Best way for new user to learn basics of Scrivener

I’ve spent about an hour on the basic Scrivener tutorial but am finding that this isn’t helping me so much. I’m the kind of person who needs to learn as I do something. So I started attempting to write and really got stuck. While it is “supposed” to take only an hour to go through the tutorial, I’ve only gotten as far as bookmarks- and seem to be forgetting what I learned beforehand.I was hoping for a basic written manual but the one that Scrivener offers is 905 pages. I’d love it if someone could give me some tips for how to learn enough so that I might get going with my writing? Thank you very much for your attention!

I’m sure there will be plenty of advice offered here … however, would be good to know more from you. What form of writing are you doing? Novel? Technical? For public publication? Do you have collaborators? What writing method do you use now? What problems are you trying to fix? What is the format of your “output” expected to be (PDF, web site, technical paper, book, …)? How do you expect your life will be different after you master Scrivener? As you’ve seen the tutorial and manual, have you identified any particular features that sound good to learn now? Etc.

1 Like

Here is the primer I wrote just for this purpose:

"Organizing using the Binder

The left column of the default Layout is the [Binder]. The root level usually contains your manuscript. Create folders, document groups or single documents with the help of the two icons in the far left corner of the Scrivener window. These may represent parts, chapters, sequences, sections or scenes to your heart’s delight. Throw your stuff in there. Anything goes.

Special folders are the Draft folder (that you can rename to anything you want) that contains the actual manuscript, the Research folder for everything that informs your writing, Templates contain pre-formatted documents and the Trash contains, well anything you trash. Other folders in the current template of your project may reside in the Binder as well.

Search Results from the Project Search may cover your Binder. Access this feature through the looking glass icon in the toolbar. Hit the X before the Search Result header to remove this layer.

Collections are views on the documents in the binder, not the documents themselves. Access Collection from the first icon in the toolbar or from the View menu. Collections sport specific colors and have a named bar above the Binder and Search Results bars, acting like tabs for the left panel. You can add random documents in arbitrarily order to collections. Add and remove collections using the plus and minus icons in the Binder when Collections are visible.

Writing with the Editor

The wide center pane of the default Scrivener interface is the [Editor]. This is empty until you type text there. In the Binder you should have a document selected, even though you can add text to folders as well. The text entered will accumulate in the selected document. That’s all there’s to it. Oh, wait…

Scrivener will show a group of documents inside a folder or sub documents of a document as a composite of text documents called Scrivenings when your select the left-most View Mode. This is the left of the three icons in the center of your toolbar, looking like a set of two documents when you’ve selected a folder or document with sub documents in the Binder.

The second mode for this center pane is the Corkboard. This shows the content of the Synopsis pane at the top right as index cards on a corkboard background. The actual background and look of the cards are highly customizable using the [File > Options > Appearance] menu command, or the Corkboard options at the bottom right when in Corkboard View Mode. Scrivener links the cards to folders and sub documents in the Binder. Use them to change the order of your documents.

The third mode that may appear in the center pane is the Outliner. This is a table of all your scenes with columns of their metadata, like Title and Synopsis, Label, Status, and Section Type. Use the table for a helicopter view of your manuscript. Add and remove columns with the arrow tucked away in the top right-hand corner of this view. A long list of metadata exists to select additional columns from.

Finally, I’d like to point out the ability to split editors, either horizontally or vertically. Not only documents but also the other Views can reside in the second editor, making efficient layouts for every use of the editor space.

Structuring with the Inspector

The column on the right is called the [Inspector]. Clicking a blue circle containing an “i” on the toolbar turns this on or off. By default the Inspector stacks a white Synopsis and a pale yellow Notes pane. The first is a collection of a few lines of text that summarizes the content of the current document. The second contains anything you think of note, since you need to type it yourself.

A row of icons adorns this column, giving access to Bookmarks, metadata, and Keywords, Snapshots, and Comments and Footnotes. Use these to organize your manuscript. More about this later in the book.

Finally, at the bottom of this right-hand side column, two lists appear. These are the Label and the Status metadata. Every folder or document may have one of these. Searching and filtering on Labels and Status helps you in your writing process. Both are completely adaptable to your own wishes using the Label List and Status List tabs in the Project Settings dialog accessed through the Project menu item.

So, that’s it. Happy writing if you are a new user of this writing software. Really, this is all you need to know about Scrivener to use it for years and years of practical writing. I know other people did."

