Learning Scrivener

What is Scrivener?

Scrivener is a set of computer tools for organizing, writing, editing, and publishing predominantly “text” works.

And it’s big.

It’s for big works–novels and non-fiction books–and has the armada of tools it takes to build something big.

But it is also wonderful for shorter works: short stories and blog posts, for example.

And it’s good when you don’t know. Will this idea be a flash fiction, short story, or a blockbuster series of twenty-seven novels?

Because Scrivener is incredibly flexible.

And therein lies the rub. That flexibility means there’s no one way to use Scrivener. You can do things this way or that, and then pull the switcheroo to yet another way of working.

It comes with a 900 page reference manual.

That’s big, too. And it’s a reference manual (like a dictionary). It tells you what all the pieces use, but doesn’t include much of a step 1 then step 2 tutorial. (But there is a tutorial included with Scrivener, and it’s one of the things recommended below.)

The good news is you don’t need everything. You can start small and learn as you go and ignore things you don’t understand or haven’t tried.

Let me say that again: With Scrivener, ignore what you don’t know. Use as much as you know and leave the rest. As time passes, you can delve a little deeper, learn something new, and then go back and apply it to your earlier works. Or not!

Learning Scrivener

Here’s a suggested strategy and some on-going warnings. (If you’re like me, this will take a long time, maybe forever.)

  1. Don’t Panic! (Hat tip to Douglas Adams.)
  2. Install Scrivener on your computer.
  3. Say this aloud, “Scrivener is not Microsoft Word.”
    As you learn Scrivener, you’ll slowly, sometimes painfully, have to unlearn prejudices from Microsoft Word. Ultimately, that’s a good thing, but uncomfortable when it happens.
  4. Do the built-in Help -> Interactive Tutorial.
  5. Closed book test: Re-write “Little Red Riding Hood” or some other simple fable in Scrivener. (Don’t copy/paste it. Outline the story in your head, transfer that to Scrivener, and then write the story as if it were your own.)
  6. Watch some of the Help -> Video Tutorials and, as the spirit moves you, create a File -> New Project to experiment. (I name mine “DeleteMe-xxx” where “xxx” is something descriptive, and the “DeleteMe” is so I later know it can be trashed.)
  7. Find a place to ask stupid questions. Scrivener Users on Facebook is pretty good.
  8. Print the entire Help -> Scrivener Manual. Don’t Panic! Yeah, I know; it’s 900 pages. Three-hole punch it and stick it in a binder. You’re gonna want a hardcopy to scribble your notes. (Don’t want to? Okay, it’s your printer, not mine. Do this how you want.)
  9. Repeat indefinitely as time and interest permits:
    • Write something in Scrivener. (Pick any template that tickles your fancy. As you learn Scrivener, you’ll learn how to change things around so that short story can become a series of novels.) For now, just write.
    • Browse the Scrivener Manual and write notes in the margin or scribble them on a notepad. Ignore sections you don’t (yet) understand. When you find something intriguing, create a project named “DeleteMe” or similar and play around. Continue writing and editing. You will, one by one, discover where and when Scriveners various features apply.
    • Go to Youtube and search for Scrivener. Watch one tutorial that looks interesting. Create another new “DeleteMe2” project and experiment.
    • Check the blog at Literature & Latte on a periodic basis. (Once a month? Put it in your calendar.) Time for “DeleteMe3” project and more play.
    • Google Scrivener and follow any interesting links. Dabble more. (Are you up to “DeleteMe9” yet? If they bother you, use a file browser to delete them.)
    • But most of all, design, draft, and edit your stuff in Scrivener. The more you work with it, the more you will realize what a wonderful set of tools it is.

Nobody Uses All of Scrivener

We all use the parts that help us do what we do, and we ignore the parts that don’t.

If parts of Scrivener can help you write, then you should use them. If other parts don’t seem to apply, ignore them. (In time, you’ll find situations to apply different parts of Scrivener, but some parts are rarely used.)

Over time, you’ll use more and more of Scrivener. As you learn to apply it, Scrivener will indirectly free you up to focus on your writing. (Not your formatting: See #3 above.)


EDSkinner.net began in 2023. Fiction and non-fiction publications are included as well as (blog) posts and supplemental materials from flat5.net (2004-present).

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