Scrivener – *now* I’m a believer

Let me say, first off, that I always liked the idea of Scrivener. A piece of software which helped writers to write, not get in the way or prescribe how you should write. I downloaded a trial, back in the Dark Ages, and I was instantly confused. There was too much going on.

David Hewson, a writer I admire, and whose books I’ve enjoyed, talks about Scrivener a lot. He’s even written a book, called “Writing a novel with … Scrivener”. Which I’ve bought and read. I must admit, I’m with him up to a certain point, and then … I get lost.

Other writers on forums and on Facebook talk about Scrivener in reverential terms. Literature and Latte, who market Scrivener, sponsor National Novel Writing Month, and offer special half-price deals for NaNoWriMo winners. I know, because I bought it in 2011.

And I tried it. And I got confused. I downloaded other people’s templates, and tried it again. And got confused. It was my fault, I admit. There was some sort of disconnect between me and the joys of Scrivening (if there is such a verb).

At the start of 100kwords100days, a couple of people asked what software other writers used. Again, Scrivenophiles (if there is such a noun) were vocal in their support of the product, and again I tried it out. And again, I didn’t get it.

Until now.

This is my Damascene moment. I get it. I now totally get it.

I was happily writing away, using my chosen word processor (Bean, for Mac – a brilliant, simple, easy-to-use word processor with all the stuff you need and none of the stuff you don’t need). I write each chapter separately, starting each file with Chapter 4 (or whatever), saving each chapter separately, and merging all the files together at the end. Safety first, that’s what I say. And then I had a problem. I decided that my wonderful story needed a chapter inserted in the middle of what I’ve already written. Which meant my chapter headings would be all out of sync, and the filenames would be wrong, too. (My chapters had file names like chapter-04-001.doc). And I’d also noticed that some of my chapters were around 800 words long. And some of them were around 3,500 words long. That can’t be right?

So, reluctantly, I opened up Scrivener. Under “Manuscript”, I created a folder called “First Draft”. In there, I added “New Text” called “a-DM enters office. Grief”. My main character, Danni McGregor, entered her office at the police station, and got some grief straight away. I then created another one, called “b-DM/PS go to cafe” and “c-At arcade – murder scene”, “d-Interview at scene with Michael Fraser” and “e-discussion with Hamden over body”. So now, I’m splitting my story into scenes. I don’t care about chapters, whatever they are. I’ll sort those out later.

So I wrote my scenes. I wrote the first one. Then I wrote the second one. Then I wrote the fourth one, because that made more sense to me as the writer. When I’d written half a dozen scenes, I decided that they should go to the murder scene, do all that they needed to there, and then go to the cafe. So I dragged the text title thing “b-DM/PS go to cafe” to below “e-discussion with Hamden over body”. All my lovely text moved with it. No renaming. No renumbering. It was SO EASY.


I then put text things under Characters and Places. Under Characters, I’ve got two folders – Police Characters and Local Characters. I’ve just put them in as place markers, more for me to remember their names. Each time I introduce a character, I stick their name in there. It takes 10 seconds. Or less. And I don’t have to fill in character questionnaires or profiles.

Scrivener can create names for you. So I created some. And I copied and pasted the names into a ‘thing’ for names. They were male names, so I renamed the thing. I created some female names, too, and put them in a separate ‘thing’.

Now, under my First Draft manuscript, I change the icon for the ‘things’ so I can see which parts I’ve written. Because I can now write things out of sequence. It doesn’t matter any more. Scrivener works how I want to work.

If I get stuck on a scene, I write a different one. I don’t have to worry which chapter it fits into, because it doesn’t yet. I’ve deleted a load of stuff from the left hand column (apparently called the binder, but I hate that name. It means nothing to me). Where I’ve created my scenes, I’ve added some description into the right hand column (apparently called the Inspector, but it’s different to the Mac Inspector, so that confuses me too).

But, nomenclature apart, I’ve now discovered how it can be used to write the way I want (and need) to write.

In the three days I’ve been using it, I’ve averaged over 5,000 words per day. 

Scrivener is wonderful!

P.S. This blog post was written in Bean. Sorry, Scrivener – horses for courses.


24 thoughts on “Scrivener – *now* I’m a believer

  1. Very Tessa Tangent

    Wow, Gerald. I’ve been back to the drawing board lately, researching/rough outlining (Word) which suits me asI havent been all the ticket lately. I learned Scrivener via the methods you first mention and Hewson was worth sticking with.

    About to start afresh, then, you’ve just given me an excellent reminder of how easy it is to move everything about. You can also do that for the corkboard, which I use for an outline.

    I can only add that your enthusiasm is infectious, I shall use it for this new story, will share on Twitter and, by jove, you’ve got it. 🙂

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Thanks for your feedback VTT 😉 Sorry I’m so late – I was away when you posted :/

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      I would personally cut it down, make it simple, and just use it, Vikki. You can always fiddle later 🙂

  2. Linda

    I still have my trial of Scrivener but stopped using it for the most stupid reason… my document looked wrong! I’m so used to writing on Word that I couldn’t quite write like myself on Scrivener. Yes, I’m a strange one. It didn’t feel right, although it is an absolutely fantastic invention. I could have persevered, and I will persevere, but it was kind of making me feel insecure. OK, send for the men in white coats, I deserve it!

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      I think you understand, Linda. The writing and formatting are two very different, and separate, things in Scrivener. Whereas with Word, when you write, it looks like the finished article, in Scrivener, you write first, format later.
      It’s like writing a blog. The appearance can change, but the text doesn’t.

  3. Vince

    Hi Gerrald:

    I’ve had much the same experience. No matter how much your read, Scrivener seems to only make sense when you use it and you need to do something and you discover how to do it in Scrivener. When you need to do something and Scrivener does it well for you, then that is meaningful.

    I really think Scrivener should be taught as task oriented. If you want to do x or reason a, b, and c, then do these three things: 1, 2, 3.

    Now once I learned how to do task 1 that I really need for my writing, then when I read about it in one of those ‘how to’ books, it makes perfect sense to me. I even wonder why I didn’t understand it in the first place.

    There is a rule in TQM that for a worker to perform his best, he must know why he is doing something. I think this is the same for Scrivener. To learn how to do anything, you need to know why you would want to do that thing. There is too much ‘how to do x’ in these Scrivener books but they don’t tell you why you would want to do ‘x’ in the first place. Well, if I don’t know why I would want to do it, then I will not remember how to do it.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post today. But I don’t think anyone, even the people who write the books, ever get it. Hemingway said there are no master writers: all are still learning.


    P.S. BTW: you were not blinded when you ‘got it’ were you?

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  5. Wendy Van Camp

    Welcome to the wonderful world of Scrivener. It took me awhile to get the hang of it too, now I use it all the time. However, don’t feel bad if you would rather do your drafting in another program…such as your “bean”. I write most of my drafts on an Alphasmart Neo and then upload the chapters/scenes into Scrivener where I do all the organizing and editing. My Neo merges beautifully with the program and gives me the non-distraction writing that I need without any drawbacks. Scrivener simply works with me and it will do so with you too. 🙂

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      I have now imported writing from my word processor into a new Scrivener project. It works a treat!

  6. algenisromero

    Hi, I’m glad that you find the way to use scrivener, I’m still stuck and lost, I’m read “Writing a novel with … Scrivener” also, but I can’t find the way for organize all my work in scrivener, I’m a novice writer that want write my first book, your history inspire me to try it again, thanks for share your experience.

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  8. Jillian Lisa Pearl

    I love Scrivener! I used the trial version through NaNoWriMo 2012. I bought it after NaNoWriMo was over. I can’t imagine writing my book without it. I’m going through a big edit of my book. Scenes are moving all over the place. Thank goodness for how easy it is in Scrivener. I’ve also been using the Snapshots tool as I work through rewrites and edits. Boy has that saved me a couple of times already! Enjoy learning to make Scrivener work for you.

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  10. Edith

    I just completed a 2 week online course with Gwen Henandez and she broke it all down into easy to follow steps. It wasn’t expensive -$20 – worth every penny. I too got mine half price after completing NaNoWriMo. Now that I’ve completed the lessons, all I have to do is upload my first draft and start editing……

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  12. elainejackson12014

    Hi Gerald – I came to this very interesting post via because whilst I do have Scrivener for Windows, and have got the ‘Dummies’ book (which I haven’t had time to read because I still have a day job at the moment, so writing time is every hour I can steal between finishing work and going to bed) like many others, I’m barely using a fraction of what it can do. I wondered if the scene moving process that you described above is also enabled for windows users… I ought to try it with a ‘dummy project’ I guess, but thought I would ask the question first… I have never used a Mac in my life BTW!

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      Hi Elaine
      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I’m sure it’s the same for the Windows version. I’ve just had a look at the Literature and Latte website, HERE and it looks very similar to the Mac version. I’m sure this is one of the basic functions of Scrivener, which is common across platforms.
      What bugs me about Scrivener, and what prompted me to write these two posts, is that it’s been designed by technical people, and the documentation has been written by the same people, so all you get is a list of features, most of which you aren’t going to use. Even reading David Hewson’s book didn’t help, because he jumps off into how he uses it, having been using it for years. I think it’s important for it to be accessible to new authors.

  13. Rob

    I posted this on another blog too….. but thought it appropriate for this comment section also 🙂

    My daughter (15) loves Scrivener. She is not technical and just uses the app or some fraction of it.

    I *am* technical but unlike my daughter I hate Scrivener’s ugly user interface with a passion. I cannot figure out how to set up the levels to get the heading and subheading that I want, and after seeing someone say the manual is 540 pages I realize why I cannot stand Scrivener.

    That said, I am trying to help a friend make a Kindle book that he can sell. Apple Pages 5.2 is useless because it cannot create a hyperlinked table of contents (apparently the old version could). Ulysses is likewise useless for this. I don’t have Word on my Mac so that is not an option. Scrivener is able to make a Kindle .mobi ebook and do it pretty well it seems but what a clunky and ugly interface and workflow to actually get there.

  14. Tiffany Higgins

    The need for more brought me to Scrivener, as well. I brought a character in too soon. When I removed him (and any scenes that referenced him) my story was as holey as Swiss cheese. I didn’t want to print my 30+ pages out but Word was difficult to maneuver the way I needed. I had half a dozen ‬post-its with the word scrivener on them. Must’ve thought it was worth checking out, right? So, I downloaded it and started my free trial. I did a copy/paste of my entire MS (I risk it and save it all as one, which is what got me into this mess in the first place) and then was able to lay them side by side. I’m transcribing what I’m keeping while adding new scenes where they are needed or tweaking old scenes to not need the character I stuck in a box for later. Hoping to finish this before my 30 days is up so I’ll have a bit of time to explore Scrivener, but so far I like what I see.

    1. geraldhornsby Post author

      That sounds like a pretty good idea to me. I was using a different Word processor, and saving each chapter (I wrote in chapters back in the day) as a separate file. But that ended me up in trouble, hence to move to scenes, and thence to Scrivener. I love that I can see the whole of my manuscript in one place, and manoeuvre around it simply. Also, the ability to ‘cast’ my main characters, and have photos of the actors I have playing them helps remind me of their physical features.
      Yup. I like Scrivener.
      You might also take a look at Scapple, too. It’s like a Mind Map, but simpler, and I use it to create graphical representations of my characters, and their interrelationships.


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