It’s a sneak peak, but I hope it helps…


I think the single most eye-opening feature of Scrivener is Scrivenings Mode. Learn how this function can, at any moment, present to you as one whole writing that is scattered over many (folders and) documents. It is a simple thing, but liberating and helpful perhaps in lifting your mindset up from where it will have been living with “word processor” software.

In addition to the Tutorial, there’s a collection of tutorial videos here:

What specifically are you trying to do? If you just want to “get started writing,” create a project, create a document within that project, and go.


Repetition and something I’ve found useful is to remember to use the Interactive Tutorial in an active way––one that suits me. Also, don’t become overwhelmed by Scrivener’s abundant features.

Mark the Tutorial up with thoughts and questions. Use one of Scrivener’s features or simply put multiple brackets around them to differentiate your entries from the original documentation. Or, add appropriately titled folders and/or files to hold them. When the Tutorial explains a feature––immediately experiment with it and write down the experience. YMMV

You can delete any modifications (or original material, for that matter) that are no longer useful to you, and if wanted, you can easily return the entire Interactive Tutorial to its original form. Make the Tutorial work in a way that suits you.

As said earlier in the thread, if you have ideas that are screaming to be written, do that first of course* , BUT, another first is to learn about how to use Scrivener’s saving and backup (two different things) mechanisms and how to incorporate backups into your existing routine. By saying that, I’m not implying that Scrivener is unreliable/unstable. On the contrary, it’s been perfectly stable for me. However, it’s just part of the deal––protect your assets, your words. Machines fail, people fail. Learning how saving and backups work for any particular piece of software is a fundamental task.

I’m not sure which OS you’re running so I won’t add any specificities about backups. There’s info in the tutorial and manual. If you have any questions at all, if things aren’t clear to you, don’t hesitate to ask here or in a new thread, or at Literature and Latte’s contact page. You’re sure to get an answer/link.

Good luck.

*If you get right to the writing knowing very little about Scrivener’s features, no worries. You won’t paint yourself into a corner. Anything can be rearranged, split, merged, etc., for your own usage later in the process. And that––your creative workspace––will look entirely different to what you’ll be sending out to the world via compile.


Thanks for your reply rms. I’m starting work on my first book which is non-fiction: personal development/mental health. For public publication. No collaborators. Up to now I’ve used word processing- for the past several years Pages has met my needs. I’ve chosen Scrivener as I like being able to see things in one place, to move paragraphs/ideas with ease. Also to be able to put things like a list of quotes, an outline I created on Pages (alas that I didn’t create it on Scrivener!) Yesterday as I started to write, I wanted to cut/paste things from some of the notes I’d made on Pages but loaded onto the Ideas or Research sections of Scrivener and found I could not do this as they appear on Scrivener as pdf’s. Really basic stuff I think.

Thanks. I’m so used to Mac’s feature of automatically saving I rarely use this. Just found features, saved, and made a back-up. btw, I’m using Big Sur 11.5.

@ kewms I was trying to figure out the uses of Ideas, Research, and why when I put something into one or the other of these in order to have easy access I couldn’t then cut and paste from them, even thought they’re written in Pages. Looks like I need to go back to the Tutorial.

Thanks for the background.

I can’t explain “why” this is how Pages and Scrivener interacts other than to note that Apple has still kept their Pages document format ‘secret’ so somehow or another when you drag it into Scrivener it’s presented as a PDF that you can read. Maybe there is a way to unlock the PDF, but not known to me. If you want to copy/paste content, simply: “right mouse” click on the file name, then pick ‘Open → External Editor’ and Scrivener will instruct Pages to open the file. Copy/paste from there.

1 Like

I assume “this” is backup. Scrivener will auto save at intervals, based on seconds of inactivity. Default in Preferences is 2 seconds and I recommend you keep it there. Also under Preferences → Backup is some options. Recommend saving project on open and close, and keep 25 copies. Disk space cheap. Also don’t forget to get your device backup going, e.g. Apple TimeMachine.


“This” refers to regular saving. Will follow your recommendations. Yes, ever since I lost a 100 page manual (following a burglary of my Mac years ago) I’m backup my drive on a regular basis.

Oh dear. For that risk, I use BackBlaze to maintain an automated offsite backup. Luckily, I’ve not had that risk come true! If not BackBlaze (or something like it), backup to USB disks that can be stored at some other location at intervals. Swap say a couple.

1 Like

We recommend using Pages to export to Word format before importing to Scrivener. As noted, Apple has not published the Pages format; we’ve found that Word is the best available intermediate step.

