Where do I start?

Any suggestions on learning how to write a book. I bought Scrivener but I just don’t have the knowledge of how to start writing. I tried the tutorial but I’m still baffled.

I could just try writing it as it flows but I don’t think that is using Scrivener to it’s fullest.

Any help would be appreciated

Johnny Luv…

I am not sure where to start to reply to your question.

I can tell you what I do. I look at the areas of the world that interest me. Mostly, it is the impact of technology on humans and the societies that they live in. I write as a means to think. To think is to write; to write is to think. I write stories to explore questions of privacy and safety, questions of what it means to be human in a world that is filled with software, robots, and artificial intelligences. I am a follower of the “if this goes on” school of writers. But this pattern can be used to produce almost anything.

Scrivener is a tool that helps me collect, organize, and create my writing. It is a tool that helps me get where I want to go. To me, your question seems to say, “I have purchased this new, shiny hammer/drill/chisel/what-have-you. What can I hammer/drill/cut/what-have-you?” You can certainly do that but it might be hard to sustain commitment to writing for very long.

Writing is a process of filling up your knowledge of the world (reading, experiencing, researching), stirring the contents thoroughly, and mining the chaos to see if you can figure out relationships and other truths that are of value to you. If you want to make a living at it, you have to filter the results to select output that will connect to one or more audiences.

There is much more to the process than that, but, for me, this is the core of writing.

Scrivener will take you many places, but you have to decide which places are of interest to you.

That sounds like a good start!

You’ll discover what sort of writer you are as you go along. Good luck!

One way to answer your question is: Start by writing “It was a dark and stormy night”, try to imagine who is out in the night and what he/she is doing to pursue whatever quest he/she is on and what surprises, setbacks and adversaries he/she might encounter. Write another 75,000 words. Edit, starting by deleting the first line, “It was a dark and stormy night …”

But I don’t think that this really was your question. You want to know how to write a book in Scrivener, that you find baffling, un-intuitive and opaque. We’ve all been there. Even if we’ve come to love Scrivener (yes I admit, I’m in love with a software program), most of us at first found Scrivener complex and intimidating (as we’ve found many love interest through life). But, don’t give up. You’re on the right way. You’ve bought the program, you’ve worked through the tutorial once or twice and you’re still baffled and intimidated … It’s okey! The only way to continue from here is to start using the program, as if you’d understood anything. Approach it with an air of confidence (even if it’s not there). Open a Novel template. Start writing. “It was a dark and stormy night …”

Best advice in the thread.

Your rich cabinetmaker uncle died, and left you his fully equipped shop. What do you want to make? High end wooden toys for children? Tactile puzzles? Inlaid tabletops? Handcrafted furniture? Guitars? Bowls or other sculptural pieces?

Scrivener is like that. People are using Scrivener for everything from graphic novels to legal briefs.

“How to write a book.”

What is the book about? Fiction or non-fiction?

Something inspired you to install Scrivener and post the question. What was it? Pop up the Corkboard in a new project, and write that initial idea down. (If you haven’t already been through the Tutorial, do that first, so all this terminology will make sense.) Do some brainstorming about what happens next and what else is in the book. Make cards for those ideas, too.

If it’s fiction, you’ll need characters, settings, that sort of thing. If it’s non-fiction, you may have some areas that you need to research. Make some folders in the Research folder for that stuff.

When I’m writing fiction, I just start writing. In the process of asking myself “what happens next?” I discover what the story is about, who the characters are, what they care about.

When I’m writing non-fiction, I start with the research. Once I have “enough” – usually when sources start repeating the same things – I sort my notes into sub-topics and use that as the basis for a very rough outline.

(Scapple often comes in handy somewhere in here.)

Some writers are much more organized than I am. Some are less. It’s impossible to tell which is which from the end result.


Google ‘how to write a novel’ (or similar) and find some online resources that speak to you. Do a lot of reading around. It will make for interesting reading and you will soon start to discover the same ideas over and over and these ideas will start to fall into place and you will in this way uncover a rough, general concensus on how to write a novel.


