Scrivener after two books

Having finished (almost) two books in Scrivener I promised Keith ( I would give him some notes on what works for me (lots) and what doesn’t (not much and it may not matter a great deal). This will be a little long, it is solely about how I work, not anyone else, and so I don’t intend to ‘defend’ it in any way. I really don’t believe there’s a right or wrong way to write, only the way that suits you.

So… I write fiction, nothing else. I’ve been using Scrivener to do three main things: write the book, hold research and notes on background and characters, and revise the rough manuscript. Here’s how I mark it on each job.

Writing. 9/10. Fantastic, the best there is. This software lets me see the entire book - 130,000 words or more - in multiple ways. As a whole. As sections. As chapters. As scenes. I can see word length in the context of each, read and edit the same way. I wouldn’t give this up for anything.

Research store. 5/10. I’ve held the notes for these last two books principally in Scrivener and I won’t be doing it again. It works but it’s awkward. I create non-printing folders at the bottom of the MS and use them to store material. This means I keep having to scroll down to find what I want, and the longer the MS gets the more tedious this becomes. Notes and stuff need to be held in a separate window, and maybe a separate application, so I can switch between the story and the research. Being able to open an individual text item in a new window might help a little but would still be a lot less than say Soho Notes which I am planning to use for the next book.

Revision tool. 3/10. I’m sorry but I just can’t revise in Scrivener. In fact, with both books, the moment I was close to the end I dumped them out to Pages and finished them there. Why? One practical reason: I have to deliver in Word anyway, so this needs to be done at some stage. But more important I cannot insert inline comments, only chapter or section comments. This just doesn’t work for me. The way I revise is by going through the MS repeatedly, making notes on sections. I need the comment to apply to a particular line, not a chapter.

I also promised to mention things I never use and those that baffle me.

Never use

Outlining and corkboard. I outline constantly but I do it by setting up folders for sections and then rattling off chapter, section, scenes. This works fine. I don’t understand why I don’t see outlining and corkboard entries when I click on the containing folder (yes I should be containing it inside a document but why have both containing thingies?). I’m sure I could fix this but I don’t see the value in it when the present system works fine. I don’t see what the outliner view gives you, and index cards creep me out in principle. But if it were easier I might try it.

Most of the stuff in the right hand inspector column, notably Synopsis and Document Notes (see above). The status would be very useful if I revised in Scrivener though. It would also be useful if I could label a scene by character point of view (for consistency and for revision).

Highlight, keywords and document references. Don’t see the need and don’t have the energy to try to find out if I could use them.

Don’t understand

Binder affects and stacks stuff. What are they for?
The difference between duplicate and simple duplicate and why I should care.
Snapshots. Revision tracking is a lot, lot easier.
The fancier bits of exporting documents, such as inserting chapter numbers that restart in sections. Keith did tell me how to do this but it involves codes and is easier to do at the revise in Pages anyway.
Converting things to folders and compiling text styles whatever that is.
Binder Affects. What?

My general feeling is that at heart writing fiction is a simple process best approached with simple techniques. I get that out of Scrivener by ignoring a lot of stuff I don’t understand, and which I feel does not have sufficient value for me to bother learning it. But newcomers don’t see things that way. I know two professional authors who tried it last year (I ordered them to). Both gave up because they said it was ‘too complicated’. It’s no use trying to say: it isn’t. I’m afraid it is, or rather it does look that way. I don’t know if it’s possible but maybe there is some way to hide the complexity until people ask for it.

That said, I think Scrivener is unique and fantastic. I’m deeply grateful to Keith for writing it and I fully realise there are others out there who will need the stuff I don’t use and will think me an idiot for not using it.

I hope this is useful, Keith. By small way of thanks I’ll happily send you an advance copy of the first book I wrote in Scrivener when I get one - it appears in the UK in October - There should be proofs soon - just drop me an email - you have the address.


Hi David,

Many thanks for your thoughts - this is definitely useful. I’ll just go through each thing before making some general comments.