1 Like

One thing to keep in mind about the Tutorial, is you can just explore it in bite sized morsels. Close it when you’re bored, or even skip around if you like. It’ll be waiting for you the next time you use the Help menu to open the tutorial. Also of note; it’s kind of a template, in that you can do whatever you want with it. Feel free to try things out. If you screw it up, just close Scrivener, drag your copy of the tutorial to the trash, and start a fresh copy.

The PDF manual has a quick-start guide near the beginning. It should cover the major topics.

My advice on topics you should research, given your replies in this thread: The Auto-Save feature, Scrivener Backups (how and when they are created, where they’re stored, how to customize their settings), and then the basics that most introductory videos/the tutorial should cover.

Otherwise, post a topic-specific question to the appropriate sub-forum, and many people will be glad to answer questions according to their experiences.

1 Like

I learn software best by doing. The interactive tutorial was great as at the very least, I knew something could be done even if I didn’t remember how to do it. I was then able to go back to the manual or tutorial to find what I remembered.

I learned a lot more just by using Scrivener regularly and trying things.

1 Like

It is perhaps a PDF internally, at some deep level, but the result is even less useful than that, as you can’t copy and paste from it, as you would with an actual PDF file dragged into the binder (a design decision from Apple that never made much sense to me). It also won’t remember what page you are on when you come back to it. In fact this is a Quick Look preview, the same thing you’ll see if you hit Spacebar on a .pages file in Finder. It’s what Scrivener defaults to whenever asked to display a file type it has no knowledge of. You can read more about this in §8.1.3 of the user manual PDF, under subheading Viewing Unsupported Document Types.

This is mentioned in the “Importing Files” section of the interactive tutorial, and indeed we do call out Apple Pages specifically, given this is something more than one person has found out after using it for while: nothing else can open or convert your files!

Something that the interactive tutorial could perhaps highlight a little earlier in its process (perhaps before getting into the nitty gritty of the inspector for example), is how to search the tutorial project at a very basic level. Just knowing you could have clicked into the “URL bar” in the main toolbar and typed in “Apple Pages” would have given you everything you needed to know about what happened and how to get around it.

It used to, but I removed it from the 3.0 manual. The idea was to push more of the details in the interactive tutorial into the optional “Tips” and “Going Further” sections, and make the core “Basics” section effective as a quick start—as it always felt kind of weird having a tutorial, and then a second learning tool in another place.

I do still feel that we could do more to provide a 10-minute crash course in learning just a few techniques, just enough to get one writing, before going off into descriptions of each of the inspector panes and so forth. There is a fair amount of optional stuff that is core to Scrivener, but not so much to learning how to write with Scrivener. The stuff that feels core to that isn’t really brought up until the +6,000 word mark, or half an hour of solid reading, no time to spare to play around with anything. To my mind, interacting with the corkboard and text editor—using the Back and Forward buttons, creating and loading cards into the editor should be something you’re actively being walked through in the first five minutes.

A little bit of that is going to be enough to get almost any writer about a quarter of the way into their book before they need to know what Metadata is, for example, unless they really want to know what that is of course.

1 Like

Thanks for the superb explanation. And I can easily imagine with a “secret” file format how all this hoop-jumping is required. Computers are just dumb machines that the most important thing I’ve learned (and advocate) is to get to know the rhythm and go with it. The “why” on things that seem stupid at first glance are often the result of hoop-jumping by very smart people who tried hard to make the rhythm natural. Thanks again.

I of course could have referred to the outstanding manual in my reply to @ruach, but I did consider that sort of overkill since she mentioned already she’d seen and read parts of the manual. Not useful for first time cautious users, who need to be encouraged to just “do it”, to have to go back to the manual. Just knowing the manual exists and have read bits is a good starting point, I think. It’s one of the best product manuals I’ve seen. Thanks.


Thank you- and everyone else who’s replied to me- very much. While I don’t understand all of what you shared, it sounds like others did and appreciated it. I particularly appreciated knowing that “Just knowing you could have clicked into the “URL bar” in the main toolbar and typed in “Apple Pages””
I found the over 900 page manual daunting and suspect I might be slower on the uptake then your usual customers. At least in relation to tech. I’ve found the short tutorials more helpful than the main tutorial although they tend to repeat some things and as you mentioned, say nothing about others. At any rate, tomorrow I will attempt to absent myself from tutorials and attempt to just write. Thanks again.

Yep. Always the best idea! Enjoy.

1 Like