Malcolm Gladwell Technique


I’ve been using Scrivener for roughly 1.5 years now on my non-fiction book and have completely overwritten and am totally past deadline.

There are at least four books worth of material in my project.

I went so far as making other folders with separate book outlines that have naturally prompted me to write even more for those books. The problem is some writing is better than others and I go off on tangents often (as you will tell from this post.)

I’m stuck in a quarantine phenomenon of what I call “mountain of dead cats syndrome” - not being able to stop writing and building this enormous project up from every thought out, planned, outline then not finishing and my brain hopping to another angle – therefore a new cat is fed while the old ones just get tossed on a mountain.

Imagine PDFs linked to documents, notes on the side of essay with more links to other essays, folders of images that connect to some essay but uncategorized blocks of notes once intended to help me now spread all over the place.

I open the project and feel like I’m about to get smashed by a maverick 40 foot wave in Maui and I’m floating alone on a broken longboard from 1950. That’s the vibe people!

I recently took Malcolm Gladwells Masterclass series as a noble distraction to justify my need to feel like I was moving forward. He has some good tips for non-fiction writers. One of them was how he would end up in a similar situation having overwritten interviews, stories etc . How he contained this phenomenon of overwriting was by using advice his friend in college did for essays; “number your sentances”, or paragraphs, for later indexing and spreadsheet entry and write the book using a grid of numbers.

Literally, using graph paper and placing numbers for the sentances you indexed into each grid. I know it sounds OCD but I can’t imagine anyway to pull the gold out of the mountain of dead cats.

I’m thinking that in order for me to finish at least one book from the project I will have to number my sentances and take the best from what I’ve written overall, building up the final book with graph paper and numbers, however, the condundrum now presents itself in Scrivener.

Do I physically go into each document (50+ spread over comedic voices, serious voices, technical voices, mainstream tone, stylized tone and edgy tone ) and number sentances in some bizarre algebra syntax I invent?

That sounds awful by the way but intriguing and almost completely undoable.

Or do I retool my labels and copy and paste significant paragraphs to a new document . A futile effort if I must confess as I keep changing titles and tones and voices. Labels from entries labeled for a certain book no longer matter but they have significance in keeping track of what “I thought I was doing” at the time.

As you can tell I’m in sort of a vortex of chaos with this project. Perhaps, one of you wise Scriverists have some suggestions that can be fast and painless.


Remember that Scrivener lets you create as many projects as you want.

If it were me, I would create a new project for each potential book that might emerge from the pile. Then I would drag and drop from the original to the most appropriate destination.

Next, I’d pick the most promising of the destination projects, and do the same thing. Create folders for each major topic area, and sort the material into the folders. Split documents as needed if you find a document belongs with more than one topic.

Repeat this process at finer and finer levels of granularity until you have pieces that are small enough to organize into coherent potential sections.

Be sure to make frequent backups, so you can revert if something goes wrong.

Keywords might be useful to assign colors to topics, especially if you are a more visual thinker.


PS Topic moved to Using Scrivener, since this isn’t really a support question.

I write fiction, but it seems the same would apply. I’d keep a master copy of what you have, make a new copy as the Scriv project for one of the books you want to extract from the master, and start deleting anything extraneous to that from what will become the Scriv project for that one book. Once everything that’s left seems apropos to that one book, you can start revising for order, clarity, etc., in earnest.