Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ten Reasons Scrivener Rocks!

8:00 AM Posted by Tara , 5 comments
I started using Scrivener four years ago, and I haven't stopped talking about how great it is since. It's completely changed the way I approach writing and revising, and as a result, the quality of my work has vastly improved. I tell every writer I meet that they should give Scrivener a try. Today, that writer is you!

Scrivener has something for everyone. It's paradise for planners who like to outline and organize before they write, but it also helps pantsers create order from chaos as they go, or after their first draft is complete. Scrivener is not just a word processor; it's a complete project manager, useful in every step of the writing process. And with so much flexibility, you can use it the way you want.

Before we get started with all the bells and whistles, here's a look at Scrivener's standard layout.

The basics.

On to the bells and whistles!

1. Scrivener keeps you—and your novel—organized.

When I wrote in Word, my manuscripts would end up being complete messes, with huge swathes of yellow highlighting and red-lettered notes, bits missing here and there from when I cut but forgot to paste—and how on earth are you supposed to find anything in a hundred-page wall of text? As the chaos grew over the course of Nanowrimo, so too did my anxiety... and anxiety is the last thing you need when you're trying to write a novel in a month.

And then, I found Scrivener. And I never looked back.

Instead of your novel sprawling wildly over a hundred pages, Scrivener lets you break it down into more manageable pieces so you can focus on one chapter or scene at a time, and easily move from one to another. If you're a non-linear writer, you can jump back and forth without worrying about copying and pasting scenes into the right order. Each document has a designated area for notes, so there's no need to cram them into the manuscript itself or get lost in cross-referencing with other files. And if you need to find that scene where your protagonist first met his love interest? Gone are the days of scrolling through thousands of words—it's just a click away in the binder!

Whether you're planning your novel ahead of time or you're ready to revise an unruly first draft, Scrivener is the perfect tool to organize your story.

Scrivener keeps your manuscript tidy and organized.

2. You can keep everything you need to write your novel all in one place.

Outlines, timelines, world maps, character profiles, research—there's a lot you might need to reference while you're writing your novel. Instead of opening multiple files in multiple windows, you can keep all of your background materials in a single Scrivener project file, and easily navigate between them in the binder.

Keep everything you need in one convenient place.

3. The split-screen function lets you view two documents or files at once.

Scrivener allows you to split your screen either vertically or horizontally, so you can reference an earlier scene, your outline, or your research materials while writing, without having to switch back and forth. I almost always write with a split screen, keeping an image of a setting or a character next to the editor for inspiration.

4. The full-screen view blocks out distractions.

If you always keep one eye on your word count, or minimized windows of Facebook or Twitter have a habit of tempting you away from your novel, Scrivener's full-screen view is for you. It blocks out everything—even the rest of Scrivener itself—so you stay focused on your writing. If you need to switch to a different document or refer to your scene's synopsis, simply call up the hidden menu bar for quick access. The full-screen view is highly customizable: you can adjust the size and location of your writing area, change the color of your background and text, or set a backdrop image for some atmosphere.

5. Auto-save saves lives!

Well, maybe not, but it does save your work from being lost if your computer crashes, automatically restarts to install updates while you're grabbing a snack, or you simply forget to save (easy to do when you're dozing off at your desk at two in the morning). By default, Scrivener auto-saves your project after two seconds of inactivity—basically, whenever you stop typing. If you think that's a tad extreme, you can change it to whatever frame of time you prefer.

The one downfall to auto-save is that you can't close your project without saving to undo any sweeping changes you regret making. However, there are two ways around this. First: auto-backups, a fantastic feature in and of itself. You can have Scrivener create a backup of your project every time you open and/or close it. This allows you to recover yesterday's copy of the project if you go a little too wild with it today. (Setting Scrivener to auto-backup to a Dropbox folder that auto-syncs to the cloud also protects your project from hard drive meltdowns!) The second way around unfavorable auto-saves is the snapshot feature.

6. Snapshots offer insurance for bad decisions.

The Nanowrimo powers that be discourage editing in November, but sometimes, you just can't help it. Sometimes a scene just isn't working—maybe it's too introspective, or that sudden earthquake is completely out of place, or the whole thing would be better told from another character's point of view. So you change it. And then, a few days later... you wish you hadn't. You want that earthquake back. It was pretty good, now that you think about it. But, alas! It's gone forever!

Not so if you take a snapshot of the document before making any major changes. You can view the original version and the edited version side by side to compare, and roll back to the original if you decide messing with it was a huge mistake. And there's no limit to the number of snapshots you can save, so take as many as you like while revising a document. Even if you never roll back to a previous version, it's a great way to track the evolution of your story.

Snapshots provide a safety net when jumping into major edits.

7. Document targets help you stay on target.

I have a terrible habit of writing too much in fear of not writing enough, and hitting 50,000 words before I get anywhere near the end of my novel, while many other writers reach the end of theirs before they've reached 50,000 words. Both problems can be solved—or at least helped—with document targets.

First, a little math: if you're using a three-act plot structure, you should aim to write 12,500 words for the first act, 25,000 for the second, and 12,500 for the third. You can leave it at that, or you can break it down even further. I find that having a target word count for each individual scene best keeps me on track. Document targets appear at the bottom of the editor, so you can keep an eye on your progress as you write.

