"A whole way of doing things..."

Amaru, in the pricing debate in the Announcements forum, wrote earlier today:

“what you buy with Scrivener, as with any piece of software, is not an app, but a whole way of doing things.”

I feel I have only scratched the surface of Scrivener at the moment, but I’m still not sure if there is a single Scrivener way of doing things.

As mabe happens with many people working with a new tool, I’ve tended to use Scrivener for the things I had to do at the time and it’ll only be with experience that I start to use more of the features and adapt my methods in the process.

With that in mind, here are the three biggest chunks of writing on my desk at the moment and how I’ve handled them so far. I’d like tips on how I could have / could still use Scrivener with them.

  1. Manuscript of the last novel
    It’s going out to an agent at the end of this week. I might add a few tweaks first, but it seems to me it’s almost certainly not worth putting it into Scrivener to add them.

  2. A report at work
    The powers on high give a format as a blank Word document with section headings. As last year, I converted it to an Appleworks outline and then filled in, cut and pasted and moved it around until I managed to say what I wanted to say whilst still using the corporate format. Then I save as Word and submit by e-mail
    It seems to me that I could - probably should - have done this in Scrivener but somehow collapsing and expanding an Appleworks outline seemed more familiar - but maybe that’s an “at the momentâ€

Hi Tony,

Scrivener is designed so that it hopefully does not force you in to one way of doing things - I would like to think that it accommodates many different ways of working. I think it is definitely a good idea just to use what suits you for now, and see what else helps as you play around.

As for your three projects… This is what I would do, but others may have different ways of doing things:

Like you say, it is highly unlikely to be worth putting this into Scrivener at this point. Scrivener is really good for drafting and structuring, so if you’ve already got the draft and just need to tweak it before you send it out, it will be less work - and a lot easier - just to do that in whatever app it is already in.

2. A report at work
The powers on high give a format as a blank Word document with section headings. As last year, I converted it to an Appleworks outline and then filled in, cut and pasted and moved it around until I managed to say what I wanted to say whilst still using the corporate format. Then I save as Word and submit by e-mail
It seems to me that I could - probably should - have done this in Scrivener but somehow collapsing and expanding an Appleworks outline seemed more familiar - but maybe that’s an “at the momentâ€

Thanks for the tips!


As the others have said, the flexibility of the program is in my opinion one of its strongest aspects, and thus no single method should be expected. There are some great writing programs out there, but many of them are heavily geared toward fiction. In my explorations, I have found Scrivener to be remarkably adaptable to different projects. One unlikely example is the FAQ, which can export a document that this forum can understand as formatting (and perhaps the only drawback with using Scrivener for the FAQ is that I end up being far too wordy; it has really turned more into a series of how-tos than the traditional terseness one has come to expect from FAQs, but oh well!). Its ability to handle small pieces of larger sections is exceptional for the task. In my current research project, which is of a much larger scale, it ramps right up to that task without complaint. With many programs, you can do a wide variety of things in them, but it often takes a lot of exertion and forcing the program to do things it was never meant to do. With Scrivener I never get that feeling of running up against a software wall; in fact it is quite the opposite. I always get the feeling that I am not tapping certain tools to their full potential – and no matter which way I stretch within the application, at that.

In practice, I agree with Keith on keeping #1 where it is. I did move one of my older projects from Ulysses. It was an unfinished project, and it took quite a lot of work to do so, and that is coming from one who is skilled in the ways of writing scripts. I was able to convert annotation types between programs and such. It would be a lot of work to have done that by hand; but I wanted to because it is a project very much in progress and I have lost my gleam for Ulysses and large projects. For a few tweaks, that much work would not at all be worth it unless you intended to revisit the draft very heavily in the future. Personally I would wait to see if I jived at all with Scrivener before I went through that much effort.

#2: Keith gave an excellent example of how you could use Templates to achieve this. While I have absolutely no recollection of how AppleWork’s outliner works, I’d be surprised if it offered the same level of data management that Scrivener does. Given that I consider its implementation superior to pretty much any other program out there for writing, I would be inclined to say it is all a matter of acclimation, as you speculate. Play around with Edit Scrivenings. If you are used to a word processor style of editing amongst many sections at once, you may find that a more comfortable route into the Scrivener world.

