Scrivener not playful / organic enough?

Hey there,

I’ve been the owner of a Scrivener license since approximately 2007 and, while I don’t use it much, I occasionally feel the fiction-writing bug and return to it.

But I have to say that one thing I find intimidating as a casual user, is that there’s all this work to do before the actual writing. Coming from a blogging-background, where I just pop open Marsedit and write a quickie (I also use it to write short stories) or Textedit, I want to enjoy the framework that Scrivener provides, but I don’t yet want to choose a project, a template, etc. I just want to write playfully, grow the story organically as it were, and if it turns out to be something, only then save it as a “project.”

Right now I have countless started projects lying around, making me feel guilty about not finishing them, while they wouldn’t even have been saved if I were given the choice. And just now I was planning to write a little piece and immediately felt turned off by the welcome screen (sorry).

So my wish for today is to have the option to have a basic template start up and Scrivener asking me what project-name to save it in when I actually click the save button.

Not every piece of work needs to be in a separate project. Had you thought of creating a project to use as a sort of writer’s notebook, where you can write whatever you like, without committing yourself to ever finishing anything? Each time you feel the urge to start something new, create a new document in that project (using the + button at the bottom of the binder). If your new creation gets big and complicated, create a folder for it (still in the notebook project), and store related documents in that. If you leave the project open when you close Scrivener, then next time you start up, the project will load automatically (avoiding all the things you say you don’t like) and you can either carry on with whatever you were working on before, or you can add a new document and start something fresh. If any of your experiments looks like something you want to continue, and you decide that it merits a project all of its own, you can drag it into a new project and give it the attention it deserves. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to do anything more with it, you can either delete it or just ignore it. Either way, it is in a “notebook”, so there is no pressure to finish it, and no need to feel guilty if you never look at it again.

This is what I do. I have a separate project for ideas, jumbled notes, exercises and so on (loads of them, all in separate documents, and organised in the binder with a folder structure). Very few things ever get as far as being a Scrivener project in their own right. In fact, I have relatively few Scrivener projects – a notebook sort of thing (described here), one academic project for each university course (containing the whole year’s work, including research and essays), one project for each novel that has got as far as the synopsis stage, one project for each non-fiction client (so all relevant work is stored together), one for a non-writing project (sort of information repository), and so on.

One useful aspect of storing things in a notebook, even if they are rubbish, is that one day you might feel inspired to do something with one of them, however unlikely the prospect might seem.

I’m not really sure why anything needs to be intimidating. Just go to File > New Project and use the “Empty” template, then off you go. The templates are just there as a convenience, but they have all been created from the Empty template. The whole idea behind Scrivener is that you can just create a blank project and start hammering away, then use its structuring tools etc later if you want. You do have to create a project, yes; but if you just want to create a single text file as a note, you may as well use TextEdit. Scrivener is what it is…

All the best,

If the scale of the interface puts you off, you could try keeping your ideas in text files using whatever software most appeals to you, and if any of them develop (read, if you find yourself scrolling all of the time looking for that one spot), then create a Scrivener project and dump the file into the Draft. Cut it up into pieces, and off you go.

You might have a better time with Scrivener as a brainstorming vehicle if you try to think of it in terms of an outliner that allows expansion, rather than a book thing. In the Draft, you can create empty nodes all day and it doesn’t really matter. Just flesh things outs as ideas come, jotting down more expanded notes into the index card area. If prose jumps into your mind, put some of that down into the text area (the icon will change to let you know you did that). Perhaps you’re just putting too much stigma into the terminology of the application. Why not change the Draft to “Idea” if that helps? You can change the name of that just like anything else. Call the Trash “Bad Ideas” if you want. Try to think of it less as a project, and more as a playground. There is nothing in the application itself to prohibit this, you can even think of it as a sub-Finder for your ideas and build all kinds of meta-data to support this; Siren has provided some good ideas for that route.

I love Siren’s idea. I’m going to try it myself.

A business analyst, who was asked to take a look at Scrivener purely in terms of marketing direction and branding, would ask whether more can be done with the name, or whether a new one is called for. Two projects might garner attention and provide economic growth opportunities:

  1. develop a Scrivener template to download, manipulate and filter the content of the Scrivener forums
  2. have fun: incorporate access to, feature sex in your advertising

Gotta go make a living. Have a great day!


I second Siren’s idea. Create a “notebook” project and throw in whatever bits and pieces you like. It’s easy enough to pull them out if/when you decide they’re worth pursuing.


Personally, I have one “project” called “Miscellaneous” (a bit along the lines of Siren’s idea) and I just do all my random bits of writing etc in there. When a few bits & pieces look a bit related(ish), I may create a folder and put them together, but mostly I just add a text thingy for each thought or whatever pops into my head. Once a folder looks like a story (or whatever), I copy it to its own project.

My “Misc” project is a bit gruesome, but I’ve found some bits & pieces that I’d forgotten that I’d written that I was able to incorporate into other projects. I also use it to store stuff that I’ve written but taken out of other projects in case I can recycle them (you know the sort of thing I mean - you write something that you really like, but it doesn’t fit in the story it was written for).

hmm, perhaps we should move this topic to the scrivener scenarios section. KB’s “it is what is is” is a pretty definite answer to my wish.

As far as making Scrivener a collection basket for attempted stories is concerned, I’m personally not a fan: 1. Finder + spotlight is already a pretty effective collection system and I never saw the need for Devonthink-systems et al.; 2. having tried this approach for my thesis, I noticed that all this “junk” started to interfere with the flow of writing; 3. I also don’t see how this speeds up anything as you still have to create your space for a story before the actual writing.

