Like a lot of writers, I spent years hearing about the mythical, magical beast that is the writing program Scrivener. When I finally took the plunge and bought it on sale a few years back, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed. There was so much to learn! And it seemed really complicated! And it didn't jump out to me as being something that was going to especially help my writing! Was it really WORTH it, I wondered, sneaking back over to my precious Word documents?
Since then, though, I've become a diehard Scrivener convert. The moments when I have to go back to working in Word are painful. There are a lot of fancier functions on Scrivener that I skip completely because they are, for me, unnecessary or distracting—but the basic ones that I do use are transformative for me. Really truly, to navigate Scrivener to the extent that I do you basically need about 10 minutes of video tutorials and a few more minutes to play around. That's it.
Also, I started out using the "novel" format when I opened new documents, but that honestly introduces WAY more clutter than I ever actually use. I usually select "blank" when I create a new document these days.
Want to know how I use Scrivener and why I love it so much? Here you go!
1. I can keep a metric ton of information in one file
I typically have one document per book. That's it. In that document, I'm able to keep everything I need—multiple revision drafts; research pictures, notes, and websites; queries; pitches; and so forth. In my Scrivener file for WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, I've got
—4 revision drafts
—Research on farming, schizophrenia, and middle grade conventions
—Notes on characters
—The outline I made when before I wrote the book
—A timeline of events in the book that I made during my last revision
—Multiple to-do lists for various revision passes
—Twitter pitches used during #DVPit
—A brief summary I wrote before I wrote the book, to give myself an idea where I was going
—My dedication and acknowledgements
—Some notes on a possible companion book
This is what the sidebar for the WATERMELONS document looks like (with the draft folders collapsed because otherwise I couldn't possibly fit it into a screenshot):
This is really easy to do in Scrivener. You use the green "plus" button in the top left corner and long press it; it will give you the option to add a new page, a new folder, or import a web page.
As a general rule, I use pages for small things like queries and such, and folders for drafts, research, and outline—anywhere that I want to collect multiple subpages into one area. Scrivener automatically has a special type of folder included for your draft—it looks like multiple pages together, instead of like the blue folder. I usually use that for whatever my active draft is. When it's time to revise and I need a new draft, I right-click that and hit "duplicate," then use the special folder type for my current draft. It doesn't make any difference that I can tell, it just looks different so I can always tell which draft I should make changes to.
2. I can navigate around my current draft quickly and easily
It took me some time to get used to it, but now I LOVE the ability to divide my manuscript into subsections. I typically will split the document into new pages with each chapter and then type a very brief description into the sidebar so that I know what happens in that chapter for easy navigation. I also often use the colored flags on my chapters to show me where turning points happen, so that I can get an easy visual feel for whether one section of my story is getting way longer than the others. Here's what that looks like in my WIP, which I'm about 11,000 words into:
It makes it super easy to navigate between chapters, keep track of what's already happened, and so on. I often will find myself writing a new scene and want to refresh my memory about something in an older scene, and be able to find it really easily because I remember that the older scene took place in the chapter that was about the transmission, or whatever. This feature is helpful for both drafting and revision. In revision, I also use the flags in other ways—to show me where I've identified problems that I don't have time to fix right now, for instance. I'm a really visual person, and also not a super organized person, and being able to see everything laid out like this helps me SO much. Changing the symbols is really easy—you just right-click the icon and it gives you a bunch of options:
3. The corkboard feature is perfect for outlining
In a perfect world, I'd be using the corkboard feature in the way that it was intended, the way it's shown in how-to videos—to give a brief overview of what was in each chapter so that I could see the outline of my in-process book as I drafted or revised. Honestly, though, I've never found that that helpful. Instead, I typically start a new folder in my sidebar, completely separate from my draft document, and call it "outline."
I then switch my Scrivener to corkboard view—
and use subpages in that folder to make "notecards" for my outlining method.
(Side note: MAN the plot for WATERMELONS changed a whole lot between the outline and the final draft!!!)
If you highlight the folder itself and not the subpages—like I have in the screenshot above—they show up as notecards in corkboard view.
My outlines look like this:
(Obviously, my cards are usually expanded enough to read all the text on them—this is just so that it's easy to see a whole book's outline. If you want more info on how I outline, check out this post.)
And there you go! That's why I'm a diehard Scrivener user, even when much of the program's more complex functions I don't find particularly helpful. Also, software tutorials are NOT my strong suit, so I apologize if any of this has been confusing! I've found that Google is a wealth of Scrivener know-how, though, and that simple searches can turn up the answers to basically anything you need.