#3 I think, is well settled. The usage you are describing is what Scrivener was made for. Even though it accommodates the more systematic writer (more of that wonderful flexibility), its design concept was coming from a person who wants to turn a pile of disparate forms of information into a book. I’d say you are in good hands on that one.

Yes, I too have started using Scrivener for almost everything. I have a db for just writing ideas and early development until something becomes an actual project. I have one Scr. db that houses all of my shorter essays or articles, including research. Then I have one Scr. db for a novel I’m working on. And I also use it to house my research, class, and study notes for a training program I’m involved with, which involves access to pdfs and other media. It’s incredibly wonderful to use Scr. to do such research (with the reference and note panels available, split windows, the project notepad) and to have everything ready at hand.

As soon as my dissertation is complete, I will be hard at work turning the material into something accessible to all audiences, not just academic ones, so that will all take place in Scrivener as well.

I also plan to get more familiar with Scr.'s exporting features so that I don’t even have to use a word processor to polish things up in most cases. My thinking has really changed in that regard. Scr. has definitely changed the way I work on a conceptual level as well as practical–I think about the whole process differently since I switched to Scr. and stopped using a word processor.



I’d be interested in knowing in more detail how you (and other Scriveners) use the program “for almost everything.” I liked your notion of putting writing ideas and early development in one Scr file, and then breaking it out when it’s assumed some identity of its own. If it’s not too much trouble, could you tell us how you use Scrivener’s other features to give you the “whole new way of doing things”?
Right now, I use Mori to keep a list of projects, library requests, odds and ends and keep my (encrypted) journal and homeless non-academic things in Yojimbo. That seems inefficient. However, the number of Scrivener files I’ve started is proliferating, which has its own inefficiencies.
Thanks for your posts–not just this one, but all of them. They’re very useful.


I’d be interested in knowing in more detail how you (and other Scriveners) use the program “for almost everything.” I liked your notion of putting writing ideas and early development in one Scr file, and then breaking it out when it’s assumed some identity of its own. If it’s not too much trouble, could you tell us how you use Scrivener’s other features to give you a “whole new way of doing things”?
Right now, I use Mori to keep a list of projects, library requests, odds and ends and keep my (encrypted) journal and homeless non-academic things in Yojimbo. That seems inefficient. However, the number of Scrivener files I’ve started is proliferating, which has its own inefficiencies.
Thanks for your posts–not just this one, but all of them. They are quite useful.


hi linn,

The really BIG trick with Scrivener is to understand the Binder and the role of the Draft folder. I mean REALLY understand them. When you get that and how you can split the Scrivener screen vertically and horizontally a whole bunch of problems just disappear and the possibilities and sheer power of Scrivener opens up.

linn raises another reason for screengrabs on this site.

Pictures of Scrivener employed in multiple ways would be so helful to new users. One informative picture related to their work - academic, theatre, radio, film, novel, article etc would allow new users to ‘come down running’.

Worth a thought?

@ Alexandria and Maria:

I can understand you think the time has come to say goodbye to wordprocessors in general, and perhaps to Mellel in particular. Yet thanks to its perhaps unrivalled stability Mellel seems still a good choice for very long documents with a host of footnotes etc. etc. I still use it for academic readers, for instance.

On the other hand, using a styles-based application for binding and polishing up documents that were created with a non-styles-based application like Scrivener has some serious drawbacks: for instance, as soon as you decide to make some fonts bigger or smaller, italics etc. created in Scrivener disappear. That’s why I sometimes wonder how stable a wordprocessor like Pages might be, and if as an output-companion to Scrivener it might be a better choice than Mellel.


Maria, check your Mac OS X installation disk. They started shipping an iWork demo quite a while ago. It is good for 30 days I think.

