Q re: using 'collections'

Hi all,

My apologies if this question reveals some ignorance-- but I have a question (IMPORTANT TO ME!) I feel compelled to ask (the answer will govern my meta-strategy):

I am now considering using ‘collections’ as the primary place where I will store my first writings-- the pieces of my first draft (before I know where to best place them in my novel). This means that it will be a VERY LARGE collection of writing, and will not be used-- as the Scrivener tutorial suggests-- as a place to organize materials (found in the binder) in alternative ways-- but rather be used as the primary place I store my draft pieces (they will be organized, within the ‘collection,’ in an idiosyncratic fashion not worth getting into here, but not in the way that the book will ultimately be organized).

Sometime later, I plan to fish various draft pieces out from all my writing that I have stored in my large ‘collection’, then string them together in the main binder in a way I feel will work for the story.




In short: you’d be taking a fairly broadly featured application and intentionally restricting its power down to a sub-set. That might be what you are want, though. A few illustrations:

You’d lose the ability to organise things within other things—the hallmark of an outliner, because all collections are flat lists. But you can use freeform corkboards to provide a little “meta structure” to a collection beyond a-z ordering. To clarify, you can outline from a collection. You can select a file, turn on the Outliner, and start building child structure into it—and then turn around and drag all of those items back into the Collection if you want. So you aren’t wholly shut off from deeper organisation strategies—its just in the primary list you’ll be stuck with a linear list of documents; sub-sub-sections will have the same prominence as the prologue or a chapter. To mitigate this, you could achieve a clustering effect by using multiple collections, say, one for each chapter—but then you are starting to get into what is conceptually and better expressed with a folder in an outliner, really.

You’d be able to create new items while working in this collection (into the collection list itself—not using the above trick of opening up a Corkboard or Outliner for a selected item, that follows ordinary rules and outliner hierarchy); they will be created into a new folder in the binder, named by that collection, so finding them in the future will be easy.

You can organise things in a collection back into the binder. So say you have 10 files from various places in the Binder—but they are all related and listed in the collection. To gather them together into one spot in the Binder, you’d select the ten files and drag them to the Binder tab (you need the tab interface turned on for this trick), hold for a second to allow the tab to activate, then drop them on any folder—they will be gathered to that spot from all of their respective original locations. So that might be a good “end game” for when you are ready to start organising these pieces in the draft folder.

Otherwise, you’ll be giving up a little power by working this way. Many of the tools in Scrivener relate back to the Binder. For example if you have somehow arrived at a file and you have no idea where it is located (following references or links, for instance), there is a handy tool for highlighting the item in the Binder—no such tool for collections. You’ll always have to manually find them in the list.

Another problem in the longer term would be organising things in the draft when you are ready to do so. Working entirely within a collection would probably result in a huge mess of files in no useful order. It depends on how far you adopt Scrivener’s ethos of writing in small chunks, but it is not at all uncommon to see 150 to 500 individual pieces within a mature draft folder. That’s a ton of reorganisation and would be a penalty for using collections this way—not so much enforced by the interface or anything like that—but a practical penalty which would cause you to use fewer files in the long run (or at least, I would certainly be in the back of my mind worried about the prospect of re-organising 500 pieces of my book that are so shuffled up, I might as well have dropped a manuscript printout that didn’t have page numbers printed on it) and so hence I would artificially restrain myself from fully using Scrivener’s philosophy, and using larger files that are less flexible.

You would lose the scoping ability of the Scrivenings tool. One of the things that makes it easy to work in a 500 piece draft is that you can click on a sub-section stack of say, three pieces, and read it as a whole—or click on its parent folder to read the entire section—and on its parent to see the chapter. Working in a hierarchal outline in conjunction with small pieces means you can exercise the ability to focus, or step back to a larger context with a single click. In a flat list of larger files, you’d lose much of that as you’d have to manually locate, parse, and select groups of items in the flat list in order to “see a chapter”—in the Binder that’s a single folder click. In a non-linear collection, it could be 80 files scattered in any old random order amongst many. Hence, a practical limitation: faced with that—one would probably just write the entire chapter in one file, or maybe just two or three files—and suddenly you’ve lost a big chunk of Scrivener’s power.