Sorry to be so negative about it. When I do actually get to the writing, I think Scrivener is both an effective and a unique piece of software. But for the more casual and perhaps indecisive user (I frequently don’t know what to call a project until I’m halfway) there remains something missing.

Take care,

By saying that “Scrivener is what it is”, all I meant was that you seem to be asking for Scrivener to be a completely different application, which seems a bit odd. I’m not entirely sure what you are asking for, to be honest. For it not to require projects? That would be odd as that is it’s whole raison d’etre; it would be like asking Photoshop not to require image files. For it not to require structuring? Again, that’s sort of the point - you plonk your work in and structure it when you want; the whole point is that it is supposed to help you structure your work. So the “something missing” seems to be that you want a completely different program; just as there is “something missing” from, say, OmniOutliner if you don’t really want to do any outlining. :slight_smile: If I have completely misunderstood you, perhaps you could explain exactly what you mean and exactly what it is that you feel is missing?
All the best,


I use a system that just might be the sort of thing you are looking for: I too wanted something that was always available and super-immediate–I wanted to be able to just kick my computer at any moment and have it clear the decks for writing something–something which might be obviously nothing or might be something to keep and think about later, etc. I wanted something so easy to invoke that I would be happy to call it up at moments when I felt the urge to write something but didn’t know what–so easy to get in and out of it would be worth calling up just to find out if something would happen.

My solution to this is a combination of WriteRoom and some homespun Applescript. If you do not know WriteRoom, you should check it out–it is like having Scrivener’s fullscreen mode at your fingertips from anywhere at all times.

My particular solution works like this:

  1. A key command invokes WriteRoom which hides all other things and takes me into full-screen writing mode. [There are actually two key commands–one brings it up set to use my personal handwriting font, the other is one I use in cafés and comes up using an adapted ancient pre-Greek alphabet–illegible to casual passersby but legible enough if you are the one doing the typing.]

  2. There are two key-commands to exit this writing mode. One dismisses it without saving anything. The other puts a date-stamp on the entry and automagically appends it to a certain file. This last required some Applescript to accomplish. [The file is just a text file and can be opened by anything. Another key command opens it in WriteRoom.]

This has very effectively filled a certain niche for me.


P.S. As I read it, Vincent’s wish for Scrivener is that it might also have something like this “heads-up” full-screen mode functionality. Not a bad thought.

That’s my favourite thing about Boswell. If I have an idea, I press Cmd-E and start typing. Anywhere in the application, it doesn’t matter. Cmd-E creates a new entry and drops straight to the text input. No titling, no meta-data, no figuring out where to put it. :slight_smile:

The trouble is that it would still require you assign the note to a project. As I understand it, the problem was that Scrivener requires you to set up a project in the first place, but obviously Scrivener is project-based, so it is really designed to be used at the stage at which you have a project in mind. The stuff before that - the random notes and suchlike really belong in another program, either as a mess of text files or in a program such as DevonThink.

On the other hand, one thing I do have plans to overhaul for 2.0 is the scratch pad. Thanks to Jesse Grosjean (creator of WriteRoom) for sharing some code with me to enable it to be called up using a key combo from any app, in 2.0 you will be able to invoke it whenever you want. It will also be a little more pleasing to the eye. One thing I could do is have the scratch pad not belong to any particular project, instead saving the notes associated with it to somewhere like Application Support and allowing you to export or move notes to a particular project. This would at least allow fluid note-taking that could then be assigned to any project. I wonder if this sort of thing is what the op means?

All the best,

ooh! ooh! yes please, Keith! Crikey, that would be fan-blinkin-tastic! Just when I thought Scrivener was everything I could possibly wish for, you go and add another whiz-bang-fitting-in-with-the-way-I-think functionality!

I’m going to leave it at that - in case Jaysen points out (again, and quite correctly) that my enthusiam could sometimes be interpreted in a Freudian fashion (though not intended!). :wink:


Admit it, you’re a lobber. :stuck_out_tongue:

dammit, rumbled AGAIN!
Jaysen, I have to ask: are you my personal Jiminy Cricket?!

[My name is Sarah, and I am a glyph-knicker-lobber. There, it’s all out in the open now.]

You certainly hope not.

[size=70]That last line, as a sig, may bring vic-k much joy and happiness. He is odd that way. sigh[/size]

That’s really interesting, though perhaps it should by default save to somewhere more user-friendly than Application Support, eg just the root of ~/Documents. I would also like the option to set up special key combos for notes to be instantly assigned to particular projects, though.

Currently I think the unbeatable system for friction-free on-the-fly note-taking whichever app you are working in is a .txt file and a trigger in Quicksilver to “append to” that file. Press the key combo, type your text, hit enter, and you’re done.

As for the OP, I’m not really sure why he doesn’t just start scribbling things in Textedit. That way he is not forced to give a piece of writing a name until he decides to save it, and doesn’t have to save it at all if he decides to throw it away. If he does save it, he can always import it later into Scriv if he likes.

~/Documents/Scrivener Notes or something would indeed be a better idea, and more transparent (with it customisable via the Preferences. Hot key combos for particular projects are unlikely, though, as they would be unworkable from a development standpoint.
All the best,

Understood! :slight_smile:

I’m also wondering, as to the OP, what’s wrong with a notebook and a pen or pencil? There are certain types of writing that, to me, require those tools, and you don’t have to name anything or follow any format.

That said, I find Scrivener extremely freeing, precisely because you don’t have to write things in any particular order, write complete chapters, etc. You can just start with the bit of the story you know and set it down, and you can skip around to your heart’s content. It’s great! Writing this way is very Zen, at least for me - it lets me focus on where I am in the story, rather than thinking about what comes next or where I should be.

I think I’m using a blank template, btw. I don’t think I’d ever use anything else, but it’s always nice to have options.