Scrivener Rocks! (If you are looking for better software to write with)

Working with outdated tools?

How do I love thee? Let me list the ways …

If you are still working in a regular word processor, you are going to love Scrivener. Scrivener has a project-based type approach to document creation that allows the author/grad student to write, save relevant documents, graphics or files and have different pages or folders – all in the same UI.

From the website:

Writing a novel, research paper, script or any long-form text involves more than hammering away at the keys until you’re done. Collecting research, ordering fragmented ideas, shuffling index cards in search of that elusive structure—most writing software is fired up only after much of the hard work is done. Enter Scrivener: a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write – it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.

 It’s difficult to explain so take a look at this screen shot of the Scrivener environment which should help you get a picture of what I am talking about.

Screen Grab from Organizing Creativity

As you can see, the Scrivener UI is significantly different to a regular word processor.

The binder area (the left pane) allows the writer to keep all relevant information in the same space – so everything that is relevant to your chapter/article is right there. You can build this as you go, or put everything in there right before you begin to outline/write, either way, it makes things much simpler and more intuitive way to work with pdf’s and even your own notes and citations.

The second really, really great feature of Scrivener is the split-pane view. This is exactly what it sounds like; a way to split your writing screen in two so that you can have notes to cut/paste from, an annotated PDF that you want close by for reference, an old version of the paper that you need to see for ideas, an outline of your document for process and continuity – you can choose to split horizontally or vertically – the list goes on. In my opinion, this is the very best part of Scrivener – I love this facility.

Horizontal split view: corkboard & word processor

What about workflow?

Below is a forum post from a PhD student describing how and why Scrivener fits into their research and writing workflow. It’s a really helpful post for those who are new to Scrivener and don’t know how to start and also for those who are moving into writing larger pieces – like chapters.

My biggest problem has always been keeping and organizing files. I can’t even tell you how many times I have posted for ideas on the forum – including recently. Since you use Scriv, I’ll tell you what I did (and it took time to set up, but is much better in terms of logic, workflow, and ease of use).
I set up my main hard drive the same way I set up my files in Scrivener, which I also duplicated in my Dropbox folder and my diss binder. The Scriv system file tree was the catalyst and inspiration for this – it just makes sense in terms of writing and researching as a process. However, it does require that you have a really good idea of what will be in each chapter –  a truly detailed outline. So, I essentially arranged all the files to follow my diss structure – I made a main folder for each chapter of my diss and then made subfolders for each section of each chapter (more or less by topic). In each folder, are the relevant notes, pdfs, images, maps, scratch bibs, errata, etc. I then imported all this into Scriv with the same structure (Chapter 1, the oddball intro with a little bit it all, was left to just its draft – I only put notes and articles I. That folder if said material only appeared in the intro and nowhere else).

I am now on chapter 2 and this has worked really well. I have all my PDFs, notes, annotations, docs, whatever, that I think I will need for this chapter filed in the appropriate section ready for me to utilize when I write. If something is needed for multiple chapters, I just copy it over multiple times (since we moved to gigabyte drives, I have yet to even approach filling up a hard drive). As I’m reading/researching for chapter 2, if I come across an article that would be great in chapter 4, I download it and throw it in the chapter 4–>original PDFs–>to be notated folder. When i start reading those pdfs, they will get moved around and there notes added to the drive using Word and then imported into the relevant folder in Scriv. As a process, this is working really well for me as I feel like I know where everything is AND if I can’t recall something I can just use Scriv’s search function to find it. Both the hard drive files and scriv files are kept in my Dropbox folder. At the end of each day, I backup my Dropbox folder to a dedicated space on my system’s hard drive. At the end of each semester I back all that up to an external hard drive (admittedly, I should probably do that more often). I have also been using iTunes to back up my files on the iPad when they are in the midst of review… Right now I have about 3 dozen articles/books I am reading and notating on the iPad. As I read each one, I send the annotations to myself via email as backup, open them in word, save as rtf, and then move the rtf into my notes folder for the relevant sub-folder of the relevant chapter, and move the original PDF into a ‘notated’ folder. This process has saved me, if nothing else, from re-reading things I’ve already read (which I previously did quite often) and from misplacing notes I’ve already taken.

Scrivener is available as a free 30 day trial (and you get actual, working days, not 30 days from the first time you install and open the software) and the good folks at literatureandlatte have loads of video tutorials, an active forum and other resources to help you get up and running.

How do you use Scrivener? Has is changed the writing process for you? What other tools do you use?

The corkboard is great for planning and structuring large documents

More workflow

For an excellent overview of how Organizing Creativity’s Daniel uses Scrivener – click here. Daniel is very great at sharing his work processes and tools – the only drawback from this post is that it is a couple of years old and Scrivener has had major updates since it was written but it will give you a good overview of the potential of Scrivener together with a workflow to introduce you to the software. [Edit: As Daniel notes below, Scrivener has not changed significantly during these updates and his post offers an excellent opportunity to see Scrivener in action]


4 thoughts on “Scrivener Rocks! (If you are looking for better software to write with)

  1. Hoi,

    actually, one advantage of Scrivener is that is has improved over time with new, powerful features, but it did not become *different* (unlike, for example, Microsoft Word). If you compare the screenshots (mine is the 1.x version), you see that Scrivener looks more or less the same. Thus, I think the posting about Scrivener is still valid and it was the topic or an important part in a few other postings ( ) … and I agree, Scrivener rocks, no question about it. 🙂

    All the best


    • Good point Daniel! It isn’t unlike your original ScreenShots at all – I was more referring to updates & improvement in overall use – your post is a great resource, thats’s why I mentioned it. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. I like the idea of scrivener very much. There are just a few things that make my workflow in scrivener difficult.
    1) if I have to hand in parts of my writing, I’ve to transfer it to Word, after the feedback I receive in track changes in Word I have to bring it back to scrivener… all in all a lot of transfer, and how do you work with different versions of your chapter?
    2) I use endnote and I love that in Word you can just throw your references in and worry about the style later. If I work in scrivener and have to transfer to Word it won’t have complete references, or I have to do them manually. I’ve seen how some of you work with scrivener and endnote but it is still not yet optimal,

    any suggestions?
    Best Marloes

    • Hi Marloes
      Thanks for stopping by. I would strongly suggest checking out the forums at – a great place to get support. I agree that the import/export/track changes can be tiresome but I tend to copy/paste as text only & keep versions in the Scriv folder itself for clarity. I also use Sente rather than EndNote so I can’t comment there but I am sure that you will have more joy in the forums – good luck, I would love to hear how you get on.

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