How Scrivener Helps My Writing Process — Part 1

One of the questions I get a lot is “What’s your writing process like?” so I thought today, since I’m currently in the midst of working on a new manuscript, that I would give you a glimpse into how I work. If you haven’t discovered your own writing process yet (and believe me, this process has been honed over many years of trial and error), this may offer up some ideas to try with your own work.

First, lets talk software.

Previously, I wrote all my books, articles, short stories, etc. in Microsoft Word. And it was fine. But it wasn’t the most organizational of all tools, especially the outline feature. If you’re doing a technical document and love to use Word’s “Styles” the outline tool can be great, but for novels not so much. In fact, I tried for an entire book to use it, convinced I could make it do what I wanted/needed, but in the end, I found it useless.

Then I discovered Scrivener.

Scrivener App Icon

If you haven’t heard of this program, I encourage you to check it out at

I’ve been a fan of Scrivener since the very beginning. I loved the idea behind it–that it’s designed with writers in mind, and I especially loved that at the time, it was only for Macs since for years, my beloved OS has been shut out of just about every good piece of writing software out there aside from Word (but even Microsoft has a prejudice against Macs — note the difference between the info-packed MS Office for Windows website and then the pathetic one for Macs that is basically one glorified FAQ with no real support center except from other users. But I digress… 😀 )

I got Scrivener early on in its development, but at the time I was headlong into a lengthy manuscript already, so I set Scrivener aside and continued working in Word because that was what I was comfortable with. When I was finally ready to start a new project, I turned to Scrivener. And discovered it’s a little intimidating when you first open it, because it can do SO MUCH. (But that’s a good thing!)

Since my background is in technology, and in general, computers don’t frighten me :-D, I told myself it couldn’t be that hard to learn and forged ahead. I have to say that the tutorial that comes with the program is very good. Unfortunately, it’s text-based and resides in the Scrivener window, so a lot of it didn’t sink in for me because I wasn’t using the features in my own manuscript yet, I was just reading about them and doing commands in the tutorial file. After I went through the tutorial and started my own project, I realized I’d forgotten where lots of things were. LOL!

So then, I got a book. Two actually: Take Control of Scrivener 2 by Kirk McElhearn and Your Guide To Scrivener by Nicole Dionisio. I find a good reference book is always useful because you can keep the book on your lap (so to speak, I have mine on a Kindle next to the computer), while you use the software with your own work on the screen to play with and test things. It sinks in better for me that way. Feels more hands-on.

(Other Scrivener tutorial books I haven’t read yet, but have heard great things about are Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandezshe also teaches a highly recommended online class!–and Writing a Novel with Scrivener by David Hewson.)

Like the tutorial, the books had much more info than I needed at the moment since I was just beginning, but from the index I was able to pick and choose the features I wanted to use right away and leave the rest for later. (I’ve now used Scrivener for three projects, learning a little bit more each time, and can say with certainty that it does get easier with practice! 😀 )

  • The most intuitive part of the Scrivener for me, and the part I loved the moment I saw it, is the Binder. The folder that keeps all the components of your project together. You can have different folders for each chapter and then text documents in each folder that contain various scenes. Best of all, you can drag and drop these items from one folder to another. Need to move a scene to a different chapter? No problem. Click and drag. Done. No copy, no paste, no worrying “Did I get everything?” Such a time saver.
  • Secondly, since I’ve never been a linear writer, being able to write scenes out of order and drag them into place has been a godsend.
  • Thirdly, the visualization aspect of this tool is fantastic. Being able to see your scenes lined up either in the Binder, or as index cards in the Corkboard view, has been SO helpful. No more scrolling through a vast Word document trying to “see” how things are coming together. Now I can see the big picture clearly all on one page.

Below is a screenshot of the Scrivener window for my current work-in-progress. (Click to enlarge in new window). I labeled the different areas so you can see not only how my process works (the way my mind thinks when it’s working on a book), but also how Scrivener easily accommodates my system of working.

Scrivener Screen - Catherine Chant's Novel in Progress

  • The left column is the “Binder” I mentioned. All the pieces of the project reside here as folders and documents.
  • In purple I’ve circled how I start a project generally. I brainstorm my idea and try to identify key elements that make up a successful plot. Some authors may call this “pre-writing.” These are the same elements discussed in my “Turning Your Story Idea Into a Workable Plot” workshop. So yes, I practice what I preach. 😀
  • Below that is a folder where I keep information I develop as part of the “Fast Draft” method taught by author Candace Havens.
  • Next, circled in green, are my Character Cards. Every document in Scrivener, whether it’s a scene or a piece or research or merely a note, can be viewed as an index card on the corkboard. So in this case, I made a new document/card for each of my characters where I could write down details about them and keep everything fresh in my mind and available at-a-glance.
  • Below that, at the yellow arrow, is the start of my book. Right now I just called it “Leah’s Story” since I don’t have a final title yet, but underneath that folder you an see the sub-folders for each chapter and then the individual scenes. You can also see at the very bottom I made a folder called “Misc. Scenes” because, like I mentioned earlier, I don’t always write linearly, so this is where I place scenes I’ve come up with, but don’t have a specific chapter in mind for yet.

Another nice feature: notice how Scrivener’s ability to split the screen allows me to see my chapter as I’m working on it and see something else at the same time. In this case, I’m viewing my character cards, but I could just as easily be viewing a piece of research or looking at picture from the web that will help me construct the scene in progress.

That’s all for now, but I still have lots more to say about Scrivener. So let’s call this the end of Part 1. Please come back next week for Part 2, where I’ll talk about the right column on the Scrivener screen, Scrivener’s ability to import complete web pages for reference/research, adding files other than text to the Binder (like those hunky pictures for your heroes!), and a great little companion tool for Scrivener called Scapple, which is playing an important role in my writing process for this new novel.