Confessions of a Digital Novelist

Why I picked Storyist

by on May.04, 2010, under Tools of the Trade, Writing

Over the past few weeks, my writing output has been slowed as I’ve made to transition from Windows to Mac. When I was on Windows, I would fight my way through MS Word. Word is probably the best word processor on the market, but I found that it got in the way of the writing experience when working on fiction. Far too often I would have to worry about formatting rather than what was happening next in my story. I wrote all of Evermore: Call of the Nocturne on Word and it was a long laborious process.

So when my PC died and I made the switch to Mac, I wanted to choose my writing software carefully. Checking the Internet, it seemed that there was only two programs to consider: StoryMill and Scrivener. Far and away the most popular writing programs, StoryMill and Scrivener deserved to be taken head-to-head. So I downloaded their generous demos and got to work.

StoryMill
This was my early favourite. Easy to set up, easy to use, StoryMill did a great job of getting out of my way and letting me write. It didn’t look the best, especially on Mac, but it got the job done.

However, it did have a few annoyances. It’s full screen writing mode was an ugly, eye-sore that stretched across my widescreen monitor, making it look like my paragraphs were lonely sentences. Its character section was nice but didn’t let me add groups. As my wiki file for the Evermore Trilogy contains characters, groups, things, and locations, this wasn’t enough for my purposes. Finally, StoryMill was good but it didn’t feel incredible. It didn’t make me excited to write. Instead, it felt like a chore.

Scrivener
While I took StoryMill through its paces, I didn’t spend too much time with Scrivener. It looked nice but I could never really get into it. It simply took too long to set up and coordinate in order to facilitate the writing process. It made the whole thing harder rather than easier.

Thus, I was all set to buy StoryMill. I was ok with it but I wasn’t overjoyed by the product. I felt that it would simply get the job down.

Then I heard about Storyist. Storyist caught my attention when I heard that it was the first writing program tha would allow you to directly export to the .epub file format. Curious, I read some reviews. They were enthusiastic about the new version, even more so then StoryMill or Scrivener. So I downloaded the 15-day demo and put it through it’s paces.

Storyist
First I tried out the character documentation feature. To my surprise, it allowed me to create groups. Secondly, it put them into an attractive and concise format. After playing with it fo a couple days, I was convinced that it’s Story creation features were better than StoryMill and more focused than Scrivener.

Next, I transferred over a Novella that I was working on in StoryMill to see how it handled the actual writing. It took some getting used to but soon enough I was writing with far more efficiency than I was used to.  Chapters are organized on the left hand side but it also allows you to subdivide the chapters down into sections.  I really like this feature as you can create your story as a group of sections and simply move these sections from chapter to chapter as you edit.

The full-screen option is another feature that I love.  Rather than the ugly wide blue screen of StoryMill or slight translucency of Scrivener, Storyist uses a straight-up manuscript look with black letter boxes.  The look is appealing in that when you write the pages go by quickly because of its low word-count per page.  This is great because it makes you feel like you’re really flying and getting a lot of work done.  It’s a subtle form of positive reinforcement that really makes the writing experience fun.

The only thing that I don’t like about the writing with Storyist is the Progress Goal.  StoryMill has this great progress meter that allows you to set a daily session goal (say 1000 words) and updates a progress bar as you write.  Storyist on the other hand uses an Inspector that you must click to pop up.  The Inspector contains other features but its session goal feature leaves a lot to be desired.  Unlike StoryMill, the session goal does not reset on every writing session.  That means that if you set a goal of 1000 words and finish that goal, when you come back the next day the session goal will not reset automatically.  In other words, you have to reset the session goal automatically each and every time you write.  This is highly annoying especially when you’re used to the ease of StoryMill’s progress bar.  Hopefully in an update they’ll fix this issue.

