Beginner's Blues

Hello everyone. I am the ultimate newbie, not only to Scrivener but also to word processing and writing a novel. Somehow I have reached the age of 60+ years of age without ever having become adept at word processing. I just did not have a need for it … and that is now causing me some problems. I’ve just attempted to learn Scrivener in the past few days and I’m already running into things that are baffling me. To list just four, for now:

  1. Why in the world can’t I empty the trash?!? ‘Empty Trash’ is greyed out
  2. Why does my word count start over in Chapter Two? I assume there must be a way to get the full count?
  3. How do I get automatic backups to work? What is the preferred method of backing up, ie: which buttons should I activate in the Preferences folder?
  4. Most importantly: Using the novel template, I’m hoping someone can take just a few minutes to suggest the simplest, most natural, step-by-step way of getting me started on the right path. I will probably use the outline method rather than the corkboard. Please assume I’m a total idiot. About the only thing I’ve managed to do successfully so far is to load research material.
    I know you will probably refer me to either the tutorial or the manual – and possibly to the “Take Control of Scrivener” tutorial. Can someone suggest which one to stick with?
    Confession: I tried Storyist for two weeks, got very frustrated, and then gave up on it because I read all the glowing reviews about Scrivener. Now, I’m beginning to have the same frustrations, and starting to wonder if I’m missing some fundamental gene necessary for understanding writing software!
    Thanks so much for your patience with us uninitiated elderly folks.

I’m still new to Scrivener and am using Scrivener for Windows rather than for Mac, so your mileage may vary…

As far as material to start with, I’d say it is worth browsing/viewing through the documentation/help/video tutorials once, but not getting hung up on remembering or understanding them. More, just get a preliminary sense of what Scrivener is/can do. Then, begin doing brief throw-away hands-on experimentation and learning-as-you-go. See more about that below, in 4).
There is both more and less to Scrivener than first meets the eye… the trick is getting a feel for what is there and what is most immediately useful.
You might also get Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies (paperback or ebook).
There are other books on Scrivener.

  1. “empty the trash” greyed out - Don’t know, unless there literally isn’t anything in Scrivener’s Trash folder in the binder. Scrivener’s “trash” is something internal to the Scrivener project, not the computer’s file system’s “trash”. General idea is you may not want to empty it unless it gets to ridiculous size and you are absolutely sure you don’t need anything in it.

  2. Getting total word count. A couple of ways (I would guess there are others):

  • Project > Statistics
  • In binder, click on Manuscript (the folder that contains title page and draft material organized in folders, then make sure you are using “scrivenings” view (View > Scrivenings). This presents a concatenated view (a “scrivening”) of everything in the Manuscript folder and you should see a total word and character count at the bottom of the window. NOTE: If you have a lot of wordage or pictures within the draft material in total, you may experience a pause before the concatenated view and counts are presented.
  1. Automatic backups. I’ll defer to the documentation, tutorials, books and other Scrivener users on that.
  • By default, Scrivener backs up within the active project very frequently during any given writing session (see Tools > Options > General for the period of inactivity (seconds) after which it backs up).
  • At the end of a writing session, i.e. when you exit Scrivener or manually do File > Back Up > Backup Now, Scrivener does a full copy backup to a backup folder location elsewhere than where you created and work on the active project (see Tools > Options > Backup to see/set the backup folder location). It keeps however many uniquely named recent backups are specified there.
  • You can additionally use File > Back Up > Backup To to manually save yet another backup copy, automatically uniquely named with name and date/time stamp, to yet another location, with the option of saving it as/in a single compressed .ZIP file (convenient for copying elsewhere). I routinely save/copy this to a different hard drive, to a removable USB thumb drive and to my DropBox folder (for automatic backup distant from my PC).
    I defer to others as to various or best approaches as far as backups go, the above is just what I currently do.
  1. Getting started with novel template. You may want to do a few throwaway five minute limited test runs/lab exercises to begin to get a feel for this. I initially struggled when trying to follow instructions, then made progress when I threw caution to the wind and started experimenting.
  • File > New Project, select Fiction, select template (probably simple Novel to start), supply project name (ex: My Great Novel) and use Browse to set a location where it (its primary/active copy) is to be stored, click Create.
    What this creates is a folder (in the computer’s file system) containing the numerous folders/files that make up a Scrivener project, having that name with .SCRIV on the end.
    Inside that folder will be a variety of stuff, including the top/high level project file, with .SCRIVX on the end.
    (That’s in Windows, may be a bit different on a Mac.)
    To access the project in the future, either just launch Scrivener (will open most recent project) or navigate to the folder and file discussed above, in the file system, and launch the .SCRIVX project file.
  • That new project that you just created will be displayed in Scrivener at this point.
  • In the Binder view (left column), examine what is inside the Manuscript folder (Title Page document and Chapter folder containing one Scene document).
  • At this point, when first learning or getting started with a project, options include either doing a bit of outlining/organizing within this area to begin with or clicking on the Scene, then clicking in the empty document window to the right and beginning to type or paste material in. There are other options for importing, etc. that I’m not going to touch on here. Key thing here is you can have a hierarchy of folders and items, similar to in the operating system file system, so you can organize/outline to whatever depth or level of complexity you want.
    – You can add/move/delete/rename/etc. items in the Binder, to get them organized the way you would like. Key thing is, material within Manuscript is where you draft and from where you compile/output the novel. Folders outside Manuscript are for research and other materials that don’t belong in the manuscript itself. I’m guessing you should not rename the Manuscript folder itself.
    – You can split a given document into two documents by clicking in document where you want the split to happen and right click and Split At Selection.
    I think you can combine document items, but don’t know how right off the top of my head. NOTE: Key point here is you don’t have to get hung up on how best to perfectly do this from day one. Start getting material in and then organize/tune it as you go/later.
    – You can view two areas simultaneously by opening a second window via the little Vertical Split and Horizontal Split icons in the upper right corner of the first window.
    – In each of the two windows, you can view material (selected in the Binder) in three formats: Document, Corkboard or Outline

