I’ll be honest, I was a bit intimidated by the idea of using Scrivener.
A few of my friends use it—they rave about it!
Though this was on Mac, which is more up to date than the Windows Version.
And besides, they’re real writers. I’m over here on Google Docs like ‘Why pay to be able to write something down?’
Professional doesn’t have to mean paying for the privilege. In fact, quite the opposite—professional writers are simply those that are paid to do their work, just as with any other craft.
(Though I don’t think plonking my laptop on my desk at the day job and writing between phone calls should count…)
But I am open minded and, more importantly, wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Unfortunately, the guide to using Scrivener on Mac wasn’t much use, obviously, so I have brought together a little introduction to using the Scrivener on a Windows machine.
Okay, I’ve downloaded the free trial of Scrivener. I’m a real writer now! Right?
Almost. I guess I actually have to write some words to really feel like a writer.
Side note: the free trial lasts for 30 days of use. Meaning if you used it one day, then used it again a week later, that is only two days instead of seven. I approve so far.
But it does look a bit…grey and plain, don’t you think?
I don’t want to hold the fact that it looks like software straight out of the nineties against it. Age often equals experience.
I am impressed by the initial options. Plenty of ways to learn about the software—an interactive tutorial, a manual, and a link to YouTube to watch video tutorials.
Whilst they do look good, I wanna do this the old fashioned way—throw myself in at the deep end and learn to swim.
So we go straight to the Fiction section. From here we have three choices again—Novel, Novel (with Parts), and Short Story.
Fantastic. I’m starting to feel like Scrivener knows its stuff. Maybe I was right about that age thing.
The novel I am currently working on does not have parts, just chapters, and so I select novel.
The description reads:
Character and location sketch sheets, you say? Sounds good. We’re ready to go.
Step 1: Create your file
As you can see from the previous screenshot, the software requires you to save the project before you begin. So, give it a name and tell it where you want to keep it.
Now is a good time to remind you to keep backups of your work. You may have never done this before, you may have been doing this for years, or anything in between, but I beseech you: take regular backups of all your work. If there is nothing else you take away today, let it be that.
(Oops, better go find my external hard drive too…)
We have saved our file and are ready to begin. So far the only real difference I am seeing between this and the Mac version are aesthetics.
The Mac is arguable more modern-looking, but looks aren’t everything.
Step 2: Customisation
I was told ahead of trying Scrivener that the Windows version has less customisation options than the Mac. Let’s see what we actually have here:
Along the top, in the red box, we have the different ways to view the document; view the group’s documents as scrivenings, view the document’s subdocuments on the corkboard, and view the document’s subdocuments in the outliner.
All of these are useful. Put simply, you can view it as one long document (each document is called a ‘scrivening’), view it as pieces of paper on a ‘corkboard,’ or view it as if it were documents inside folders (the chapters being folders, and the scenes being documents within.)
The green box above along the top shows the typical font settings you’d expect to find in any word processing software.
Blue has up and down arrows, which will just move you up and down between the listed items in the ‘Binder,’ aka yellow box.
It also has buttons to split the page so that you can see two sections of the binder at once—either split horizontally or split vertically. For instance, you want to look at your character description for Jill whilst writing a scene about Jill.
On the left there, in the yellow box on the image above, we have the Binder itself. It looks a bit empty here and in fact makes a lot more sense when it has been populated with a few more sections, like this:
Step 3: Planning
So, let’s plan your new novel!
First up are characters and places.
If you right click on either subheading, you can select Add > New Text. It’ll give you the option to name it straight away. If you then click on your new sub-subheading (is that right?) then you can start adding information in there.
Now, if you click on Characters, then select the corkboard view, you can see your shiny new characters pinned to the board.
A cool feature Scrivener offers is the templates. If you select Add > New from template > Character sketch, it gives you a character sheet where you can fill in various bits of information.
If I am honest, I was more than a little disappointed with these character sheets.
Although the idea of having them there is nice, they are very basic. Of course, the information it prompts you for is helpful, and is a good starting point, but you can always find more thorough characters sheets online and paste them into here if you wanted something more substantial.
Though the setting sketch I find handy. I don’t feel as though you need as much information for a setting as you do for a character, so these are more than fit for use.
