New to Scrivener

I’ve just downloaded the trial demo of Scrivener to give it a go, having seen a great deal of positive feedback around the web. I wrote a non fiction book about 3 years ago using Pages that took the best part of 9 months to complete and I’m hoping that Scrivener will speed up that process with another book I have recently started.

Looking at the tutorial inside Scrivener I am struck by the range of features it includes but momentarily feeling a little fazed by all the options, since I’ve never used anything like this before. I’m just wondering how long it takes to get used to all the features in Scrivener and whether others feel it helps them to write faster or better in any way. Do others spend much time on the tutorials or do you just crash in to learn by trial & error? Any tips on learning quickly with Scrivener would be appreciated.

Well, for some folks it takes a long time. Other just get it. I’m kind of in the middle.

Here’s my interpretation of what most folks suggest:

  1. Start with the trial and do the tutorial. That costs nothing and will give you an idea of one way that scrivener works as well as the features.
  2. You should still have some time left on your trial, so try importing a WIP or starting a “test” project. Spend time time thinking how you could use what you learned in the tutorial to make your project easier to manage.
  3. Sit down with a piece of paper and document how you work now. By work I mean think and do, not just do. Once you have a pretty good felling for you methods, ask yourself “with what I discovered in 1 and 2, how can scrivener make this easier?”
  4. If you have time left on your trial give it a shot. If not you should have enough info to know if it is worth the effort and money for your style and needs.

As I said that is my interpretation. Actually it is what I did, except I put #4 at the top of the list.

That said, I’ve been using scrvi for a bit now. I don’t understand/know most of what it can do. But it makes my life easier the way I use it so I don’t need to understand/know more than I do. I win!

I find that the major obstacle to writing better and faster is my brain. If I could have Jane Austen’s instead, I would do a lot better, but I suspect it would come with unwanted side-effects.

I’ve been using Scrivener off and on for years, and I’ve no idea what many of the options do. Some features I’ve never used at all. The ones that are important to me are having the structure visible in the Binder at the left, being able to use Scrivenings (seeing everything in the text in one long piece, or switching to an individual sub-section with a single click), split screen, and a few others. You can use what is useful to you personally and ignore what isn’t. To me, the most useful thing is being able to reorganise the text easily and quickly. It is important to me that the text flows properly.

Best, Martin.

Jaysen gives sound advice here (don’t tell him I said that… it’ll go to his head, wherever that is).

The less methodical answer is usually along the lines of, “If you see a use for a feature, great! Use it. If you don’t, then you can likely ignore it’s existence.”

My use of Scrivener has evolved over time, though I’ve only done planning through rough drafts in it so far. I’ve tried and discarded the use of keywords and statuses so far (they may come in handy during the editing phase), and found good use for Document Notes (setting, how the scene should start, who HAS to be in it, tension level, etc…), and inspector comments (for where research or reference lookups are going to be needed if I keep that part).

I’ve also found that I get excited when I brainstorm on the cork board; I start with a few key scenes that have been popping into my head as I ponder a book idea, then I start adding related scenes, or new ideas as the occur to me. When I have a lot of those (20-30), I start organizing them in some semblance of an order, teasing out plot ideas, filling in obvious gaps, throwing out the crap ideas (but never permanently… I rarely empty Scrivener’s trash). The outliner is there if you find it helpful, but I find outlines feel too restrictive during the planning stage.

Thanks to both of you for the rapid feedback. I still have around 25 days remaining on the trial but I have been struggling to find the time needed to properly study the tutorial. My biggest headache for writing seems to be a constant stream of distractions such as incoming emails, phone calls and sometimes a tendency to find reasons not to write at all.

My last book started out as something that I thought would be finished in a few weeks but it grew and grew, branching off into different directions as ideas came to mind. That is largely why I feel the new book has to focus on a much tighter area and I need to plan more clearly where I am going with it all.

One of the major problems I have faced until now is editing and structure, so I’m hoping that Scrivener will help me. Indeed it seems to take me much longer to edit than it does to write the original text. I also found I struggled to ensure that I wasn’t repeating or worse still contradicting myself, which is surprisingly easy when a book goes past 300 pages. Because of the way I was writing it was also hard at times to even workout the best place to make a particular point, so as mbbntu said perhaps the brain is the biggest roadblock.

I think I’ll try to finish the basic tutorial and then watch some videos tonight. Hopefully tomorrow I can get started using Scrivener and not worry too much if I don’t understand every feature.

Thanks robertdguthrie, it sounds like writing fiction is a very different process in many ways to what I am currently doing, though a part of me secretly wants to write something more creative. I’m basically writing books to help others in my field of work, based on my experience over almost 30 years. Some of it is technical but in large part it involves simple insight to explain why certain decisions are taken and the best ways to move forward. My hope is that experience in writing will now lead to a better second effort.