The feature that I love most however is Storyist’s ability to export your story to an .epub file.  As everyone knows by now, .epub is the format used by Apple’s iPad and it also works with the popular Stanza app for iPhone.  Storyist allows you to organize your pages and include a cover page from the images section of the navigator pane on the left.  The end result looks great in Stanza (I haven’t tried it in iPad yet).  It’s nice and clean and it makes sure there  are page breaks for each new chapter.  This is something that Smashwords’ Meat-Grinder process does not do all, leaving chapter breaks in the middle of the page.  The result is a far more attractive file.  After you’ve exported the story to .epub you can still edit it, allowing you to optimize the file for the platform.  All in all, it works exactly as it should.  It’s easy and simple and allows you to do what you need.  It makes it a breeze to publish books on the iPhone and iPad.

For all the reasons above, I found that Storyist was the best program for my needs on the Mac.  I purchased it a couple weeks ago and have made a lot of progress finishing the first draft of my next novella.  I would recommend it to anyone.  It just makes writing fun.

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12 Comments for this entry

  • Scott

    Thanks for the great review…I was leaning towards Storyist and you pushed me over the edge with your breakdown.

  • Chris

    Good review. Almost inspires me to write! If only I had something to write…and theability to form coherent sentences.

  • Scott

    Writing is excruciating. It’s like having the Invisible Man periodically poke you in the eye. You don’t like the feeling but there’s little you can do about it.

  • Scott

    Not a problem. Glad I could help.

  • Ted

    Perhaps you would have chosen StoryMill instead if you had discovered that the full screen margins, text & background colors, font family, and zoom size are all adjustable. And with tagging and Smart Views – similar to the MacOS Finder’s Smart Folders – any kind of grouping you can imagine is possible. Characters (along with scenes, chapters, locations, research and task entries) can be organized into many groups at once.

    Which demonstrates how difficult it is to choose between these excellent programs (I’d include Storyist too). Each has wonderful strong points. I wouldn’t fault anyone for preferring one over the other. Though if they don’t spend enough time and study with the trial versions they may easily end up with the wrong one for their style of writing. Without ever knowing it.

  • Jonathan

    Nice write-up. I also checked each of these apps out. The one I have settled with is the latest version of Scrivener (2.x). I suspect it came out after you wrote the above. I wasn’t willing to settle on Scrivener 1.x and continued to fuss around with various apps including all the ones you’ve mentioned above.

    Perhaps the biggest selling point for Scrivener 2, for me, is that whilst fully supports the needs and workflow of a fiction and screenplay writer (of which I am neither) it is also flexible enough that it supports writing non-fiction brilliantly.

    I am sure you (Scott) have already checked out Scrivener 2. So I post this comment mostly for people reading your blog… some words of encouragement to check out Scrivener 2, and be sure to watch the excellent tutorial videos on their site, and the PDF user manual. I am constantly digging up new features in this app, thanks to the very detailed videos and mostly the excellent user manual.

    No, I have zero affiliation with the Scrivener folks.

  • Scott

    I actually haven’t had a chance to check out Scrivener 2. Since I had written my drafts of Evermore: Call of the Nocturne in Microsoft Word, I found that I had major difficulties importing it into Storyist so I used Pages instead. It worked really well. I’m working on something now that will give me a better idea of how Storyist works from conception to final draft. However, the software changes so quickly that my post is probably now hopelessly out of date. If you write a review of Scrivener, drop me a line on my comment board and I’ll gladly link to it to give readers more information.

  • Scott

    It seems to be a personal choice. No two people are looking for the same thing. I hope that you found the software that works for you.

  • Stanley

    Storyist is great, but to be honest, some of your criticisms of Scrivener reveal that you didn’t even take the time to read through the tutorial document and scan the Preferences settings. I think doing the tutorials of all the programs, looking at the preferences, scanning the menus, and scanning the table of contents of the manuals is the minimum expected before you attempt to “review” the software.

  • Brad Teare

    Thanks for the concise review. I definitely will check out Storyist.

  • Scott

    Try them all before buying. The technology changes so fast that my review is probably out of date.

  • Scott

    You must also remember that my review is now over a year old. A lot has changed. I do hear a lot of good things about scrivener though. I’ll check it out again in the future.

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