Setting Up a Scrivener Project

I find the beginning of a writing project a difficult and intimidating time. I have an idea and possibly a few notes – maybe even a rough outline – but there’s still so much to consider before I write the first paragraph. Starting your first project in Scrivener can be rather intimidating too, but hopefully this post will show you how the app can quickly become your friend and make those early stages of a writing project easier and more focused.


Here’s a look at a writing project that’s just getting started. Looking at the contents of the Binder in the left sidebar you see there are a number of  folders set up with different icons chosen to help define their purpose. You’ll also notice there are only a few text items included at this point and these are mostly generic content. Let’s go through what you see here and why they are included.

You’re looking at the “How to Use This Guide” text element located as the first element in the Draft folder. The Draft folder is where the actual contents of the book resides. Right now it contains just a few things – most of them boilerplate text. As you can see, the Front Matter folder holds the copyright, fine print and other legal requirements for this book. Other than a few things like book title and copyright date, this stuff won’t change much from one project to the next. You’ll also notice that I’ve got my text set to a rather large font. I’ve already set up the formatting within the manuscript so it’s easy for me to read while I work. This won’t affect the look of the published book, but it will sure make writing and editing easier on my eyes.

Below the contents of the Draft folder is another folder called Research. This is where I’m going to stash all the notes, screenshots, web archives and other information I’ll need to reference while I’m working on this project. Right now the only thing in there is a blank text item called Useful Links. I’ll soon have this loaded down with URLs to online sources related to this project.

Trash is where I drag and drop folders and text items I no longer need. Those things are not actually deleted until you manually empty the trash.

The Graphics folder has sub-folders to hold the image files for both my book’s cover as well as any graphics to be included in the guide.

Style Guide is used to build a quick reference for grammar and style issues. Right now you can see that I’ve imported the word list file from Yahoo’s online style guide. Why this word list? Because most of my books discuss tech and online topics and this word list supports those terms and phrases. I can easily add to this word list or include notes and grammar references at any time.

How did this word list get added to my project? I downloaded the list from Yahoo, then clicked on the Style Guide icon in the Binder and chose File > Import > Files and selected the file I wanted to import.

Notes is empty right now but will soon be full of reminders, notes, imported files and web archives. There could well be several sub-folders added within Notes to keep things organized as my research items grow. The goal is to have all the reference material I’ll need while I’m writing within easy reach inside Scrivener so I don’t waste time trying to find it.

I’m a big fan of outlines and I keep outline apps on both my iPad and phone to jot down something before I forget it. I can easily export those files and include them in my Scrivener research. I keep an Outline folder in my project so I have a place for them when I want them.

Because I plan to write several guides, I’ve saved this basic setup as a template. That way I don’t have to recreate these same generic elements with each project. Once I’ve got the basic setup the way I like it, I save it as a template (File > Save as Template …). Next I’m asked which category to save it under – I chose Non-Fiction – and to give it a title. Now, when I’m ready to start a new guide all I do is choose File > New Project and select my template from the appropriate category.

One Scrivener feature I’ve found quite useful is the ability to include Web Archive files in my research folders. The Safari browser [Mac & Win – free] lets you save all or part of a displayed web page as an archive. The result is very similar to a screenshot except that the links included on the page will work. It is important to note that a web archive doesn’t always capture all the contents. It does have problems with content displayed within an iFrame – like the census pages displayed on Ancestry. If you want to include one of these views in your Scrivener project, it’s best to download the page as a graphic then bring that into your research folders.


Here’s what my Wikipedia article looks like in Scrivener. I can use the links within the Contents box to move to specific content within the article and the external links will open in my default web browser. The difference is this information is now easily accessible from within my current writing project.

With the essentials already waiting for me in my Scrivener template, I’m ready to concentrate on building my writing project. In this example, you see my Binder is beginning to fill out with more research items and a number of topics to be discussed within the manuscript. I’m still in the research and organization phase of my writing project but I’m getting focused and can concentrate on the what I want in this guide and how to organize it. Of course things will change  frequently as the project progresses. The published guide will bear little resemblance to what you see here, but Scrivener will continue to help me manipulate my manuscript until I have it just the way I want it.

One thought on “Setting Up a Scrivener Project

  1. Thanks very much for these pieces! I’ve been using Scrivener for some time and I love it. But thanks to your articles I realise I’ve been using it as a very basic word processor and its capable of so much more I’ve never noticed!


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