Thank you. :slight_smile: Obviously the writing and drafting part is the whole raison d’etre of Scrivener, so if it wasn’t doing this part right then I would be worried. This is why I wrote it, so I’m glad that is working for you.

I must be missing something, because I’m a little confused about how using a separate application would be easier here. Can’t you just view these notes in the other pane in Scrivener (i.e. split the editor so you have the notes in one pane and the text in the other)? I would have thought this would be easier than having to flick between two applications. You can also use the View > Editor > Go To menu to open documents rather than scrolling - the Go To menu is also available by clicking on the icon in the header bar of the document, which is obviously quicker than going through the View menu. I am thinking of making it so that cmd-clicking on an item in the Go To menu would open it in the alternate editor (i.e. split the pane), too. So all you would do is click on the icon in the header bar, browse to the notes document you want and cmd-click on it to open it alongside the document you are working on.

I’d certainly be interested in any elaboration you would like to make here, as one of the main ideas behind Scrivener was that you could have a research document open in one pane with you writing alongside it. I hated having to have them in separate windows, so I am curious as to why you would prefer it this way - or if it is just a matter of navigation.

Certainly Scrivener is less of a revision tool than a drafting one. It was always intended that you would export to a dedicated word processor for final edits, formatting and revisions. That said, I’m not sure what you mean about not being able to insert inline comments - this is what annotations are for (Text > Annotation). They appear as coloured text in your MS with a bubble around it. You can either have them ignored by the export (i.e. removed upon export) or have them exported as marginal comments in Word.

I’m not quite sure what you mean here. When you say you don’t see outlining and corkboard entries when you click on the containing folder, what do you mean? Do you mean that the corkboard doesn’t appear when you click on a folder? It should, unless you have changed your navigation preferences. (If you would prefer to see the outliner when you click on a folder, you can set that up through navigation preferences, too; or if you just want to see the underlying text of a folder and not the corkboard or outliner, that is a checkbox away also.) The outliner and corkboard were things I really wanted and like and many users like them; but if you have no use of them it is easy to ignore them entirely (in Navigation Preferences, just uncheck the first item - “Automatically switch back to…”).

Again, horses for courses. :slight_smile: Oddly enough, having a synopsis associated with each document was something I desperately wanted in an application and one of my motivations for writing Scrivener! You can change the label field to be a POV field easily enough. Just go to File > Label & Status Setup…, rename the label custom title to “POV” and add your character names.

Fair enough. I don’t use keywords or references very often myself, to be honest, but I do use them occasionally. Document references allows you to have another document act as another note on the current document, or to hold a useful URL, for instance.

Binder Affects allows you to set up Scrivener as a three pane outliner. So you can set it to Binder Affects > Top Editor. Then have the top editor set up to “Automatically Open Selection in Alternate Editor”. In this scenario, selecting something in the binder would only ever open it in the top editor, even if the focus was in the bottom editor. If you opened a folder so that its contents were visible in the top pane in corkboard or outliner, you could then navigate through the contents in the top editor and see the content in the bottom pane - just like Mail etc.

Binder Affects is also useful if you have a reference document or text document open in one pane that you don’t want to navigate out of by accident. You would set Binder Affects to affect only the other pane, so that even if the keyboard focus was in your reference document, selecting something in the binder would open the selected document in the other pane.

In other words, Binder Affects determines whether the binder opens documents in the focussed editing pane or a specific one. It is actually pretty useful - or at least is is for me.

Yeah, that is a bit of a confusing one and not exactly obvious, I guess. Duplicate duplicates a document with all of its children and assigns it a unique name. Simple Duplicate copies just the document itself and doesn’t assign it a unique name. Hmm. I don’t know if there’s an easy way to simplify this. Users wanted both ways of doing things. That has come at the cost of simplicity. Ironically.

And almost impossible for a one-man team to implement. :slight_smile: It’s also not like a single document such as you have in Word or Pages, as you may split up or merge multiple documents, so tracking across that would be a nightmare.

