"Scrivener for Dummies"

Has anyone read this book? Does it offer any good hints/techniques/tips?

I don’t want to order it if it contains nothing more than what you can get from the manaul and the interactive thingie.

(Sorry if this is the wrong forum to ask in, but nowhere else seemed more appropriate.)

I haven’t read the book you mention.
Never cared for the “Dummies” publishing concept.
Two I would recommend instead are:

  1. Kirk McElhearn, Take Control of Scrivener 2 (TidBITS Publishing)
  2. David Hewson, Writing a Novel with Scrivener (Kindle)

Number 1 is a clear introduction by a frequent Macworld contributor.
Number 2 is a helpful set of pointers by a successful crime novelist.

Thanks for the recommendations. :slight_smile:

Still curious about the other book though, not being very experienced with Scrivener yet.

Take a gander at the author’s website. She’s got a lot of helpful tips there, which is what inspired her to offer online courses on Scrivener, and then eventually a book. Once you’ve had some time to peruse the tutorial, the manual, and her book, you’ll be in a better position to determine if her book will be valuable to you.

As a new Scrivener user I tried to read the full Scrivener manual, honest I did. But I found myself skipping through the dull bits, and consequently missing things that I then had to go back to find. Obviously my concentration span is not what it was.

So I bought the “For D*****s” book in spite of my detestation of the marque (the application of black insulating tape covers the offending lettering on the cover and spine perfectly adequately, I found).

In spite of my prejudice, I found Ms. Hernadez’ book to be helpful. At least, it worked for me, both as an initial overview and also a subsequent reference source — although for the latter purpose it is obviously less exhaustive than the full manual. I also found it helpful that the author approaches Scrivener from a slightly different viewpoint from the obvious one.

Note that I said book, and I wasn’t referring to any electronic publication. Much though I love my Kindle, when it comes to clear illustrations you can’t beat old-fashioned printing. Not with my eyesight, anyway. And the illustrations are one of the more helpful elements here, and probably one of the reasons I found it to be a more helpful, and much more manageable, guide than my printed version of the official manual.

My only gripe is the usual one of a frustrated user of Scrivener on Windoze — it is not always clear when a feature is Mac-only, although I can understand that one day (but not soon, it would appear, at the present rate of progress) the Windoze version wil catch up.

Just my 2ȼ, or whatever the GBP/Euro equivalent might be. :wink:



While the manual is one of the best I’ve seen, it takes a certain level of fortitude to actually read a manual of any real length. I only read sections of it when I’m trying to learn about a feature I don’t use often. The interactive tutorial is a definite step up in the sense that it’s shorter, easier to grasp it’s contents in one pass; I always recommend that people go through that at least once, so that they can learn about all of the major features, in case they might find a use for them.

But a book designed for gently introducing people to this very deep program cannot be beat for it’s purpose, which is to address HOW you might use the various features of Scrivener. I’ve avoided the “Dummies” label for various reasons; pride is at the top of that list. I find it odd that people find it more offensive to be called ignorant of something, but are perfectly willing to label themselves as stupid (incapable of learning).

Should one not approach the title of this series, and the not-dissimilar Idiot’s Guides, with one’s Irony Hat forced firmly on to one’s head? :slight_smile: At least both series titles command attention and early on forced their way on to dwindling shelf space.

P.S. Ever since Scrivener-for-Mac Version 2 I’ve been ready to praise the Scrivener Manual to the skies. It was, I believe, written extremely quickly with great attention to detail; I find it hard to recall any similar software manual put together by a very small team that is at once so detailed and precise and delivered so fast (although I’m sure there are a few). It is definitely a reason for valuing Scrivener. But it is of course a work of reference, not a read-through guide; that as you say Robert is the role of the Interactive Tutorial (which is also IMO pretty wondrous).

… and with some rationality as well, yes. My dismissiveness of the entire series is irrational at best, like being willing to read a book with a cover that features the color red. If ever I am unable to find an alternative book for learning something difficult, I may deviate from my stance against buying books that, by my very ownership, labels me an idiot, dummy, moron, or any other label that implies low intelligence.

If they come up with a “____ for the completely ignorant” series, I’ll check them out.

