How to Write Faster and Get Organized with Scrivener

write faster with Scrivener

Do you want to write faster?

Do you want to write faster?

Wish you could keep everything associated with your writing in one easy-to-access place that’s portable and searchable?

Consider giving Scrivener a try. Scrivener is writing software—with versions for both Mac and Windows—that’s customizable to the way you work.

When a friend recommended Scrivener to me several years ago, I wondered what it could possibly do that my standard word processor couldn’t. Boy, was I shocked! Happily so. I bought the software immediately and haven’t looked back.

Unlike a word processor that only allows you to create one document for each piece of writing—and forces you to write linearly—Scrivener can hold multiple documents within a project. Each document can be a scene, section, chapter, blog post, magazine article, or journal entry. The documents are easy to move, categorize, search, save versions of, and edit.

And because you’re working in “chunks” you don’t have to write in order. Mind boggling, right?

The documents can be organized into folders, and the whole structure—a sort of outline view—of your project is visible in a sidebar called the Binder.

And there’s so much more. Here are a few ways Scrivener can help you power through your writing while keeping everything you need right at your fingertips.

Divide up your work

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, short story, magazine article, speech, academic paper or blog post. In Scrivener, you can break your work into as many pieces (i.e. documents) as you desire.

Why would you want to?

Say you’ve chosen five main points for your article, but you haven’t yet decided on the correct order for them. No problem. Create a document for each point, write the content, and then you can move them around—on the Corkboard, Outliner, or in the Binder—until you find an order you like.

You can then view and edit the documents in the Editor as one continuous piece to make sure the finished product makes sense.

The same approach can work for scenes in a novel, sections of a dissertation, or chapters of a memoir, or anything else.

Working in smaller pieces frees you up to write in whatever order the ideas come to you and then play with them until you have a coherent work that flows.

Plot or Not

Whether you plot out your work in advance, or just sit down and start writing, Scrivener can work for you. Plotters will love the ability to create placeholder documents for each scene and then view and move them as I mentioned above.

Pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants, don’t fret. You can just open a new document and start writing until you hit the end of a scene or chapter, then create a new document and keep going. Anytime along the way, you can use the Corkboard or Outliner to ensure your story flow makes sense and to look for holes in your manuscript’s structure.

I fall somewhere in between the two writing styles, so I hash out a rough outline as a guide, then create a document for each new scene as I write it. After I’ve gone through the major revisions, and feel that the core storyline won’t change, I group the scene documents into chapter folders.

The beauty of Scrivener? The software is flexible enough to accommodate any writer’s process.

Corral your research and notes

In addition to the words you write, a Scrivener project can contain research documents and web sites (or links to them), reference photos, and your notes and outlines.

Having your supporting material all in one place means you can find it quickly, and you have it with you when you take your writing on the road.

If you get a brilliant idea for future article, blog post, scene, or piece of dialogue while you’re in the middle of writing, just jot it down in the Notes section—or create a placeholder document—and then get back to writing.

Tag your documents to stay organized

Customizable meta-data fields allow you to tag and visually track whatever you want about a document within a project.

For example, I’m an author for more than one blog, so I label blog posts by web site. In novels, I like to see the point-of-view character for each scene or the day of the week. When I wrote Scrivener For Dummies, I kept track of the revision status of each chapter.

Other things you might keep note of include theme, submission status, setting, storyline or topic. And with color-coding, you can quickly see the Label value of each document in the Binder, Corkboard, or Outliner.

Hit your target

Need to write a 70,000-word book? Set a project target. Want to get in your 1000 words each day? A session target will keep you on track. Writing an article that needs to be 1200 words? Create a document target.

Each of the target types provides a colorful progress bar that changes from red to green as your word count advances toward the goal. And you can set up notifications to alert you when you hit your target.

Don’t stop writing

When you’re in the groove and the words are flying, don’t let the need for that perfect word, piece of dialogue, or research fact slow you down. Insert an annotation or comment to remind you, and get back to writing.

You can easily find and address the problem spot later when you’re ready to work on revisions.

Block out distractions

The Scrivener screen is busy, email catches your eye, notifications keep popping up, and someone wants to chat. Hide it all with full screen composition mode.

Modify the background to a color or image that puts you in the mood for what you’re working on and stay focused until you meet your word count goal.

Protect your words

If you write long enough, something will go wrong. You’ll drop your laptop, spill water on your keyboard, have a failed hard drive, or lose power in the middle of writing. Scrivener makes it easy to protect your hard work when disaster strikes.

