Last Updated: 4 July 2021
Scrivener is the most amazing application for writing projects of all kinds. The most difficult thing about selecting 7 top tips for using it is picking just seven features from the huge range to highlight. Fear not though I’ve picked the features that I think have the potential to make the biggest impact in improving your writing productivity inside Scrivener.
The 7 Top Tips
As you work with your project you’ll doubtless find ideas coming to you. If you’re anything like me these ideas will appear at the most inopportune moments to do anything with them. If you don’t capture them when they appear they’ll doubtless vanish as quickly as they arrived.
Scrivener has you covered in such circumstances with a feature called the Scratchpad.
The Scrivener Scratchpad is accessed via the Window > Scratchpad menu or via a configurable hot key initially set to Command & Shift & Return.
It is a separate window split into two sections. The top half displays a list of the items contained within the Scratchpad. The lower half displays the content of the individual note selected in the upper half of the window.
Extra notes can be added as required, inserted in the main Scrivener project when needed and deleted when dealt with.
The hot key is global so if inspiration strikes while you’re in another application the same hot key will bring the Scrivener Scratchpad up instantly and you can capture your inspiration and return to what you were doing without disrupting your flow.
The words you write are only half the story when it comes to creating content. In addition to the actual content you create you will have myriad other information about the content you create that needs to be added, tracked, updated and managed. That extra information is your metadata.
Scrivener supports so much metadata you’ll be spoilt for choice
One of the most common metadata options is the Synopsis. This is shown on the face of the index cards in corkboard view and also in the Inspector.
There’s also a location to store notes, handily displayed under the Synopsis in the Inspector.
It doesn’t stop there as there is also a range of additional metadata as follows:
- Bookmarks – internal and external
- Custom metadata
You also have the option to include this metadata information in the compile process. Admittedly much of the time you probably wouldn’t want that but I personally have several saved compile settings that do make use of the option. It is an immensely powerful option when it comes to creating complex outputs that would be a nightmare to create any other way.
Scrivener metadata is your friend!
While there are backup features aplenty in Scrivener using them would rollback an entire file to a previous point in time. While this would potentially return you to a previous point in the development of your file it’s an all or nothing rollback. While you could recover information you’re looking for you could well lose other information doing so.
That’s where snapshots come in. Snapshots are a much more granular approach to managing both your content and variations of it.
A snapshot is a point-in-time copy of a unit of your content stored inside Scrivener.
Let’s imagine you’ve written your first chapter of content, it’s raw but it’s nothing that can’t be improved by a good night’s sleep and a short revision session tomorrow. Doubtless though, having made a range of changes, you may wonder if the changes you’ve made are actually an improvement. Indecision creeps in and you manage to convince yourself that the initial draft may have had some pearls of prose in it that have been lost in the revision process.
You’re tempted to dig out a backup from before the revision session and that would be great if you hadn’t spent half the night in a frenzy of inspiration writing the majority of the content for your second chapter. Restoring that backup file would mean either losing that content or spending hours copying and pasting it from the latest version of the file to the backup copy you’ve restored.
All of this agony can be avoided by taking a snapshot of the content of the first chapter before you make those initial revisions. Then, if panic sets in about the revisions you’ve made after making other changes, you can simply and selectively roll back only the revisions made to the first chapter leaving the other content you added, after taking the snapshot, in tact.
Want to check out the snapshot feature? Watch this clip from MacBites After Hours 0044 where I demonstrate it.
Colours are your friend and Scrivener has them in abundance!
The label feature allows you to colour code each document or folder in your Scrivener Binder. While that is useful it comes into its own when you discover the extensive range of locations Scrivener allows you to display that colour coding.
Here are just a few ways to show the colour associated with the Label:
- Index cards as a thin stripe
- Index cards as full background
- Synopsis background
- Binder as dots
- Binder as full background
To control the display check the View > Use Label Color option in the menu.
5. View Options
We all work in different ways and Scrivener accommodates this by providing a copious range of view options.
Virtually all elements of the interface can be toggled on or off depending on your personal preference for a general look and feel or according to a specific workflow requirement.
There are also two full screen options; a standard macOS style full screen using View > Enter Full Screen and a dedicated Scrivener option using View > Enter Composition Mode.
The interface elements that assist you greatly at the point of outlining can become a hinderance at the point of writing hence Scrivener allows elements to be dismissed allowing you to concentrate on the specific job in hand.
Taking this customization even further is not only the ability to show your content as a single document or as a collection of documents (scrivenings) in the editor but also in a more visual configuration using the Corkboard view. The Corkboard view itself is also configurable showing your content as cards in a sequence or in a freeform layout. New to Scrivener 3 is the ability to arrange cards by label forming a timeline.
Sometimes an outline view is more appropriate to visualise your progress or get a high level overview. Scrivener includes a completely configurable outline view including the ability to add custom columns.
However you would prefer to see your content Scrivener has an option to assist you.
6. Saved Views
You might wonder about the viability of taking the time to configure elaborate views for specific aspects of your workflow given how easy it is to spend an inordinate amount of time configuring your writing tools rather than actually writing but Scrivener also has that problem addressed.
Once you have configured the perfect view inside Scrivener there is a dedicated mechanism for saving that view along with as many other views as you need to be more productive in your content creation.
These saved view are called Layouts and include all the elements previously discussed in the Saved Views section. To access the dedicated Layouts Manager use the Window > Layouts > Manage Layouts menu option.
They’re templates Jim but not as we know them!
It might not be obvious but Scrivener has the most amazingly robust internal template feature.
When we think of templates it tends to be as a starting point for creating content. Scrivener does have a complete range of templates available in the New Project dialog box. These are only one type of Scrivener template though and not the one I’m referring to here.
The other type of Scrivener template is a template internal to Scrivener and unique to an individual project. It is not a full Scrivener file but rather a single document (scrivening) or a collection of documents (scrivenings) that can be deployed as a starting point for new content added to an existing Scrivener file.
By default extra documents added are blank but it is possible to designate a special folder inside your project as a Template folder (Project > Project Settings…) and add preconfigured content. Then instead of starting with a blank page you can select from a range of boilerplate content to act as a starting point for future content by using the Project > New from Template menu option.
If you find you always want a specific Template used as a subdocument for a specific folder then you can make any of the Templates you have created the default for that specific folder using the Documents > Default Template for Subdocument > [Template Name].
So there you have it, seven fantastic Scrivener features to boost your writing productivity.
I think a spoiler is in order here … I had such a difficult job limiting myself to only seven features that I’ll be writing another post covering another 7 Top Tips for Scrivener very soon!