June 12th, 2015

Top 10 Scrivener Features for Writers

Gwen Hernandez

Scrivener understands my writing needs in a way that other word processors never have. Here are 10 reasons why I threw over the old standbys.

1. Scrivener remembers your spot.

Every time you open a project in Scrivener, it takes you right to where you left off. Maybe not such a big deal when writing the first draft, but when you’re in the midst of revisions, it’s a lifesaver.

ScrivenerInterface - GH

2. Your structure is easy to see.

Scrivener lets you write in chunks—such as scenes or chapters—called documents. The Binder, where you view all of the documents in your project, gives you an at-a-glance overview of your entire manuscript and thus the structure of your work.

Change your mind about the order of scenes or chapters? It’s a cinch to drag and drop them around and play with a different story flow.

3. Saving epiphanies is easy.

Got an idea for a future scene, but you’re not ready for it yet? Just create a new document, write out your idea, then ignore it until you figure out where it goes. You can also add notes right into the text you’re working on. When you can’t think of the perfect line of dialogue, or you need to do some additional research, simply insert an annotation or comment and get back to writing.

4. Color-coding.

In Scrivener, you can color code your documents by whatever piece of data you want to track. For example, in the drafting phase I tag my fiction scenes by point-of-view (POV) character, using blue for the hero and pink for the heroine (original, right?). Instantly, I can see the POV of a scene and check my overall balance.

In the revision phase—and for nonfiction—I use the Label field to keep track of the status of each section (e.g. Not Started, WIP, To Editor, Author Review, Complete).

5. Auto-save protects your hard work.

If you’ve ever faced the “Blue Screen of Death,” or lost power after writing 3,000 words without saving, you can appreciate that Scrivener saves your project every time there’s more than two seconds of inactivity. So while you’re pondering your next sentence, Scrivener is committing your words to memory.

6. Scrivener is like Hermione Granger’s bottomless handbag.

You can import research documents, web pages/links, and photos right into your project, so even when you take your laptop on the road, you have everything you need. You can also import any writing you already started in another program.

Plus, you can keep outlines, notes on ideas for changes and future scenes, and character and setting information all within the project. No more scouring your hard drive or that pile of sticky notes on your desk for a crucial piece of information.

7. Working without distractions.

Scrivener’s full screen composition mode blocks out all distractions, making it easier to focus on your writing. Change the background color or image to suit your mood.


8. Project Targets.

The ability to set word count goals and track your progress. You can track by the project and by the session in Scrivener (see below) so  you will know at a glance how close you are to meeting your goal.

My Scrivener Corner is a great place to get tutorials and know-how. Here’s a summary of Project Targets, but I recommend you read the whole post:

  • A draft target is the word count goal for the entire project.
  • A session target is for that current writing session.
  • Sessions, by default, reset at midnight, but Scrivener provides you with the option to reset it wherein a session can last more than one day.
  • To open the Project Targets window, go to Project–>Show Project Targets (Mac) or  Project–>Project Targets (Windows).
  • Project targets only work in the draft section.


9. The Corkboard.

The Corkboard is a “book-at-a-glance” area where you can view each document as an index card (perfect for storyboarders). Literature and Latte, Scrivener’s creators, describe the Corkboard like this:

  • Using Scrivener’s virtual corkboard, you can get an overview of your project and rearrange the documents using their synopses only.
  • If you don’t like the corkboard background, you can change it to one of your choice, or just a flat color. You can even make the index cards look more like Post-It notes if that is your preference.

If you are a visual learner, here is a video showing how to use the Corkboard and Synopsis features.


10. Advanced Search.

Advanced searches help you find anything, anywhere in your project. I wrote a post about this feature, providing step-by-step instruction of Advanced Search, if you want to know more. Best of all, it’s easy.

But one last extra feature…

Exporting to e-books is a snap. Scrivener is your one-stop publishing program. When your masterpiece is done, you can compile (export) it to an EPUB or MOBI (Amazon) file for easy self-publishing, or for perusing on your e-reader. You can also export to DOC, RTF, TXT, PDF, direct-to-printer, and other formats.

And there’s so much more! I could wax poetic about my fabulous writing partner all day.

That’s just a small list of what makes Scrivener—available for Mac and Windows—too hot to resist. So, if you’re tired of your stodgy, inflexible word processor, hook up with a program that puts your needs as a writer first. Also, there’s no commitment with Scrivener’s free trial.

What are your favorite Scrivener tricks? Which of these 10 fun features were new to you? Hit me with your questions. 

