Whenever writers ask me about writing tools, we discuss Scrivener. I’ve been using the app since 2005, and finally updated to Scrivener 3 on my production machine.
So, since Scrivener’s been on my mind, let’s look at some tips for the app which will help you to take charge of your long-form fiction and nonfiction, and make writing easier.
An aside: there are no affiliate links in this post, and I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to Scrivener’s developers.
Firstly, let’s discuss the why of writing nonfiction books and novels in Scrivener. And yes, I know that you can write shorter works in Scrivener; I know writers who write screenplays, video scripts, and speeches in the app, but my primary experience is in writing books in Scrivener.
One word: ease. Heaven knows that writing books is challenging. Not for the writing, but for the amount of organization that’s needed. When you’re writing a book, confusion equals procrastination, and procrastination leads to a hard drive full of uncompleted books.
By the time I started using Scrivener in 2005, I’d had many years of writing books and wrestling with MS Word. I switched to Macs from PCs, and instantly my life became easier, because I installed Scrivener on my new Mac right away. From memory, Scrivener was still in beta at that stage.
It’s zero exaggeration: I’d shed tears of happiness at times because of Scrivener — I wrote more, and more easily, thanks to the program.
Now let’s look at some tips.
1. When you want something, just drag it in there
If you’re completely new to Scrivener, open the Interactive Tutorial from the Open screen. Play with the tutorial.
Then, start a new project for your current Work in Progress (WIP), and drag in your files. You can drag in many popular file formats, including PDFs, images, HTML files, MS Word files…
In the image above, I dragged 15 text files into the Binder in about 15 seconds. They’re in Group Mode on the Corkboard. If you want to read your files, click the Scrivenings Mode icon on the left of the Corkboard icon.
Vital tip: everything that’s in the Draft folder of the Binder can be compiled and saved into numerous text, ebook, and paperback formats. You can even design your own formats.
2. Scrivener is designed to help you to write, so write
Unfortunately, since there’s so much you can do with Scrivener, the temptation is to ferret around in the depths of the app, rather than writing.
Chances are you’ll only use a small subset of all Scrivener’s features. There’s no point in learning features you don’t need immediately, because you’ll have forgotten what you learned if you don’t keep using it.
Here’s what I suggest to my students:
- You can’t break anything, so play around. Use the Tutorial file as a playground, but…
- Not when you’re trying to write. If you find yourself tempted to play before your daily word count goal is reached, write in MS Word or another word processor, then drag the file into Scrivener.
3. Keep your backups in the Cloud somewhere
Scrivener has an automated backup feature. However, if you leave the default backup setting, the backups will be stored on your computer. Not ideal — what happens when your computer dies on you? (Yes, it’s a matter of when, rather than if.)
Consider setting your Scrivener backup location to a cloud drive. I use Dropbox. You may use iCloud, or Google Drive. You just need to set this up once. From then on, every time you close a project in Scrivener, it creates a backup in the cloud.
4. Scrivener templates: create your own
Scrivener comes with lots of templates, and you can create your own, if you prefer to begin projects with a template.
I create templates for clients’ projects. However, for my own projects I prefer to start a project as a complete blank, and grow it organically as I go.
You’ll find lots of Scrivener templates online, so if you’re wondering whether you can use Scrivener for something or other, chances are that you can. Do a Google search for a template for what you want; it might give you some ideas on how to proceed.
5. Format after you complete your drafts: it saves time
I admit that I tut-tutted somewhat when I noticed all the new formatting features in Scrivener 3. The idea of Scrivener has always been: write, then format when you publish.
That said, you may have great reasons to format extensively:
- You write nonfiction, and want to be able to format code, and similar;
- You want to format for print: you’re heavily into paperbacks, and want to be ready to format your paperbacks with a few clicks.
6. If you’re a Scrivener 2 user, upgrading to 3, take your stuff with you
If you’re like me, and you’ve been using Scrivener 2 for years, you’ve had a few WTF moments when you upgraded to 3. Where’s your (expletive deleted) presets, for example?
You may not know (I didn’t) that you can run Scrivener 2 and 3 on the same computer. If you don’t want to do that, you can update your Compile presets to work in 3. I found this guide for Scrivener 2 users switching to 3 very useful.
Would you like more Scrivener tips and tricks?
If you do, please let me know — you can send me an email, or get in touch on social media. I’m happy to write more about the app if sufficient writers are interested.
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