First, Scrivener automatically saves your project every time there’s no activity for two seconds. So, whenever you pause to think about your next line, Scrivener is saving.

You can also configure Scrivener to back up your project file to any location, and choose to automatically back up on project close, project open, or manual save.

Finally, you can save a version of any document within your project using the Snapshots feature. Before you start revising a scene, blog post, article or chapter, take a snapshot. The saved version is stored with the document so you can refer back to what you wrote, copy text from a previous version, and even revert to an earlier version, if desired.

One-stop self-publishing

Whether you want to self-publish, or just read your work on an e-reader, Scrivener makes it easy to convert your project to an EPUB or MOBI (Amazon Kindle) file. No extra software required!

In fact, you can write in any font, size, and style you want, because Scrivener will convert it to the format you choose when you export (called compiling).

Just choose your output format, file type, and which parts of the project to include. Scrivener compiles the documents you choose into one output file.

In addition to e-book formats, you can export to DOC, RTF, PDF, TXT, direct-to-printer, and more.

Try it for free

Scrivener has a free 30-use trial, so there’s no excuse not to give it a try. It might just be the best thing you ever do for your writing career.

About the author

Gwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For Dummies, and teacher of popular online courses on Scrivener for Mac and Windows. Find her online at www.gwenhernandez.com.

Image: Woman with laptop courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

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96 Responses to “How to Write Faster and Get Organized with Scrivener”

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  1. Mary Jaksch says:

    I’m totally sold on Scrivener! I use it for just about every creative task – from writing blog posts, to designing courses, to creating books.

    What I especially like is that I can start with a single idea and I’m not constricted by having to get all my ideas in a row before making a start.

    Once I’m part way through a project, I then start arranging the individual parts in a sequence.
    Mary Jaksch recently posted..3 Simple Steps Toward Grassroots PeaceMy Profile

    • Mary:
      Thanks so much for having me on WTD! I’m just like you. I use Scrivener for everything, and I love its flexibility. It supports me when I want to plot out every detail, and is equally impressive when I want to just start writing. I can’t imagine writing without it. :-)
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..2012 hits and missesMy Profile

  2. I’ve been using Scrivener for Windows for a bit over a year. Substantial increases in productivity and I can immediately send each session’s work-to-date as an ePub to my iPad for review. I had high expectations and Scrivener didn’t disappoint. I’m looking forward to integration with iPad apps like Index Card (already available in the Mac version) in future updates.
    Ron Heimbecher recently posted..Distributed Creative Content ArchitectureMy Profile

    • Ron:
      Wonderful isn’t it? I love reading my manuscripts on my iPad. I’ve heard good things about Index Card. Did you know an iPad version of Scrivener is in the works? Tentatively due out later this year. Very excited. ;-)
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..2012 hits and missesMy Profile

  3. I just bought Scrivener and I loves it.
    I loves it a lot!

  4. Jean Willett says:

    I finally have Scrivener downloaded on my desk PC and laptop. Time to get started. I hope to transfer from Word into Scrivener so I don’t have to start over retyping :)
    Thanks for the visuals.

    • Yay, Jean! ;-) No need to retype anything. Just go to File–>Import–>Files. Then to divide up the document, click where you want to end the first scene and go to Document–>Split–>At Selection. Repeat splitting until you have it all divided.

      Mac users have Import & Split–which allows you to specify automatic splits where a character is on its own line (such as #)–and I believe that option is coming very soon to the Windows version.

      Good luck, thanks for stopping by!
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..2012 hits and missesMy Profile

  5. Deb says:

    I love Scrivener and use it for both fiction and nonfiction (blogs and articles, webpages etc). For me it was love at first sight. The only thing I can’t make it do is count the number of words and characters in a selection. Is there a way to tell it to do that?
    Deb recently posted..Magical Fantasy Worlds are all Around UsMy Profile

    • Deb: Yes! If you’re on a Mac, just select the text and the word/char count will change in the footer at the bottom to show selection words and chars (and the color changes to blue).

      On a PC, make your selection and then right-click. The word and char counts show at the bottom of the pop-up menu that appears. :-)
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..2012 hits and missesMy Profile

  6. Eugene Carney says:

    There’s also Liquid Story Binder XE which is my favorite.

    Thanks for the article.

  7. Barbara Rae Robinson says:

    I just finished the draft of a book in Scrivener, Gwen. Thanks to taking your class. I even compiled it and printed it out for reading this week. I couldn’t have done it without your help!

    Barb

  8. Session targets — now there’s something Word doesn’t have ;)

    Annotations — THAT’S something my plain text tools don’t have; at least, not easily.
    Joel D Canfield recently posted..Practical Advice from ‘Losing My Virginity’ by Richard Branson (An Actionable Books summary)My Profile

  9. Mary says:

    Hi Gwen,

    Thanks so much for your post. You have convinced me to start using Scrivener. I bought it through NaNoWriMo in 2011. Do I need to get the updated version before starting, or would it be fine to use the version I have. I work on a MacBook Pro. I also have your book, which I have not read yet, since I was procrastinating using or learning about Scrivener. It seems like such a lot to learn. But your post and your answers to other commenters have me looking forward to getting started. Just not sure if I should try starting with the version I have now.
    Thanks,
    Mary

    • Deb says:

      Mary, use whichever version you have. Scrivener is an extremely powerful programme, but it’s easy to just dive in and get started. You can learn as you go along and gradually increase the depth at which you use it, adding features as you need them. You don’t need to know it inside out and back to front in order to feel it’s benefit. I encourage you to just open it up and dive in. Enjoy :)
      Deb recently posted..Magical Fantasy Worlds are all Around UsMy Profile

    • Mary:
      If you got Scrivener in 2011, you should have already have 2.x which is the current version. However, if you’re not automatically prompted to download updates, I strongly recommend that you go into the Scrivener menu (on the menu bar in Scrivener) and choose Check For Updates. That way you’ll get the latest updates and bug fixes. There’s no extra cost involved.

      Good luck getting started. I hope you find the book helpful!
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..Plotting my dayMy Profile

  10. Fantastic article! Very helpful and I picked up a few more ideas. I am looking for ideas on how to use Scrivener more effectively for composing my blog posts. Right now I just have one Scriv project for each blog and break up posts into folders. Is there a more optimal way? Would love to hear ideas from you and other readers on how you use Scrivener for blogging.

    • Mary Jaksch says:

      The way I use Scrivener for writing blog posts is by writing each section of a blog post separately. I’ll straight away create one section, called Introduction, and another, called Completion in the Binder. All I do is to give these sections a title, without writing anything further.

      These two sections are going to be the beginning and end of the blog posts.
      I then create a document for each major point I can think of. Those are going to be my subheadings.

      At this point I haven’t actually written anything yet, I’ve just laid out the bones of the post – without worrying about the order the sections should be in.

      Then I start writing whatever subsection attracts me most. Once I’ve written all the subsections, I play around with the Corkboard to find the best order.

      Once I have the order of the subsections, I’m ready to write an introduction and a completion.

      Thats the workflow that works best for me.
      Mary Jaksch recently posted..3 Simple Steps Toward Grassroots PeaceMy Profile

    • Lots of great ideas here already, Eric, but I’ll add my own. I have two blog-related projects in Scrivener. One for my personal and group blogs that I contribute to regularly, and one for guest appearances like this one.

      For my personal one, I organize them into year folders with month subfolders, color code the posts by website, and use the Status field to tag whether they have potential for future magazine or newsletter articles.

      For the guest posts, I color code them by where they are in the process: Proposed, Submitted, Accepted, Delivered. With each one I store the bio that I used, track the URL of the post, and who my contact was.

      My organizational methods are continually evolving. Good luck finding a system that works for you.
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..Plotting my dayMy Profile

  11. Is there a version for Linux Ubuntu? I only see Mac and Windows?

  12. Words cannot express how valuable Scrivener has been to me. I wrote primarily articles for my day job, and when I quit to pursue my writing career, I found that longer pieces were frustrating to corral in a Word document. Now I’m working on an e-book series for authors, a guide to changing careers, and a science fiction novel, and Scrivener makes it SO EASY to keep track of what I’m doing. I recommend it to all my writer friends!
    Sarah Kolb-Williams recently posted..Coffee and Books: New Marketing Opportunities For Self-Published AuthorsMy Profile

  13. Patricia says:

    Such encouraging words about Scrivener! Will try again!
    Patricia recently posted..ROSEMARY & REMEMBERING SIR JOHN A.My Profile

  14. Mary Jaksch says:

    Just a quick reminder that Gwen has published a fantastic book about how to use Scrivener: Scrivener For Dummies. I’ve got it – and it’s a fantastic resource!
    Mary Jaksch recently posted..3 Simple Steps Toward Grassroots PeaceMy Profile

  15. Jeri says:

    Your wonderful screenshots have sold me! I am finally going to give Scrivener a try.
    Jeri recently posted..Book Review: The Indomitable Spirit of Edmonia Lewis by Harry and Albert HendersonMy Profile

  16. Hi Gwen, Thanks for this great article.
    I started using Scrivener for Linux recently, even though it’s not officially supported. Love it! But it has a few quirks. I’m still experimenting with the best way to track loose ends. Currently using keywords and notes. Overall, I like it and will certainly continue to use it. I just hope I can become more proficient at it!