Of course, you'll want to set a target for your entire draft; watching your progress bar turn from red to yellow to green throughout November is great motivation to keep going! And you can set a goal for a single writing session—very handy for ensuring that you're hitting the magic number of 1,667 words per day, or if you enjoy timed writing sprints.

Set word count targets to help you stay on track.

8. Labels, keywords, and custom meta-data offer even more organization.

Only hardcore planners are likely to use these features prior to starting their first draft, but pantsers will find them useful when it comes time for revision. All three work in similar ways and are completely customizable, allowing you to tailor them to your unique needs.

Labels are best for tracking one particularly important aspect of your novel. For instance, if your story is told from multiple POVs, you can use labels to indicate each scene's narrator, or if you're writing on more than one timeline, you might label your scenes as "Past" and "Present." I'm currently using labels to show whether a scene's structure is Scene or Sequel to help me map out my story's conflict. You can choose to show label colors in the binder, corkboard, and/or outliner for at-a-glance information.

Keywords are essentially the same as labels, but you can assign as many as you want to a single document, to "tag" your scenes with all the characters, settings, or subplots with which they're involved. This is especially useful when used in conjunction with the collections feature (more about that in a minute). Keyword colors will appear down the side of the document's index card in the corkboard view, so they're also great for color-coding.

Tag your documents with labels and keywords.

If you like charted outlines, you can use custom meta-data to set one up within Scrivener. The outliner view is already equipped to display a document's title, synopsis, label, status, and word count target and progress, but you can create custom meta-data fields for everything else you might need to know about a scene: its POV, setting, date and time, goal and conflict, and so on. You can also view this information in the bottom pane of the inspector while writing.

Scrivener uses your custom meta-data to generate an outline.

9. Collections let you narrow your focus.

Collections, as the name would imply, collect related documents. The relationship is up to you. If you're writing from multiple POVs, you might create a collection for each characters' chapters. You could collect all the scenes in which a particular subplot is involved, or all the scenes which take place in a certain setting. When it comes time for revision, make yourself a to-do list by creating a collection of scenes that need to be edited, or scenes that need further research, world-building, or character development.

There are two types of collections: standard and search. A standard collection is created manually by dragging and dropping documents from the binder into a collection tab; these collections are static, and will only change if you change them. A search collection, on the other hand, is dynamic, and will automatically update itself as you update your project. For example, you can make that revision to-do list by searching for documents with the status "to be revised" and saving the results as a collection. If you change a document's status to "done," it will be removed from that collection; if you later decide that it needs more work, change its status back to "to be revised" and it will be added to the collection once more.

Collections group documents together based on any criteria you choose.

Statuses, labels, and keywords are great for at-a-glance information, but collections are what ties everything together. Whether you're writing your first draft and want to concentrate on a single POV, or you're beginning revision and want to isolate the scenes that need the most work, collections let you narrow your focus without disrupting the framework of your binder.

10. When your manuscript is finished, you can compile it into a single file for printing or exporting.

How do you get your novel out of Scrivener once it's done? Simple: compile your draft into a wide variety of file formats for printing, submission, or self-publishing. Scrivener offers a number of preset formats, including standard manuscript and e-book, but you have full control over how your final file looks. You can include or exclude any folders or documents within the draft folder, choose how individual files are separated, and convert rich text formatting to plain text equivalents. You can even compile a synopsis outline, your research materials, or only the documents in a particular collection. No matter how you've organized your binder while writing or revising, the compile feature helps you turn your draft into a cohesive manuscript.

Convinced yet?

So you want to give this Scrivener thing a go. Great! And even greater: as one of Nanowrimo's sponsors, Scrivener offers discounts for participants! You can get 20% off by entering the coupon code NANOWRIMO at check-out. Or, if you write 50,000 words this November, you'll receive a 50% off coupon code when you validate your novel on the Nanowrimo website. Scrivener also offers a free thirty-day trial, so you can make sure it works for you before you purchase it, or use it throughout November to write the novel that will earn you that winner's discount.

If you have any questions about how a feature works, leave a comment and I'll be happy to help as best as I can. And if you're a Scrivener veteran yourself, please share your favorite tips and tricks—I love learning new ways to use my favorite program!


  1. Great info! I just finished the tutorial last night, and you hit right on the features I loved. The split screen will be great and the ability to include multiple types of saved info. I'm a pantster at heart, but I'm hoping for a little organization this year.

  2. This post is fabulous! I am currently falling back in love with Scrivener, because really, you can't really leave it. My only qualm has been how long they've been working on a mobile/iOS version, but for right now, the sync with SimpleNote is enough for me. I'll definitely have to try more of your meta data and labelling tips... good luck on Nano prep!

  3. Just found your blog in a comment you wrote on the Nanowrimo site...very excited. I love Scrivener!

  4. I have loved Scrivener since I first learned to use it a year and a half ago! Another neat thing to know is, if you're working on a sequel or a series, your character and place setting sketches can be clicked and dragged into your next project! Is that easy! I've learned how to get Scrivener to do stuff even its developers say can't be done with it!

  5. I have loved Scrivener since I first learned to use it a year and a half ago! Another neat thing to know is, if you're working on a sequel or a series, your character and place setting sketches can be clicked and dragged into your next project! Is that easy! I've learned how to get Scrivener to do stuff even its developers say can't be done with it!