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About Gwen:

062_Gwen_040711_CropGwen Hernandez is the author of Scrivener For DummiesProductivity Tools for Writers and the Men of Steele series (romantic suspense). Before she started teaching Scrivener to writers all over the world, she was a manufacturing engineer and a programmer. She loves to travel, read, jog, practice Kung Fu, and hang out at home near Boston with her Air Force husband, two teenage boys, and a lazy golden retriever. Learn more about her books or classes and get free Scrivener tips at gwenhernandez.com.

ScrivenerGwen Hernandez

53 comments to Top 10 Scrivener Features for Writers

  • bjrjames

    I found the learning curve to be more than I could deal with, so I have Scrivener on my computer, but have reverted to Word for my writing.

    • bjrjames: That happens. Everyone has to balance the learning curve with their process and time. If Word is serving your needs, no need to fix what’s working for you! 🙂

  • I’ve signed up for a Scrivener Webinar to learn more…always intimidated by technology a little bit, but anxious to try it out.

    • Irtrovi: It can take a little getting used to because it’s a different way of thinking about writing. The beauty is that is flexes to fit your process, so taking a few hours to figure it out is worth it! Good luck. 🙂

  • Gwen – this is perfect timing for me – thank you (and thank you, Jenny!)
    Your book arrived at my house a few days ago, and I’m bumbling my way through. I know I’m going to love 4, 5 & 6.

    I LOVE pulling in research – especially webpages (which no other software I use will do)

    I’m just beginning to make the paradigm shift this is going to take to create a book in Scrivener, but I’m determined to make it!

    I will have tons of questions – but just a couple of dumb ones, at this point.

    1. Is there any way that I can free form move cards around the bulletin board – besides moving them right and left? I’m using it for character photos and notes, and I’d like to keep one character per row, but I’m having to put blank cards in to be able to get to the next row, and I know there has to be a better way!

    2. Is there any way to have your scenes represented as index cards on the board (Yes, I LOVE the cork board!) and you click on them and have them open up in the editor?

    • Laura! I’m so excited you’re finally joining me on the Scrivener side. 😉 My favorite way to pull in webpages is through References (page 73 in SFD).

      For the Corkboard, one thing you can do is click the little button at the bottom right of the Corkboard that looks like it has 4 squares in it. This will let you adjust the size and layout of the cards, including how many appear per row. The Mac version does have a true freeform corkboard, but for what you’re trying to do, I think the little options menu should take care of it.

      To open the document associated with an index card on the Corkboard, just double-click the small document icon at the upper left of the index card. (The icon might just be an index card if you have never added text to the document before.)

      Keep ’em comin’! 😉 I have an event this morning, but I’ll check in after lunch for more questions.

  • I love Scrivener, and I’ve only just started using some of the features in it. The corkboard is something to play with, and my binder structure at this point is super simple, but this is one of the best things about Scrivener; it adjusts to the writer, rather than the writer having to adjust to the software. Great post!

    • Yes, I couldn’t agree more, sbjamestheauthor! I prefer a super simple Binder with just part folders to which I add scene documents as I go. But then later I group scenes into chapters, add research and notes, create front and back matter and character/GMC sheets, and more, and it starts getting busy. But I love being able to have all of that in one place, easy to search. Have fun with it!

  • How much is it? My funds are tight right now, so I’ve just been using Word. I save my novel to Google Drive, which automatically saves changes.

    • Joseph: $40 for Windows, $45 for Mac (which has a few more features because it’s been around longer). If you participate in any of the NaNoWriMo events, Scrivener generally provides a discount for participants and a larger one for “winners.”

      Either way, it’s way cheaper than Word, but since you already have Word… 😉

  • stevechatterton

    Joseph, it’s $40. A bargain, all things considered.

    Two of my favourite features: 1) Auto-Complete List (http://www.stevechatterton.com/working-faster-in-scrivener-with-auto-complete-list.html ) and 2) Additional Substitutions (http://www.stevechatterton.com/working-faster-in-scrivener-with-additional-substitutions.html)

  • Love Scrivener for all these reasons and more! I also show other people how to use it, and convince them to buy it, too.

  • I especially love the targets feature. Helps me keep on track with daily goals since I hate to stop before I meet it.

    • I know, right, Carol? I check my session target whenever I start losing steam. It helps me push through to a few more words, which often ends up being several hundred once I get going. 😀

  • I’ve been using Scrivener off and on, now doing my first start-to-finish Scrivener novel. I LOVE being able to re-order scenes in the binder, and I have a couple folders for deleted snippets and backstory scenes.