Timotheus, yes, I tend to agree regarding projects with lots of footnoting, especially with multiple streams, which is why I never imported my dissertation into Scr. On the other hand, Scr.'s footnoting method is growing on me. Having them be inline took a little getting used to–now I like it because I find it makes the footnotes more part of the idea. It has kind of shifted the way I think about footnotes, and it also forces me to really think more about how relevant the footnote really is.

Also, I don’t know that I’ll have all that many more projects requiring really complex note systems. I’ll still keep Mellel around. However, I think from now on, the final form will really be the key, since many of those I send things to and will send things to, have Windows environments, Word, etc. So I’m definitely interested in whatever it is that will give me the best Word compatibility, which may end up being Scr. itself, at least for what goes from me to them.

Like I said, I plan to play around with Scr.'s exporting capabilities more (once the dissertation is done!) so I can see what can and can’t be done. I also plan to try out Pages and Nisus et al, to find the best solution possible. There are things about Mellel that drive me buggy and can really stop the presses in terms of my work flow (while I stop to have to figure something out–usually something really simple!)

Ultimately, I doubt I’ll be able to totally get away from a word processor altogether, at least not yet! But I can dream!!


Hi Linn,

Thanks for the nice words. I’ll try to answer your questions. Yes, I have a central file for all nascient writing ideas, most of which remain that way (I have a lot of ideas!). The ones that develop into something substantial go one of two ways:

  1. 90% of them will be short works, so they go into another central db that houses ALL of my shorter works, organized according to subject matter, type of project, etc. Since I tend to write about related issues, my research folder houses a lot of different but related materials. At some point I may run into db size issues, but so far, it’s working well. Primarly because I don’t keep too much in it in the way of media or pdf files. I house all of those in the Finder (media in iTunes, pdfs in a central folder called “Digital Editions”). That way I can alias them where I need them–DT Pro for warehousing, Scr. files for project development. The one thing I do tend to keep in Scr. that adds to size are web archives. I do a lot of Net research and it either goes to DT Pro (as my central info warehouse) and then to Scr. or straight to Scr.

So that’s kind of how it’s organized. The great thing is that, since I do use a lot of different media, Scr. gives me an elegant and efficient way to work with this. Before Scr., I used to have different programs and windows open to, say, watch a video about something I’m working on (the final chapter of my dissertation was based on a PBS Frontline special, along with the full text that went along with it). With Scr. I can use the reference pane to attach whatever file I need to research, use the split pane view to have the media file running in one window and my notes on what I’m watching (or hearing when working with audio files) in the other. I also have the notes pane for further noting, and now a project-based note pane as well. I can adapt these as needed while I’m working and it’s so organized and fantastic I can hardly stand it! :slight_smile: It was the first real blast for me when I discovered Scr., since a good deal of my research material was, at the time, visual (still is).

Same thing with pdfs. Having all this material tucked away wherever they are stored is great, because I can use the reference pane to attach whatever I need, even web page links, etc. It’s so flexible. And being able to read a pdf, watch a video, listen to an audio file, and have all the tools I need to work with these files and then some right at hand, well, it’s beyond great!

  1. The other way a project will go is a longer work, and that is when a project gets its own, special Scr. file. By housing all my shorter works together, I have the advantage of having a lot of my own work as well as my research material in one place for easy searching and generating ideas as I go. It also prevents having a whole lot of bitty Scr. files!

But every so often a project earns its own file, and it works pretty much the say as I already described, save that it’s all relating to one project.

I always TRY to have everything go first into DT and then into Scr. I still haven’t been able to get around my need for Dt to house all the possible reference materials I may possibly need at some point in time! I have finally broken down and split my DT db into two. I’m doing what I think I remember Maria saying she did at one point–bringing only what is currently relevant into the new db and letting all the other stuff stay in the old one. My interests have definitely sharpened and focused, so, while I sometimes want to dump something into Dt just because it’s interesting, it may not be something I really care to use as actual research.

