The first time I tried Scrivener, I wasn’t ready. The second time, I hated it. But, as it turns out, the third time really is a charm! If you want to learn how to use scrivener (and possibly stumble through it like I did), then you’re in the right spot.
My Journey with Scrivener
When I say I wasn’t ready the first time I tried to use Scrivener, it was very a much an “it isn’t you, it’s me” situation. It was a few years back, and when I downloaded the free trial I was about halfway through the first draft of a novel. I was overwhelmed almost immediately; I stared blankly at the software with no clue of where to start. (No, of course I didn’t do the tutorial. I wanted to dive right in!) I remember spending a little time halfheartedly pasting my WIP in there before giving up. I told myself that I’d do much better starting with a brand-new project than trying to learn it with something that was half-finished. So I let the free trial expire and that was that.
Lesson learned: The tutorial is your friend! It keeps you from staring at the screen with rising panic. Also, it’s best not to start your Scrivener experience with a 30,000+ word partial draft.
I tried again about a year ago to learn how to use Scrivener. Downloaded the NaNoWriMo free trial to my shiny MacBook Air and this time I was determined to make it work. I spent a good day going through the tutorials and reading up on tips and tricks. And once again, I found myself staring at the program with wide-eyed terror. But I calmed myself down and started working on a new story I’d been planning. I used the information I’d learned in the tutorial, and set up my chapter folders, with scenes underneath. Color coded things, because color coding makes everything better, right?
Disaster. I realized that’s not how I write. I write scenes, and eventually I figure out where I want to put chapter breaks. Pre-dividing up the scenes into chapters the way I did was like shoving me into a too-small box, and I was banging up against the sides. What if that wasn’t where the chapter was going to end? What if I put a chapter break mid-scene for more dramatic effect?
I wanted to flee back to Microsoft Word and that blank, un-split-up page. I had visions of Jack Kerouac, who was known to write his novels on long rolls of paper. I wanted that long roll that I could get on Word, and not the pre-chopped-up chapters I struggled with in Scrivener.
Lesson learned: While the tutorial is important, it doesn’t need to be gospel. Don’t limit your creativity by using features that clearly don’t work for you. Jack Kerouac wouldn’t let Scrivener boss him around, and neither should you.
I moved back to Word, where I realized the story I was working on had no spark, and it didn’t matter what program I was trying to use to write it—it wasn’t happening. So maybe I was wrong in blaming Scrivener. New story idea in mind, I decided to give learning how to use Scrivener another go.
Third Time’s the Charm
I thought about what went wrong this last time, and went with a new approach. I like bullet-point outlines. So I turned each bullet point on my outline into a notecard in the notecard view. I got rid of the chapter folders altogether, so it was just me and the list of scenes I wanted to write. Okay, I could work with this.
I’m about 25 percent of the way through this first draft now, and my whole attitude toward Scrivener has changed.
I’m focusing on what I know how to do and not worrying about which bells and whistles I’m not taking advantage of yet.
As I refine my outline, each new plot point gets a card, and it’s slotted in where I think it’ll go. I’ve already moved scenes around the outline a few times, something I’d never be able to do in Word!
I’m still learning how to use Scrivener and what I can do with it, and now that I’m going at my own speed I’m having a much better time. All my “research” pictures of hot pirates and dudes in kilts in one place! Websites saved for easy reference without opening up a web browser!
But I think my favorite thing about Scrivener right now is compose (or full-screen) mode. In this mode, when you type, the cursor stays in the middle of the screen, and what you’ve typed scrolls up and away. I got my Kerouac-esque roll of typing paper after all!
I also just learned how split-screen works, so I was able to pull up two scenes side-by-side and move text from one to the other seamlessly. This works similarly, but more smoothly, to pulling up two separate Word documents and snapping them to opposite sides of the screen.
To avoid feeling trapped in those chapter-break boxes, I learned to just build the box later. As I get to a point that feels like a natural chapter break, I create a chapter folder and throw those scenes in there. So that might be a little backward, but it works for me. So far, the Scrivener police haven’t broken down my door.
I know full well that I’m using roughly 0.5 percent of the features that Scrivener has. The secret is, I don’t really care. I’m using what I know how to use, and not stressing about the rest. I’m sure it’s going to be quite some time before I’m a “power user” of Scrivener, but the more I use and the more features I discover at my own pace, the more I’m convinced that this third time truly is a charm, and Scrivener is going to be my writing software of choice for a long time.
Lesson learned: Go at your own pace! Use what works for you, and don’t worry about features you don’t understand/don’t want to use yet. You’ll get there!
How to Use Scrivener for Writing
So if you’ve been wanting to try Scrivener but have felt intimidated by it, my best advice is to:
- Start with a new project.
- Sit down with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and watch the full tutorial—it’s worth the time.
- Don’t expect to be an expert all at once. Use it for the basics at first. Just write. The rest will come.
Do you have a favorite Scrivener tip? Share it in the comments below.