A Quick Review of Scrivener

In a previous post I mentioned that I was starting to use Scrivener to manage the authoring of larger documents. (By larger, I mean anything that you have to think about and structure – regardless of it’s actual word count, I guess.)

I’ve just finished using it to create a document (2000 words) and I have had a really good experience.

A pile of books I no longer use

Image by Ady Coles (flickr)

I started, as I always do, with a mind map (MindManager) of what I wanted to write, and used this as the basis for the structure of my Scrivener project. As I was going through the process of writing the sections, I messed around with the structure so that it made more sense on paper – the mind map was structured (categorised) in a different way to how I wanted the information to appear in the document. Fortunately, this is really easy in Scrivener. Actually, ‘fortunately’ isn’t the right word, since Scrivener’s USP is that you can do just this – create your document as a series of snippets and then move them around to your heart’s content.

Once I had the (empty) structure, I used the cork board view to add synopses to the various sections of the document. I think this was the only time I made use of this view, though I can see how it would be used more for creative writing projects. Or maybe my document was just too small for me to need to go back there.

Things I found really useful were:

  1. The split screen. I had a horizontal split with the outline view of the document in the top part. The bottom part contained the document or section (as a scrivenings view) that I was working on.
  2. Word count targets. If you have a feel for how much you want or need to write, being able to set targets is great. How ‘well’ you are doing is shown in the outline view and you can set growl notifications if you are really going for it (or don’t have a split screen in order to reduce distractions).
  3. It saves your work. I know that this is the OS X Lion way of the future, but not many apps yet support it. Scrivener supported it pre-Lion and it’s nice not to have to worry about it (another distraction removed).

I found it really refreshing to be able to see the structure and the content easily. And I can’t stress enough how natural and easy it was to move items around.


The only area I was let down was with the finishing. But this is not scrivener’s fault. Scrivener is designed for ‘serious’ writers – of books, scripts, etc – and it’s formatting options (called compiling options, in Scrivener) are geared to the creation of proof copies, final copies for publishing, ebooks etc. In the end I created a custom compile and output as RTF. If I’m going to seriously use this application (and I’m fairly sure that I will) then I’ll need to come up with some document templates and compilation options of my own.

The manual is second-to-none and I would also recommend “Writing a Novel with Scrivener” [Kindle Edition] by David Hewson, which is very readable and useful.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Scrivener in the future but, for the time being, that’s all. If you’ve found this post useful, or wish to add your experiences to mine, please leave a comment.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

5 thoughts on “A Quick Review of Scrivener

  1. As promised – a proper comment

    I love it!! Would not have picked up scrivener without reading the post but its great. As you know am working on an 80,000 word document and its the first thing I’ve found that allows me to get a grasp of the whole thing and also pick out distinct threads within it – really helpful.

    Personally really like the cork board – particularly in freeform view as it help sort things but not sure if you’d need it for smaller stuff.

    Anyway – as I said – its like the great leap forward for words instead of genes

    Thanks for the review


    • Thanks for the comment.

      I totally forgot one of the other great things, which is that you can include items in your ‘project’ that are not to be printed – reference material, research, images, links to web sites, etc. I don’t know what bibliographic/reference tools you use (I use Mendeley – http://acol.es/qypvL4), but Scrivener integrates with a few.

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