The videos on the site are excellent, and can give you overviews of various features in digestible chunks.

Alongside the good advice from Jaysen, Martin and Robert above, I would add one other point. Get clear in your mind what Scrivener is for; tailor your expectations. (For myself, I always find that if I understand the main purpose of an application, I can get to grips with how to use it more easily.)

Scrivener can be used for all sorts of purposes, as these forums show (including getting books into a reader-ready state), but it’s primarily a text-drafting tool. Many of Scrivener’s features are dedicated to getting your drafts - the ideas, the order, the flow - the best they can be.

In accordance with that approach is support for “chunking” - that’s writing drafts, but drafts put together from a mosaic of bits that can be re-arranged as you go. Some people can write a piece from soup to nuts straight off (so I’m told), but if you’re one of those who like to adjust the shape of what you write as you write or at the end, Scrivener is the ideal tool. If you value drafting and your first effort is not your last, Scrivener is for you. “Writing is re-writing” - as someone once said - and Scrivener serves that purpose superbly.

Certainly, this approach helps me write better and, despite the re-writing, ultimately faster. For you, a little time spent following the approach that Jaysen suggests and - especially - doing the tutorial, set against these pluses, is likely to be a good investment.

P.S. I’ve always liked your song i with the Laughing Face[/i]. :smiley:

I avoid writing continuous prose until the last possible moment. My method is to write every single thought or idea on a single line, with a carriage return between each. Gradually, as I rearrange them (and it’s an awful lot easier to cut and paste a separate line, rather than a phrase or sentence in the middle of continuous prose), these lines migrate to a position where they come before or after lines that deal with similar matters, introduce them, or connect with them in some way (I’ll repeat here the old advice I had at school – “put together what goes together”).

If a line doesn’t fit, it goes in another paragraph – and I put each paragraph in a separate document – the title of the document tells me what the main subject of the paragraph is. Just as the separate lines are easier to move around because they are separate, the paragraphs (being separate documents) are also easier to move around in Scrivener than in a conventional word-processor.

When things sound right, I knock out the carriage returns between the lines and create continuous prose. I often leave the paragraphs as separate documents, because when I compile the complete document the names of the documents give me headings for each paragraph (obviously, I don’t rigidly adhere to this – sometimes there will be two or three paragraphs in a document, because it may take that to deal with a more complex issue).

In short, I think Scrivener is pretty much unrivalled as an organisational tool for non-fiction writing. (And I say that as someone who wrote a 560-page history book in Word 5 – it took eight years – and having spent the past five years researching and writing about 100,000 words on a subject in psychology and history.) In my experience it is organising the material that is the greatest challenge when it comes to writing non-fiction. I think you would probably find Scrivener a great help with that.

Best, Martin.

PS: the forum is one of the best bits of Scrivener – there are so many people willing to help.

I’ll tell you how not to start using Scrivener:

Import a 200-page thesis that is within a few weeks of final submission, needing mostly final formatting and perhaps a few last minute additions. Spend a weekend laboriously breaking the chapters into chunks, then compiling it, only to discover that the footnotes aren’t formatted properly and the chapter titles are in the wrong place. Cry. Write angry note to support team. Retreat to Word in disgust.

I’m being a little sarcastic, but the point is that while Scrivener can go all the way to publishable output for many people and many projects, its greatest strengths are much earlier in the process, in the research, outlining, and early draft stages. Exactly how you use it will depend on your natural workflow, which is the point: Scrivener strives to support how you work, not to impose a particular method.

Based on what you’ve posted so far, I’d suggest paying a lot of attention to the Outliner and Corkboard sections of the tutorial, and perhaps skipping the video tutorials for the time being. Many of the videos deal with what I would consider “advanced” topics, not really what you’re looking for at this stage.


“Writing is re-writing” rather perfectly summarises the process I sometimes enjoy but more often endure with maddening frustration. Many times I have read that it’s best to create a rough draft without too much concern for style or eloquence and not worry excessively about the details but I invariably take a more pedantic approach; literally analysing every word and phrase to see it if could be improved right from the start. This often means only completing a page or two per day.

You obviously have a great deal more experience at writing than I do Martin and I don’t quite have the temerity to say I’m a writer with a straight face when asked what I do for a living. Most often I’ll say I’m currently writing a book but it’s not my usual line of work as way of an excuse. It’s not that I wouldn’t be proud to call myself a writer; rather I just feel I haven’t properly earned the title so far.