    I’ll be using S to compile an ebook this time – the first time for me. I want to have a little design below each chapter title, like in my first book that I had someone else format. (There’s a name for these, but I can’t remember what – Zings?) Will Scrivener let me do this?

    • Jennifer: Yay on your first start-to-finish with Scrivener! I do the same thing with deleted scenes/sections, backstory, GMC, character info, and on… I’m a minimalist in my house, but a packrat in Scrivener. 😉

      You can insert an image (is Wingding what you were looking for?) in Scrivener. There are several ways to do it below the chapter title. If you’re using Windows, I’d probably put it in the text area of the chapter folder (if you’re set up like that). Mac has a few more options. Here’s a post on inserting images into Scrivener that you might find helpful. Feel free to post a question there if you need more help: http://gwenhernandez.com/2013/05/28/tech-tuesday-inserting-images-in-scrivener/.

  • Gwen, you know I love this gorgeous post. 🙂 Thank you so much for hanging with us today. I hope everyone runs to buy your Scrivener book!

    I just approved some comments, so you might want to start at the top again.

  • Scrivener is the bomb! And so is Gwen. She’s as insightful and brilliant in person as she is in her book. I have her book sitting right next to my desk at all times for when I forget the fantastic shortcuts Scrivener has. And it’s great to know that Gwen is a writer too, and not just a computer geek.

  • Thanks for this, Gwen. I’ve been using Scrivener for awhile and I’m constantly figuring out new ways to use it. I know I’m going to be checking your web site for more info and signing up for your newsletter.

    • Absolutely, Lynda! Finding new little gems over time is fun. A lot of people feel like they need to know how to do everything all at once and they get overwhelmed, but really the basics will hold you for a long time. Good luck with your writing!

  • I have Scrivener and have been looking for the time to do more step by step tutorials. I love it…a lot to learn and time is precious. When I type, I use WORD because I have it auto formatted already…This is a great start for a summer learning project. Thanks so much for this!

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  • You’ve almost made me open up Scrivener again. I started a book in it years ago and then abandoned it because I had to send copy in Word to my writing partner. She made changes in Word and sent it back. Then I had to re-enter everything. Is there an easy way to do this? Also, if I get into it again with a new project, how do I get rid of all the old stuff and start fresh? thanks.

    • Almost, Carol? 😉 Working with revisions from Word can be annoying. If they’re only comments, you can import the Word file and the comments will be there. If the other person has made changes using Track Changes, it’ll import as a mess.

      What I do is view the Word document on one screen–or side of the screen, or my iPad–while viewing Scrivener in the other. Then I go through the Word document and make changes where necessary in the Scrivener files. I actually prefer this because I don’t always make the recommended changes. Plus, the process allows me to use snapshots to keep versions, and doesn’t require me to have a whole new copy of my manuscript in Scrivener every time I get edits. For more on my revisions process, you might find this post helpful: http://gwenhernandez.com/2014/02/19/revisions-in-scrivener/.

      To start over with a new project, you could either create a brand new project and work from scratch, or open the existing project and move everything into an OLD FILES folder or something like that. Also, if you go the new project route, you can always open the old one and drag over any files that you want to keep for the new one (scenes, research, images, etc.). HTH!

  • I stopped using Scrivener because I had problems with moving my manuscript from my Mac to my PC. I write on both and for me a Word file that simply can be copied is easier. If you have a solution for this problem I would really love to hear it because I liked using Scrivener.

    • Birgit: That can always be a little sticky. I know a lot of people who use Dropbox without issue, but because each Scrivener project is really a folder full of little files, Dropbox is constantly trying to sync and there’s more potential for failure. You’d have to ensure the project is fully synced before you shut down your computer/internet. Also, close the project on one computer before opening on another so it doesn’t prompt you to make a copy.

      My preferred method is to zip the project (File–>Back Up–>Back Up To and choose to zip) and save it to the transfer disk (e.g. Dropbox, a flash drive). Then close and rename the project on the current computer to something like OLD_ (or maybe use a date stamp or version number). I’d do this in both directions because you don’t want to end up being unsure which version is the most current, but it also means if something goes wrong when opening on the other computer, you haven’t deleted your original copy. Does that make sense?

    • BTW, Birgit, when you say you had problems, was it with corrupt files or something else? There is some confusion over how the files work on each platform. On the PC, you have to open the SCRIV folder and choose the SCRIVX file. It’ll be called project.scrivx if you created the project on your PC, and .scrivx if you created it on the Mac.