NOTE: One of the main strengths of Scrivener is its focus on working with lots of small items (usually documents) individually, while also being able to also view, work on and output (compile/print) them as single larger assemblages.
To view several documents/items concatenated together, in the Binder, you can

  • Click on the folder containing them, and you will see them all presented together in the window (in Document, Corkboard or Outline view, depending on how you specify or last specified they be viewed). So, if you have a chapter folder containing multiple scene items/documents and click on the chapter folder in the binder, you’ll see the entire chapter concatenated/run together in the window. This is a live window, in which you can edit as though the chapter is a single document.

You can do basic outlining in the Binder. For more robust outlining (more bells and whistles), set the view to Outline and work on the outline in the window.

Scrivener’s focus is on writing and organizing rather than fancy desktop publishing, given that book formatting tends to be relatively simple. So, it is only semi-WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Actually producing a more WYSIWYG view or actual ebook/print result is accomplished via Compile.
The first time you go to compile, you will need to set supply title and author in File > Compile > Meta-Data

  • To get a quick sense of what the output it going to look like,
    File > Compile > Contents, click the “include” boxes of the items you want included in the compile, set Compile For to Preview and click Compile.
  • To output as an epub file, etc.,
    File > Compile > Contents, click to include desired items, set Compile For to desired file type, navigate to desired target location, supply file name to compile out to. Later, to view the result, in operating system file browser, navigate to that location and launch that file and (assuming you have the appropriate ereader app installed) it will open for you to view.

For producing Kindle ebooks, one way is to do the above, then use Amazon’s free Kindle Previewer app to load/convert it to Kindle format. I think there’s a way to do this within Scrivener, but it involves installing/integrating something that I haven’t succeeded at yet.

And, obviously, back up frequently, to multiple locations, more than one of which should be somewhere off/outside the computer. Key ring, fire/water proof box elsewhere in house, safety deposit box, online cloud service like DropBox, …
And be sure you periodically test and verify that in fact your backups are good and can be copied, opened and worked on.

It can be handy to create a few small minimal throw away Scrivener projects to keep around for experimenting in, away from any major projects you are working on. Crash and burn one of them… no sweat.

Hope that helps.

Thank you, Springfield, for such a detailed and helpful answer.

I did just want to comment on backups.

There is a difference between Scrivener’s “autosave” and “backup” functions.

The autosave function saves to your original project at regular intervals, defined in the Scrivener -> Preferences -> General pane. This protects you against the common word processor problem of quitting the program without saving your work. Pretty much everything you do in Scrivener will always be saved to your hard drive.

This is different from the backup function, however. The backup function saves a completely different copy of your project to a completely different location. This allows you to revert to an older version of the project for whatever reason, ranging from user error to corruption of the original. The backup options are set in the Scrivener -> Preferences -> Backup pane.

Understanding the difference between the two is essential to make sure that your work is really protected. A typical disaster scenario might be someone who leaves their computer (and Scrivener) running for extended periods, meaning that the “backup on project close” option never executes. In case of a hardware crash, this person could potentially lose days or even weeks of work, because the only current copy of their work is the live project.

(I don’t actually recommend leaving Scrivener running while away from your computer, for exactly this reason. It will remember where you were when it restarts.)

Getting back to your original question, though, both the autosave and the project backup run automatically. The only intervention you need to do is to check and make sure the options match the way you work.

I would also recommend at least two other backups: a Time Machine volume on a second hard drive, and an offsite backup using a service like CrashPlan.

Otherwise, my biggest recommendation for getting started with Scrivener is to just write. All the bells and whistles will still be there when you are ready for them, and they’ll probably make more sense once you have actual content.


Gwen Hernandez, whose book Scrivener for Dummies (paperback or ebook) I mentioned, offers online classes, in addition to her book. … e-classes/

Thanks a million, Springfield. Your response goes “above and beyond”. I can assure you that I’ll be following all of your tips and suggestions. I suspect that a big part of my problem has been a little lack of patience with the process of learning something new.(Hate that manual!) As with most of us, I presume, I just want to get on with the writing and quickly become irritated by any bumps in the road … there are enough of those already.

Thanks again!