’ll still be italic. To remove the italics, select all of the text in the file (shortcut: Control+A).
  12. Hit the italics button twice. (Or just use shortcut: Control+I twice.)
  13. This will put your entire story in italics, then remove it all. Once you’re done, there’ll be no italic font left in your story–just the stuff you underlined before.

And voila! That’s it.

You’ll probably want to do a quick scan through the file to clean it up. You can’t tell when the space after a word is italicized, for example, but you’ll definitely realize it when it’s underlined. Fix all of that.

Find and Replace can also fix most of your manuscript formatting issues, such as:

  • Replacing two spaces after the end of a sentence with one space
  • Adding extra line breaks after paragraphs (for when you need to go from double-spaced to single-spaced, but with extra space between paragraphs–a very common style for query letters.)
  • Converting all of Word’s curly quotation marks to straight quotation marks.

…And much more. I’ve used Find and Replace for a lot of stuff over the years. And now that I know you can mass-replace formatting, it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier to submit to a variety of places–no matter how they want the story to look.

I’ve probably written about this before, but you know what? It’s a brand new year. Also, I need something to point to the next time someone asks me about this.

Let’s talk about how you submit short stories.

1. Get a subscription on a site like Submission Grinder or Duotrope.

These are databases of small fiction publishers. Both of these sites let you:

  • Keep track of all of your short fiction, including their names, genres, and lengths
  • Search for markets that take stories of that genre and length
  • Record which markets you’ve already submitted each piece to
  • Track how long your pieces have been out
  • See when other people have gotten rejections and acceptances (or when they’ve given up in despair and marked something as no-response)
  • Tally up your acceptances and rejections.

Duotrope costs $5 a month, is slightly easier to use, and includes a few features that Submission Grinder doesn’t. (It’ll show you whether you’ve submitted your pieces to markets that would let you simultaneously submit them elsewhere, for example, and it has a very nice but sometimes anemic theme calendar.) Use whatever site you prefer.

2. Know how long your stories should be.

Do some research. Look at pro, semi-pro, and token-paying markets in the genre you want to write for. (What are those? I’ll talk about that in a second.) What size of story do they want?

I don’t know if this is the same for all genres, but in the realm of secondary-world fantasy, these are the most common types of short stories:

  • Flash Fiction: Stories under 1,000 words. There are a reasonable number of places that want fantasy flash fiction, but there aren’t nearly as many markets as there are for standard-length fiction.
  • Short Stories: 1,000 – approximately 6,000 words, with the sweet spot beneath 5,000. There’s no “standard” length–you’ll find people who want stories of all shapes and sizes. I’ve had the most luck with stories between 4,000-5,000 words.
  • Novelette: Varies wildly. I’ve seen places that top out at 10,000. Or 11,000. Or 17,500?! Like flash fiction, there are fewer decently paying markets at this length.

Duotrope and Submission Grinder also list novellas (approximately 20K-39,000K) and novels (40,000+). But this post is about short stories, right? So let’s leave it at that.

3. Know the pay scales.

Short stories go by a very simple pay scale:

  • Non-Paying Markets: These markets pay nothing.
  • Token Markets: These markets pay less than 1 cent a word. Some of them have somewhat quirky ways of paying you back, like the good ol’ “We won’t pay you anything upfront, but we’ll give you a tiny fraction of royalties on the sales.” Which means, of course, that you have a perfectly good chance of making $0. (I obviously prefer the ones that pay you upfront.)
  • Semi-Professional Markets: Pay between 1 and 4 cents per word. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them are at 1c/word.
  • Professional Markets: Pay more than 5 cents per word.

For the most part, short stories don’t pay royalties. You get paid once after the piece is published.

4. Write your story.

Now that you know some of the markets that exist in your genre–and what they’re looking for–go, and be free! Write words! Make magic!

5. Enter your stories into Duotrope or Submission Grinder.

Go to whatever database you’re using and enter your new piece. They just want to know the genre and how long it is. Here’s what Duotrope’s “New Piece” page looks like:

duotrope-piece-submission-page

6. Search for markets.

Now that the piece is in the database, you can use the database to search for markets that accept pieces like yours. Just keep a few things in mind:

  • The database can only tell you “Hey, this place likes 3,500-word fantasies!” That doesn’t mean your piece is a good fit for that market. They may only be accepting pieces about fairies in contemporary office settings, or pieces from authors in Australia. Research every market’s submission requirements before you submit to them.
  • Be daring. Submit your stories to pro-rate places and work your way down. Expect boatloads of rejections. Non-paying and token payment markets are the easiest to get published in, sure. But why start there? Work your way down.
  • Expect tough competition at the top. Pro-rate places are extraordinarily competitive. Your stories may be competing with those from professional authors. Don’t take it personally (or get too attached to the thought of 12 cents a word.) If you can sell to them, it’ll be a feather in your cap. But if you can’t? Keep going.