      • Thank you for your answers, Gwen! The problem was over how the files work on each platform. Thank you for clarifying that! Also I started getting confused over which version was the new one, so I’ll try your method with a date stamp.
        Thank you for your help!

  • MM Jaye

    What I love about Scrivener is taking a snapshot of your document (scene) when you decide you could e.g. delete a whole chunk and see how it reads. This way, if you see the new version is not working, you can revert to the previous with a simple click. It’s right there.

    What I didn’t take advantage of, Gwen, is the auto-saving. I had to reformat my laptop, but I had no idea where my manuscript’s back-ups were stored. Thank God, I was saving on a Cloud drive, so my work was safe.

    • M M Jaye: Yep, snapshots are super handy. I try to take a snapshot every time I’m going to make significant changes to a scene, or before I go through revisions on it. Love having that backup of my older version.

      By auto-saving, I assume you mean the automated backups. I definitely encourage everyone using Scrivener to go into Preferences/Settings and make sure the automatic backup location makes sense. That is, if you’re working from your hard drive, then change the backup location to something like Dropbox or a flash drive. If you’re working from Dropbox, then having the backups on your hard drive works. We just don’t want our working files and our backups on the same drive. 😉 Glad you were able to recover your work!

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  • Of the features you named, I think color coding is my favorite. This has been crucial for me when writing with more than one POV. I was able to easily keep track and see how balanced I was being with my treatment of perspective.

    For anyone else reading this comment, I have recommended Gwen’s online courses to many people. I tried Scrivener before and felt lost until I took her online courses, and now I can’t imagine writing in anything else. Fabulous software, fabulous teacher!

    • Hi, Julie! Color coding is huge for me too. POV when drafting, revision status when editing. Keeps me on track like nothing else. Thanks for the kind words! So glad Scrivener is working for you. 🙂

  • Robert Doucette

    I am going to give Scrivener another try. My previous attempts have been like a gym membership. Spending more time figuring out how to use the equipment than exercising. But, I am working on a project where Scrivener’s strengths are needed.

    I am working on a book with two main characters. Each have important events before the book begins. Scrivener should allow me to work on those scenes separately and out of chronological order and move them into the story line as appropriate.

    I also want to use Scrivener to break the story into individual scenes rather than chapters. This should help me maintain better scene structure.

    Regardless, I think most of my plotting will be done with pen and paper and sometimes Word. Once I have an outline of the needed scenes, I’ll import them into Scrivener.

    • Great analogy, Robert. Scrivener sounds perfect for what you’re trying to do. Maybe once you get more comfortable with it, you can skip Word and write right inside Scrivener. 😉 Good luck with your new project!

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  • Freya

    I love Scrivener and use it all the time but I wish it worked with prowritingaid. It’s annoying that I have to export it out of scrivener to edit it and then back in again.

  • I’ve used Word for a decade, and had a complicated paper and document structure that worked perfectly.

    However, I am fast going blind, and need to import everything into a screenreader accessible format. Fast.

    I tried Scrivener on my Mac.

    To say it appeals to my OCD is a serious understatement.

    First, I dumped in all of Trails 5 (which includes all research and notes from Trails 1-4). Fun! Easy, at my fingertips!

    Two days ago, I copied and put in Trails 3 to finish cleanup and prepare for publication next month.

    Still having a few formatting for the various formats questions. Some aspects are a bit hidden. Any help finding step by step instructions is appreciated.

    The only bad part: the grammar checker is abysmal. Unless I have something marked incorrectly.

    At least exporting to Word, Pages, or Libre Office for grammar checks and back is easy.

    • April: Scrivener is great for those with OCD, and for those who are complete slobs (for whom project search is brilliant). 😉 The Scrivener website has several videos on the compile process that might help (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/videos.php). My book covers Compile in a fair amount of detail (70 pages!), and I have an online class devoted to compiling. The next one is in December, but if you’re interested in accessing the previous class forum, shoot me an email at gwen @ gwenhernandez . com. Good luck!

  • How do you import back from Word to Scrivener? Each time I try it all the chapters are stuck in the first chapter on Scrivener so that I have to devide it manually into the different chapters. Would appreciate any help on the subject.

    • Birgit: If you have some kind of scene or chapter divider (like # or CHAPTER), you can use File–>Import and Split and input the dividing character(s). Scrivener will automatically split whenever it encounters the character(s) on their own line.

      If you use File–>Import, a single Word document will import as a single Scrivener document, even if you have dividers. HTH!