Turns out Scrivener isn't as difficult as I expected

I’ve been reading about how difficult and complex Scrivener is and was a little daunted by the Manual and Tutorial and some of the things I’d read here on the forums. I ought to make sure I really “get” Scrivener before trying to use it if I want to avoid confusion down the road. But my experience has been that Scrivener is easy, simple, and straightforward. There are a ton of features I don’t understand, but they don’t seem to fill any needs I have, or at least any needs I know that I have yet.

I was writing both notes and drafts alternating between pen & paper and Byword, which are brilliant for the actual narrative writing and brainstorming parts. But the characters and the sequence of events had gotten so complex and the details have changed enough times that keeping track was beginning to drive me crazy. I was flipping back and forth through pagemarks in my notebooks trying to reconcile timelines and doing a terrible job of keeping things consistent.

I opened up the “Novel Format” template and started filling in character descriptions under “Characters,” location information under “Places,” reference material I’d want to see again under “Research” and made a bunch of folders and subfolders in “Manuscript” where I roughed out basics under “synopsis,” added general notes under “Document Notes” and put the actual narrative in the composition window. I added “Timeline Date” as a custom metadata field and that’s the only customization I’ve felt the need for. From an organizational standpoint, easy peasy.

So I don’t understand this idea about regarding Scrivener having a difficult learning curve. There’s stuff I don’t understand or dont understand how to use like corkboard, scrivenings, project compilation, and “Binder Hoisting”—but I figure that if I have a need to know about any of that stuff I can learn it, or if reading in this forum how one of those features can help me, I can pick it up later. For now, Scrivener has helped me keep track of my details, dates, and given me a place to keep the actual working manuscript/draft. Awesome.

OK, so that’s a long way from describing my actual workflow. Just wanted to report back that Keep It Simple Stupid seems to be working real well for me with Scrivener.

If tracking dates is something that matters to you, you might be interested in taking a look at Aeon Timeline …




I’m only a very casual user and not connected at all with Matt, whose app it is. But it all started with Scrivener forum members discussing the need for a timeline that would play well with Scrivener, so Matt set about creating one …

As for Scrivener, I agree with you absolutely. Like you, I dived in with the basics and then got to grips with those bits that then seemed to suit my work, principally labels, statuses, and very importantly snapshots, which took me longer to get round to than it should have done.

As I use it for editing translations and occasionally translating myself, I still don’t use the corkboard or the outliner as they don’t fulfil a need, but I occasionally split up long texts and then have a use for scrivenings, but splitting the window is essential … translation on the left, source text on the right and away we go!




I did see Aeon Timeline and actually considered just getting timeline management software. I’m pretty glad that I went wit Scrivener tho. At present the single custom field seems to meet my needs. Dates can be assigned to scenes, and I don’t need anything more granular than that.

Of course, I can’t predict the complexity that will arise in this project. At some point (could be as early as this afternoon) I might find that I need to be able to look at separate streams all in chronological order or something. Right now mostly all I need is to keep track of the dates that characters were born (in the Character Sketch) so I know how old each is in the scene and can keep stuff consistent eg not having a character join the Navy when he is seven years old according to information in another chapter.

And let me be clear that I in no way mean to be flippant or dismissive about any of Scrivener’s features. Everybody has different methods. What I’m really admiring about Scrivener is how much it stays out of my way. I can just write, and when I need to research a topic I can put my notes somewhere I’ll see them again when I need them.

I guess I’m comparing my experience with learning Omnifocus, which is chock full of complex tools and procedures, nearly every one of which is essential for doing things Omnifocus’s way. Ask for support on their forums and you’re likely to be told, “if you don’t already know the answer to that it means that you’re not using your Three-weeks-from-Thursday-sorted-by-the-color-of-your-socks View. If you’re not doing that you’ll just be confusing yourself and shouldn’t bother using the software. You’re doing it wrong.” OK, it’s not quite that bad and learning to do it their way has been useful. It’s just refreshing to use software that doesn’t tell me how I ought to be writing. Scrivener just helps.

I didn’t think you were being flippant; in fact I was agreeing with you. Scrivener is amazingly flexible in terms of letting you work the way you want, and in terms of the type of writing you’re doing. And I agree with your approach of don’t try to understand and master the thing before you use it for anything, go with the basics and then learn to use its other capabilities when you realise they can help you.

For instance, my comment about snapshots. Since most of what I do in Scrivener is edit translations from Chinese to English, when I first started using Scrivener, I would import a document to be edited into a special folder for that translation, duplicate it, label one “Original” and the other “Edited” and then make my changes in the latter, so I could always check back to what the original translation said if I needed to. It was a long, long time before I realised that Scrivener gave me a much more efficient way of doing that by simply taking a snapshot of the imported document and labelling that original without filling my binder with unnecessary folders and documents. Up to that point I had always thought of snapshots as a bells-and-whistles feature for people doing serious writing. In my defence, I will say that I started using Scrivener a few months before it went commercial — I came across it in late 2006, I think it was — and I don’t think it had snapshots then and so I developed my habit before there was an alternative.


Sorry, I didn’t think you thought I was being flippant (lets see how recursive we can make this thread!) After rereading my post it seemed to me that someone could take it that way, and I wanted to clarify generally, not specifically.

I smiled a bit when you referred to your translations as somehow not being “serious writing.” Translation is hard work, and in my mind about as serious as it gets.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Mark!