Scrivener The best Software for Writers

Getting started with Scrivener

On Mac 20 questions the website many times I have talked about how I love to use Scrivener. In the Mac 20 Questions podcast I interviewed the main developer of the application Keith Blount. I’ve written many thousands of words within the application for my blogs and I have a lot of words in Scrivener projects for books. What is completely baffling to me at the moment, is how come I haven’t done some sort of tutorial about Scrivener. How come I haven’t created a really long post going into details about the application, commenting on all of the excellent features for writers. Scrivener is quite easy to use, in-as-much as it’s so intuitive. On account of the application being so competent with many excellent features, it does need some explaining for all of the things you can do with it. Let’s start with a comparison with MS Word and an overview of Scrivener and then get into some details.

Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

The Microsoft Word application is a huge monster of a word processor and has been developed and designed for use within offices and business. Word has its good points, but it is also true to say that it has become bloated over the years. You can write novels within the application and many people do. It isn’t the best tool for the job though. All of the marvellous things you can do with it to create great looking documents are not really helpful for the specific task of writing a novel or even for a non-fiction work of book length.

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One of the things about using Microsoft Word is that when people are using it, they are tempted to mess about with the formatting and the look of the document. Rather than actually getting the writing completed. Writers will mess about with the font size, headings and anything to do with how the document is going to look when it is finally set to whatever output. When you’re using Scrivener you just set the look of the document as you are writing so that it is easy to read. Forget about how the document will be when it is finally finished until it is time to compile. There is even a distraction free mode which clears everything else away from the screen apart from the window you’re writing in. The controls for that mode slide away from the screen to be hidden, so you can concentrate just on your writing.

Scrivener Distraction Free Mode

There is a movement to use distraction free writing applications and to use markdown syntax for writing. I think this is a very good idea and I like to use applications such as Byword. These applications give you limited scope for twiddling and fiddling and make you concentrate on getting the words out of your head and onto the page. This is a great way to go and could be a step along the way towards your larger document, especially if you are doing part of the work on your iPad. You could write 1000 words in Byword on your iPad and using iCloud those words will be transferred so that they are immediately available when you open up Byword on your Mac. For those longer documents which could be a very long blog post, a short story, a novella or a complete novel, this is where you need to start using Scrivener. Scrivener is your funnel into which you put all of your various bits of writing and you organise it so that it makes sense. It really depends upon what sort of writer you are and what sort of workflow you like to use. You can write directly into Scrivener and you can use it as a one-stop shop for your writing.

[Tweet “I used to use MS Word then I saw sense and got Scrivener to do my writing.”]

Scrivener was designed specifically for the writer and author. The reason for it being created and developed was that the developer was looking for a tool, an application that would scratch his own itch. Many of the best applications available have started like this. Scrivener was designed by an author to be used by authors. So what does it have, that makes it so good?


The way I use Scrivener

Dictate Status Window and Name Generator

I am a user of DragonDictate, this is the speech to text software that turns my words into text on the page. I use this application because I can write so much quicker and I don’t have too touch the keyboard. After two or three years of using the application I have found that it works better if I dictate into a DragonDictate window. There are some applications I can dictate into and it works quite well and then others it’s okay to start with and after a while it becomes less accurate. So this is why I do my writing in a different application from Scrivener and then copy and paste it after the first dictated draft. Occasionally I will dictate directly into Scrivener for shorter pieces of writing. I can usually get away with it for three or four paragraphs.

If I have written something that is may be a couple of thousand words long I can put it into one text section in Scrivener and split it up afterwards. I can split it up using keyboard shortcuts or by choosing menu items, I usually prefer to place my cursor where I want to make the split do the equivalent of a right click on the Magic Trackpad and choose the context sensitive command of Split at Selection. Sometimes if I have headings within the text I will select the heading and use the command of Split with Selection As Title. At this stage I can do any rearranging of the order of the sections of text in the outliner.

I tend to do most of my outlining in the binder and I have added the icons in the menubar to make it easy to move part of the document up or down in the order. I also have the icons in there so I can make one or more sections I have selected to be child documents of another. An example of that would be where you have the scenes being child documents of a chapter.


Outlining in Outliner View

Scrivener Draft

I sometimes use the keyboard

When I am doing the editing of the text in Scrivener I usually do that mostly using the keyboard. Mostly this is to make changes of the grammar with the addition of punctuation etc. I might be adding some words or maybe a whole sentence here or there. I also use the application Hemingway to analyse the text for readability. I will cut and copy out and paste back in when finished that stage of the editing. I work on one section of the text at a time and when I have finished that part of the editing are usually change the icon in the binder so I know which ones I have edited. I can also do that in the information part of a window on the right-hand side as there is a section in there for specifying the status. So I could change the status from being first draft to edited.

Project Targets Scrivener

Writing to a target number of words

Project Targets Scrivener and Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

A tool I like to use is the project target tool. I can decide how many words I would like to have in a project and within those settings I can set a date for when the project is to be finished. I can set which days I expect to work on the project which is usually going to be Monday to Friday. Scrivener will then show me in a pop-up dialogue box the word count for the whole project and the target for the day. The target for the day is variable depending upon how many words have been written to the point you have got to so far. An example of this would be for the NaNoWriMo so you would set your project target to 50,000 words. If you expect to write for each day of the 30 days of November your daily word count will be 1666. If on the first day you write 3000 words when you look at the target for the next day it will be something less than 1666. Same thing if you have a day off, the next day your daily word count will be higher.

[Tweet “I write thousands of words using Dragon Dictate and Scrivener. What’s your favourite way of writing.?”]

Being organised and using the synopsis

The synopsis for a section of text which you can see in the corkboard view on the cards, in the outline view and also in the information area is a useful tool when you are being organised. Being organised and planning your work is one way to be more productive and effective with your writing. If you are a professional writer I think it is probably inevitable that you will do some outlining even if you do like to write by the seat of your pants. With the zombie novel I am writing at the moment I started that off by writing the first couple of chapters just by free writing. I had the ideas in my head and they needed to be captured and turned into text as quickly as possible. So I just let the words flow to be the starting point for the project. I could possibly move onto the next chapters not knowing what’s going to happen and the story could have a life of its own. The trouble with this sort of writing is that you could end up wasting a lot of time by writing yourself into a dead-end. My plan is to plot the rest of the story out and start by writing a synopsis of the end of the book. There could be the last chapter or it could be the last couple of chapters. I want to know how it finishes. The best place to do that is going to be in Scrivener and I could do that in the Cork board by creating a card and make a little outline of what I expect to happen in that final chapter. The next thing to do will be to create cards for the basic three act structure and to start adding chapters to cover the various plot points. The general idea will be to make things as bad as they can be during the first act and then make things even worse for the second act. My notes in the synopsis can cover how I expect the mindset of the protagonists to change after what I have put him through. I can have notes about how I expect the seemingly unsolvable problems to get sorted out in order to bring the novel to a conclusion in the final chapters.

Scrivener Draft

During this process I would highly recommend using the Good And Geeky Writers Workflow and to make use of mind mapping applications such as iThoughts on the iPad and iThoughtsX on the Mac. This is a great way to gather ideas together and to let the brain working away that it works best. Use all of the ideas from your mind map to populate the synopsis for each of the chapters in your book.

The next stage of the process

The key to creativity is a combination of using organisation and planning and allowing for flexibility and just going with the flow. So followed by some organising we allowed ourselves to have some free writing freedom. Then what happens, is that you get all excited about one of the ideas you have written down as a synopsis for a part of your story. What else can you do but to jump right in there and turn those fantastic ideas into words and stories. I think it is this combination of being organised and going with the flow that is the perfect storm of creativity.

The Birds Eye view is art – The nitty-gritty is a to-do list

Smoking Zombies Chapter

When you look at a book as a whole can’t help but think that is the epitome of art. When it comes down to it arts and creativity is nothing more than a series of decisions. The ability to make those decisions is an art whether it is good art depends upon the quality of the decisions. I believe it is true to say that making a decision to love the way a happy accident turned out and to develop it, is just another one of those creative decisions we make along the way. Writer said to make recently that he thought having software designed specifically for writers was a creativity killer. This same writer is using Microsoft Word to do his writing. I’d be the opinion that using software more suited to creating business documents and less suitable for creative work would be more of a creativity killer. I love the way that I can use Scrivener in a number of different ways and all of the options are available because that’s the way writers work.




A view of your world – The writers world

There will be times when you’re working on your project and you want to see all of it as a whole. You can do this with Scrivener. So instead of looking at just one of the sections of text or all of what you have in on chapter, you can see the whole thing. Maybe you want to see section of text that are not next to each other in the binder, that works too. That would be cool if you have made a collection of all the parts that have mention of one of your characters. You can go through it to make sure the character is properly represented in each part. You can make sure the character has the right description in all scenes. Save the search in case you want to get back to it later. You could decide you want to make the character look string and more vital in the story. In the collection you’ve saved you can read through it all and make the necessary changes. Collections in Scrivener is a handy tool to keep track of some things in your writing.

[Tweet “I love the Scrivener companion app to use on iOS. It works a treat!”]