I’m a huge Scrivener fan. The program is not only perfect for writing, it’s also excellent for managing everything writers need to manage, before and after writing. I’ve had some questions about using Scrivener to write a novel, so let’s look some Scrivener tips which will help you to write with confidence.
When I mention Scrivener to authors, I always get lots of questions, so I think that it’s worth talking about using Scrivener for the pre-writing phase of writing a novel, right through to the actual writing, then revision, publishing, and finally, promotion. Most new Scrivener users look on Scrivener purely as a word processor, when the program is really so much more.
PLEASE relax with the program. Yes, there’s a learning curve. Here’s how I learned Scrivener: I just used features I needed, for at least six months. I’ve used the program for ten years, and only occasionally over the years have I tried out a new feature, and then only when it was something I thought I needed in a current project. When you open the program every day, and use it, you’ll get comfortable with it in no time. And soon you’ll wonder how you managed without it. 🙂
Let’s start at the beginning. You’re preparing to write a novel.
Scrivener tips to start writing your novel
What will your novel be about? Which genre?
You don’t have an idea in your head. Instead of staring into space, and wasting writing time, open Scrivener.
1. Use index card mode (the cork board), or outliner mode, to muse, and jot down ideas
For me, the most useful mode for brainstorming ideas is Cork Board group mode. You can create as many index cards as you like.
If you write in several genres, consider creating a folder for ideas in each genre, as you can see in the image below.
Jot down ideas for books, characters, themes, settings — one idea per card. I have a Scrivener project just for collecting ideas which I’ve been maintaining for several years.
You can maintain your own Ideas Scrivener project, or you can use your current project for your new book. If you’re using a single project, just drag all your unused material into a new Ideas folder in your Research folder.
Dragging unneeded material out of the Draft folder ensures that that material won’t be included when you compile your draft.
2. Get a handle on your book with “this is a story about”
You’ve brainstormed ideas for novels, and decide to develop one idea further. Get a handle on it by starting a sentence with: “this is a story about…” and write ONE sentence.
An example: “This is a story about a Regency widow who’s using her inheritance to give her three daughters a season: unfortunately, none of the daughters want one.”
You can and probably will change your sentence later. It’s just meant to ensure that you lay out a basic situation, characters, and a basic conflict.
3. Keep EVERYTHING related to your novel in Scrivener
Here’s the best tip for using Scrivener. When you’re working on a novel, keep everything related to the novel in Scrivener. The text for your book goes into the Draft folder, because that’s the only folder which is compiled.
Everything else goes into the Research folder: text, images, videos, bookmarks, ideas, character notes, photos for locations…
Keeping everything in Scrivener ensures that you don’t need to go hunting for material.
Additionally, you can open your reference notes into new windows by using Quick Reference. When I’m writing a novel, I always have three Quick Reference floating windows open: Primary Characters, Secondary Characters, and Plot. With your Quick Reference windows open, you can check a character’s eye color at a glance. 🙂
4. Make use of many Scrivener project files, or use a single file for several books (if you’re writing a series)
When I wrote my Regency romance time travel trilogy I kept everything in a single Scrivener project file. It included typescripts of the books, research material, ideas for covers, notes from designers and editors, and much more, all in one file.
This made it super-easy to open Quick Reference material from a previous book when I was writing my current novel in the series.
Initially, I worried that if I kept everything in one file, I was putting all my eggs, so to speak, in one basket. What if the file with the books became corrupted? I discussed it with several authors, who kept their novel series in a single file, and soon decided that that was the way to go. The benefits were huge.
If you decide to use a separate Scrivener file for each book, be aware that you can drag documents from one Scrivener file to another. The document you drag is copied to your new Scrivener file.
Have fun with Scrivener: you can’t break anything
I hope these Scrivener tips help you. Watch for new articles on Scrivener, and on Scrivener iOS, which is released today.
By the way, I use Scrivener for Mac. The above tips should work just fine on the Windows version.