How to incorporate and flesh out intensive outlines?

I need the ability to create and manipulate an outline, often quite detailed, that serves as a guide for my writing and an anchor for ideas, bits of research, etc. that are later fleshed out in the body text.

I almost never write stream of consciousness. If I don’t create an artificial structure of an outline I get distracted very easily and ideate in too many different areas at once. I need to create broad areas in which I can hang ideas that spark additional ideas. I need to hide areas away from my focus so that I can pay attention to the areas at hand.

I love the simplicity of MS Word’s outlining mode: Demote = tab, promote = shift-tab, and the ability to hide lower levels when I’m making major structural changes or to hide sections that I’m done with so as to focus on a section of present interest.

I understand that I can get my outlining fix in OmniOutliner which will import into Scrivener (but I don’t know if all of the detail levels are imported at the same level of detail). But, I worry that once imported, the outline mode is essentially gone and can no longer be manipulated to either add detail, reorder, hide, etc. I know that I’m not a good enough writer to never again need outlining after import!

Are there ways to perform and keep this level of outlining capability? Possible upcoming features?

Have you been through the tutorial?

The binder on the left is essentially an outliner, where you can move individual documents in the outline — Ctrl+Cmd+left/right arrow to promote/demote, Ctrl-Cmd+up/down arrow to move up and down the hierarchy, just different keystrokes from those of Word — the main difference being that in Scrivener every item, whether apparently a “folder”, a “document with children” or a simple document, is actually an RTF file within the project on the disk, rather than the whole thing being a single file on the disk as in Word or OmniOutliner.

While each document is represented in the binder on the left merely by its title, in the inspector on the right you have a virtual index card for the synopsis, plus an area for document notes.

If working with them separated like that by the binder doesn’t suit you, you can switch the editor to “Outline view” where you can have much more information displayed including columns for custom metadata that you wish to append.

Fundamentally, you have just about as much outlining capability in Scrivener as you have in OmniOutliner, and probably more than you have in Word.

But what you can also do in Scrivener is use split editors, so, for instance, you could close the binder, have the left editor in Outline View, and the right editor in Editor or Scrivenings View, locking the Outline View and switching it so that clicking on any document in the Outline View opens it in the Editor pane.

I gave up Word after 5.1a, but I used to use OmniOutliner extensively. After I began using Scrivener at the end of 2006, my use of OO boiled down to preparing the text for lecture presentations for export to Keynote. Now I no longer do that, and although I still have OO on my MBP, I haven’t actually used it for a couple of years.


Mr X

I’m not sure what you’re missing in Scrivener’s outline mode; there are plenty of short-cuts on the keyboard to move items around, you can edit the title and synopsis, add keywords, edit custom metadata, include or exclude a given file from the compile process, etc… This is all at the level of a folder or document being one point on your outline, rather than inside a document, but there’s no reason not to create an outline this way, even if you keep your outline separately from the documents you write in.

Have you investigated that aspect of Scrivener?

I too used to start most of my stories in OmniOutliner, before I adopted Scrivener. Before that, I remember using the outline features in Word and ClarisWorks (can’t recall whether AppleWorks had it). In fact, I think the biggest conceptual leap for me was understanding what these replies point out: the Binder IS the outline.
Every now and then, I test drive one of the newer outliners, for exactly the reason the OP notes: that intuitive tab demote/promote and the ability to move back and forth between viewing the structure and viewing the whole piece. But every time, the flirtation ends with the realization that Scrivener is actually a much better outliner (for writers like me at least) than any dedicated outliner, in that it gives me the structure and as much of the content as I want, albeit in a slightly different visual metaphor than classic outliners. It does take a little time working with Scrivener to fully grasp that, though, or at least it did for me.

Here is a post from a bit ago with some tips on how Scrivener is an outliner and can be used as such.


I used to use Word’s outline mode heavily, until I discovered mindmap software – which works for me so much better. You might want to look into it. And mindmap software will typically give you your tree structure in some friendly format – like tab-indented, etc. – that other software can do something with (like Scrivener). Unlike Word which uses an in-house system with no non-MS export options.

fwiw, I am finding mindmap software plus Scrivener to be a killer combination for getting things done.


I’m appalled that I’m the OP in that thread as well! Clearly I’ve not yet been assimilated and need to go back for a tuneup!

I didn’t even notice! I hope you didn’t take my linking to your own thread as being snide. :laughing:

I was impressed that you were handling it so professionally!

It is possible that you guys are stuck in the forum-equivalent of a closed-time loop. I would offer to help, but obviously I have now been drawn into it too!

Ah, it is the destiny of all forums in the fullness of time that the tail end of each thread will eventually turn back on itself. For in this finite universe, how could it be otherwise?