Organize a Scrivener writing project

Scrivener [Mac -$45 & Windows – $40] is an incredible writing tool. It is not a word processing application although it does support writing, editing and formatting a document. It’s purpose is to provide writing support (planning, organizing, keeping your research and notes handy and managing the entire writing project). You can keep all of these things right in your Scrivener project file for easy reference at any point. Once you’ve completed writing your manuscript, Scrivener will compile it into any number of formats but you may then need to use an appropriate layout application to make those words, tables, graphs and images look great too. Yes, a family history project can be a massive effort, but Scrivener does a tremendous job of keeping everything organized and on track.

As you can imagine, with all these capabilities, you aren’t going to become a Scrivener expert in a weekend. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert before you start using it. One of the toughest parts of a writing project is getting started. I’m going to look at Scrivener’s organizational tools and how to use them to plan and organize a writing project.

Here you see the Scrivener workspace showing the Corkboard. The left column is called the Binder and it has three sections: Draft, Research and Notes. My manuscript is built in the Draft section. The Research and Notes sections are where I stash the information I’ll be referencing during my writing. More on that in upcoming articles. The column on the right is the Information pane and shows details about the item selected in the Binder – in this case The Toolbox item. Front and center is the Corkboard displaying the digital equivalent of a note card. In this example I’ve created a folder called The Toolbox and populated it with a dozen topics. Right now those topics just have titles, but each could have additional notes describing what I plan to do with it.

These “note cards” may become chapters, sections or sub-sections within the manuscript but right now they are just topics I want to include in my manuscript as part of The Toolbox. They are in no particular order and I don’t yet have any plans on how I will tackle them. As I flesh out this section, I can start by adding notes to each card listing the things I want to discuss. I can also drag the cards around to re-order how they will appear in the manuscript. I can add new topics and delete unnecessary ones at any time.

When cards are rearranged on the Corkboard, the related topics are also rearranged in the Binder to the left.

While the Corkboard is quite nice, not everyone works well with that format. No problem! Scrivener also offers an Outline view to those who find it more useful. Here’s the same folder – The Toolbox – as it appears in the Outliner view. The Binder’s still there as is the Information panel. It’s just the center area that has changed.

In this view, I’ve added some notes to a couple of the topic items and they appear just under the topic’s title. The same would be true in the Corkboard view. The Outline view also includes a couple other bits of information – the Label and Status fields from the Information pane. The Label field has two default options: Concept and Chapter, but I can add my own labels if I wish. The Status field makes it easy to track which topics need work and which are ready to go.

Like the Corkboard, I can drag topics around, add and remove them. And, when I do, the topics in the Binder panel also adjust.

There’s a third view – the document view – where I see the content of the selected topic. Switching between these views is easy. Just click on the appropriate view button in the Scrivener toolbar. I can quickly bounce between views whenever I want.

As you can see Scrivener offers some easy to use tools for organizing a writing project. It’s really quite easy to get started with Scrivener and learn as you go. In the next article, I’ll dig into the Binder and show what an amazing feature it can be.

  • Nancy Shively

    Thanks for this tutorial. I bought Scrivener awhile back but have barely used it. Of course I’ve barely written too but that’s another story…..

  • John Pearce

    Scrivener is a massive but well-thought-out piece of software that will do much more than the typical writer needs. As I got more involved in it I found all sorts of useful nooks and crannies in it, but there is a learning curve. Fortunately, the support is outstanding — most of the replies in the support forums are from the developer personally. Highly recommended. I couldn’t do without it.

  • R Scott Steele

    I love my Scrivener. I use the Windows version, and the only thing I have to complain about is that there are more features in the Mac version that I would love to get my hands on. Unfortunately, I’m not ready to drink the Mac Kool-Aid yet, so I’m stuck with my little PC.