  17. Irene O. says:

    I read this article on Monday and I got sold to the idea. I desperately needed a tool to help me organise my work. I did not waste time to purchase Scrivener. It is amazing how much work I have done on 2 of my WIP in the last 48 hours, both of which have been in the cooler for over 6 months.

    Gwen, Thank you so much for the article and the answers to the commenters. I have gleaned so much from here. I’m learning how to use the software while using it. Loving it. Thanks again.
    Irene O. recently posted..I’m Going All The WayMy Profile

    • Irene O.: That’s fantastic. Like you, I fell in love with Scrivener immediately, and paid for it after three days with the trial. I’m glad you’re enjoying it and finding it helpful with your process. Have fun with your writing!
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..Plotting my dayMy Profile

  18. Awesome recommendation, Gwen. Scrivener would fit in perfectly with my writing habits. I can see it as an a great tool that will help me organize my thoughts and effectively produce content. Thanks for tip–like most people here, I am sold.

  19. AH says:

    Is it a one-time license or do I have to renew the license annually? I downloaded the trial version a few days ago and already loving it.
    AH recently posted..Does she dream of laundry when she sleeps?My Profile

  20. Chrisv says:

    I love Scrivener!! I tried the 30-day free trial, and was sold. My favorite part about that free trial is that the 30 days are days of actual use, not 30 days from install. Super awesome. I purchased the software with the 50% off discount from NaNo – totally worth it.

    Being able to look at the corkboard and check for flow from scene to scene is so helpful for a brain like mine that’s very visual. A snippet for each chapter or scene on the corkboard for me helps me figure out what’s working and what’s not.

    Your article has shown me some of the features I haven’t discovered yet, so thanks for that!

  21. davito dan says:

    Hi Editor
    How can I get the software? please I need it as soon as possible.

  22. melissa says:

    hi,
    i was hoping you could help me with a problem — i’m trying to use scrivener (just downloaded it from the app store on mac) and it won’t let me open any templates. the extras folder doesn’t show up anywhere on my computer. do you know how you fix this?
    thanks so much,
    melissa

  23. I write a lot and have several ideas in my head for books (both fiction and non-fiction). After reading the above article I downloaded the Windows version of Scrivener and gave it a try.

    It was love at first sight… (Aaawww…)

    Finally I’ve found software that lets me organise my ideas and keep everything together in one place, rather than having everything scattered around in Word files, text files and Outlook’s digital Post-It’s. The mere sight of seeing everything together in Scrivener produces inspiration!

    Can you tell I’m happy? :-)
    Jeroen van Baardwijk | Sliding Down The Firepole recently posted..1.2.2 Customer ProfilingMy Profile

  24. T Sebastian says:

    You mentioned “taking your writing on the road”. How do you get mobile with scrivener? Where do you store your projects? I’m looking for best practices here.
    BTW I wish there was an online version or option because I have a chromebook where I cannot install scrivener which I use while driving around. On longer trips, I bring my laptop.

  25. Dear Gwen,

    Thank you so much for this article. I have the same positive experience with Scrivener, it’s an awesome writing tool, for columns, blogs, a book.

    Just one question: I have installed Scrivener on both my laptop and desktop. Is there an easy way to transfer the latest version of my work from one device to the other, keeping the exact lay-out?

    Kind regards,
    Marion

  26. Lecia Kecker says:

    Thx for this awsome post

  27. Jean says:

    MS Word doesn’t enforce linear writing. Using Headers you can write chunks in any order you want and arrange them later in the Outline View using drag and drop. Styles, which Scrivener doesn’t have, are also very useful. That said, the ability to annotate chunks of writing and create Collections is a great Scrivener addition.

    • Jean: You’re right, technically you can write out of order in Word, but I don’t think it’s as intuitive or visually appealing. Of course, that’s my personal preference. Plus, other word processors aren’t so full-featured.

      BTW, the Mac version of Scrivener does have Presets which are similar to styles, and I expect the Windows version will have them soon.

      What ever you choose to write in, good luck with it! Thanks for stopping by. :-)
      Gwen Hernandez recently posted..Every villain a heroMy Profile

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