Brian, thank you for your reply!

Yes, it sounds like a book I will need. I did read the manual, really, except for a few chunks that I didn’t think I’d ever need, but it was too much to take in at once.

A little more hand-holding is helpful sometimes. :slight_smile:

Totally agree on the hand-holding. As for the official manual, comprehensive though it undoubtedly is, it sounds as though your experience was similar to mine. The good thing is that after reading Ms. Hernandez, I found that manual less intimidating than previously.

As the author of a fair few textbooks and tutorials over the years, I always find the hardest thing (perhaps even impossible) is to put yourself back into the mind-set of someone who doesn’t know what you know. So comments about the manual from Scrivener experts are to be seen in that light — for those of us still on the learning curve, however, the experience will inevitably be slightly different.



Well, I picked the book up on Saturday. I’m about 100 pages in, and I’ve already found three things I didn’t know about (or missed in the manual, entirely possible) AND a bunch of other stuff makes more sense to me now.

So I recommend the book for any other newbie who needs a more gentle, slower approach. :slight_smile:

I agree with brian747’s gripe.
The author says she has chose not to clearly mark where content only applies to the Mac version, because Scrivener will be updated.
However, I have been frustrated by learning exciting things from the book, only to find that they did not apply to the latest version. I would have much preferred clear labelling of what will not work with Windows, (perhaps with the version number in brackets).
I now feel I need a list of all the pages that I should not begin reading. I could then go through and pencil the useless bits.If only such a list had been included at the back of the book.

It is doubly frustrating to have wasted time reading irrelevant material, and being reminded of the features that I cannot have!

Still, with future Windows upgrades my gripe will evaporate! I cant wait.
I bought two copies of the book when it was launched, fortunately the second one is for Mac user.

I’ve been using Scrivener for just over a year now, and have just spent the past few days reading Gwen’s Scrivener book. I’ve never had a problem with the manual, but for me it works best when I want to know how to do something specific - the search function works well in the PDF document. However, Gwen’s book is highly readable, and I’ve learned a couple of things that I haven’t come across in the manual … yet.

For the sake of a few quid (or dollars) I think Gwen’s book has helped me get a lot more out of Scrivener.

Sometimes, making the most of software is not about learning how every element of it works, but learning how other people use it. Gwen’s book is useful and I can also recommend David Hewson’s book too.

My first attempt at using Scrivener was about 12 months ago and I just could not wrap my head around it. Decided to have another go and purchased “Scrivener for Dummies” which I had open on my second monitor and worked my way through it with a project on first screen and am DELIGHTED to be able to proceed with great pleasure and understanding.

Hi everyone,

I’m totally new to Scrivener (bought it in 2011 when I got a copy at half-price through Nanowrimo) but still haven’t managed to actually use it yet. I’m fairly competent at learning software–quickly and easily, just about any software–and have been using computers since before MS Word (or Windows grin) I type about 100 wpm, which is still a little slower than my brain operates when I think. I talk faster than I type :slight_smile: and I’m a speed reader and an engineer and actually a bonafide rocket scientist, for whatever that’s worth (not much more than writing it here these days haha)


I’ve gotta say, the so-called “quick tutorial” is anything but–either! It’s neither quick to run through nor is it much of a tutorial in that it details such extensive levels of information, by the time I get to the end of a sequenece of steps, I have no clue where the process began. I have actually (finally) completed the tutorial after over a year of trying to wade through it.

Again, I’m not usually one to have any issues whatsoever with learning new software or doing the whole RTFM and hit the ground with both feet, running. I was an IT manager for almost 20 years, have owned my own web development company during the late 80s/early 90s when the Web Standards were being created, and I produced tutorials and was fairly well-known in our little community for knowing how to (a) learn things quickly and (b for better) explain them in simple, easy-to-understand language to others. Then came Scrivener.


Worse, I am completely stumped by the Scrivener documentation. It does not in any way whatsoever get me “started” but rather, infodumps so much on me, I’ve drowned and have no clue where to start on my own.

