Writer’s Cafe vs. Scrivener: Which program is write for you? (Ha! I made a pun!)

As most of you know, I do most of my writing using Writer’s Cafe. It’s a great tool I found at the beginning of my writing career when I was looking for something that matched Scrivener, which was only Mac at the time. You can find my write up of that here.

A couple of years ago, Scrivener finally came out with a Windows version. By then, I had become a die hard fan of Writer’s Cafe, so I wasn’t looking to switch. But I was still curious, so I downloaded a demo and wrote a short story using it. There were some cool features Scrivener had that WC didn’t have, but other features WC ruled on that Scrivener was lacking. I decided I was happy with WC enough that I didn’t want to shell out $40 for Scrivener.

Flash forward to this summer. WC hadn’t been updated for a while, and I found that I really missed some of Scrivener’s features. So when I caught Scrivener on sale at Amazon for half price, I snatched it up. I’ve been using it since. But which is the better writing program?

So without further ado:


(Note—I’m comparing Writer’s Café to the Scrivener for Windows version, which I know is a tooled down version of Scrivener for Mac. Yes, I know the Mac version is better, but seeing that I don’t own a Mac, oh well.)

Similarities: WC & Scrivener are both dedicated to the art of writing. You write a whole book in either of them, write short stories, or do screenwriting. You can import text, edit, and export to an external program. You can keep notes, pictures, websites for research, and both programs come with a "corkboard" where you can view outline of your stories.  And both have really good support, Scrivener with its forums and WC with its Yahoo email group.

Differences: WC has different ‘programs’ within itself that you can choose to do your work via different tabs and/or a desktop that has icons to different parts of yourself, whereas Scrivener keeps everything on one place. WC is geared from the brainstorming and structuring part of writing, while Scrivener’s emphasis is more on the writing itself. I’ll get into more detail starting with Scrivener.

Scrivener’s plusses: As I mentioned, Scrivener is focused on writing. It makes for a great word processor because it has everything there at your fingertips. Conceivably, you can open up Scrivener without knowing anything about how it works and just start writing, because the space is intuitive. You can also make it so that you can block out everything except your writing space. If you’re a writer who works by scenes, Scrivener makes this super easy. You can move scenes around, split documents into separate sections and vice versa. You can also write a story in a single text document without splitting into scenes. There are many shortcuts and functions that mimic Microsoft word, such as comments and footnotes, plus features Word doesn’t have, such as the document and project notes, which I use to store text I’m editing out of a story on the chance I might need to use it again.


Another thing I really like about Scrivener is that you can make a "Scrivener Link" to point to any document in the program. So you can make your own wiki in scrivener, make key words point to notes. I really wish this feature was in Writer’s Cafe. It would make cross-referencing my research and notes so much easier.

I’m still working with Scrivener and discovering new things to do as I go, but I already feel I got more than my money’s worth. Scrivener as a word processor and writing tool outshines Writer’s Cafe, which also have a writing processor, but is buried and has bare bone features.

Writer’s Cafe plusses: WC may not do so well for writing stories, but when it comes to researching, planning and outlining, it outshines Scrivener.

WC’s strength is its Storylines feature, which is similar to the corkboard in Scrivener in that you can have cards that show synopses of your story, tags. However, WC allows you to group cards according to "storyline". You can  hide storylines or create multiples storylines. For instance, I have a storyline showing all the plots in my novel, but I also have another storyline showing a timeline of current events, and I have a storyline showing a timeline of the distant past.


WC’s also has Scrapbook, which like Scrivener, holds notes and websites for research. One feature WC has that Scrivener doesn’t is the ability to double-click on a URL on a webpage and copy it to Scrapbook (very useful when you’re collecting information for research). You can also make a collage…not very user friendly, but good if you want to do a visual character sketch.


There’s the pinboard, which gives you a unstructured corkboard to brainstorm lists. And of course, there are the notebook and journal features, which allow you to freewrite to your heart’s content. You can use writer’s prompts and write using a timer.