The one last usage I referred to before was the training program. I’m doing a three-year advanced study program in yoga, and we are working with all aspects of yogic practice and philosophy. There are class notes, assignments, postures we practice, lots of reference material for study, etc. All of the same things apply there too–I do all that referencing stuff I mentioned, for example, if we are studying the Bhagavad Gita, I have an entry with references attached that have different translations as well as the original Sanskrit for study and note-taking.

I don’t use Scr. for two things, however–as I said, I warehouse information in DT pro because it’s designed to do this and I have huge dbs full of stuff that only it can handle. I can alias/index just about anything in my Finder. It works well for me.

And the other program I use is MacJournal for all personal journalling. I love MJ for this. I also use it for letter-writing (which I hardly do with email these days!), or for storing other totally personally related things.

I use a host of little aid programs, like iClip, which is very handy, Sidenote, which I also like, even Stickies at times.

So when I say ‘almost everything,’ that’s pretty accurate. When not working on the dissertation, (which I started in Mellel before finding Scr. and which will be completed by the end of this month, btw) I’m in Scr. about 90+% of the time doing something! I’ll stick something in DT or pop over to MJ to write some thoughts, then it’s back to Scr. I have yet to find its limits as to how I can adapt it to my workflow!

I hope all of this helps. Thanks for asking, and thanks too for offering such a pleasant diversion to working on my dissertation revisions. I’m pretty darn sick of it by now! Hey, come to think of it, here’s that Scrivener forum bug again!!! See, Keith!! See??? :slight_smile:


Maria et al.,

Alexandria has mentioned here or elsewhere that she’s abandoning the word processor.

My own type of academic work probably means that I will never have that luxury. I need all the tools, and sometimes even more than any of them currently offer (thus my on-again, off-again flirting with LaTeX).

I like Structure to be separate from Content. Form vs. Content. Lafz vs Ma’na (ok, sorry, but working with classical Arab philosphers all day).

So: how do those who are trying to emigrate totally to Scrivener as the be-all-end-all hope to publish their papers with other tools, such as Mellel, in order to avail one’s-self of the best of the writing bliss of Scrivener, with the tools of Mellel?



Lord Lightening and Alexandria,

Many thanks for your ideas! I apologize for not acknowledging earlier–still getting the hang of forums as manners. Also, I was so inspired that I went directly off to Scrivener to try some of these notions. Here are some of the results.

LL, the advice to understand really well the Binder and Draft folder was helpful. It’s far richer than I initially realized, and I’m still working through the “really well” aspect. Also, the screen capture idea was helpful. I LOVE Keith’s Scrivener home page because it’s so informative. That’s what I show to people when I want to explain what makes Scrivener so exciting.

Alexandria, your description helped me to see a whole new way of doing things in Scrivener. Like almost everyone else, I’ve a file with a book manuscript simmering. However, if you find that writing is a form of thinking (which I do), then Scrivener should be applicable to other jobs in addition to writing The Book. I liked the way that you put most of your work in such a few files, which I think is the crucial trick.

I came up with five Scrivener files: The Book, Teaching, Read & Review, Nascent, Tutorial. I’ll describe Teaching and R&R here in more detail–they may be useful to others, including people who’ve written on these topics and can point me to those.

Teaching. I made one file for all my teaching. This semester,
teaching is complicated because I have two courses in two different institutions, starting at different times of the semester, to two different populations (polytechnic and liberal arts). Aside: yes, I did this of my own free will. My classes are small, always experimental, highly individualized, tailored to students interests and place a burden on memory and flexibility. In short, canning the whole thing in Blackboard would never work.

One Scriverner file simplifies everything. In The Draft part of the Binder, I changed all defaults to not export automatically. There is a section for Handouts and one for Class Notes (my todos, plans, and feedback of the day). When I make a handout, usually before the class. I turn the exporting feature on, and send it to the printer. The only problem here is that I'm used to using tables for layout, and although I've made a template in Word and imported it, the table is unpredictable (i.e., I haven't figured out why it's doing what it's doing). I can live without tables, though.

The research folder has folders for the two courses, and within courses, background research and student readings. I also have an ADMIN section for those odds and ends that teaching accumulates, boiler plate that goes into all syllabi, and notes from the school administration, etc.

