GUEST POST: Writing using Scrivener — how it’s done

I’ve used a variety of tools since taking up writing, but I’m going to talk about the one I’ve settled on for the majority of my work. It’s called Scrivener, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard about it if you’re a writer. Now, this isn’t an advertisement for Scrivener, and it isn’t a tool everyone will like. As a word processor, it doesn’t compare to the capabilities of Word or the free LibreOffice Writer. What it does offer is organization. This post is about how I use it to help write a novel, and it’s as much about my process as the tool I use. Everyone is different, but sometimes reading about someone else’s process can lead to useful ideas. Certainly that’s true for me.

cards (Erik)

The thing about Scrivener is that it really isn’t all that complex. All there is to it is a collection of folders and documents, and the user can do whatever he or she wishes with them. In addition, each document includes a place for a synopsis and notes as well as the document body. From user-selected folders and documents, Scrivener outputs a manuscript. One especially cool thing, is the corkboard display where virtual index cards are pinned up with the document synopsis printed on each one. I use it to see a bunch of information all at once–very useful.

Okay, here’s how I use it to organize my novel. Scrivener creates Manuscript and Research folders automatically. To these I add my folders Outline, Characters, and World.

First, I start with a pitch. As much as anything, I’m trying to sell myself on the novel, but I also get opinions from others and use them to adjust the pitch. The pitch goes into my Outline folder as I develop the final form. Next in the outline folder goes an overall synopsis. Finally, I make an index card with a short synopsis for each of my scenes, and sometimes I’ll put how the scene advances the emotional and/or overall plot in the document notes for that index card. This list of scenes really helps me stay on track.

As I create my detailed outline of scenes, I add index cards with a short synopsis for characters and places I need in the story. These go into the Characters and World folders respectively. As I’m writing, I’ll cut and paste information about characters and places from the manuscript to the document each index card represents. That way I can easily reference what I’ve already written about something.

Finally, there’s the manuscript. Scrivener creates a Manuscript folder so that’s where I write the novel. I copy my scene cards into the Manuscript folder, and I start to fill them with the actual novel. Sometimes scene cards get combined or new ones created, the novel is always flexible, but I always know what I’m working on next which keeps me writing. Notes from early beta readers or my own impressions can go into the scene’s notes so they’ll be easy to see during revision.

As I fill in the scenes, I create chapter folders in the manuscript and then move scenes into them as I see fit. When all my scenes are filled out, I’m done with the draft. It may sound absurdly methodical, but it works well for me.

So that’s how I use my primary tool for writing. What do you use?

Erik LarsonW.E. Larson is a life-time midwesterner living in the Kansas City area with his wife, daughter, son, and two dogs.  He earned a degree in physics from Trinity University along with minors in computer science and mathematics then went on to pursue a career in software engineering.  Larson has always enjoyed telling stories and decided to finally put some to paper—especially stories his kids might like.


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12 responses to “GUEST POST: Writing using Scrivener — how it’s done

  1. Thanks – you’ve said just what I’ve learned about Scrivener, and then taken it further and explained how to make best use of it – think I may well develop my project in that way, keeping notes on all the characters, settings and scenes and then gradually building up the finished work.

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  4. Lesley C

    Man, I so need to take a look at Scrivener. Thanks for this, Eric!

  5. Great post, Erik. I agree, the cork board feature is instrumental in looking at how your overall arcs are unfolding. And the ability to keep all of your files, notes, pictures, web links, etc in one place? An amazing tool. After reading how your organize your side content, I may restructure how I file my notes. Thanks again!

  6. Great overview. Thanks, Erik! I haven’t taken the leap yet, but you make it sound so easy.

  7. I’m a big fan of scrivener. I know I don’t use all of the bells and whistles but that’s one of the things I like about it. That it can be adapted to fit any writer’s style.

  8. Emily Cushing

    I discovered Scrivener earlier this year and I agree, it is a game changer! Thanks for explaining how you use it, Erik. One thing I found helpful was I read the “owner’s manual” and then I watched some of Scrivener’s YouTube videos. The videos clarified some of the questions I had and made setting it up easier.

  9. Wonderful post, Erik! I’m a scrivener devotee too, as well as pen and paper. And random notes strewn about the house. Thank you for talking about your process! Have you tried Scapple yet?

  10. Kay

    I was introduced to Scrivener earlier this year and found it was a GAME CHANGER. I’m working on a fairly complex historical novel, and was drowning in all the historical details, dates, etc. Scrivener proved invaluable in helping me synthesize all this information and keep it easily available for reference. I also love the corkboard and outline features for giving a quick overview of the plot. It’s fantastic. I also have a problem with a bug, and found their technical support team incredibly helpful and prompt. Really, I love Scrivener!

  11. I’m terribly old-fashioned, writing a lot of my early notes and scenes on paper. It’s probably just superstition, but I feel like the pen and paper get the creative juices flowing better in the early stages. There’s something about pen and paper that’s just so absolutely open-ended. I do eventually move to Word, where I keep several files with various arrangements of the material. One is always “Things I’ve Cut,” because those little bits often need to be reinserted in a new place, and I’m glad not to have to reproduce them from scratch. Thanks for introducing me to Scrivener! It may take this Luddite a while to try it, but it’s always interesting to see how other writers work.