Converting to/from folders is just a visual thing. You might use a text document as a container and then convert it to look like a folder. It’s just allows for flexibility when outlining - text documents and folders are not really any different apart from their icon - and this I took from Mori, which I always liked.

Not sure what you mean about compiling text styles. You can change the whole font etc to something different upon export if you wish, if that’s what you mean.

To be honest, I’m not at all happy with the Compile Draft feature in the current version. It has had a lot of stuff tacked on since the early betas so that a lot of the options are irrelevant for any particular format being exported. This has been overhauled for the next version to be more contextual.

That’s a shame, but I also think that’s always going to be the case no matter what I do. After all, most users have been using Word or a similar word processor for years and Scrivener is very different from that. A whole chunk of writers won’t have any need for it at all because they will write in a linear fashion, I guess. Others just won’t be comfortable taking the time out to learn a new application. Word is much more complicated than Scrivener, and has a lot more features that writers will never need. Scrivener is not uncomplicated, but it is unfamiliar.

I am interested to know what it is that looks complicated. When you first open it, after all, it is nothing more than a blue pane with a list and a white pane for your text. If you mean the menus, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. Getting these right has been a nightmare and they are still not thee. They need to offer a large range of features without seeming daunting to the new user. At the moment, they fail in regard to the latter.

The nice thing about the next update is that I am now getting to work on some of the things that I have never been happy with. When I first started out with Scrivener, there wasn’t an awful lot like it. There were - and still are - several applications that offer project management for writers, such as Ulysses, CopyWrite and so on, but a lot of the stuff in Scrivener was a bit different. For instance, the New Project assistant. That’s not very appealing, but when I first created Scrivener, the only application I could see that had a similar project-based approach and had a templates chooser was Xcode, so I based it on that - a coder’s tool. Since then, iWeb and Pages have come out and provide examples of good, Mac-like templates choosers. Scrivener follows their lead in the next update. The preferences in Scrivener are also cluttered. Again, I’m trying to improve that. I also want to fix up the menus so that they don’t seem quite so daunting - but at the same time the features still have to be there.

Thank you for taking the time to post this - and I’ll certainly take you up on your kind offer of an advance copy of your book! I hope if you get a little time you won’t mind providing some further thoughts on the above.

Thanks again and all the best,

The way it works for me is this. I am busy writing and think - I need that note or whatever here. I don’t want to move from my place on the page. Scrivener seems to make me want to do this. I prefer new windows to panes (I work on two screens, this is probably why). Basically when I’m writing I really don’t want to move my cursor out of the page I am working on.

You’re right - I just never found them. This changes things a lot and ought to make S a very good revision tool for me.

Yep - the problem was in the navigation preferences somehow. I now see the index cards.

Yes - POV will work that way. Thanks

You lost me there completely I’m afraid. If there are more than two windows/panes on the go my brain seizes up.

Fair enough - I wasn’t saying it shouldn’t be there, it’s just that you wanted to know what baffled me and what I don’t use.

I don’t think you need revision tracking. I just don’t find Snapshot terrible usable I’m afraid (though doutbless others do)

Fair enough

I can see this is a tough one. For me it isn’t that important because I accept I will have to do at least one final revise in the WP. So maybe it a big deal at all.

Good point. Your tutorial is excellent. I guess what I’ve noticed is that as a project builds it seems to generate a lot of window fluff somehow. I try to make a habit of keeping the inspector closed for that reason.

Too many options to choose from

No idea how practical this is but some apps used to have simple menu layouts and advanced ones. You started with the simple then when you got to learn the software moved to the advanced if you need it.

I think you’ve done an amazing job, and one that could only have been achieved by someone who is actually interested in writing. Nor can anybody satisfy everyone (as a writer and a software developer).

Thanks for your careful answers. They make me realise a lot of these issues are just down to me not having found the right options.

Some thoughts from a purely non-fiction writer.