I have no idea how important any of these are to you, so I’m just listing them out. I’m sure many people don’t have 250 piece draft folders, so that aspect might not be important to them. And the fewer files you have, the less useful scoping becomes and the more important scrolling through long documents and text bookmarks are (more like working in a word processor at that point).

In my summary opinion: I would think the cons outweigh the pros. Collections, as a special purpose feature, work great for what they do, but they were never designed to fully replace the binder—and this will be evident in the program from larger things to even small things, like the way to quickly clear a Project Search by hitting the Esc key. In a normal workflow, that’s a nice little trick to get back to where you were—in this workflow it wouldn’t, it takes you back to the Binder so you’d have to go and open the tabs or use the menus to get back to your collection after every single project search. Lots of little things like that would, for me anyway, be the death by a thousand small cuts for this idea.

But, for a very focussed and specific workflow, it could work. I’d say give it a shot: like most things in Scrivener, its very hard to make a usage choice that will be hard to change your mind on later. If you try it out and you agree there are just too many small cuts, it would be very easy to transition back over to using the Binder as a primary organiser; like I pointed out above, there is a good endgame where you can quickly gather a collection into a single spot and organise it in the Binder. It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought before, so I’m probably not thinking of some neat tricks that could make this way of working a curious and interesting alternative to a Binder centric way of working; would be interested to hear any ideas.

Thank you Ioa for your generous reply. I think I’ll need to digest all that you have offered-- perhaps I’ll provide a follow-up later?

But before I go and apply myself to your insights, very briefly I offer this as clarification: What I believe that I could best use, I understand, is not available to me-- that is, three ‘root’ folders, because my work is in three distinct areas: 1) research notes and miscellany 2) draft pieces (before I know where they are to be placed in the novel) 3) the actual draft, where I take my various previously-written passages and patch them together, stitching and gluing with newly written passages that make them cohere.

Do you see my dilemma? Presently I am working with only two main sections (using Scrivener’s two root folders)-- 1) research notes and 2) draft pieces. I need, somehow, to make three main sections. So I thought perhaps ‘collections’ might be an answer? But I suspect I should rethink this…

Until next, thanks again-- your time is appreciated!

Simple answer: create another root-level folder, the same level as “Draft” and “Research”, and call it what you like. As it’s not part of Draft, it doesn’t form part of what will eventually be compiled, but you’ll have all the advantages that Ioa was talking about, 'cos you’re still working in a binder folder, not a collection. When you’ve got your stuff in that folder to your liking, just move it into the place in the Draft folder that you want it to have at compile time.



Yeah, if all you need is a staging area for unsorted scenes and the like, a new top-level folder would be a good way to approach it. Note you can give it a special icon in the Documents/Change Icon menu, so it needn’t look like a vanilla folder even. The way I’ve always worked is just directly in the draft. Even if there are sections that are just a jumble of ideas, I put them there and sort them out later—and that is where I use collections. If new documents have a “NEW” status, I can search for that and save it into a collection, and now I have a complete list of everything in the Draft with a “NEW” status, so no matter where I put them I can always find them and work on them, trash them if my original idea never held water—and locate them with Reveal in Binder if I don’t remember where I put them.

The draft was very much designed to be a working area, not a finished product area. Yeah, a finished product is of course what we are all aiming for in this folder, but prior to that last compile—it can be as messy as you want. :slight_smile:

Yikes, was I ever making a complicated mess out of something rather simple. Thank you both for your answers and I humbly apologize for my confusion. My ‘collections’ idea was clearly not needed. I have now created three root folders. (I didn’t realize that the ‘move’ function can be used to change the hierarchical position of any folder). Gracias!

Oh no need to apologise. It was an good idea that set me on to thinking of a few different workflows I probably wouldn’t have thought of otherwise, so it was a good exploration. And it wasn’t a bad idea, it’s actually a very interesting one—it just wouldn’t work too well with Scrivener and Collections is all.

(Oh, that’s right-- compiling; I suppose I’ll deal with that when I get there)?

But I do, for the most part, now understand how to organize this (yes, a ‘staging area’ is exactly what I have set up)-- so thanks again for your generous help!