I can make great use of the internal Scrivener links to change the particular class plans and handouts for the day. Since the courses at the poly started first (and the syllabi for the two schools are about the same–but do change as we need), I have the feedback if what worked and what didn’t from that course and can review it as I revise the day for the liberal arts version of the courses. In the Fall, I’ll have a new grad course to teach and an ever changing Intro course. I have research folders for both of those and drop in items there. I expect those to grow organically, and I like to have them in front of me.

The teaching file is more complicated and challenging than The Book file, but it also challenges me to learn more of the ins and outs of Scrivener.

And speaking of dissertations. I’ve made a Read and Review Scrivener file. Oh, how I love this! My Ph.D. students send me bits and pieces of their current work, dissertation tidbits, methodological descriptions and whatnot. Each student has his and her own folder in Research and in the Draft section is my reply. This Scrivener file also has all the journal articles, grant proposals and other stuff two which I’ve agreed to read and write a review. Previously, these have been difficult for me–I hate setting aside huge clumps of time, but my too brief notes in the margins (or too long in the comments section of a Word doc) made it hard to review and comment in small chunks. That’s changed now. For all the Read and Review material, I put the material to be read in one pane (vertical if I’m on the monitor; horizontal on the PowerBook G4 screen) and the review I’m writing in the other. More or less fully formed comments are written in the review pane. Short annotations or notes to myself to check back and note where I stopped reviewing go into the article that I’m reviewing in the other pane. (Secured pdfs are a problem, but they’re rare in my business.). I can do the reviews in much smaller chunks, which means that I get them out faster.

The last main file is a bit unstable in its usage now, and would correspond to your nascent ideas/shorter works file, Alexandria. Part of the problem is that I have such works scattered all over my computer in small word documents. Worse, some are in other apps, where I’ve started keeping a journal and an entry actually starts taking shape as the section of an article or something like one, but is too little to make a Word document, and either way, gets lost on my computer until I stumble over it. My own professional writing has always gone into a Word directory with associated articles, notes, and numerous versions of the article. This is clumsy beyond belief, and the way the directory is used changes over time.

I’ve yet to start an article “from scratch” in Scrivener, and suspect that’s what I need to do to get out of the well-worn, but despised groove of the PC coping style adopted years ago. What seemed to happen with my last article is that it started flowing so well in Scrivener, that I switched to Word, where it flowed, chugged, and then bogged down. I squeezed it out in the end, but it was ugly and not fun. Also, I don’t have the good work habits that would have me sit down and review my four main Scrivener files at once. Probably should change the habit (write now, I dive into the most overdue task that causes panic).

I’ve used DTPro for a while, mostly like you, as a warehouse with instant display of the contents of documents from various applications. Conceptually, it’s still unwieldy to me; I like the idea of making two DTPro files with one having the material relevant to current projects and the other having everything else. However, I do wonder if pulling a doc out of DTP to wherever I might need it doesn’t eventually wind up with multiple copies of the document (which may not matter so much as there is still quite a bit of disk space left).

I’ve used Yojimbo for odds and ends as well as journal entries, but it hasn’t worked that well for the latter. I did look at MacJournal, and a free program called Journler started showing up, so I downloaded this to play with. I also found a method for implementing GTD in it. (To find it, google “gtd journler” and you should see ok scarfone blog on the first page.) I’ve always liked GTD in theory, but it seems more suited for a different type of work tempo than mine as an academic. However, Amy Scarfone laid out this implentation very well using smart folders. As a new person to Mac, I’ve never understood these (nor Spotlight) and their strange implentations of searching. Amy’s implentation is a nice teaching device for those of us who like to see illustrations of the abstractions.

My last Scriver file is the Tutorial 1.0. In addition to the tutorial, I have a section of Forum Gleanings, where I copy all of the precious information and tips that I find here and in the FAQs, which is useful because of its discursive nature.

One of the surprising things that I’ve found is that I can have several apps and quite a few windows open, and I’m not using the level of system resources that Word uses.