My current book has completed around 30 pages so far and has been done with Word as Katherine appears to have intuitively deduced. I was just looking at the way it was going though and had to ask myself if there was a better way? I don’t really do a lot of research because it’s all in my head but organising it and ensuring that everything comes out in the right order without going off at a tangent is the big challenge.

I’m not sure if you’ve picked this up, but the trial is 30 days of actual use, not 30 consecutive days, so if you don’t use Scrivener on a certain day, it doesn’t count towards your 30…

Actually, if you’re feeling a bit fazed, then I would recommend - as others have done - checking out the videos page ( ), but in particular, “An Introduction to Scrivener”. In that video, I try to cover all of the basics in around ten minutes. The tutorial project takes time to go through and goes into detail on all of the features covered in the video, but if you take ten minutes to watch that video, hopefully the core of what you can do with Scrivener will click with you - or not, of course. But if that video makes sense to you, then everything else is gravy really. Yes, there’ll still be a bit of a learning curve, and you’ll still want to go through the tutorial, but at least you’ll know it is indeed for you if you feel what is shown in that video can off your writing something. (I have been accused of being a fast talker in that video, and someone once said that I “slurred”, as though I have had a stroke or something, so I warn you now that you’ll have to put up with my West Midlands mumble…)

All the best,

I can only repeat the advice of published authors on this, but on this subject, they mostly say that there is no use in polishing a paragraph, scene, or chapter that may be cut from the book later, or possibly expanded and requiring a lot of adjustments to existing text. It’s far better for you to finish it, later realizing that a scene needed to be told from another character’s perspective, without having made the prose so beautiful that you can’t stand to rewrite it and make your story better.

There are counter-examples to this. Dogged planners who know before the first sentence is written how every character is going to act, how each plot is going to resolve – they sometimes do write, and then go back immediately and polish. But I get the impression that 90% of people who try to write this way end up with a series of beautifully written unfinished stories.

This advice is freely given from someone who has two finished rough drafts that need serious work to make them readable, so take that advice for what it’s worth, and pay close attention to my signature below…

I wouldn’t dream of calling myself a writer, either. I tend to think of myself as a researcher who has to write up his research. But it doesn’t matter where the ideas come from – they always have to be organised. M$ Word forces you to be linear – it presents you with a page that goes from top to bottom – from beginning to end. Scrivener allows you to work in discontinuous chunks – indeed, it encourages working that way. And that is how organisation works, in my view. It’s a matter of moving chunks around until they are in the right place.

Alexander Pope was an inveterate “polisher” (of poetry, in his case). His printer complained that every time he set up a page, the proof would come back with every line re-written, so he would have to re-set it. This would happen six times before Pope was satisfied. Perfectionism never leads to rapid working.

Cheers, Martin.

A big thank you to everybody who has participated in this thread so far. I am probably guilty of having gone off thread, since this is actually the first time I have ever discussed the process of writing and what is involved, which is why I found it so interesting. I am hoping that Scrivener will help me to develop both into a more polished writer and a more professional one.

I shall take a look at the introduction video tomorrow and see where that takes me. I’m very used to working with all sorts of advanced software such as Photoshop and LIghtroom, so I’m pretty sure that Scrivener won’t prove unfathomable in that sense. It’s just a case of learning how to formulate my ideas for a writing project, so I get away from the very linear methodology of programs like Word. I suspect that being able to jump from one section to another and keeping everything neatly segmented should be of great benefit.

Around these here parts, going off topic is considered a sacred responsibility. Well done. :smiley:

The best approach I’ve seen people advise, is to treat Scrivener like a toolbox. Take out what you need, let the things you don’t have a use for settle to the bottom, and don’t worry too much about how to do things the “right way”. There are ways of using Scrivener which will make your final steps easier (Chapters in folders, scenes as text files under them, letting Scrivener do the chapter numbering for you during Compile, etc…), but Scrivener was designed primarily to fit individual organizational styles, rather than requiring you to follow some rigid structure.

I’ve just watched the introduction video and found that far easier to assimilate than than the standard tutorial. For me at least, everything in the video made sense very quickly and showed what Scrivener is about without the need to test each feature myself one step at a time before I could even get started.

One question for others with more experience. I want to import the existing 30 pages created with Word and start breaking them up into different sections for further work. Since this is a nonfiction book that will contain a mixture of text and images with guidance information, which project template would you suggest I use bearing in mind that it is destined for output as an eBook.

I’ve never used a template in all the years I’ve been using Scrivener, and I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t bother with them. Others may think they are more useful. I prefer to sort out structure and all the rest myself, rather than be hemmed in by things other people have set up.

Cheers, Martin.

Fair enough, blank it is and that should match my current thought processes :wink: