Scrivener OmniOutliner & Writing

Just posted this over at Omnigroup’s forums too. I felt like sharing my writing workflow with you folks. My flow changes about monthly, just like my music listening and coffee drinking habits. OmniOutliner was just added to the mix but I’m liking it so far. I really want to hear any improvements you may have to this flow, so I can change it again in about a month :smiley:

I’m a blogger/movie critic (, so most of my writing is short form and has to be done quickly. After a screening I’ll scribble notes either into a notebook or in WriteRoom on the iPhone. If it’s WR, it goes right into Scrivener when I get home.

Then I fire up OmniOutliner. Sometimes I copy and paste over into OO from my notes, but I find it more gratifying to retype big ideas. OO is where I do all the brainstorming and work myself out of problems. I’ll have Parent bullets with things like Characters, Visuals, Plot. Then in each I mention the big things that stuck out, adding a new bullet each time I need to dig deep. I don’t really need Child bullets for this all that much, I’ll lose them. Anyway, I keep going over that until I feel I’ve hit on what I liked and didn’t like and how to justify either. I export a plain text file of this and then bring that into Scrivener.

I’ve tried going the OPML to Scrivener route, but it doesn’t work for this kind of notetaking. Scrivener’s outline mode is a bit inelegant for brainstorming, which is where OO comes in so handy. However, I finally found a use for Scrivener’s outline and corkboard mode. I create a new outline with the basic structure of the piece I’m going to write. Intro, Plot Summary, Performances, Visuals, Conclusion, for example. The I just go into each document with those names and write based on my OO notes. I find keeping OO open next to Scrivener a bit nicer than splitting a document to view notes, but either way works. The key is limiting myself to only what’s in the document title/header. Write as much as I want about visuals in that header. Then I press Edit Scrivenings and view the whole piece, tweak accordingly.

I flip this around every once in a while. I’ll head into Scrivener and just start writing a whole piece, but to polish it I divvy up each paragraph to its own notecard in a new folder. The I give a title to each notecard based on the contents of the paragraph. This is especially illuminating when I see I have 4 paragraphs dedicated to Plot Summary. That’s when I hit Edit Scrivenings and go to town cutting everything down and moving it around. The ability to isolate paragraphs and then bring them back together is huge for me. I have a short attention span, so sometimes I want to fix something two paragraphs down and forget about what I started doing.

Anyone use a similar workflow? I’d love to hear suggestions.

Ah, another OO fan! I had OmniOutliner (which came bundled on my PowerBook, I think) a year or two before Scrivener came out, and so already had adopted it as the first step in my story design. I’d jot down ideas in OO, rearrange them and place into hierarchies, then export to Word or TextEdit or whatever WP I was using. OO is really brilliant for that kind of thinking and structuring. After I got DevonNote, it became my info management repository and OO my story structuring app. It was a good combo.

After I acquired Scrivener, though, it took over both functions. At first, I tried replicating the OO method by first collecting or creating notes in Scrivener’s Research section, then making an outline in a new folder I called “outline,” then cutting and pasting to make a Draft, then using Edit Scrivenenings and Compile Draft. At least that’s how I sort of remember it – my memory is kinda hazy because that phase didn’t last long.

After awhile, I realized what should have been obvious from the tutorial all along: in Scrivener, the Draft IS the outline. That’s the brilliant stroke that makes it work. Write the individual pieces as they occur to you in the Draft section, then rearrange and rewrite.

The key conceptual leap for me was learning to think of Scriv’s folders as just another way of viewing outline points and hierarchy (as they’d appear in OO), not as Finder-style containers. I really had to sort of retrain my brain from the way it was accustomed to working in OO, but once I did, I realized the efficiency of Keith’s method.

So I eliminated that whole intermediate step and just started throwing down random notes, thoughts and web clippings into the research folder, then writing bits of my story in the Draft folder (with the research files displayed in the left hand window, draft files in the right), then rearranging, Edit Scrivening, and Compiling Draft. I used the corkboard for awhile, then the outliner, but now pretty much just work in the Binder. it’s my outline.

For awhile, I kept using OO for short takes (like 700 word columns, reviews, etc) and Scrivener for long form magazine articles. But ultimately I decided that Scrivener just offered too many features not to use it for everything. So I somewhat remorsefully abandoned OO, but have never regretted it. If I didn’t have Scrivener, I’d no doubt still be using it. Now, I store all research info in text or rtf files, then import them into Scrivener’s research folder as I begin each project, write my draft in pieces, rearrange and edit (all in the Draft section of the Binder), then compile and export and email to my editor. Occasionally I’ll do some formatting in Bean or Pages, but that’s rarely required by my editors.

I’d still recommend OO to just about anyone, as it’s so elegant and works like my brain. But I think it was a mistake to try to maintain the OO method, as it were, by creating an unnecessary intermediate step, rather than using the Scrivener method.

So I can’t quite agree that “Scrivener’s outline mode is a bit inelegant for brainstorming, which is where OO comes in so handy.” OO IS handy and elegant, but Scrivener’s method is, for me, just as useful, once I started, er, thinking different(ly). It’s just a different way of working, not less elegant. OK, maybe a bit less elegant, but no less useful.

Both apps are ideal for writers who think in terms of structure, and both make it easy to go from the brainstorming stage (where structuring too early would be counterproductive to inspiration, at least for me) to the organizing stage. But Scrivener’s added info management capabilities make it the only writing app I really need.

Yeah, looking back over it, “inelegant” sounds pretty jerky. I was talking about something VERY specific though, and it’s different for everyone. For me, brainstorming on a computer means never taking my hands off the keyboard and not having to think too much about how I’m navigating an app. For structuring a piece, Scrivener wins out a million times over. There is all this metadata that doesn’t feel like metadata which is what makes it so brilliant. It all feels like a document.

But to just throw my thoughts out there, I like OmniOutliner for the following reasons:

  • Enter/Return makes a new bullet point
  • Tab indents a bullet point, making a “child”
  • Shift+Tab takes a bullet point back a step (outdent?)

Scrivener doesn’t have children in the Outline Mode, although technically the Description could count. My head doesn’t work that way though. I love both applications. Maybe I’ll switch to one in time, but the idea of keeping these two parts of my process separate is pretty nice.

There are definitely some things you are missing in Scrivener’s outline mode! You can do all of these things you list here, though some of the keystrokes are different. You can use Enter to make new entries in the list, this is no problem, and tabbing will get you between the title and synopsis field (more if you have full keyboard access enabled at the system level). To move items around, use Cmd-Ctrl in conjunction with the arrow keys. Up and Down will re-order siblings, and Left and Right will outdent and indent respectively. You can most certainly have children in Outline, in fact you can view the whole draft at once if you desire.

2.0 will make Outliner even more powerful and useful for brainstorming with a number of new features and tweaks, which will make it even more akin to OO usage with inline notes turned on. It’s going to be fab!

So Excited!

In the wish list area, I wish for an Outline Document type.

Scrivener’s outliner is great.

However, I want to be able to microoutline within a single document also. This way, I won’t need OmniOutliner. And I can write using an outline style.

Currently, with Scrivener’s RichText Text documents, I have to indent manually and rearrange by cutting and pasting. I would thus love an outliner document style in addition to rich text.

Yes, I could use Scrivener’s outliner. But this would result in a humongous outline which would be unwieldy.

For example, if I do monographs on a set of 100 medications in a larger textbook of medicine, where each monograph has multiple sections to describe the medications, creating separate documents for each section - some of which have only a few words - is not conducive to writing about a single medication. It would be simpler and easier to have an outline document so the mini-sections can be reorganized easily within one document.

I would call this an outline within an outline.