One point of clarification, Alexandria.

Do I read you correctly when you say that you don’t keep much of your media or pdf files in Scrivener? I don’t understand this part. Do you put alias to your DTPro files or to Finder files in your Scrivener root Research document or on the References pane where urls are inserted? (This would be a place where screen captures might be helpful.)

Again, Alexandria (and others in this forum), thanks for many helpful ideas and suggestions. What a pleasure to be the beneficiary of other people’s diversions!


Hi Linn,

Thanks for sharing how you are using Scr.! As you point out, it’s really ver helpful to see how other folks are managing their work. The way you are working with your Teaching db is really similar to the way I use Scr. for my training program (the one I’m taking, not teaching). I also have a relatively empty (soon to be full, I hope!) db called ‘Class Ideas,’ since I plan to develop some possible courses to teach. It sounds like you keep yourself challenged and keep things interesting in that regard!

I agree about DtPro being unweildly. I do keep checking out other information managers, but so far, none of them can beat out DT. I think you are right about duplicating documents, and you have to watch exporting from DT because it will export something replicated or indexed as if it was stored in Dt. I exported a huge folder full of stuff and ended up with full copies of pdfs and media files I had only indexed, as well as duplicate copies of files that were replicated.

I too tried Journler–I mentioned this already. I found it too glitchy at the time and I kept having weird stuff happen. I’m sure it’s much better these days since that was a while back. But I am used to MacJournal and really love using it for keeping my journal, though lately I’m wondering about that too. Some of what starts off as journeling turns into or is fodder for actual writing pieces, so I’m considering whether I might want to change this. For now, it works!

As to your question, no, I don’t keep pdfs or media files directly in Scr. or in DT for that matter. I keep them in folders on the Finder. I have always stored my media files in iTunes, so that keeps them centralized and organized and also makes them universally accessible to alias wherever needed. But I had most of my work-related pdfs directly in DT. I changed this when I started using Scr, realizing that I needed this kind of research material to be accessible to different programs or Scr. files.

So I house all media files (audio and video) in iTunes, where I can access the files through the Finder, and all my pdfs go into one master Finder folder called “Digital Editions” (arranged with subfolders). I index anything that is relevant to research of any sort in Dt for searching, and I use the References pane in Scrivener to alias these files there. I’m not sure it is even possible to alias/index something in Scr. directly in the root Research folder. It wasn’t when this was all discussed back in July.

To help clarify further, I’m copying something Keith suggested way back when we were discussing this issue:

"The binder will not support alias files, but there will be two ways of doing exactly what you want:

  1. You can drag any media file from the Finder and drop it on a document header view in Scrivener. This will open the media file within Scrivener for viewing without importing it.

  2. Each document now holds a “references” list. This list can hold internal references (that is, to documents stored within Scrivener) and external ones (to files on disk). So you can hold aliases within Scrivener that way. If you would prefer not to associate an external file with only one document, you could always create a document specifically for holding such references and give it an appropriate name (eg. “Knitting links”), of course."

So you don’t really even need to house this information in Scr. at all–you can keep it in the Finder and still view it in Scr. I myself follow Keith’s second suggestion–I associate pdfs or media files with a Scr. file via the References pane. I usually have one file with one reference or several related references, which allows me to split the view, transcribe audio/video files, make notes, whatever, on the material. You could, however, create one master file and have all your reference links there for easy access.

Does this help clarify? I find this the best way to work, since it (1) keeps my Scr. files much leaner and not bogged down with sometimes huge media files and (2) allows me the most flexibility, since one pdf or media file may be useful for several different projects, and/or I may want to index them in Dt (or be accessible to other programs, such as MacJournal at times). This way I have one place where the file is actually stored, while at the same time I can use it anywhere it’s needed.

Yes, this forum is wonderful. I have found it to be so from the very first time I discovered Scr. I believe the forum reflects Scr.'s developer, who I find to be very, very bright, someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, very generous, very direct, and always responsive. There are some seriously wonderful, helpful and interesting folk here!