Well over a decade ago, I was talking to a friend at my local writing group and complaining about the limitations of Microsoft Word when using it to write a novel. ‘Why not try Scrivener?’ he suggested, and so began a love story that is still ongoing today. (With Scrivener, not the writing group friend!) In fact, I got so into Scrivener, nerd that I am, that I ended up working on the Scrivener support team for seven years.
Therefore when I was approached to write a post on the top ten things I love about Scrivener, my first reaction was: only ten? It’s been quite a challenge to go through the many features and whittle them down. I also fully expect regular Scrivener users to be pulling out their hair when they get to the end of this list, screaming: ‘But what about X, Y and Z?’ That’s because everyone’s writing process is different, so functionality that is vital to one writer is pointless to another. The beauty of Scrivener is that you don’t have to know how to use everything, just the tools that are useful to your way of working.
For what it’s worth, here’s my (completely personal) top ten. In no particular order:
- You can arrange your manuscript into a series of folders and documents. This was the big selling point for me when I switched from Word, because it makes it much easier to find a particular scene, especially if you use a name for each document that gives an idea of what it contains. Documents and folders can also be dragged and dropped into a new position, which is invaluable when rearranging the order of scenes in your manuscript.
- Each project has a separate folder for research items such as images or weblinks. No more searching for that vital snippet of information you found on the web five months ago!
- Taking a snapshot of a document preserves a version of that doc at the time you took the snapshot. If you change your mind after editing you can always revert to an earlier version.
- Split screen. You can be writing in one screen with a research doc (for example) loaded in another. I’m using it right now – I’m composing my post in the left-hand screen with my notes loaded in the right-hand one.
- You can assign a label to each document, and there’s an option to display each label as a colour in your binder (Scrivener’s term for the display of files and folders in your project). There are many potential uses for this but I use them to label each scene by the POV character so I can see at a glance how many scenes I’ve written for each.
- Composition Mode. This is a low-distraction mode that displays only the document you’re working on, blocking out all the ‘noise’ of everything else in Scrivener. I’ve started writing in timed sessions in composition mode, and it’s really helped my focus.
- When writing in Word, I always find myself fiddling endlessly with the formatting, to make the page look just right. With Scrivener you’re going to compile your manuscript to another file format before subbing or publishing, and the formatting of the finished file is set during the compile process. So you don’t have to spend ages getting the formatting set up before you start writing.
- You can set targets for the number of words you write in a day and a target for the whole manuscript. Great for motivation!
- Dark Mode. I find spending hours at a computer is not kind to my eyes, so I use Scrivener in Dark Mode. It’s much easier on my eyes and allows me to stay at my computer for longer.
- Text Tidying. A tiny function to conclude with, but one I use all the time. In the Edit > Text Tidying menu, there’s a tool to replace multiple spaces with a single space. Deleting and adding chunks of text from/to a scene can leave it with unnecessary spaces that are hard to spot. With a single click I can strip out all the superfluous spaces.
If you’re interested in learning more about Scrivener, you might like to come along to one of my workshops at the RNA Conference in August.
Vicki Beeby is a saga author who writes about the friendships and loves of service women brought together by the Second World War. Her first job was as a civil engineer on a sewage treatment project, so things could only improve from there. Since then, she has worked as a maths teacher, an education consultant before she turned freelance to give herself more time to write. She is published by Canelo and represented by Lina Langlee of The North Literary Agency. She was a finalist for the RNA Romantic Saga award in 2021 and won it in 2023.