10 Tips for Writing Your Novel Using Scrivener, Part I

On July 13, 2014 I began hand writing my first novel. When I finished on August 28 I had 52,000 words but not a single word was in the computer. I have to write the second draft in the computer so I sat down and planned how I was going to do that. If you’ve read my blog in the past then you know I prefer to use Scrivener for the Mac so that choice was easy to make. If you haven’t switched to Scrivener yet then I recommend that you seriously look into it. The biggest advantage I see in writing anything in Scrivener is the ability to write your document in small chunks, which then allows you to edit your document in small chunks. I wrote out ten top tips for writing your novel in Scrivener.

10. Starting with a Clean Slate


While Scrivener comes complete with several different pre-made templates ready to be used I prefer to start a writing project with a BLANK TEMPLATE. Often the pre-made templates includes documents that often are removed from the files as they are used help new users learn about the template. So rather than delete these files, I prefer to start fresh, as the heading says, with a clean slate. This way I can also build the Research section in a manner that is best suited for the piece of writing I am doing, whether it is a screenplay or a novel, as it is in this case. The Blank Template only has three items, Draft, Research and Trash. Your novel will be written under Draft and everything else will be considered Research. I have a rule, never throw anything in the Trash; move it to a Recycle Folder, you might need it later. So add a Recycle folder to your new document.

9. Setting the Meta-Data

MetaDataMeta-Data is often defined as ‘Data about Data’. If you look at the meta-data of a photo for example you would see the make and model of camera that took the photo, the date the photo was taken as well other general information about the photo. This is the photos (the data) Meta-Data. Your writing project (which we’ll call a novel) is data and Scrivener maintains information about your novel which is your novel’s Meta-Data. Click PROJECT > META-DATA SETTINGS to open the meta-data window. Star with adding the Project Properties such as your name, your novel’s name then move to the Labels tab (as show to the right). I prefer to change this to Point of View (POV). Later each chapter (or even scene) will be labelled to show us the POV character at a quick glance. If you’re not sure of character names just yet just use CHARACTER 1, CHARACTER 2, etc. Step one is to change the Custom Title from Label to POV. I leave the Status tab as it is as this will be used to remind the author the status of each chapter. The Custom Meta-Data allows the author to define unique columns within the outliner.

8. Building a Template Folder

ChapterOne of the nice things about starting with a pre-existing project template is that it includes a Template Folder, yet you can set up your own Templates folder as well and that’s what we’re going to do. The first step is to create your new folder and call it TEMPLATES. Select your new folder and click PROJECTS > SET SELECTION AS TEMPLATE FOLDER. This changes the icon of the folder to the T in the blue box – the standard template folder icon. Now add a file to the new Template folder and name it CHAPTER. You will see the small T-badge. Any file created in this folder is automatically a template file. Take the time to layout the default appearance and font of your novel. I suggest also creating Character, Plot, Chapter Outline and Setting templates.  Tip: The first template file in this directly can be added to any other folder by clicking the folder and then use Shift-Option-Cmd-N (Mac Only).

7. Developing Your Research Folders

With Researchyour template sheets created now it is time to build your Research folder. Depending on what you’re writing these subfolders could be different but I start with the creation of a CHARACTERS folder. This is followed by ORGANIZATIONS which I use to keep details about the various groups that inhabit my fantasy world. SETTING is where I will build the atlas of my world, complete with map files. The next folder is PLOT OUTLINE. This is where the real notes of my novel are kept. The final folder is INFORMATION. I keep web site links and other general information which may prove useful while writing my novel. This is what originally sold me on Scrivener. The ability to keep all of my notes, maps, etc. in one file and at my fingertips is a huge advantage over software such as MS Word or Pages. Whether your building one book or an entire series of books they can all be kept in one single file.

6. Setting Your Targets

drafttargetWriting a short story with a word count limit? Are you competing in NaNoWriMo and want to know when you reach 50,000 words within 30 days? That means you need to set your targets. In the image to the right I have changes the word count target to a page count target. I want my novel to be about 500 pages. To make the change, just click where the 500 appears and change the number. The little up/down arrows change between words, pages and characters. The Draft Target is your overall project target. The session target is used when you want make sure you reach a certain word count per day. For example, in order to write 50,000 in 30 days for NaNoWriMo you would need to write 1,667 words per day to meet the goal – that would be a session target. You could also use the Options button to set a due date of November 30, 2014 (and check the option, Allow writing on Due Date). If you’re writing to a deadline, always set these values and Scrivener will never let you miss a deadline ever again. Next week we’ll talk about another tip on how best to use this data.

5. Saving Everything as a New Project Template

formatBefore we end for the week you’ll need to save our work. As you may know Scrivener saves automatically in the background so if we were to close the application we wouldn’t loose anything. However, the time we’ve taken to build our new project should be saved as a template so that we can re-use it again for future novels. This means we’re going to end this week by Saving our work as the Custom Project Template. It is very easy to do this. Click FILE > SAVE AS TEMPLATE. The window to the left will need to be filled out. Give your custom template a name. I call mine, Basic Writing Template. You need to select a category for your template, Blank, Fiction, Screenplay, etc. Select one. Give your template a description. Select an icon and then click OK. Next week we’ll update the template and you’ll use this screen again next week to overwrite the template with it’s updated version.

Come back next week to discover the Top 5 things that you need to do before you start to write your novel in Scrivener. I hope you learn something things about Scrivener that you didn’t already know.

– Stephen


2 responses to “10 Tips for Writing Your Novel Using Scrivener, Part I

  1. Pingback: 10 Tips for Writing Your Novel in Scrivener, Part II | feekwrites·

  2. Pingback: What is Scrivener? | Writers in the Grove·

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