The “Dummies” series isn’t in any way a coordinated series, sadly (I wish!) and the “Idiots’ Guide” series also is just a gimmicky name used to sell books, without regard to any standardization the way the O’Reilly books were (still are?) always formatted and organized in a similar fashion regardless of topic. I wish O’Reilly Books would create a Scrivener guide but in the meantime, I came by this thread in hopes of finding there was something else.

I’m fairly certain I’ll end up ignoring the documentation entirely and just explore every little thing I can find to write my OWN documentation (and then sell it as a true quick start guide), but I had hoped someone else had already done this.

Thanks to druid for recommending the David Hewson book, Writing a Novel with Scrivener (Kindle). That sounds like the closest thing to what I’m hoping to find: a quick fly-through without deeply-detailed side trips. I’ll definitely give that a try but if anyone knows of anything else that is either “mile wide, inch deep” (a Quick Start Manual) or “inch wide, inch deep” (a Quick Start Guide), please do post here.

As I said, I’m super new to the Scrivener software and want something to just get started quickly at using it to be productive. I’m a novelist (and American in case you can’t tell from my Yankee accent in writing wink) and have multiple stories in process as well as maintaining a weekly blog publishing schedule and working two (2) day jobs so I don’t have a lot of time to spare–and what little I have, I prefer to spend actually “writing the next book” as the saying goes and not learning how to wade through a software tutorial for a tool that is allegedly making my writing life easier.

NOTE: in case anyone’s wondering why on Earth I would be bothering at this point, it’s this: I’m a series writer. I rarely (or never) write standalone novels or other-length stories so I really have a need for connecting my books in one place, tracking things that need to be “set up” or “wrapped up” from one book to another, snippets of text that need to be repeated (verbatim) in each book of a given series, etc. I’m currently working on three (3) different series (one science fiction, two romantic suspense) and I have half a dozen non-fiction books I want to generate from blog content. IF I can get Scrivener to do what it is advertised for doing, it will help me immensely. My big issue’s figuring out how to make the tool do the job (assuming it’s a better tool than my over-taxed brain for keeping track of things for me.)

I probably won’t have a lot of time to participate here (other than to ask for help or post a link to something I can offer off my Webbiegrrl Writer Blog) but I’m ticking the box to be notified of followups and promise I’ll read if not reply to them. I’ll try to reply to questions as soon as I can find time to get online again. My next day off is in 10 days so maybe then (LOL) Please ask me if what I’m trying to accomplish seems unclear. I recall seeing some mention somewhere grin that Scrivener is good for tying related works together in a project so basically, that’s what I’m trying to do while also not losing actual WORD PRODUCTION capability in the process.

Thanks for reading my rant/request!

Sarah R. Yoffa
Webbiegrrl Writer

Hmmm. Well, I’m a psychologist, and I can tell you that there is a certain amount of evidence that shows that expertise can actually be a barrier to learning new things. So that may be a part of the problem. One thing you might need to bear in mind is that Scrivener is not actually a word processor in the sense that Word is – that is Scrivener’s strength, in fact.

But you say that you don’t want to lose word production capability, and I think that is unrealistic. Getting the best out of Scrivener means finding different ways of doing things, and that will always take time. If I were switching from Wordperfect to MS Word, I wouldn’t expect it to take that long, because they are both word processors, and they have similar paradigms. Scrivener is different, and one has to rethink many things in order to get to grips with it. It is not a question of bending it to your will – you need to find out what it can do for you. As you gain experience with it, you will find your needs changing because of what the software offers. No-one can tell you in advance what you are going to find useful, and where your exploration of the software will lead you. Actually, to use an expression I have used before on these forums, I tend to think of user+software as a system. In fact the expression “user” is probably incorrect if we want to think in terms of systems, but I don’t want to get bogged down (and neither do you!). The point is that there is an interaction so the user-software system is bound to evolve over time. I’m sure this is all too philosophical, but hell, I am a psychologist!

On another thread you said that I hadn’t answered another poster’s question – I believe that in fact I had answered one of them: I said “don’t change horses in mid-stream” and that would be my advice to you. If you want to learn Scrivener, start a completely new project in it, and keep your existing writing going in the environment you know, otherwise you could lose a lot of time (and hair) trying to get things ready for deadlines. (And if you don’t believe me, look at how complex Compile is.)