All good advice. As gr says above, read and read and read. And as Katherine says, a first question is “Fiction or non-fiction?” In either case, see how other writers do it.

If the answer is non-fiction, read as many books as possible on the subject you want to write about. You’ll need to do this for research anyway.

If the answer is fiction, read novels in the “genre” (thriller, crime, romance, fantasy, sci-fi etc, etc) or genres that you wish to write in, and see how authors whom you like have written their stories.

Then try to do things not exactly how the authors have done them, but how you’d like them to have done them. See the patterns and tricks they use, and use them yourself, but better. (If you ask published writers what they do when they’re not writing, like as not they’ll say that they’re reading.)

You could also try reading some books on writing. There’s a huge number. Everybody has favourites. For fiction, I’m a Robert McKee fan, so I suggest his book “Story”. But there are plenty of others.

As far as Scrivener is concerned, if you find the tutorial hard to grapple with the first time, do it again, and again if necessary. It won’t take a very long time, and the pay-off in understanding the software will be large. In addition, watch the videos on this site here.

There are many ways of thinking about what Scrivener gives you as a writer. For me, my way of thinking about it is “chunking”. That’s the ability to break any piece of your writing into chunks, and re-arrange the chunks in a different order, so that they work better for your readers. Scrivener has many other tools to make your writing better, but chunking is the key for me. When I first started working in Scrivener, I found it helpful to remember this.

Well, here’s a subject I could bore for hours on. but, to boil my thinking down to a few (fiction focused) nuggets…

1- Writing a book is like running a marathon - the core skill of walking is beyond few of us, but it’s a very different accomplishment. Don’t start that marathon without training runs. Start with little distances (blog posts?), progress to longer runs (flash fiction / events like Novel-in-a-Day), then short stories, then novellas, then your novel.

2- Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That way lies failure and madness.

3- The goal should be to enjoy writing. Try to be someone who loves writing, not some who would love to have written a book. That way, you’ll have a hobby that gives you untold pleasure for the rest of your life, and you’ll be far more likely to actually finish a book.

4- Don’t save your best ideas for later / when you’re more experienced. Always write your best idea, the one you’re most excited about, now. You’ll have more fun, will be more likely to finish, the final product will be better, and you will always have more great ideas once you get your current favourite out of your head and on the page.

5- Make sure all your ideas are POOEE. That is to say, you know the Protagonist, the Objective, the Obstacle, the Escalation and the Ending. That’s not all you need to construct a great story by any stretch, and of course many great stories are written without knowing those in advance. For me, though, answering each of those points with an answer that makes me smile is how I know I have a idea that has a finishable story in it that I would want to read.

6- Time your editing to maximise your enthusiasm. I never stop to edit if I’m in the flow of writing. If it starts to stall, I’ll go back an edit a chapter and give it a good polish. If really stuck, I’ll go back an re-edit something I’m already pleased with. It always turns up something I can tweak, plus it reminds me what I love about the story and gets me excited about moving forward again.

7- Some people have a hard time quitting /abandoning a book that isn’t working, and some people are great at it. Personally, I could be better at it and tend to outsource the decision to trusted friends. So, have friends, I guess is my tip here?

8- The most important spec on any computer you use for writing is the keyboard. Make sure you love typing on it… hopefully you’ll be doing a lot of it! A distant second is the monitor (size, resolution).

9- Research is fun. Just remember that most of it is for your benefit, not the reader’s benefit. As a general rule, I treat research as helping me understand the world (real / created) well enough that whatever I write isn’t inconsistent with it. Fiction isn’t an academic essay. You shouldn’t “show” your working / sources.

10- Typewriters don’t kill people, authors do. Remember that the software is just a tool. Learn the bits you need to, only when you need to… otherwise it’s just a distraction. Open Scrivener, create a new project from the blank template, create a new document in the binder and start typing in the editor. When you’re ready, you’ll create a second document and write in that. When you’re ready you’ll figure folders to clump things together. Don’t worry about compile, or any other those other things until it’s time. Then dip into the manual, the tutorial, ask questions here, and watch a video on YouTube. We’ll help.

@Pigfender - Really good practical advice!!!

There’s some wonderful advice here.

Additional thoughts in the just write vein––notebooks, index cards and scraps of paper are portable and affordable, and can be always kept readily available. Write whenever an idea pops into mind. Analog writing’s physical difference from digital can provoke entirely new thought patterns. Pencil and paper are perfect complements to Scrivener’s design, or vice versa. I don’t mean this as using analog’s contribution only as an incidental supplement; there is value in that. I mean using it as an intentional, fully involved part of the process. Of course, YMMV, but it’s worth a try.

Both here and elsewhere, I’ve seen posts that vehemently, demandingly criticize (not add a rational wish list item or feedback) an App’s capability to perform certain writing tasks––“Why doesn’t XXX outline? Why is it lacking in certain search features? Why does it lack a timeline feature?” I can’t help but think that some people are being either intentionally or unintentionally blinded by a black hole of digital possibility rather than trying to get some actual writing done. Don’t let that happen to you. Use the tools at hand and just write. You’ll find what makes you most productive.

Even if writing, if only for pleasure, turns out to not be your recurring cup of tea, you’ll continually learn from the effort. Go for it. Passion for the written word led to the coding field of creativity for Scrivener’s developer. Not a bad outcome, eh?

Yes, this. There are two great black holes for writing productivity: “I need to do more research,” and “I need better/different tools.”

If you really love research, maybe non-fiction is your niche. If you really can’t stand your current tools, maybe your calling is to create your own. Both completely legitimate responses. But unless you’re prepared to switch gears like that, don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “put body in chair and write.”


Both kewms and pigfender above hint or say that research can be a time-drain.

Yes, indeed! I’ve met several would-be novelists, authors of factual books or intending writers of film-scripts in their second or third years of research, not having written a word. As Mr P says, “Research is fun” - but it can be pernicious fun.

When I wrote for a living, I came to realise that a way to conquer this form of writer’s block was to view research not as a stage in the writing process, but as multiple stages. So you research enough to build a plan or outline for your project, but no more, Then you write that outline or plan. Then you research, then you start writing the work, then you research, and so on. If you can, in other words, you allow the writing to help define what you need to research next. And you avoid at all costs researching stuff that you’re never likely to need (however enjoyable that may be).

Of course, there may be circumstances when this “dialogue” between research and writing is impossible (for example, you can only make a single research visit to the distant country that’s the setting for your novel). But if you can achieve it, I believe that it’s the most efficient way.

In an article today in The Times of London the celebrated British playwright and screenwriter David Hare is interviewed about an upcoming TV serial, “Collateral”, that he has written. The article says the following about his perhaps unconventional attitude to research:

'In the early 1990s, when he wrote his trilogy of plays about the church, the judiciary and politics for the National Theatre, [Hare] undertook extensive personal research. For Collateral he had a different tactic. He used his imagination. “I am sick to death of research,” Hare says.

This approach is a response, in part, to the past couple of films he wrote: Denial, starring Rachel Weisz, about David Irving and Holocaust denial, and The White Crow, a forthcoming film about Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West, directed by Ralph Fiennes. Hare felt the obligation to historical figures to make a true story truthful. He did his reading, spoke to people involved and went to the ballet.

This time, by contrast, “it was just liberating to make it up”. Only once he had written it did he check his assertions. He went to the sort of removal centre — holding centres for foreign nationals awaiting deportation or a ruling on their asylum claims — that Collateral arrives at in its second episode. Then he spoke to a slew of advisers.

“But by and large if you use your imagination it’s amazing how few mistakes you make,” he says.’

At the beginning, you need not much. But when writer’s block comes, you start to surround yourself with anything that could help - meditations, wine, puppies, eventually buy a villa by sea somewhere on French Riviera as many prosperous writers… :smiley: Don’t ask where to start, ask how to continue.

start with the first idea that comes to mind and already in the middle of the work accommodate the beginning