7. Keep your stories out.

Most short fiction markets respond in about 1-3 months (but many are much, much faster.)

When you get a rejection, log it in Duotrope or the Submission Grinder, find a new market, and send it out again.  When something gets accepted, write a new story to replace it.

And that’s it! Just keep writing, keep submitting, and keep trying.

A few months ago, someone asked me a simple question: Why did I write short stories?

I, like the vast majority of people writing speculative fiction, primarily write novels. That’s the end goal, right? To write wonderful novels, get an agent, and see how far you can go! Novels are big! Prestigious! And they make you royalties!

And while there are some very prestigious short fiction markets, it’s… well, still not the same as a novel. So why, the question goes, would I spend time I could be using for my novels on short stories?

Here’s the long answer.

1. Short stories can be written quickly.

OK, so let’s say you wrote a novel. It’s 80,000 words long. You’ve written it, edited it, and gotten reviews.

How long did that take? I mean, I can’t say for sure–we all write at different paces–but it wouldn’t be surprising if that took you a year.

Short stories are just a few thousand words, maybe 2,000-6,000 on average. That’s, what… a chapter? You could write that in a few days.

2. Short stories can be published quickly.

When I queried agents last year, most of them took between 2-6 months to respond. And that’s just for the first request! They want the partial? That’s more time. They want a full? That can take months! Agonizing, exciting, wonderful, terrifying months!

Publishers aren’t fast, either. Even the extremely fast small press that published Justice Unending took ~4 months between the contract and publication.

Short stories are fast. There are no “fulls” or “partials”–you send the complete story to the market when you submit. And they’re fast! Many places respond in a matter of weeks, and most reply in under 3 months.

3. Short stories can be a big self-esteem boost.

Let’s face it: it feels nice to be published. There’s nothing quite like knowing that someone likes your work. They got 200 submissions, read them all, and decided they wanted to publish yours. How cool is that?

4. They’re easy to do in between novels or drafts.

Do you let drafts rest before you go back to them? Do you take a breather after finishing a novel? Are your beta readers reading your draft, and you’re not quite ready to jump into something new?I personally find it very hard to write back-to-back novels. So what do I do with those moments? I write short stories. Maybe I can test ideas for new novels! Or try a new world! Or just write in a genre I usually don’t play with! Who cares? I can just take a few weeks, dash something out, and then get back to work.

Basically, short stories are an excellent way to get:

  • That nice “I completed a project!” feeling
  • Lots of responses from markets
  • Publications credits

… in a much faster time frame than you would with novels. And if you schedule your time right, they don’t even get in the way! You can write your novels and fit short stories in between. And with a stable of 3-4 stories, you can have multiple stories out for submission for months.

For me, it’s absolutely been worth it. And depending on how you write? Maybe it’ll help you, too.

If you’ve been writing anything for any period of time, you’ve probably heard about Scrivener, a piece of software for writers. And if you’ve never used it before, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. Is it going to change your life? Is it a godsend that every author on earth would love to have? Do you neeeeeeeeeed it?

The answer is no.

Shoot. I should probably write more than that, huh?

I bought Scrivener a year ago, when the HYPE TRAIN finally caught up with me. And now that I’ve used it for a couple of projects, I have… ambivalent feelings for it.

But when I was wondering what to write about this morning, I got an email about an SCBWI Scrivener class, and Reddit’s /r/Writing (I know, I know…) upvoted a post about how Scrivener is on sale again. So I guess the universe wants me to talk about my experience with Scrivener!

Let’s do it!

What Does Scrivener Do, Exactly?

Scrivener is a writing tool. It lets you keep everything you need for a writing project in a single place. It has way more features than I can list, but let’s go through a few. You can:

  • Create a folder for each chapter and a file for each scene in your story.
  • Freely drag-and-drop those scenes wherever you want them.
  • Import files, images, and other resources and file them in your story reference files.
  • Use its Corkboard to create a notecard for every scene (or whatever) and move them around.
  • Use its Outliner mode to create outlines.
  • Enter a full-screen mode that blacks out everything else on your desktop.
  • Keep track of your daily word counts and your progress toward your final word count.
  • Export your novel, which combines all your chapters and scenes into one single manuscript.

So, yes. Scrivener does a lot of really cool things. And its long list of features–along with the fact that everyone seems to raaaaaave about it–made me think that this might be something that revolutionizes how I write.

So, did it?

All those fancy-pantsy features can actually be distracting.

Do you know what happened the first time I tried to use Scrivener to write a novel? I couldn’t focus.

  • All my worldbuilding files and notes were right there, staring at me. I know you want your files close at hand, so you can find them without searching, but mentally, they felt too close to me. They were right there. They felt like clutter. They felt like other things I could do and write and play with, which were right there. Staring at me. It was bizarrely distracting.
  • I used my outline to create an empty scene for every scene I wanted to do in the book, and every time I sat down I just wrote the next scene. I thought this would be extremely organized and efficient–I had the whole story planned out, right? I just had to fill it in! But seeing how many scenes I had until the end of the book was weirdly demoralizing.
  • And full-screen mode, while nice, is just different enough from Word to trigger something in my brain. Despite its many customization options, I couldn’t make it look exactly like Word, and the discrepancies tickled the back of my brain.

Could I have gotten used to all of this? Sure.

But I’m a really habit-driven person. Changing my habits makes me slower, more distracted, and less efficient. And writing in a different format, in a different program, made it considerably harder to write.

Changing the way you write content, take notes, and outline can be disruptive unless it really has a purpose.

This sounds really obvious. But it took me a surprisingly long time to realize that trying to use Scrivener was actually making me less productive.

It was different. It wasn’t unambiguously better than my current systems, it was just different. And that difference was distracting.

So I did some soul-searching. What was the most perfect, most ideal situation when I wanted to write? What felt like a really soothing, really productive setting?

A screenshot of an empty file in Word.

Yeahhh. That’s the stuff.

Yep.

That’s our dear friend Microsoft Word. It has its flaws, sure. But I’ve used it for years, and all my preferred fonts and formatting are pre-loaded into it. And, better yet, there are no distractions–no other folders full of content, no notes hovering in the edge of my vision. Nothing. Just a great, vast, gaping emptiness, waiting for words.

(“But hey! Word is an expensive piece of software, too!” you might cry. “Scrivener is actually cheaper!” This is true! But I’m not saying Word is better for everyone. I’m saying it’s better for me, because I’m used to it.)

In fact, I have a whole system of organizing my notes, outlines, and drafts:

  • Notes that I intend to reference a few times before deleting are written in Word and filed in the folders with my stories.
  • My outlines and files for the worldbuilding and characters are in a free Wiki at Wikidot.
  • If ideas come to me when I’m at work, I use Google Docs or email the ideas to myself.

This is familiar to me. And comfortable. And easy. And, like I said above, I’m used to it. And if I change these without an obvious reason–like some sort of “Holy fudge, this tool does XYZ thing so much better I can’t imagine living without it” moment–it’s jarring and uncomfortable.

And eventually, I realized I was just making things harder for myself for no reason at all. Word worked great for me. Why was I trying to force myself to write somewhere else?

I still use Scrivener for some things. Sometimes. I just don’t need to.

I do use Scrivener sometimes. Just not all the time.

When I write novels, I write in Word and organize my content so that there’s one chapter per Word file. So that part of Scrivener’s pretty useful–I can write all my content in Word, import it into Scrivener when it’s done, and use Scrivener to combine them into a final draft.

And Scrivener can be pretty nice for keeping your notes in one place. While I still use my Wiki, I do sometimes create a new project and store all my notes in it.

But none of this is life-changing. I could combine all my Word files into one giant novel file without Scrivener’s help. I can set up my Wiki so all my notes for one project are grouped together, too. Neither of these are really worth the $40 price tag. This is especially true when you realize that there are tools out there that can do the same thing. yWriter has some similar (but simpler) features, for example, and it’s free.

So, basically: Scrivener can sometimes be useful, but it didn’t change my life.

Basically, you definitely don’t need a $40 piece of software to write. Scrivener does a lot of things, and it’s good at a quite a lot of them. But if you’re agonizing over whether you need to buy some expensive software, don’t. It’s cool, but you don’t need it to write.

I mean, it has a free trial. Give it a shot. See if you like it. But you might not, and that’s fine, too.

And if you already have systems for writing, editing, outlining, and note-taking that work for you? You might not even need Scrivener–not if what you have is working for you.