And incidentally, you have said almost nothing about your processes of composition – only that you write a lot, and quickly. I have adopted certain working practices, but I can’t tell if they would be of any use to you. For example, I make absolutely no use of corkboard, outliner, synopsis, labels, keywords, nor many of the other things that attract people to Scrivener. For me, the magic thing is that I can put every single paragraph in a separate document, and either view each one alone, or combine them on the fly to see the whole flow of text (Scrivenings mode). (Because I write non-fiction the order in which I present material is absolutely crucial if people are to understand my argument.) I can stick notes to myself in a panel at the side so that I can see it at the same time as my main text, and if I cut something out I can also put it there in case I want it again. So I probably use a tenth of the features of Scrivener – but the ones I do use are ones that I can’t find in other programs. I write very, very slowly, because I like to hone every sentence, and I constantly re-order paragraphs to achieve the right flow. I find this “messing about” with the order of things much easier in Scrivener than in a word processor – partly because it is so easy to flip back and forth between the single paragraph and the whole text. But a process like this would probably not apply to you – I’m guessing that you would be more likely to want to have your documents at chapter level, not paragraph.

As for wanting to keep several novels in a single Scrivener project, I’m not sure how that would work out. I believe other people have tried it, so if you hunt around the forum you may find posts on the subject. I would only say that I stopped keeping research material in Scrivener because I deal with such large amounts of material that it got unwieldy. I use Devonthink instead (the present database has four million words in it, and it hardly knows it’s doing any work). But then, I specialise in long projects (six to eight years for each, so far).

I’m afraid this probably hasn’t been any help at all, but I suppose I just wanted to say that Scrivener gets used in all sorts of ways to do many different kinds of things. It’s very flexible, so it’s very difficult to tell someone how to use it. It isn’t just a tool for creative writers in a hurry – it is also great for academic plodders like me, who are sufficiently obsessive to consider having a “document” that consists of a single sentence. With Scrivener, you can do that. But you probably have to throw away a few concepts as you adapt to the software.

Anyway, whatever you decide, I hope it works out. And I hope the rambling disquisition above at least shows that there are many ways of skinning many different cats, and that it is at least not totally irrelevant to the original post (though if you stay around here you will discover that there is a long-established tradition on these forums of straying far, far from the original topic).

Cheers, Martin.

Edited for a missing apostrophe.

Martin has many good points but, for once, I will disagree with him. He says “not to change horses in midstream” but, unless you have a deadline, I would argue that could be the perfect time to change.

The key thing about Scrivener is to stop thinking of it as a word processor (which is really a misnomer for document processor) and think of it as a story processor (this includes non-fiction “stories” - I wrote my doctoral thesis in Scriv). In Word, the document is the thing. Everything else is just a paragraph, style, table, object within that document. In Scrivener, the story is the thing, and individual documents are just components of, or support for, that story.

Cmd-K will split your text at the cursor into two documents. While Martin and I do this at the paragraph level, I also do it at the chapter, section, scene (etc) levels as well to create structure. This is the benefit of the binder as it allows you to see the structure of your story and the component documents within it. At the very least, I recommend importing a story (whether complete or in progress doesn’t matter) and breaking it down to chapter level. If the way you write includes scenes, then I’d do this also, with each scene a child of the parent chapter. As you play (and I mean, “play”), you’ll find things you can do, and things you want to do, and that will give you information about what you want to find next.

Despite your misgivings, the Scrivener for Dummies book has received good reviews by users on the forums, as has David Hewson’s book (I haven’t read either). Personally, I found the tutorial helpful, but I had to set aside my panic at not writing and just do it. Start to end. Some sections I did twice. It was not easy (especially the panic about not writing), but it paid off in understanding the way Scrivener works. The manual is very good - but better as a “How do I do this?” type of specific questions than “How do I use Scrivener” type of general question (which seems to be what you are asking for).

Being aware the paradigm is different helps, but there’s no substitute for actually getting in and trying it. Unless you have a deadline. And it is looming. In that case, stick with what you know. There are some headaches that should be avoided.

