Scrivener: An Indispensable Author’s Tool

by Clare Toohey
“Why this scatter-brained multi-tasker can’t live without Scrivener!”

Confession: I do a million things and forget a million more while I’m editing and writing fiction across a variety of formats and genres. But that’s why I love the Scrivener writing software. For a seriously nominal investment, it does things which I can no longer live without, and that’s why I was singing its praises to Molly on Twitter. However, I can’t possibly describe (okay, maybe even grasp) all its powerful capabilities. I’ll say here and again later that the hour or so I spent with the interactive tutorial that comes built into the demo version was invaluable, and pointed out what I knew I’d personally use and other features (like the many for screenwriting and the amazing Scrivenings), that I wouldn’t need as much. That said, I’m going to give you a glimpse under the hood by sharing 3 particular areas where, for the way I work, Scrivener kills the world with its greatness and might be of use to you, too:

  • CREATING: I can COLLECT and maintain EVERYTHING to do with my projects in a single PROJECT BINDER.
  • FORMATTING: I can COMBINE text in various files and types, OVERRIDE and REDEFINE their formatting globally.
  • E-PUBLISHING: I can OUTPUT E-BOOK FILES that work perfectly, as many times as I want!

1) CREATING: Scrivener’s project format provides a wonderful way to collect and organize all your research, notions, and inspiration in one place for quick reference while you’re working!

Scrivener’s Binder view lets me see everything I’ve collected in my Project and is the way I work most, though you can blank out all the extraneous and just see your page alone as you compose, if that’s your groove. The left side shows not only your created text, but other stored material, while the main window shows whatever active bit you’re working on. The formatting bar above the active text probably looks similar to whatever you’re using now.

Under the Research section, I decided to store more background detail. By adding another page here (see the giant circular green “+” button on the top of the screen shot?—that’s where you do it), I was able to cut and paste in a couple of paragraphs from a Wikipedia entry with hyperlinks intact, plus adding another link I found for a fan database, pasting in another handy copy of the logo I grabbed elsewhere. From yet another website, I pasted in the submission guidelines for the story, too, so I could easily double-check as I work. Once I’ve submitted the story, I can add more notes about the sent date and response. (Reprint tracking, anyone?)

If you like using the Scrivener-supplied Research forms to record Places, (as one example, but there are also Character sheets, etc.) you’ll get blank notation fields for season of year, sights, sounds, smells… handy as spurs to your imagination, but you can delete any field you don’t need. The forms are as simple as any other project document to edit, and you can import or create your own templates for any system of background charting you use. Sure, yeah, include audio and video clips as research, too–how’s that for comprehensively cool?

Besides using the Binder view as an organizational guide, you can choose to see all your text or parts of it as cards on a Corkboard or in the Outliner, and there are icons and color-coding you can customize by location and character. I’m also writing contemporary and gothic-y type romance, and having blue/pink coded POV chapters is very helpful for my planning.

All the pieces of research or background notes will be stored together with your project forever if you want. (It’s cinchy later just to output the chunks you want into whatever final format you need, but we’ll get to the mighty Compile function more later.) As handy as they are, these background notes and multimedia aren’t embedded in the formatting of my created text, so they can’t make it act funky or display incorrectly. I don’t have to memorize or bookmark a thing, and as soon as I open up this project among my many-many, I can immediately access all the great specifics I’ve already found and promptly forgotten.

2. FORMATTING: Because Scrivener deals with your project’s text as .rtf (Rich Text Files), it can all be easily massaged, re-combined, and overridden to spit out into any other text Format you need.
I imported a bunch of crime stories I’ve been working on as a collection into a new Project, just so I could easily play around with story order before combining and universalizing them into a new, combined Word doc, which is the format I was requested to provide once all the edits were done. Once I’ve selected what chunks of the project I want Compiled into in my final output file, I can make overarching format selections. MG-5Font-OverrideYay, global font override! Can I tell you how beautiful it is to collect 14 authors’ favorite fonts and convert them instantly into the one I need? All the stories remain separate and unique within my project—Compile doesn’t change the underlying files—but I was able to combine them and output them into a new and universally formatted file. Sweet. If I need a different format later, cool. Compile as many times you want in as many ways as you want. But that leads to one of the biggest time- and sanity-saving functions in Scrivener: compiling into e-book formats!!!

3. E-PUBLISHING: You can assemble all your front matter, back matter, body text, and Scrivener will Compile it into a host of nice e-book formats. (Yes, Kindle .mobi files that work transparently, not like rabid squirrels in a font barrel!) MG-6Compile-Formats

If, like many authors I know, you’ve had “issues” converting your work into uploadable e-book files, let me suggest you give the trial version of Scrivener a shot. Last year, as my introduction to the program, I co-wrote a one-off zombie fairy tale novella that I and Laura K. Curtis wanted to put for sale on Amazon. Laura, who’d been using Scrivener already, showed me how we could create the .mobi files to upload with the KDP dashboard. You can see below that there’s an additional, Kindle-specific file to download. But once you do, and Scrivener knows where to find it, you’re off to the races. MG-7Compile-MOBITypos and Tweaks? Of course we had plenty of those, so it got re-compiled and uploaded again. And again. Maybe it took a couple of minutes each time? My mom says she’s found more typos, which she’ll send along, so I expect another “revised edition” eventually, and it’ll be just as easy to do.

MG-8Sybelle-Mobi-fileLook at the preview online if you want to see how the text looks. Yes, you can also get much fancier with the internal layout than we did, but the point is IT WORKS and the way it converts makes sense! Unlike another writer friend who spent, seriously, hours on the phone with a nice support person trying to help her get her backlisted novel back into shape for sale on Amazon, you can do this yourself without weeping and pulling out your hair. The ease of that process alone made me have to explore Scrivener for myself. If you’re into indie e-publishing, you’ve got to try it!

In fact, this post itself was composed over several weeks in Scrivener. I knew the aspects of the program I wanted to highlight and which of my projects could serve as illustration for each, but I wasn’t working on all of them simultaneously, and not all of them were at the right stage of progress yet. So, while I was working, every time I got to another right spot in editing or writing, I just screen-shot it, pasted it into my Molly-Greene-Blog Scrivener project with a little description, and then went back to what I was doing before. Tra-la-la. Later on, I added more description, and later still, smoothed it all into final shape, without losing the flow of what else I was doing, all in parallel and on-the-fly.

I hope you can see why my overscheduled sieve-brain adores this software. It has more functions than I use, but I may branch out and need them someday, and what I neglect may be perfect for what you need. I’m saying again, as threatened, I’d advise anyone even curious just to download the free 30-day demo and sit down with the installed video tutorial (took me a little over an hour and a half to complete, then I was ready to rock). There are also plenty of books out there now, too, that introduce the logic and layout as well as the most powerful features and possibilities. You’ll recognize what you’d benefit from most, and if you love it after the trial, you can buy it for about $45, which for me at least, was a no-brainer of a writing investment. Now, where did I leave my coffee mug again?

About the Author: Clare Toohey helped found and now manages, an online community for lovers of crime stories. She’s a writer and editor, a musician who can’t remember chords, an artist who buys her greeting cards, an online gadabout and friendly contrarian. She also blogs at

Note from Molly: Check out my novels on Amazon, join my Reader’s Club for freebies and book news, and follow me on Twitter. This original content is copyright protected. Thank you so much. Mwah!

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