Scrivener 3: The Key Concepts

Before using Scrivener it helps to understand the software’s “Key Concepts” or core ideas. 

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a word-processing, project management program, and outliner designed for authors and writers. 

Who is Scrivener’s Audience?

Scrivener is aimed at all type of writers. It is for novelists, journalists, academics, screenwriters, bloggers, and playwrights. It is for writers who need to structure a long piece of text. 

Think of Scrivener software like a ring-binder. It is a scrapbook, a corkboard, an outliner and has a digital text editor that’s made for growing a manuscript and writing project from concept to completion.

Here are three keys to understanding the concepts behind Scrivener.

Key # 1 – Writing

Conventional word processing software like Microsoft Word is nice for writing all kinds of things. The creator of Scrivener liked to move around writing different sections of work as they come to him. As a result, he always struggled when it came to writing anything of length. It was hard to write the middle or end before you wrote the beginning.

Scrivener makes it easy to compose in any order you want, whether that’s from start to finish or completely at random.

Word processing software only knows about the document you’re working on at any one time. If you happen to be working on a number of documents pertaining to a single project, it’s up to you to keep track of them. By contrast, each project you create in Scrivener can contain as many documents as you desire, allowing you to write in chunks as large or small as you wish. All are stored together, easy to find, and easier to organize.

If you’re writing a novel, you can write each chapter in a separate document, or you can break it down further and write each scene in a different document. It’s all up to you. Flexibility like this makes it very nice to keep track of your work. And when you come to export or print your work, all of those countless sections can be compiled into a single document. It’s magical and it works! Plus, you can compile in a choice of different formats. 

Key #2 – Research

I write nonfiction and historical fiction My books and articles require research. When you work on a book or lengthy paper you too may do research. Instead of having a lot of different files in different file formats stored in different locations on your computer that often you can’t remember or find, Scrivener lets you store them all in one location and you can easily find them. Very nice.

Scrivener projects aren’t only for storing text documents. As you research and compile your data you can import your research documents. This includes images, PDF files, web pages, even movie and sound files. You can import the files directly into Scrivener. You can then refer to your research right alongside your writing.

Key # 3 – Outlining and Structuring

Every writer approaches the task of pulling together ideas in a different way. Because of this, Scrivener allows you to choose whatever structure best fits your project, and to work with an overview of that structure.

Scrivener’s sidebar (the “binder”) shows a nested list of documents that can be expanded and collapsed so that you can work with your whole outline or only subsections of it. Here you can create not only as many text files as you wish, but you can also create folders to contain your text files, and you can have folders within folders within folders. You can even nest text files inside other text files. In Scrivener, a folder is simply a special type of text file, and you can freely convert between one and the other.

How you structure your project is for you to decide. It’s your choice. You might have a folder for each chapter, containing text documents for each scene; you might have no folders and just use text documents for each chapter. You might do something completely different. There’s no right way or wrong way. There is only your way. You’re the boss.

Every document in a Scrivener project is associated with a synopsis and notes (assigned using the inspector). Scrivener’s outliner and corkboard views show only the synopsis and title of each document, allowing you to step back and see the forest for the trees. Instead of having postcards or post-it notes with your chapters and scenes you have them electronically with the corkboard. You can assign synopses manually or leave them blank, in which case the first lines of the text are shown. This makes it easy to get an overview of your work and to restructure it via drag and drop.

No Imposed Plan for Writing and Outlining

If the idea of outlines makes you shudder, never fear: Scrivener imposes no fixed plan for writing and outlining. You might start by creating a bunch of folders and empty text files, creating synopses for each one in the corkboard or outliner. Then you might go through and fill in the text files, referring to the synopses as a prompt for what you need to write. 

Conversely, you might write like crazy and worry about all the structural stuff only when your first draft is complete. In that case, you can just type away, creating new text documents as and when you feel like it, and you can split things apart and rearrange everything only much later in the process. Or you can use a combination of both methods.

In the next blog post, we will dive into Scrivener. 


Note: Some content is adapted from the Scrivener 3.1.1 (9907) help files.

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