Organization Best Practices in Writing

I am asking for anyone’s input who cares to contribute here. I am asking what some best practices are for others who have to organize a writers life. Sometimes I get so mad at my brain as it wont do what I want it to do. Common sense, when it comes to organization has not been common in my life. For various reasons which I wont go into here, I missed that chapter in life.

But I have been writing for years as I have been naturally able to write since childhood. I have collected my stories which have also become many false starts on books.

What I am realizing only now is that;

  1. I need to use Scrivener as a repository of all my ideas.
  2. I need to put all my ideas on equal footing in the repository so I can more easily find them.
  3. I need to put all my ideas on equal footing in the repository to see if ideas need to be combined over time, etc.
  4. I need to make this writing repository separate from any other uses for that Scrivener document.

Then there is the actual drafting of a story into a book, article for submission, etc. I get very confused with versioning. I don’t yet have a solid grasp on what the beginning, middle, and end of the writing process looks like when it comes to finishing a book. This could be as (simple?) as putting a folder in Documents with all works in progress in it and in that folder putting in the working title including a page for notes about progress needed, submissions made and to whom, etc., and of course, the revisions.

I am currently using a Mac app called HoudahSpot to search files based on tags. I can save those searches as templates so where I put them isn’t necessary. I am only asking here for others experiences and best practices.

I was imagining how someone that works in a publishing office or someone who is an art director or someone who otherwise has to deal with lots of submissions, deals with a large workflow? I always thought they must have some sort of custom database for this purpose and perhaps some do. But with some best practice ideas about consistent organization, waiting for the right software to write would be pretty foolish. Besides, that software is already here and it is called Scrivener. Well, for the writing part at least. This is a post about organization best practices in writing.

There is an aspect of my brain in the executive functioning area that just does not work very well when trying to connect two ends of a process. That is why I am asking here for constructive pieces from other’s best practices that will help in my process. I am assuming there are many ways to climb the same mountain and I am not trying to create friction over one idea or the other. I would very much appreciate some ideas on best practices using Scrivener as a primary writing tool.

Much thanks all.

This is a very difficult question to answer. As you’ve already realised, there are as many ‘good’ ways to use Scrivener as there are users, and what works for one user won’t work for another.

However, from what you’ve said so far, may I offer a couple of things, at least one of which should be mandatory for every user!

  1. However many Scrivener projects you end up with, make each Project name (filename) as meaningful as you possibly can to help any search tool you use, and of course, each document name within each Project. “The naming of things” is a definite art, and will pay dividends over time.

  2. The number, size, and structure of your Scrivener projects might vary greatly depending what they’re used for. For example, a series of articles on a common theme, a single one-off article, a novel, a book of poems, will all be different organisations.

Perhaps it might help if you define more closely what it is you want help with?

Beethoven kept three notebooks. One was just random ideas: that tune a workman was whistling as he passed, a chord progression, an interesting rhythm. Then, in the second notebook, you might see one of these ideas developed a bit further: variations on a three note phrase, that chord progression realized with different instruments. And in the third, something closer to a complete thought, the foundation for a sonata or other work.
karinwritesdangerously.wordpres … notebooks/

In my own work, I’ve found that ideas at different stages of development need different treatment, and often different tools. Maybe a collection of interesting information belongs in DevonThink Pro, rather than Scrivener. Maybe an exploration of how components of a story or article fit together is best done in Scapple. Sometimes, nothing is better than paper. Decide how you want to work, and choose tools to facilitate that: don’t force yourself to fit into the confines of a particular tool.


I maintain a dedicated “Writer’s Journal” project in Scrivener. In there I have folders for creative writing classes and their associated assignments, for ideas — which maybe just a single word or a few paragraphs, for fragments — pieces that come to mind with interesting conversations or with paragraphs that could be dragged and dropped into other projects, for character studies — beware the commuter with a portable device that keeps looking in your direction, for replies to social media or discussion forums or news media comment contributions, for book reviews as there is no better way to refine one’s craft than to be critical of published authors, for archives of useful statements made by published authors. And the research folder has photographs of people that might be touchstones for characters; most times these are clippings from (online editions of) magazines and newspapers although a few are people I’ve snapped via my smartphone in the style of 1930s New York street photographer Walker Evans — beware the commuter with a portable device that keeps swivelling in your direction.

At least that is the structure the journal project has today. Tomorrow I might develop a better organisation and the while thing is changed. That is the beauty of using Scrivener — you are not locked into someone else’s ideas or your own out-dated ones.

Right, that is (sort of) what I was doing. But, I was keeping everything in a single Scrivener document (were you?). Now I realize that I was finding myself overloaded and overwhelmed with too much information in one document.

When you do as you have described, do you start a new Scrivener document each time you start a new character study to give it room to grown into a full book, article, or story? Or, do you continue to add folders for new projects and keep it all in one document?

I was keeping all the starts and false starts and research and everything else all in one document. Now I am keeping a separate Scrivener document just to track my story ideas including, what I post to Facebook, emails that I like what I have written, etc. Essentially I am keeping a repository of my writing ideas in a single document and hoping to begin each idea as a new project in a fresh document.

I have been using HoudahSpot quite a bit to save searches based on tags. Hopefully with this new system I can learn to use tags to keep track of scrivener documents that need work as well as what stage of work they are needing (what stage the project is in).

In order to minimize friction with the underlying design of Scrivener, you should have a separate project file for anything that is separate – each novel, etc. Nothing keeps you from having multiple Scrivener projects open at the same time, so you can cut/paste material between them as needed.

So one project as the journal for ideas in development but not actually as a separate project yet, etc. And then each WIP as a separate project. Some people will use a single project to house multiple WIPs in the same world, etc., but that can get a little messy given you only have one Drafts/Manuscript folder per project.

From there, new documents/folders based on the nature of the material and the requirements of the project. I myself am fond of a folder per section, folder per chapter, document per scene, but that’s a matter of preference, not requirement.

I have a separate project for each major “work,” which might be a book-length study, a collection of short stories, or a series of articles for the same site.

I have two “collector” projects. One is an Idea File/Organizer, and the other is a Notetaker. Both of those function as inboxes when I’m not yet sure what I’ll ultimately use the material for.


No, I have multiple documents within that journal project. Although I think you are calling Scrivener projects documents which is confusing.

If the idea matures then I create a new project and copy over the documents from the journal to the dedicated one. Should there ever be more than two or three documents in the journal project that belong together I would use a Scrivener Collection.

If the character sketch is of someone real — my hapless fellow commuters for example — then they are kept in the journal. Should one of them fit a novel/story then as above I copy it to the novel’s/story’s dedicated project for incorporation into the character profile. (The profile might be the one from the default novel template or the longer detailed character profile I have created for my own purposes.)

My writing journal has everything in that is not related to a work in progress. Typically the individual documents stored within all projects have meaningful names in the Binder but in extremis I will use the document notes field of the Inspector and, very occasionally, the Synopsis field. (Normally I don’t use the Synopsis because I do no use the Corkboard.)

No idea what HoudahSpot is or what it does.

Firstly each project has a name, which is typically the working title. Secondly I find Scrivener’s own search sufficient for my needs with the occasional macOS Spotlight search to cover for a temporary lapse of memory. No scratch that I only use Spotlight to locate (very) old text files that predate my use of Scrivener (eight or nine years now) — because I want to import them into Scrivener.

In the end Scrivener is so flexible we can each use it in ways that suit us. And remains flexible by allowing us to change our minds and restructure our organisation.

This is a great discussion. I want to interrupt it with a call to back everything up in many instances and ways. I didn’t. The fault is all mine. Don’t be like me.