If you’re a freewriter like me, Writer’s Cafe is excellent for brainstorming and planning before you get to the actual writing. WC gives a chance for your brain to play before you get down to the nuts and bolts of writing.

The winner? Scrivener (kind of)

I’ve used Writer’s Cafe long enough that I would go to bat for it in a heartbeat. And I still do. But I have to say, if it boiled down to only one program to buy, Scrivener would be the best program because it’s all self-contained. I’ve completed two short stories in Scrivener, and it was super easy to brainstorm, write, proofread, and export the stories into the right format. Julian, the creator behind Writer’s Cafe, had written about upgrading WC to include many features Scrivener has, including a better word processor to make it easier to focus on the writing of stories, but this has yet to happen. And now that Scrivener for Windows is out, I dare say that overall, it functions as a better writing tool than WC. If you don’t have a writing program and are looking for one, Scrivener is your best bet.

But I can’t completely endorse Scrivener for Windows. I don’t know how often Scrivener updates its Window version, but it seems many of the functions that make Scrivener a superior writing program has yet to cross over to the Windows version. And this is where Writer’s Cafe picks up most of the slack, because while it’s not a good writing tool, it’s an excellent brainstorming and planning too.

So…if you can get both, do it. I was able to get Scrivener on sale from Amazon a few months ago, and I found that while I do most of the writing in Scrivener, I still do most of my freewriting, brainstorming and plotting through Writer’s cafe. Sort of like a left brain/Scrivener vs right brain/WC sort of thing. Both work well together.

Ironically, I’m not using either program to write this blog post. I’m using Evernote, which is a whole different ball of wax altogether. But that will have to be another cage match.


Saturday Links: Educational, Functional and Just Plain Fun!

I got three links on today’s menu for your reading pleasure.

The first one is a educational initiative. Long ago, a while back, I wrote about watching the 1st season of Electric Company. Well, it looks like they want to bring it back. The people behind the Sesame Street Workshop are applying for a $1.5 million project grant from American Express–but they need votes to get their project, ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’, nominated onto the voting round.

The deadline for the first round of voting is September 1, 2008. To vote, go to the Project Voting Page at the American Express website and nominate the ‘Bridging the Literacy Gap for Millions of Kids’ website. You will need to sign up as a Guest Member, but once you do, you’ll be able to vote for the project. Let’s bring the Electric Company back to the airwaves!

The second one has me bouncing on my toes in excitement. A new upgrade has been released for Writer’s Cafe. Far be it from me to promote another cafe here, but Writer’s Cafe is an excellent writer’s program I’ve been using for roughly two years now. It consists of many tools that help you organize your writing: the scrapbook, for instance, keeps track of your research, websites and notes. The Storylines tools is a storyboard where you can pin scenes of your story up and move them around as needed. The program also comes with a journal, a notebook, writing prompts, a timer, and an option to display inspirational quotes and writing tips upon startup of the program.

The new version is vastly improved over the old version: in the past, Storylines and Writer’s Cafe were two separate programs. The upgrade meshes them together in one. It includes a name generator and a pinboard where you can post notes and ideas. It opens on a start page where you can place shortcuts to your works-in-progress, Wikipedia and other pages, shortcuts within the program, etc.

What I like most about Writer’s Cafe program is the technical support. The program was created by Julian and Harriet Smart, the latter being a novelist. They are constantly looking for ways to improve the program and welcome suggestions. While I was beta testing the upgrade, I found myself using the Notebook to freewrite first drafts of stories and wanted to know how many words I’ve written. I suggested this to Julian, and with the next beta release, the word count feature was included in both the Journal and the Notebook! That was pretty nice.

For a download of $45 bucks ($65 if you want a CD-ROM version), it’s well worth the price. If you’re wary, you can download the beta and test it out here. But to me, this is the best writing software out there. Check it out now!

And finally, a YouTube video from CollegeHumor called “Font Conference”, for all you people who work with finding the right font to write in. Enjoy!