Thought I’d chip in here. I have the impression that, for the majority of those who have moved over from Word and found it difficult to get into Scrivener, the reason behind their confusion was that they were trying to use it in the Word-paradigm. In that I think that Martin and Dr Nom are right, stop thinking of it as a Word replacement but see it as a writing environment.

First my credentials. To date, I have not published any works using Scrivener, my only fiction writing was a chapter in NiAD 2 … my main use is for editing translations from Chinese to English, though I am slowly, oh so slowly, putting my teaching materials into Scrivener in preparation for the time when I might want to put them together into something more substantial. I probably only use 5% of what Scrivener offers, but boy, hasn’t that 5% made a huge difference … left-right split screen, with text I’m editing on left, Chinese source or original translation on right; snapshots; labels; very basic compile requirements. I don’t even use the research area for anything other than a repository of the texts that have been done and finished with, organised by date, just in case I ever need to refer back to them, to keep my “Draft” folder simple.

That said, one of the things I found about Scrivener is that you can begin using it really simply; I started using it just before version 1 on Mac became commercial … I don’t even remember going right through the tutorial if it existed then, I just went in and started writing. I began just importing texts to be edited, duplicating them and working on the duplicate; it was a long time before I thought, “But that’s what snapshots are for!” so now I import, snapshot labelled original, and then take further snapshots as way stages on very complex, rather long texts, and snapshot of the final version on compiling. I know about many of the other features from my time on the forum … I do use labels, but I haven’t used keywords, synopses, the corkboard or outline views, but only because I’ve had no use for them.

So I’d go with Dr Nom. Import one of your WiPs on which you don’t have an urgent deadline, split it up with Ctrl-K or whatever the shortcut is on Windows into chunks … chapters, scenes, beats, paragraphs, whatever feels right at that moment and start writing. If as you progress, you find you want to split it up more, you can; if you find you’ve gone too fine in your splittling, you can rejoin adjacent “scrivenings”. Take snapshots of each of your splits, fill in the synopsis card or click the button to fill it with the first however many hundred words. Don’t for the moment worry about compile or anything like that, and explore the other features as and when you think you need them.

You’ll find your own way of working, we all do.

Good luck


Moving from Word to Scrivener is much like moving from MS Paint to Photoshop; not in the sense that Word is a toy, but that while both programs essentially provide the same function (allowing you to write words and edit them), it can be a really huge shift if you have a highly detailed list of needs that you’ve satisfied while learning Word. I never learned much about Word, so I didn’t have a lot of expectations of Scrivener; it’s features are more front-and-center (the inspector, for instance, exposes a lot of tools that Word has buried in it’s menus). My devotion to Scrivener is probably thanks, in large part, to having come to it with very little sophistication with regards to MS Word usage.

With that said, I think posting specific “how do I accomplish X” to the Technical Support forums will be your best bet in adapting to what Scrivener has to offer… Your need to keep a series of works in one project, for instance, has been covered before, and will typically garner a detailed reply. But since I’m on that subject, I’ll end this post with how that solution works:

First, in your Draft (aka “manuscript”) folder, create a folder for each “book”, naming them whatever makes sense to you. But if you keep them all in the Draft folder, then in the compile settings, under Contents, there’s a drop-down button that lets you select which of your book folders to treat as the “root” from which to start looking for words to compile into the output.

Alternately, you can put the folders for finished/published works somewhere else, including a new “top-level” folder that you create to sit alongside the Draft folder. Or you can just take the compiled “final” version of your books, and re-import them as big, whole documents.

Any research/background information that you used in Book one (character sheets, maps, etc…) can be shared among all your books. By using the snapshot feature, you can freeze the state of a character’s background document as it was relevant to book 1, then edit it to reflect changes relevant to book 2 (new scars, new motivations, new spouse, hair color, etc…). That way, if you ever have to revisit that character as he/she was in earlier works, you have that available to you, while allowing that document to “live” along with the changes in your stories.

Tracking the presence or mention of characters is also a handy thing for novelists, especially if you decide to remove a character from a work in progress. For details on how to accomplish this, check out: viewtopic.php?f=18&t=19076