The L&L Blog  /  Scrivener

A brief history of Scrivener: Part 1

You know what gets my goat? When people accuse Scrivener - which hasn't even reached version 1.0 yet - of being a rip-off of Ulysses. Let me get this straight: Ulysses is a wonderful application, but it is an original implementation and not an original idea. If you've been on a Mac for a while, you might remember a program called Z-Write. It had a list of documents on the left, and you clicked on one to select it and edit it in the text view on the right. It was around long before Ulysses, but it was nowhere near as sophisticated or beautiful. So in all fairness, if you are a long-time Mac user, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ulysses is the only software of its kind aimed specifically at writers. But I came to the Mac two years ago after being a long-time PC user, and the PC has been rife for some time with applications trying to do what Ulysses does so well: provide an organisational tool for writers. There is WriteWay Pro, WriteItNow!, NewNovelist, Liquid Story Binder and, by far the best in my opinion, RoughDraft, to name but a few. All of them have some form of list of contents next to a text view for editing a chapter or scene, and they all allow you to keep separate notes for each chunk of text. Sound familiar?

Oh, and you know what? You never hear anybody complain that Nisus Writer or Mellel are rip-offs of Microsoft Word.

But anyway. The thing about programs aimed at writers is that no one program is going to suit all writers, because all writers work in different ways. Had Ulysses or any of the other writing software programs out there suited the way I write, you can be sure that I would never have created Scrivener. What would be the point? It's not like I'm ever going to make much money out of Scrivener; my only motivation for creating it is that I want software that suits me (more on that later). When I first bought my old iBook, I scoured the net for OS X writing applications, hoping to find the killer app that had eluded me on the PC. When I came across Ulysses, I thought I'd found it. The interface for me came to represent what I was beginning to love about OS X: simplicity and cool. The killer for me was that Ulysses is plain text, though: no formatting whatsoever. Now, I like being a little experimental in the appearance of my text. I'm a Vonnegut fan, so I may well want to put sketches or pictures into my text. (For a really good example of a work that plays with formatting, incidentally, read The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done by Sandra Newman. It's all written in bullet points and lists, but it is tremendously moving.) I like the way Salinger adds emphasis to certain syllables of dialogue, so I often do the same, and I didn't want to have to look at text that looks like this while editing: "//Per//fect," he said, "That's //just// what we need." There was another killer for me, too: no hierarchical organisation in the list of documents. I wanted a bit more control in that area. And I know I'm not alone, because the Blue-Tec forums get about a dozen requests a week for italics and hierarchical folders. But Blue-Tec won't do it, and good for them. Good for them, because they have a very strong design philosophy and they're sticking to it. They have something that is beautiful and unique and a lot of users love it, and they shouldn't try to change it into something it's not for those of us who don't work like that. But those of us who don't work like that have to look elsewhere, and that is where Scrivener comes in.

Was Scrivener influenced by Ulysses? Most certainly. In particular, the full screen mode and the idea of being able to assign each document a label and status were lifted straight from Ulysses. There was no way I could make my perfect writing software without them. But did the whole idea for Scrivener come from Ulysses? Definitely not. The idea for Scrivener came to me back when I was using a PC. Back then it was going to be called BookTree and it was just a pipe dream; it wasn't until I discovered the ease of coding applications for OS X that it became a reality.


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