Using a database or Excel

I’m a new Scrivener user, trying to figure out how to track a sortable, searchable set of lists. The book I’m working on involves an invented language, so I have an Excel spreadsheet that serves as a dictionary for English to the new language. I also have spreadsheets to track creature and location names.

I’m trying to figure out an easy way to reference and edit these from Scrivener. When I drag the sheet into the Research folder, it’s imported as read-only. When I choose to edit it in the external editor, it seems to spawn a new version with a different name. I double-checked this by editing the new version and saving, and the changes were NOT in the original Excel file. The new file isn’t visible in the folder so I can’t seem to edit it directly again without going through Scrivener.

Is there an easier way to do this, or am I doing it the right way and it’s just awkward?


When you drag stuff into Scrivener it does not become read-only. It will only be that way if that is how the file was originally. However if the format itself is not supported by the editor, then if possible a Quick Look preview will be shown (OS X 10.7+), or just an icon. You can use Documents/Open/in External Editor to edit the file, or click the application button in the footer. This will edit the imported document and save it back into the project.

It sounds like what you’re trying to do instead of importing material into the project is linking things into the Binder. You can do that too, but you need to use the File/Import/Research Files as Aliases... menu command. Then when you open in an external editor, it will load the original file off of the disk. That’s a useful trick for keeping the size of the project manageable, or in cases where you still want to access the research items from the OS, without going through Scrivener as a hub.

As an aside, if your spreadsheets are not too complicated, you might want to take a look at the custom meta-data feature in Scrivener (§10.1.6, pg. 114 of the user manual PDF). The Outliner view (§12.2, pg. 138) can be set up to do the basics of what a spreadsheet gives you, adding these meta-data fields as columns, with the bonus of being able to open up a “row” in the table and typing into it like a document (because an Outliner is just another way of viewing documents—whether you actually use them as documents or mere entries in a list is entirely up to you). Hence, your creatures can be listed in columnar format for overview, with names, genotype, etc, but the row doubles as a front for the document(s) that describe the creature in depth, as well. I’d say this ability is one of the chief advantages of using something like Scrivener for organising your background material.

Also, for dictionaries, I make a card for each word and type the definition into the synopsis. You can sort all of the cards alphabetically, periodically, so it makes a really handy dictionary right in the program—and as always, if you want to write five pages on the etymology of a particular word, you don’t have to make a new document that is separate from the master list—the entry in the master list is the document. Then say months later you’re editing a section and you come across a word you invented that is barely ever used—you don’t remember quite what it is supposed to me. So you use Edit/Find/Find Synopsis... and start typing in the word. It pops up in the list and there is your definition right in the search results.

But of course, to each their own. :slight_smile: I just wanted to give you some ideas on how others are using the software to manage this kind of information.