Step 4: More planning
Now, if you are super organised, like Kristina in the Mac version of this guide, you can use tables in Scrivener for Windows too. They are located in a slightly different places – Format > Table > Insert table.
So if you want to use tables as a calendar to plan the novel, or for anything else, then the option is there. The more planning, the better, right?
Then you need to think about your chapters. Right click the Manuscript to select ‘Add’ then ‘New Folder.’ Rename them, if you use titles, as you see fit. Then add scenes within them.
I had heard about Scrivener’s use of scenes and this is was part of what initially put me off.
Up until recently, and despite having spent hours working on this novel, I just hadn’t managed to look at it in terms of scenes. Of course, there are scenes, but I just hadn’t broken it down like that.
Something clicked, and I began planning the novel, scene by scene.
I selected my chapter, selected corkboard view, and added in (right click > Add > New Text) each scene for the novel. I did this for all the chapters. Now I knew what needed to be done in each scene and can just double click the scene to go into it and start writing.
I felt like breaking it down really helped me to see the novel as a much more achievable goal now that it was in pieces. I just have to write each little piece, then I’m there, right?
Now here comes the fun part…
Step 5: Start writing
Here we are, the moment we’ve all been waiting for!
Go into each section and start getting those words on that page. You are a writer, after all, a real one that uses Scrivener now.
I was lucky enough to already have around 10,000 words in a Google Document (shush) that I could transfer into the right sections in Scrivener, and this set me off to a good start. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t have that.
You have everything at your fingertips to start planning and writing that story stuck in your head.
And Scrivener will do its best to help you do that—whether you like to write scene by scene or in one long document (Manuscript > Scrivenings view).
Step 6: Track your progress
It’s been a few days (minutes) and you want to check how many words you have done. You want to know how close you are to hitting that word count. No worries—Scrivener has got you covered.
If you select Project > Project Statistics, (or Ctrl+.) you can see your word count so far.
I admit, I really like seeing that word count go up. It’s very encouraging to me.
As you can see from the screenshot, it shows you the word counts and page counts for both the document as a whole (Manuscript) as well as the section you are currently editing (Selection).
On the Options tab you can also change the configuration for this if, for example, you want it to measure a ‘page’ at a certain number of words other than the default.
It gets better. If you go into Project > Project Targets, (or Ctrl+,) you can set the target word count for both the entire manuscript as well as the current session.
I admit that, yet again, it doesn’t look as pretty as the Mac version. But it does the job. I like to see that green bar; it feels like you are accomplishing something.
But the Mac version does have a Writing History section. This is available online in Scrivener 3 and Windows only has Scrivener 2. I don’t feel like I am missing out particularly by not having this feature.
I wanted to go through a few little bits and pieces that I found in Scrivener that I felt worth mentioning.
This can be found in Tools > Writing Tools > Name Generator. If you, like me, struggle to give people names a lot of the time, you can use this tool to generate all kinds of names. You can even select the gender, country of origin, and the letters that you want it to begin with.
There is also a tab for finding first name meanings. You can look up the meaning of your name! I mean, your character’s name…
You can change the label (chapter, scene, idea, etc), the Status (to do, first draft, revised draft, etc) and the Icon (lightbulb, magnifying glass, test tube, etc) of any chapter or scene by right clicking it. This helps you to better track all of your section at a glance.
Comments and References
If you go to View > Layout > Inspector, it adds a bar on the right hand side where you can add any notes, references, and more importantly, comments.
This means that if you want to make a note to yourself to add something in later, you can add it here. I find that quite useful.
If I am in the flow of writing I don’t want to have to stop that flow just to go and double check how tall someone is, or the type of tree growing in the forest, or something. Add a note, continue writing, worry about it later.
That is Scrivener for Windows!
I included all of the details I felt you would need in order to get on and start using Scrivener.
I am still new to the software, so there are bound to be features that I haven’t seen yet, or ones that you may need and I won’t, but these are the basics. Enough to help you make the most of the free trial, at least.
In all honesty, I think I am going to buy Scrivener. I am still in my trial at the moment, but in a few days I am going to treat myself. It has managed to help me look at my novel in a different way, and encourage me to write more often.
Want to find out more about Scrivener?
Ready to download Scrivener?
As I said, if you wanted to download the free trial, you can try it for 30 days of your choosing instead of 30 days straight. You can also buy the software straight up if this little insight has sold you on it already.