How Scrivener Helps My Writing Process — Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about Scrivener’s wonderful organizational features such as the Binder, drag-and-drop scenes and index cards.

Today I’m going to continue with the overview of the main screen and then talk about a few of the other not-so-obvious features: the corkboard, the project/word count tracker, the handy thesaurus, the name generator and the outline view. I’ll also mention how easy it is to incorporate images, PDFs or whole web pages into a project file.

The first picture in today’s article is similar to the one seen in Part 1, but this time I took a snapshot of a project that’s further along in the writing process so you can see more stuff on the screen. I have it set up exactly the same way in terms of what you find in the Binder, but as you can see the right-hand column has a little bit more in it.

Scrivener Screen by Catherine Chant

The Document Notes/Project Notes area on the right is a really handy column where you can keep text and images. I use it to make notes to myself and also as a storage area for text I cut from the scene. I don’t know about you, but I hate throwing anything away. You never know when you might need it again, so I keep all “outtakes,” as I call them, in the Document Notes area. This section can be formatted like text in the editing window, so you can color it, highlight it, change the font and size etc.

This column toggles between Document Notes and Project Notes. The Project Notes area displays no matter what document or folder you select in the Binder, while Document Notes are linked to a selected document or folder. So the way I use them is to the put “global” story information that I want to see no matter what chapter I’m working on under Project Notes, and put things like cut text or revisions notes to myself in the Document Notes area. ‘

In my experience, the Project Notes were useful when I first started the story, but the more I got into it the more I used the Document Notes area. But both are helpful to have.

Above the Document Notes column, is an the General panel where you can set up metadata for your project (color coding etc.). I haven’t really played around with this enough to know how to use it effectively yet, but I have seen in other Scrivener articles that it can help you track plot threads or revision status on each document, things like that. It is on my to-do list of things to learn more about.

Here is a brief video from Literature and Latte on creating custom metadata, and an article at on using colored labels on the General panel for POV.

In the upper right corner of the Scrivener screen is the Index Card for the particular document or folder you’ve currently selected. This is very handy to have as well. Because whatever you type on this card is what you’ll see when you view a particular document or folder on the Corkboard. I find it useful to include a brief synopsis of the scene or chapter in this area. Just one or two sentences. Then when you display the corkboard, you get a nice storyboard of the events in your story all on one screen.

Corkboard View

Below is a picture of the corkboard for the folder in my binder called “Manuscript.” (Basically, the folder that contains the whole book.) So what you see here are the index cards for each chapter (folder) inside “Manuscript.”

Catherine Chant's Scrivener Corkboard View

If I were to click on one of the Chapter icons, I would then see index cards for each scene inside that chapter folder.

Scrivenver Corkboard Screen by Catherine Chant

As you can see from the picture above, I used the index cards for the scenes to keep track of my timeline (time of day, more specifics about the scene) and used the Chapter index cards as just a quick reminder to myself what that chapter was supposed to include in terms of events/actions. How you use these index cards is up to you and the way you like to work. One of the most wonderful things about Scrivener is this flexibility to use different features in a way that best suits your writing process.

Now, if you wrote your index card synopses for the chapters better than I did :-D you could conceivably use them later on to help write the synopsis for your story to send to agents/editors. I discovered the usefulness of the chapter index cards about halfway through this project, though, so I never really bothered to fill them out entirely. Going forward, I think it would be beneficial to do on future projects.

Project Tracker

ScrivenerProjectTrackerUnder the Project menu is a nifty command called Show Project Targets. Not only can you set a word count target for your entire book, but you can set daily “session” targets to help you get in that 1000 words or whatever you want to do on a regular basis. The meter is a floating panel that you can place anywhere on the screen, and it goes from red to yellow to green as you move closer to the target goal. I find it very handy for keeping me motivated to complete daily word counts.


If you right-click any word and select Writing Tools–Look Up in Dictionary and Thesaurus, you can quickly research a word on the fly. No, it’s no substitute for Oxford or Roget’s, but when I’m in a hurry and can’t think of the right word, I find this tool helpful, and it saves me having to go to a web browser or pull the print thesaurus off my shelf. Quick and easy to use. (Note: I believe this command is only available in the Mac version of Scrivener).

Name Generator

ScrivenerNameGeneratorThis is a fun little tool I didn’t know about until I’d used Scrivener for two or three projects already. Need a character name? No problem, just open Edit–Writing Tools–Name Generator and you’ll have a list of dozens of names to choose from (less if you change the settings). You can specify male, female, starting letters, obscurity level and lots more!

The only thing I wish I could figure out is how to add a button for the command to the tool bar so I don’t have to dig into sub-menus to access it every time. Scrivener’s customize command allows you to add lots of other commands to the tool bar, but not the name generator as far as I can tell. Such a shame, because I use it so often. If anyone reading this knows how to do it and I’m just missing something obvious, let me know. :-D

Outline Mode

Scrivener Outline screen by Catherine Chant

This is one mode I haven’t played around with much yet, because so far the Binder and the Corkboard have been enough to give me the “big picture” of my novel that I would have normally used an outline for in the past. But it is a view I could see as being really useful, especially during the revision stage, particularly because it takes advantage of that meta data I mentioned earlier when discussing the General panel above the document notes area. As you can see in the photo above, this is where a color coding and labeling system could be very handy. I will need to look into this further.

Importing Pictures and Other Files

One particular area in which Scrivener excels compared to Word is its ability to pull in just about any other type of document you need to help you write your book. Need a photo for inspiration? Done. Found a great website with info for research? Done. Scrivener can suck that page right in and make the contents part of your Binder. (You can then view the page even when offline!)

Importing these items couldn’t be easier! Right-click a folder, choose “Add” and select your file. Done. You can tell it to add a file that exists on your hard drive, or give it the URL of a webpage to go out and capture.

For my projects, I’ve worked with images, PDFs and web pages, as well as (of course) Word documents, so I know all those formats are easily imported. I also imported a web page once that contained a YouTube video and I can play the video while in Scrivener, but only when connected to the Internet, which is fine with me. I’d rather have just a pointer to the video saved in my Binder than the actual video since that must take up a lot of megabytes.

Corkboard is handy here, too! If you have a folder of imported pictures, you can view them all on the corkboard simply by selecting the folder. Great for character line-ups!

That’s all for today! I wanted to talk about Scapple, too, but I think this post is long enough. So I’ll save Scapple for a future post. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy working with Scrivener as much as I do!


  1. Scrivener is awesome! Still getting used to and exploring it myself. :P

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