Like many other writers, I really really really love Scrivener. I love it so much, I’ve taken it upon myself to try to convert as many writers as possible over to the software: to see the light, and embrace their destiny. I give speeches about the virtues of Scrivener so often, I usually start them with “have I spoken to you about Scrivener before?”
I figure it’s time to do this properly. So here is my guide for using Scrivener to make all of your (word processing) dreams come true.
The Corkboard is Scrivener’s home base, where you can see an outline of your novel.
The difference between Scrivener and most other word processors is that Scrivener encourages you to divide your manuscripts into chapters and scenes. There are many different ways to view the separate texts of your manuscript, but in corkboard view, each text you add will create an index card where you can store information about that chapter or scene.
If you’re a plotter, you can outline your manuscript at your corkboard. Create new index cards for each chapter or scene, and write a short synopsis of each. Dragging and dropping index cards will reorganise your novel. Once everything is plotted, the titles of each text you created will appear in the binder on the left-hand side of your screen. To start writing, simply click on a title and begin.
If you’re a pantser, create a new text for every chapter you write. Once you finish it, give it a working title and type a short synopsis. When you visit your corkboard, you’ll find an outline already laid out for you.
Yes. It is beautiful.
The Binder is the organisational tool on the left-hand side of your screen. Its primary function is as a table of contents for your manuscript, but it can also contain every single file and document you will ever need for your manuscript. It comes with folders for character and location sketches. When you create a new text in these, you’ll find a short form where you can store basic information about settings and people. You can use these while planning your story, or to keep track of what you’ve already said about them. It also comes with a research folder, where you can dump everything from .pdfs and image files to movies and music.
I always add an extra folder for deleted scenes, so I don’t have to dump them in the trash.
The trash, by the way, keeps the files you delete from your manuscript, so you can easily restore them if you change your mind. Scrivener has your back.
Each folder has its own corkboard, so you get an easy overview of your research and planning.
On the right-hand side of the screen is the equally useful “Inspector.” There are two very important inspector pages.
- The first includes space for a synopsis and document notes. (Which will be most useful for plotters.) It also lets you label the text file as a chapter, idea, character notes, notes, or scene. Under the label menu is the status menu, where you can mark the text as: to-do, first draft, revised draft, final draft, or done.
- The fifth is the snapshot. Before you revise your chapter, take a snapshot, and Scrivener will save that version of your text. While editing, if you decide to revert to a previous version, or simply want to compare versions, you can view and even restore snapshotted texts. This means you don’t need to create a new file or a new text whenever you update a chapter or scene.
Target Word Counts
On the bottom right-hand corner is a progress bar and circular target. When you press the circular target, you can create a word count target for your document and as you type, you can watch your progress bar fill.
This feature isn’t extraordinarily important, but it is so writer friendly. If you give yourself daily word count goals, or participate in events like NaNoWriMo, it’s lovely to have. Scrivener will even send you a little notification when you hit your goal.
Full-screen mode turns your computer screen into a typing-only space. In the bottom bar, you can adjust your page width, go to your inspector, and see your word count, but while typing, that all goes away. You can also add a background to surround your page, if you’d like a narrower page width.
Again, this isn’t extraordinarily important or special, but it’s a writer friendly feature.
Scrivener’s split screen feature is a phenomenal revising tool. In the same file, in the same screen, in the same program, you can view two texts side-by-side, two different ways. No more toggling different windows or opening a bunch of different files. Change the texts you’re viewing by selecting new ones in the Binder. Revert to a single-text view, by clicking on the text you want to keep, going to File -> Layout, and removing the split. (Or pressing the split screen icon at the top right of the text.)
You can also use split screen mode to view your research as you write. (For example, if you’re writing about a particular building, you can pull up an image of that building to use as a reference while you write. If you describe your protagonist’s walk through town next, you can stay in split screen, and pull up a map of the town.)
You can also easily make space on your screen by hiding the binder and inspector by pressing the blue binder icon on the very right of the toolbar and the blue ‘i’ icon on the far left.
So you’ve used Scrivener to make brainstorming, planning, drafting, and revising a breeze. Now you want to share your manuscript, without sending someone this monstrosity of a file.
Scrivener makes exporting your manuscript a piece of cake with Compile. Check the texts you want to include, make any general formatting changes you need (like converting it all to double-spaced, 12pt, Times New Roman), and choose what type of document you’d like it saved as. Above, you can see that your options are just about limitless. You can print directly from Scrivener, make a Word file, create a pdf or even save it as an ebook.
Scrivener will also compile with proper manuscript formatting, which gives you one less thing to worry about.
Miscellaneous Reasons to Love It
- Automatic saves!!!!! Honestly, this is a THE BEST feature. Scrivener automatically saves your manuscript almost constantly and it rarely, rarely crashes. You will never have to worry about losing your work because of program failure. Never again cry because you exited without saving hours worth of work, or your word processor crashed before you ever had a chance to save the document at all.
- You can make it look like a “normal” word processor. If you’d feel more at home writing without the binder, inspector, and page-less view, you can easily hide both side bars, and go to View -> Page view-> Show Page View (or add a button for it on your toolbar.) In seconds, you’ll have a screen more like one you’d see in Word, but with all of the added functionality of Scrivener.
- Outline view. Outline view is the list version of the corkboard, where you can view you manuscript folder/text titles and summaries, as well as their labels, statuses, and word counts.
- It keeps your place. Scrivener always remembers where you are in a text. Close the program and it will reopen onto the same screen. If you’re 10 pages deep into Chapter 5, but want to check something in Chapter 2, you can leave Chapter 5, find what you’re looking for in Chapter 2, click back on Chapter 5, and be exactly where you left off on page 10, instead of page 1. It is so easy to navigate your novel in Scrivener. Imagine how painful a similar feat would be in Word.
- The name generator. Go to Edit -> Writing Tools and you’ll find a name generator. You can generate 500 full names in a matter of seconds. Grab some placeholders for minor characters. Get some ideas for major ones. Never waste time trying to name a cameo character again. Again, Scrivener is so writer friendly. Not only does it has everything you can want in a word processor, but it has things you never realized you needed in a word processor.
- Statistics. Click on the bar graph icon on the toolbar, and you can see not only your word, character, and paragraph counts, but you can view “word frequency”–how many times you use each word in your novel listed from most to least frequent.
- Front matter. If you’re compiling your manuscript to send to an agent, editor, or tutor, Scrivener sets up the cover page for you, with your name, contact info, the manuscript title, and word count. When you compile your manuscript, it’s automatically included for you.
- Customisable fonts/colour schemes. Scrivener does not come set up with a pretty purple background and the fonts in my screenshot, but in your preferences, you can easily customise your entire window with your chosen colours and fonts.
- Customisable toolbar. Scrivener has a LOT of features. It doesn’t expect you to use all of them. You can easily customise the top toolbar to quickly link to only the features you use. Remove or add as many icons as you’d like. (I’ve added the snapshot function, a ruler, and spell check to mine, and taken off things like keyword, compile, and the index card search.)
Be kind to yourself. Give Scrivener a try.
A free trial version is available for 30-days of use (they can be nonconsecutive).
Scrivener costs $45 for Macs, $40 for PCs, and $20 for iOS products. If you have the money, I promise it’s worth it. If you don’t, Scrivener goes on sale often. Coming up, NaNoWriMo participants get 20% off (just enter the discount code ‘NaNoWriMo’ at checkout) and NaNo winners get 50% off.