Scrivener is so close to being a do-it-all tool, but not quite close enough. I’d sometimes - not always - prefer the ability to see multiple research notes in separate windows. (especially in full screen view). Mostly I’d like to see Scrivener’s clipping abilities cranked up to be on par with its writing abilities. That would mean URLs being preserved with web clippings, accepting Mail clips, and maybe a way of directing clips to folders and projects. Keith probably doesn’t want to go anywhere near this, and I understand that it’s not what Scrivener is primarily about. But it’s so close.

Annotations and document notes do the job for me.

Never use the outliner, always use the corkboard.

Use them both all the time. And labels.

I could conceivably use Highlight, but don’t. Keywords and document references, never - although I do drag in the odd web URL

Keith’s explanation of Binder Affects switched on the light for me. Didn’t have a clue before, but hadn’t bothered to find out, either.
Snapshots I occasionally use as security, but I’m not sure I fully understand them.
I export as files, not as drafts, so my needs are pretty basic.

Anyone who uses Word should be able to master Scrivener. Anyone who uses a computer could. It’s a matter of taking the time, as we all have done with Word - at great personal cost.

Me too.


Just to pick up on two of the things mentioned, and I also write nothing but fiction*: Annotations and Highlight are the mainstays of revision, at least while I’m still in Scriv - like most others, I have to move to Word or Final Draft once I start the revision collaboration process with an editor.

Annotation I use to make inline notes, obviously. But I also find Highlight very useful for marking up requested amends documents - that is, if someone sends me a long doc of amends and revisions they want me to look at/address, I find it useful to keep the doc in a second pane, then highlight each point as I deal with it. This allows me to go through the amends in non-sequential order, but still easily see what I’ve already dealt with (and conversely, what still needs to be addressed) and is easily done with just a single keyboard shortcut. When the whole document is a lovely yellow, I know I’m done :slight_smile:

And it’s much less visually jarring than using strikethrough (which, I believe, can only be done with the mouse anyhow).

*Although I don’t know if David actually means “novels” - there are a plenty of Scriv users who write fiction in other formats :wink:

Shift-cmd-hyphen. :slight_smile:

Doh! I never even considered that - I got so used to doing it with cmd-shift-? in QuarkXPress that I assumed it was that or nothing…

Yes - I meant novels. They’re all I know, though when I used to write journalism a few people thought that ought to have been classified as fiction too.

I thought so. As I was reading through your post, it struck me that some of the things you don’t see a need for are very useful when working in a script format, but almost certainly unnecessary when drafting prose. I mostly scriptwrite in Scriv, though I am also in the middle of a novel, and the novel requires much less faffing about with Scriv’s bells and whistles :slight_smile:

Scriptwriting is, by its very nature, intended to be a collaborative act; novel writing is a solitary one. I faff, believe me I faff. But mostly in my head.

Oh, no, my scripting is all solo. But there’s still plenty of faffing :wink:

What I was trying to say was: script writing always seems to me like trying to produce a blueprint for others (directors, actors) to interpret. With novels you’re producer, director, actor, choreographer all in one.

I got paid to write a screenplay of one of my own books once (not made, natch). It was fascinating to see how much of my own work I had to strip away.

Faffing? You chaps don’t know what faffing is. Come round one day, and I’ll show you faffing.

Only joking…

…traaa…la…la…laaaa…di…daddida…sigh!..tch!..tch!..sigh :confused:
"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest…

eeny meeny miny mo, sit the baby on the…sigh…sigh…tch!..tch!

“Why am I here?” I ask myself…frequently!

Sheesh… it was a joke.

Don’t worry, David, everyone else is joking too. We’ve developed a few odd characters around these parts, but we’re a harmless bunch really :wink:

…yeah!!! Takes one to know one :open_mouth:

Gentlemen, I suspect the director is here to show us what a true maestro of faff can faff, should faff he faff…

Le Directeur, Un Meastro de Faff…oui M`sieur Clangy Bangy, I can…how you say…“Live with that!” :smiling_imp: There is however, a purpose, as always, for Le Faff A purpose, alas, I am not at liberty to divulge.
Do take care
Le D :imp: