I have been using Scrivener daily for nearly ten years now. I find Scrivener such a flexible tool for my fiction and nonfiction projects such as creating web pages, presentations, and the occasional blog post.
I like Scrivener because it's flexible and because it suits my workflow. I tend to work on my projects in a non-linear fashion. The graphic is how I’ve set up my Scrivener.
One of the first things I did when I started using Scrivener was to change the default toolbar to meet my needs. I removed the icons which I don’t use and replace them with those I often use such as Copy and Paste Formatting, Start and Stop Speech, and Sync with External Folder icons. I also rearranged them on the toolbar to suit my needs.
Modifying the toolbar is simple. Right-Click on the taskbar and then select Customize Toolbar. A window will open, allowing you to drag icons from the window on the toolbar where you can move them where you want them.
I also use the Right-Click extensively on my mouse to bring up the Context Menu. Depending on which part of Scrivener you are pointing your mouse at, such as the editor or the binder the Context Menu, it will display a slightly different set of task commands.
There are also keyboard shortcuts available which you can find in the menus. The only ones I remember are the cut and paste commands.
Syncing & Backup
If you are on the go, you can sync Scrivener with other devices such as tablets and smartphones. Under File>Sync menu, the following options are available: With Mobile Devices, With External Folder, and With External Folder Now.
The simplest is to use Scrivener’s IOS app and to sync via Dropbox. Be aware Scrivener recommends not to keep the same project open at the same time on multiple devices to avoid syncing problems. You need to close Scrivener on one device before working on your project on another.
I have been playing with this option, but unfortunately, I have the habit of keeping Scrivener always open on my Mac and I know I will forget closing it before I head out to the local coffee shop. Also, syncing using Scrivener’s IOS app would require that I upgrade my current Dropbox account to get additional storage space since some of my project files are quite large.
Instead, I sync my projects with Alfons Schmid’s Notebooks using the With External Folder option via Dropbox. I’ve created Draft folders for each of my projects, and I simply sync my drafts in plain text back and forth. It has been working quite well for me.
Also, I’m a great fan of using Scrivener’s Snapshots feature because it allows me to easily compare differences in the text before and after syncing.
On the Mac Time Machine does an excellent job of backing up your files to an external hard drive. However, in case of fire or theft, it is important to have copies of your critical files off-site.
I use the File>Backup option to create a zip archive of my projects in a backup folder when I close Scrivener. The contents of the backup folder are then uploaded to one of my cloud accounts.
Under the Scrivener>Preferences>Backup you can configure how, when, and where your backups are created.
Scrivener>Preferences gives you a variety of options to configure Scrivener to suit your needs. In most cases, you can leave the defaults as is. If you are new to Scrivener, I would take a few minutes to review them. Then modify the ones you feel would make your life easier.
In the Preference>Editing I’ve set the Default Text zoom to 150% since I find myself squinting at my computer screen.
In the Preference>Editing>Formatting is where I’ve set the default formatting for all my projects since they don’t change much from project to project. The simplest method to set your default settings is using a document you already have formatted the way you like it then click on the Use Formatting in Current Editor command. The other method is to select each of the icons in the ruler to modify the formatting in the Preference>Editing>Formatting window.
If you need to change them for a special project, you can do so under the Project>Project Settings menu.
Preference>SharingThe Conversion preference specifies how your documents will be converted into Microsoft Word or OpenOffice formats. Also, under File>Compile you can set how Scrivener will convert your document into an ePub.
Getting to work
The Binder is where you organise your drafts and research. Organising your binder is a personal and whatever works for you. Depending on the project, I will create a different structure. Some are by dates other by scenes and chapters. Scrivener gives you the flexibility to plan your projects as you see fit.
One thing I like about Scrivener is that it is a plain text editor with limited layout capabilities. I write all my first drafts longhand using a fountain pen in notebooks. When I finish a scene, I type it into the Scrivener where I will polish it until I’m happy with it. I can’t create fiction typing on a computer screen. The constant red squiggly lines interrupt my train of thought.
While Scrivener does allow you to create Tables and insert graphics into your documents, these tools are not as sophisticated as Word or OpenOffice’s layout tools. If I need to create a document-heavy with tables and graphics, I find Word to be a much better tool.
Scrivener styles, under Format>Styles, are more geared towards plain text documents. The Format>Show Styles Panel will display a floating styles window. I don’t use this very much since I usually use only three default styles: one for the headings, one for the first paragraph, and one for the body text.
Also, on my Toolbar I have two icons, Copy Format and Paste Format, which I frequently use to apply to format.
In Scrivener you can view your project as a Document, as a Corkboard, or as an Outline. I usually have the main window split into two views; with the top in Document view while the bottom is either in Document or Outline depending on what task I’m doing. If I’m reviewing and editing, the bottom is in Outline view which helps me gauge my progress.
If you wish, you can vertically split the window by holding Option key and clicking the split icon in the document header.
Locking the Editor
I frequently lock the main Editor to keep it in place and in focus when I’m conducting research or consulting other documents in the bottom view. To lock Right-Click on the document header, then select the Lock in Place command in the menu when it appears. The title bar will change to a red colour to indicate it has been locked.
SearchOne of the more useful is the Search and Replace functions in Scrivener, especially when you have a great many documents in your project. Quick Search is available in the toolbar. Also, Project Search is available at the top of the Binder.
Scrivener will return all the documents which contain the search term. In text documents, the search term will be highlighted. Scrivener also provides options, Right-Click in Project Search Box, to expand or restrict how it searches. In most cases, the defaults work very well.
Under the edit menu, there are several useful tools which I use such as Edit>Transformations such as changing cases from upper to lower to convert Straight Quotes to Smart Quotes.
The Edit>Text Tidying is useful for removing double spaces and cleaning up some of my text.
The Edit>Writing Tools> Name Generator is useful for creating character names.
I recently discovered Linguistic Focuswhich is found under the Edit>Writing Tools menu. The feature allows you to select various parts of your text such as Speech by fading the surrounding text to highlight it. I haven’t used it extensively as yet, but it looks interesting. I’m planning to play with to see whether it will prove useful.
In the Inspector, you will find several metadata fields. I usually create a synopsis in the Notes panel by copying and pasting text into the Synopsis field. For multiple documents, I use the Set Synopsis from main text command under Documents>Auto-Fill menu. This grabs the first paragraph of the document and displays it in the Synopsis Field. I find this useful when I’m in Outline mode or in Corkboard as it gives me a general idea of the scene.
You aren’t restricted to text. You can also drop an image in the Synopsis field.
I use Bookmarks frequently as I consult various documents. It saves me time when several months later, I’m trying to find the source of the fact that I had used. You can bookmark web pages, Scrivener files, or files you have stored on your hard drive.
There are some standard metadata fields such as Due Date, Title, Metadata etc. I rarely used the standard ones except when I’m created a Web page. I would then complete the Title, and Description fields as these are key metadata for Web pages and search optimization.
Scrivener allows you to create your own metadata fields. For most of my projects, I have deleted the defaults and created two new metadata fields: Speech Check and Grammar Check. They are simple checkboxes which I tick which finished editing the scene.
Tracking your progress
Scrivener provides a wealth of statistics on managing your projects. The Project>Statistics menu gives you basic stats on the number of words, characters, sentences, and page counts in your project.
Project Targets, Session Targets, Document Targets
Scrivener allows you to set target word counts for your project, daily (Sessions), and at the document level.
The Project>Show Project Targets menu allows you to set the total number of words for your project. Clicking between ‘of’ and ‘words’ will activate a text box where you can input your project’s word count.
Clicking on Options allows you, in the Draft Target window, to set a deadline date for your project. In Session Target, clicking Automatically calculate from draft deadline checkbox Scrivener will calculate your total workdays and the daily word count you will need to write to meet the deadline you have set.
Once you set your Project Targets Quick Search the Toolbar will show thin colour bars to indicate your progress.
The top blue line is your project total word count, while the bottom green line indicates your daily Session Target progress. When you mouse over Quick Search, your current word count will be displayed.
I rarely use the document target since my scene count varies, but it is available in the document footer by clicking on the Target icon.
Depending on your workflow, you can use Scrivener to created Word docs, Pdf, ePub as well as other formats. I usually convert my document into Word which I then send to my editor for copyediting and proofreading. There it will remain until final editing is completed, then sent to my print book designer and ePub creator.
If you need help?
Under the Help menu, there are plenty of resources in case you need additional help. There is an extensive manual, 900 pages long, a Scrivener interactive tutorial, user forums, and video tutorials.
Frank Rockland is the pen name of an Ottawa based writer. In 2013 he published his first novel, Fire on the Hill, a suspense novel about fire that destroyed the Parliament Hill Centre Block on the night of Feb 3, 1916.
He recently completed the third volume, Sharpening the Blade (1916), in his Canadian Expeditionary Force series, to be released late in 2019. Forging the Weapon (1914) and Hammering the Blade (1915) were released 2015 and 2017. He is currently working on the fourth volume Hardening the Blade (1917). Visit his website www.sambiasebooks.ca and at twitter @FrankRockland
Word Crafting is a blog to help writers strive for excellence. If you would like to be a guest blogger, pitch me an idea.