Moving a completed first draft into Scrivener

I just found out about Scrivener and purchased it today. I have a first draft of a novel that I want to move into Scrivener for the rewrite. Has anyone done this before? Setting something up in Scrivener after the fact rather than during the planning process? Is this a waste of time or a good idea? Pros, cons, advice? I’d appreciate your comments.

Well, like a great many things in life the answer is: it depends on quite a few things.

I’d say yes it’s worth it, assuming that (a) this is an important project, that is to say one worth spending time and emotional energy on, and (b) the the re-write is significant, by which I mean will require an indepth understanding of your work rather than a little polish here and there.

The process of importing a long text and conversion into a Scrivener file is a very easy one, but also it can be very instructive. The act of breaking your tale down into it’s consituent parts to understand the very building blocks of the story can be very informative. It enables you to see things like structure and pacing far more clearly - things which are especially helpful in a second or subsequent draft. It can highlight any areas that might be in the wrong (or merely sub-optimal) place in the narrative, or indeed which dont need to be in there at all. It can help you spot the trends and themes that flow through the piece in a way you didn’t appreciate consciously when you wrote it, and therefore give you the opportunity to finetune them to the most effective form.

Depending on how far you are prepared to go - you might merely break your work into documents in the binder or you could go further and write synopsis for each, and attach keywords and all other things - you can also use a reconstructed Scrivener project to explore a lot more. Keywords can be used to show how much each character is used and can highlight whether a secondary part is given too much weight, or if you have two characters that can be combined into one.

One of my all time favourite pieces of writing is Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and for some time I’ve wanted to write a short story adaption. One of the first steps I did was to download the full text (as a .txt file - it’s an out of copyright work) of the story from the Guttenburg project and then reverse engineer that into a Scrivener project. It was a truely fascinating exercise.

There are very quick ways to achieve it (you can simply use “import and split at selection” and the job is done) but if it’s an important piece of work for you, my advice would be to do it the slow way. Import the document and then manually seek out the individual narrative elements. Take your time and you’ll be amazed just how much you can learn about what you already have.

A lot of people do what you are doing, in fact. I would bet that most people who come across Scrivener do so in the middle of a substantial WIP, and have a lot of material to get into the software to start out with. I wouldn’t say that there is a particular disadvantage in doing this, either—if anything it may help you really come to grips with your manuscript as you go through “converting” it to the Scrivener way of organising things—particularly if you adopt the per-scene level of detail that many prefer.

The only thing I tend to caution against are folks who’ve come to the software with the belief that it is a publishing engine, and have a 100% finished manuscript that they are trying to convert into a .doc file or something. That will in most cases (perhaps e-books aside) be a huge waste of time for most people.

But for a rewrite? Well, I am obviously biased, but I’d say there are few better things you could do for a long document than to break it up into Scrivener and start working on it there.

Worst case, if you feel it isn’t working for this WIP, it’s simple to back out. It’s very easy to compile a “what I already had” .docx file back out of the program, and the software can then be set aside for the next project, or used as a general idea collector until then. So I would say there is little risk in at least trying.