Which Template?

When a new idea gets my juices flowing, I want to write it down before it gets away. If I’m at my notebook computer, a new Scrivener project is ideal.

I click File -> New Project and then…


Scrivener stops me in my tracks. It demands to know if this is gonna be a short story, a novel, a huge novel with parts, or what … exactly?

Hell, I don’t know!

It’s just an idea, a tiny little idea.

Try This

The Blank template is a beginning, a little thing, a tiny little place for an idea. Start there, capture some developing thoughts, and-eventually-discover what it’s going to grow up to be.

When you figure that out, then and only then, create another project using the template for that kind of final effort. Positioned side by side, old project and new, drag-and-drop your preliminary work to the new project and continue the work there.

Here’s my process.

1) Start With an Empty (Blank) Project

In Scrivener, click File -> New Project and choose the “Blank” template.

You’ll need to give it a name. (Oh, bother!) I’ve used everything from “XXX” to “How the hell should I know what this will be.”

If you want, tack-on something like “- Initial Project” to the name so you know it’s a very rough, primitive idea.

Notice the Binder on the left. It has only three folders: Draft, Research, and Trash.

It’s simple.

Simple is good at this stage of your idea’s life.

The blank template won’t push your thinking in any particular direction. Chapters, parts, scenes, characters, those can all come later. For now, it’s just a Draft with one, unnamed document.

Click in the big editor and type in your idea.

(I don’t even give the document a name at this stage.)

2) Add More Ideas

Let your mind wander.

Don’t start with a laundry list of things you need to know before starting to write. Instead, rest your fingers on the keyboard, close your eyes, and hold that idea in your mind’s eye. Type what you feel. Squirt out the words. Forget punctuation and spelling. Just get it down.

Sometimes I can stay in that mindset for what turns out to be hours. Other times, it’s just a few minutes. Occasionally, it’s only a single phrase.

But I’ve got it!

When you’ve captured the essential ideas, type ^S (or click File -> Save).

Now you can afford to lean back in your chair, or maybe go and get a fresh cup of coffee before returning to make a brief, clandestine study of those three women talking in Polish at the next table in the coffee shop. [Do I need a frumpy, East European blond for this story? Hmmmm.]

Return to muse-mode if you can and spew more ideas into your project.

Or perhaps its time to engage The Editor.

The Editor, as we may have learned, is sometimes better at breaking things than fixing them. So, without encouraging him too much, look at what the muse has written and let The Editor break it up. Click the mouse to put the insertion point where you want, and click Documents -> Split -> At Selection.

Voila, you know have two ideas in the Draft folder. Don’t worry about giving the new one a name. Just separate the ideas. Let The Editor have his way for a while. Let him break the ideas into separate documents. Move them around (drag-and-drop) to put like ideas together. If two of them really do belong together, then select them both and click Documents -> Merge.

Voila, one document with a single unified idea where there used to be two.

“But wait,” you object. “There’s no Characters folder. Where do I put that Polish woman from the coffee shop who’s going to become my femme fatale?”

Add a folder to your project and name it Characters. Put it anywhere you want, maybe inside the Research folder, or drag-and-drop to make it a top-level folder. This is your project, remember? Do what you want.

Tip: Shifting the level of documents and folders left and right, not just up and down, is one of the trickier skills to do with the mouse in Scrivener. I prefer to select the document or folder in question and then use the “Move” icons in the toolbar. If these blue arrows are not in yours (see below), right-click in the toolbar and select Customize Toolbar…

“But,” you argue, “there’s also no Template sheets folder from which to get a Character Template. How do I fix that?”

The answer is simple: Don’t. It’s too early for that much detail.

The goal of this initial work is to capture the idea and develop it just enough to see what it’s going to become. Too much detail in any one area will set up road blocks. Think flow, not guide.

Eventually, you’ll know. You’ll know what this little acorn wants to become. Once you know that, it’s time to graduate to the next stage.

3) Shift to the Appropriate Template with a New Project

Click File -> New Project and peruse the templates for one that’s appropriate. Give this new project a name, and when it opens on the screen, resize it so it takes up the right-hand side of your computer’s display.

Suggestion: Clean out the Manuscript (or Draft) and Research folders.

With the new project slid to the right side of your screen, go to File -> Open or File -> Recent Projects and open your earlier project, the one that used the “Blank” template. Size and position it on the left side of your display. You need to be able to see the Binder in both projects at once.

In the old project, expand the contents of the Draft folder and multi-select everything. Holding down the mouse on them, drag-and-drop the whole selection across and drop it into the Manuscript (or Draft) folder in the new project.

Note: Scrivener will do a “copy” operation. It will retain the old copies in the old project, and create duplicate copies in the new.

Do the same with the Research folder’s contents and any new top-level folders you might have created, Characters too. And don’t forget the contents of the old Trash folder.

Tip: Never empty the trash in Scrivener. And in this process, take it with you when you move.

Here’s the new project after everything’s been moved (copied).


  1. Start with Scrivener’s “Blank” template. It has enough places to put things so your ideas won’t get lost, and a minimum of structure. That’s good. You don’t want the tool (Scrivener) forcing your thoughts in any particular direction.
  2. Let the muse muse however it wants. Turn The Editor loose occasionally to tidy things up, but keep the leash tight so he/she doesn’t get carried away.
  3. When you (later!) have a feel for what this idea should be, then create a new project using the appropriate template. Drag-and-drop your preliminary work into the new project and finish the job there.


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